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When I’m actually home to enjoy it, I’m still having a blast with my Pimax 5K+. While some of the newest headsets are going for a simpler, plug-and-play user experience, the Pimax 5K+ remains the best hobbyist / enthusiast headset for the consumer market. And… to be fair, I have less issues with it than I do with a Vive Pro (especially audio).

Between sales, bundles, and just wish fulfillment trying to take advantage of the VR I’ve been waiting half a lifetime for, here are the VR games on Steam VR that I personally enjoy the most, the ones that I use the most to share VR with others, and the ones I am most looking forward to. I confess that I am a lot less critical of VR-based games than games on other platforms. I still take VR as an experience first, and a game second. This is not something I expected, just something that I discovered.

My Personal Favorites:

Digital Combat Simulator (DCS) / IL-2 Sturmovik: Famous Battles Series / X-Plane

Right out of the gate I’m cheating with three titles at once.  Since you are inside a cockpit instead of directly out “in the world,” I assumed flight sims might not be the most thrilling VR experience. I am happy to admit I’m wrong. If you are flight-sim inclined, these are three fantastic, high-end titles with built-in VR support. There are others, but these three are (currently) the best. X-Plane is one of the top civilian flight sims on the consumer market, and has a ton of third-party support – but not all third-party aircraft support VR. Do your homework if you get a plane for VR use. IL-2 is a fantastic World War II combat flight simulator well-optimized for VR, and it now includes early access modules for tank combat and World War I aircraft. It’s hard to express how awesome dogfighting in a biplane cane be in VR. Last but not least, DCS is pretty much the one to beat for hard-core realism in mid-to-late 20th century air combat. While there are a handful of easier, lower-fidelity modules (which don’t work as well in VR because the cockpits aren’t interactive), most of the aircraft are study-level sims with almost every switch, dial, and button realistically modeled, and the weapon systems and flight models painstakingly created to simulate things as close to real life as possible. The result is amazing, if you have the time and patience to actually learn how to fly a sophisticated fighter jet. It also supports some aerobatic / trainer aircraft and World War II aircraft.

Skyrim VR

Skyrim VR for the PC is fantastic, if a little clumsy because it wasn’t designed from the ground-up for VR. But it’s beautiful, and fighting a dragon in VR is absolutely amazing. Stalking through the dungeon with a bow, ready to shoot a necromancer in the neck is similarly an awesome experience I’ve dreamed of since childhood. If you are a fan of VR and RPGs, just get this one. It’s also compatible with most mods.

Beat Saber

Okay, I wasn’t going to let this one go. At all. Beat Saber has sold a million copies, making it the highest-selling VR-only game out there (I think). Many people have already heard about it even if they haven’t played in Virtual Reality yet. My best way to describe it is “Dance Dance Revolution with Light Sabers.” You hit the incoming blocks in the right direction, timed to music, getting points for your accuracy in slicing them in half.  Sounds simple (and it is), but it can be crazy hard at high levels. If you have VR for the PC (or PS4VR, or the upcoming Oculus Quest), you must get this game. It’s as simple as that. The game has been expanded on and has added DLC since its first release, all of which makes a great game even better.

Star Trek: Bridge Crew

In theory, this is a perfect idea. You get to sit at your station on the bridge of a Star Trek starship (including, now, the original Enterprise and the Next Generation Enterprise-D, besides the stealthy USS Aegis), executing your role to perform missions. ON BOARD THE FRICKIN’ ENTERPRISE. It’s got cool factor all over it from there. It’s magical. The one down side is that it plays best in multi-player, and assembling a team a good team can be challenging. If you have three other friends who have the game and can play at the same time (or even just a couple of friends), then you are golden. Otherwise… I haven’t tried to gather a pick-up game since it released, but my results were generally good, but one of the team was usually a little drunk, which made it funny, but not particularly successful.

Vivecraft (Minecraft mod)

Minecraft has its own built-in VR mode, which I’m sure is great, but it only supports Oculus and Microsoft Mixed Reality. I’m sure if they wanted to support SteamVR, they could, but so far… nada. Enter Vivecraft, a mod which solves the problem at the low cost of being a few versions behind the latest. As this was still several versions beyond where I’d last played, I got to enjoy the latest features and changes as well as being able to play Minecraft in VR. And let me tell you… Minecraft in VR is a whole ‘nother story.

Catch & Release VR

Okay. This is a totally stupid game that I’d be totally stupid to buy and play, and I still can’t help myself but spend a bunch of time sitting on a chair pretending to fish with my VR controller. Especially after a long and stressful day at work. Don’t judge me…

BoxVR

If you want an excuse to play VR games, this is it. It is a fitness-boxing trainer, ignoring any actual competitive boxing in favor of teaching you (I believe) boxing technique and then having you max it out in a DDR-style experience that will build up the right kind of sweat (not the “I’m feeling sick” kind) in no time.

BOXVR Trailer - YouTube

Favorite Games to Share:

These are the games that I like to use to introduce other people to VR. Beat Saber was already mentioned – it’s still a crowd favorite.  Sometimes just showing someone the main menu cave of Skyrim VR is a better approach. There are a few experiences–not really games–that are also good for introducing someone to VR. The Blu is a classic. Apollo 11 VR also shows the power of VR as an educational tool. Google’s Tilt Brush is another one that helps people “get” VR.

Space Pirate Trainer

Another oldie but goodie, this is a great “wave shooter” that has been popular for a while, and for good reason. It’s clean, fun, and polished. Built from the ground-up as a room-space shooter, there’s no need to teleport. Just dodge, block, shoot, and enjoy power-ups.

Superhot VR

I didn’t play this game until the VR version came out. Be the hero in an abstract-world action movie, moving at “bullet time” to fight off bad guys with guns, throwing knives, or whatever little objects happen to be at hand. It’s incredibly fun, and the heavily stylized world makes the imagined violence a lot cleaner. I heard that the VR version of Superhot has finally outsold the original. I’m not surprised. I’ve only played the VR version, and I have a tough time imagining how the game is played without it.

Paranormal Activity – The Lost Soul

For those who can stomach the tension and scares, Paranormal Activity – The Lost Soul is good and creepy. I haven’t played it enough to comment on its gameplay, and I don’t know how it’s non-VR cousin is. But taken as a spooky experience with puzzles and so forth, it’s fun.

Paranormal Activity: The Lost Soul | NON-VR RELEASE ON PS4! - YouTube

Bonus Titles:

Honestly, I don’t have as much time to play as I wish, and I have several games that may become favorites once I get a chance to really give them a good test run. Project CARS 2 and Redout are racing games that are made much better in VR. VR Dungeon Knight was an early favorite, but it has changed substantially since I first played it, and I haven’t played it enough recently to really get a handle on the new changes. Or, like, go through more than a single dungeon without dying. Island 359 is a chance to play “Jurassic Park” in VR, and Arizona Sunshine is the zombie apocalypse VR experience that you didn’t know you always wanted. I really haven’t had time to give Elite: Dangerous a fair shake, but every time I play it I am thrilled.  I never really came to grips (pun intended) with the controls in X: Rebirth – VR Edition. I should probably give it another shot.

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I’ve loved Breakout style games since I was a kid. The more advanced versions are more commonly referred to as Arkanoid-style games, and that’s not too unfair. Arkanoid added an awful lot of interesting ideas to the mix.

There have been several attempts at a 3D version of the game, and I’ve universally disliked them, but I keep trying. It just never worked for me.  At least, not until VR, and Proton Pulse.

Proton Pulse is not a very elaborate game. It’s simple, and it’s fundamentally an Arkanoid-style game, but imagine playing it in a racquetball court. There are tons of variations… even boss levels and the end of each world. You can play either by moving a paddle with your head tracking, or with your controllers (but beware your play area boundaries!). It’s probably not a game to play if you are subject to epileptic seizures.  It’s pulsing, neon colored, and bombards you with light and movement. However, all that being said, it’s fairly polished (unlike too many indie VR games you can find out there these days). It was released on PSVR, so maybe that added some polish requirements.

I don’t think it’s a game you want to play for hours at a time (I try to avoid playing any VR game for hours at a time. But sometimes Skyrim gets away from me). While it scratches the Arkanoid-style itch and leaves me feeling like I left a 1980s arcade, it’s definitely a different experience. Lots of fun, IMO. At about $10, it’s a reasonably cheap but enjoyable addition to a VR library.

Proton Pulse Plus VR Trailer - YouTube

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Diablo 1 is now on GOG.com. It’s $10, so it’s not exactly super-cheap, but compared to the trouble I went through getting Diablo to install and run on my last computer (requiring some downloaded mods just to get it *mostly* working), it could be worth it to you.

Diablo 1 at GOG.com

Why bother? Blizzard hasn’t supported it in ages. There have been many, many, maaaany games that have built upon this formula since its release over 20 years ago, and have improved upon it significantly. Frankly, I played a LOT more Diablo II than the original game over the years, which was pretty objectively a better game, and that one is also extremely long in the tooth. So why should anyone be interested in Diablo, apart from historical curiosity?

For me, the answer is in the mood and theme of the game. Diablo II didn’t have it, in the name of providing a greater variety of content. The Gothic horror of Diablo 1 was present in its sounds, music, graphics, and even the font. The artwork would grow more cartoony in subsequent releases, lacking the stark, CGI-rendered, and admittedly overly dark images of the first offering. Since then, of the “Diablo-style” games out there, the only one that comes close to really capturing that flavor for me has been Grim Dawn. There may be others I have missed, but that one is the one that felt closest to the original Diablo, at least in style and feel.

However, another aspect of Diablo that I think most of its spiritual and literal descendants have tried to avoid is the good old-fashioned dungeon crawl. At some point in Diablo’s development, it was envisioned as a turn-based game. Yeah, much closer to a traditional Roguelike. While the style of “Diablo-like” games have kind of evolved from there, it’s interesting from a game design perspective seeing what they did when they didn’t have a tried-and-true blueprint to work with.

And that’s another reason for my own interest in playing the game. I like seeing how these games evolved. What got lost, what was kept. If you are interested in this, I recommend the book, “Stay A While, And Listen” by David Craddock. It tells a lot of the story behind Blizzard North and their creation of the legendary game.

But on the most bottom of bottom lines… as much as spiritual successors like Grim Dawn or Torchlight 2 might provide a superior overall experience, the original Diablo is still a great deal of fun.

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It is Launch Day! My second full-length novel, Blood Creek Beast, is now out in the wild. I hope you enjoy it.

This is the follow-up to last year’s Whitney award finalist, the contemporary fantasy Blood Creek Witch. Blood Creek Beast follows up a few weeks later. I won’t go into details to avoid spoilers for BCW, but the book focuses on the adventures of Jack and Jessabelle, and suffice to say the adventures don’t start in the same place. The Coven has plans for Jessabelle, and she soon finds there is much more to them than just a few witches serving the “man in the white suit.” Meanwhile, Jack goes into a town for supplies, and ends up … well, let’s just say giants, intrigue, murder, and a all-out war may be involved.

You can grab it today in eBook or paperback from Amazon:

Blood Creek Beast (Blood Creek #2)

If you haven’t read Blood Creek Witch yet, GREAT NEWS! It’s on sale! You can check it out here:

Blood Creek Witch (Blood Creek #1), now on sale

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Hey everyone! Just got back from a surprise business trip overseas, so I’m way behind in just about everything. Which sucks, because there is a major event coming up just next week:

Blood Creek Beast launches on Tuesday, March 12.

You can preorder the paperback HERE, or the kindle version HERE.

In other news, Guildmaster Gaming has reviewed the new book, and liked it even more than the first book! 5/5! You can check out the review here:

Blood Creek Beast Review at Guildmaster Gaming

(In case you are interested, you can read their review of Blood Creek Witch HERE)

I’m excited for you to read it!

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Man, I kinda miss the days when game devs would make a game, and THEN people would buy it. Of course, that requires people, you know, BUYING games. We’re getting to the point where crowdfunding is often as much of a marketing and sales tool as a funding tool. But hey, that’s indie… you gotta stay agile and go with what works.

Anyway, to that end… Hanako Games is crowdfunding Magical Diary: Wolf Hall via Kickstarter. I really enjoyed Magical Diary: Horse Hall many winters ago, and I’m glad Hanako is finally coming out with a sequel. Hanako is a very established company, and has been doing these games for years (including some outstanding hits like Cute Knight and Long Live the Queen), so from a crowdfunding perspective, this is pretty low risk.

Magical Diary: Wolf Hall, assuming it continues in a similar line as the first one, is a hybrid RPG. One part RPG (complete with dungeon crawling… of a sort), one part dating sim, and one part visual novel, you play as a student in a magical academy in Vermont (*cough*NotHogwarts*cough*). Flunking out of the school is a possibility. Dying is a possibility (at least in the first one). As you gain powers and magical abilities, you not only use these powers to navigate tests and puzzles down in the dungeon (with multiple approaches and no single “best” way to overcome the challenges!), but sometimes to navigate the storyline as well.

I’m looking forward to playing this one.

Magical Diary: Wolf Hall Kickstarter Trailer - YouTube

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Last week, Sony released a teaser of a Jason Reitman-helmed Ghostbusters. Not a reboot like the lame 2016 film, but a direct sequel.

Like the lame 1989 sequel.

#GB20 - YouTube

For the record, I had high hopes but only moderate expectations for the Ghostbusters 2016 film. I was only somewhat disappointed. The stellar cast was wasted in a poor film with clumsy writing, a weak plot, and jokes that I can only assume were watered down to the lowest common denominator in order to make it easy to translate to scores of international markets. Then they depended on a divisive, political marketing campaign that insulted fans. And then they followed up on its less-than-stellar release by alienating fans even more in a shaming campaign.

So now, they are trying it again. I hope it’s awesome, but I also think the timing is bad for this new film. They really have to nail it. I don’t know if they can, regardless of cast. The lesson learned from Ghostbusters 2 was that even the original cast and original creative team had trouble catching lightning in a bottle again. Yeah, it did pretty well at the box office (the 2016 movie also did “okay” at the box office… it made money), but it was nowhere near the original. Of course, there’s a certain point (like in Star Wars) where the nostalgia and hype means any attempt at a follow-up is doomed to some level of disappointment.

Here’s the key that Hollywood and pretty much the entire media industry seems to have forgotten about creating follow-ups and adaptations to popular properties: You have to respect and honor the source material. This is why the Marvel Cinematic Universe films have been doing so well, and just about everything else has been tanking. Films like Batman v. Superman, the 2016 Ghostbusters, and yes, Star Wars: The Last Jedi have, to me, felt like ego projects where the people in charge were more focused about “leaving their mark” on the franchise. Or, just as bad (with many adaptations) — they don’t seem to have done any research on the source material to understand what makes it tick, but simply apply the ol’ formula and swap the names from their chosen IP.

It’s not just Hollywood. I’ve seen efforts made by writers taking on material now in the public-domain with attitudes that actually seem hateful and spiteful towards the original material. Maybe in their egocentric worldview, they think their writing will supplant and replace the original? I don’t know.

Anyway… hopefully a suitably repentant team of filmmakers with an ounce of humility (in Hollywood? Tall order, I’m sure) will produce a film that is finally worthy of the original. In the meantime, may I offer a plea to all artists tasked with working with someone else’s IP: Your job is not to “make it your own” (even if we all hope to hear that this is what we accomplished in the end), but rather to make something that feels like it seamlessly belongs there, side-by-side with everything by the original creator(s). Find out what makes it “tick” and why audiences love it. Use that as your guiding star. Then, at least if you fail, it was only because you were overly ambitious… not because you were a jerk.

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