Review: Barn Finders VR

Playing Barn Finders VR feels a bit like one of those reality TV shows you watch when there’s nothing else on, or you’re stuck at home ill, with only daytime TV to get you through. There’s a sense of being watched by cameras as you pick through old barns looking for value, or bidding on a storage unit which contains a valuable item. Half the time I was playing I wanted to look directly into a camera lens and raise my eyebrows at the audacity of those trying to outbid me.

The Barn Finders, that’s the player and their redneck relation, operate a store which seems to sell bits and pieces pulled out of random barns. At first, the store is barren; every shelf holds only dust, floor displays are broken wooden pallets. Utilising the store’s handy (and ancient) computer, customers will get in contact asking the Barn Finders to search a property for a particular item – we can keep everything else we find and sell it in-store.

I went out to the first barn looking for a taxidermy deer. I seemingly had superhuman strength as I could pick up huge wooden crates, vehicle tires and myriad large knick-knacks. At first, I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. At one point I picked up a taxidermy… I think it was an otter (it was bad taxidermy) and when I placed it down a countdown timer appeared with no other prompts. Eventually, I worked out that when the timer hit zero, I had to pick up the item again which would package it into the truck out back.

Using the controllers I pointed at cans, bottles, and random rubbish which could be recycled with the press of a button. Now I knew what the timer meant I began picking up everything to see if it could be collected. Eventually, I found the deer we’d come for, threw it into the truck and headed back to the shop.

Around the store are areas designated for cleaning items or repairing them. Of course, these took cash to unlock, so I began placing the items I found in the store. The shelves still looked bare, so I chose to bid on a storage unit next. After driving out, and watching one of the many bizarre cutscenes which feel as if pulled from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, it was time to bid. Of course, I won the unit, bidding seemed a bit pointless as I assume clearing the unit is part of the campaign.

I repeated everything from the barn, this time finding more mechanical parts and an entire truck which could be sold in the yard of the store. I was quietly enjoying the concept of the game, it’s not going to win any awards, but there was something oddly relaxing and satisfying about roaming these cavernous spaces looking for potential treasures.

Also oddly pleasing is the shopping experience offered to the customers back at the store. Patrons enter and stand by the item they want, sparking a conversation, which leads to some haggling over prices. Using a slightly wonky UI, you can hold out for a better price, refuse the sale or let the item go for the offered amount. 

Frustratingly, a moving bar must be stopped in the right zone to trigger a successful haggling attempt and the motion controls just aren’t good enough. In fact, anytime I had to ‘physically’ press a button it took a few attempts. Several times I sold an item for lower than I wanted because the sensitivity is skewed.

Otherwise, I was enjoying my time in this faux TV entertainment. The attention to detail in the environments and items is quirky and the developers have committed to the redneck family stylings in a wonderfully ironic way. The idea of rooting through these spaces is always appealing, but like many similar games (House Flipper I’m looking at you) it’s enjoyable but gets repetitive quite quickly.

There are odd driving forces aside from the core concept – the store can be upgraded visually, there are comic book pages to discover and hidden items which require revisiting areas and exploring again. Your mileage will vary depending on your patience.

It’s hard to say whether VR really offers anything to the concept here. There weren’t really any moments where I marvelled at something I was manipulating in virtual reality; the whole experience could be played with mouse and keyboard and affect nothing within the game. While that’s not a major detraction, it would be nice to have some features that justify the need for VR.

Life in the Metaverse: NFT Worlds

NFT Worlds feels like an ideal in-road for gamers to experience Web3 entering our hobby. Built on the years of open-source Minecraft technology, NFT Worlds mints Minecraft world seeds on the Ethereum blockchain for owners to establish a unique metaverse experience. Using the new alpha launcher, NFT Worlds opens to show a collection of worlds anyone can jump into and play. You may be asking “why?” Well, to be honest, so was I. So, I decided to download the new launcher, open the busiest world and see what this metaverse could offer. 

I’ve played Minecraft since the game was itself still in alpha, ten years ago. I’ve invested thousands of hours across worlds and servers, with my kids playing along, or on my own. I’ve even written seven books about the game. I’ll admit my scepticism for NFT Worlds. 

When someone purchases an NFT Worlds seed, they’re buying more than a seed. After all, anyone can copy the seed and use it offline or on a server. Users are technically buying into an ecosystem, one which connects a vast community of creators, developers and game designers.

As the owner of the NFT World it also bestows full control over admin powers, applying rulesets and everything in between. One could even pool resources to purchase an NFT Worlds seed across a community and establish a DAO which could fully govern everything within the world, from construction of buildings to establishing mini-games. 

For the players, anyone can enter into public servers – though some will require either a Discord membership or a subsequent NFT purchase allowing entry. Once the player is in their chosen world everything feels very similar to the past few years of Minecraft; there are the usual PvP mini-games, some worlds where players are working together to build lavish structures and I even found a world in which I could play mini-golf.

Starting a Survival MultiPlayer

For my first time playing, I wanted that true Minecraft experience of entering a world, exploring, mining materials and building a house. For this, I chose the busiest world, NFT Worlds SMP (World #6233). Spawning in the starting area, there’s the usual server rules to read through, plus some tips on how to play. 

It’s worth noting, this world features full PvP once you explore past a red border near the spawn area. Anything goes, there are no restrictions, my first foray saw me getting absolutely owned by a player decked out in enchanted diamond gear. After a quick restart, I stuck close to the border, avoided everyone and soon, I was out in the wilds.

The SMP world gifts you a golden shovel which is used to stake a claim in the world, a 75-block area in which you can build without anyone being able to troll or grief you. If they attempt to break any blocks on the claim, it gets replaced instantly with a message about ownership of the plot. This is a nice touch for those who want to keep to themselves, only interacting occasionally.

It’s Just Minecraft?

It took a while for me to find a decent plot of land. If you were to look down on the world from above, you’d see clusters of properties and buildings densely populated around the spawn, thinning out towards the edges, much like in reality. The central hub offered a place to meet and trade, teleporting back to my house felt like travelling into the suburbs.

There’s a chat box which keeps everyone connected, too. At one point I needed an extra block of wool to craft a bed and a friendly explorer dropped it off for me. Mostly people were chatting about Minecraft or worldly events.

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I spent much of my time exploring around my claimed land, looking for supplies and admiring other builds. It was clear that some had given up after only a short time, their bases languishing half-built. Though others had seemingly dedicated a chunk of time into monumental mansions or reproductions of buildings from famous films – the house from Pixar’s Up was floating above a nearby suburb.

Where is the Web3?

Of course, this being a Web3 adventure we’ve already touched on the NFT aspect of playing. The floor price for an NFT Worlds seed is currently 3.1ETH, or $1,017 in today’s market. It’s a lot to pay out for a seed that could never see any activity. (When this article was first being written, the market hadn’t crashed and this floor price would have equated to over $7,000)

It should also be mentioned that players are rewarded $WRLD tokens for their time in games, or as prizes in PvP worlds. The $WRLD token doesn’t exist on the Ethereum blockchain, like the world seeds, but instead is found on Polygon. Currently, one $WRLD token is worth around $0.02, so while you won’t be making a living or breaking the bank, if you chose to play Minecraft in this way from now on, you’d make a few dollars which can be transferred to your chosen wallet.

Outside of the top five NFT Worlds on the launcher, no world had more than three active users, which makes the cost seem even more exorbitant. A secondary issue occurring, which happens on basic Minecraft servers is the constant updates to the game. Several worlds I tried to enter hadn’t been updated to the latest patch making that world completely unplayable.

The worlds I did get into were incredibly lavish and you can see the painstaking details in every corner of the world. These extravagant creations can be a small but intricate village or monumental sky-scraping sculptures of Egyptian Gods. Some owners have paired up with amazing builders, crafting some genuinely original worlds.

What Does the Future Look Like?

After jumping in and out of worlds, it feels like NFT Worlds, as a project, will suffer unless the project’s owners can appeal to Minecraft players and spread the word. There are new worlds opening constantly, but players are thin on the ground meaning the worlds feel very empty beyond the spawn area. This is going to have an impact on owners and players – without users competing in PvP competitions, $WRLD tokens will be scalped by the same players constantly.

NFT Worlds is a Web3 project that deserves success, which I didn’t initially think I would say. On the face of things, I initially thought that NFT Worlds was simply piggybacking Minecraft for success, but Minecraft hasn’t been altered and the Web3 concepts aren’t bashing anyone over the head. Sure, the idea of ‘owning’ a world still feels a little bizarre, but that’s is predated by years of starting worlds and throwing them away when the seed was trash.

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Making the Web3 side of project as unobtrusive as possible is key to succeeding; gamers aren’t big fans of NFTs or blockchain, they want simple gameplay. NFT Worlds can deliver that. You can join friends and play without a wallet, using the project as a place to discover cool worlds. However, if you want that Web3 experience, you can use NFTs as membership cards, collect $WRLD tokens or buy your own world seed.

As I said above, the problem is going to be getting this into the hands of the players. NFT Worlds is already doing as much as possible; the alpha launcher was so successful that the beta launcher is out soon and each of the worlds listed on the launcher and website can be played on consoles, removing the need for a PC. But NFT Worlds isn’t going to be a Field of Dreams, this is not “if you build it, they will come”. 

There needs to be a clear push towards players while detailing what is and isn’t different between this project and the standard Minecraft Realms, because on the face of things, most Minecraft players, myself included, would argue that everything here is already possible, without the tokens.

App Lab Roundup: Puzzles, Blocks and Smashing

Each week we will be taking a look at some of the upcoming videogames, demos and unique experiences available through Oculus App Lab for the Meta Quest headsets. Many of these videogames come in varying states of completion, so each title is subject to change.

This week we’re fixing priceless artefacts, playing 3D Tetris and smashing out our anger!


There’s a wonderful simplicity to VRPuzzle; as the game starts I find myself in a museum room surrounded by valuable sculptures and earthenware. Tapping the grip button while aiming at a sculpture breaks it down into shattered pieces, across three difficulty levels. Choosing the easiest, I tapped the grip button again and found myself in the centre of the room, pieces of statue around me.

From here, it should seem quite obvious that I needed to put the bust together again. There’s a lovely, very satisfying click as the correct pieces slot together. Manipulating the pieces is smooth and intuitive, they can be passed from hand to hand in order to find the sweet spot.

At the easiest level, VRPuzzle is a ridiculously calming experience. It’s still relaxing at the hard difficulty, but the sheer number of broken pieces can feel a bit overwhelming, as I picked through the tiniest shards to form the sculpted face or waves of hair. I found myself playing for much longer than I intended, picking bowls and urns to puzzle over, feeling satisfied once the sculpt clicks together and fully completes.


I don’t know why this game is called Flickblocks, there are blocks, but there’s no flicking. Definitely lots of blocks though. They fall from the sky at timed intervals and the idea is to grab them and place them on a grid which floats in front of the player. 

At first, I was unsure I’d have enough space to play because the game requires free movement around the grid, particularly to pick up any pieces which land on the floor, and you’ll need to grab those because if too many pieces fall to the floor, it’ll be game over.

Much like Tetris, once the bottom layer is filled the layer disappears. Because I was using 3D shapes, though there are some familiar shapes from the classic title, it forced me to think in more dimensions, leaving gaps open on higher layers for more blocks. For example, sending a four-block piece on its end means thinking about the three layers above the base. 

At first, Flickblocks feels simple, but it quickly becomes a devious puzzler. Thankfully the gameplay loop just screams out ‘one more turn’, particularly if you, like me, enjoy trying to beat your own high scores.

Smashy Smashy VR

Your mileage may vary with Smashy Smashy VR. For some, it’ll be a few minutes of distraction, for others it might be a much-needed way to unload some stress; because this is literally a destruction simulator. I first chose a corporate office to smash up. I was throwing telephones through windows, picking up potted plants and launching them across the office to shatter TV screens. I found a fire axe and crumpled every desk into splinters. Obviously, I was having a bad day.

I then chose an overly large chess set. Kind of like those toy versions you sometimes see in parks. Except these pieces are made of concrete and I had a huge hammer. Using that hammer I decimated every single chess piece before jumping out of that world and into a supermarket. 

I hate supermarkets so I grabbed a trolley (cart for those across the Atlantic) and brandished it above my head, bringing it down on each display. I pulled boxes out from the bottom of stands, watching everything tumble. I picked up six packs of beer and smashed every window I could see.

It was a satisfying fifteen minutes. It got a bit of rage out, it cracked a few smiles, but then I was done. I don’t really feel a need to pick it back up again, because there’s no tactility and the smashing can only go so far. Totally worth a little time being Smashy Smashy, though.

Stakester: An Interview with Andy Nolan

You can be forgiven if you’ve never heard of Stakester, I’d not heard of it until one of their NFTs appeared on my LinkedIn page. After I did some digging I discovered an app for iOS and Android which allows users to register and compete against other users across particular videogames to win small pots of money of gems which can be redeemed against goods from one month of Spotify Premium, right up to a Peloton Bike.

For each game played through the app, you’re rewarded with gems which are used in the prize catalogue. However, real money is up for grabs too – $1, $10 or $25, all you need to do is ready up and the app finds you an opponent. At this point, the app gives you the user’s details in order to play the game. After the game concludes, each user takes a photo of the results screen and submits it to the app for the winner to be rewarded.

The NFTs are a new thing, something fancy which adds extra value to using the app. In fact, while the NFTs have been minted and sold, the team is still working on implementing the utility they will deliver. The NFTs themselves act like a membership to better utility within the app, in fact, they look like a backstage pass, except these have a cheat code scribbled and attached, reminding users of how we traded cheat codes back in the 1990s.

I sat down with Stakester’s head of marketing, Andy Nolan to discuss aspirations for the app, the future of Web3 inclusion and gaming competition.

GMW3 – Can you tell us a little about how Stakester originated?

Nolan – Our founder, and CEO, Tom Fairey had set up a jujitsu match with this big Russian guy, they put money down because Tom was the smaller guy. Tom won, the Russian never paid up. It made Tom wonder if there was an app that could cover these kinds of competitions and gambles. He was working in financial security at the time, he was bored, so he roped in a few friends from work to set up Stakester, but for videogames, as jujitsu was probably too niche.

GMW3Stakester allows players to set up competition across mobile games, but also console and PC. Where do you see the most activity?

Nolan – It’s interesting, we thought there would be people flitting between the two, but there’s not as much of that as we expected. At the moment, there are two disparate audiences, but historically the ‘arenas’ side, which is console play, has always been bigger. Having said that, the mobile side is starting to pick up and we’ve got some really interesting stuff coming down the pipeline.

GMW3 – It seems as if Stakester is attempting to create a community of gamers to play together, after all, once you’ve played a game against someone, there’s no stopping you staying friends.

Nolan – I like the analogy that this is like playing five-a-side football in the evenings after work. We’re all playing, we’re a bit older, the football dream is over for me, but I love playing because of the experience you have; there’s competition, but it’s minor and you can make new friends. 

Andy Nolan ©

Stakester scratches that competitive itch, but with people rather than some unnamed person behind a screen. With our upcoming app update, we’ll be adding in direct challenges, plus a much better chat function to really stimulate the growth of the community.

GMW3 – Can you let us in on when the app update will be with us?

Nolan – I’m not exactly sure – I don’t want to give you a date and it be incorrect – but I’ve seen it up and running, with all the new features and it looks great. There’s a huge facelift on the console side, plus we’ve got some great new games coming to the mobile section; the ones we have right now are all from small developers, but we’ve got some recognisable signing on. Everything is moving a mile and minute!

GMW3 – That’s understandable, particularly with the inclusion of Web3 functionality. How has the app been fairing to this point?

Nolan – We’ve had over 100k signups on the app to this point, which is really encouraging. Our most popular games are FIFA on the console side and Quick Dunk for mobile. It seems most players like to play for around $5-10 per game.

GMW3 – With the recent launch of NFTs, you’re aiming to give utility to players through VIP access. How did the community react to the announcement and inclusion of the rather divisive Web3 concept?

Nolan – I think, there are stumbling blocks for gamers, with NFTs, right? I think, with our project, we didn’t want to create anything which could upset people, where some would just steal IP from a beloved franchise or something like that. Ours are built on giving you something which translates into value. We used cheat codes because nobody owns them, they’re in the public domain. It’s clear that this isn’t a cash grab.

We had a little bit of a mixed response, but there wasn’t really a backlash. I think people understood what we were trying to do and that the NFTs would open up new experiences within the app.

There’s a lot of negative press, plus barriers for people to overcome before that would even buy one. Our only unfortunate situation was launching them right as LUNA, and the market, crashed. But, we’re looking long-term and we aim to deliver all of the benefits by this summer (2022).

GMW3 – Will the sale of the NFTs help fund bigger cash prizes for players?

Nolan – Absolutely. You’ll be able to play for more money. I can’t wait until we have our first $1,000 competition, that’s going to be amazing. However, it’s not just the prize pools, we’ll be able to offer more varied prizes for players to trade their gems through an exclusive prize store for NFT holders.

Those who own a high tier NFT will also benefit from royalties from secondary sales, as each month that money goes into a pot and then NFT holders can collect their share.

GMW3 – Are there plans to offer crypto payments for winners of competitions?

Nolan – I believe so. I think the plan, as they stand right now, is to have a crypto version of the app where you can deposit crypto, play with it and take your winnings as crypto. The Web3 space moves so quickly, it might be subject to change, but I think it would be a cool direction for Stakester.

GMW3 – it would definitely offer the product to two separate audiences, while still focusing on friendly competition.

Nolan – Yeah, and I think the app speaks to two different audiences in the sense that a lot of people in the crypto world want to play games to earn a living, while there are others – typically in Europe and the United States – who want to heighten the tension of the game while still enjoying a game of FIFA.

Right now, our biggest audiences are Europe and the US, mostly because a lot of our marketing centres on FIFA, as it’s our biggest game, it has the most cohesive audience and we’ve got a really engaged Twitter following of FIFA fans.

GMW3 – You must have seen a large jump in users recently, particularly while the pandemic kept everyone indoors?

Nolan – Absolutely! During the pandemic, the app traffic just exploded. It was unbelievable. It was funny how we could track data points; when everyone was working from home we’d often see a spike of activity around 2 pm as if they’ve just had lunch and have time for a quick game before getting back to work.

A lot of people were sat at home playing games anyway and Stakester added an extra dimension to their playing.

Stakester is available on both Android and iOS, through the relevant storefronts.

Blockchain Gaming 101: Vestly

It should be noted, before we get started on this article, Vestly isn’t actually a game in the traditional sense, however everything which occurs within the app is simulated. No money needs to be invested; Vestly is purely for educational and entertainment purposes.

In the Web3 world it can be difficult to learn and stay informed on the various concepts, technologies and constant changes. There is so much jargon and terminology which can make everything feel impenetrable. Vestly is attempting to rectify this issue by educating users through their app.

Vestly does two things; simulates investing in stocks, crypto and NFTs based on real world markets; plus serves users with short lessons on investing and Web3 terms. The best bit? All of these lessons and tools are accompanied by Satoshi rewards. What’s a Satoshi? As in our coverage of Bitcoin Miner, it can be explained as “a fraction of a Bitcoin – a Satoshi is 0.000001 BTC.”

Let’s take a look at the simulated investing. You might ask, ‘what’s the point?’ For many, the idea of investing is a tempting prospect, but it is wrought with risks. A bad investment can mean a loss of money. Here, that risk is removed, you don’t even buy a set amount of shares. Your Vestly portfolio needs only three companies chosen, then it will reflect the stock market showing the the usual wins and losses.

This portfolio also holds three crypto and NFT project choices, still showing the fluctuations. Each week your portfolio is wiped, but during each week you’re able to trade your stock if you see a slump coming. All of this gives you a great idea of what it’s like to buy and hold crypto or stock without the risk. Of course, on the flip side, if there’s a sudden boom in your chosen portfolio holdings, you make no money at all.

Perhaps more interesting are the lessons which Vestly offers. They start off covering very basic topics, such as ‘what is the stock market?’ or ‘what is an NFT?’ before steadily growing more complex, breaking down everything you would need to know about different layers of blockchains, how smart contracts work or regulations of the stock exchange. With each lesson, there’s a question to check you’ve absorbed the information and a small Satoshi reward.

The depth the app reaches will make you a knowledgeable Web3 consumer pretty swiftly. After a week of using the app I’d learned some of the more obscure facts; I now know what a fractional NFT is, also why some crypto tokens come in different colours. The lessons take barely any time at all and each is laid out in plain language with clean graphics to visualise the information. At a point where everything seems to be growing and changing within the Web3 space, there’s a need to stay educated.

Where Vestly drifts into a more ‘gaming’ experience is in the community aspects. There’s an opportunity to follow other users, monitor how they invest and when they sell their portfolios. Each week the users are actually pitting their portfolios against one another, the better you perform, the higher your ranking. At the end of the ‘playing week’ your rank will reward you with a set amount of Satoshi. 

After my first week, I’d earned a little over 2,000 Satoshi in my Zebedee wallet, which isn’t a lot of money, but for learning, it’s a nice little reward. While I’ve traded stocks and crypto previously, I still found the app to be helpful because I could take those risks with a safety net. Through the lessons and following of real world traders, Vestly can really help those who want to dive into the world of Web3 and stock trading.

App Lab Roundup: Climbing and Escaping

Each week we will be taking a look at some of the upcoming videogames, demos and unique experiences available through Oculus App Lab for the Meta Quest headsets. Many of these videogames come in varying states of completion, so each title is subject to change.

This week we’re climbing mountains and trying to conquer an escape room!


In Ascend, you’re faced with a rather large mountain. The goal, as may seem obvious, is to reach the summit. You’ll see there are plenty of handholds and a handy press of the ‘A’ button will even show an optimal route to take. The actual climbing is pretty simple, just hold the grip buttons when your hand is in the vicinity of a jut of rock. From then on it’s a simple affair of pulling yourself up and reaching out for new grips.

There are few dangers, aside from the obvious gravity. Falling or being bitten by a snake or wolf will cause your vision to turn a hazy red, which can only be healed by taking a swig of water or finding and petting a friendly animal, like a goat (In my opinion, goats aren’t all that friendly). This will clear your vision, allowing for a speedier climb.

Because reaching the top is your only real goal, this all becomes gamified by the timer on your left hand. Repeating play requires you to climb faster and beat your time. To be honest though, I wanted to take everything rather slowly. The idea of spotting my next handhold, plodding along slowly, became my preferred way to play.

The world of Ascend doesn’t feel overly fleshed out; the textures are rather plain, though the mountain when stood back looks mighty impressive. Ascend isn’t going to wow anyone visually, but for those looking for a relaxed mountain climber, you can’t do much better than ‘for free’ on App Lab. Let’s hope the developer expands the mountain range and gives us more reasons to climb.

Vertical Room

Right off the bat, this game comes with two warnings from me. The first is that you need a minimum of two metres by two metres to play; the second is that all of the audio is, for some reason, spoken in German. The latter point is a minor frustration as the game does a great job of showing you what to do visually.

You start off in an elevator and the goal is to reach the top floor and escape. On each floor is a puzzle or game which must be beaten before the elevator unlocks and can travel upwards again. The puzzles vary wildly, from block stacking while matching patterns, to moving a hoop around a track of arrows, avoiding touching them, kind of like those old wire games which buzzed when the metal touched.

I wish I could tell you if there was a story to accompany the action, but the German Voiceover continued throughout. Thankfully it isn’t too off-putting. What was quite frustrating however, was a game where you had to catch balls fired at random intervals. I had enough space in my playing area and yet there were so many missed catches, even though I could have sworn that I moved my hand in time.

With some tweaking and more puzzles and games, Vertical Room could prove to be a huge success, as few developers have managed to truly capture the idea of an escape room in VR. As with so many of the games we cover here, Vertical Room is completely free through App Lab and hopefully there’s enough interest to create other language tracks, as well as more depth to the puzzles. A great proof of concept though.

Blockchain Gaming 101: is a strange beast. A fully-fledged shooter wedged into a browser which prides itself on Web3 inclusion, while keeping it tucked away to one side. There’s no doubting its Web3 chops, up until very recently the game was a simple shooter, broken down into the usual match types – team deathmatch, 8-player deathmatch, Battle Royale and last team standing. Then, in the last few weeks, the developers launched an NFT collection through the Fractal platform. 

By equipping an NFT player skin, currently costing a minimum of 1.10SOL (around $55), players will begin to earn crypto with each kill scored in-game. The same goes for weapon skins, which, as in other games, can be bought and applied, though here they are NFTs and are tied to your wallet. Of course, this opens up a market to resell your content should you decide to move on from the game, or invest in a new skin. plays a lot like Halo 2 did back in 2004. That’s not a dig, though. Remember how good Halo 2 felt to play? Everything flowed nicely, you could rush opponents or wait them out, there was variety in the weapons and the maps. You’ll recognise a lot of the gameplay mechanics and the feel of the weapons, particularly the standard rifle which feels like Halo’s BR55 Service Rifle, plus there’s the familiar sticky grenade for those clutch frags.

The sci-fi aesthetic is a welcome style which feels delightfully retro. Across the game’s twelve maps, there’s a heavy focus on bold colours, as well as geometric shapes. While lacks that feeling of a lived-in world, the map designs are constructed to create choke points, verticality and tactical positioning.

Tactics and twitch-gameplay are as important as the weaponry. An ability to double jump and utilise upgrades opening up movement even further breaks the game wide open as you seek out areas to gain a foothold over the competition. Nothing beats double-jumping over an opponent, teleporting to the high ground before grabbing the kill. finds itself in a great place; because the development team isn’t aggressively pushing the Web3 side as a selling point, the game can position itself simply on the gameplay. This is not only welcome to those who find the Web3 presence challenging, but it allows the game to find its own audience through the quality of play.

That audience is growing slowly. Let’s be honest, the shooter genre is a tangled mess of huge triple-A titles, battle royales and small indie developers vying for our precious hours. may find it difficult to grab its audience despite the accessibility of being able to play on any system, from a high-end desktop to a Chromebook.

There has been a surge in popularity for the browser-based shooter after an eSports tournament took place on 7th May 2022, offering a $10,000 prize pool split across the top three teams. The tournament ended after two days of competition with Telos XBorg taking third place and $2,000, krunkage scoring second place for $3,000 and Censored snagging the trophy and a grand prize of $5,000.

On Twitch, the game isn’t starting any fires, but without any influencer pushing, the game’s reach will be limited. Currently, the game is climbing through the Twitch ranks with a 7 day average of 28,852 hours watched, which has grown by 888.4%. Over the past seven days, the videogame saw 14,593 viewers tune in to watch, which is also a huge leap from the previous week, jumping up by 3,326%. deserves a little success for distilling what makes shooters fun. The potential here is vast, given the Halo inspirations, platform accessibility and character personalisation through NFTs and the ability to upgrade. Playing with friends is ridiculously easy, using a room code for parties, and doesn’t ask for wallet connections either, you can freely play as a guest.

This game will no doubt suffer from cynical views towards the Web3 aspects, but unlike many blockchain videogames, the NFTs are simply the cherry on top, if you enjoy cherries. Remove them from the game and you still have a solid shooter that is worth your time. 

App Lab Roundup: Vegetables and Hover Racing

Each week we will be taking a look at some of the upcoming videogames, demos and unique experiences available through Oculus App Lab for the Meta Quest headsets. Many of these videogames come in varying states of completion, so each title is subject to change.

This week we’re feeding vegetables and racing at speed!

I’m not entirely sure why anthropomorphic vegetables would want to eat chocolate chip cookies, but I feel like if I focus too hard on this the questions would continue spiralling out of control. Let’s just accept it. In Cookie Gardening you sit in a garden with lots of cute vegetables scurrying around; broccoli, potatoes, carrots and many more are darting around and it’s your job to catch them, put them in a basket and sell them.

How do you catch them? Easy, you drop cookies nearby and wait until they dash in before you snag them and throw them in the basket. I’d love to tell you what the point is, but I have no clue, and I’m not sure it even matters. After a successful hunt in the garden, you can head over to a shop to spend your hard-earned gold on upgrades, more bait cookies and new variants of the vegetables.

One of the first upgrades you’ll buy is an office, where a fussy VEGETABLE gives you particular tasks to earn bonus rewards. For example, collecting three types of potato rewards some extra gold.

Due to the very loose reasons to be in the garden hunting vegetables, and the ease with which the game plays, this would be ideal for a first VR game for kids. You don’t have to move around in reality, the veggies are easy to catch, everything is colourful and cute and the repetitive nature of the gameplay would attract children over adults. It’s a solid demo and a must-try for families with a Quest headset.

Omega Pilot

Omega Pilot uses asynchronous multiplayer to pit you against players from around the world (though real-time multiplayer is on the way) and I’m glad that real people didn’t have to witness me pilot my hovercraft into the walls. And floor. Or barrel roll it upside-down and barely bring it back to its correct position. I’m a terrible Omega Pilot.

Taking its cues from the Wipeout franchise – high-speed, angular, hovering vehicles – I found myself a pilot desperately trying to grasp control of the ship. Oddly, Omega Pilot has chosen to only use motion controls to steer the craft and they’re very sensitive. Holding the grip button and rotating your hand will roll the vehicle, and tilting it up and down will change the nose height. This all happens while holding the trigger to accelerate. This is all on the right controller, with the left taking care of button presses for a turbo boost and a slow-motion ability. 

By the end of my first race, I felt like I’d taken an unfortunate tumble in a washing machine. My vehicle was spinning, bumbling and what I can only call, careening, in every direction except the one I wanted. At points my vehicle was trying to impale itself nose-first into the ground, other times I would head into a corner feeling as if I was at the perfect angle only to run straight into a wall.

By the end of my first session I felt nauseous and a bit frustrated. Motion controls are great when done well and for many, these are probably fine, but leaving out stick movement feels like a misstep. In a racing world where sometimes up can become down swiftly, the addition of balancing motion controls feels a little overwhelming. I can imagine that for many, Omega Pilot would feel ‘too much’ and a little alienating.

App Lab Roundup: Puzzles and Destruction

Each week we will be taking a look at some of the upcoming videogames, demos and unique experiences available through Oculus App Lab for the Meta Quest headsets. Many of these videogames come in varying states of completion, so each title is subject to change.

This week we’re solving puzzles and causing carnage!

Unblocking Demo

To say Unblocking is a Tetris-style clone does it a bit of a disservice. There are definitely Tetris elements at play; you’re presented with Tetris shapes and you must use them to solve puzzles or clear lines from a board. However, they don’t fall from the sky, they’re selected purposely.

In the puzzle mode, you’re tasked with clearing all of the blocks from the playing area. To do this, you must select a shape and overlap it against the blocks, making them disappear. Sometimes it’s as simple as using a cross over a cross-shape, other times you must clear one shape in order for the blocks above them to fall and create a new shape to erase.

In the arcade mode, things feel a bit more Tetris-y. Only again, you’re placing the blocks wherever you like. Here you are presented with four shapes, of different colours and the goal is to create horizontal lines to erase those blocks. You can chop and change the shapes and colours you place in the hopes of creating the perfect lines, but often you’ll need to overlap colours, blocking progress.

Unblocking is a devious little puzzler. On the surface, it appears simple, and the opening puzzle levels are exactly that. However, as you progress things become rather taxing. Sadly, as this is only a demo, there’s not much to experience, but what’s here is certainly an enticing opportunity for the developers to bring us a great puzzle game. The virtual reality doesn’t lend much to the game beyond playing in a fancy room, but it’s hard to complain when the puzzling is as good as this.

No More Rainbows Beta

I’m going to get this out of the way. I love this game.

At first, when No More Rainbows informed me I would need to use my arms to scoot along the floor I rolled my eyes and gave a sigh of exasperation. So many of the App Lab games recently have used the same technique. Whether you’re pretending to be a baby, a squid or a dog, there’s a game that wants to mimic crawling forward, and so far, I’ve hated each one.

But this? This works. You play as a snarling gorilla monster who seemingly hates happiness (much like myself). You wake up, smash the alarm clock and discover the land has been taken over by unicorns, fruity cute gumballs and bright colours. The tutorial tells you that you can take small leaps forward by swinging your arms. Then, if you do that with more force, you’ll kind of ‘Incredible Hulk leap’ all over the place.

What transpires from here is a literal assault on joy. You get to explore these bubblegum worlds leaping around, climbing vertical surfaces, bounding over bottomless chasms to smash anything cute you can see. Busting open the gumball creatures causes their soul to vanish inside of you, which then opens new worlds for more smashing.

I played this on a day where I was a little aggravated, which may have helped. However, the locomotion controls and the concept itself would have stood out to me anyway. Who doesn’t want to smash the smug happiness out of something so saccharine? As with Unblocking above, this is only a demo/beta, but it’s a generous one. Still, I reached the end and found myself craving more. I’ve never felt so happy destroying the happiness of others.

Releasing the Grip of Grief with Games

I don’t like the hyperbole of saying that videogames saved my life, but it tracks true. Nowadays so many people say similar; ‘this song saved my life’, ‘this book rescued me from the edge’. Videogames did a lot for keeping me alive in a very dark period of my life. If it wasn’t for games, and to a lesser extent, writing about them, there’s a strong chance I wouldn’t be sitting here now, telling this story about how I used gaming to deal with the grief of bereavement. 

In 2007, my three-year old daughter Amelia was a passenger in a road traffic accident. The car was T-Boned on her side of the vehicle. Amelia suffered severe brain damage, was rushed from Essex to London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital, where she spent five days in intensive care, had two bouts of brain surgery and several blood transfusions. She died on February 8th 2007 after it was revealed she was brain dead. We removed life support. My world collapsed. Everything went dark.

The following months, probably years, were spent in a trance. I wasn’t sure what I needed to do, or even what I wanted to do. I reached out to my gaming buddies I’d met online, looking for a distraction; we played Crackdown and Rainbow Six: Las Vegas on Xbox 360. I wasn’t finding joy anymore though. Perfect runs through Terrorist mode of Rainbow Six didn’t please me, the beta of Halo 3 brought a small amount of fun to my post-tragedy life, but I was struggling to connect with the hobby I started twenty years previously on an Atari 2600.

The Grip of Grief

Grief feels different for everyone; for some it can feel like the loneliness of being the last person at a party; for others, it’s an overwhelming sadness that washes over them like waves of a frigid ocean. However it’s experienced, grief is relentless, it never seems to let go. It does occasionally relax its grip, allowing for some light to get through, as fleeting as it might be. In those moments I felt an overwhelming guilt that I could feel hope, which triggered another spiral.

I spent several years in this state, lacking any form of motivation or ‘want’, drifting from game to game, finishing them and feeling no sense of accomplishment. My days were spent in a mire of tiredness, guilt, shame and mostly, anger. My world felt empty despite having my wife and second daughter at my side. 

The death of Amelia gave me a sensation of lost control. As a parent, we feel we must protect our children from anything and everything. I couldn’t prevent the accident that took her life, I couldn’t save her in the moment she needed me the most, I couldn’t control my emotions any longer. The only control I had was in removing her life support and I didn’t want that. Loss of control is part of being human, but I needed, desperately, to reinstate my grip on it.

Isaac’s Eternal Journey

In 2011, a game came along that stole me away from my grief. A game played in bitesize chunks, it didn’t require too much of me.  It’s a game that has now been in my (almost) daily rotation for those eleven years, I’ve grown with it, it made me fall in love with the roguelike genre, it gave me back my sense of control. That game is The Binding of Isaac.

Edmund McMillen’s The Binding of Isaac is a roguelike played from a top-down view. With a slight edge of Robotron, players can shoot in cardinal directions while exploring separated rooms where groups of enemies await. Edmund’s major inspiration for Isaac was The Legend of Zelda, though his masterpiece is not at all family friendly.

I think I discovered The Binding of Isaac through YouTube. It first appealed for juvenile reasons, the game is filled with gore, scatological imagery and debased toilet humour. Beneath this is a deep and resonant story of religious indoctrination and the control religions have over people, as well as the human struggle with our minds. Over the years, McMillen has expanded The Binding of Isaac several times, but Isaac’s story has remained the same; to escape his murderous mother who believes Isaac is a danger, an evil.

In order to escape, Isaac must traverse several ‘worlds’ battling enemies and large bosses who resemble religious and parental tropes. In order to do this, Isaac collects items to change his base stats, attacks and abilities. Items synergise with each other creating powerful combinations. Over time you learn which combos bestow the most damage, you learn which items effectively ‘break the game’ open by min-maxing every room, every enemy, every item drop. It rewards the player by handing them full control over their fate.

Controlling Destiny

This aspect of control appears in all roguelikes, the majority of titles require the player craft their character builds, paying attention to the smallest upgrades and details to gain enough strength to battle demons and monsters. Ultimately, over the years, these games – Enter the Gungeon, Dead Cells, Spelunky, Hades, Nuclear Throne – have given me a psuedo-control over death.

To some extent, all videogames give us this control. Even playing Mario as a kid we were controlling the life and death of our hero and the enemies around them. But with a roguelike, there is rarely a safety net of ‘lives and continues’, there’s always a sense of finality, because often death relinquishes all progress made on that attempt at the game. Besting death in a roguelike is about more than success, it’s about retaining our growth, our abilities and our progression.

For me, during a time of desperate fragility, I needed to find solace and rediscover my sense of self. I could do that via these games, by crafting a character, slowing my play style and taking my time. They each allowed me to take calculated risks and create controlled situations because the finality of death had visited me, leaving me empty – progress could be lost with one missed shot, one wrong move, one blindsided action.

If we look at Spelunky, a game about discovering treasures untold in a series of worlds, we find a game hell-bent on killing us. Sure, the hero can take a certain amount of hits from middling enemies before dying, but that one bad jump could land you on spikes which kill you instantly. All that time, that care, robbed from you. Mastering this, taking control of the character’s fate, is in some ways empowering.

This sensation stepped up once I started dabbling with FromSoftware’s SoulsBorne games, arguably the pinnacle of roguelikes, though they’re often classed as adventure games. These titles, when broken down into their constituent parts, asked more of me as a player. My demons were bigger, more dangerous, my life more fragile. There was more on the line. A SoulsBorne game feels more like Spelunky; you can get peppered with small hits, but a one-hit kill is always around the next corner.

Repeat After Me

Roguelike games offer more than an adjustment of control. After devoting thousands of hours to these games, repetition becomes a large factor in the gameplay loop. Every journey starts out the same way, each try becomes another attempt at beating the same situation. Repetition is a powerful tool to those in desperate need when struggling with grief and anxiety. A recent study by Tel Aviv University states this on repetition, “people often act in these ways because they help increase a person’s belief that they are managing a situation that is otherwise out of their hands.”

Discussing the power of repetition, Dr. Jill Owen, a chartered psychologist from The British Psychological Society, says this, “repetitive behaviour and rituals can be very effective in increasing focus and reducing stress”. Over the years, the discussion points of videogames and their impact on mental health has begun to change. In the 2000s we saw many up in arms on the damage these games did, now we realise these were knee-jerk reactions to an emerging technology becoming mainstream.

Videogames offer us solace, they offer us peace when it feels like the world is against us. More than that, they offer us a different view, through first-hand experience or playing a role. They allow us failure at little to no cost; they can help build an emotional resilience; games create a sense of community and they can aid in rebuilding a life slowly, step by step, item by item.

Nowadays gaming is celebrated for having a positive effect on our mental health. Once society began to look past the violence which dominated the 2000s and developers began exploring our own psyches, games took on a new role. Psychologist Roy Sugarman explores the aid of videogames in those dealing with grief with Wired where he says, “Games put you in a metaphoric world where you can express a range of stuff honestly, where you can express grief.”

This is it, but What if?

I still gravitate towards roguelikes above all genres. Mostly because I still feel lost a lot of the time. My world is still fragile, the cracks still show. Sometimes I still need that sensation of organised chaos; that possible control over the game. The Binding of Isaac is still the answer I give when someone asks “what’s your favourite game?” I give this answer because it did save me in some way. It turned the lights back on, helped me rebuild my shattered world. Plus, it’s simply a masterpiece of game design.

Of course, over the years, my passion for gaming came back. I rediscovered what it was that made me fall in love with games in the first place – a sense of belonging and escapism. Whether it’s in a cyberpunk strategy, a World War shooter, a colourful battle royale, a mobile idle clicker or a roguelike, my enjoyment returned, along with some of that lost control.

In the same year I discovered Isaac, I also played Minecraft for the first time and used the creative side of the game to express myself, to be more mindful and to relax the thoughts of my busy and broken brain. Minecraft also offers that aspect of control; the deliberate placing of blocks, building shelter from the darkness, equipping your character with the means to survive.

Now I revel in the lack of control some games give, because it reminds me that life is not designed to be controlled. That fate, if you believe in it, cannot be changed or altered. In some ways, failing in videogames has begun to have more impact, because it reconnects me with the fact that life is filled with ‘what if?’ – that life can change in an instant and while that may be out of our control, it doesn’t mean we can’t wrestle it back.