Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Awhile back I had a chance to try out an Oculus Rift before they were readily available, and I came away impressed with both the result and fascinated with the possibilities. Somewhat recently we got one in our hands full-time, leading to a bevy of reviews and previews lately. Admittedly a little late to the party, but better late than never. However, the good news is we were able to get our hands on so many different titles to review with it. The bad news is it was going to require someone sitting down and pounding out a ton of games in a pretty short period of time while we try to play catch-up. I couldn’t think of a better way to go about it than with two of the better fall specialty beers out there, Pumking and Warlock – both from Southern Tier Brewing Company.
Having recently gotten a rather beefy new PC around with a GTX 1080 at the heart of it all, I wanted to try and push the system in a variety of ways. One of those ways was through the Oculus Rift. I had demoed it previously, but that was a setup that already had the software installed, the calibrations done and all of the hooking up taken care of in advance. Now I as ready to do this myself from the ground up and see how it would go.
Credit where it is due, but the Oculus software does a really nice job of walking you through the steps. It guides you each point along the way, helping you to understand what needs to be hooked up, how things should be calibrated, and when things were complete – showing off the Dreamdeck demo. There was one odd hiccup during the process that had me concerned, when it would not recognize that my headset was plugged into the HDMI port. I tried multiple ports, but the checklist that accompanies the process never wanted to update. As someone who has spent years troubleshooting software and audio/visual equipment, I chose a logical next step instead of getting frustrated: I grabbed a beer.
Because we all know beer and electronics go well together (well, maybe not. Especially not literally. Thankfully, the story does not end with my performing a stupid human trick that rendered my shiny new hardware obsolete), but in truth it did help to calm my somewhat jittery, annoyed nerves as I went through a series of restarts, plugging things in and unplugging them, updating the firmware and more. Somewhere between the third reboot and the firmware, things got going and I was able to properly complete the installation process. I like to think that the Pumking I had with me helped with keeping me from getting too frustrated, if nothing else.
I enjoy quite a few Southern Tier beers, many of which could probably be considered dessert beers. They have a variety of sweet stouts, fruit-infused brews and more. However, my favorite is probably Pumking. Parker, one of the site’s contributors in the past, said it quite well – he considers Pumking his: oh crap, fall is actually here beers. I liked that description. Pumking is one of those beers that is sweeter than some, reminding me of pumpkin pie. It pours a sort of burnt orange and the scent reminds me of one of those Bath and Body Works pumpkin pie candles my wife is always buying, with a hint of vanilla cream. There are the usual spices one would expect, such as nutmeg and cinnamon, with just a hint of graham crust that finishes that impression of pumpkin pie.
It is fair to warn that this one has a little kick to it. The packaging actually calls this an imperial pumpkin ale, and it packs about an 8.6% ABV. I find it really easy to drink, but a couple of them will definitely slow down the old thought processes. Probably a good thing that I had finished the setup before that second one was gone.
So I walked through the Dreamdeck once everything was situated, revisiting it for the first time since I had demoed the Oculus months before. Of course this time, I knew what to expect and while the visuals were still mighty impressive, I was experiencing less of the shock and awe that I had initially felt. Admittedly, I was somewhat concerned that maybe VR would quickly lose its punch with me, so I decided to trot the family over one at a time to try it out. That was an interesting adventure in and of itself, taking people with heights varying from my oldest daughter at just over five foot to me at six, to getting the goggles on despite a variety of hair styles and the glasses that my wife and two oldest kids wear.
Once we sorted through all of that however, I got to spectate and see how each of them responded to the Dreamdeck. It was fun to watch, because they were each and every one of them impressed. It seemed each one had different aspects of the demo that fascinated them most. My oldest loved the cardboard city, my son was like me and thought that the futuristic city was the big ‘wow’ moment. My youngest adored the alien and my wife thought the T-Rex near the end vivid. Everyone came away impressed with the hardware and I decided to start downloading a bunch of games and experiences so I could come back to the Oculus the next day and begin reviewing in earnest.
A new day, a new beer in hand, I decided to stick to not just my pumpkin theme, but Southern Tier Brewing Company theme as well. They have an imperial stout brewed with pumpkins called Warlock, and while I do prefer the Pumking to it, Warlock provides a great change of pace. At least if you like pumpkin – which one of my buddies does not. The only reason I bring this up? Last year he ordered a Warlock with his dinner because the description on the menu simply said: Imperial Stout. No mention of pumpkins, which he hates. So he got quite the surprise and later complained to me about it and said he had to send it back because he couldn’t drink it. I said he needed to broaden his horizons. We disagree on pumpkin beers, and it’s okay that he’s wrong. I still like the guy.
Anyway, Warlock pours a much deeper black that doesn’t let hardly any light through. The head on it is a creamy, thick tan one that holds up better than the Pumking, though it still does not leave a lot of lacing behind in the glass. This one is a stronger beer, so the alcohol is definitely present, but it still goes down easily enough due to the creamy, not quite as heavy body as some other stouts. The aroma is an interesting mix of sweet stout and spices, with less of a pie-like scent and less pronounced pumpkin than the Pumking as well. I found that leaving this in a snifter to warm just a little bit helps to mellow out the sweetness some, giving it more of a dark chocolate flavor that compliments the pumpkin rather nicely, though perhaps not as organically as the pumpkin pie flavor of Pumking. This is a slower sipper, with a strong ABV ringing in around 10%.
The next day was a series of reviews. I started with Dreadhalls, moved on to Damaged Core and spent a good deal of time with iOMoon. Obviously the last title still being in Early Access is the least polished of the three, but of the trio Damaged Core was definitely the favorite of both myself and Chris. Unfortunately Chris had a weird error where the game crashed and he lost a bit of progress, but he was having so much fun with it he just fired it up and readily did it all over again.
One of the most interesting observations for us over the course of that day was the discovery of VR sickness. Dreadhalls definitely had the worst of it, likely due to its repetitive tiled textures and dark, cramped spaces. When I first demoed the Oculus I had a chance to play Boogeyman and it was one of those games where you use the controller in unison with turning your head. I had no issues with that disconnect between fast head turning using the controller and what I was seeing, but Chris and I did notice it in a few of the games we tried. One of the things we both agree that we will be curious about is if more exposure to VR settles that feeling or not. We’ve read quite a bit about that online from people who say they got used to the sensation, and plenty of others who simply can’t play certain types of games.
We both definitely came away with the impression that VR games generally work better when standing. In something like Damaged Core the ability to spin about is necessity, but standing certainly made the movement in Dreadhalls easier to stomach as well. Of course, drinking strong beer might not have helped my cause, but Chris wasn’t and he seemed to get hit harder by the effect in Dreadhalls and even to a lesser extent, iOMoon when he played it for an extended time.
The Oculus has a ton of potential. The immersion is significant with VR, even with its technical limitation. To a lesser extent, one could argue that the technology’s ability to impact our bodies (even if in a negative fashion) indicates that our eyes are definitely getting fooled. Thankfully, these instances have been few and far between. For every title that has ‘hit’ me with a little queasiness, there have been four more that don’t impact me at all. Chris is batting about 50/50. The experience has been an interesting one and I am personally very invested in seeing where it goes.
As for the beers that saw me through that particular weekend’s adventures, the Pumking is still king of the fall pumpkin beers for me.Score: 9 / 10
While its cousin Warlock is among the best, but isn’t quite at the top of the list.Score: 8 / 10