Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Moving on up in V Rising

The old castle in V Rising was becoming a bit problematic. Everything was crammed up against each other like a disorganized workspace area at a FedEx Kinkos, and quite honestly, I was running out of room.  Team Spode made the decision early on to try and keep our castles close to each other in a communal vampire coven, but the only problem with that is . . . I'm freaking addicted to this game.

The old castle is a bit crowded

I've been spending far FAR too much time in this game. I've soloed all the bosses up through Frostmaw (as of this post), and the rest of Team Spode has been involved in other things. (Gratz Tipa on reaching the final boss of Elden Ring.)

Kind of disappointing, Frostmaw bugged and ended up being easy to kill

Luckily you can have a couple of castles at once in V Rising, so I hiked up North, found a really great location to make a new castle and went to work. Team, the new castle is looking LEGIT! I've got rooms separated out with differing floor tiles and workstations that get bonuses from being located on those tiles. I've got a jail. I've got a throne room. I've got a secret garden in back with two gigantic copper resource nodes. I've got servant quarters . . . and look, I'm not even DONE DECORATING!  It's going to be epic.

The Forge is separated from the Library and Alchemist's Lab!

The best part of the new castle, however, is that it's located in the heart of Dunley with easy access to a slew of bosses and resources.  It was pretty natural to move my bass of operations from South to North.

One of my latest conquests was killing Tristan the Vampire Slayer. Man that felt good.  Whenever you'd see Tristan in your lower levels you'd run like you were an expendable low rank hacker in the Matrix and Agent Smith was after you. As a bonus for killing him, I got three things. 1- His cool vampire hunter pilgrim hat. 2- A recipe that allows you to transmute your boxes and boxes full of blood essence into that delicious Greater Essence. 3- A cool skill that lets you easily see the types of blood and purity of blood of your enemies.

Ready for thanksgiving . . . and murder . . .

That last skill is pretty epic. Rolling your mouse over an enemy to see that information was cumbersome. Launching a skill to see blood type and quality is epic. Why?  Lemme see if I can explain that a bit.

A 15, a flock of 19s, and a 22 . . . 

So basically, there are several types of blood in the game right? Brute, Rogue, Warrior, Worker, Scholar, Beast . . . think those are the main ones. In addition, each living enemy you encounter has one of those blood types and a percentage of blood purity. When you drink an enemies blood, you switch to their blood type and percentage.

In a way you can think of it as your sub-class because each of these blood types give you different bonuses base on its purity.  If you want to go kill a bunch of enemies, switch to a battle type.  If you want to do a lot of spell damage, switch to Scholar.  If you want to spend a chunk of time crafting, switch to Worker.

Worker blood . . . Gotta love that increased resource yield!

Also, just to note, blood percentages don't stack. So let's say you're rocking a 54% Warrior blood and you drink the blood of a 9% warrior, you're going to drop down to a 9% warrior blood type. You don't want that because there's bonuses for getting higher quality blood.

This blood also naturally decays over time, and using vampire skills also drains it a bit. The big blood hog happens when you regen life through a vampire skill . . . that drains it big time. The ultimate drain of course is when you die. If you die, you lose your blood type completely and your blood type says "frailed." If you eat heart or a rat, your blood will fill, but it'll replace your blood type with frailed, so only use those in an emergency. (You should really only be using rats and hearts for other crafting related things anyway.)

Eventually you'll be able to craft jail cells and charm your enemies with a vampire skill. Those 100 percent blood enemies are EXTREMELY valuable and you'll want to put them in a jail cell because eventually you put them on tap . . . and then 100 percent blood will be available to you all the time . . . as long as you don't completely drain your jailed purebloods, which is actually surprisingly easy to do.  That's where fishing comes back in to play.  If you feed your prisoners good fish, they are less miserable and less likely to die from blood draining.

100 percent warrior blood . . . melikey!

YOU GUYS THIS GAME! It's so good. I don't know . . . I know a few of my friends have struggled with the controls, but I kind of took to it like a fish in water. Good times.

Happy Dueling!

Friday, May 27, 2022

Rising to Mid-Game in V Rising

V-rising continues to dominate my game time lately. Since I've posted last about it, I've caught the elusive Twilight Snapper . . . twice (more about that later), built a throne, captured some minions, mined for iron, made a forge, killed a handful of bosses, outfitted myself and my minions, and have died and been reborn in a bat-filled whirlwind of a bloodbath A LOT. Basically, yeah, I've been having a great time! It continues to be the best $20 purchase I've made in a long time.

When you finally reel in that Twilight Snapper . . . whew

First off, let's talk a bit about that Putrid Rat boss.  Holy crap I was not expecting that rat to be that tough the first time around.  For a level 20 boss, he sure felt like he was 8 levels higher than that. He attacked fast, summoned a horde, and had a really small tether.  Some fights I'd have to restart it just because I had accidentally backed up too far from his spawn point!

Since it spawns from your vermin nest as a crafted boss, what really helped win the fight was not only having my minions in my castle help me kill it, but outfitting them with good gear to have them fight with me and not just instantly die. Sapping its essence then gave me the power of becoming a rat so I can sneak around and past big groups of enemies.  It's super helpful when you're trying to get to a boss while it's still night time.

Living my best ratty life

Eventually I was able to start mining some Iron because I had Merciless grade weapons, but I had absolutely no way of smelting said iron.  That meant downing the Bandit King.  

The Bandit King is probably the hardest of the bosses found in the southern map, and it took me a bit before I figured out the perfect skills to take him down. Basically the Blood Shield and the Blood Counter skills coupled with the Chaos Magic sprint skill and several axe swipes to the face.  Done!

That same Blood Shield and Blood Counter strategy also worked great against the Bear Boss. In fact, my practice defeating the Bear Boss with this strategy is what lead to me taking down the Bandit King with the same strategy.  I was raging pretty hard on those two bosses until I figured that out.  Repair costs and frustration from running back to the bosses were not good for my blood pressure.

Learning to Grin and Bear it in Bear Form

Having downed the Bandit King, NOW I could smelt that iron and do all the good stuff that comes with that, which includes unlocking Steel weapons, and WOW . . . what an upgrade getting those steel weapons is.  Once you have those weapons you have access to an extra weapon power and a couple of new weapon types, including the Scythe, which is my new favorite weapon type by far.

Now I'm looking like a friendly necromancer

The scythe can be thrown out and spins in an area slicing and dicing everything for a second or two. It's great and also does extra damage to undead, which was a plus since this morning's target was Nicholas the Fallen, a very UNFRIENDLY necromancer that excelled at casting poison bolts and summoning a horde of undead.

It took a few attempts. He was really good at lagging my computer tbh

I'm starting to really feel powerful in the game now, and having fun dominating lower level enemies. After today's rampage, I'm ready to start to crack into what seems to be the mid-game? I may have to build a second base up North now though. It's starting to become cumbersome if I die in the North and have to repair down South first. Plus I'm running out of room in my castle and need to start building out "rooms" that have floors that match the room's purpose for crafting bonuses.  Things are getting kind of cramped.

It's essentially one big room full of everything at this point

Happy Dueling!

Monday, May 23, 2022

Team Spode goes Vampire in V Rising

So after spending a good chunk of last year playing Runes of Magic as a vampire, I thought . . . let's do it again! Of course now I'm not playing Runes of Magic, now I'm playing V Rising, and it's super fun.

Last week V Rising launched, and its numbers on Steam went absolutely bonkers. The trend is up, and V Rising had 150k concurrent users in the past 17 hours.  I was one of 'em.

All signs are pointing up!

In fact, all of Team Spode seems to be onboard. It's a great fit for the group IMHO. It's a Diablo-esque isometric view combined with many common features to Valhiem.  Those are two things (Diablo and Valheim) that Team Spode loves!

Tipa was quick to set up a private server for us to play on, and soon after we started chopping down trees, cracking open rocks, and sucking the blood out of wolves and man alike! 

Thanks for giving me your ice bat skill, Keely!

My greatest fear as a vampire doesn't come from silly humans . . . it is from running out of blood, carrying silver, and the searing judgements of heaven every time I set a foot into the sun.


You can still survive out in the sun for a bit, but not for very long. Thankfully even a tiny pixel of shade can sometimes provide a nice escape.

Ultimately the name of the game is to simply follow along with the quest log in the top left hand corner of the screen.  Just follow that and you'll be a master vampire in no time.  Currently I'm stuck trying to build a throne so I can command my minions, socks and shoes, so they may terrorize the land.

Socks and Shoes . . . Pants, Underwear, and Boostier to follow!

But that's the catch, to build a throne, I need Iron Ingots. To get Iron Ingots, I need to have a weapon that can break iron nodes (which I have), and have unlocked the recipe for smelting iron. To unlock the recipe for smelting iron, you need to take down the Bandit King. To get to the Bandit King, you need to craft explosives to get inside his castle.  It's that kind of layering on of requirements that makes this kind of survival game fun and keeps you playing for hours.

I've earned my wolf form, which allows me to run faster, but now it's time to earn my rat form as well.  I'm thinking it most likely lets me sneak around unnoticed. Earning your rat form means you also need to fish for the elusive twilight snapper fish so you can spawn the rat boss you need to defeat. To my happy surprise, fishing this morning also produced a super cool straw hat!

What's that, a hat? Crazy funky junky hat?

It's too bad that straw hat doesn't actually provide any protection from the sun for me.  I'd be the happiest vampire in all the land.

So far I'm loving this game and having a great time playing it. Better yet, I get to take it on with friends.

Happy Dueling!

Thursday, May 19, 2022

A Wonderland in VR: Down the Rabbit Hole

I've watched / played / experienced Alice in Wonderland in some incarnation or another maybe a dozen times? Maybe more if you count all the times I've been on the Alice and Wonderland Ride at Disneyland. In fact, most of that comes from the times when the only thing my youngest wanted to do was watch Disney movies over and over and over.  

Love the broken ladder forming the "H"

Down the Rabbit Hole is everything you'd expect it to be and nothing at all like you'd expect it to be. It's a VR game that relies heavily on the diorama view of the world where you are the disembodied camera looking down on a cute scene, and I do mean cute! It's a very charming world.

The most intense Doll House you've ever been inside

The really inventive "treat" we get as players comes from HOW you view these diorama scenes as you are literally climbing down a rabbit hole with each new puzzle you solve. There are vines you can cling on to in order to move up and down the scene. It's incredibly charming and fun. 

Looking up at the many layers of the Rabbit Hole

Unfortunately with a title like "Down the Rabbit Hole," I don't know why, but I was expecting something a bit more sinister akin to American McGee's Alice circa 2000 where everything has a bit more of a sinister twist.  This isn't that game.

This game is a VR puzzle game that is everything you'd expect from a game about the classic tale of Alice in Wonderland, and all the standard characters are present and accounted for. Re-playability for the game comes from finding all the invitation collectibles and in a branching story path with choices that basically lead to the same conclusions.

I have to be honest here though . . . thank goodness for quest walkthrough videos!  I would have never realized I could grab the giant tart with my controller and physically hand it to the king's hand. I just wasn't making the mental leap needed for that.

Playing cards mark where story choices were made

All in all, Down the Rabbit Hole was a pretty charming game with an interesting presentation. Loved that you were actually playing a diorama styled puzzle that descended down a hole in the ground. That made for a really unique experience.

Happy Dueling!

Sunday, May 15, 2022

1, 2, 3 . . . it's Vader Immortal!

As per typical Marketing demands, the entire Vader Immortal suite of VR games was on sale when May the 4th was being with us. I obliged of course because, dude, getting 3 highly rated VR games for 15 bucks is totally worth it!  Of course, finding time to actually play said games amidst everything else I'm committed to is a bit more difficult.

That said, there's really only about an hour of game play in each of the three games, which for most games out there would be a death nail in the game, but this is VR we're talking about.  I'd lay down $60 for all my kids to have a VR experience at some random vacation resort and that'd be for a half hour of play at most. And that's the thing, when it comes to Vader Immortal you're paying for the experience of standing there right next to a life-sized Darth Vader holding his lightsaber menacingly right above your head.  It's awesome.

Nothing quite like big life-size characters standing right next to you

Vader Immortal is not a difficult game in any of its incarnations, and they don't need to be.  Just playing in VR can be difficult enough at times. I was reading a really great article the other day that talked about how much slower people actually move in VR, and I totally agree:

Even simple concepts need to be redefined for VR. For instance, players take things much slower in VR than they do in a flat screen game.

"People slow down so much [in Half-Life: Alyx]," says Valve's designer and writer Sean Vanaman. "That's in contrast to how fast your character moves in Half-Life games traditionally. You're very, very, very fast in those games, and at the furthest end of the bell curve on the other extreme is how slow people go [in VR]."

To those ends, when Darth Vader is training you to be his apprentice and is throwing giant rocks at you while you're learning to catch them with the force, you may take "damage" and he may insult you as being pathetic when you duck instead of catch the rock, but you'll never die and have to restart the chapter. 

This makes the whole experience very much like living inside a Vader Immortal Movie in three parts. The only thing that sucks is they leave the whole series with a cliff hanger, so no . . . there's no Vader Immortal 4.

Vader listening in to my great great great grandma telling me not to trust him

Outside of the hour of gameplay there is also a lightsaber training dojo game inside each of the Vader Immortal games, and that definitely increases the value of the games. The dojos are a good work out and each of them is slightly different than the next.

  • The first dojo in Vader Immortal 1 really concentrates on the remote training droids made famous in the OG Star Wars with Luke Skywalker.  You'll be deflecting shots back at the droids and slicing them in half.

  • The second dojo you'll find everything you found in the first dojo PLUS wield force powers and use a saber throw that is incredibly satisfying.  Chucking your lightsaber out and having it boomerang back to you is super fun.

  • The third dojo is the most challenging of the bunch. You'll get training droids AND stormtroopers armed with blasters. Once you strike down a stormtrooper you can use the force to pick up his blaster and shoot things, so you end up shooting with your left and slashing with your right.

Let's go, training remotes!

There were a lot of fun moments in these games, and at some point I may return to play through them again . . .just like I'd watch one of the star wars films all over again. 

I captured some fun footage yesterday while escaping a tunnel system deep below Mustafar. I have to say, it's really fun to force choke storm troopers and throw them into each other.

Happy Dueling!

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

A Tale of three VR RPGs and the quest for good UI

I've been playing a bit of a VR game called Vanishing Realms over my lunch breaks. It's a VR dungeon crawl/puzzle/RPG, and apparently the guy that made it (Kelly Bailey) broke away from Valve and started a solo indie project of his own (Indimo Labs) to make the game. He's implemented a lot of changes and updates over the years and even made an expansion to the game, which as of last night, I'm ready to download.  

I've also been playing a bit of a VR MMO named OrbusVR. As I described it to one of my co-workers the other day, "It's like they slapped a Zelda Windwaker styled Mii theme over the top of VR chat and made an MMO." I'm level 8 and climbing. 

And of course, I wrote about In Death Unchained back in April. It's firstly a procedurally generated VR Dungeon Crawl and secondly a VR Tower Defense game. In other words, the genre of "VR RPG" has been on my mind in one way or another from three games, which in reality are entirely different from each other.

Vanishing Realms has two movement modes: 1) teleport method and 2) joystick movement.  

Using Teleport to Move In Front of an NPC in OrbusVR

The teleport method is very familiar in VR games, and all three of the aforementioned RPGs all use this in one way or another.  Basically you move your joystick in a direction and the camera teleports to that spot in the VR world.  In Death Unchained is extra slick because you shoot your arrow at a spot to teleport.

Overall, joystick movement just isn't something I've seen used often, so today I tried it out in Vanishing Realms and WOW! It's super vertigo inducing. Mind you, it warns you of this when you select that option, but it took me quite some time to stop feeling a bit dizzy from it, and I'd say I have pretty good sea legs. *shakes head* It was surprising. 

Eventually it was a combination of teleporting and joystick movement that worked best.  It's kind of crazy I'd inflict that upon myself, but you just can't beat the joystick movement for when you do melee combat.

Another feature you'll find, well quite honestly in all RPGs -- VR or not -- is player inventory. Right? What's an RPG without a place to stuff your myriad of collectibles? Comparing and contrasting inventories from the three games is interesting. So far I like Vanishing Realms' way of solving RPG inventory a lot better than say how they do it in OrbusVR. In Orbus, they have a hybrid stash-on-your-person inventory mixed with a standard 2D MMO inventory UI that pops up in virtual space.

Conversely, in Vanishing Realms, if you look down at your waist, you have a number of backpack slots to select from. These slots categorize your inventory into "type." There's a bag for miscellaneous items like a torch, a pick, an apple, etc; a shield bag, for . . . um . . . a shield; a melee weapon bag; a ranged weapon bag; and a magic weapon bag.  What's interesting in this system is that swapping is a bit complex. Sometimes you actually have to stash items before you select new items.

Looking down at my waist to view the inventory in Vanishing Realms

It made me start thinking about how I'd love to find a VR game that elegantly solves the RPG inventory issue. I guess when I compare both Vanishing Realms and OrbusVR to the procedural dungeon crawl of In Death Unchained, the answer really is to keep inventory as bare and minimal as you can when it comes to VR. 

For instance, if you find a new type of arrow in In Death Unchained, you slot it invisibly into your bow where you can store 4 different types of arrows. That's it. Outside of that, there really is no inventory.  Gold is just automatically put into your backpack and there's nothing else to worry about . . . no keys or torches or anything. aka Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS) philosophy. 

Four Types of Arrows, Some points, and some gold . . . that's it. KISS.

The one thing you lose with a system like that of course is that MMORPG people just like hoarding and collecting stuff, lots of it, and they want it accessible at any time in any location.

I have to say that sloppy UIs that pop up in a virtual space leave me with a bad taste in my eyes. Poor OrbusVR with its chat dialogs popping up and overlapping quest completion notices. There was a wacky, running chat box floating all the way up in the air at a hard to read angle. I don't know. It felt like if there was a case study for what NOT to do with UI in a VR game, OrbusVR would be on that list. 

Just one example of the confusing Mess of UI in OrbusVR

Now as for combat, OrbusVR had all things and everything depending on which class you played. There's a gun-slinging musketeer, a gesture based wizard class, a sword and board class, a bow class, etc. etc.  Conversely In Death Unchained is just the bow and a shield, and that's it.  It's super focused and what they do, they do well.  Vanishing Realms doesn't go quite as far in what they offer for combat (no guns), but they have sword and board, two-handed axe swinging, and a wand that, quite frankly, feels freaking amazing to use . . . until you run out of mana.

Probably the coolest thing about Vanishing Realms is that the combat doesn't feel as faked as it does in OrbusVR. You block sword swings from your enemies with your shield and they attack from a number of directions. It all feels very gladiatorial.

I did a little digging after playing this combat style, and I started reading around. Apparently if you like the gladiatorial combat in Vanishing Realms, then there's another game called Gorn that may be up your alley. It's a fighting game from the advertising, so . . . might be cool, but doesn't look like an RPG. I'll have to keep it in mind.

So, there you have it. I've been playing a few RPGs with my Quest 2 headset and having some fun with it. If you happen to have a VR RPG that you would like to recommend, please send it my way. I'd love to try it out.  (It would be cool to compare and contrast the Zenith MMO to OrbusVR.)

Happy Dueling!

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Astrobot and Lucky's Tale -- two peas in a VR pod

It's hard to think of something made in 2016 as being the OG VR Platformer, but really the Oculus Rift has only been around since 2016 and that's really when commercially viable VR headsets started to become available. (Shhh Nintendo Virtual Boy fanboys . . . just lemme call Lucky's Tale an OG VR Platformer, ok?)

A couple years ago when we all went into lockdown for Quarantine, I discovered a love for Astrobot on the PSVR. I was legitimately kinda losing my mind in lockdown, and Astrobot was the perfect escape. It felt like on some of those levels, I could just lean back and enjoy the digital world around me, and you can't escape the similarities between Lucky's Tale and Astrobot when you play them.

In Lucky's Tale and in Astrobot, you, as the camera, float along behind the hero of the story on a track. This is completely different than say how platforming is handled in the game, Moss, where you are viewing the level from a darkened side view. Lucky's Tale and Astrobot both have a really charming and cute hero that gushes with personality, and of course, they're both VR Platformers.

I need to find a better way of recording gameplay from Oculus, but for now, here's a little "silent" movie of some Lucky's Tale Gameplay. (btw, I should make a side blog post about how awful VR gameplay footage is to show around . . . it doesn't capture the essence at all and always ends up super jittery or super zoomed in . . . ugh)

A friend of mine was talking about the ingenious use of VR's ambionic sound in Astrobot. For the layman, that means when a hidden robot is sitting in a location saying "help me," you get a sense of direction to where they are hidden in the level. I wish there was more of that in Lucky's Tale. It's just done better in Astrobot.

The obvious difference is that Astrobot uses the playstation controller, and the input for Lucky's Tale is done through your two hand controllers. I do think that both are successful in using the controls in clever ways, however.  In Astrobot you can fire ninja stars and grappling hooks with the touchpad. In Lucky's Tale, you throw bombs and use headset view positioning to target.

Another obvious difference is that Lucky's Tale is much shorter than Astrobot, but also came at a lower price point. 

End credits "playroom" in Lucky's Tale

Both characters from Astrobot and Lucky's Tale were charming enough that they both got a sequel game. Astrobot introduces everyone to the PS5 in Astro's Playroom and I wouldn't doubt that there will be an Astrobot 2.  Lucky's Tale has the Super Lucky's Tale and the New Super Lucky's Tale on the Switch. Interestingly enough, neither of these follow on titles are in VR.


Ultimately I liked both games enough that I kind of want to try both Astro's Playroom and the New Super Lucky's Tale. 

The next VR platformer game I need to take a look at is Carly and the Reaperman. I'm loving this genre of VR game enough that I feel comfortable in exploring around here . . . perhaps enough time has passed that I can even give Moss another shot?

Happy Dueling!