New Shepard Second Launch

Blue Origin’s New Shepard Has Second Successful Test Flight.

It seems that Blue Origin is ready to step out of the cloak of secrecy it has worn for so long. Once an enigmatic and secretive company they have been making many more waves as of late, setting the scene for them to become more heavily involved in the private space industry. Progress hasn’t been all that fast for them however although, honestly, it’s hard to tell with the small dribs and drabs of information they make public. Still they managed to successfully fly their current launch vehicle, New Shepard, at the end of April this year. That test wasn’t 100% successful however as, whilst the crew capsule was returned safely, the booster (which has the capability to land itself) did not fair so well and was destroyed. Today marks a pivotal moment for Blue Origin as their second flight of their New Shepard craft was 100% successful, paving the way for their commercial operations.

New Shepard Second Launch

The New Shepard craft isn’t your typical craft that we’ve come to expect from private space companies. It’s much more alike to Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo as it’s designed for space tourists rather than transporting cargo or humans to orbital destinations. That doesn’t mean it’s any less interesting however as they’ve already demonstrated some pretty amazing technology that few other companies have been able to replicate. It’s also one of the most unusual approaches to sub-orbital tourism I’ve seen, almost being a small scale replica of a Falcon-9 with a couple unusual features that enable it to be a fully reusable craft.

A ride on a New Shepard will take you straight up at speeds of almost Mach 4 getting you to a height of just over 100KM, the universally agreed boundary of Earth and space. However not all of the rocket will be going up there with you, instead once the booster has finished its job it will disconnect from the crew capsule, allowing the remaining momentum to propel the small cabin just a little bit further. The cabin then descends back down to Earth, landing softly with the aid of your standard drag chutes that are common in capsule based craft. The booster however uses some remaining fuel to soft land itself and appears to be able to do so with rather incredible accuracy.

The final part of the video is what failed on the previous launch as they lost hydraulic pressure shortly after the craft took off. In this video though it’s clear to see the incredible engineering at work as the rocket is constantly gimbaling (moving around) the thrust in order to make sure it can land upright and in the desired location. This is the same kind of technology that SpaceX has been trialling with its recent launches, although they have the slightly harder target of a sea barge and a much larger rocket. Still the fact that Blue Origin have it working, even on a smaller scale, says a lot for the engineering expertise that’s behind this rocket.

I’m hopeful that Blue Origin will continue being a little more public as, whilst they might be playing with the big boys just yet, they’ve got all the makings of yet another great private space company. The New Shepard is a fascinating design that has proven to be highly capable with its second test flight and I have no doubt that multiple more are scheduled for the near future. It will be very interesting to see if the design translates well to their proposed Very Big Brother design as that could rocket (pun intended) them directly into competition with SpaceX.

It certainly is a great time to be a space nut.


Researchers Create Electric Circuits in Roses.

The blending of organic life and electronics is still very much in its nascent stages. Most of the progress made in this area is thanks to the adaptability of the biological systems we’re integrating with, not so much the technology. However even small progress in this field can have wide reaching ramifications, sometimes enough to dramatically reframe the problem spaces we work in. One such small step has been made recently by a team from the Linköping University in Sweden as they have managed to create working electronic circuits within roses.


The research, born out of the Laboratory of Organic Electronics division of the university, experimented with ways of integrating electronics into rose plants so they could monitor, and potentially influence, the growth and development of the plant. To do this they looked at infusing the rose with a polymer that, once ingested into the plant, would form a conductive wire. Attempts with many polymers simply resulted in the death of the plant as they either poisoned it or blocked the channels the plant used to carry nutrients. However one polymer, called PEDOT-S:H, was readily taken up by the roses and didn’t cause any damage to the plant. Instead it formed a thin layer within the xylem (one of the nutrient transport mechanisms within plants) that produced a conductive hydrogel wire up to 10cm long.

The researchers then used this wire to create some rudimentary circuits within the plant’s xylem structure. The wire itself, whilst not being an ideal conductor, was surprisingly conducive to current with a contact resistance of 10KΩ. To put that in perspective the resistance of human skin can be up to 10 times more than that. Using this wire as a basis the researchers then went on to create a transistor by connecting source, drain and gate probes. This transistor worked as expected and they went one step further to create logic gates, demonstrating that a NOR gate could be created using the hydrogel wire as the semiconducting medium.

This kind of technology has potential to revolutionize the way that we monitor and influence plant growth and development. Essentially what this allows us to do is create circuitry within living plants, using their own cellular structures as a basis, that can act as sensors or regulators for the various chemical processes that happen within them. Of course there’s still a lot of work to be done in this area, namely modelling the behaviour of this organic circuitry in more depth to ascertain what kind of data we can get and processes we can influence. Suffice to say it should become a very healthy area of research as there are numerous potential applications.


33% of USA’s 2 Year Olds Not Properly Vaccinated.

Widespread vaccination programs have been the key to driving many crippling diseases to extinction. This boils down to one, simple, irrefutable fact: they work and are incredibly safe. However the anti-vaccination movement, which asserts all sorts of non-scientific dribble, has caused vaccine rates to drop to levels where herd immunity starts to become compromised. This presents a number of challenges as unvaccinated children and adults are not only a threat to themselves but to others who have contact with them. Indeed the problem may be worse than first thought as it appears that even among those who do vaccinate the completion rate is low, with 1 in 3 two year olds in the USA not having completed the recommended vaccination course.


The study, published RTI International (a non-profit research institute based in North Carolina), showed that up until a child was 2 years old the state of their vaccinations was quite fluid. Indeed the vast majority of children weren’t compliant with the required vaccination schedule with most of them receiving a dose outside the recommended window. Upon reaching approximately 24 months of age however most had caught up with the required schedule although a staggering 33% of them were still non-compliant at this age. This might not seem like much of an issue since the majority do eventually get their vaccinations however there are sound scientific reasons for the scheduling of vaccines. Ignoring them has the potential to limit, or completely negate, their efficacy.

The standard vaccine schedule has been developed to maximise the efficacy of vaccines and also to reduce the risk that, should a child contract that disease, potentially life threatening complications are reduced or eliminated. The pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine is estimated to have an extremely high efficacy rate in young children, up to 95%, but that begins to drop off rapidly if the vaccine is administered later in life. Similar efficacy slopes are seen in other childhood disease vaccines such as the combined MMR vaccine. At the same time these vaccines are administered around the time when the potential impacts of the disease are at their greatest. Missing a vaccine at that point runs the risk of severe complications should the disease be contracted at that point.

It’s unsurprising that the study found that the western states had the lowest rates of vaccination as that’s where the anti-vaccination movement has been most active. Just this year there was an outbreak of measles there and the year before that there was a whooping cough epidemic. Interestingly the southern states had the highest rates of vaccination as shown by the snippet of this infographic above. Whilst the anti-vaccination movement is undeniably an influence in the hodge-podge vaccination approach that seems prevalent the blame here lies solely on the parents who aren’t adhering to the vaccination schedule better.

It’s understandable that some of these things can slip as the challenges of being a parent are unending but when it comes to their health there’s really no other competing priority. For parents this means that they’ll need to pay better attention to their doctor’s advice and ensure that the vaccine schedule is adhered to more closely. Additionally the government could readily help in alleviating this issue by developing better reminder systems, ones that are more in tune with the modern parent’s lives. Hopefully these statistics alone will be enough to jar most into action.

Call of Duty Black Ops 3 Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Call of Duty: Black Ops III: Imagine Yourself in a Frozen Forest.

The 3 year, 3 developer cycle that Call of Duty switched to has meant that it’s been a little longer between drinks for Treyarch, once considered the poor step child to Inifinity Ward. For players like me, who enjoyed Treyarch’s slightly more story oriented style for the single player, it’s been a bit of a wait but all hopes were that the extra polish would be worth it. After spending the last week with Call of Duty: Black Ops III I can definitely say the wait has been worth it, although Treyarch might need to come down from the giant ivory tower that they’ve crafted themselves.

Call of Duty Black Ops 3 Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

The year is 2065 and you’ve been sent to rescue hostages from the NCR, the latest terrorist organisation to begin its war against the western world. You, along with your partner Hendricks, have been sent to Ethopia to rescue hostages and a VIP who’s been captured by this group. Whilst the extraction was a success you were left behind and mortally wounded by one of the NCR’s combat robots. You’re transported back to the Coalescence HQ for emergency medical treatment, bestowing upon you cybernetic abilities that elevate your combat capabilities far beyond that of any normal soldier. What follows is your exploits as a CIA black operative following a terrible conspiracy that goes all the way to the top.

Considering that Black Ops 3 was released on nearly all platforms (including 2 last gen ones) it’s great to see it able to use all the grunt of a modern PC to render some truly stunning graphics. On first release though this was unfortunately at the severe cost of performance as smoke and other particle heavy systems would drag an otherwise buttery smooth experience down to a slideshow. Thankfully this was a bug and was fixed in a patch last week, allowing me to once again ratchet all the settings up to maximum. Unlike other Call of Duty titles though you’ll rarely have any time to stop and take in the view as the game is all about action all the time (save for the last section which I’ll dive into more later).

Call of Duty Black Ops 3 Review Screenshot Wallpaper At the Core

Black Ops 3 is the definition of a corridor shooter, putting you in tight spaces with hordes of enemies that you’ll need to mow down in order to progress. Like Advanced Warfare before it though there’s a few extra mechanics thrown into the mix to keep things fresh, most of which come in the form of various powers granted to you by your cyber augments. Also, unlike most Call of Duty games where your load out is specified for you, Black Ops 3 gives you the option to build out your own kit for each mission. You’re even given a briefing panel which allows you to judge which kit would be best for each engagement. Apart from that (and the multiplayer, of course) there’s not much more to say about Black Ops 3 as it really does feel like Advanced Warfare with the trademark Treyarch psychological twist.

The buttery smooth, fast paced FPS combat that’s a hallmark of the Call of Duty series is back once again in Black Ops 3. The additional enhancements you’re given as part of your cybernetic upgrades goes a long way to alleviating some of the issues that plagued previous instalments in this series. Notably this includes things like target highlighting, “danger zones” shown on the floor to give you an idea of what might happen if you go there and the vast array of powers you have to devastate your enemy. However one piece of advice I’ll give is that, if you’re just looking to enjoy the single player, avoid the higher difficulties. Instead of making the enemies tougher it essentially makes you weaker with the hardest difficulty allowing any enemy to one shot you. Sure that does provide some form of challenge but, honestly, it’s just more tedious than anything.

Call of Duty Black Ops 3 Review Screenshot Wallpaper The Immortal Horror

For all its polish though there are still some rough bits in the single player. Quite often enemies will be able to shoot through or glitch through walls which, if you’re playing on anything above normal difficulty, will mean your instant demise. This became painfully clear on the final mission when you’re storming the last building and mechs, flying drones and anything else would just pass through terrain to get to you. I can handle getting nailed by unseen targets, that just means you need to be aware of where they are for next time around, but when you literally can’t do anything to stop them it really does grate on you.

The story retains Treyarch’s signature psychological thriller style, this time around with a sci-fi twist. To begin with it’s interesting as the characters deal with the implications of technology and the enhancements it brings them. Things start to come unstuck a bit as they dive deeper into the (highly predictable) conspiracy aspects of it and it comes completely unglued towards the end when the symbolism gets dialled up to 11. Probably the worst part about it though is that, if you read a couple specific things in game, the whole thing is basically naught anyway. In all honesty it started off strong before it tried to M. Night Shyamalan everything and completely disappeared up its own ass with that one piece of text.

Call of Duty Black Ops 3 Review Screenshot Wallpaper The Frozen Forest

The multiplayer is your mostly standard Call of Duty affair with levels, unlocks and customizations galore. It uses the familiar “choose 10” system, allowing you to create a character that fits your play style perfectly. The biggest change that comes with Black Ops 3 is the inclusion of “specialist” classes which are essentially base character models that come with abilities. These can be either a weapon, which can be incredibly devastating when used right, or an ability which usually gives you a tactical advantage over the enemy. This combined with Call of Duty’s typical huge array of weaponry makes for some incredibly varied combat, something which can be a bit overwhelming when you first start out.

Probably my only gripe is that the levelling is a bit too slow for casual-core players like myself. I’ve played about 4 hours at this point and my main weapon, the Kuda SMG, is no where near unlocking all the mods that I want to use. This means that, for nearly all of my current multiplayer time, I’ve been using the Vanguard starting class since it has a fully customized Kuda as part of the loadout. Treyarch is aware of this and is making up for it by making this weekend a double XP weekend but that feels like a bandaid solution on the problem honestly. Having a rested system or something similar would make the experience a lot better for players like myself as otherwise the longevity of the multiplayer will be severely limited.

Call of Duty Black Ops 3 Review Screenshot Wallpaper Top of the Server

Call of Duty: Black Ops III maintains the level of quality we’ve come to expect from the series, adding the Treyarch signature psychological thriller style to the future combat motif that has permeated the last few instalments. The single player is pretty much as you’d expect, maintaining the same fluid FPS experience even if it does overstay its welcome a little bit too long towards the end. The multiplayer, whilst suffering from a rather slow levelling system, is just as good as it ever was. As always the Call of Duty series might not be for everyone but for those of us who enjoy a spectacle, along with a few solid hours of multiplayer fun, then there’s really no other title to turn to right now other than Black Ops III.

Rating: 8.75 / 10

Call of Duty: Black Ops III is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4, Xbox360 and XboxOne right now for $79, $59, $79, $59 and $79 respectively. Game was played on PC with a total of 43% of the achievements unlocked.

Linear Friction Welding of…Wood?

Friction welding is a fascinating process, able to join dissimilar metals and plastics together with bonds that are far stronger than their welded counterparts. As far as I was aware though it was limited to inorganic materials, mostly because other materials would simply catch fire and not fuse together. As it turns out that’s not the case and recent research has shown that it’s possible to friction weld pieces of wood together in the much the same way as you would metal.

What’s particularly interesting about the process is how similar it is to friction welding of metals or plastics. Essentially the rubbing of the two surfaces together causes the interfaces to form a viscous film that mixes together and, when the friction is stopped, fuse together. For the above video you can see some of the film produced escaping through the sides due to the large amount of pressure that’s applied to ensure the weld is secured. Like all other kinds of friction welding the strength of the joint is dependant on a number of factors such as pressure, period of the friction motion and duration of the weld. As it turns out friction welding of wood is actually an active area of research with lots of investigation into how to create the strongest joints.

Even cooler is the fact that some researchers have developed a technique that allows the welds to be done with no fibres being expelled out the sides. This means that there was no charring of the interface medium, enabling the resulting weld to be even stronger and much more resistant to intrusion by moisture. Whilst you’re not going to see a sub built of friction welded wood any time soon it does mean that, potentially, your house could be built without the use of fasteners or joiners and the first rain that came through wouldn’t make it all come unstuck.

Don’t think you can just go off and rub two pieces of wood together though, the frequency required to fuse the wood was on the order of 150Hz and a pressure of 1.9MPa, far beyond the capabilities of any human to produce. Still it’s not unthinkable that a power tool could be made to do it, although I lack the mechanical engineering experience to figure out how that would be done. I’m sure someone will figure that out though and I can’t wait to see what kind of structures can be made using friction welding techniques.


Ancient Mars’ Earth-like Atmosphere Stripped by our Sun.

Mars is the most studied planet other than our own, currently playing host to no less than 7 different craft currently operating both in orbit and on its surface. It’s of interest to us due to its similarity to Earth, giving us an insight into how certain processes can affect planets differently. Mars is also the easiest of our sister planets to explore, being relatively close and having an atmosphere that won’t outright destroy craft that dare land on it. Still for all that research it still manages to surprise us, most recently by revealing the fact that liquid water still flows on it. We’re still far from done with it however and the MAVEN craft has just revealed some key insights into Mars’ atmosphere and the history behind its current state.


Mars’ atmosphere is extremely thin, over 100 times less dense than the atmosphere here on Earth. To put that in perspective that’s about the same density as the air here is on Earth at an altitude of about 30KM, or about 3 times as high as your typical jet airliner flies. It’s also almost all carbon dioxide with a small smattering of nitrogen and other trace elements. However it wasn’t always this way as numerous studies have revealed that it must have held a much thicker atmosphere in the past. What has remained something of a mystery is just how Mars came to lose its atmosphere and whether those same processes were in effect today. MAVEN, a craft specifically designed to figure this out, has made some key discoveries and it seems that the long held belief that the sun is to blame is true.

For a planet to lose its atmosphere there’s really only two places it can go. In some cases the planet itself can absorb the atmosphere, driving chemical reactions that pull all the gases down into more solid forms. This specific scenario was investigated on Mars however the lack of the kinds of minerals we’d expect to see, mostly carbonates given Mars’ mostly carbon dioxide atmosphere, means that this was unlikely to be the case. The second way is for it to lose the atmosphere to the vacuum of space which can happen in a number of ways, usually through the planet being unable to hold onto its atmosphere. This latter theory has proved to be correct although it’s far more interesting than Mars simply being too small.

In the past Mars would have looked a lot like Earth, a small blue marble wrapped in protective gases. Back then the core of Mars was still active, generating a magnetic field much like that on Earth. However, after a time, the core began to cool and the engine behind the giant magnetic field began to fade. As this field weakened the solar wind began to erode the atmosphere, slowly stripping it away. Today Mars’ magnetic field is around 40 times weaker than Earth’s, no where near enough to stop this process which is still continuing to this day. For Mars it seems that its diminutive core was what sealed its fate, unable to sustain its protective magnetic shield from the relentless torment of our sun.

Whilst this has been the prevailing theory for some time its good to get confirmation from hard data to support it. Our two closest solar relatives, Venus and Mars, provide insights into how planets can develop and what changes produce what outcomes. Knowing things like this helps us to understand our own Earth and what impacts our behaviour might have on it. Mars might not ever see its atmosphere again but at least we now know what it might have looked like once, and where it has gone.

ipad pro

Tim Cook Says Macs, iPads Won’t Converge.

Long time readers will know that I’ve long held the belief that OSX and iOS were bound to merge at some point in the future. For me the reasons for thinking this are wide and varied, but it is most easily seen in ever vanishing delineation between the two hardware lines that support them. The iPad Pro was the last volley that iOS launched against its OSX brethren and, for me, was the concrete proof that Apple was looking to merge the two product lines once and for all. Some recent off-hand remarks from CEO Tim Cook convinced many of my line of thinking, enough so that Tim Cook has come out saying that Apple won’t be developing a converged Mac/iPad device.

ipad pro

That statement probably shouldn’t come as much of surprise given that Cook called the Surface Book “deluded” just under a week ago. Whilst I can understand that it’s every CEO’s right to have a dig at the competition the commentary from Cook does seem a little naive in this regard. The Surface has shown that there’s a market for a tablet-first laptop hybrid and there’s every reason to expect a laptop first tablet hybrid will meet similar success. Indeed the initial reactions to the Surface Book are overwhelmingly positive so Cook might want to reconsider the rhetoric he’s using on this, especially if they ever start eyeing off creating a competing device like they did with the iPad Pro.

The response about non-convergence though is an interesting one. Indeed, as Windows 8 showed, spanning a platform between all types of devices can lead to a whole raft of compromises that leaves nobody happy. However Microsoft has shown that it can be done right with Windows 10 and the Surface Book is their chief demonstrator of how a converged system can work. By distancing himself from the idea that the platforms will never meet in the middle, apart from the handful of integration services that work across both platforms, Cook limits the potential synergy that can be gained from such integration.

At the same time I get the feeling that the response might have be born out of the concern he stirred up with his previous comment about not needing a PC any more. He later clarified that as not needing a PC that’s not a Mac since they are apparently not Personal Computers. For fans of the Mac platform this felt like a clear signal that Apple feels PCs are an also ran, something that they keep going in order to endear brand loyalty more than anything else. When you look at the size of the entire Mac business compared to the rest of Apple it certainly looks that way with it making less than 10% of the company’s earnings. For those who use OSX as their platform for creation the consternation about it going away is a real concern.

As you can probably tell I don’t entirely believe Tim Cook’s comments on this matter. Whilst no company would want to take an axe to a solid revenue stream like the Mac platform the constant blurring of the lines between the OSX and iOS based product lines makes the future for them seem inevitable. It might not come as a big bang with the two wed in an unholy codebase marriage but over time I feel the lines between what differentiates either product line will be so blurred as to be meaningless. Indeed if the success of Microsoft’s Surface line is anything to go by Apple may have their hand forced in this regard, something that few would have ever expected to see happen to a market leader like Apple.


The Quest for Dark Matter: The XENON1T.

When we have observed distant galaxies we noticed something peculiar about the way they move. Instead of moving like we’d expect them to, with things further away from the centre moving slower than those closer, everything past a certain point moves at about the same speed. This is contrary to how other, non-galaxy sized systems like our solar system move and so we’ve long looked for an explanation as to how this could occur. The commonly accepted theory is that there’s extra matter present throughout the universe that we can’t see but interacts through gravity, called dark matter. Direct detection of dark matter has so far eluded us however due to its incredibly elusive nature. However there’s one experiment, called XENON1T, that could potentially shine some light on this elusive substance.


XENON1T is an evolution of previous experiments XENON10 and XENON100 which all shared the same goal: direct detection of a dark matter particle. Even though dark matter is theorized to be abundant everywhere in the universe (millions of dark matter particles would be passing through you every second) since they rarely interact detection is incredibly difficult. However just like the neutrinos before them there are ways of making detection possible and that’s what the XENON series of experiments aimed to do. At the heart of the experiment is a cylinder of liquid xenon, a chilly -95°C, bounded at each end by an array of photomultiplier tubes which are essentially extremely sensitive cameras. The thinking goes that, should a dark matter particle interact with the liquid xenon, a flash of light will occur which can then be analysed to see if it was a dark matter interaction.

The process by which this is determined is pretty interesting relying on 2 different types of interactions in order to determine what kind of particle interacted with the liquid xenon. The first signal, dubbed S1, is the flash of light that occurs at a very specific frequency of 178nm (ultraviolet). The photomultipliers are sensitive enough to be able to detect single photon events so even the smallest interaction will be captured. This photon is then brought upwards through the liquid xenon by an electric field that’s present in the gaseous section of the XENON1T device and when it leaves the liquid xenon it rockets upwards. The photon then leaves a trail of ionization in the gas behind it, dubbed the S2 signal, which allows for the exact position of the interaction to be determined. This is critical as the researchers only want events from the centre of the device as that has a greatly reduced rate of background noise.

The methodology was thoroughly validated by the two previous experiments even though both of them failed to directly detect any dark matter. They did put bounds on the properties of dark matter however, notably their size and potential electron spin. XENON1T is going to be around 100 times more sensitive than its previous brethren so even if it fails to see anything it will put even more stringent constraints on how a dark matter particle could be constructed. This is critical in validating or eliminating certain particle physics models and could give credence to other non-standard physics models like Modified Newtonian Dynamics (MOND).

Research such as this is incredibly important in developing an accurate understanding of how our universe operates. No matter the outcome of the experiment we’ll learn something valuable and it could potentially drive research towards a whole new world of physics. It won’t change our daily lives but ensuring our understanding of the world is as close to its knowable truth is the heart of science and that’s why this research is so important.

Warhammer Vermintide Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Warhammer: The End Times – Vermintide: Rats, Why Did it Have to be Rats.

I, like many of my generation, spent far too much of my time in Games Workshop stores as a teenager. I’d go there to gawk that the miniatures, painted in such exquisite detail that I tried and failed to replicate. That was only half of it though, the sense of community among those of us who’d spend as much time as we could at these places was far and above anything else. Thus the rather tumultuous path that the Games Workshop has walked these past few years has been tough as many of us felt they no longer cared about us, their biggest fans. However one good thing has come out all this and that has been Games Workshop’s more generous attitude towards licensing out its IP. The latest such incarnation comes in the form of Warhammer: The End Times: Vermintide, a Left 4 Dead-esque co-op survival game that breathes new life into the genre.

Warhammer Vermintide Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

You are a band of warriors in the town of Ubersreik, a city that has been overrun by the Skaven, a race of devilish rat people. With the town in peril everyone has been looking towards you to save them and there are numerous quests you must complete to keep the town safe. Some of these are simple, stopping the Skaven from poisoning the wells or destroying the food stocks, others will require you to climb to the top of massive towers to stop powerful magic from falling into Skaven hands. These will not be easy quests, dear warrior, and you’re likely to face much more than just hordes of rats along the way.

Vermintide comes to us care of the Autodesk Stingray engine, essentially a revamped version of the BitSquid engine that powered titles like Gauntlet and Magicka: Wizard Wars. In terms of capability and performance the engine really does shine, with great visuals that don’t drag your system down when the action heats up. The visual style is also very distinctive, being slightly stylized but still feeling as if it was pulled directly out of the Warhammer universe. Of course there have been some sacrifices in order to ensure performance remains consistent, meaning that some areas do feel a bit barren with little detail, but you’re usually too busy dealing with rats to notice. Considering the rather low asking price for the engine I hope to see more indie titles make use of it and the capabilities it can provide.

Warhammer Vermintide Review Screenshot Wallpaper A Ruinous View

As I alluded to earlier Vermintide is a co-op survival game modelled directly on the framework Left 4 Dead so successfully created. You’re a band of four heroes who must make it from the start to the end whilst completing objectives along the way. You’ll be beset on all sides by hordes of Skaven including various special versions which have abilities to disrupt your team and take them out of the fight. Unlike Left 4 Dead however this is not a PVP game, instead Vermintide’s variety comes from the various character classes you can choose, the RPG like levelling and loot system and the rather deep combat mechanics that make the game much more than a simple hack and slasher. Honestly the first hour had me thinking I was simply playing the latest version of Left 4 Dead but once I dug under the surface I was incredibly impressed by the level of complexity that Vermintide has.

Unlike other survival games where melee is a last resort in Vermintide it’s your primary damage dealing mechanism. You still have a ranged weapon, limited by ammunition, but they’re usually reserved for special situations like dealing with special vermin or clearing a path through swarms. This melee focus means you have to be much more aware of what is coming at you, when its attacking and when you should either dodge or block. Sure you can ignore all of that and just go charging in however you’re likely to find yourself running out of health very quickly, something which is at a premium in this game. Indeed we were barely able to finish the first mission on easy by using that tactic and it was only after a more seasoned friend of mine showed us the ways did we start to appreciate just how complex the combat was.

Warhammer Vermintide Review Screenshot Wallpaper Onward

The different character classes have different abilities, strengths and weaknesses, all of which you’ll need to take into consideration when crafting your party. Each character class isn’t locked into a specific role either as different items can change the way you play. I was playing the Empire Solider for the most part and could change from a damage dealer/special slayer into a front line tank by equipping a sword and shield. For other classes weapons can change them from single target to AOE focused or impart some insane abilities like arrows that are guaranteed headshots. Suffice to say there’s a lot to keep you coming back to Vermintide over and over again as the loot and character variety ensure that there’s dozens of hours of gameplay to be had.

That’s not to mention the loot system’s ingeniously evil risk vs reward system. Essentially there are various loot bolstering devices hidden around the map and each of them will reduce your ability to survive the rat onslaught. However should you make it all the way through with them you’ll get bonus loot dies at the end. Some of them are innocuous, like taking away your healing slot (but you can just drop the tome and use the healing then pick the tome back up) to others which reduce the entire parties health by 25% permanently. Suddenly a simple run becomes a balancing game of how much loot you can get vs how well you think you can survive.

Warhammer Vermintide Review Screenshot Wallpaper To The Tower

There’s also a crafting system, allowing you to upgrade, salvage and “forge” better weapons for yourself. The forge is essentially just a dumping ground for all the loot you don’t want as you’ll get, at most, 2 weapons per run (1 from the roll and 1 from a level up) and you’ll need 5 to make it work. Green and higher tier items have upgrades on them which need to be unlocked using certain coloured rocks. Those rocks will come from salvaging other items that you no longer want. Overall it’s a pretty simplistic crafting system but at least it gives you the opportunity to make something of the drops that you’d otherwise get nothing from.

For all its polish though Vermintide still has a couple issues which could do with fixing. The hit detection can get a bit crazy at times, resulting in strange behaviour like pack masters being able to pull players through walls. It works two ways though so sometimes you can get special rats, like the gattling gun one, stuck in a place where they can’t hit you but you can hit them. There’s also some lag induced issues which can cause rats to flit all over the place, fall through the ground or randomly spawn out of no where. I’m assuming this is born out of its P2P hosting nature which means that game sync can get a bit weird if one or more people have a tenuous connection to the host.

Warhammer Vermintide Review Screenshot Wallpaper Roll the Bones

Vermintide would be easy to write off as a Left 4 Dead clone but after a couple of hours you quickly realise it’s anything but. Sure the combat and core mechanics are definitely inspired by the grand daddy of this genre but the extra elements that Vermintide has makes it on its own. The character classes and loot system help keep the game fresh, even after you’ve played the same map a dozen times over. The combat retains that same high tension feeling that we all grew to love in Left 4 Dead whilst distinguishing itself with a bunch of Warhammer inspired mechanics. The crafting system and few rough edges are the few let downs of vermintide but it says a lot that those are the only negative things I have to say about it. For those who were let down by Evolve Vermintide could very well be the game that resells you on the genre.

Rating: 8.75/10

Warhammer: The End Times – Vermintide is available on PC right now for $29.99 and coming Q1 2016 to PlayStation4 and XboxOne. Total play time was 6 hours with 22% of the achievements unlocked.

iss nasa congress

Congress Passes Bill to Continue Support of Private Space Industry.

The last decade and a half has seen an explosion in the private space industry. We’ve seen multiple new companies started many of which have now flown successful missions to the International Space Station. This is partly due to the regulatory framework that the USA adopted to spur on the private space industry as previously it was impenetrable for all but a few giant multinationals. Today congress passed a bill that ensures this regulatory framework can continue as is for some time whilst also providing a few provisions that will see a few major space projects continue for a while longer. In short it means that the amazing progress we’ve seen from the private space industry is likely to continue for at least the next decade.

iss nasa congress

Up until 2004 building and flying your own spacecraft (within the USA) was effectively illegal. Provisions were then made to allow commercial space flights by adopting a “learning period”, essentially preventing the FAA from enforcing flight regulations on private space companies. Whilst this doesn’t make them exempt from any law, ostensibly this transfers the responsibility onto any participants in private space flights, it does give private space companies the room they need to develop their technologies. That period was set to end next year however the recently passed bill will extend that for another 7 years before the Department of Transportation takes over and begins to fully regulate the industry.

There’s also further provisions for ensuring that private space companies can compete and innovate without unnecessary burdens. The first provision is the extension of the indemnification of commercial launches, essentially a risk sharing framework that ensures US based private space companies can compete with overseas launches. There’s also a directive to several government agencies to develop the proper oversight framework for commercial space activities. This will mean a formalization of the many ad-hoc processes that are currently used and should hopefully mean a reduction in some of the headaches that private space companies currently face.

Probably the biggest bit of news out of this bill however was the provision for extending the USA’s involvement in the International Space Station to 2024, a 4 year extension over the current mission time frame. The last time the deadline was extended was 6 years ago and nearly everyone thought that would be the end of it since that matched the originally intended lifespan of the station. Without a replacement forthcoming (Tiangong doesn’t count) this gives us a little more breathing room to come up with a replacement or better plan for the future of our only manned space station.

One interesting provision, and one I’m sure Planetary Resources is excited about, is the establishment of legal rights to resources recovered from space by a private entity. Essentially this means that if you were to say, mine an asteroid and send its resources down to Earth, you now have the same legal rights over them as you would if you mined them here. There’s also a directive in there for the president to pursue off-world resource exploration and recovery which will likely mean increased focus in this space. It’s still something of a nascent industry so it’s good to see it getting recognition at this level.

Of course all of this comes without additional budgetary measures for NASA et. al. to meet these goals however it does lay a firm groundwork for more funding to be put aside. Hopefully when the next budget rolls around these additional objectives will be taken into consideration as otherwise it could just end up putting more strain on NASA’s current projects. For the private space industry however it means a long extension for the conditions they’ve enjoyed over the past decade, conditions which have seen amazing progress. Hopefully the next decade is just as good as the first.