Category: video games

A Knee-Jerk Review of the Oculus Rift

I posted this on Facebook during my hiatus, but one of the presents received Christmas morning was an Oculus Rift. (Technically, the present was the Rift and a fast enough desktop to run it. Tomas has been wanting to build a computer for the past year or so. He was dreaming of a low end machine capable of running some games. I’ve been wanting to get a new machine to use as my primary computer for writing for some time now, and I thought this year seemed like an excellent time to do it, since I’ve made a bit of money selling books. Yay business expenses. So after all presents had been opened, there was one final present that took the kids on a twenty step treasure hunt, taking them from computer component to computer component, culminating with the Rift.)

So after Tomas and I had built the computer (much easier now than it seemed to be the last time I did it, ten years ago), I got the Rift up and running on it, and gave it a whirl. (Thankfully, the research I’d done that indicated it would fit over my glasses was confirmed. Otherwise I would have been going virtually nowhere. It actually works perfectly fine with glasses.)

I did not expect to be seriously blown away by virtual reality. I’ve been gaming for years, after all, and I knew that the resolution on the Rift wasn’t high enough to make the pixels go away. So I thought I’d constantly be reminded that I was standing in the middle of my office with a headset on, looking like an idiot.

Except I massively underestimated the ability of sight and sound to override the rest of my brain. Slipping on that headset, I really felt like I was transported to another place. There’s a demo that takes you to the top of a skyscraper. It really felt like I was about to fall off, and it made me actually scared. That scene is followed by a T Rex coming to roar in front of you. Again, I was far more intimidated by this virtual thing than I would have ever expected.

Since that demo, we’ve installed some other games. (It comes with about 6 or 7 available to download right away for free.) There’s one that pits you against rogue robots, and it’s up to you to shoot them all down before the city is overwhelmed. There’s a 3D drawing game. We bought a climbing simulator, and a game that puts you in the shoes of James Bond. You can get Google Earth for free, and it interfaces with Google Street View, so you can stand on pretty much any street in the world and see what it looks like to be there. It’s much more impressive than normal Street View. It’s amazing.

When I mentioned the Rift on Facebook, it was with the explanation that I got to the point where I realized 14 year old me would be so incredibly disappointed in current me if he were to find out VR was available, I could afford it, and yet I didn’t have it. And so I bowed to 14 year old me’s wishes (not always a great idea). But really, I’m very pleased I did. Beyond the cool factor and the amazing experiences, I love watching my 13 year old and 9 year old children use the device. Yes, you could dismiss the Rift as just another toy, but I don’t see things that way. When I see them using it, I see them getting in on the ground floor of a new way of interacting with technology, one which might well prepare them for new innovations in the future.

When I was young, I had the opportunity to use desktop computers at home earlier than many other kids did. That familiarity with the technology helped me, as I taught myself graphic design basics (with the old PageMaker) as well as learned the ins and outs of music composition software. I sincerely believe that playing with technology leads you to using technology more intuitively. I have no idea what innovations might lie in wait, but standing there in my office, using virtual weapons to defend a city from rogue robots, it’s easy for me to see that this is something which will only grow in popularity and importance.

The Rift is a steal at $400. The controllers are terrific, the games are immersive, and there are plenty of experiences to choose from. The only thing that should hold you back from buying one is that you need a workhorse of a PC to run the games well. I have no idea how it will run on a lower end machine. The one I bought has an almost top-of-the-line graphics card, new processor, and plenty of RAM to back it up. Then again, we’ve found out it can run a VR game and a second game on the computer screen at the same time, so perhaps an older, less advanced model would still be fine.

Oh yeah. One more thing. I get motion sick playing for too long. Saturday I was in Google Earth for a half hour, then did the climbing simulator for another half hour, and after that, I was feeling pretty lousy for an hour or so. It was the climbing that got to me. My eyes were telling me I was moving all over the place, and my body was just plain confused. But not all games do that. It’s just something  to be aware of, and it hasn’t turned me off VR at all.

If you have any questions about the Rift, I’m happy to answer them. Very pleased with the gift.


Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. I’m looking to get to $10/month to justify the amount of time I spend on this blog. I’m at $2/month so far. Read this post for more information. Or click here to go to Patreon and sign up. It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out.

Breath of the Wild Review

When the Nintendo Switch first came out, I heard all about how fantastic Breath of the Wild was, the latest Zelda game. So much so that I bought a copy for the Switch, even though I didn’t have an actual Switch yet. (There was a great sale on the game, and I figured I’d be able to pick up a Switch eventually, so why not?)

It took me months to actually find a Switch on sale for retail price. (Still a difficult feat to accomplish, all these months later. If it’s something you’re looking for, I can just say what I did: go to Amazon every day and search for a Switch. I also tried Best Buy, Walmart, Target, Gamestop, and Toys ‘R Us, but Amazon is where I finally found it. Persistence paid off. MSRP is $300. I had no desire to spend $500 on it.)

In any case, I’ve had it now for a while, and I still only have the one game for it. But I will say that the hype around Breath of the Wild seems to be very well-earned. The game is completely immersive. If you see it in the game, you can go there. Climb there. There are load times, but they’re really just to go in and out of dungeons. In the overworld, you see everything. That’s very impressive. There are plenty of fun puzzles, just as you’d expect from a Zelda game. There’s also some really tricky fights, which keep you on your toes.

But really, the most impressive thing to me is how the game has managed to keep three very different demographics hooked. I have played off and on. Tomas (13 years old) has played a ton, and DC (9 years old) has played a ton too. Each seem to be interested in a different thing. I’m into exploration and story. Tomas wants to make his way through to the end bosses. DC loves to explore and find new things. Even more impressive, she’s been able to get to places Tomas hasn’t yet.

In that way, it reminds me of Minecraft. Very sandboxy.

I haven’t finished the game yet. (Not even close) So I guess I can’t really give it a full review. But I can say that I’m already very pleased with my purchase. Granted, I had to buy a Switch to be able to play it (though a WiiU version exists too). So is it worth the purchase of a Switch? Not sure yet. I’ll have to buy and play some other games on the platform for me to say. But since Nintendo consistently comes out with some of the most innovative games out there, my gut says this is going to be a great platform. Not the best graphics or most cutting edge tech, but for me, I don’t really care about that anymore.

I just want great games.

Minecrafting on YouTube

I’ve fallen off the Minecraft bandwagon lately. Just too many other things going on in my life for me to keep it up. But Tomas is still going strong. He and a friend have even started a YouTube channel, posting some of their exploits online. And after repeated requests, I figured today is a good day to give them a plug. If you’re looking to see how a couple of 12 year olds approach the game these days, look no further than The Awesomepole Gaming.

Tomas is m34ndr. (Funny aside. Since I picked that name as a leet spelling of Meander (from Cavern of Babel), Tomas sort of fell into it by accident. He was using my account, which had the name, and so he got the name. But because of that, he’s a big Meander fan now. And my mom has a bunch of Meander t-shirts still kicking around, so he proudly got to wear a new one for his first day of school. I certainly didn’t picture that scenario back when I was writing the character ten years ago or whatever.) He’s not in all the videos, but he’s working on being in more.

I think this is step one of their plan of eventual global domination. Making boatloads of money off the videos is involved in there somewhere, and to that I wish them the best of luck. What will be really fun is when he’s a few years older. I wonder what his thoughts on the channel will be then?

In any case, give it a gander and leave a comment on it, if you’re so inclined. Like the video. Subscribe to the channel and really make their day.

Feel the Power

In my forays across the internet today, I came across exciting news: you can now read every single issue of Nintendo Power, right from the comfort of your computer. For free.  Courtesy of

And yes, I clicked on over to check things out, and I was amazed at how much I still remember of those issues. I was a subscriber from the late 80s through the 90s, and one of the highlights of each month was when I’d get a new issue. I would pore over those things like they held the secrets of the universe. And they did, when it came to video games.

I don’t think my kids can really understand how things were back then. There was no internet. No way of finding out what was coming out from video game developers. No preview demos of games. All we had was word of mouth and magazines like Nintendo Power. I’d see a game in there, and that’s what I’d have to make my decision on as to whether or not I wanted it. If a game I already had was giving me problems (games back then could be extremely difficult), I’d have to hope they’d publish some tips on how to beat it (or I’d have to scour back issues to see if they’d already covered it.)

I remember poring over the Final Fantasy strategy guide over the course of what felt like months before I finally beat that game. By the end, that guide was tattered and torn, but I loved the thing, and I never even considered trying to beat the game without it. Checking it out now, I’m amazed at how simple and basic it looks. At the time, it felt like cutting edge. Of course, I was 11 or 12 at the time . . .

I hadn’t subscribed to the magazine for years before it finally shuttered, but I was still sad to hear that it had, even though I realized why it was inevitable. It’s so easy now to just check out the different news sites or go to GameFAQs to get guides written by fans, for free.

And so now, it’s really nothing more than a walk down memory lane. But there are some really cool things to think back on. Who else remembers the hype around Virtual Boy? Looking back at that issue, I’m amazed how close it seems to be a predecessor to the Oculus Rift. It was an awesome idea, just way ahead of its time in terms of actually being able to execute it. 1995!

Anyway. I enjoyed coming across it, and I thought I might share the experience with you. Have a great Wednesday!


Pokemon Go for Parents

The weekend has come and gone, and I feel in a much better place today than Friday. Part of that has to do with Pokemon Go, believe it or not. I introduced my kids to the game Friday, and we had such a great time with it we even drove into town for a two hour walk so that we could have a better shot catching as many of the critters as we could. So I’m here today to give you a few pointers on the game, in case you’ve been hearing about it for the past few days and have wondered what’s up with it (and why you should be playing it.)

The Basics

Pokemon Go is an app for smartphones. Though it will run on iPads too, it needs GPS to work. You open the app (and keep it open) and it displays a Google Maps-like view of the world, along with your character in the middle. As you walk around in real life, your character moves around the world in the game. Every so often (more often in more heavily populated areas), you’ll come across a Pokemon, a little creature you can catch and own and use to battle other people. Different areas of the real world have different kinds of Pokemon, and different Pokemon come out at night. There are something like 250 in all to catch in the game, I believe.

In addition to Pokemon, you’ll also see PokeStops, real world places you can visit to obtain in-game items that help your character do the things you want to do, like catch more Pokemon.

Catching Pokemon raises your characters level, and once you hit level 5, you can go out and fight other people in Gyms. Again, they’re real world locations (public libraries, some stores, or particular landmarks in your area. You can see them on the in-game map.) You choose to belong to one of three teams (Red, Yellow, or Blue, though I think we can all agree that Yellow is the best team out there. Go Team Instinct!). Each team fights for control of each Gym. If your team controls it, your team members can go their to train their Pokemon and level up the gym, making it harder for other teams to take control. If your team doesn’t own it, you can visit it to fight those Pokemon and try to take ownership.

Long story short, this is a game where you walk around the real world to do things in the game.

Why It’s a Great Family Game

My kids caught onto this like wildfire. We first tried going for a walk around our house to find Pokemon, but there just weren’t any available. (It was fun watching TRC wander around the front yard, phone in hand, for about a half hour as he searched things out to be certain there were none hiding, however.) So we packed into the car and headed to town, two smartphones in hand. (The game is free, though you need to register to play, and you can buy in-game items to make things easier on your character, if you choose.)

Right away, things were different in town. For one thing, there were plenty of PokeStops and Pokemon to be found. For another, there were many more other people wandering around town playing as well. In the couple hours we were there, I’d guess we ran into 20-30 other players I could identify. (Probably filthy Team Valor (red) players, who had a monopoly on the gyms at that point.) People were all over the place, smartphones in hand.

As the parent in the team, my job was to catch the tricky Pokemon and to make sure my kids didn’t wander into traffic. (It’s easy to get too engrossed in the game, and I wouldn’t be comfortable sending out DC alone to play it. Not kidding.) Together, we walked 5km or so, I’d guess. (The game tracks how far you’ve walked, since one extra way to find Pokemon is to put eggs you come across into “incubators” that hatch the eggs after you’ve walked 2, 5 or 10km.

Even with just a single smartphone, my kids have had a great time sharing the phone, taking turns catching Pokemon. They wanted to go back out and catch more as soon as we got home.

What ages are appropriate? Pretty much any. My 3 year old loves being out with everyone else and looking at the screen now and then (though it takes too much hand eye coordination for her to actually catch any Pokemon), and considering I’m having fun playing the game myself, I don’t see an upper age limit. There were certainly plenty of older teens out and about playing the game Saturday.


There are a few things I’d recommend you be aware of, if you’re thinking about catching all the Pokemon. Here are my handy hints to getting the most out of the game, and I’d love to hear yours if you have any:

  • The app drains a battery. Fast. Next time I go out playing, I’ll be bringing my external battery pack, fully charged. We went from 100% down to about 20% in under two hours. You can minimize the battery drain a little by going to the in-game settings menu and enabling the Battery Save option. This will make it so that the game dims the screen when the phone isn’t being actively looked at. But the app doesn’t count your walking while it’s not actively on, and you can’t find Pokemon unless it’s running either. It doesn’t work in the background (something I hope they correct soon.) You can also turn down the brightness on your phone’s screen, of course, but then it becomes kind of hard to actually see what you’re doing in the game . . .
  • You can buy a device to catch Pokemon when you don’t have your smartphone out, called a Pokemon Go Plus. However, they’re sold out at the moment, and I’m not sure how they work exactly. (They’re also $35, which seems pretty steep to me.)
  • PokeStops reset every 5 minutes or so, so it’s not too difficult to hang out in an area and replenish your Pokeballs so you can have enough to fill your catching needs.
  • Gyms are a bit tricky to figure out at first. You challenge all the Pokemon in a gym at once, and you need to beat all of them in a certain time to gain control of the gym. You can use multiple Pokemon to do it. They’ll switch out automatically in order of power. Once you capture the gym, you need to put a Pokemon of your own in, but you can only place Pokemon that are at full health. Take a quick moment to heal your best Pokemon, and then stick it in there. Owning a gym is the only way I’ve seen to earn in-game currency for free (though you don’t earn much of it.)
  • Some Pokemon are trickier to catch than others. Flying ones seem to be a particular pain. (Cursed Zubats!) This is where it could help for you to step in to aid your kids before they burn through all their Pokeballs.
  • Eggs hatch some rare Pokemon, but also some normal Pokemon. It’s random. The eggs that take longer to hatch do come with extra candy when they hatch, however. You need candy to raise your Pokemon’s attack power.
  • You can get 1 candy per Pokemon if you transfer it. (An option down at the bottom of the screen when you’re looking at a particular Pokemon in your possession.) It’s 1 candy per Pokemon, regardless of the power level of that Pokemon.
  • As your character moves up in levels, the levels of the Pokemon you can catch move up as well. Motivation! But be aware that the higher level Pokemon are also harder to catch. (I almost had a Meowth this morning, but it got away. Sob!) You can buy or unlock better Pokeballs, supposedly, but I’m not that far into the game to know for sure yet.

Hopes for the Future

Clearly I love the game so far, but there are some areas I really hope they strengthen.

  • Add the ability to trade Pokemon. I would love to be able to meet other players and trade with them. As it is, catching extra Pokemon just helps you level up the ones you own. Trading is a central part to the main video game, so it really feels like a hole not to have it in this version.
  • Add the ability to fight other players without gyms. It would be great to be able to go up to a friend and have our Pokemon fight, just like in the game. It doesn’t seem like it should be that hard, since it’s all location based anyway . . .
  • Make Pokemon fights more interesting. As it is now, you just tap the screen as fast as you can to fight. (If you tap and hold, it uses your Pokemon’s special ability, so that’s something I guess.) This is so dumbed down from real Pokemon games, though I wonder if it would be possible for them to make it a feature. (It’s important to keep in mind this is a free version, after all . . .)
%d bloggers like this: