We’ve all had those nagging fears that scratch at the mind in just the right way to start impacting our life. I’m terribly afraid of not finishing every pint of ice cream I see, for instance. Some, however, face fears that permeate their personal and professional lives in devastating ways.Former EA developer Theresa Duringer has just that problem. She’s terribly afraid of flying. For most, that’s not such a big deal, but now that she’s running two game development studios of her own — one for virtual reality games and the other for more traditional indie titles — she has to fly quite a bit.While working on Bazaar (her last VR game) she noticed that she was able to cope with flights a bit better. “I had a huge reduction in stress,” Duringer says. “To the point where my usually sweaty hands were dry after an hour in VR. My heart was calm. I think just visually and auditorily being in a different place altogether really helped me forget I was on a flight.” For someone who “[breaks] out in hives” and “can’t sleep for weeks before a flight,” that’s pretty special.After that trip, Duringer wanted to take the idea of using VR for therapy a bit further. “I wanted something that would constantly tax my attention so I didn’t have a chance to freak out or think about my seat flying 30,000 feet in the air,” she says.Shortly before she’d met with the makers of the popular deck-building game Ascension at GenCon in Indiana. She won some tournaments at the convention and earned an invitation to the game’s world championship. Duringer thought the game would be the perfect fit, requiring care, attention, and deep strategy. Plus, she says, board games are already made to be extremely replayable, because many of them cost so much to develop, produce, and distribute.With Ascension, she says, she had the perfect mix. She reached out to Stone Blade, hoping for permission to license the game while she had her team get started on modifying their VR engine to accommodate tabletop games. Stone Blade wasn’t interested at first, but after CEO Justin Gary played Bazaar at SXSW and saw people’s reactions to VR tech, he made the decision to go ahead with the port.The result is remarkable. Ascension VR works by honing in on what makes tabletop games special — their social element — and tailoring the VR experience around that, instead of just moving their game into the virtual world.As anyone part of the tabletop revolution of the past few years can tell you, shooting the shit with friends over a drink or two, seeing their reaction when you pull a ridiculous play, and building a sense of community as you play together is essential. And while Ascension and many other tabletop games have mobile and even video game console ports, they all fail to capture that feeling of presence. Duringer wanted chat and camaraderie to be a focal point, however.Games care organized into lobbies of up to four players, and everyone can see each other’s digital avatars. As each of you speak, the game uses voice recognition software and lip-syncing to match your avatar’s virtual expressions to your real-world ones. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s surprisingly effective — especially given that the game can run on anything from the Gear VR to more robust head-mounted displays like the Oculus Rift.All of this works over the internet, too, helping bring people together in a pseudo-physical space in the virtual world. That alone is noteworthy, particular for extroverts like myself who eschew digital interaction. This may well be the first step in helping far-flung friends stay connected regardless of distance.But all that started with the idea of making a game that could help Duringer overcome her fear of flying… and unfortunately, while it’s helped, it hasn’t been all that successful. In a phone call, she says, “I’m still terrified… I wasn’t always like this, I think it was a string of bad flights in my 20s that started it, but now it’s awful.” Duringer’s last flight was just a few days ago, and while Ascension helped, it’s clear that it’s grown beyond its inspiration, and that’s okay.For VR to succeed we’re going to need a lot more games like Ascension. VR is a new field, fraught with a lot of design problems and hampered by developers that aren’t designing with the medium, but Ascension VR knows what it needs to be. It had to offer something above and beyond just a card game “but in virtual reality,” and to Duringer and the team at Temple Gates’ credit, that’s exactly what they’ve made.
Stay on target The Most Addictive Mobile Clicker GamesSimple Geek’s Guide to…Streaming Services It feels like all the Marvel mobile games are heading to space with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 storming its way through theaters this season. I’m not saying that most of these games were not already fun when they first released, but when the like of Rocket, Groot and Mantis show up; you know it’s going to be a party.Here is a look at some of the most fun to play Marvel games to hit your favorite mobile devices.Photo courtesy of ComicgamersassembleMARVEL: Puzzle QuestA few of you may remember the original Puzzle Quest that released on the PSP back in 2007. It blended your run of the mill Bejeweled bar game with RPG elements. This was a pretty cool concept at the time. Marvel was smart enough to use these elements to their advantage and combined their classic stories and characters with the match-three game type. The game is simple enough to follow: collect classic comic covers and characters. It’s a real treat! It’s not all Iron Mans and Storms either. For instance, I just unlocked Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur then added them to my roster. Adding these types of characters makes the experience much more rewarding and encourages players to learn more about the Marvel universe while playing a simple bar game. There are two main modes, story and multiplayer, where you fight against other players teams controlled by AI. Beating your friends as never been this rewarding! (iTunes – Google Play) Photo courtesy of ApkdlmodMARVEL: Future FightThis is the ultimate Marvel beat em up game fans have been asking for. Move around many different levels and tap enemies to pummel. Your character has a list of special abilities and moves he can use that recharge over time. But you are not alone in this fight. Up to three heroes can go on a mission at a time, and the more you use each character, the more you can level up their star rating. Attaching gear and claiming gifts will give your heroes major advantages for leveling. Skill sets and attacks are fun to perform, and there is a mediocre story to tie it all together. Luckily, Marvel has been supporting this one a bit more and has been giving Future Fight updates with each release of the studio’s films, supplying many more adventures. I don’t see this one going anywhere for a while. (iTunes – Google Play) Photo courtesy of AndroidcentralSpider-Man UnlimitedGameloft presents Marvel’s answer to killing off Temple Run. Join Spider-Man as he swings through the cell shaded streets of New York batting off the members of the Sinister Six. This is your typical Temple Run-style game with a few more punches. That’s right. In the middle of all your running and dodging, you can punch, kick and web up enemies to keep your combo going. As simplistic as this game is, it’s still a lot of mindless fun, and the cell shading is a nice touch. You’ll meet some fellow heroes along the way that will aid Spider-Man in his journey. Of course, Peter finds time to crack wise with each member he finds and is actually pretty humorous. (iTunes – Google Play) Photo courtesy of VulcanpostMARVEL: Tsum TsumDon’t count out the adorably cute and fuzzy Tsum-Tsum brand just yet! There awkward looking bodies stack up well in puzzle type games such as this one. Marvel Tsum Tsum is almost a connect the dots type game of sorts. Many different Marvel characters fall into a pod of sorts, and it is up to you to drag your finger over the ones creating in a row. It sounds simple enough, but when there is a single War Machine in the way of your Hulk streak, it can drive one to Hulk smash! This is the perfect mobile Marvel game for players who don’t want all the weight that comes with games like Puzzle Quest and just want to jump in toss fuzzy characters around for a bit. (iTunes – Google Play) Photo courtesy of Marvel Entertainment LLC.MARVEL: Zen PinballPinball games are some of my absolute favorites. Especially when your balls represent different Marvel characters! Play on animated boards such as the S.H.I.E.L.D. carrier, Avengers Tower and so much more. This was the one game that did cost actual currency. That is because each board you collect will run you a buck. Not bad if all you like to do is beat high scores in pinball all day. The purchasable boards range from Ghost Rider to Moon Knight. There are special challenges throughout each board and the animations included with them are a lot of fun to see activated. If only we could get real pinball machines based on these concepts! (iTunes – Google Play)Photo courtesy of Marvel Entertainment LLC.MARVEL: Contest of ChampionsThe Collector is on another mission to add the galaxies mightiest heroes to his ultimate collection. This time around it’s to have them battle it out in a contest of champions. You the player have been chosen to represent earth during this mighty battle. The concept behind Champions is pretty simple. Win and you shall be granted unlimited power. Loose and you’ll become part of the Collectors…well you know. This game is Marvels answer to Injustice’s mobile game. A tap away “beat em up” for the ages. With every fight you come closer and closer to unlocking more crystals that contain characters. Pulling off moves is a cinch. Tap for light attacks, hold and wait for the right moment to pull off heavy attacks. The game flows nicely on current mobile devices and has been getting updates regularly with new Marvel characters. Time to head to the Battlerealm to catch ’em all! (iTunes – Google Play)