Indie Video Game Stores in 2017

Matt Leone of Polygon has this incredibly in-depth feature on the stories of video game stores that are still operating in 2017:

…we recently dug into the specific costs of running an independent game store in the U.S., and talked to more than 15 store owners and managers about the process. From telling stories of Amazon selling games for less than wholesale distributors, to opening their books and showing the costs of everything from insurance to paper towels, they paint a picture of an industry doing its best to keep its head above water.

It’s one of those things that I imagine a lot of people have thought about doing, and then dismissed. The photography in this article, by Jonathan Castillo, is just as good as the writing. This is probably the best game-related article I’ve read all year, strong contender for SOTY.

Valve’s SteamVR and Steam Controller Hands On

Ben Kuchera got a chance to try Valve’s Steam VR headset system using the just announced Vive hardware from HTC as well as an updated version of the controller for Steam Machines.

On the VR System:

The hardware is clearly a work in progress, and the fit and finish needs to be improved substantially before launch. The two controllers, one held in each hand, feature buttons on the grips; they feature triggers too, and a touchpad on the front that also works as a button. It’s an intense amount of hardware. We were told that to run the demos we were playing, you’d need a high-end video card and a very competitive gaming PC. Nothing about this sounds like a mass media product.

So that’s the bad news. The good news is that the hardware is incredibly fucking cool.

Read the rest of his article, his experience there sounds fantastic. Mark “Gaming Jesus” MacDonald also described the Steam VR experience Valve was demonstrating last year on this week’s Giant Bombcast.

On the controller:

The Steam controller is a big part of what makes a Steam Machine a Steam Machine; we were told that running SteamOS and being packaged with the controller were two of the main things that need to be included to use that branding. The controller itself has gone through a number of revisions, but we were able to use what Valve is calling the final version during GDC.

The old Steam Controller given out at dev days was obviously a stepping stone to get somewhere else, I haven’t used it in months, and I can’t wait to try this new one. It’s particularly interesting how this newer iteration has the exact same X/Y/A/B button layout down to the color as the Xbox One controller. It’ll be $50 when it’s released this November. No price on theVive yet.

The Movie Theater Cyberpocalypse Has Begun

Ben Kuchera writing about turning the Samsung and Oculus’ Gear VR into a portable movie theater:

The rewards are great, even if the resolution is slightly lower than you may be used to on your standard HDTV. With a good set of headphones I’m completely isolated from my real environment. I look around and all I see is the theater and the movie. There is no Twitter, no Facebook and no background noise. No usher will ever come in and start cleaning. The floor is never sticky. There are no distractions.

This is the power of portable virtual reality; the ability to find yourself alone in a huge space using a device that fits into your backpack. The illusion of watching a film on a giant screen is complete, and being alone for two hours is amazing. Isolation on demand feels almost luxurious, as having your own personal movie theater isn’t something possible for most people, and the fact this virtual version requires no physical upkeep is even better.

Gear VR isn’t very exciting as a product because of the limited hardware capabilities and how unlikely it would be for Samsung to continue in VR. Altogether it seems like a complete waste of time for developers to target that platform and a derailment for Oculus. Maybe there is some advantage to it that I’m not seeing yet, but it just feels like another feature on the endless list of things that Samsung attaches to their mobile products in order to pretend to be innovative. I hope that Oculus got something really good out of the deal.

However, I am super excited for the ability to replace your environment at-will. Also please join me for an “Activation” We’re all doing it. Please remain seated while the VR matrix takes hold. You will experience a tingling sensation as the VR spike gently pierces your cranium and then we’ll be watching Sneakers in a theater like oldsters used to  do back before the sharing economy destroyed the world.

You’ll be a little groggy after the movie ends and you return to realspace, but we’ll worship the Divine Bomb afterwards and take off our masks to reveal that we’re really irradiated monsters to the camera. It’ll be fun!