Half Life : Alyx
Long-time gamers will know all about Valve’s Half Life and its revolutionary impact on first person shooter games over the years. Half Life always had fantastic physics, some seemingly clever enemy artificial intelligence and an exciting and challenging future dystopian world. The original was back in 1998 and a follow up in 2004, which is forever in gaming terms with the rapid advances in technology. Last week Valve shipped Half Life : Alyx as a purely VR headset game. There was a lot of excitement anyway, but with so many people locked down and at home it became an essential download for those of us with gaming rigs and VR headsets. I was not sure what to expect as it booted up but I was instantly transported to a balcony of an apartment with incredibly rich detail and a view out over the city. I was stood up in the centre of my real office but a reached out with the hand controllers and as I touched the virtual balcony rail the controller buzzed in my hand gently, making it feel like I had made contact with something. This is not new in VR, but this was Half Life and the stunning detail and feel is something I will remember for a very long while. I spent about 15 minutes just picking up things like the empty tin cans and debris, turning dials on the radio and drawing with crayons on the wall. I didn’t spend as long as this teacher did though giving a maths lesson live from the very same apartment. The video does show you the environment, but unless you have worn a VR headset you will not have felt just how much different it feels to be able to turn you head and the world changes. I then dived into the game and soon found myself in all sorts of interesting and often scary situations. At one point I went and hid in a corner and took the headset off and waited a couple of days before going back for another 3 hour session, which ended with an incredibly exciting and tense set piece, that again I will not forget in a hurry. I am nowhere near finishing the game yet, but plenty of time to do that.
Animal Crossing : New Horizons
A completely different gaming experience also arrived with the much awaited Animal Crossing : New Horizons on the Nintendo Switch. This game is about a gentle and pleasant life on an island. There is plenty to go and do and goals to achieve that may seem pointless but become important as you zone out engaging in little daily routines. As a island resident you are able to harvest fruit to sell at the shop, dig up fossils and catch bugs and fish that you eventually can donate to a museum to show off your collecting abilities. You can pull up weeds to keep the place tidy and buy and make thing from available resources as you discover recipes for household decorations, garden furniture, customizable clothing the list goes on. Time passes in real time, the days, nights and months all matter to some degree. As I said, everything is pointless, but yet utterly meaningful. A visit each day becomes part of the coffee break or lunch routine. We have 4 of us in the house and now have 3 Switches, one specifically bought to play this. My son has his gaming PC so he plays on my Switch but is actually a resident of my island, so taking turns we can help one another and the environment we live in. My wife and daughter have their own islands and game timelines, but we can jump on a little plane and fly to one another’s islands to hang out or share resources. It is not so much of a game as a toy, one that offers lots of reasons to play with it. I have found it a brilliant mindfulness experience, retreating to a simpler life, yet still challenged by routines and not always having quite the right stuff and then having to find it. I know it sounds mad but it is just perfect for these times of lockdown. Just before it turned April I was very pleased to have caught this fish which it seems is only in rivers on top of cliffs, only from 4pm each day and only in the months December to March. That’s right, a fish that is impossible to catch, and hence put on the collection, now until December ! I am not an obsessive completer finisher, but wow that’s brutal!
Let’s face it, right now there is no sports going on, Olympics, Wimbledon, Premier League all cancelled. The only sporting events now are virtual, esports has been around for a long while but last week it got some serious attention and will continue to do so. Formula 1 arranged for a virtual Bahrain Grand Prix in place of the cancelled one. It was using Codemasters F1 2019 game, one we play in this house too. The line-up was not the full set of F1 drivers but people like Lando Norris and Nico Hulkenburg were racing, some other professional drivers but also former drivers and other sports stars like Sir Chris Hoy joined in. It was also broadcast and commentated on Sky. It was really entertaining, highlights are available here on the F1 official YouTube channel too. It is just a start for this type of esports. In the US Nascar racing and Indy Car are doing their actual seasons in games now too. Car racing is a good one to use because if using a wheel and pedals you are using the same skills as driving a physical car, obviously a little less dangerous so it can get a little more bumper car than normal, but it is still competitive. Other pro sports people have been playing joypad versions of their sports, football, basketball etc, but that relies on being a gamer to be good. The pure esports scene will no doubt be attracting more attention and live broadcasts now too as people love watching competition. So go check it out and see what sort of esports you might find yourself getting into, who knows this may be a new career for some of us too. At the BCS we ran an esports commentary competition last year and if/when we run it again I expect even more quality entries as commentating is an art in itself. This BCS article might also help explain what has been going on all these years.
Games play a vital role in maintaining our mental health. There are styles of games for everyone and now is the time to try some new ones out. That, by the way, also include board games. So stop reading this and go play !