Surprisingly, if you were to look at the various weight classes that compartmentalize professional and amateur boxers, a lightly built person such as myself would weigh in at the top half of the list. Super Lightweight would be my class.
That’s a pretty useless piece of information for me. If I ever got in a boxing ring for any other reason than sweeping it clean, I wouldn’t survive the first punch, received or thrown. Obviously there is more to boxing than how many numbers swirl by when you step on the bathroom scale. Quite a bit more, in fact. Still, one harbors dreams, knowing full well that they will never be realized. Now, I would be lying if I were to say that I have wanted to step into a boxing ring and have my face bloodied and bruised for my entire life. In fact, I would be lying if I said that I have wanted to step into a boxing ring for one single minute of my life. It’s not that I have anything against it, it’s really far more about self-preservation in much the same way that I would never honestly answer the dreaded “Do these jeans make my butt look big?” question. I tried to deflect that one once with an ill-considered “I’m not sure, but something is certainly doing it,” and that did not end well. I truly believe boxing wouldn’t even end as well for me as that incident did.
So why am I here yammering on about boxing? Well, it’s because of Virtual Reality. VR is allowing people to experience things for themselves that they would never have been able to experience directly. I’m sure that I’m not alone in wondering what ice luge is like—other than very, very scary—or what goes through your mind as you drive a 200 mph race car mere inches (if that) from the other cars that surround you. Boxing? It’s hard to even imagine what getting slammed in the face is like, and frankly it doesn’t sound all that appealing. That said, boxing has been around for literally ages, so there must be some appeal to it.
I only thought of looking for a VR boxing game because I was looking for a fun way to force myself to do at least a little cardio exercise now and then. When you find yourself wheezing from the simple task of taking out the trash, it’s well past time to find a way to get some exercise, preferably in a way that doesn’t feel like exercise. Gorn was suggested to me by the inimitable editor-in-chief of this site, but something about it didn’t appeal to me. Perhaps the over-the-top violence, or, perhaps, the price tag. Who knows?
In any event, I soon found myself taking a close look at The Thrill of the Fight – VR Boxing (TTotF from here on out) with an eye towards not only getting some level of exercise but also because the idea of brutally beating a stranger’s face was oddly compelling. Sure, that was just a passing fancy born of a really cruddy commute home in winter rush-hour traffic, but sometimes you just have to get it out of your system, ideally without ending up incarcerated as a result. Priced at a bargain on Steam, it was also a relatively low-risk buy. I could always return it if it didn’t address my needs.
That is not what happened. I love it! I will tell you right up front that, yes, I have indeed managed a win over a not-quite-respectable opponent with a round one TKO. I will also tell you that win, lose, or draw, I have never made it to the second round. By the time I’m halfway through the first three-minute round, I’m gasping for breath like a played-out tuna flopping around on the deck of a fishing boat. But here’s the interesting thing: I keep going! “I will finish this round,” is screaming in my head. My arms feel like balloons filled with lead, I’m sweating like a Star Trek red shirt on an away team, and I’m starting to wonder if that sawbuck would have been better spent on a supplemental oxygen cart, but I am compelled to finish at least one round. Fighting on for another round is simply not in the cards. Not yet, anyway. Some day.
TTotF is still in early access, but it is already demonstrating quite a bit of maturity. I have had zero crashes, the gameplay is magnificent, and the developer is extremely responsive to input on the Steam Discussion page. There are still updates every now and then, but they tend to be minor adjustments to gameplay. The most significant changes that I have seen to date surround the very act of punching. During the tutorial, or any time you are working out with the heavy bag, the force of your punches is being recorded. There is a setting that will auto-adjust the strength of your punches as you go through an entire fight. As you get tired, the game automatically increases the strength of your punches to keep you competitive for the entire fight. When turned off, what you have is what you get. While it’s more realistic to have your virtual arms get tired, it’s a better, longer fight if you don’t. The choice is yours.
In addition to a sparring partner who looks as if he would struggle to walk up a flight of stairs, I believe there are at least three other boxers. Having only ever beaten the first one, and in no shape for a tougher one, I cannot say with 100% certainty that there are two more for me to get past, but I think I read somewhere that that is, in fact, the case. Maybe I’ll find out someday. I am currently at my limit with old Ugly Joe, and it may be a very long time before I’m ready for the next guy.
In addition to making me sweat, this game also has a way of making arms, elbows, shoulders, and a passel of other parts hurt. At least some of that residual pain comes, oddly enough, from throwing fists that land on nothing but air. It took awhile to learn how to throw punches more gently—it’s quite counterintuitive, but flinging a fist out into space with nothing to stop it actually isn’t a particularly smart thing to do. It’s a very easy way to hyperextend a shoulder. For a feeble old retiree, at least. But…the fun! It’s so addictively fun! What’s a new collection of aches and pains compared to that? Besides which, if nothing ever got sore, how would you know that you’ve exercised? Or, and this is closer to the truth, without aches and pains to point to, how do you get out of wife-mandated home chores? I’d rather have a virtual bloody lip and a couple of sore arms from fighting Ugly Joe than a morning of pushing around a vacuum cleaner, truth be told. I just have to be careful who I tell it to.
Obviously I have zero credence on the question as to how accurate the actual boxing is in TTotF, but I can say this: it has taken a large-ish number of fights for me to learn how to get past Joe’s defense and land some damaging blows. Once you learn to read the signals it gets a bit easier. In my early bouts it seemed like he had his face covered to the degree that my punches were doing no damage. Just to be doing something other than absorb punches with my nose, I concentrated almost entirely on punching him in his undefended gut. After awhile he would start to get bruised but I could never manage to knock him down. When I tried to block my face like he was doing, he kept managing to whack me pretty hard. After studying what he was doing I soon learned how to get through to his jaw and/or nose every now and then. Once I could get a few good punches through his defense, I could see that I was doing real damage. The first time I knocked him down they could hear me cheering in Pyongyang. Why did I spend all those years studiously avoiding exercise? This is fun!
I do want to be sure that I am very clear on one thing about this game, however: it is a game. It is not a boxing simulator, although to my untrained eye it certainly appears to be. It is also unlikely that it will ever be a PvP online game. The developer is a one-man show, and he has been very open about the things he still wants to add and/or improve, and he has been just as open about the things that, while desirable, are simply beyond where he wants to go. As such, he has stated that the very reasonable price that I paid is likely to extend beyond the Early Access stage. I applaud that. While it may not meet everyone’s needs, TTofT certainly met mine: this may be the very first time in my life that I have ever looked forward to daily exercise.
I've been fascinated with video games and computers for as long as I can remember. It was always a treat to get dragged to the mall with my parents because I'd get to play for a few minutes on the Atari 2600. I partially blame Asteroids, the crack cocaine of arcade games, for my low GPA in college which eventually led me to temporarily ditch academics and join the USAF to "see the world." The rest of the blame goes to my passion for all things aviation, and the opportunity to work on work on the truly awesome SR-71 Blackbird sealed the deal.
My first computer was a TRS-80 Model 1 that I bought in 1977 when they first came out. At that time you had to order them through a Radio Shack store - Tandy didn't think they'd sell enough to justify stocking them in the retail stores. My favorite game then was the SubLogic Flight Simulator, which was the great Grandaddy of the Microsoft flight sims.
While I was in the military, I bought a Commodore 64. From there I moved on up through the PC line, always buying just enough machine to support the latest version of the flight sims. I never really paid much attention to consoles until the Dreamcast came out. I now have an Xbox for my console games, and a 1ghz Celeron with a GeForce4 for graphics. Being married and having a very expensive toy (my airplane) means I don't get to spend a lot of money on the lastest/greatest PC and console hardware.
My interests these days are primarily auto racing and flying sims on the PC. I'm too old and slow to do well at the FPS twitchers or fighting games, but I do enjoy online Rainbow 6 or the like now and then, although I had to give up Americas Army due to my complete inability to discern friend from foe. I have the Xbox mostly to play games with my daughter and for the sports games.