In Xi’An, you can take the subway to any of the four city gates (each something of a large citadel), climb up onto the city wall and… rent a bike. The wall is well over sixty feet wide, and one of very few intact after China’s recent cultural revolution. And it runs rectangular a total of 18 km – two walls of 6 km running east-west, and two more north-south running 3 km. Making ancient Xi’An 18 square km rectangle. The city has since sprawled well beyond these boundaries, but somehow the walls here have survived, when the walls in almost every other city are almost completely erased. I visited over 10 cities in China, and while they all had walls at one point – only two remained. This one, and the one in Hangzhou.
With many interesting “portally” things along the way – and even more plainly visible on both sides of the wall. The inside teems with commerce and culture, the brilliant progress of a city that is nearly three thousand years old, and the outside more of the same, but growing less focused as the city sprawls away off into the grey, misty, filthy air, off into the distance, as only a Chinese capital city can. Those hazy construction cranes in the background smog are an omni-present symbol in modern China.
So many of you are curious! You ask me, “Ken, what did you do in China?” and I just straight up dodge the question and instead pop up with some ridiculous anecdote which is a complete fabrication, about how I won a competitive dumpling eating contest, or fought a monk for supremacy at the shaolin temple, or I handled a class room full of kinder gardeners all on my own. Only one of those is true in its entirety. Though I did learn a little kung fu and tai chi, and boy howdy did I eat the dumplings like it was going out of style. I visited the shaolin temple and took pictures. I visited about 12 temples that I remember, it might be more. And the kinder gardeners? Well, they stand on their own merit and need no embellishment. They are best defined by their numbers and disposition – classes with as few as 7 and as many as 31. In both day and evening class settings. YES, I KNOW, RIGHT!?
Even so, it feels strange for me having lived something like that, retaining a fairly clear memory of it! In most cases. The fact is that I drank quite a lot over in China (it is a cultural thing I was happy to comply to), maybe not remembering it so well! I smoked cigarettes there too. You’re smoking anyway just breathing the air, and I didn’t want to be a complete pariah. I don’t know if these details interest the casual reader. But there are some things I could share with you. Like the day I bicycled on top of a city wall, or made friends with a lady named Chun-li (my name is Ken, if you recall). I could also tell you about the worst decision of my life: going on a yangtse river cruise. The horror of that journey still walks with me today. I am instinctively terrified of all boats now. Additionally, I was aware of many details while I was there, but details fade if not reviewed. My memories of the kids I taught are strong, they are with me and always will. But my interactions with say, their parents, who I also learned from, are less focused.
And I have three printed journals and exercise books I nearly filled while I was over there. Plus many kilobytes of text entries tucked away on my ipad. I thought this was all lost when my ipod got lost a year back, but no, I was able to recover everything from a local backup. The same thing happened with some of my photos, I thought they were gone, but nope, one day, checking every micro sim card I own for the most free space, I find what was missing. So, I guess that’s a win for me and my data management talents, which I’ve had since I was a kid and are really no big deal.
Of course, the photos and the text don’t tell the whole story. Oh, my photos are good, even the ones I took with my tiny but mighty iphone 4, (which was my constant companion and, after discovering ingress, my new best friend in the world). I don’t see the need for any fancy photo editing or enhancing, the raw product tells the story pretty well. I have great pictures of pandas and monkeys and all that kind of nonsense! However, I’ve taken a quick skim over a lot of what I wrote while I was out there, and a lot of it is just garbage. I’m sorry, it’s really just awful. There is a lot of nonsense about some girl I met out there. And perhaps some different girl? There’s stuff I don’t want to read, and if I don’t want to read it, you probably don’t either. Even if I excised entire chapters there’s still this undercurrent of pathetic nonsense, which would have been better channeled into writing awful poetry. And then printing it out and burning it. This seems like a sensible course for me.
The last problem, which I think I’ve been able to solve, is that my story, like so many others, doesn’t make any sense. I can’t sense any kind of theme that ties together what appear to me to be very disjointed and (god forgive me for using this too-often abused word); random events that make up my experience. But I kicked the idea around for a while, and decided that maybe THIS was the theme. You know, like a whole zen thing. It’s just absurd for no reason and that’s that. This explanation works for me, and I think I’m ready to run with it. Oh, my book won’t be as good as “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, or “River Town”, but why should that deter me from writing it anyway, and stealing liberally from both of those authors’ distinct styles! Nothing! That’s what.
I’ve already posted the city-wall bicycle story on G+, it wouldn’t take much to port it over. But this seems like the wrong place to start. If there’s going to be any semblance of order to my tale, it needs to be done chronologically. This is the only form of logic I can commit to, and your only home as a reader to derive some kind of narrative from this unruly mess I’m about to hurl in your general direction. Especially since some of the topics I might decide to address will likely skew into esoteric nonsense with zero warning. And the characters in my story – Friends, all of them – well, it seems a challenge but I’m going to try to let them speak for themselves. And I will have the good taste to omit the worst elements of their natures, as I sincerely hope they would be so forgiving to me.
So, Starting on February 1 or so, I will start pushing these blog posts to this branch of my blog. I’ll see if I can match up the pictures to the events, but no promises, I may do some entries that are just a tumblr blog of hi-res photographs. I’ll update once every couple of weeks throughout the year, matching my posts loosely with the time frame in which they occurred, about 3 years ago, in 2014. I hope you enjoy them. Honestly I just want to put this project to rest so I can start something new.
So, I have most of what I need to shoot mixed reality videos! It took some time to set up, especially moving things around, given my stamina is not back to 100%. Here’s what it looks like:
Not too bad right! Not picture is the video capture card I installed into Baby after lugging her across the room. And I still need to mount my third Vive wand onto the camera. However once that’s done, it should work. Biggest problem will probably be the lighting. I got a pretty nice kit, but it’s a bit underpowered, and doesn’t seem to penetrate all the way to the green screen.
I broke one of my own rules and tried a new game out. Usually I send someone else in but for some reason I’m short on volunteers at the moment. I played Arizona Sunshine. Holy shit, friends. This game is amazing. It makes my games look like a pile of crap. I can’t believe how well done everything is. They do things right that I couldn’t believe. The protagonist has an internal monologue. This is so often abused, but man the actor they got to read this story was damn good! The story itself, is also damn good! The gameplay is amazing, and fits with the story perfectly. Sound and graphics excellent, play control excellent, inventory excellent. No UI to speak of, which is excellent! Movement by teleport, best implementation I’ve seen lately. This is one of the best games I’ve ever played, and really fun and engaging. Only got stuck twice, and was able to pick up in the next session. I can’t believe I’ve only lost 4 hours of my life to this according to Steam. It feels like I lived half a life in there already. That kind of time dialation can only come from the adrenaline packed gameplay, where your fear response slows down time in your mind. Amazing.
I’m humbled and once more disheartened. How can I possibly complete with this! Hah, well, I can’t, on my own. This is the collective work of over thirty people focusing more energy and time than I have. It’s just another example of teamwork making the dreamwork.
Might as well share this with you as well, I’ve begun experiments on a new type of Nourishment:
Yes, I’m trying soylent! Early results are positive. I replace one meal a day, and so far it tastes pretty good, it’s filling, nutritious, and a huge time saver. The only thing negative about this is that it’s 100% food, and 0% fiber. So I’ve been expecting a disruption to my BM’s, but so far no disasters. Like that time I tried to eat my way through mainland China.
I’ve been at war with my own weight for 20 years now. While I’ve made substantial gains, total victory has been elusive, I’ve always plateaued in various places: 255 and 225 for a long time, 200 and 195 for just as long. And it’s my own poor eating habits that are to blame. Soylent looks to be a great new weapon for my arsenal. Each bottle is like a bullet dodged that would have otherwise hit me right in the waistline. I don’t have to quit food entirely, like I did during the master cleanse. But I could. I could even merge the two strategies come summertime. And compared to previous dietary mandates I’ve attempted (see above : “eat my way through mainland China”) … This one is much more sound. Of course, I’ve still been going crazy on some meals, for instance yesterday I went absolutely bonkers at the Brazilian bbq place down the street from my house. But what am I supposed to do? I have a Brazilian bbq place down the street from my house! Right next to jacks ribs and ale. Which is in turn down the street from surf taco, JR’s, Isu sushi, Ming Ying and the freakin ORIGINAL WINDMILL. And the inkwell. Forget the new Thai place, cafes and the weird juice bars… My street is a gastronomic minefield, and I’m out there risking it every single day people. The fact that I’ve survived as long as I have living in proximity to west end is a testament to my fantastic willpower and judgement, and I should be showered with praise and adulation for maintaining my awesome stalemate with myself! Compound that with my considerable cooking skills, and I feel like I have every reason to to be exited about my extraordinary achievement of non-progress!
I will keep you all posted on the early results of this fun little experiment.
Yes, the Commander Chair is the latest visible addition to my gaming armada. It’s been through some rigorous testing, and performed great. Needs some cable management improvement, but otherwise… Moving my HOTAS to my oculus setup has freed up my Vive for… Well, you’ll see. I’m still rigging the green screen and lighting over in my room scale setup. Pics of that will come when it’s nearer completion. In the mean time I’m moving subsystems one by one out of the big room and into the office. Leap Motion, webcam and DCS probably will be next.
I’ve had some great experiences and honestly I think Elite Dangerous looks a whole lot better through the Rift. I’ve had some fantastic play sessions, but as twitch streaming and webcam haven’t been set up here there’s no record. funny because all the times I HAVE recorded have been embarrassing failures. But, I joined one of the best player groups in the game: East India Company. And I’ve been helping my new friends take shit over. I’ve been flying my Anaconda in conflict zones and making tons of money and rank in the process. Now I’m hunting bounties, since the last war was won in short order.
Today I say goodbye to my PlayStation 4 and PSVR.
I sold it on Craigslist for a little more than what I paid for it. It’s a wonderful product, however the games are too few and too expensive. And developing for this platform is a pipe dream. They open their doors for larger established studios only, and I’m the opposite of that. The headset is great, but still a cut below my PC headsets. Same is true for the camera and controllers. Honestly, I don’t spend any time playing it. Even when I was basically crippled lying on a recliner in my living room, I didn’t want to play it! I’m not a console player, never was, it’s always been PC for me, and no single product will likely change that. I’m going to push through the last bunch of free demos and hand this off to a family that will appreciate it much more than I did. And I, in turn, will appreciate their cash in hand. I will miss Robot Rescue though, that game helped show me what console VR could be at its best. The tank demo, battle zone is awesome too. Hopefully these games will be able to sneak back into my library on either oculus or vive. ( I know I have Gary the gull on pretty much every platform)
My favorite VR experience right now after E:D is Accounting. If you are anywhere near someone with a Vive, go to them, and tell them to “put me into accounting”. You will not regret it!
Amazon tells me my Oculus Touch controllers will appear at my door tomorrow. I got to try them out at VRDC and I liked them a lot. Will I grow my oculus setup to full room scale? Not sure. We’ll try standing room only first.
Today I hope to get my first MR green screen video shot, and maybe another video of flying in ED added to my twitch channel. Last one had issues with centering the view, I’ll try to fix this time. My twitch link:
Ok my thumbs are tired since for some reason I’m updating with my phone. Oh yeah to share pictures. CMDR out
Continuing to make progress. I found out that the muscle that hates me is my right side serratus anterior. This little baby lives underneath your lats, and connects the ends of your ribs to… other parts elsewhere. But yes, these are breathing muscles, they expand your rib cage as you breathe. And they hurt if you strain them… for 4 to 6 weeks. So I guess I’d just better settle in and wait. I can sustain moderate activity for a few hours each day. Any more than that and the pain grows to a point where it’s difficult to rest or sleep.
I have everything I need to shoot green screen mixed reality videos in Unity, and probably also in 1st person layered view for non-unity applications. But it means moving a bunch of furniture around my studio and rigging up green screens, plus extending the padded floor and walls of my play area another 4 feet, and I’m not up for it yet. Still kind of excited to be doing this!
After doing two live twitch streams last week (which nobody watched!) I put up my first video. It’s not impressive… it’s my usual routine of taking my biggest ship in Elite Dangerous into a war zone, and racking up as many kills as I can before I’m forced to withdraw. I don’t know what it is about playing in VR, but I seem to make a lot more mistakes while flying. Stupid things like forgetting to turn on my shield boosters or deploying my hard points, whatever. My first attempt at the video saw me get soundly thrashed as I accidentally joined the wrong side in a war and got beat to within an inch of my life by NPC’s. don’t think I’ll be posting that. This time I had some kind of problem with my radar and shot a lot of friendly ships, causing them to turn on me… repeatedly. Still, the amazing thing is that I’ve been able to make all these wonderful mistakes without being destroyed. I stumble a lot, but don’t fall. It’s encouraging. I think this is my twitch channel, go check it out to see my first video. Still working out details on my very old web cam, and my very new logitech microphone, sometimes the audio gets recorded twice and it’s annoying as hell.
I think that’s my link, need to double check
Once I get the green screen working, I’ll see if I can get a video of Vivecraft working… mine craft in VR! I have it installed and working on my Rift PC, need to move it over to my room scale setup. And possibly buy an account, since it’s a subscription game.
Found my old iphone 4, looking into turning it into a cheap cardboard device. It means updating the firmware. Never a good idea for iphones, but, what do I have to lose? I’ve been using this thing pretty much as an ipod touch that can run Spotify. But there was a time when this was my only device. I had this baby jail broken and unlocked, and it was my only companion while I was ravaging china. And not so much as a scratch on it. I’m going to try to run cardboard on it. I’ll let you know how it goes.
I put my Playstation VR on Craigslist, there are people there willing to pay more than I did to get it, so I might as well come out ahead on this one. I like the product… a lot, really! But in terms of performance it’s a cut below the PC-based alternatives, there’s a very sparse selection of games, many of which I already own on the PC, and those games are priced foolishly high, compared to their PC alternatives. So yeah, love the console, but PC & Vive win the day. The only console I need is the new nintendo classic, which is just about impossible to find, anywhere, at any price. Figures.
I thought I lost most of my china journals. I kept three… two paper journals, and one on my ipad. When my ipad was destroyed, I thought all those entries were lost. But no, I had them backed up on “ol’ Grindy”, my venerable HP desktop replacement. Couldn’t believe that stuff was still there, but I managed to restore my old ipad from an even older backup, and yup, all my entries are there. So I think I’ll start posting them. I’ll just do it on a 2 year delay, starting in February, when I went out there. I am somewhat looking forward to this. A lot of the entries are garbage and drivel, but I feel like a few rounds of editing, plus some nice pictures, could help create an engaging story people might want to read. The nice part about this project is that it’s 90% done and has been for over a year. I just need to do the final bit of polish.
So, I messed up pretty bad and now I’m paying for it. I did the hot yoga on Monday and over exerted myself. “What was it Ken? What got you? Heatstroke? Dehydration? Cardiac distress? Did you fall?” Well I did redline my heart rate and lose a lot of water, and I flirted with heatstroke but she didn’t take me home this time. Nope. The doctors say I strained a muscle in my chest wall. I walked around with it for a week, because the pain was masked. all my muscles hurt! But one pain would not fade away, and the more active I was, the more it grew. And grow it did, pulling in nearby muscle groups into the action. Until Thursday night when breathing became agony. Somehow I managed to sleep and rest helped. I soldiered on through Friday, but by then I was done. It hurt too much to breathe and I had to go to the ER. Any task requiring more than the most shallow of breaths left me in agony and fear that I would suffocate. Even lying down in the wrong position set me into a panic. I felt like a damn fool. Still do. I feel like those times I go out for an endurance run on the beach and place mental bets as to what will fail first. Muscles? Back? Sunburn? Knees? Thirst? Nope, it’s blisters, nice job, congrats on your new callouses.
So now I sit here, in a recliner, with heating pads and muscle relaxants, and breathing exercises. Sleeping when I’m able and watching HBO when I can’t. I hate this. I have a PlayStation VR I’m planning to sell on eBay this week, maybe I should play it. Oh but all the games are severely overpriced and I’m limited to demos. Never mind.
I do have some progress to report. Thursday night before the worst of my pain I was able to set up my first twitch stream! I streamed two play sessions in Elite Dangerous! No mixed reality, I don’t think it’s feasible ATM. I did set up a picture-in-picture from my webcam, so that’s something. Still, I filmed myself making an unsuccessful solo run against a federation capital ship in the Derrin system. And a second foray into a another Hi activity combat zone elsewhere in the same system. I got overwhelmed fairly quickly both times. I also flew my heavily modded viper iii into battle in a low intensity zone for the first time, again to disappointing results. Why did I spend all that effort to trick out a damn viper? I barely lasted 5 minutes out there in the thick of it. I love the speed on the thing, but I couldn’t even take out the first ship I engaged, which happened to be another viper. I probably should have tried a vulture instead.
I checked the streams and they do indeed work, but nothing of my events was saved. So from here on in I think I’m dumping live streams for pre recorded videos.
Another slipped release date… Sorry friends, been distracted of late.
These distractions have mostly been me going to New York to talk to people at tech meetups. I’ve also been networking with other VR developers and professionals, and this is really something I should have done sooner. My game isn’t even out yet and I have feedback from my not-yet-fans. And that advice more often than not has been: “Find a graphic designer and work with them on your game”. So happily I’ve made contact with a few local artists and animators, and I’m ready to solicit the help I need to get my game published. I really wanted this project to be wholly 100% mine, but more and more the benefits of collaboration keep making themselves known.
I’ve been checking out VR spaces and arcades around my area… and calling it “research”. I’ve started writing a business plan but without a solid team to run with it’s all very tentative at the moment. I think there’s a huge opportunity in the space though, and I’m going to continue investigating it.
In terms of development, I’ve decided it’s time for me to get my hands on a GearVR and develop something for it. so that is in the works. Looking forward to it.
I’ve also ordered a green screen, so I can start shooting some basic mixed reality videos, that are all the rage right now! In fact quite a lot of these are out there right now, pretty much exclusively for Unity created games. But there’s scarcely any MR video that features flight and space sims, like DCS, Elite Dangerous, Eve Valkyrie or Star Citizen (if it every comes out). I found some guy doing it for racing games, but nothing for flight. Thankfully his methods appear to be sound, and I should be able to re-create his techniques to create mixed reality videos of space and flight sims. No foreground/background issues to resolve, it’s as simple as overlaying one video over another, one from the goggles perspective, and the other from the video capture on the PC. If I do it right, it should look like I’m really flying, with my hands visibly working the controls and everything. I’m a little bit astonished that nobody has thought to do this yet. Anyway, that’s my next goal the VR/MR space. Looking forward to publishing some Mixed Reality videos and possibly some VR themed Twitch streams. Stay tuned.
The work continues. I’m importing all the wonderful audio dialogue into the game. Fixing bugs, doing some UI stuff. It’s slow but steady. I’ve been distracted by… well, VR!
I’ve gotten some over sized peripherals and attached them to my pint-sized macbook in an attempt to make it workable. It’s kind of comical, but I’m using it more, so that’s a plus.
I’ve been getting out of the office more and more and checking out meetups and VR experiences in my area. I’ve checked out Arcane Reality, a pretty cool spot not far from home. I watched some of the other devs there try out Google Earth for VR. Holy Canoli is that an awesome experience! I haven’t tried it yet at home, because if I do, I will lose an entire day to it, maybe a few days. I opened up google maps online earlier today and it opened to my old hometown in China. And I thought “Wow, I could just fly around the old neighborhood and see it all again from a new perspective.” Why am I not doing this right now? IDK.
Also been to a few game developer meetups. I see now that if I’m serious about succeeding in this industry that going it alone is simply not wise or prudent. I’ll need help from other developers, artists and animators if I’m serious about moving this whole thing forward.
I also visited Jump Into The Light in lower Manhattan. It was a pretty good experience. I don’t develop for the GearVR, don’t even own one, so trying it out was great and long overdue. This was my second GearVR experience and certainly the best. I watched a VR experience, Notes on Blindness, which is based on a feature film. I recommend it to anyone interested in VR or Cinema. It demonstrates a lot of things that are done right, and what the new medium can be. As a developer it really helped me think more about audio and how to use it in my own experiences.
Work on Zellman has also been stymied by two other projects I’ve started. One is a much better game than the one I’m trying to get out the door. I’ll announce it very soon, I hope. The other project, well, it’s less a project and more a business plan I’m developing. Again, it’s in the hopper, and I hope to have a more formal announcement for you soon.
Sorry to say the release is pushed back… again. This is two deadlines now I’ve slipped. I’m sorry, but here’s why:
I headed out to San Francisco to the VR Developer’s Conference! Had a great time, met some wonderful people, listened to a lot of talks, and learned a lot. In particular I was astonished at the Viveport VR Arcades that are rolling out in Asia right now. We need them here!
I decided to stay a few extra days to attend the AT&T VR Hack-a-Thon, also in San Francisco. I teamed up with my friends Mike and Sky, and together we made a pretty cool demo. Check it out: Innovation Education VR Tool Demo – The demo was for an educational assessment tool in VR – kind of a test to gauge creativity in the future job market to come. Sadly, we did not win. I think we were penalized for our choice of platform (Unity development with Vive) when everyone else was working with mobile phones and gear VR’s and such. The winners did a cool hack that let two gear users share the same space with Gopro cameras taped to the ceiling. They certainly deserved the win. But our product was vastly superior than the runners up. It seemed like the focus was more on AR than VR. Still, a good experience.
I couldn’t get a flight back before election day, they were all way too expensive.
Election day was a national tragedy. I did not sleep that night, or for several nights afterward. I was totally freaked out by the whole thing. Could. Not. Believe it. It’s still weird thinking about it. Anyway, yeah, not much got done at Outlier Labs that week. I spent a lot of time cleaning, packing, donating or selling old possessions I didn’t need. Out of instinct, I think. I think I might be getting ready to get out of the US again. Last time was just practice I think. Anyway, expect the housing market to heat up next spring when Me and a million other people start putting their houses on the market.
Elite Dangerous 2.2 came out and I am making fantastic amounts of credits running passenger missions at the edge of Imperial space. This eats so much of my time, but it’s a fantastic game!
Actual work on the project is taking longer than I anticipated. I have a dozen tweaks and features I haven’t implemented yet, and I am still getting the audio mixed and imported. Thankfully we are about done recording, so that’s good. I think one more sprint will get me to the finish line.