Feel the beat, let it flow through you…
So I have been having a ball in Virtual Reality. There are still a heap of games to be played, and a heap of games that I wish weren’t quite the ‘tech demo’ quickies they are.
That said, Virtual Reality is now closer to consumer-friendly than ever before. PlayStation VR or PSVR is something you can get into for $1,200. It wasn’t long ago that was the asking price for most of a headset.
VR still has problems. PSVR tracking is good enough most of the time. Oculus has had some interesting legal issues. Oculus and Vive both have high entry points (although this is getting better).
On the whole, I have seemed to do OK introducing people to VR. For younger people or those I think will suffer from motion sickness, I have VR movies like Invasion!. For those that don’t mind a horror theme, Rush of Blood on the PSVR is a blast I still occasionally boot up.
But I think I found a game that I can show everyone as an entry to VR. You stand fairly still, with targets coming towards you. You cut those targets with lightsabers. Everyone instinctively knows how to hit the thing, right?
That game is Beat Saber.
There are a number of people that will look at Beat Saber and just think ‘another gimmick game’. And to a degree, they are right. Guitar Hero and Rock Band were gimmick games though, and look how much they sold. Just saying.
The idea is so simple you really have nothing to teach. Cubes come towards you in time to the music. They have an arrow on them. Slice them in half in the direction of the arrow. If they have a circle on them, just hit it in direction.
Rules done. And that satisfying vibration feedback and sparkles when you hit a cube is instantly a feeling you want again.
You have to avoid cutting mines. This catches people the first time. It’s amazing how naturally ducking and sidestep walls is as well. But even people that swing at a mine with gusto have that ‘Oh. Makes sense’ look on their face when you add that rule.
But you don’t have to drag it out. When someone cuts a mine and usually yells “What?!?!?!” all you respond with is “Yeah that was a mine.” Not hitting them is instantly understood. Someone doesn’t get out of the way of a wall? Just say the red glowing thing is a wall. Natural instincts just take over.
You can just kinda swing your arms and get through, and when practising is not a bad idea just to get the feel of a level. Another reason why a lot of people kind of overlook Beat Saber.
I am hoping the scoring algorithm they posted disproves this though. Yes, you can get through the game just waggling your wrists, but you won’t get a high score or rank.
Instead, for optimal scoring, you want to swing your saber at least 90 degrees to hit the target. This gives you 70 points. Then follow through the cut with an additional 30 degrees movement. This gives you another 30 points max. Finally, if you cut the cube close to perfectly in half, you can earn an additional 10 points.
I only learnt this algorithm this week, but it did confirm what I was experiencing playing. Do a ‘proper’ cut and get high points. The downside of this knowledge though is it made the number of cheats apparent.
So the scoring from the creators shows that the maximum score per cube or note is 110. As you continue combos, you also get a multiplier. As you consistently hit notes, this multiplies increases to 2x, 4x, then maxes at 8x.
So the first song $100 Bills has 264 notes. Let’s be generous and add up the maximum score of 880 per note – maximum score possible is 232,320.
There is a problem though. This score still isn’t possible. It assumes you start on an 8x multiplier, which doesn’t happen. So how is the leaderboard top 10 filled with scores higher than this?
For the leaderboard, cheating seems to be a problem. Now Beat Saber is still early access and anti-cheat maybe something that is coming, but here today now it isn’t happening.
Because it’s early access, I am OK with this. I can continue to play and try to reach the coveted SS rank – the highest rank in the game. But it did take the shine from my highest achievement to date.
A few days ago a secret song was unlocked – Angel Voices. It is three times as long as any other song, and only has Hard and Expert modes. I thought I was doing REALLY well, then I found out about the cheating.
I haven’t hit an S rank (yet) but looking at the player ranks I had cracked the top 500! I did a little dance and felt immensely proud. My scores in Angel Voices are playing all the other songs on Hard one after another. I felt a push to do better – not by starting the song fresh, but by beating my score after playing through everything again.
But now I know someone can essentially cheat an unobtainable score. I am still going to go for SS and try to beat my previous scores, but it does put a damper on things.
Seriously, Beat Saber is a game that anyone can play, but people can work themselves to an elite level of play with. This could easily become an eSport. It’s amazing watching people in the mixed VR filming seeing just how much they put into getting the perfect form for the song.
And that’s what Beat Saber instantly reminds me of – kendo and kenjutsu kata. Anyone can pick it up, but practice and master the song and the top scores are yours.
There is also another benefit to this – you really pushing your upper body for maximum movement. You work up a real sweat when you throw yourself into this game. There is even evidence to suggest that Beat Saber burns almost as many calories per minute as tennis. Now Beat Saber wouldn’t be able to replace your entire workout regimen, but it is a workout if you treat it the right way.
You can extend the side steps or even begin marching to the beat to increase the whole body workout side and get the heart beating faster.
But this one game aside, it does show the potential for VR fitness.
At the moment Beat Saber is available for HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Microsoft Mixed Reality. The easiest place to get Beat Saber on PC is Steam, but your VR store should also have it.
And it was announced just prior to E3 that Beat Saber is coming to PSVR! I can guarantee I will be buying it again just to have more people playing it at the same time. I just hope Hyperbolic Magnetism can nail the tracking with the move controllers, and I will miss the haptic feedback. Maybe some peripheral upgrades Sony?
I have been enjoying Beat Saber for a couple of solid weeks now, and I am nowhere near tired of it.
I now have a morning ‘workout’ of playing through the playlist on Hard, then starting again as far as I can on the Expert mode. This is more ‘fun’ exercise than simply walking for me.
Even without this though, just nailing the cubes with lightsabers and watching them fall away is a heap of fun. You can feel the cut thanks to the controllers, and even just the sensation of crossing the sabers and watching sparks is amusing.
Once you play, you always want to give it just one more try. The music is fitting and enjoyable, even to a Jazz and Blues fan like myself.
If you have a VR kit, spend the USD$20 (or whatever on sale) and grab yourself a fun game. If you don’t, give it a go if you have a chance. You may feel silly waving your arms around at first, but you will have a ball!
Until next time,