Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Fallout 4 VR- Wasteland Architecture Part II - Spectacle Island

By land mass, Spectacle Island is the largest buildable settlement in Fallout giving the player a lot of flexibility to experiment with more sizeable structures.  The real life Spectacle Island in Boston Harbor was named so for the early natural shape of two vaguely round land masses connected by a think strip. After decades of trash dumping and a final massive dump from the Big Dig, it looks more like a small "b" or a "9" or worse. Since Fallout 4 history diverges in 1950, the in game Spectacle Island is shaped like an amoeba.

Unlike Graygarden, I used this island as more of a blank slate since there wasn't any natively interesting structures preexisting on the island. I used my favorite cleanup mod to get rid of unscrappable garbage piles, Clean and Simple.  


Super mutants, raiders, and complaining settlers can harsh your mellow and I wanted to build a quiet seaside getaway to decompress from all the wasteland violence.  This happily has become my remote outdoor base where I do most of my crafting outdoors without being harassed by NPCs- enemy or otherwise.  Since I am cooped up at home inside a VR headset, I want to spend as much of the game time in the virtual outdoors- radiation be damned.   The first problem was unexpected- after fighting off the waves of oversized mirelurks, I walked around the island looking for possible build sites. The ocean/wind sound was so deafening I could not continue without a sound reduction mod.
.
For the main living areas, I wanted to connect railcars together and it's the fantastic Custom Concrete Walls with Window Glass mod that really tied this together. I had originally used SOE institute glass assets which didn't match as well.  The island has an uneven topology so concrete base support was used for some token amount of visual anchoring although the game engine lets you have floating detached structures. Fallout severely limits where you can snap/place items preventing me from putting supports exactly where I wanted. I also didn't want to risk corrupting my save with some potentially unstable mods so the support base is the few places the engine would let me snap.

Hall before Guest Bedroom
Most of the sides of box cars are closed off with concrete framed windows so Dogmeat wouldn't fall off.  Even if he is immortal and survives the fall, sometimes he would get stuck in circles underneath the deck and you would see a pair of twitchy ears clipping through- a total immersion killer.

The railcars are connected and placed so each window would have the most pleasing views of itself and the surrounding island. Since there is so much land here, I could have gone nuts and added dozens of railcars for a giant maze complex but it didn't feel right after about 7 railcars and I pared it back as it felt too gratuitous and unwieldy.



VR Bedtime
I keep most of the interior relatively minimal with most of it is empty except an small armory, lab, bed room, and a guest room- a huge departure from my hoarding Skyrim days.  Most of Fallout 4 exteriors and interiors are so piled with junk that one really needs visual relief in game.  My bedroom has a sleeping bag, chair, suitcase, and a doggie bed. I use the camping mod so I sleep in various places in the Commonwealth but I like to return to this home at the end of my play session.





Hung with Immersive Toilet Paper
I originally put the bathroom inside but it's impossible to get privacy in such a transparent structure and I didn't want to cover up anything.  I ended up placing the waste facilities just underneath the bedroom. Why do I even need to add a bathroom in this virtual world? Friend, if you need to ask- the answer is all about raising immersion levels.  Just look at the immersive toilet paper flipped the correct way. I don't actually use it in game and it's out of the way enough that followers will not avail themselves so it's here purely for visual immersion.  (Yes I am aware of "needs" mods but I'm not that kind of player.)  I will have to put in a magazine rack once I have enough collected.

Chemistry Workshop with Best Wasteland Views

This was the perfect corner for a chemistry station as it's visible from a window in the front entrance hall so you know you have to turn left and not get lost in the maze.  All other crafting- weapons/ammo/food is outside surrounding the original unscrappable workshop.  

Some practical Spectacle Island tips:
  • You don't need Preston Garvey/Minuteman to take over this island, just fight off waves and waves of Mirelurks and restore power to the island.
  • Custom Concrete Walls with Window Glass mod does require the Wasteland Workshop which I bought for pancake Fallout 4 and copied over into the VR folder.  




Monday, January 14, 2019

Fallout 4 VR- Wasteland Architecture Part I - Graygarden

The magic of moddable Bethesda open world games lies in the power to repurpose the base game to suit the player that diverges entirely with the main intended gameplay.   I slogged through enough of the Fallout settlement building of pitiful shanty towns to see that kind of grind was not for me. Why waste precious game time looting spatulas off ghouls for that 1 unit of steel and rubber when you can just have infinite build materials at the click of a console command.  Plus there just isn't enough Nuka Cola bottles in all of the Commonwealth to build the kind of structures I wanted.

Fallout 4 didn't have to be just a pseudo FPS/RPG.  When I saw the beauty of the fractured freeway of Graygarden, I realized Fallout 4 VR is a very unique VR construction simulator albeit sited in a nuclear wasteland.  I need not limit myself to lore friendly structures and I could go all out and build whatever a modded system would let me.  However the post apocalyptic wasteland of Fallout contains aesthetically compelling sites of broken infrastructure that I didn't want to cover over but highlight it in all it's ruined glory.


With Graygarden, I felt compelled not to use any mods to artificially clean up or restore the location.   I relied heavily on Settlement Object Expansion Pack using Institute glass assets.   Using glass floors allowed a safe navigable structure (slipping is not a thing in the Creation Engine) and still reveal the these lovingly modeled splintered rebars and dangling bits of concrete beneath. It would have been a high crime against immersion to cover these up.
 

The joy of architecting in the game world is that even though glass ramps are a dangerous slip hazard no one would build in the real world, they work wonderfully in game. Not only do they provide unique views below, these institute glass ceiling assets are wide enough that Dogmeat and other followers do not get stuck or fall off as they do on regular ladders which I had originally before I found the SOE mod.   I was never so completely engaged in VR as I did building out Graygarden and I was able to power through a year end 40 hour real life fast.  Puzzling out how to structure the stairways to the 8 storied top deck was crazy fun as you had to  dynamically building an ascending path.  I fell to my death a few times losing an hour of work when I accidentally selected and moved the item I was standing on which has turned me into an obsessive compulsive saver- but also a heavily modded Workshop wheel CTDs a lot, a lot. 

My initial plan was to build as many flat level platforms as possible for settlement building for Sim Settlements. However after building everything out, I realized I didn't want to clutter this space with repetitive immersion breaking NPC settlers. I got enough of them back in Sanctuary Hills and Taffington Boathouse. So I maintain Graygarden as a robot colony true to it's historic origins and plan to make the decks into a museum.
Adding to my immersion, I kept getting hit with heavy radiation storms during construction and trusty Codsworth kept warning me "Radiation Mum".  I could have just flipped the weather to clear but it was fun to build under adverse conditions popping all the Rad-X and Radaway I had stockpiled.  The top deck displays some custom power armor and larger weaponry but most importantly I have a vertibird helipad for the Immersive Travel mod which I use for flying to Spectacle Island.  I went a little overboard with decorative statues on top.


I also added a triple relay of elevators to get to the vertibird without having to ascend via the glass ramps. Sadly I wasted a few hours trying to fix the Bethesda floating elevator button bug trying 2 separate mods. It didn't fix it so I don't use the elevator much.


(You will have to take my solemn word that these photos do not do justice to the fun of exploring the actual site in VR. I had originally planned to make a video walkthrough of the site but I realize that my head bobs uncontrollably and since I move through teleportation, a video would be a most unpleasant jiggly experience for the viewer.)


Sunday, January 13, 2019

Enjoying Fishing in RDR2


Fishing is a beautifully relaxing activity in the oft violent world of Arthur Morgan.  I love how Arthur mumbles to himself while fishing- and this is when I identify with him most.  I don't like straight up fishing games as much as fishing in character in an open world.  I am the kind of player happy never to finish the main quest just to putter around in the game world with a fishing rod. I only made progress just to unlock the rod and the fishing boat in Chapter 3.

Before you can fish properly, evil Rockstar locks this activity behind a barricade of Chapter 2 missions where your Arthur is forced to undergo all manner of unpleasant violent gang work.  I was so frustrated that Abigail's "Fisher of Men" quest would not appear that at one point I just shot a muskie with a pistol which works well as does a bow and arrow. Due to the water, the reticle will not turn red and auto-aim appears not to work but if you want Arthur to enjoy some grilled fish before the unlock, shooting fish is not a bad way to go.

My husband instead opted to off a fisherman for their rod. The first few times the fishing rod disappeared as the hapless body fell into water.  You have to stealth assassinate a fisherman preferably close to the shore otherwise the fisherman will unequip the fishing rod with a gun. However getting a fishing rod will not unlock any of the bait from the general store and hence you can only fish with bread and cheese until you unlock "Fisher of Men" which lets you unlock "Fisher of Fish" for the special lures.


  One time I was mauled almost to death by a grizzly while trying to get to a salmon fishing spot. By the time I made it to the water, Arthurs back was bloody with slash marks but he went on gently mumbling and fishing as if nothing ever happened.

The game mechanic and strategy for reeling in all fish appear to be the same- controlling the line with L when the fish is struggling, fast reeling when not. You can easily see where fish are bubbling on the surface and there isn't a huge challenge.  I've never screamed so much in game trying to reel in a big one as I did with this 19 pound channel catfish. Unfortunately RDR2 does not keep track of largest fish caught, only how many so one must take a proper snapshot as proof.

Returning caught fish back to the water gives you 1 good guy point making it a great activity to boost your reputation as perch are just jumping in shallow areas.

I whip out my fishing rod everywhere near a body of water. Try fishing in the polluted waters in Annesburg right outside the train station, you will be surprised Rockstar has added little details.



Sunday, December 2, 2018

Fallacy of the Best Horse in Red Dead Redemption 2

I see numerous youtube posts and gaming articles on "How to get the BEST horse for FREE" which invariably regurgitates steps of taming a white Arabian in the wild.  But how can there be an objectively best horse when such designation depends on an individual's play style and the activities engaged in RDR2's vast open world.  While the primary stats health/stamina/acceleration/speed are important, I personally find the secondary attribute of courage to impact my gameplay much much more.  No amount of health and speed makes up for a horse bucking you directly into the path of  bullgators, a grizzly, pack of wolves, or any other kind of predator that menace the landscape.

Not that's a horse! Legs of an Ardennes totally look
like a prehistoric quadruped rather than a modern horse. 
  
I spend most of my time fishing in the Bayou and Arabians totally suck around gators, snakes, or any kind of predator.  I spawned a white Arabian through the St. Denis glitch and I gladly sold this high-strung high maintenance beast for a few dollars after much exasperation. An Ardennes while a slow tank will tolerate gator country like a champ!  Race horses spook easily even fully bonded and they will buck you straight into danger.

Courage Stats

In game courage behavior appears not to be a consistent blanket attribute as listed in the RDR2 compendium but highly dependent on context. Horses as in real life behave differently under different stressful scenarios, i.e. a horse steady in combat can still spook easily around alligators.  Even fully bonded, I've seen different horse reactions in these following types of stressful situations:
  • human combat, shootouts
  • wild predators 
  • traffic in town like St. Denis- I had an Arabian that was terrible around trolley traffic in St. Denis
  • in deep water crossing
The official game courage levels seem incorrect.  From the descriptions alone, it would appear War Horses have the highest levels of courage, followed by Half War horses like the Turkoman with race horses being the most skittish- however this not the case.   Through experience and in Reddit chat- Arabians are reputedly extremely skittish but the Arabian is listed with the highest level of courage(6/10) while war horses have 5/10 or moderate level of courage.   My husband proudly sticks by his Tennessee Walker(2/10) that he takes hunting everywhere and it does quite fine near alligators. Try to take an Arabian anywhere near gator country.  


Just as speed can differ for different coats of each breed, courage may vary as well and perhaps at the individual level. Even if the official courage ranking seems faulty, I listed the breeds by category ordered by the courage rating listed in the compendium. I've also added the compendium description in underlined quotes that pertains to courage below:
    • Superior
      •  Arabian (6/10 courage listed is highly dubious, just do a google search on "rdr2 arabian skittish")
    • War 
      • Ardennes(5/10 courage) -" This sturdy, brave breed handles well under pressure and will not become agitated while in combat. Ardennes horses are known for their well-built bodies as well as being brave in combat situations."  This is the breed Rockstar added as a pre-order bonus.
        • My fully bonded Strawberry Roan Ardennes is a perfectly dependable tank in combat, but he still bucked me when ambushed by a grizzly and a pack of wolves.
      • Andalusian (courage not listed) - listed as the only breed called out for courage in hunting. "This breed of horse is courageous and will not be spooked easily. Andalusian breed of horses are tough and aggressive in nature which makes them perfect for hunting. "
      • Hungarian Halfbred (courage not listed) - "renowned for its fearlessness making them perfect for loud and dangerous situations
    • War/Race
      • Turkoman(5/10)- "Turkoman is a multi-class horse with characteristics that make it perfect for racing and combat."
        • My fully bonded silver turkoman is fantastic for combat but I have been bucked during predator attacks by grizzlies/wolves/bullgators.  Turkomans also do not like being near gators.
    • War/Work
      • Mustang(5/10) -"They have traits of both work and war horses, so are strong and will not be easily frightened. This loyal and bold breed of horse are invaluable in combat situations."
    • Race/Work
      • Missouri Fox Trotter(5/10) - some conflicting reddit threads mentioning how easily it spooks, or alternatively how it's braver than an Arabian. In truth, anything with 4 legs is less skittish than an Arabian.
    • Draft: 
    • Work
    • Race
    • Riding
      • Tennessee Walker (2/10) - even with this low courage rating, my husband plays exclusively with Tennessee Walkers and they seem do fine in combat and around gators.
      • Morgan (1/10)
      • Kentucky Sadler (1/10)

Appearance - Size, Coat, Shape, Neck Girth, Gait, etc...

More than 50% of game play is trotting around on your steed. You will be consistently staring at your horses head, rear, haunches, and tail more than any other rendered objects in the game. There's no shame in choosing a horse for it's looks in a video game.

Although I had spawned the super rare Tiger Striped Mustang, it just looked too out of place and I traded it away for a Turkoman.

Arthur never looked right on the Arabian- just too "My Little Pony", too bad the stables don't offer rainbow mane. 

My Own Stables

Currently I rotate between the following 4 horses:

Silver Turkoman - really a magnificent beast- too good for Arthur but this horse does not do well around predators.

Strawberry Roan Ardennes War Horse - handles like a tank but great for something steady around
the Bayou near alligators.

Reverse Dapple Roan Nokota - One of the fastest in game (7 speed 5 acceleration), it's actually a lot of fun to ride but spooks easily. Low health and stamina(3/3) were less of an issue.

Nokota Blue Roan - I am partial to his blushing pink nose, and even traded in an Arabian, Tiger Striped Mustang for this low stat Nokota. I want to trade him in for an Adalusian but can't find the heart to sell him.



Thursday, November 29, 2018

GTX 1080ti with eGPU A Waste of $1000

After finally getting my grubby little paws on a GTX 1080ti,  I was sorely sorely disappointed I had set myself up so hard.  When you plunk down a sizeable outlay of gold for just a GPU, you really have to ask yourself honestly, how much more enjoyment will you reap on a speedier GPU. And the answer now I surprise myself with is "not that much more".  Considering that I now spend most of my precious gaming time on a PS4 with Red Dead Redemption 2, I guess my gaming life would have been just as rich had I stuck with my serviceable GTX 1070.  I upgraded in preparation for the Pimax 5K+, but I realize the OG Vive is still lots of fun. But really, I ain't got no time to be under a helmet when RDR2 is so fabulous.
  
SkyrimVR is unstable as before- crashing in 30 min intervals. Still can't have Apachii Divine Elegance Store, no bikini armor- can't have anything nice...  (Actually I don't approve of bikini armors but I'd like to have these mods ready in case male friends visit and want to see the full charm of modded Skyrim.)  But my SkyrimVR problems are not GPU related- it must be the aging Bethesda engine not meant to run 200+ mods despite having 11GB vRAM.  It falls over even before it reaches 9GB use.  Probably I need a clean character build but after 300 hours of grind, I loathe the thought of starting over.

Yes I can run with much higher 2x SS settings. I can run ENBs now but this is not reason enough for $1000. Stuff looks somewhat better than a 1070(though the Vive Gear VR lens swap made the biggest difference in clarity), but I realize I was utterly enraptured with the magical fantasy world of SkyrimVR even before this upgrade.

Kingdom Come Deliverance definitely needed the extra horse power to run 4K, otherwise the stuttering really ate into immersion. But playing at 1080p was still enjoyable.  4K Witcher 3 runs amazing with 1080ti, but I was still amazed even with lower fps.  My $1000 lesson is that raw GPU speed may not take your enjoyment that much further because it's engaging game play and not the most hyper realistic detail that will win your imagination. I grew up on 8 bit games, even text based ASCII RPG games which were strangely thrilling. And now that I've been completely absorbed in Red Dead Redemption on a dinky PS4(1.84 Teraflops) while  my 1080ti(11.3 Teraflops) dusts away, I happily realize I have no need to upgrade to an RTX.

From a technical point of view,  I am still impressed you can run a laptop with an external GPU. Probably the best part of this upgrade is keeping the core laptop motherboard cool.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

GPU Upgrade: Agonizing over RTX 2080ti vs 1080ti

TLDR- Alienware AGA with EVGA 1080ti SC2(with EVGA open option to upgrade in 3 months)

In the fall of 2016, I treated myself to a new Alienware 17 R4 with a GTX 1070 after limping along a few months with my HTC Vive on a subpar GPU.  This R4 has been a champ for most VR games in the last two years until I started modding SkyrimVR heavily.  I don't need buttery performance on pancake 4k games-   I enjoy amazing artistry and story telling so much on the Witcher 3 I haven't actually noticed the suboptimal fps.  However low frame rates and reprojection in a high-action VR game is not just a buzz kill- the ensuing nausea kills the session and queasiness lingers enough to avoid VR for days.  Also I spend hours agonizing over my load list and cutting mods when I want to try out new mods.

I could cut out all those greedy Skyrim mods- who needs realistic rope and individual straws in hay bales anyways or... Or I could get on the treadmill of nextgen hardware upgrades. With Pimax 8K headsets coming up and with the sale of new RTX gpus,  I had sweet sweet visions of prancing around Skyrim with 200 degree FOV in second generation VR gear.

One ponders heavily the wisdom of spending thousands to get realistic immersive virtual grass.  Gamers are often in a spectrum of spend guilt. I personally am a huge believer in video games as a positive force for growth and development.  I had some dubious mental calculation about never having wasting money on cable TV- this must have saved at least $10K in the last 10 years.  I also had dutifully saved up some septims to buy the Vive Pro which just didn't seem worth the effort.

My decision tree went something like this.
1. I need more VRAM(because 4K environment textures DO make a difference) and that would only be GTX 1080ti or RTX 2080ti with 11GB over the standard 8GB.
2. A bigger fork deciding over a brand new spanking desktop or use a external gpu on my Alienware R7.

New Box or eGPU?
My hard working husband(so sweet guy) who knows how much I love marveling in a VR fantasy world has offered to buy me a top of the line Alienware Area 51 with the RTX of choice. Area 51 currently comes with with an RTX 2080 OC (overclocked mode) with the 2080ti probably coming out later in the year when the supply of 2080ti increases.  The only reason I stick by Dell and Alienware instead of building a custom rig is for the 5 year support plan since these beast gaming machines are more prone to failure.  I've only had to replace the motherboard once in the last 2 years.

Alienware AGA vs Thunderbolt eGPU
It was time to call in the AGA(Alienware Graphics Amplifier) option.  AGA hands down is faster than thunderbolt 3 since has direct dedicated connection to the motherboard unlike the thunderbolt 3 which has to share the PCIe switch.

RTX 2080ti vs GTX 1080ti
Obviously if money was not an issue and one could get your hands on a RTX 2080ti, you would spare your brain cells of the excruciating price to enjoyment analysis.  Although such funds are ample in my piggy bank, I totally frown on paying the "must have latest greatest gpu" premium charged in the first months of a gpu's initial release.   On getting a 2080ti, I don't believe my future enjoyment of future games will have that much to do with ray tracing.

If I think of the most amazing games I have ever played in the last 10 years and some of them not even 3D like Samarost 3, hardware ray tracing in no way would enhance these games.   But also triple AAA publishers- those who have the budget to potentially take advantage of the RTX, may not take the risk in something so proprietary for NVidia that requires such expensive gpus.  Game companies have to sell to the widest audience - that includes consoles which have no hope of hardware ray tracing in the next few years.  The GTX 1080ti which is still almost ~50%  better than my 1070 but may be barely adequate for a Pimax. There is the overhead loss of course of 10-15% in not directly plugging into the motherboard but 1080ti upgrade seemed a good compromise.

Proprietary Alienware Graphics Amplifier vs Thunderbolt eGPU
No brainer to get the proprietary Alienware AGA external gpu chassis  over a Thunderbolt eGPU. The AGA has separate dedicated bus on the Alienware R4 instead of the Thunderbolt which would share the PCI lanes including network. Plus the AGA was on sale for $159 on Dell.

MSI vs Gigabyte vs EGVA- form factor, thermals, noise, etc...
Even when one decides on a gpu, you still have to go through the gauntlet of graphics board selection.  MSI, Gigabyte, EVGA were the 3 aftermarket manufacturers I considered due to their improved cooling systems. There is the problem with form factor as the AGA chassis allows for only 2 slot cards and MSI/Gigabyte had 2.5 slots. I read on the board the 2.5 slot cards do fit but you cannot fully close the top and I didn't want my board being prey to dust. 

The clincher was EVGA's upgrade program so if I wanted to jump to a 2080ti in the next 3 months, I still had the happy option to plunk down an extra $500 to do so.



Which EVGA 1080ti Model: SC2 vs FTW3?
Even when you chose EVGA 1080ti, you still have the final and last gauntlet of model options, FTW3 SC, SC2, Black Edition GAMING, SC2 Hybrid...  careful weighing of cooling options ICX Cooling vs ICX Technology, 2 fan vs 3 fan. I opted for ICX SC2 Gaming which had the 2 fan smaller form factor but still the 9 temp sensors and asynchronous fans.  You can see gamer nexus deep breakdown here:
  • https://www.gamersnexus.net/hwreviews/2900-evga-1080-ti-ftw3-review-vs-sc2-gaming-x-xtreme-aorus/page-3
Who to Buy from: Amazon vs Newegg
The final hurdle- where to buy this EVGA 1080ti SC2 Gaming. I looked on Amazon and one of the reviewers said be weary of used cards in crypto mining that had been returned and repackaged. I decided to buy it from a place with a stringent GPU return policy so I bought it non-refundable directly from newegg(and not an affiliate vendor).






Tuesday, July 10, 2018

SkyrimVR Player Home Mods

The most interesting Skyrim real estate is not from the vanilla game but from the creativity of talented modders. Many of these mods are worth exploring as places in their own right if not for inhabiting and is often vastly superior to vanilla.

Portable  Homes 

Home encapsulated in an item in your inventory a la "I Dream of Jeannie".  Some would consider this cheating but consider it essential for a true hoarder. 
  • Staff of Shalidor upside down fun, this innovative home on the ball of a staff has a  well-lighted yet cosy interior making it a pleasant escape after the trauma of melee combat in a dark dungeon.  This mod really helped ease the dreariness of Alfthand during the long slog to Blackreach.  Also you can hear the rain and weather from your last location giving you a lovely immersive connection the the outside. My husband was quite catty- "What- your staff just hangs out rigid while you disappear". Hrrmmf.  It enters a magical plane if you must know.
  • HavenBag - Dwemer conversion - A deluxe spacious bachelor pad with ample weapons racks, hot tub, all the usual amenities for smithing and enchanting, oven for baking with a fully loaded pantry.  Dwemer architecture does make it feel more like a museum and lacks the coziness of the Staff of Shalidor but the spaciousness is calming after combat in dreary dungeons and caves. I am able to bring Meeko here and hence this is my main portable home. (The original Haven Bag is an interior of a leather bag but I chose the Dwemer version so home does not feel too crammed and cluttered.)
  • Campfire Cabin - craft and plunk down a cabin anywhere.  Allows you to also craft a portable enchanting station so I can do most of my stuff outside.  (Requires Campfire another fine mod)

Castles, Megahomes, Villages

  • **** Tel Nalta II-  my all time favorite SSE mod which lets you build a full fledged Tel Vanni mushroom village. The mod comes with a cheat chest with materials needed to build out the village but it was great fun running around Skyrim gathering materials for the first few pods. This merits a post all it's own. TBD  
  • **** Antennaria - enough magical feels to satisfy any fantasy nerd. Artistically this is probably the loveliest bedroom in all of Tamriel nestled in a ferny overgrown grotto.
  • Aemer’s refuge  - tremendous castle with a double dragon fight to win the right to enter. Mod also places rune passage ways which can be activated from vanilla homes.
  • Leveler’s Tower - it's a massive cheat castle but way too fun not to explore to behold sights not in vanilla- a massive basement farm worked by dwemer spiders, a fight arena where you can spawn battles, the list goes on.

Functional Useful Homes

  • Ruska in Riften- placed conveniently near Honeyside's back door. I use Ruska as my base to do my smithing outdoors overlooking Riften lake. Balimund is a nice guy and all but Khajit needs quiet space to create the best armor and weapons. Ruska is an Elianora house and as such has all her signature facilities of named storage.  I actually use Hearth Craft to make a portable enchanting station which I've hid(troll skull) next to the ore chest so I can do smithing and enchanting all outside. When I had knee surgery, I did all my smithing and enchanting sitting here enjoying the great outdoors.
  • Mammoth Manor near Lake Ilinalta
    • Two story manor spacious enough for a gang of followers
    • Love the open two story living room layout so you can keep tabs on everyone
  • Hermit's Stump- this is where I do my mushroom farming and this mod has more Hearthfire plantable spots than anywhere. Probably one could mix this with Cannabis Skyrim for that Humboldt feeling.

AirBNB - casual stays when near the area

  • Telmos mushroom house on the way to Ivarstead
  • Wind Path - remote refuge next to a waterfall. You can stroll up the mountain path to the troll cave for some rather decent loot. Don't try to wash your hands or play the lute yourself in VR as this goes to black screen.


Hobbit Homes
  • Island Hobbit Home - this is probably the most LOTR of the bunch. If you don't have SKSE, you will get a weird green blank mesh in the alchemy room where Meeko disappears into
  • Marnya - little ho hum as intended, I uninstalled it so I can try Hobbiton
  • Hobbiton - some parts are beautifully done (exterior, foundry) and others could do with a little more work

Improvements to Vanilla Homes, Hearthfire Homes

Riften Honeyside is my home base and I keep it unmodded just to have a completely vanilla home to do clean saves. However most of the vanilla homes lack a loving home touch as Bethesda did the bare minimum.  It's almost as if the guy that does bandit camps also did the homes and just perfunctorily put few items on each surface and called it a day.
  • Breezehome by Lupus - not too over the top
  • Breezehome Porch- make use of the front 
  • Lakeview Extended - builds a full fortified compound out of this Falkreath Hearthfire home.  Made by the same author as the excellent Tel Nalta.
  • Lakeview Extended Basement
  • Proudspire - I had to slay so many necromancers to get this ugly uncomfortable home.  Figures Bethesda would make the most expensive home in Skyrim the worst. This mod makes Proudspire at least a little more livable but Solitude is my least favorite city and I'd rather not have to overnight in Proudspire.

Other Homes

Believe it or not, I've downloaded 10+ more home mods and removed them for one reason or another and will note them here. 

My Current Skyrim VR Mod List not including Homes

Mods are what makes skyrim an endless wonder of replayability and has kept this 8 year old game alive for so long.  One of the true joys of playing skyrim is tweaking the world to fit one's peculiarities and Skyrim modding lets the player build and design the game world to an extent unseen in other games.  For gamers who are just starting out, I would recommend adding just 2-3 mods for each play so they can get a feel for what the mod actually does.  From a practical point of view, you want to debug and isolate problem incompatibilities with small sets of changes.   If you mod a lot, you will break your game.

But more importantly, think of mods like presents- don't open them all at once! Despite appearances, there is not an infinite supply of quality mods and it will be quite a long time til TES VI.

I use about 140+ mods currently on a GTX 1080ti running at decent 85+ FPS.  The mods listed here are everyday mods not including homes or DLC sized ones like Project AHO& Falskaar.   Anything I consider essential, I've marked with a +++.

Essential Core

Utility/VR Mods

  • showracemenu alternative - nicer than having to use console command, I use it to fork my builds from time to time to make versions friends can try.
  • vrmirror - not just for vanity, I went out onto town with just wearing my loin cloth and got sniggered at
  • Quality World Map(+++) 
  • no stagger in VR

Weather/Environment

  • Climates of Tamriel with enb preset. (enb vr) - Vivid Weathers was lovely but the snow and rain didn't feel believable.  CoT has better snow and rain but tends to be much brighter than other weather mods. After playing for a month of gloomy overcast weather, I prefer sunny glare of CoT.
  • Ethereal Cosmos- gives night sky a more fantasy feel
  • Ethereal Clouds
  • Wet and Cold- frosty breath definitely gives immersion in cold weather

Textures

Meeko chilling out at Mammoth Manor- a fine house for followers to not get in your way
  • Peltapalooza -same, everything gamwich makes!

Weapons Armor Gore

  • Real Bows - archery is the most believable combat mechanics in VR and deserves better and more functional looking bows.  Forsworn bows with the double limb design are so beautiful, I've hung them up in almost every house I own.
  • Ars Metallica - wouldn't smith without it.
  • Enhanced Blood - it's a bit too gory but I'm too lazy to make up my mind to remove it

Fun

  • Cannabis Skyrim - Since I don't toke, I didn't think I wanted a lore unfriendly gag weed mod.  However finally I ran out of mods to try and gave it a go. My god the textures on the hemp plants are of such high quality and the comic value huge!  The shop Your Highness is a top class joint with so much attention to detail.  This mod also allows you to plant weeds all over Skyrim so you can finally embark on your Johnny Appleweed project. 
  • Campfire - camping in the wilds of Skyrim with your own dog has it's own unique charms. I don't go hardcore with any survival mods like Frostfall but just want to relax out in the woods.
  • Fishing in Skyrim VR - Although the mechanics are a bit thin, it's still fun running around Skyrim to see what you can drag in with your net.   Be careful where you throw your net.  I got human remains along with empty wine bottles in the swamps of Morthal.  Also mod let's you use a Dwemer bomb in the water- useful for getting rid of slaughterfish that's preventing fast travel.  
  • Become a Bard - in VR you don't get to see animations or actually play the instrument, but it's still fun air-playing at inns or setting the soundtrack when you want some other lore friendly music. I actually got kind of nervous first time I played at the Winking Skeever but the crowd warmed up.

Cities & Roads

  • JKs Skyrim - Vanilla cities are kind of sparse- the more you play the more you will notice this lack of richness. JK's Skyrim fills out the cities without going over the top.  JKS adds pulley system to Riften to move goods between the lower and upper levels, ladder on the roofs for thieves.  (I uninstalled Dawn of Skyrim since I didn't like the non-immersive cartoony rats it added to Riften and I prefer JKS alone.)
  • Magical College of Winterhold
  • Schools of the Holds - This should be considered a cheat mod since it gives you a free place to stay and free potions and supplies outside of each city if you have entered the College of Winterhold. 
  • Skyrim Better Roads and Bridges
  • Beautiful Honey Signs
  • Aspens for Riften- the hand placed trees beautifies Riften. Not sure why mod author removed it.

Followers & NPC

  • Inigo(+++) - who doesn't love Inigo and his furry blue face!  He's also a fantastic archer, singer, witty jokester.  But best I love roaming the lands with a fellow Khajiit.
  • My home is your home 
  • Amazing Follower Tweaks - careful,  if you already have a standard follower you might want to dismiss them first. But probably the first thing anybody does is to make Lydia dance.
  • Khajit Speaks - Khajit is no nord.   Essential for Khajit builds.
  • RDO
  • WICO(+++)  - Windsong Immersive Character Overhaul- the most lore friendly overhaul out of the bunch- preferred this over TCO.
  • Modesty Mod- don't let those ladies go nude or show too much skin in the cold north

Nature

  • RealisticWaterTwo (on the fence currently, Pure Waters looks much more realistic except for waterfalls)
  • Skyrim Flora Overhaul
  • HQ Bark - the combo of SFP and HQ bark messes up LODs.
  • Immersive Fallen Trees - really does feel immersive- I love running around Skyrim looking for them. 
  • Realistic Aspen Trees - adds oranges and reds for a true autumnal feel
  • BirdsAndFlocks - Seeing flocks scatter in the sky- totally immersive
  • HD Photorealistic Ivy - so real looking. I didn't think this would make a big difference in immersion but ivy is hanging more places than you think
For Dog Lovers
  • Fusa Fusa - fluffier animals, Meeko looks way cuter and fuzzier and hence I keep this one but the other animals don't look quite right with extra fuzz.
  • Improved Meeko - makes Meeko less crazy aggro and stop attacking enemies on sight.  I have command lines for everything but it's nicer to have it in one mod. Also I had a weird bug where Meeko was stuck in the bushes and this unstuck him.

Audio

  • SoundsofSkyrim
  • Immersive Sounds
  • Audio Overhaul

Other Immersion and Miscellaneous

  • footprints
  • Less Dragons - killing dragons every few in game days, you realize you have 30 dragon souls and not enough shouts to fill. Dragon encounters should be a rare event.

Reverted Mods

Ones which caused too much grief with incompatibility:
  • Open Cities - it never quite worked and prevented others like JK Skyrim from working
  • EnhancedLightsandFX 
  • BirdsOfSkyrim - Deinstalled due to scripting issues. I liked seeing diverse birds, and the airborn birds are fantastic. But sometimes birds are floating inches off the ground or doing glitchy things killing immersion. Also left hundreds of unattached scripts that needed cleaning.

I know plenty of people love and use the above mods but I just had so many issues with the rest of my selection that I decided to go without.

Mods too GPU greedy:
  • Verdant - Altered Forest Grass -  I could see I'd want to take screenshots with these but the stutter makes VR nausea-inducing.  Maybe if I get my next gen GPU, save up that money for the RTX 2080.
Rejected out of personal preference
  • Lanterns Of Skyrim - adds more lanterns throughout the realm
  • Total Character Makeover -WICO just looked more natural
  • KS Hairdo's - performance killer
  • unique loots (not sure this is worth it, looting is still unsatisfying once you level up past 10)

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

SkyrimVR Tourism

People lollygag in Skyrim for hundreds of hours for very different reasons. I made this list to figure out how to introduce friends to SkyrimVR in less than 2 hours to give them the highlights of Skyrim.
(Don't forget to toggle combat(tcai) for your tourist if they don't want to be constantly attacked.)

Cities Tour

Places anyone can go via fast travel or lore friendly carriage:
  • Markarth - nothing beats that epic dwemer fantasy feel of a visit to the westernmost corner of Skyrim after the rather humble Nord settlements.  Since this is a vertical city with a lot of staircase jumping- let visitors know they should move rather slowly or risk getting motion sick.  The interior buildings are a bit ho-hum so this is a city best enjoyed from the outside.    Also don't be afraid to jump in the water to gather alchemy supplies (but don't let anyone queasy see the dead body in a cage). Also walking out of the city gates and heading north following the river is a pretty jaunt.  Note you may get attacked by the fierce Forsworn who at best have some cool looking skull laden gear to loot.  Warning, stone beds not that comfortable in the Silver-Blood Inn.  Dwemer Museum is a total let down.
  • Riften -  After the drab grey hues of Skyrim, the warm yellow aspens of Riften give you such a cosy feel of a  pretty fishing village.  Casual tourists need not be burdened with the dark side of Riften though the doings of the mead mafia family or the Thieves Guild in the Ratway may be of interest. Be careful tourists don't inadvertently enter Honorhall Orphanage if you didn't finish the Innocence Lost quest.   Honeyside is my first home base and favorite livable city despite it's seamy corrupt underside.  Riften skies at night is a special treat.  
  • Whiterun - I remember being quite impressed by the grand hall of Dragonsreach after emerging from the provincial backwaters of Helgen and Riverwood.  I first got the LOTR horse lords of Rohan vibe here from the architecture. Also one could get rid of Heimskr for a more peaceful visit.
Takes some work but open to fast travel after unlock:
  • Raven Rock- Access to the island of Solstheim is only available after starting the Dragonborn quest after fetching the Horn of the Jurgen Windcaller after meeting up with the Greybeards in High Hrothgar and then a randomly generated attack by cultists.  I don't play the main story line but I did just enough to unlock Solstheim.  Dunmer architecture is so weirdly different from rest of Skyrim, it feels like another planet.  Raven Rock is the most sci fi locale in Skyrim.  For some Solstheim may not be a refreshing visit due to the black vog constantly ejecting from the volcano and oppressive ashen landscape. A visit back to cool green wooded mountains such as those of Falkreath Hold surrounding Lake Ilinalta is recommended to offset the dry dusty feels of Solstheim.

Blackreach & Dwemer Ruins

Blackreach is undoubtedly the most fantastical hidden underground world in Skyrim.  The city of giant glowing mushrooms is a total head trip.  In hindsight I could have just materialized via console command, but I dutifully slogged through endless halls of mechanical spiders and creepy Falmer starting at Alfthand with a party of 3 followers to help me.  You have to first get the attunement sphere from Septimus Signus maker north of Winterhold.  Sadly by the time I finally reached Blackreach, I was way too tuckered out to appreciate it and had to go back the next day.


(Blackreach alone is rather vast to explore. When friends don't have time, the compact cavern of the mod Tel Nalta II gives a condensed flavor or Blackreach.)

The Wilds Tour

The real joy for me is to wander around Skyrim with my furry friend Meeko.  I have not been disappointed anytime I've randomly just chosen a spot on the map or just walk out from a city. The few locations of note:
  • Sulfurous Hot Springs of Eastmarch near dragon mount (near Darkwater Crossing/Kynareth)
  • Anywhere on the Rift
  • Throat of the World

Grottos/Open Caverns

Dungeons are a bit too claustrophobic for me and I prefer grottos or open caverns with trees in them.

The Houses Tour

The vanilla homes are rather ho-hum but these player home mods are worth showing off to friends:
  • Tel Nalta II - an entire mushroom village.  The Tower Cavern with a giant dwemer spider is a great place to start the tour
  • Shalidor's Staff - a portable home inside a magical staff
  • Antennaria 
  • Island Hobbit Home - for Tolkien fans
  • Windpath - Located overlooking a waterfall, you can hike up north to get to a troll cave.

SkyrimVR Grind vs Cheats

SkyrimVR is single player game existing purely for your enjoyment only so there is no need to slog through dungeons if that’s not your thing. More than in a pancake game,  it takes real physical energy to stab enemies in VR and there is so many times you want to pop off yet another draugr or wolf pack at the end of a hard workday.

If you want to just be an explorer/tourist without having to invest 100s of hours in combat and questing, here are some command line cheats I am not ashamed to use. Console command lines in Skyrim are definitely worth knowing not for bumping up play but to get out of bugs and glitches.  In VR, it's awkward to use the keyboard (~ to enter mode, shift-~ to exit) so I normally do this at the beginning of the game before I fully gear up.
  • tmm - unlock all map markers so you can fast travel anywhere.  You can more immersively ride a carriage but if you are the kind of person that doesn't mind knowing the plot before seeing a movie, tmm.  Skyrim still holds plenty of places to explore that are not marked or will be locked unless you complete a quest.
  • tcai - toggles combat so no one will attack you.  This setting is not sticky so you will have to reapply each time. Unfortunately the only mod I found to avoid combat is only for Playstation(Ring of Peace).  There are some unintended consequences of turning off combat: if you have followers and they encounter enemies, they will stay in place in a trance without attacking. But if you fast travel, they will join you again.  If an "attack" is part of a plot of a quest line like the Greymanes vs Battleborn where one of the Greymane bros attacks you when you enter his house, tcai will not change that. 
  • coc <locationRefId> - teleports you to a place. Useful if you can't find the map maker and also takes you to any named place in Skyrim. Note if you materialize in place which need a completed quest, you may be confronted or attacked on arrival.  I.e. I wanted to see the Dwemer Museum in Markarth but didn't want to bother with the quest. When I coc'ed into the museum, guards put a bounty on me so I had to off them just so I can have a look around in peach.  Was not worth... I had to pay the bounty once I tried to leave. Sad that the life of 3 guards only amounts to 100 septims in Skyrim.
  • player.additem f 100000 - give yourself some gold if you're tired of thieving and looting. But remember, like in the real world, money gets you only so far. If you find yourself in the wilds with a boatload of septims but an ornery troll chases you a hill, well SOL.
  • showracemenu - if you get tired of having picked the wrong race(Altmer not as fun as you thought eh, orsimer is where the action is), you can change your race and looks. Note this will fork your character file so the old one will still exist separately.
  • tim/tgm - immortal mode/god mode, I never use these because that would be no fun for me although now I question why I do so much work hoarding my stash everywhere instead of carrying everything everywhere...
The console commands can do almost anything- unlock shouts, spawn items, advance skill levels that sort of thing and you have to decide for yourself what cheats you want to use if any.  I for myself decided that the grind for gaining skills- archery, smithing, and enchanting was the fun part so I limited myself to opening up map markers and giving myself 500K.

Also- there's no shame in playing novice level if you are not into combat. There's plenty of time to  work up to be Legendary.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Updated 2018 Favorite Sweat Inducing HTC Vive VR Games

Two winters ago, I hit a VR hump as I was downloading games but none of them quite held my interest. Then I played the free version of Don't Mess Up where the tennis mini-game really was fun. So I looked up "tennis" keyword on Steam and happily stumbled on the concept that the Vive was really a gym replacement.  I've easily spent thousands on YMCA membership but I've never sweated so enjoyably in a virtual space.

Here are my top favorites for a workout:

0. Beat Saber
Install custom song mod, go to beatsaver.com and download gangam style. Enough said. Note no matter how awesome you feel slashing your sabers around, every one looks totally dorky.

1. Plannes was my first true sweat inducing experience and left my whole body aching the next day. I played a few more hours and this opened my eyes as using VR for fitness. I am still stuck on defeating the last match of the last boss. I'm convinced it's not possible.

2. Holodance - OSU! free mode opens up the world of crazy beat maps.  Skip story mode.

3. SuperHot

4. Gorn - put in for my husband. If you can take the gore.

5. Racquet Fury- best of the ping pong genre with the best physics and AI bot.  (I've also got  Elven Ping Pong)
 
6. Fruit Ninja/KatanaX - buy it on sale


Other sweaty selections I rarely play:
  • RaquetballNX - the 360 racquetball used to be my favorite until they changed to an atrocious orange disco styling
  • Audioshield - it was fun 2 years ago to try if you are new to this genre but is a bit tepid compared to Holodance and Beat Saber
  • Selfie Tennis - it's fun for about 30 minutes.

Titles I've returned
  • Holopoint -not compelling enough given QuiVR and of course Skyrim archery.
  • In Death- while the game mechanic is innovative, moving via throwing shards or arrow just made me queasy.