Courtesy of Greg French, retired FAA inspector, veteran wing shooter. We are already addressing Greg’s bug fix comments. ..
Great program; buy it.
Now for the good, the a-little-less-good, and the even-less-good (the latter of which there is very little). I write this with the intent of informing potential purchasers of what this program is all about and what you’re getting for your (very reasonable) dollars. It’s probably far more information than many (most?) of you want or need. Nevertheless, I wanted to be thorough for those folks (such as myself) who really like to have a handle on what they’re buying BEFORE they buy it. Full Disclosure: I’m an end user who purchased the program at full price just like you folks and have no ties to this company or its management. So, let’s do this thing . . .
If you’re looking to shoot zombies, this is not the program for you; move on. If you’re looking to improve your shooting game, then this is where you need to be. This is a training tool. And an exceptionally good one at that. Some have gone so far as to say that this is not a “game” at all. I respectfully disagree (semantically). Sports are games (“let the games begin . . .”). Skeet/Trap/5-Stand are sports, ergo, they’re games. This program simulates that game, and does so with remarkable fidelity, precision, accuracy, and reliability. So, yes, it’s a game, and a fun one, but it’s also a serious one that does much more than just entertain; it educates and trains, and represents a fine example of the practical application of virtual reality as applied to real life.
Having spent my share of time on the Skeet and Trap ranges (I have not shot 5-Stand), I can say that this program really does accurately represent real world shooting (with a few caveats to come). The physics appear to be accurate, reliable, and predictable. As a training program, the player has the option to spend endless time on any shooting station or stand, working on it until the sight picture and personal responses can be burned into their mental engrams, and the muscle memory for target tracking, lead, and follow-through is firmly established. This will definitely translate into higher scores when they head out to the real world of the sports. In addition to practice and training modes, the program allows the shooter to play full match rounds from start to finish, developing the shooter’s sense of real-world game flow, eliminating some of that newbee feel at the range of “what do I do next??”. Note, however, that you’re the only one there. There are no avatars, no other sim players on the field, which can be both good and bad. Good in that there are no other distractions to your practice and you don’t have to wait your turn to shoot; bad in that, in reality, you are NEVER alone on a real Skeet or Trap field (at least in the east, where I live). I could imagine the next evolutionary step for this program (in some distant future iteration) would involve real-time avatars of folks currently playing the game together in virtual space, again, in real time, similar in fashion to the VR program Star Trek Bridge Crew where up to 5 players occupy the same virtual space and each sees the avatar of the others – pretty cool, if eerie, effect. But that’s for another day.
The graphics in the program are outstanding. I’m driving an HTC Vive with an Alienware i7-7700 mid-tower with a GeForce Nividea GTX1080, and, with in-game native supersampling pushed to 2.0, the program runs faultlessly. Unlike so many other VR programs that I’ve worked with, this program is extremely stable. The interface is intuitive and simple to use (see caveat in “The Even-Less-Good” section below) and can easily be used right or left handed (I’m left handed). There’s a real sense of presence within the game, with the sounds of the breeze, the grass waving, and the sharp reports of the gun immersing the player completely into the environment, and all with very rare, if ever, hiccups. You even hear birds twittering and, I think I even detect (tho it’s subtle – could just be me), road traffic in the far distance! Weird, but supremely effective.
As an added bonus, the program, and each of its three sub-modules (opening screen and the three different game environments) load extremely fast. There is some female voice-over (e.g., she says “Station X” when you relocate to a new station, says “pull” before releasing a clay, etc.), but it’s minimal at best. This last point has truly enormous potential. The program could be expanded to produce a much more full-blown training experience where, for example, in training mode, when positioning on a particular shooting station or stand, the AI (“she”) tells the player the ideal way orient their body to the target (based on left or right handedness), where to hold, where to sight, and where to break for a given target, etc., with, of course, the option to turn it off. As I said, truly enormous potential and it doesn’t seem like it would take all that much from a programming standpoint – really just a series of pre-recorded voice-streams activated when a player occupies a station/stand. This could really up its value as a training tool, particularly at the novice level. Let’s hope the developers consider it sometime down the road.
Upon entering the program, one selects one of three games: Skeet, Trap, or 5-Stand, or a short tutorial (by picking up the clipboard on the table – just note that, while pretty short, once started the tutorial can’t be stopped until it ends). After selection, the player is transported into the selected game and is presented with three guns: two over/unders, and a side-by-side. They appear to be pretty generic guns, though they look very familiar to anyone who has spent time with these types of guns. The fact that the developers identified them as either 20 and 28ga is largely irrelevant since you can’t really tell the difference between those and a 12ga in the game. Obviously, the chief advantage of a smaller gauge is recoil reduction which is irrelevant here. If anything, assuming that the physics reflect a 20 or 28ga, it would make hitting targets marginally harder, resulting in the player becoming an even better shooter (some would disagree with me that hits are harder to make with smaller gauges; in my personal experience I simply hit better with a 12 – maybe all in my head). The point here is that, if you see somewhere that you’re “only” getting a 20 or 28ga in the game, but you actually only shoot a 12ga in real life, don’t be concerned, and don’t let that be a factor in your decision of whether or not to get this program. You won’t know the difference.
Once in the game, having selected a gun, the shooter selects game-play mode: either training or competition.
There are a couple of training options. In one, the clay is led across the sky by a bright green icon showing exactly how much lead to apply to that shot. All the shooter has to do is follow that lead marker as the point of aim, squeeze the trigger, and poof – the target explodes! Very helpful and easily turned off as the shooter gets the feel for the necessary lead required at a given station.
Another useful feature is the “freeze-frame” (my term) in training mode. If you miss, the program freezes for a few seconds and puts an “X” on the place in space where the shot string reached the target plane, basically telling you what you did wrong with your lead and aim. Very useful and, again, easily turned off.
In training mode, the program can be set to throw clays continuously (see caveats next section) so that the shooter can bang away until they get good, or tired, or both. The player simply picks the station they want to practice, clicks the triangle “pull” button on the menu to start the clays automatically flying, and they’re off and running (or shooting, as the case may be). In most cases, the AI will continue to throw clays, apparently indefinitely. There is the option of swiping a thumb up on the controller touchpad to initiate a pull, but I personally find that it forces me to change my grip too much. Personal thing I would think.
The training mode also has an optional barrel laser pointer that projects the muzzle line out to the sky helping the player learn how holding the gun affects the point of aim. Personally, I find it of somewhat marginal value since it mostly disappears when I put my face down low on the stock, but others might like it. In any event, I’d rather have the option there than not.
In Skeet (in training mode), users have the choice of any of the 8 stations, choice of high or low house pulls, or doubles. In Trap and 5-Stand, the player can also select individual shooting stations or stands, and/or angles (in Trap), or tell the program to pull randomly (not in Skeet).
In competition mode, the player is subject to the rules of the game as far as sequencing goes. For example, in Skeet the player starts at station 1 and successively moves through each station up to number eight. Shots are taken as in standard American Skeet, such as station one beginning with a high house, followed by a low house, followed by a double, with the doubles appropriately missing from stations 3,4,5,8. When a station is completed, the program moves the player to the next station in the sequence and a pleasant woman’s voice will state: “Station X”. Once a round is complete, the shooter’s name and score are presented on a scoreboard with (presumably) other Clayzer players out there in the ether.
The guns are reloaded in a fairly accurate representation of reality: one breaks open the chamber with the thumb on the touch pad, approximating the location of the standard thumb release on most of these types of guns, the gun opens, and the spent shells are ejected. The player then uses their other hand to insert fresh cartridges, and flips the gun up to close it. Remarkably realistic and intuitive. Fortunately, this feature can be turned off. After all, opening, loading, and closing the gun are usually the skills least in need of improvement, and the practicing shooter may not want to “waste time” with virtual reloading all the time. A note of caution here though (as I have found) . . . turning off reloading can quickly develop a habit of forgetting to reload when simulating competition and more than once I’ve pulled the trigger on a spent round while in competition mode. Screws up your score for that round, and it’s really kind of embarrassing when it happens in real life. Habits are habits, after all. Anyhow, keeping it turned on does contribute to the immersion. Shooter’s choice.
Finally, the shooter has the option to pattern the guns on a patterning target. Kind of a cool little plus in the program. Based on my hold, I consistently get a 60/40 pattern which is what I would want for Skeet in any event. Your mileage may vary.
I do have a few very minor issues with the program, such as the interval time in training/practice mode in 5-Stand. In both Skeet and Trap, the intervals between throws are around 3 – 9 seconds, and appear to continue indefinitely which is fine. However, the interval between throws in 5-Stand averages around 14 – 17 seconds, an interminably long time when practicing. Plus, (again, while in practice mode) each trap station (“trap” in this case meaning the machine that throws the clays, as opposed to the game called “Trap”), will stop throwing after as few as only 2 times to as many as 10 pulls before it just stops (e.g., station 7: consistently has a 17-second interval, and repeats only 2 times before stopping – varies from shooting station to shooting station but appears to stay consistent within each station). The user must then restart the practice session. Happens on all 5 shooting stands from all of the trap stations. Not a big deal but really doesn’t seem right.
The program takes over the mouse completely in that those watching the program mirror on a monitor cannot do anything to the image, such as move the mirror window on the desktop or make it full screen. I don’t know if that’s a problem with only my system or if it’s product-wide. Again, not a big deal but not right.
I wish the program had the ability to re-center. Sometimes it’s not convenient to be in the same position or orientation within the designated Vive play-area, and it would be useful to have the ability to move or turn one’s self to the most convenient “real world” position and have the ability to command the game to rotate / reposition appropriately, and to do so while still in the game. Might be a nice little feature to have sometime.
The player will always enter the game next to the gun table, which is fine and appropriate. He or she then reaches for the desired gun and squeezes the side buttons on the hand controller to pick it up. Again, fine. But, sometimes in the excitement of the shot, the shooter might squeeze the grip a bit too much and, poof, there goes the gun: dropped! Not the end of the world (other than a missed shot). When dropped, the gun just magically reappears on the table and the shooter can simply pick it back up again and continue on. This is only an issue when standing next to the table (station 4 in Skeet, station 1 in Trap, and station 3 in 5-Stand). At all the other stations, when not shooting next to the gun table, the gun stays firmly stuck in the player’s hands no matter how hard they may squeeze the grip – in fact, the shooter CAN’T let go of the gun anywhere EXCEPT next to the gun table. This is just the nature of the beast, and, like the other issues presented, not a major problem in MOST cases. There’s one important exception: If the shooter squeezes too hard at station 1 in Trap at the 16 yard line while standing next to the table, the gun just reappears on the table next to them, just like in the other two games. However, if the shooter drops the gun at the 27 yard handicap station number 1, then, oops. The gun drops back to the table as described . . . but this time the table is now 11 yards away and there’s no way to get there! In fact, since the program uses the gun muzzle to select stuff from the menu (see the “Even-Less-Good” section below), and the program doesn’t allow any sort of “teleportation” as seen in other VR games (tho not normally useful or practical here anyhow), the user is dead in the water since he/she can’t get at the gun to point it at a selection on the menu! The only way out of this pickle seems to be to just kill the program with Vive or Steam (am I missing something here?). Not a deal-breaker, just a glitch that, with a bit of care, can be worked around. The player just needs to be aware not to get too excited and squeeze too tightly when shooting at a position that’s next to the table, particularly at the 27 yard handicap station 1 in Trap.
Everyone is aware that a lack of a stock is a significant shortcoming that many, including the developer, are assiduously working on and there’s really little I can add here. It’s a classic (as if anything this new could be called “classic”) problem of how we interface our virtual world with our physical. There are currently various home-grown (albeit in some cases, ingenious), home-printed stock-like things to be found here and there, mostly on Ebay, and a few stupid-expensive gewgaws developed for serious FPS advocates available at places such as Amazon. When using the Vive hand controllers alone, one tends to brace the back of the trigger hand controller (or the hand itself) against the HMD, emulating pressing the stock into the cheek, and supporting the weak hand controller against the front of the trigger hand controller. It works kinda’-sorta’ OK, but I have found that it’s very easy to momentarily occlude part of the trigger hand controller from the base stations, resulting in your gun magically floating up out of your hands into the sky as you watch the clay fly serenely by. A bit disconcerting at best; frustrating at worst. Again, that’s NOT a problem with the program . . . it’s just the nature of the beast. But, with that said, even this could largely be eliminated if the program allowed the user to reorient or reposition themselves in the play area so that the base stations could get a better view around their hands. Anyhow, I’ll be very interested in the solutions the developer has in the works, such as the ability to attach sensors to our own guns for practice. I’m really looking forward to these products.
This is something other reviewers have commented on: add voice recognition, at least recognition of the word “pull”, if nothing else. From what I understand (currently it’s Nov. 8, 2017), the developers are working on it, so major kudos to those guys. That will be a real plus when it happens and I hope it happens soon.
As a firearms instructor and retired Federal investigator, I have bit of heartburn with training shooters to point at things other than targets with the muzzles of their guns! And pulling the trigger to select items is an even worse paradigm. The shooter’s finger should NEVER be on the trigger except when actually shooting the target. Maybe I’m just over-cautious (is that possible when dealing with firearms?), but I’ve seen a lot of things out there and, like I said earlier, habits are habits. This “feature” of the program could easily be changed and should be. A touch-pad-activated (for example) laser pointer or other such method is just as easy to program as using the gun itself as a pointer. As an added bonus it would also eliminate part of the dropped-gun issue at Trap Station 1 at 27 yards identified earlier since the player could then at least reach the menu.
As I said in the opening line: Great program. Buy it. It’s cheap money and worth every nickel. The issues I identified in the program are minor, some to the point of mere nit-picking. None of them should give anyone even momentary pause in purchasing this program if they are seriously looking to improve their real-world game, as well as have a whole lot of shooting fun that doesn’t necessitate a bunch of dead zombies lying around all over the place. The program feels finished and refined, but has huge potential for expansion. I use the term “expansion” deliberately, rather than “improvement,” since, in my humble opinion, it’s already there as a functional tool, and is in need of very little actual “improvement” (the couple of things identified earlier notwithstanding). But, as described earlier, the addition (i.e., “expansion”) of voice recognition (if only for recognizing the word “pull”) will be a significant step up in immersion when it happens, and the developers might give some consideration to adding the voice-over instruction option along the lines described earlier. In my opinion, that could be an ENORMOUS expansion of the program’s practical training utility. Certainly shooting schools and training facilities will be (are) interested, to say nothing of the pure novice shooter who is still figuring out which end of the gun to point. In fact, I can even see government agencies actually wanting to take a look at this. Major kudos to the developers for rising above the zombies and giving serious shooters a truly useful program. Bottom line bears repeating for the third time: Great program. Buy it.
Definition of Skeet: Golf With a Shotgun, anonymous.