It’s been a long year.

It’s been over a year and a half since I’ve posted.
Many, many things have since happened. We managed to buy a house that’s falling apart faster than we can afford to fix. I got a job that I mostly don’t hate because I work with some great people. I got into quadcopters really hard thanks to my wife getting me a cheap midsize one for my birthday (possibly a mistake, LOL). RC flight has been a personal dream since I was a child, but never accessible. Being able to easily and cheaply acquire something as sophisticated as a quadcopter, and even ones I can fly indoors safely is a literal childhood dream fulfilled.

I started HRT 3 months ago. I come out as a woman full-time in a couple weeks, work included. It’s the greatest thing ever, another dream finally come true

I still haven’t finished Void and Meddler ep2. Initial impressions: Not as good as the first.
Haven’t revisited cheap VR, although the release of Rez: Infinite on Steam has rekindled that interest. I need to look into mods for the Razer HDK 1.4 to make it more comfortable to wear.

We’ve made friends here in the area finally, the kind of friends that feel like family.

There’s family here too! One cousin I hadn’t seen in ages moved up here not too long after we did, and then another moved in with them recently. It’s been wonderful catching up with them as I’ve not really seen them since childhood, and I’m finding that they’re great folks after finally getting to know them properly.

I managed to have a dedicated workspace for my projects for awhile, but it’s since become overgrown with.. stuff. I need to clean and re-organize so I can actually use the space again.

That about sums up the main bits of the last year and a half, at least most of what belongs here.

I’ll put together a review of Void and Meddler ep2 when I finish, and probably write up some quadcopter build logs eventually.

Have a good night.


Thoughts on cheap VR (OSVR Razer HDK 1.4)

Tax refund time came around, and I took the opportunity to acquire one of (the only?) the OSVR-centered VR headsets, specifically the Razer HDK 1.4.
I knew this wasn’t a consumer-level product, but I’m quite the early adopter, and community supported projects are something I’m familiar with.
In the HDK package, you get:

  • The Headset
  • The Control Box (with convenient belt clip)
  • Cables (so many wires omg)
  • IR Tracking Camera (with nifty gorillapod-style mount!)
  • Power Brick
  • Connection Guide
  • Nothing Else

Some starter software in the box would have been nice. Whatever.

I hook it all up, and head to the OSVR site for the requisite downloads. I grab everything that seems relevant, OSVR core installer with Razer Synapse (cool, I guess?) and drivers.
…now what? Nothing really seemed to work.

Google a bit, and I come across a Reddit thread (yes, reddit, I know, eh) but it started to point me to the right direction. I fought with OSVR core and SteamVR drivers for hours, with SteamVR insisting that it put the compositor on my primary display, instead of the headset… until I finally gave up and followed the instructions on the thread exactly, using the precise versions of the OSVR core and SteamVR drivers they specify, along with the noted SteamVR build.

It worked.

I pulled up Elite: Dangerous, and after some FOV tweaks to keep objects from disappearing, it really actually worked.
I started up NewRetroArcade, and holy crap I was walking through a small 80s arcade, music pumping from a boom box in the corner as I went up to a Bubble Bobble cabinet and started playing.

Here… is where things really start to go south, however.

First off, I’m going to divulge that my setup is not optimal for VR, even less though than I thought it was. People were originally using GPUs below the GTX960 for DK1 and DK2 development, so I thought my laptop’s GTX960m wouldn’t really be that bad.

I was wrong. Even on nearly lowest settings on NewRetroArcade, I couldn’t get above 50 frames per second, and game emulation was slow and choppy.
Elite: Dangerous was amazing if all you did was look around, but as soon as you started to do anything like move or maneuver, the stuttering and jerkiness was unbearable.
Descent: Underground was, while it worked and looked lovely, utterly unplayable even at low settings.

And that’s about where my testing ends, for two reasons.
My laptop, a lovely Dell XPS 9550, has a dual-GPU setup, with the Intel and nVidia graphics cards working in tandem. The Intel handles actual display of everything, the nVidia will render and then hand off to the Intel framebuffer for output.
This makes direct rendering to the headset impossible, which a lot of Rift (and OSVR) software would use.
As such, I can’t even use OSVR-targeted applications that use direct rendering – the best compatibility is actually SteamVR on this system, so I’m limited to that.
NewRetroArcade will use the SteamVR compositor as an Oculus compatibility layer, since SteamVR seems to implement some subset of Oculus’ OpenVR API. Don’t know for sure, I just know that it worked once I got SteamVR set up. (Please open-source NewRetroArcade, digitalcybercherries!)
Anything that uses direct rendering though, or direct access to the Oculus runtime, nope. The former is a problem with my specific setup, the latter is due to not having a compatibility layer for the Oculus runtime.
Often, the issue is both.

So, problems with the Razer HDK/OSVR specific to my configuration:

  • No direct rendering
  • GTX960m GPU really just not enough
  • damn laptop doesn’t have enough USB ports, jeez. (1 for the headset, 1 for 360 controller, 1 for.. crap out of ports)

To be fair, the control box for the HDK has a USB 3.0 port from an internal hub to be used with a controller or some such (and a headphone jack!) but for some reason my controller didn’t want to use it.
All testing was done without the use of the IR positional tracking. As such, I did experience some significant yaw drift, and issues with headset centering (no numpad on this laptop to tell SteamVR to recenter). I imagine using the included IR camera would alleviate this significantly.

Now, problems with the HDK (supposedly) not specific to my rig:

  • OSVR Server (that provides telemetry to client applications like SteamVR) using >30% CPU on a Skylake i5. Seriously, what the hell.
  • Sizing. I had to pull the top headstrap out almost all the way, and the elastic side straps out as far as they would go. Great for women with smaller heads, I’ll give them that. Not so great for larger-built women or men.
  • The lenses. Christ, the lenses. Basically, you leave them as far out as they can be, and hope you can focus. Any adjustment inward pressed the lenses against my orbital bone, and reduced the field of vision. I’ve decent vision, so it wasn’t a big deal. For anyone that needed adjustment, this is nearly impossible. My wife would not be able to use this comfortably.
  • The nose rest. This headset is surprisingly heavy, and there is no padding on the nosepiece whatsoever. It’s bad enough that my daughter complained of discomfort after wearing it for a mere 2-3 minutes. (while she gawked at the view from the cockpit in Elite: Dangerous)
  • The screen. It’s a 1080p OLED display, but the Pentile subpixel arrangement harkens back to the horrible LCD of the Turbo Express, where text wasn’t readable at all unless it was white. It doesn’t feel like an HD display. Text is difficult to read, targeting indicators in Elite are hard to distinguish. The diffusion grating included with the HDK1.4 is supposed to improve the “screendoor” effect over the 1.3 and DK2, but honestly it just kind of blurs the image. In moderately low-contrast images it works well enough, but not enough to help text readability. This is where Playstation VR, with its properly RGB-striped subpixel arrangement will blow anything this level out of the water.
  • Software compatibility. As it is, you can use this with OSVR-compliant programs, and in a limited capacity, SteamVR. From what I’ve been able to gather, there is no real support for Oculus-specific software. I can’t play Hawken with this (although I’m sure it’d be awesome). You can use Oculus hardware with OSVR-compliant software, however.

Vireio is supposed to support OSVR and the HDK natively when version 4.0 is released sometime soon, which opens up a lot more games to the HDK.

That’s pretty much it. I’m glad I hadn’t sold my little gaming rig, it’s got the desktop GTX960 which might be a little better, as well as having support for direct rendering. I’ll have to save up for a 970 or 980 for it, if I can find one that’ll fit in the miniITX case.

The OSVR Razer HDK is exactly what it advertises to be: a headset for developers, and people willing to hack at the system to make it work. It is *not* a consumer-level product.
If you’ve got a desktop with a 970 or 980 and want a cheap way to get into VR on Elite: Dangerous or Descent: Underground (what’s up with all the colons?), this might be a good option, if you can follow specific instructions.

I’ll definitely be keeping this headset around though, and due to the open license of the hardware I’ll feel free to modify it as I see fit for comfort. Eventually, I think it’ll be a decent entry point for some for VR, and hopefully OSVR as a spec will start to gain some momentum, bringing even more compatibility to the platform and to less-affluent gamers as a whole.

Because right now PC gamers, Sony’s got you beat for quality/cost of entry.

tl;dr: If you want VR, spend the (lots of) extra money and get consumer-grade VR, and a rig at minimum spec to run it. Just because you can run current games at 1080p with settings mostly cranked, doesn’t mean you can effectively do the same at even low spec on that hardware.
SteamVR support is currently the only thing that makes it really usable. With Oculus having so much of a native foothold in PC VR, even though this is spec’d at DK2 levels, the software is just not there to make it work with DK2-targeted games.

Void and Meddler

I’d seen pre-release listings for this game at the Humble Store some time ago, and at one point decided to grab it. Might have been on sale, don’t remember.
It looked like a pretty, cyberpunk point-and-click game. I like pretty, I like cyberpunk, and I like point-and-click adventures.
I was slightly less prepared for the almost jarring difference in aesthetic between the high resolution backgrounds, the retro-styled pixel-art characters, and mid-res dialogue portraits.
The audio also surprised me in its atmospheric, almost contemplative quality at times.
Here’s a glimpse of an early sequence (no spoilers, of course).

The one thing I did not expect at all was this:
Void and Meddler 2_2_2016 7_24_46 PM

Yes, if you look closely at the signs, that’s an ideogram of a child holding on to two symbols of a transgender person.
The text underneath reads “FAMILY – Don’t Forget Me”.
And then there’s the club scene.

Gender-neutral pronouns, acceptance of people regardless of type.
Characters aren’t all necessarily human, although it’s not stated whether they’re anthropomorphized sentients or altered humans. In the game universe however, we’re all people.
This is the single most inclusive game I have come across to date.

At first I thought it was pretentious, mixing artistic styles, but as the personality of the world became more apparent, I found myself drawn into it further, the idea that even in a neon-dystopian future, the hate and exclusivity that plagues society now could be nearly eradicated.

Back to the actual game.
The puzzles aren’t too difficult for a seasoned LucasArts or Sierra adventure gamer, the typical “investigate everything” strategy applies here.
You’ll find more often here than those games though, that you’ll be presented with a subtle choice of how to progress. The action you take may seem like the obvious one, and the story will proceed. This does change which ending you will get, and the story route you will traverse in upcoming episodes.
As such, there is an element of replayability here that other point-and-click adventures lack. In later reading about the game, I found that I’d chosen the “hard” storyline via my in-game actions, just by choosing what seemed to fit, not even thinking that other possibilities exist. Design elements like these set Void and Meddler apart from most of the classic graphic adventures.

It’s the first game I’ve played this year that I’d wholeheartedly recommend.

The first episode is short – easily completed in an evening.
It’s sold on the Humble Store as a Season Pass – $12 for all three episodes as they’re released.

Happy clicking!
(my advice, sit out in the street or by the vendor outside the arcade, crank your speakers, and chill to the music.)