Steam Next Fest: The Demo Flea Market is Back

The Steam Next Fest started yesterday. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a week long window shopping event with hundreds of demos to download and play. Sounds like a good idea on the surface right?

For the most part it is, if you can wade through the mountain of games to find ones actually interest you. There are a lot of filters to help sort through the noise but even narrowing down the field to sub genres leaves a lot of games to go through. Clicking to the store page of any given game will reset the event page which isn’t the least bit helpful. I’m more likely to check out another genre or sub-genre page then scroll through the page I was on to find where I left off.

I took a brief look last night for about an hour just to see what was out there. The last couple of times these demo events have come around I’ve had an idea of what kind of games I would like to try. Yesterday though, I wasn’t feeling drawn toward any particular style. I mostly scanned through a few genres and the lists within and downloaded whatever grabbed my attention from the thumbnails.

I found the VR category, which was not very big. Totaling 19 games in all it was easy to look through and find a few demos that looked interesting. I grabbed Hyper Hook a grappling hook arcade game, Desolatium a Lovecraft inspired point and click adventure, and Now there Be Goblins a VR tower defense game, which I’m going to make a priority to try this week. There was another game that looked interesting, The Last Taxi but a 30 gb demo is a lot of space. Maybe if I finish the other 3 VR demos I’ll try it out.

I do wonder how effective these events are in selling games afterwards. For me, it’s fun to try a demo, maybe stick it on the wish list, but that’s where it stays for the most part. I think the only game I’ve bought after one of these events is *Sable*. Loved the demo, bought the game when it came out but haven’t made the time to play it. Everything else seems to sit on the wish list and I’m reminded of it’s existence only  Steam emails me about what’s on sale. I think I’d be more likely to buy if the game was available for purchase after I played the demo rather than sometime later this year.

So maybe I’m not the target consumer for these kinds of events but they must be effective. There seems to be a number of them that pop up throughout the year. I ended up with 12 demos in all downloaded from yesterday. I know I won’t play all of them but maybe one will generate enough interest to buy at 50% off a year from now…

Dagon – H.P. Lovecraft in VR

One of my goals this month was to play more VR titles. Now that I have a new router with a 5ghz band I can take full advantage of Air Play on the Quest 2. Of course, Dagon doesn’t need the full capabilities of Air Play since there’s hardly and movement

In fact, I struggle to call Dagon a game at all. Right at the beginning you’re told that this is an interactive adaptation of an HP Lovecraft short story of the same name. It’s focused on story and atmosphere rather than game play. I’d call it a VR “experience” but that just sounds pretentious. It’s more of a walking simulator without the walking and you can only turn your head.

I love horror but I’ve never been a fan of H.P. Lovecraft. I always found the “indescribable horrors” to be somewhat of a cop-out. But having it read by a fantastic narrator and having the associated scenes played out changes things a lot. I’m all for this narrative driven, limited game play, style of game. It’s like a VR audio book with pictures. . Being a Lovecraft story, there aren’t any jump scares, just an ever mounting sense of dread.

For an interactive story there isn’t much to interact with either. Each scene goes something like this: the narrator reads a few lines, you look around the scene, find the object to click on that advances to the next screen, rinse and repeat. Sometimes there are additional objects in the scene that will bring up trivia either about Lovecraft or about the time period the short story was written. 

After finishing, I found out I missed a majority of the trivia item only finding five out of twenty. The one’s I did find were interesting but a bit hard to read in VR. I may do another play through and see if I can find more. The whole thing runs about 30 minutes long so it’s not a huge time commitment.

I very much enjoyed Dagon and would highly recommend it, especially in VR. The sense of scale in the scenes adds to the atmosphere immensely and I found myself fully immersed in what was going on. Since there is no forward movement it’s not likely to induce motion sickness

Dagon is also available as a “flat screen” title . I played a little of it to get some screenshots for this post and it’s still pretty good. You can only move the mouse 180 degrees so it might be easier to find those trivia objects. Best of all, both versions are free!

Forays into VR

I always told myself I’d get in to VR when it had gone through a few generations and it was more affordable. It’s been something on the back of my mind for a few years but not something I was dieing for.

For one, my GTX 1060 is barely on the cusp for PC VR requirements. While I’d love to upgrade my graphics card, we all know how things have been going over the last few years. At this point I’m sure it will be cheaper to buy a new computer than upgrade my components. 

There also weren’t that many games I wanted to play. Ok, I was chomping at the bit to play Elite: Dangerous in VR a few years ago but my interest in Elite wasn’t what it was.

That is until I ended up being the one in our friend group without it after the holidays. Call it peer pressure, call it FOMO, I wanted to join in the fun with everyone else. So I went out and got a Quest 2. I know, I know, Facebook bad but they were going to suck the data out of me anyways right?

Now, the Quest 2 has a couple things going for it that sold me. One, it’s the cheapest headset out there. $300 is a whole lot easier to take a chance on than $600-$1000. Two, my friend who has been into VR for the longest time recommended it. Those two things together made it an easy choice. I’m surprised I was able to order it for same day pick up at the local Best Buy Especially a few days after the holidays. 

I brought it home and my wife asked me if it would be sitting on the shelf at the end of the month…so the real test was to see how long it would hold my interest.

The first few days were awesome. I felt like I had rediscovered gaming. Thanks to the Steam Winter Sale we were able to pick up a fair number of multiplayer games to try out. After 2 weeks the honeymoon phase was over but I’m still playing around with it.

My graphics card seems to be holding up well so far. I can run everything I’ve got so far with no noticeable frame drops or much tweaking of the graphics settings. It’s my router that needs and upgrade if I want to take advantage of the Quest 2’s wireless PC VR features. Right now, my 8 year old 2.4 ghz router is not cutting it. It works ok when I’m home alone but once someone uses the internet for anything games are unplayable.

Lucky for me, 10 foot USB A to USB C cables are not that expensive. Hooking up the headset with the wire made a night and day difference in performance and stability. It was like getting to experience it for the first time again. This set up lends itself well to games where you don’t need to physically move as much.

My go to games have been Walkabout Mini Golf, Google Earth VR (not a game but still fun), and Elite: Dangerous. Oh yes, Elite is just as good in VR as I thought it would be all those years ago. I can see myself writing about Elite much more in the future.

Unexpectedly, the game that has captured the heart of my core gaming group has been Premium Bowling VR. We’ve been playing it every weekend this month. Is it glorified Wii bowling? Yes. But it’s so much fun getting to hang out with my friends from different states and kind of feel like we’re doing an activity together.

VR is in the gaming mix now. I am looking forward to exploring it more and taking the time to find some good single player experiences as well.

I’m still trying to figure out a good way to take screenshots in VR.