A More “Real” VR Experience

“We hope as more people get to see VR, the experience will become more normal. People will then come into the VR experience and just see another game instead of a toy.” – Cindy Miller, Lead Designer at Culture Shock Games.

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I spent my past weekend at PAX East looking at a bunch of “new” games. While I wasn’t entirely impressed with most of the showcase, I did manage to find a few interesting things. One of the more intriguing displays was for an indie game called We Are Chicago.

At first, my friend and I were simply lining up to try VR. We were glancing at the monitor and joking about almost everything in the game world. This older guy and his son were joining in with us as we kept pointing out some of the inconsistencies of the VR experience.

The demo consisted of a scripted conversation about inner-city life and a scene where the player is supposed to set the table. I wanted to get into the demo and start flinging plates around. I wondered how awesome it would be to teleport into a fridge or smack someone in the face. I was hell bent on breaking the game world.

Weird little glitches like disappearing doors and unshapely character models were just adding fuel to the fire. It was like some low budget B-movie with a more interactive twist. Who cares what the people are saying? The real joy is in tearing it apart.

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Just look at that!! How could you resist throwing it?!

As we kept waiting, though, I realized something about my behavior; I was being a real jackass. I won’t claim that every game should be treated as a masterpiece (or even with respect), but it’s hard to fault a small team for trying to break new ground.

The non VR experience of We Are Chicago is substantially better. It still has a way to go before being released, but its ability to convey a story through a slightly interactive medium looks to be taking an already tired genre in some new directions.

“We want people to empathize with how things are,” is what Cindy Miller told me. “We like the fact that we are touching on these topics and we are going to be giving some proceeds from the game to help non-profit organizations.”

That really hit me in the gut. Here I was, joking about how goofy the VR demo looked. When my friend asked the lead programmer, Michael Block, about the intended plotline for the game, I jokingly said, “It’s about a teleporting man who is tasked with setting the dinner table and refuses to.”

I suppose that is the downside to an expo dedicated to “new” things. People want to experience VR, but the show floor is so crowded that dedicating yourself to any one thing is a monumental task. When some indie developer has a quick, accessible demonstration out, you mainly want to fuck around with it to experience the technology.

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Which way did he go, George?

“We like the fact that a lot of people come for the VR and stay for the game. We’re happy that people get to experience it,” Cindy said to me with a bright smile. It doesn’t matter if people think her game is bogus; she is mostly happy to present the idea to the masses.

Thankfully, I’m not the kind of person to shut my mind off. I tinkered with the VR experience on the first day of PAX, but I returned to that booth every other day. The second day was to take another friend over and the third day was to grab some photos and quotes. I wanted to challenge myself with bringing out the better side of this game.

I don’t know if I should explain its plot details or any of the controls. At its best, the game feels like a Telltale adventure game before they began sucking up every contract possible. We Are Chicago is taking the idea of an interactive narrative to its logical conclusion.

We’ve seen games built on making us empathize with protagonists or thrusting us into difficult scenarios, but none of them have truly dealt with real life problems. The abundance of World War II shooters may have all been based on true stories, but none of those felt real.

Most gamers also don’t have to live in a shitty slum. A lot of us have a comfortable life. The worst problem we will ever face is pissing our boss off. None of us know the emotional toll that constantly living in fear brings. None of us need to worry about stray bullets flying through our walls and killing our families.

Cindy and Michael both told me, “Everything that happens in the game is based on real events.” Cindy then added, “Our writer came from Englewood and is bringing his personal experience into the game.” Well, damn. Safe, secure, blissfully happy me gets to go home to white suburbia while these developers have grown up in a crappy reality.

Did the rest of the attendees connect with this game on the same level? I honestly don’t think so. People were so happy to get into a VR headset that the conversations might as well of not happened. You could have put stickmen in place of the character models and no one would bat an eye.

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Half of these people probably never even saw the game. I know Jed didn’t!

I didn’t want to leave the expo and have this game become a distant memory. I didn’t want others to see the low budget and think this game was a joke. VR may be the future, but if it robs a game like this of its narrative punch, then it doesn’t deserve to survive on the market. VR should be opening people to new realities; it shouldn’t be relegated to a simple plaything.

Thankfully, We Are Chicago will be releasing as a standard game first. The VR experience was mostly made for PAX (and was finished in a week), but will become available at an unspecified time after the game is finally out.

I feel that is for the best. I’d rather the discussion start with how dramatic the game is rather than how ridiculous a flying plate looks in VR.

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Cindy Miller (Left), Michael Tisdale (Center), Michael Block (Right)

I Did My Best

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Working at a homeless shelter is fairly taxing. When you constantly strive to believe in the good inside of everyone, it becomes disheartening when you learn they are lying. Old habits die hard, as the saying goes.

To have someone look you in the eye and tell a complete fabrication is quite maddening. It feels like the soul is being ripped straight from your heart and getting crushed on the pavement before you. You start to distrust your own instincts and the words of your compatriots.

It makes me feel as if my intentions are wrong. I really just want to help people find a better place in their lives; to have others game the system is enough to bring my blood to a boil. When I see such reckless disregard for the wellbeing of others, I want to haul off and punch someone in their face.

I personally feel like a monster. I shifted the blame towards my co-workers for failing to inform; what really happened was that residents exploited my naivety. A moment like this is something that builds character, but not in a way I like. To become colder to the concerns of my fellow man feels detrimental to me.

I’ve always had a problem like this. At a previous job, I had trouble telling my co-workers no. If they needed a shift covered, I was there. I wanted to help as much as I could, despite what it was doing to my mood. I longed for some freedom, but was constantly shackled to the cash register. It lit a fire in my mind that was itching to lash out at anyone.

I ended up fighting myself. I would go home and call myself a spineless coward. I would lament how I’d wasted my free time at a job that wasn’t accomplishing anything. I became spiteful of the people who were taking advantage of my kindness; I was their whipping boy.

Now, it seems the cycle is repeating. I thought I had found the perfect job for me. This was something where I could truly make an impact on society. People would come in off the streets and get a second chance to change their fate. They would no longer need to live in squalor.

Just when I thought I had found the perfect job, I now feel like I made a mistake. I know I’ve screwed up, but I’m not still so sure I can handle the situations presented to me. I’ve been witness to a drunken woman calling me an asshole and claiming the shelter is worthless. I’ve had a person construct an elaborate story just to get out of losing their bed.

To then see those people on their discharge date claiming as if they were wronged is tortuous. How can someone be in such denial? In what reality is nothing ever your fault? How can you throw away the safety your children now have simply because you’re a fuck up?

It’s strenuous to bear witness to habitual liars, compulsive addicts and slothful youths who waste their opportunity for betterment. It’s reassuring when you do have residents who are strongly motivated and eager to leave. They are the exception.

When I started working this job, I felt bad for passing over all the homeless people I’d see on streets. I used to believe they were simply lazy. Now I know that my initial thought was correct. If you’re willing to waste your day on a street corner holding a sign, you clearly don’t give a shit about actually helping yourself.

I took a lot of strides to make sure I wasn’t sitting in self-pity for the rest of my life. I may not have everything that my heart desires, but I at least know that I’m trying. No one can take that away from me. To have to deal with people who want to casually throw their lives away makes me angry.

I don’t want to put everyone’s words into doubt, but I suppose that is the best way to deal with these people. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Luckily, I won’t be fooled again. I’m not going to lie down and let my chance at personal gain be ruined by someone who wants a handout.

Not Every Game is For You


Hyper Light Drifter was just released this week. Word on the street is that the game is quite challenging. There has been a lot of hype surrounding the release of the title; people have fallen in love with the visual style and were waiting to dig their claws into the game.

Gaming Blog “Rock, Paper, Shotgun,” posted an impressions piece in which the author, John Walker, claimed the game was just too hard for him to finish. While I can respect him leveling with his audience about his personal experience with the game, I’d like to make a counter-point to his stance on difficulty.

The closing few paragraphs of the article mention that gaming shouldn’t cater to one specific group of people. I completely agree with that, but not in the way Mr. Walker claims. He said that every game should be made accessible with different options to allow less experienced players to see the game.

That doesn’t make sense to me. Certain games are built around their difficulty. If you changed Dark Souls, for instance, to have an easy mode, its atmosphere wouldn’t feel as foreboding. It’s similar to the problem Resident Evil 6 has with its fundamental design; Capcom wanted to make an action shooter, but shackled the end product to Resident Evil’s past as a survival horror game. You got a pathetic attempt at modernizing a franchise and a really unfrightening horror vehicle.

Some games can withstand different options for various skill levels. Things like Ninja Gaiden and God of War are focused more on empowering the player than berating them. You get to execute enemies in a glorious, bloody hurricane of destruction. The option exists to make the games challenging (and Ninja Gaiden is pretty unforgiving on any difficulty level), but the design wasn’t based around an uphill battle.

You can be this awesome and suck. It’s crazy!

I can understand Mr. Walker’s frustration in being engaged with the game until the first boss. It is truly aggravating to be sinking into a game’s atmosphere and have it pull out the rug from underneath you. We do live in 2016, though, where the amount of available games is staggering. A quick run through Steam, GOG or Green Man Gaming can let you find something else you’re interested in.

There are also a tremendous amount of games built on being a more spectator driven experience or even just a plain easy one. It might suck that you can’t play this one specific game, but just look at how much else you can find online. It’s similar to being rejected by someone you like; don’t fight it, just move on and go your separate ways.

I can’t disagree with Mr. Walker’s assessment that gamers with the mentality of difficult games being only for them is selfish. That is true; I just feel he misses a key point. Not every game is going to be built for your own skill level. If life had an easy option, we would all be sitting on our asses and getting nothing done.

So honestly, I feel Mr. Walker just needs to accept that not everything will be his cup of tea. It’s pointless to change a game’s core design just because you find yourself at an impasse. If your life is so full of other distractions or obligations that you can’t put the time in to learn a game, maybe it’s time you started looking for different games.

The options are staggering.