Oculus Rift – First Impressions

Last week Jennifer emailed me a link to Super! Bitcon. This was the inauguration of what is intended to be an annual event. We deliberated over whether or not we wanted to attend. Money has been tight for a while now, and we have tried to be careful how we spend it. Ultimately, we decided that we really didn’t want to miss out on the first shot. So, that’s what we did on Saturday. There was a Commodore 64 present and an Xbox One, and everything else in between was also represented. There were costumes (pics to come), there were contests, there were demos on hardware and software, there were arts and crafts, and there was a lot of stuff for sale. One vendor had a Nintendo GameCube for $18, and another had one for $60. At one table, they had a copy of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past with the original box and manual fairly priced for $85. Another vendor had a similar example and quoted me a price of $40.

In the rear of the main floor there was a vendor who had a pair of Pioneer Laseractive controllers, new in their original boxes. For those of you who don’t know, these puppies are basically Sega Genesis Controllers that have the Pioneer logo printed on them. I wouldn’t mind picking up a pair of them to run on our Atari 2600. These two were priced at $70 each. I chatted with the vendor for a few moments about them. I told him why I wanted a pair, but that I wasn’t prepared to spend what he was asking, although his pricing was not out of line for such mint examples. As we were surveying his wares, I turned around to see why people were standing in line behind us.

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“Jen!” I said breathlessly, “that’s an Oculus Rift!”

I was a big fan of the concept of virtual reality in the 90’s. I remember some mobile arcade thing that was set up at the Dallas Galleria in about 1992 that was selling a few minutes of VR gaming for about $6. At the time I took the bait and put on the heavy goggles. I was immersed in a world of giant polygons. There was a degree of depth perception to the vector graphics, but it was mostly just laggy, hard to control, and bad. The landscape and characters were bland and glitchy from what I can remember. It was an interesting experience, but They cheated me out of my $6; live and learn though. Indeed as a teen, I checked out quite a few products sold under the umbrella of the term ‘virtual reality.’ The vast majority of them were flimflam pieces of gimmick that didn’t really deliver, but were designed to separate consumers from their money. Most of them didn’t offer any actual depth perception at all, but simply put a screen or two within eye-strain distance. Arguably the nail in the coffin was Nintendo’s sadly executed Virtual Boy, which sold poorly due to excessive pricing and sad underdevelopment. The industry got ahead of itself and sold a product it didn’t really yet have the technology to back it up with. Whatever the cause, VR seemed to be swept into the dustbin of history. But, not everyone gave up on it so easily.

OculusVR is a company that was born out of the attempt to improve on these forgotten devices. A Kickstarter with a quarter-million-dollar goal sourced nearly ten times as much funding. Now with the backing of Valve and FaceBook, the money and software support are definitely on hand to make this virtual reality a technological reality. The device itself is still in the development kit phase. These units are far better finished than a rough prototype, but they’re essentially betas. Jennifer, Teen Bot, and I stood in line to take our turn for a few minutes with the demo. (Duh.)

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The experience was remarkable.

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The eyepiece is a lot lighter than I expected, a fraction of the weight of the old units that I remember from twenty years ago. It has motion sensors installed that turn and pivot the point of view with the literal motion of your head.

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The graphics are well implemented and deliver true depth perception as though you have stepped into a digital world. Note the monitor showing a representative view of what I was experiencing in the following picture:

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To steal a cliche, this is the real deal. The screens wrap to the peripheral vision and make for a very convincing show. Even only as a visual display, the sound of the real world seemed to dull and quiet into the background. It was disorienting. I understand that the final release will have higher resolution monitors, which is definitely lacking in the Development Kit. There is a nearly imperceptible lag between in the motion that is dizzying. Each of the three of us experienced this phenomenon and felt as though we were about to fall down when we moved too fast. I actually stumbled as my eyes were giving me slightly different motion information than the rest of my senses. The final version is supposed to be faster, which should mitigate this issue as well. Assuming they address these two minor complaints well, and assuming they can keep the purchase price down, this piece of tech may be about to revolutionize the way you interface with your computer just like the multi-touch screen did with your cell phone.

With what this device promises to be upon release, there are some somber implications. With modern graphics, stereophonic sound, and motion controls, games will become a truly immersive experience in a way that they have never been able to before. I don’t consider myself to be a big gamer, but a really good game will suck me in. A game of that quality experienced like this would certainly make me lose track of everything else. I’d have to set a timer to limit myself. I have to admit that I’m excited to see what OculusVR brings to market as the example we played with on Saturday was quite impressive. Even so, it’s a cautious excitement. We haven’t seen VR like this before, and we don’t really know what it will do to the industry or to society. I will be patiently waiting for the first news stories of gamers who injured themselves by falling down using these things. This thing plus alcohol is guaranteed to result in accidents. It’s only a matter of time before we hear of someone getting their home cleaned out by robbers while their senses are cut off from the rest of the world, or someone getting assaulted while using this in an unsecured fashion.

Goom Ga Goom Hackalackalacka Goom

Several years ago, my phone rang. I saw on the caller ID that it was my friend Wilhelm.

I answered the call, “hi Wilhelm. What are you doing?”

“Hi Evyl,” he responded, “I’m not doing much of anything. What are you up to?”

“Well, I’m killing off some brain cells,” I confessed.

“Oh yeah?” Wilhelm was intrigued, “how’s that?”

So, I explained, “well, I’m drinking German beer, and we’re watching Spice World and then The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie.”

Wilhelm laughed, “Oh, you really are killing brain cells!”

Just as monks of yore are reputed to have self-flagellated, sometimes I enjoy watching a truly bad movie. However, I do not own a copy of Avatar. That’s over the line for me and I don’t have the patience to watch that much compressed bad movie for that kind of duration. It takes so much alcohol for me to endure that film that I’m going to start calling it The Last Bender. Movies based on video games are a pretty easy mark for bad content searches, with rare exception. A young friend of ours recently exposed his wisdom and said in conversation, “I’d rather watch Resident Evil movies than play the games.” Outside of the Umbrella Corp., we get the likes of Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter. The only line I remember from either of those films is when Johnny Cage says, “I’m in a hostile environment. I’m totally unprepared. And I’m surrounded by a bunch of guys who probably want to kick my ass… it’s like being back in high school.” Most of the time, video games make for terrible movies. Scrape the bottom of that ugly barrel, and you have Super Mario Bros.

***Spoiler alert! If you have spent the last two decades unaware of this movie, and you still plan to watch it, you might want to go take care of that before you read the rest of this. Or you know, skip the middle man and take my word for it that there are better things that you can do with 104 minutes of your life. In that case, read on.

As I may have recently mentioned, Teen Bot has gotten more into video games over the last several years, thus Jennifer and I have recently gotten more into video games. Last week or so, we came to the realization that he had not yet seen the steaming pile of a film that is Super Mario Bros. So last night, we looked it up on YouTube and gave it a watch. I had long forgotten exactly how bad this movie is. For years, when it would come up in conversation mentioned as a bad movie, I would come to its defense and proclaim, “it’s not that bad.” No, Evyl. It is actually that bad and then some. This film stands as a monument to the fact that you can start with a good cast, expensive special effects, and good intentions, and still wind up with a crappy film. I’m reminded once more of The Last Bender. The biggest problem with it is that it has almost nothing in common with the Nintendo games. It’s as though the writers took advice from Wayne’s World just a year or so earlier, when Noah Vanderhoff proclaims that kids don’t know anything and that they are easy to manipulate out of their money with crappy entertainment. I paraphrase of course, as I can’t find the actual quote with a quick internet search… *Squirrel!*

Throughout our viewing of SMB, I kept saying things like, “hey Teen Bot, in the games, did you ever notice how much Bowser looks like Dennis Hopper?”

And Jennifer would correct me, “King Koopa.”

“To-may-to, to-mah-to,” I would respond, “same guy.”

I reflected, “Daisy in this movie was a whole lot cuter when I was younger.”

“She is pretty cute,” Jennifer noted.

“Yeah,” I agreed, “but she was really cute the first time I saw this movie.”

Teen Bot simply laughed at his dorky parents.

“Hey Teen Bot,” remember in the games how the goombas were giant reptilian humanoids and not waddling mushrooms?”

“Hey Teen Bot, remember when you drive an electric car through a grungy underground city in the games?”

Teen Bot responded, “well, I guess it’s kind of like Mario Kart.”

“Yes, except completely not,” I said.

“Hey Teen Bot, remember in the SMB games when you had to recover a meter fragment from some scary chick in red latex at a club so Bowser couldn’t take over our world with it?

“King Koopa,” Jennifer said.

“Same guy,” I defended.

“Hey Teen Bot, remember all these weird people in the games?”

“Hey Teen Bot, remember in the games when Bowser was shooting a gun at you and you had to defend against it?”

“King Koopa,” Jennifer corrected.

“Hey Teen Bot, remember in the game when you shot Bowser with the Devo Gun and he transformed from a human to a t-Rex and then into Odo from Deep Space Nine and colapsed into green sewage on the ground?”

Jennifer corrected me, “King Koopa.”

“Actually,” I said, “I think he’s the President in this one.”

And yes, the Devo Gun was a pretty important plot device in the film. Evidently there wasn’t enough cannon material from the established game series to make a whole movie around, so they had to invent stuff like reptilian humanoids and the Devo Gun, which wasn’t fractionally as cool as a Dubstep Gun. But then, what is?

When we got to the scene where Daisy is imprisoned in the tower, and the cute little bipedal dinosaur wanders out from behind the furniture, chained with a metal collar, Teen Bot said, “what is that supposed to be?”

“I’ll give you a hint,” I quipped, “in the game you might ride him around and make him eat goombas and stuff.”

“Oh, it’s Yoshi?” he said.

“Yeah, but they might have gotten the scale a little off,” I replied.

Throughout the duration of the film, neither Mario nor Luigi stomp on a single turtle or mushroom. They do not collect any 1-ups or fireflowers or leaves or capes. Neither of them dons a frog suit or a tanooki suit. Not once do they pull a flag down a flagpole nor do they enter any castles. They don’t collect cards or throw turnips at the bad guys. There is a character named Toad, but he’s a minor character that gets turned into one of Koopa’s minions who goes rogue to help our ‘heroes’ escape. They may as well have named him Earl for as much continuity as they bothered with. I mean, he doesn’t even wear a ridiculous poofy hat!

“Hey Teen Bot, remember that random woman in the game who steals the meteor fragment so she can merge the worlds on her own?”

Indeed, this movie would have been marginally better if they had made it as a stand-alone story and not affiliated it with Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. Granted, that would not have saved it as a film or made it anything that it is not already, but of many flaws, its most glaring is the fact that it is supposed to be a SMB story. IMDb gives it a marginally higher rating than Spice World, but I’d highly recommend the latter over the former if you are after some brain rotting entertainment. It is no small wonder that we haven’t seen The Legend of Zelda, Sonic the Hedgehog, or Metroid on the big screen or any other major title video games for that matter. SMB was the nail in the coffin for any such enterprises. Nintendo and Sega respectively, as well as many other game programmers heeded this film as a clear warning of the worst case scenario and said, “Oooooh no. We’re not going to let you do that to any (more) of our beloved core characters.” And for some reason, writing this post makes me want to grow my hair long, put on a flannel shirt and Doc Martens, and listen to some Nirvana or Cranberries while drinking Crystal Pepsi.

Central Oklahoma Gunblogger Schutenfest 2014 – Things Learned

Friday:

Haphazardly throwing meat on fire will get the job done, but properly rubbing it and painstakingly monitoring temperatures produces better results. I think we proved this with pork ribs, beef brisket, and even squirrel.

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It’s always a good time for recreational archery, and a worn out archery target is not at all useless. Please see below.

You know the party has warmed up when the swords come out.

It’s awful fun to hack up a used up archery target with a Scottish claymore.

Sitting by the smoker all day is simultaneously relaxing and exhausting.

Saturday:

No matter how well organized you think you are, you will forget something. Targets, tripods, the other camera, revolvers…

Shooting is a depreciable skill, and I personally am not putting in nearly enough trigger time lately.

Rifles should always outnumber people 2:1 in any civilized gathering. A higher concentration of them is even better.

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With many thousands of dollars worth of hardware laying about, sometimes it’s the $4 vinyl decal that steals the show.

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Trophies make good targets.

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Pulling out a life sized mannequin and placing her downrange will excite a line of shooters the same way the ice cream truck does kids in the park.

And then, a half pound of Tannerite will blow her into more pieces than you can count.

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If you want someone to try your gun, seize the opportunity to shove it into their hand along with ammo at the first opportunity.

There’s no better way to wear yourself into exhaustion than a day at the range.

Sunday:

A windy night will do remarkable things to a 40-foot tarp left out.

There’s a lot of fun to be had even on the clean up day.

Often, a $200 rifle is just as much fun as a $2,000 rifle, even when each of them was fully worth the respective purchase price. You’ll probably want at least one of each.

Make sure you have enough charged batteries for all the cameras you might want to run.

You can in fact have too many tripods. This is a relieving, good problem to have.

A home made long bow with a ~40-lb draw weight will launch an arrow at over 100fps and least 100-yards, although the arrow is nearly impossible to track with a camera.

A pound of Tannerite will reduce 120 eggs to a fine layer of goo and tiny shell fragments faster than you can say, “Woah!” Pics and stuff forthcoming.

Overall lessons from the weekend:

When the event is over, you can simultaneously be relieved to get back to normal life and saddened that it couldn’t last longer.

The third weekend in March is a less than ideal calendar date for an event like this.

Sporting clays apparently reproduce. As long as we keep hosting this event, I’m confident I’ll never have to buy another box of the things. Then again, it’s hard to have too many.

There’s no way to accurately guess how much food will be needed in advance, but we got pretty close this time.

I should already know by now, but a gray tarp would be better to photograph and take video on than a blue one.

As wonderful as it is to see the friends who came, and as grateful as you can be for their attendance, there’s always room to miss the ones who couldn’t make it.

St. Paddy’s Day Cheer Aftermath

Oklahoma news station KOCO reports the following:

OKLAHOMA CITY —The Myriad Gardens says a synthetic, organic compound was the substance used to turn their water features green this weekend.

Fluorescein is a compound often used as a fluorescent tracer. It was used in 1962 to dye the Chicago River green on St. Patrick’s Day.

Myriad Gardens officials said they will drain the lake to one-fourth its normal depth and will refill it using an underground stream and city water.

The garden is waiting on a final analysis because eventually the dyed water will be dumped into the city sewer system.

Garden officials said cleanup from the prank could cost between $5,000 and $10,000.

Authorities are still looking for the person responsible for the vandalism.

Alright, quit looking at me like that. Although I’d kind of like to claim credit for this ingenuous bit of hilarity, I haven’t been near the Myriad Gardens in years. The best prank I ever pulled off was when I parked a classmate’s car inside the band room in high school. We didn’t break or damage anything, and that was far more harmless fun, although the band director didn’t seem to appreciate it so much. But seriously, that’s a brilliantly demented mind that dumped fluorescein into a major water feature in the city to dye it green for the holiday! Whoever you are, well-played sir. But seriously, next time don’t do something that is so expensive to clean up and has the cops looking for you. 😯

*Corrected title to “Paddy’s” from “Patty’s.” Thanks for the catch, David. I can’t believe I did that!

Yet Another Awesome Stupid Idea

Fathers and sons should engage in hobbies together, am I right? It’s no secret that Teen Bot loves his video games. When he’s current with his school work and chores, we’ll set aside a little time in the evenings or over the weekend and play for an hour or so. Not only do we play games on the Wii, but we also play games on the Xbox (original), NES, and Atari 2600. That is correct. We play video games on 35-year-old equipment.

At some point in time, he expressed to me that he wanted to play some vintage video games. Well, I did a little attic diving and managed to find my old 2600 console. I don’t know what happened to many of my games or controllers, but we have the console. We also collected Jennifer’s gaming stuff from her childhood. That girl was video game rich! Not only did she have the 2600 console and multiple controllers, she also had a Supercharger (I’ll explain in a minute), and around 60 games!

Since we don’t really have a TV, we don’t have an antenna input that we can tie into from a vintage system. I got my brother to do a little modifying on my old 2600 though. We bypassed the internal RF modulator, tied into the board and installed AV jacks on the back of the case. That may sound fancy, but it’s all pretty straight forward and there are tutorials all over the internet. Modding an old video game console got my brain to cranking though.

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This is an Atari 2600, the machine that brought home video gaming to the mainstream.

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This is a Supercharger and some of its games. Jennifer’s copy is one of the earlier ones, branded Arcadia, before they had to change their name to Starpath due to litigation or something. It inserts into the cartridge slot on the 2600 and boosts the processing power and memory significantly. The games shipped on cassette, and were played as audio files through a headphone jack. The sound file itself sounds like a fax machine. Somehow that sound encoding loads up the ram so you can play the game.

One of the neat things about vintage gaming is that it’s pretty easy to find the game ROMs as downloads all over the internet. You don’t actually have to have an Atari to play Atari games, as you can play the ROMs through an emulator on your computer. Or, you can use this application to convert the ROM into a sound file that you can then play through the Supercharger. You can burn the files to a CD and play them through a CD player, or convert them to MP3, or even record them to a tape and play them the way the Supercharger was originally intended. The device isn’t too picky, and as long as the sound reproduction is decent enough, it should play just fine. We loaded a few MP3s on Jennifer’s tablet and played some games that way. In fact, you could use just about any sound player you could imagine. See where I’m going with this?

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One could conceivably play Atari 2600 games through a Supercharger from a vinyl record, if one had the game files in such a format. You know, as in if I could get my hands on something like this:

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And use it to cut the game sound files to these:

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And then, it hit me. I have a deep, burning desire to build a custom cased 2600, with the Supercharger internally. It would run a small pre-amp and have a turntable built into the top of the box. All the guts in the Atari are pretty compact, so the total package could be built pretty slim. I’d likely try to find a dedicated 45 player to save a little space as well. And, the controller ports would move to the front of the box, as they are on more modern consoles.

Now granted, I don’t have a record cutter, and I’m not likely to be able to purchase one anytime soon. But just imagine it! If I were to embark on this insanity, I’d even go so far as to download original cover art and print it onto record labels. Remember in the ’90s when the game manufacturers were trying to hork those newfangled ‘CD’ systems on us? Sega CD? Ppppsh. I’m playing Atari Record. So, if any of you lovely readers has a record cutter laying around, collecting dust, that you’d give up for the cause, I would certainly do some further testing to see about making this happen. And, it would be magnificent.