Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

What is slowing Virtual Reality?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 3, 2022

I’ve been playing around in Virtual Reality for several years now, and it’s not gotten old for me yet. I’m a little too busy to call myself a hardcore player, but I have fun slicing up blocks with lightsabers, exploring truly immersive dungeons, and flying in my F-16. All good stuff. At this point, in spite of the major speed bump caused by the pandemic, just about everyone interested in it has at least tried it out, so the mind-blowing first-time experience has given way to the realities of the medium.

Virtual Reality is still in its adolescent phase, and unfortunately it has hit that stage right in the middle of multiple (related) global crises, with the pandemic, supply chain problems, and the U.S. economy getting clobbered. All of these are pretty much hampering all innovation and industry right now, and probably will for the next couple of years, which means I’m not expecting any major breakthroughs in the next couple of years. Still, there are new product being announced, and a refinement and some serious incremental refinements coming every year. We still have companies throwing a lot of money at the marketing and “infrastructure” of VR, too, so there are plenty of interesting things happening.

So when will we hit the widespread adoption and wildly optimistic predictions of analysts gave us back in 2015? Probably not for a while, but the numbers do indicate that we are slow-burning our way there… or at least to decent, healthy growth levels. It’s a little trite, but the industry was expecting the next iPhone and instead got one of the first “brick” 1980s-era mobile phone. A lot has progressed, but we still have some of the same problems that we had in 2015 preventing widespread adoption of Virtual Reality. All of them are being addressed, some better than others.


This is the easy one, but not as big a barrier as some suggest. With the Quest 2 being sold for less than the price of a console, cost isn’t universally a prohibiting factor. Of course, the Quest 2 comes with some strings attached, but the low cost of entry and its reduced friction (more on that in a bit) are primary reasons that it is dominating the VR space. I think part of the problem with cost is that the tech is changing so rapidly there’s a perception that jumping on as an early adopter means you’ll have to spend that same amount every 2-3 years to keep up. And… well, yeah, that’s kind of a problem still. The tech isn’t mature, and it is daunting to fork over $1000+ for a top-tier experience that you fear will be obsolete in two years.

Whatever the case, I think cost remains a factor, but not a very large one. It’s relatively affordable, but still a little pricey for those unsure of whether or not they’ll really use it.


Visual quality has increased substantially since the early days of the Oculus Rift and original Vive. You generally pay for the highest quality, of course, but the visual quality of gaming on the Quest 2 is still mostly better than you would have seen on the original Rift running on GTX 970. The lenses are better. The “screen door effect” is almost a thing of the past. New Micro-OLED displays are coming in some of the next crop of headsets. Many headsets are designed to go well above 90 frames per second. Video cards and processing is much better than before. We’re now talking about remote-streaming content from cloud-based visual processors in VR. We’re now arguing over how close we can get to human-eye resolution, and how soon.

In other areas, like hardware form-factor and quality of controls, things are moving more slowly, but things are still pretty good, from controller form-factor to headset comfort. I think from a quality standpoint, we’re there. There’s plenty of room for improvement, but we’re not where we were six years ago where people were barfing over cardboard headsets with awful smartphone-based displays.

There are always going to be people for whom VR will never be “good enough,” but  at this point they are either outliers, or they are limited by cost.


Here’s a big one. Friction – how much effort it takes to jump into VR. Even for the Quest 2, you must make sure your headset and controls are fully charged, make sure you play-space is cleared of obstacles, redraw your play-space if you aren’t staying in exactly the same area you used it last time, and deal with some occasional glitches like controllers not tracking completely right. For PC-based VR, it can be even worse, with additional concerns for cables or wireless battery considerations, outside base stations (no longer universal, but still necessary for many systems and for the best-quality tracking), running the proper VR software, control mapping, different feature sets (with body-tracking or hand-tracking devices, eye-tracking, even facial expression tracking), and the usual headaches that PC gamers are all too familiar with. These can be good problems to have, but they do add friction.

In other words, there’s a lot you have to go through in order to play a VR game — to the point where it can dissuade someone from playing. It’s a easier just to pull a phone out of your pocket and play something there. For VR enthusiasts, we have things set up in advance well enough and have trained ourselves so that it’s not a big deal. But that is not the mindset of the average user. Even console gaming these days has more friction than some people want to deal with.

Meta (Facebook) and HTC have made efforts to reduce that friction and make it more convenient to enter VR. HTC recently released the Vive Flow, easily portable goggles-like devices intended to be the most convenient and mobile VR on the market. I’ve taken my Quest 2 with me on trips so I always have access to VR. The endgame solution for this might be something even more lightweight than the Flow, with magical hand-tracking built-in. I don’t think we’re ever going to get as convenient as the smartphone, or Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale’s “Augma” device, but that would be the dream. Any other areas where we can simplify the process and make it more robust will be welcome. If we can just get VR to the point where it is no more complicated than playing a console game, then I think we’ll be in good shape. I think we’re close.

Comfort / Locomotion

It hasn’t gone away, although it remains more of a problem for newer VR users. Games catering to players who have gained their “VR legs” are increasingly common. However, VR developers have learned many tricks to minimize it, and higher quality VR has helped in this respect. Locomotion is one of the key problems here, and none of the solutions thus far have proven to be a clear winner. I’m glad to see companies continuing to invest money into solving it, however.

Vulnerability / Safety

Here’s a tougher one. Immersion is the goal, but it comes with its own pitfalls. Going into VR can be a little like those stories of astral projection. You go into a new world and leave your body behind. Or, to bring it back down to earth, it’s like going to sleep. Even in Augmented Reality, you can lose a lot of the perception of what is happening in the real world. This was even an element of one of the middle story arcs for Sword Art Online… where the killers would sneak into the home of VR players known to live alone, and murder them while they were “plugged in.”

Losing contact with the “real world” can be an issue. It can make people feel vulnerable, or at least uncomfortable. It can be dangerous, particularly if other people or animals might invade the space. And sometimes, people just don’t want to look stupid playing VR.

I don’t think this problem will ever go away completely. After all, the whole point of VR is to hijacking your senses to provide an illusionary reality (or to mix illusions into the real world, in the case of AR). VR devices with better safety measures and video passthrough can help here, but otherwise it really comes down to people getting used to it and taking measures to ensure that their play area is safe.

And, well, I think we’re always gonna look stupid reacting to things that aren’t there.

The Killer App

A lot of people are waiting for the “killer app” for VR – the one application that makes owning VR a necessity for everybody.

I’m a little afraid of this concept. There are a lot of people spending a lot of money to do just this… and they want to make sure that they own you when you use it. Your every move, delayed glance, idle bit of chatter with your friend, point of focus can be (and generally will be) monitored, recorded, parsed, analyzed, and sold to someone else. Kinda like using certain social media sites now, right?

I don’t know if there was ever a “killer app” for smart phones, or for personal computers, or for anything else. Maybe there was, and it is largely forgotten today, like WordPerfect or something. Ultimately, there was just enough of what people wanted that it no longer made sense not to have one.

Are we there yet in VR? Not quite. We’ve got some pretty awesome, fun games, and titles like Beat Saber have sold a lot of headsets. I think social interaction potential is a bigger deal in VR, though. Hanging out with friends in a virtual space that feels real to many parts of your brains is a bigger draw in my opinion. Games can be a part of this, naturally, especially if they are more focused on cooperative gameplay and allow plenty of space and tools for social interaction.

Anything Else?

As I said, all of these issues have been and are continuing to be addressed. I don’t know if any of them will ever be entirely “fixed,” but most of them have been improved considerably since VR first hit the consumer market a few years ago. For all my concerns about the company behind it, I have to agree that the Quest 2 has really pushed the envelope and made it much easier for people to enjoy VR, and it shows in their sales numbers. Many other companies are following suit.

I’m still excited to be able to play and work in this space. I think we’re barely scraping the surface of the potential for Virtual Reality, and especially for Augmented Reality. I look forward to see what happens as it continues to grow.

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Return to Monkey Island!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 14, 2022

Not only are we getting a new Monkey Island game this year, but the original brains behind it himself, Ron Gilbert, is directly involved this time. Apparently. While it will not be the Monkey Island 3 he had in mind way back in the early 1990s, I’m very hopeful.

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Colossal Cave Revisited… In VR. By Ken and Roberta Williams!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 22, 2022

If you’ve followed me for a long (VERY LONG) time, you probably know that the great-granddaddy of text adventure games, the Colossal Cave Adventure, was quite an influence on me as a kid even when my first encounter with it wasn’t my own personal playthrough.

Well, it looks like legendary game developers Ken and Roberta Williams, pioneers of graphic adventure games, started playing with Unity during the pandemic, and pulled a team together to remake Colossal Cave in 3D. With VR support.

Yeah, naturally, I’m gonna be there. Even if it sucks, I’m going to check it out. Because… Colossal Cave. Ken and Roberta Williams. VR. That dragon had better be waiting for me on that frickin’ Persian rug.

It should be out this summer on Quest 2, PC, and Mac. Not sure if the PC version will have VR support yet, but it’d be a crime if they didn’t include SteamVR support.

More information at IGN.


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A Virtual Visit to the Sword Art Online Museum

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 3, 2022

Sony has taken the museum experience for Sword Art Online (the anime / light novel / manga / video game / merchandizing phenomenon) and put it in… Virtual Reality. (Click the link if you are interested in participating.) It can be played with PC VR (using Steam), and it can also be visited using a phone app.

It’s about the closest thing we’ve had to an official massively multiplayer VR version of Sword Art Online. To which I say, “Well, about time!” I mean, I’ve played a couple of the SAO games. I thought Hollow Realization was pretty good. I like the anime. I’m pretty fond of the new Sword Art Online: Progressive novels. It’s all good stuff. So … being able to visit an online museum (open from February 22 through March 11) and participate in a couple of events sounded cool.

For those not familiar, Sword Art Online is a … let’s call it a franchise at this point… of novels, manga, anime, movies, games, etc. about virtual reality. The original storyline was about a “full dive” VR game where the lead designer / producer hijacked the system to fry the players’ brains if they died in the game, or if anyone tried to remove their headset from the outside world. The only way to escape was to beat the game, by clearing all 100 floors of a gargantuan dungeon / world. Naturally, as VR has become a consumer thing, players have wanted to see this world become a true VR Massively Multiplayer Game.

So instead, we get this. I went ahead and paid for a membership, because … hey visiting a VR Museum exhibit is one of those things I always wanted to try (and we have a few experiences in VR kinda like that, which I have enjoyed). And, like I said, it’s the closest thing we’ve got to an official SAO MMO. You can go in and interact with other patrons (there are usually about 2-6 others when I have logged in late at night). There is a “free” option for anyone to visit, and some exhibit areas restricted to paying members.

So what does the “free” visit get you? With just a free download, you have a chance to wander around a VR version of the Town of Beginnings and talk with other VR tourists. Oh, and you can get a group together to take on the Skull Reaper, the deadly boss of the 75th floor that was pretty much the ultimate real battle in the Aincrad story. More on that in a second.

The Town of Beginnings is really just the central / arrival area. It’s not a “perfect” version of the entry plaza. More of a touristy representation of it. There are ads and posters and places where Yui will appear in fairy form to provide some audio commentary or instructions. On Saturday there’s supposed to be a live visit from ReoNa, one of the vocalists who have done the opening and ending themes for the show.

One of the big features of the Town of Beginnings is a giant wall that lists the names of players who have won the boss battle. Yeah, that’s my name up there. I eventually got my name on there twice. The boss battle is a pretty simplistic version of the battle against the Skull Reaper on level 75. As in the anime, you have your group join up in the dungeon in front of the hall to the boss room. There are some weapons provided in the hall so that nobody needs to accidentally go in unarmed. There are also some target areas in the dungeon hall to practice on while you are waiting. Once everyone is ready, you can go into the boss room. The boss is triggered by entering a blue circle in the middle of the floor. When that happens, the exit seals shut, preventing anyone else from entering the fight. The Reaper kills a couple of NPCs (really just unmoving dummies), and then runs around the room trying to kill everyone. Amusingly, guns are allowed, as Gun Gale Online was part of the SAO series.

The boss fight itself isn’t anything particularly impressive. As a game, it’s … a fun museum exhibit. But it IS a multiplayer boss fight, unless you insist on trying to solo thing thing.

A paid ticket allows access to the exhibit halls. These I believe are VR recreations of the exhibits from the “live” exhibit in Tokyo in 2019, except with the luxury of VR the halls are a bit more fanciful and contain a number of interactive elements you can play with. For example, you can grab most of the weapons from their display and play with them (and even … *ahem*… cart them with you and use them in your fight against the Skull Reaper…) There are lots of stills and storyboard illustrations from the anime, as well as notes about the storyline and insights from the author.

There are some secrets, like hidden or hard-to-get-to treasure chests with clues (for what? I don’t know yet), and things like targets you can shoot at with one of the guns from the displays.

The VR game provides you with a built-in camera, complete with a selfie mode. That’s pretty convenient. If you tie your account in with your twitter account, you can even automatically tweet out your photos. Yeah, I didn’t do that. Your avatar is basically an androgynous figure in a poncho. Free visitors only get the default poncho and lettering color. Ticket-holders get more. You can change your avatar (and nickname) every time you visit.

There are some bugs in the software. As a limited-time release, I wouldn’t count on any but the most serious ones being fixed. I am sure that phone app users won’t enjoy the interactivity that VR players can enjoy, but at least they can visit the exhibits as well.

So… was it worth it?

If you are not an SAO fan, probably not. It’s a niche exhibit. As I said, it is the closest thing we’re likely to see to a massively multiplayer VR SAO game for a while (amusingly, in the fiction the game launches this November). I enjoyed the exhibits as a paid ticket-holder, but if it’s a choice between that or a $30 VR game… a real VR game without a two-week expiration window would probably win out. It was fun reading the author’s comments, especially as he seems pretty self-deprecating and surprisingly candid about the weaknesses of the stories he wrote. Anyway, in the end, I have enjoyed the experience (and I may return over the next few days until the exhibit ends), but I’d not say it’s a “must-see” even for SAO fans. I think you’ll know if this is the kind of thing for you.

And while this is not a true substitute for the real thing in person, I can see “virtual reality museums” being a thing in the future. In some respects, SAO was perfect for this as an animated world without real-world artifacts to put on display. It’s a virtual museum for a virtual world, which means the VR version of the exhibit may even be the superior version. Intriguing, huh?


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Zenith MMO – the VR MMO to beat (for now)?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 3, 2022

We’ve had a couple of VR MMOs (Orbus VR, A Township Tale) and a bunch of demos so far. But the next contender has come out swinging, and it’s pretty impressive.

Zenith MMO is a made-for-VR MMO RPG, with a bit of a science fiction / science fantasy environment, and strong anime roots. It’s still in Early Access, but the demand took it to the top of the Steam Charts on its EA launch–and it’s still high up on the list. Released for SteamVR, Quest 2 (I still think of it as Oculus…), and Playstation VR, it’s one I’ve been looking forward to for a while.

I can’t say I’ve been able to put much time into it so far, but I’ve had fun beating up on monsters and talking to people. The world has a more interesting style to me than OrbusVR. Right now there are only two classes (a third one is planned), but each class has one of three roles you can select (and change). There are things like recurring events that you can participate in with others even if you aren’t in a group. I’m still in the fun honeymoon stage where it feels like the world is ginormous and I’ll never run out of things to do. We’ll see how long that lasts, but so far I’m having a good time.

One issue I ran into is that there is no snap-turn function built into the Vive wands. Yes, I still use my original (1.0) Vive wands even though my headset is an awesome Pimax 8KX. Fortunately, some players have done some control maps you can download for the game directly from the SteamVR device settings menu that solves this problem. Once I had that enabled, I was much, much happier.

Then there’s some of the launch clunkiness, especially the first night. Server lag was an issue. Many of the tons of servers were full, so it’s actually a credit to the popularity of the game that we were having these kinds of issues, yet they were not game-breaking for me.

I ran into a loot situation with another player after we both killed a mob, and discovered that the loot was client-based, so we were both able to enjoy the spoils. 🙂 And that seems to be an effect on the player base, at least in the newbie areas. People have been politely friendly. Maybe it’s because I’m old-school, but it’s still a weird thing to walk around the town or battlefield and overhear conversations between real players. I’m sure I’ll get over it eventually. If I actually bothered to play VRChat, I’m sure I’d be over it in no time.

Gameplay-wise… I haven’t seen anything really special or unique, other than the mere fact that HOLY CRAP I’M PLAYING AN MMORPG IN VR! If it were a pancake game, I don’t know that there’d be much to write home about. But the VR aspect changes everything.  As with other VR games, you don’t get to do most things through the abstraction of button mashing. You have to do it. Wave your hand a particular way to cast a spell. Bend down and pick up the plant. Physically dodge the incoming attacks. Remembering all this in the flurry of VR can be a little overwhelming at times, but it really just takes time and practice.

All this week, I’ve heard Streamers doing their thing in the newbie areas. It’s content, right? Maybe it was my imagination, but it sounded like they were treating this launch as a major event for VR. And you know, maybe it is. Many in the VR community have a soft place in their heart for Sword Art Online, and are not-so-patiently awaiting their chance to visit Aincrad. Hopefully without, you know, the threat of DEATH. Zenith MMO may be as close as we’ll get for a while, and I’m okay with that. I still have high hopes for Ilysia VR, which is hopefully launching later this year. I think there’s enough room to enjoy both, and I hope they are both wildly successful. Either way, I think Zenith MMO has set a new high water mark for VR MMOs, and I can’t wait to find out what happens next.



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New author website – jaybarnson.com

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 26, 2022

Yes, things have been quiet here. Due to hosting issues, and the fact that the writing thing has been taking off, and the day-job shifted into overdrive a while back that was nearly as bad as the games industry. We won’t speak of what’s been going on with 2020 and 2021. With all that, my own indie game development efforts have ground down to tinkering levels – mostly with Virtual Reality. While I’m online quite a bit, a lot of time has been spent on social media… which is where the people are, but it’s also somebody else’s place.

I’m not planning on retiring this site or anything at this point–if anything, I want to give it a little more attention. I’m not as actively focused on indie gaming or indie game development, so I have less to say, but I’m still gaming and indie games are still where it’s at. “Indie” has become a lot more complicated of a term now than when I started, that’s for sure. And that’s probably a good thing. We started as the scrappy underdogs, and now… well, we’re still the underdogs, but there’s a gazillion of us.

Anyway, for those still paying attention: Hi, sorry for the unannounced hiatus.

If you are interested in the writing side of things… well, I’ve got five books out (four novels and an anthology), and a whole mess of short stories, with much more coming. You can learn more over at jaybarnson.com.

Rock on!

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A Mighty Fortress – An Anthology of Mormon Steampunk Volume 4

Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 7, 2020

Hey, more Steampunk! I’ve got a story in the fourth “Mormon Steampunk” anthology, A Mighty Fortress, which releases on February 18th and is available for pre-order now. We’ve got some short video trailers for some of the stories. This one is for my story, “The Tunnel.”

The Tunnel is loosely inspired by a legend circulating around Britain and parts of Europe from the late 1800s (but surviving until at least the middle of the 20th century) about the “Mormons” having build a tunnel from England to Salt Lake City – terminating beneath the Salt Lake Temple. The rumor stated the Mormons were abducting women through the tunnel. My story involves an investigative journalist named Eloise White who makes an effort to investigate this story, as crazy as it sounds, when women in London turn up missing.

I also have a story in the first volume of the series, “All Made of Hinges.”

What is “Mormon Steampunk?” Well, the call for submissions explained, “The story must be in some sense ‘Mormon’ and in some sense ‘Steampunk.’ We’ll try to interpret those categories both broadly. If your story is faith-promoting (Mormonism is ‘true’ in the story), we’ll stop reading it. If it is mean-spirited (Mormons are all idiots), we’ll also stop reading it.” The stories so far have ranged from steampunk retellings of historical events to off-the-wall to epic clockwork-and-steam apocalyptic battles, and everything in-between. Fun stuff!


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RIP Neil Peart

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 13, 2020

I didn’t think it was possible to feel the kind of grief I did from the death of a man I never met, but Friday’s news hit me kinda hard. Neil Peart, drummer and primary lyricist for my favorite band, Rush, died of brain cancer. Rush was effectively retired…  we expected that when we attended their R40 concert in Salt Lake City, and it felt very much like a swan song. But this was the death of someone whose work I had admired since Junior High. It marked the true end of Rush, and the loss of one of the greatest poets and musical virtuosos in Rock.

Not that I agreed with everything he suggested in his songs. Far from it. I don’t think he did, either… his viewpoint seemed to evolve over time, as it should. But his lyrics were always thought-provoking and imaginative. He, with his bandmates’ approval, eschewed the marketable, unrealistic love songs. This move was epitomized in their breakout album 2112, where they were pushed by the studio as their “final chance” in the business to make something more mainstream and marketable. They decided to use their last chance to do the opposite, and create an anthem about musical creative rebellion in a world of soul-crushing totalitarian control over everything, including music: “We’ve taken care of everything: the words you hear, the songs you sing, the pictures that give pleasure to your eye…”

Against all odds, the album did well, and put them on a trajectory that spanned over forty years. Their music has inspired me most of my life. Their final studio album, Clockwork Angels, revisited the theme of Hemispheres, but with more maturity in perspective and even greater musical virtuosity, and of course cool steampunk trappings. And it proved to be one of their most popular albums. A great one to go out on.

Anyway, this  all hit me harder than I thought. Maybe part of it is a confrontation with my own mortality, because I ain’t getting any younger, either. But it was a sad day for me, and for many. I don’t think he believed in an afterlife, but I hope that today he has rejoined his family who passed before him, is looking down on the family he left behind, and is waxing lyrical about his new insights.

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Call for Submissions: A Haunted Yuletide

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 11, 2019

“Bring back the tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas!”
“You know what this Christmas party needs? Ghost stories.”
“Why does Nightmare Before Christmas have to be a Halloween or Christmas movie? Why can’t it be both?”

Immortal Works has heard your pleas and we are excited to announce our latest anthology, A Haunted Yuletide, slated for publication December 2020. And we need your submissions! We’re looking for stories that send shivers up and down your spine and make you want to check under your bed for monsters. We want stories that will make you afraid to to go sleep on Christmas Eve, because who is this Santa person, really? Tell us about the family home in New England where Aunt Enid is buried under the floor. We want to know about the ghost of that little kid who keeps hanging around the bakery downtown. In addition, please note the following:

  • Contributions should be short stories (between 1,000 and 10,000 words in length) that include ghosts and Christmas, although other winter solstice holidays will be welcome also (Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc).
  • Stories should adhere to Immortal Works’ submission guidelines, i.e. they should be free from graphic sexuality, gory violence, and use of the f-word.
  • Send your work to jbarnson+subs@gmail.com as an attachment in .docx format, and put Haunted Yuletide in the subject line.
  • Use the standard Shunn short story format (found here: https://www.shunn.net/format/story.html)
  • The submission deadline is midnight (MST) on 29 February, 2020.

The editors of A Haunted Yuletide will be Jay and Julie Barnson. Jay Barnson is the author of the BloodCreek novel series. His short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines. Julie Barnson is a professional storyteller of the oral tradition who has spent years terrifying audiences with her ghost stories. She knows about the things that go bump in the night.

As compensation authors will receive a percentage of royalties and an ebook copy of the anthology.

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Salt Lake FanX

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 5, 2019

I will be at FanX in Salt Lake City Today, Friday, and Saturday. If you want to find me, I will be at the Utah Speculative Authors booth, #2400, in the vendor hall most of the time. I’ll be available to sign books, shoot the breeze, whatever. 🙂

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Din’s Legacy Released

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 28, 2019

Sorry it’s been a bit quiet of late. At least I can say that this summer hasn’t been boring. Anyway… I wanted to pass this along. Din’s Legacy has been released as a full on 1.0 version. I’ve played the Early Access a little bit, and I’m looking forward to playing this final version. I’ve been a fan of Soldak’s RPGs for a long time, and Din’s Curse is an old favorite of mine. I didn’t play around much with the mutation system to really get a good feel for it, but everything else looked like a more refined, cooler, more exciting game in a series that has always been ahead of the mainstream competition.

Din’s Legacy Released.

Filed Under: Computer RPGs - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

Fyrecon 2019 – My Schedule

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 13, 2019

Hey folks! I will be at Fyrecon 2019 next week in Layton, Utah (June 20-22). Part of the time I will be attending a master class, and much of the rest of the time I will be participating in the new Game Development track there.

Thursday, June 20, 4:00 – 4:50 PM (Room D3-302) – Worlds Within Worlds: Using Virtual Reality in your fiction
From the Holodeck to the Matrix, and from Oasis to Sword Art: Online, virtual reality is growing into a subgenre of its own in science fiction and fantasy. Learn to make it more believable and dramatic in your fiction.

Thursday, June 20, 6:00 – 7:50 PM (Room D3-205) – How to Build a Computer RPG in a Week with No Budget
Let’s say you have seven days to build a computer RPG (or Roguelike), and you have little or no money to spend on tools or content. How do you do it? What tools do you use? How do you design it? This is a 2-hour workshop based on an old but very popular article I wrote years ago called, “How to Build a Game in a Week From Scratch with No Budget.

Friday, June 21, 2:40 – 2:55 PM (Readings Area) – Jay Barnson Reading
I share an excerpt or two from a recent (or upcoming? 🙂 ) work…

Friday, June 21, 3:00 – 3:50 PM (Spotlights area) – Spotlight Signing: Jay Barnson
If you want to get a book signed by me, this will be where you are guaranteed to find me. 🙂

Friday, June 21, 5:00 – 5:50 PM (Room D2-303) – The Future of VR and Video Games (Round table)
We get together and chat with whomever is interested about what the future holds for… um, VR and Video Games.

Saturday, June 22, 3:00 – 3:50 PM (Room D3-205) – Writing Stories for Video Games: Mixing Oil and Water
How do you mix good storytelling with good gameplay? What makes a good story in a video game? How do game developers and writers work together?

If you’d like to register for one or more days of this conference… packed with tons of valuable career information for creatives – you can sign up at https://www.fyrecon.com/registration/

If you can make it, come say hi!

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Dungeons & Desktops 2nd Edition – the History of Computer RPGs – Now Available!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 29, 2019

Matt Barton’s outstanding history of computer role-playing games is now out in a second edition. I haven’t read the whole thing yet (it’s HUGE), but the last ten years have brought about some enormous changes and tons of new games to the genre. This is kind of funny to me, as Matt had kind of closed the previous edition on a down note, thinking the era of quality single-player RPGs had come to a close.

Oh, Matt… The indies, the kickstarters, all that was only beginning to hit its stride. He admits to the failure of his crystal ball and rectifies things with a vengeance in this new edition, featuring a lot more content, color screenshots, and a lot more colorful commentary. (And to be fair… in some small ways, he has had his own influence over recent developments. So he’s been helping to make the history he’s recording… )

Oh, and Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon has a mention in the appendix. Yay, I’m in the history books! Well, a history book. THE history book. 🙂

Besides the new material, the original book has been revised and refreshed. I haven’t compared all the changes yet, but like the original it covers the origins and “evolution” (I hate that term when describing how RPGs have changed, but … there it is) of the genre. Aside from the dice-and-paper origins, it also goes back into the early mists of history, uncovering the ancient predecessors of modern games as they existed on university mainframes  in the 1970s (and were frequently deleted by administrators, making this a very challenging area of research). Matt traces the different styles and influences through almost fifty years of history, maintaining both objectivity as well as letting his absolute love of the subject matter show through.

Matt has always had an entertaining writing style, but the assistance of Shane Stacks and the additional commentary throughout has made this *anything* but a dry read. After all, it deals with an obsessively fun style of game, so it ought to be a fun read, right? Mission accomplished!

Yeah, this is not a cheap tome, but it is well worth it IMO. You can grab it from Amazon at this link, and probably other fine book dealers.

Filed Under: Books, Computer RPGs, Impressions - Comments: 12 Comments to Read

My Favorite SteamVR Games

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 8, 2019

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: Great 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 was 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 11 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. The latest modules in the IL-2 series (Battle of Stalingrad, Battle of Moscow, etc.)  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, Digital Combat Simulator (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 in DCS 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.

The Elder Scrolls V: 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. I played Skyrim back in the day for many, many hours back in the day… until I really just got tired of it. While I’m going through familiar territory now, I’m a long way off from getting tired of it.

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… 😉


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.


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.

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.



Filed Under: Virtual Reality - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

Quick Take: Proton Pulse

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 9, 2019

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.


Filed Under: Impressions, Virtual Reality - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

Pimax 5K+ Impressions – The First of the Second Generation of VR

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 2, 2019

In case you haven’t figured it out, I am a Virtual Reality enthusiast. I’ve been looking forward to the coming of consumer-level Virtual Reality since the early 90s. I expected it a lot sooner than it got here, to be honest, but I’m glad it’s here now. I love that I get to work with it as part of my day job. Anyway, I have been willing to sink a bit of cash into it this hobby… to the extent that I pre-ordered a Pimax 5K+. Offering about the highest resolution out there and 170+ degrees of field-of-view, it seemed like a game-changer for PC-based VR.

My headset arrived a few weeks ago. Due to crazy work hours, I haven’t had as much time to play with it as I’d like, but I thought I’d share my impressions so far. The company and the PiTool software are still kind of young, so there’s plenty of room for both to grow. In fact, that’s probably the first alarm bell you should be hearing: There’s always a chance that one big disruption could cause the company and all its support of this product to disappear tomorrow. It’s no longer a “boutique” product, IMO, and has been growing to meet demand. My pre-order took months to arrive, but I understand that lately people have been getting their orders within 3-4 weeks. So… it’s improving.

Since it arrived, there have been a ton of announcements of new and impressive VR headsets for 2019. I’m going to state for the record that I’m calling this the second generation of VR hardware. Yes, annoyed pundits have their own list of demands for second-generation hardware, a bunch of revolutionary changes, but I call tough toenails. It is what it is, and the latest stuff coming out is definitely pretty exciting. I count the new Pimax headsets to be the first of this new generation. For the next couple of years, you’ll be able to treat yourself to much higher resolution, bigger field of view, inside-out tracking without the need of external sensors, untethered (or standalone) use, lighter weights, foveated rendering with eye-tracking, and improved frame rates for cleaner tracking. The problem is… I don’t know of any system coming out that will give you all of the above (or even a significant subset of the above), at least not at a consumer price-point.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to describe a VR experience. You can’t even show videos, really, that capture the experience properly. All I can do is offer comparisons and hope that it works.

Construction / Appearance: Construction feels a little more rugged than the Oculus Rift, but not as solid as the Vive / Vive Pro. It’s lightweight, though, in spite of its wide size and beefy lenses – less than the original Vive, I think. Anyway, I dig the LED Cylon-looking thing across the front. Maybe it makes me look less dorky or less like a hammerhead shark when I’m wearing it, but honestly, I don’t care. While it looks weird, it works. All is good.

Fit / Comfort: The strap that comes with the Pimax 5K+ is… well, functional. Kinda like the strap that shipped with the original Vive. I ordered some 3D-printed adapters for less than $10 that allowed me to hook up my Vive Deluxe Audio Strap to my Pimax, and it worked GREAT. I mean, really…. it feels like it belongs there. Pimax is coming out with their own version of the DAS for the Pimax, but I have a tough time imagining that it’ll be any better than this. I keep saying the Deluxe Audio Strap is a “must buy” for the original Vive, and it holds true here, too. With the strap, the Pimax is plenty comfy.

Some caveats, however: If you wear glasses in VR, you’ll need some thicker padding and adjustments to make it work right. Also, it seems to me that you really need to dial in your inter-pupillary distance (IPD) pretty closely… it’s not as tolerant as most headsets to being off by a couple of millimeters. If you don’t do this, you’ll probably see double and feel some eye strain after a while.

I’ve played for up to 90 minutes at a time with no significant feeling of eye strain or discomfort.

Setup: Getting things working with my computer is always a little bit of a chore, requiring software installation, reboots, etc. However, once it was set up, everything worked and kept working. Sometimes VR is finicky. The Pimax (currently) requires Lighthouse base stations (for position tracking) and controllers only available from HTC, which is great for an upgrade from the Vive, but not so great for new owners. However, Pimax is supposed to have both available really soon now, if they aren’t already.

Image Quality: Okay, here’s the biggest part – how are the visuals? In a word, fantastic. But you probably want more. Compared to the early 1st generation headsets, they are amazing. Compared to, say, the Vive Pro (which I have available for comparison), I think they aren’t quite as good. The LED display isn’t quite as bright and vivid, and the vertical resolution is about 10% smaller (1440 instead of the Vive Pro’s 1600). The horizontal resolution for the nearest 110 degrees (the standard FOV of headsets today, including the Vive Pro) is as good or better. The images do seem a little bit sharper than on the Vive Pro, and the screen door effect is hardly noticeable for me.

Of course, the selling point of the Pimax 5K+ is the wide field-of-view (FOV). It does not disappoint. The software allows three display modes: Small, Normal, and Large. Small FOV is about the usual 110 degrees that other headsets offer. If your game is having a really tough time running at higher resolutions at a decent frame rate, try this. “Normal” offers about 150 degrees of horizontal FOV, and it’s fantastic. “Large” opens up an extra 10 degrees on either side, giving you 170 degrees of horizontal FOV (they advertise 200 degrees “diagonal” FOV, which is a bizarre way to measure it that only marketing schmucks could come up with). Honestly, the difference between “Normal” and “Large” is hardly noticeable, and that last sliver is a little distorted by the lenses anyway. It’s really just good for catching stuff in the extremes of your peripheral vision. However, I didn’t notice a big difference in frame-rate for the large FOV, either, running on an RTX 2080Ti. So… YMMV. I may switch to “Large” mode in the future, but right now I’m extremely happy with Normal mode.

Normal Mode captures most of what your eyes see. You no longer feel like you are wearing blinders.  It’s more like ski goggles than scuba goggles. This makes it much easier to “check six” in a flight simulator, or to catch a glimpse of bad guys attacking you from the sides in a shooter. Some people say they can’t go back after experiencing the wider FOV for a while. I don’t have that problem, but it really is nice.  The higher resolution and sharp image quality make it easier to read the instrument panel in a flight sim, or to spot the details in Skyrim VR. And again, the peripheral vision or the ability to glance behind without having to turn almost all the way around is a really big deal in some games.

Looking at hard numbers: The original Vive and Oculus Rift offer 1080 x 1200 resolution per eye. The Vive Pro offers 1440 x 1600 resolution per eye… about a 75% improvement in resolution. The Pimax 5K+ has up to 2560 x 1440 resolution per eye – 184% better resolution than the original Rift and Vive, and about 60% larger than the Vive Pro… but it’s also spread out over a 55% wider field of view.

Software / Tuning: The Pimax 5K+ is compatible with SteamVR. I haven’t found anything that doesn’t work yet. However, you do need to run support software called “PiTool”. There are a lot of things to tweak here, in addition to the options inside SteamVR, in order to get the performance optimal for your tastes. Tweaking stuff in PiTool requires a restart of SteamVR for many of the changes to take effect. One of the most annoying issues is that a lot of older VR programs require the “Compatible with Parallel Projection” option to be activated.  This forces a slower rendering system to avoid seeing double, and it’s a significant hit to performance. Unity games and the newest Unreal games don’t require this option (and, happily, neither does DCS). Sadly, IL-2 Sturmovik requires this option, and I can’t get a solid 90 fps anymore in this game. Still, I’m generally ranging near 80, so it’s not terrible.

Other options include changing the field of view, modifying the brightness of the display, enabling their own version of Motion Smoothing (“Smart Smoothing,” which I don’t like as much as the one for the Vive), allowing “hidden areas” to be left unrendered (which can sometimes be noticed in the periphery of your version, but increases performance), changing the frame rate target (to sacrifice max FPS for a smoother frame rate… very important) and a bit more.  One size might not fit all games — particularly with Smart Smoothing and parallel projection compatibility. However, I like that they enable so many options to try and get the optimum performance / quality balance.

Overall: The VR landscape is about to get a bit more complicated, but as of right now, I’d say the Pimax is an excellent upgrade to the original Vive, if you have a machine beefy enough to keep up. You can keep your Lighthouse sensors and your controllers, and even keep your Deluxe Audio Strap if you have one. Put the original Vive in a box to remember it fondly, and rock on to the new, higher-resolution, wide-FOV new world. I consider it an upgrade over the Vive Pro, but not nearly as significant. The positives and negatives in the differences in visual quality probably balance each other out. The Pro has a wireless adapter allowing untethered gaming, but the wide FOV of the Pimax is a huge improvement.

If you do not already own the Vive “Lighthouse” base stations and controllers, it is a far more expensive system (even before you consider the costs of the PC). Pretty much the cost of a Vive Pro.

Is  the high resolution and wide FOV a game-changer? Not exactly, but for some games it really makes a tremendous difference (especially flight sims). I think foveated rendering doesn’t make much sense until you go outside the 110 degree FOV window. It’s a big enough deal that my next VR upgrade a few years down the road will have to offer a similarly wide FOV. Nothing announced so far is giving me any semblance of buyer’s remorse. If I didn’t already own the Pimax, I might be looking very closely at the upcoming HP Reverb or the Vive Cosmos. Then, I still might choose the Pimax. 🙂  I think it probably represents the hardware limits of graphics cards for the next few years, and unless you really MUST have an untethered experience or the absolute bare minimum of Screen Door Effect, I think this headset looks like something that will grow with me for several years.


Filed Under: Impressions, Virtual Reality - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

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