Hi Folks,

I have a bit more serious article for you today about the dangers of gaming.

I’m here in the waiting room of the hospital, visiting Svengali. Fortunately, he’s recovering nicely, but it was touch and go there for a bit. He had a gaming accident.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t write about someone else’s misfortune, but in this case it goes to show the risks of leading edge gaming. So…back to the beginning.

It was a few days ago and Svengali had come out to the WarCry Writer’s Ranch near Taos. Of course both of us are eagerly awaiting Age of Conan or even the beta of Age of Conan. But it’s not here yet…or if it is, we’re not in it as far as you know.

So we decided to give the new Lord of the Rings game a try. So far so good. But remember, we were at a WarCry compound with gaming equipment the likes of which most people have only imagined.

Let me describe the setup to you. Each of us was fitted into an iso-gaming-pod by a team of technicians. These things can be used on most MMOs. They have full body feedback systems and your own head, hand and foot motions are tracked and translated into movement commands for the game you’re playing. The video is a goggle setup which automatically adjusts the picture for each eye just a bit to the right or left to give you a true 3D view. The player’s body is then suspended on a multi dimensional swivel arrangement so you have complete freedom of motion. If you “walk” in your iso-pod, your character walks. If you speak, speech to text software makes you “speak” in your selected chat channel as well has using an audio hookup between players. Certain arm motions and hand motions make you swing your sword or cast a spell and so on. The interface has to be customized for each game and the technicians had just finished rigging it up for Lord of the Rings.

Basically, this system gives you as close to a true VR experience as exists today.

First thing after starting, we almost decided to exit the game. LOTR, as you may know, does not have “localized” damage. If you get hit, it results in an overall loss of health…not damage to any one part of your body. To be fair, the technicians did explain this to us, but you can’t be ready for it until it actually happens. Svengali had chosen to play a human and I’d chosen an elf. So the first hit Sven took was from one of those bandits as you’re escaping with the hobbits and ranger. The first hit I took was from a level 1 goblin.

It was like getting tasered. A full body shock. Ouch! The technicians monitoring us saw that we were in distress and turned down the juice so the we weren’t stunned by each hit after that. (Frankly, I think those jerks were laughing at us…)

So anyway, we’re playing along. The shock had been turned down enough that we weren’t paralyzed each time we got hit, though it still wasn’t pleasant. I can’t begin to tell you have amazing this VR system is! The graphics on LOTR are pretty good to begin with and with these iso-gaming-pods really putting you “there”…can’t be described!

Well, because of the feedback system, we were both playing a lot more conservatively than we might otherwise. Those shocks were no joke, even when turned down!

But slowly we progressed. Each of us got to level 6 in our n00b areas and then I decided to head over to Bree so we could team up. I was low on cash so I had to run. Had a couple of close calls on the way, but I made it.

Bree was pretty crowded when we got there and there was lag. Wow! Lag in VR is totally different than lag on a computer screen. It was like trying to push your way through a wall of jello…then all of the sudden you’d take a huge leap to a spot somewhere ahead of where you had been.

And those damn technicians!!! They’d implemented “collision feedback” with buildings, walls, trees, etc.. So when I lagged and then caught up and ended up running into a building or something, I got zapped. Bastards! I KNOW they were watching our progress on their monitors, laughing at us.

So anyway, we teamed up and started doing some quests in the Bree area, eventually heading over to the marsh to the east. We wanted to see what the barrow downs looked like since neither of us had seen that yet. By this time we were both around level 10. We were crossing the marsh…no big deal. Some mobs over level 10, but it was easy to kill a mob 2-3 levels higher by your self, much less with a fellowship.

Well, I was a forester and saw some wood off to my left. So I told Sven and then went over there to get it. Sven forged on ahead. I got a message from Sven via fellowship chat that he was fighting a goblin. No problem it was only level 11. But then he started calling for help. I ran over that way and the mob he was fighting had over 1100 hits and was a named elite. I got there just in time to see Sven die.

Then the little bastard (looked sort of like a technician, I thought…) came after me. I ran for it back to the west. Finally the mob stopped chasing me and I went to the resurrection circle to hook up with Sven again. But he didn’t show up.

“Sven? You there?” I kept calling him, trying to get a response. Finally I quit the game and called the technicians to unhook me and check on Sven. When we pulled him out of his iso-gaming-pod, he wasn’t moving..

Those idiot technicians had turned down the power on the shock when a player got hit, but they forgot to do it on a player death. They had set it up so that when a player died, the got a triple strength shock, all video went black, all sound went quiet and the temperature rapidly dropped from room temperature to below freezing. They said they wanted to “simulate death” as closely as possible. Right guys…I’ve got your “simulation” right here!

Svengali had gone into shock.

Fortunately I’m a trained emergency medical technician and I was able to get him taken care of until an ambulance could get him to the hospital.

Truth is, I’m glad we didn’t test this thing out on Age of Conan! Who knows what a decapitation would be like!

Overall, would I do it again? Sure! You bet! The coolness factor of these VR iso-gaming-pods is way up there! But I would want to control the strength of the feedback. Not those <expletive deleted> technicians!

In any event, Svengali is ok. His doctor says he can leave the hospital today and he doesn’t seem to be having any adverse effects. Except…well, some particularly ugly little kid (really…aren’t they all?) was being released from the hospital after having his tonsils out and walked by Sven’s room. Sven saw him, shrieked “Goblin!” and jumped behind his hospital bed.

But I’m sure that’ll pass.

Urfang
Bayer Shaman of the Snowhawk Clan
(Man, that VR gives me a headache!)

Oh, now here is just what we’ve been talking about! WarCry does NOT have iso-gaming-pods! Svengali did NOT have a VR gaming accident. Our technicians do NOT laugh at people getting tasered. Well…ok, forget that last one.

Bottom line: We have no idea where Urfang comes up with this stuff. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

Thank you.
The Management

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