Beyond Eyes Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Beyond Eyes: Learning to See Again.

There are few games that manage to grab me with just a concept. Put simply it’s because I’ve seen it all, the vast swath of games I’ve played over the years covering the far reaches of the gaming spectrum. To put it in perspective over the 4 years or so that I’ve been doing this I’ve played some 200 different games and it’s easy to see the patterns emerging when you play that many games. However there are still exceptions, games that bring new ideas or new ways of looking at old ideas. Such games are of instant intrigue to me and Beyond Eyes, whilst not being the greatest experience overall, certainly sold itself to me just on its concept alone.

Beyond Eyes Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

You are Rae, a young girl who wants nothing more than kids of her age do. However, one day, she’s unfortunately struck blind, her world now one of total darkness. As she comes to grips with her new reality she meets a new friend; Nani the neighbourhood cat. Rae and Nani become the best of friends, the ring of Nani’s bell the ever present reminder that her friend is there with her. One day though Nani stops coming to visit Rae and so she sets out into the world to find her lost companion.

 

Beyond Eyes is one of the few Unity games that manages to avoid the same aesthetic that many games built on the platform have. Beyond Eyes has a kind of watercolour style to it, almost as if it was ripped straight out of the children’s books of my formative years. The watercolour aesthetic is taken one step further by the reveal mechanic which feels like water creeping across paper. Probably the most interesting thing about the look of Beyond Eyes though is just how deceptive the mostly white environment is, making you feel like you’re in a much larger world than you actually are. This is most certainly intentional and is something I’ll dive into deeper shortly. Suffice to say I feel Beyond Eyes is one of the most unique looking Unity games I’ve seen in a long time.

Beyond Eyes Review Screenshot Wallpaper Nani

Beyond Eyes is essentially a walking simulator at heart as all you do is trundle through the various environments, making your way around blockages until you move onto the next section. You can’t see everything that’s around you however, only the things that you’ve been near or, in the case of later levels, only the things that are right next to you. This is a powerful way to evoke the same feelings that a blind person would have as you really have no idea of what’s in front of you or if the sounds you’re hearing are coming from what you think they are. It’s an incredibly well executed concept in my mind as it does a great job of putting you in the mindset of someone who’d recently lost their sight.

There are some puzzles to speak of but they’re mostly just a function of finding the right thing to unblock your next path. Most of these can be as simple as taking an alternate path whilst others will require you to find an item in order to progress. They’re really not hard by any stretch of the imagination with most of them putting the solution right in front of you if you explore far enough. In all honesty though there’s not a whole lot of point in exploring too much as the rewards for doing so are minimal and don’t progress the story much beyond the little snippets of text you get every so often. I think even the most hardened achievement hunters would struggle to find much reason to go after them, honestly.

Beyond Eyes Review Screenshot Wallpaper What A Beautiful Day

The various mechanics employed to emulate the world that the blind “see” is by far the strongest aspect of the game. The world being revealed to you, styled in a childlike fantasy, as you walk by everything is truly inspired. The replacement of objects, like a fountain turning into a drain pipe, gives you an idea of the struggles that people without sight go through. Even small things like barking dogs making Rae upset take on a new perspective when you realise that she would have no way of knowing if that dog was being aggressive or simply chasing a toy. It was this initial concept that sold me on Beyond Eyes and I’m glad to say it delivers aptly in that respect.

However whilst the mechanics are great the story is just too basic to take the whole experience to the next level. Games in this genre live and die by their story and the emotional engagement they can evoke with its players and, even though this might be based around a true story, is too short to have any meaningful impact. The ending was also just a poor attempt at tugging at the heart strings when, in reality, the character had absolutely no reason to come to the conclusion they did. The epilogue then feels like a ham fisted attempt at a bitter-sweet ending but, due to the lack of character development, just feels hollow. It’s a real shame honestly as I completely appreciate the goals they set out to achieve here, and in terms of replicating what it’d be like to be blind I feel they’ve achieved that, however the story they’ve used to demonstrate that experience is just not up to scratch.

Beyond Eyes Review Screenshot Wallpaper Youre Not Alone

Beyond Eyes set out with the ambitious goal of giving the sighted a portal into the world of the blind and, at a mechanical level, they have achieved that. The dreamy, watercolour aesthetic is a beautiful backdrop for the small pieces of the world that are revealed to you. How that world is revealed to you, through all the sights, sounds and smells of the world, is fantastically implemented, able to evoke what I feel are the feelings that the blind would have venturing out into the world. However the story simply fails to deliver, leaving this game to simply be a mechanical masterpiece rather than the emotional journey it strives to be. For any other genre this would still make it a game I’d recommend to a wide audience however, for Beyond Eyes, it’s really only a game for fans of the genre.

Rating: 7.0/10

Beyond Eyes is available on PC right now for $14.99. Total play time was 1.5 hours with 30% of the achievements unlocked.

3D Printed Model Jet Engine Demonstrates Reverse Thrust.

Have you ever wondered how planes manage to slow down so fast? It’s not that they have amazing brakes, although they do have some of the most impressive disc brakes you’ll ever see, no most of the work is done by the very thing that launches them into the sky: the engines. The way they achieve this is called thrust reversal and, as the name would imply, it redirects the thrust that the engine is generating in the opposite direction, slowing the craft down rather than accelerating it. The way modern aircraft achieve this is wide and varied but one of the most common ways is demonstrated perfectly with this amazing 3D printed scale model:

The engine that the model is based off of is a General Electric GEnx-1B, an engine that’s found in the revamped Boeing 747-8 as well as Boeing’s new flagship plane the 787. Whilst this model lacks the complicated turbofan internals that its bigger brothers have (replaced by a much simpler electric motor) the rest of it is to specification, including the noise reducing chevrons at the rear and, most importantly, the thrust reversal mechanism. What’s most impressive to me is that the whole thing was printed on your run of the mill extruder based 3D printer. If you’re interested in more details about the engine itself there’s an incredible amount of detail over in the forum where the creator first posted it.

As you can see from the video when the nacelle (the jet engine’s cover) slides back a series of fins pop up, blocking the fan’s output from exiting out of the rear of the engine. At the same time a void opens up allowing the thrust to exit out towards the front of the engine. This essentially changes the engine from pulling the craft through the air to pushing back against it, reducing the aircraft’s speed. For all modern aircraft, even ones that use a turboprop rather than a fan, this is how they reduce their speed once they’ve touched down.

Many of us have likely seen jet engines doing exactly that but the view that this model gives us of the engine’s internals is just spectacular. It’s one of those things that you don’t often think about when you’re flying but without systems like these there’s no way we’d be flying craft as big as the ones we have today.

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Information Might Not be Lost to Black Holes, Hawking Posits.

Black holes are a never ending source of scientific intrigue. They form when a star of appropriate mass, approximately 5 to 10 times the mass of our own star, reaches the end of its life and begins to fuse heavier and heavier elements. At this stage the outward pressure exerted by those fusion reactions cannot overcome the gravity from its mass and it slowly begins to collapse inwards. Eventually, in a calamitous event known as a supernova, it shrinks down to a point mass of infinite density and nothing, not even light, can escape its gravitational bounds. Properties like that mean black holes do very strange things, most of which aren’t explained adequately by current models of our universe. One such thing is called the Information Paradox which has perplexed scientists for as long as the idea as black holes has been around.

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The paradox stems from the interaction between general relativity (Einstein’s description of gravity as a property of spacetime) and quantum mechanics (the processes that affect atoms, photons and other particles). Their interaction suggests that physical information about anything that crosses the black hole’s event horizon could be destroyed. The problem with this is that it violates the generally held idea that if we have information about a system in one point in time we should be able to determine its state at any point in time. Put simply it means that, when you’re looking at a black hole, if something falls into it you have no way of determining when that happened because the information is destroyed.

However renown physicist Stephen Hawking, whose work on black holes is so notable that one feature of them (Hawking Radiation) is named after him, has theorized that the information might not be lost at all. Instead of the information being lost or stored within the black hole itself Hawking states that the information is stored as a super-translation (or a hologram, a 2D representation of 3D data) in the event horizon. Whilst for all practical purposes this means that the information is lost, I.E. you likely wouldn’t be able to reconstruct the system state prior to the particles crossing the event horizon, it would solve the paradox.

The idea might not be as radical as you first think as other researchers in the area, like Gerard t’Hooft (who was present at the conference where Hawking presented this idea), have been exploring similar ideas in the same vein. There’s definitely a lot of research to be done in this area, mostly to see whether or not the idea can be supported by current models or whether it warrants fundamental changes. If the idea holds up to further scrutiny then it’ll solve one of the most perplexing properties of black holes but there are still many more that await.

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Trine 3: Artefacts of Power: A Whole New Dimension.

The Trine series has captured many people’s attention over the years, mostly thanks to the incredibly inventive physics based game play. It’s been a long time between drinks for the series what with the previous installment, Trine 2, being released almost 4 years ago. This can be partly attributed to Frozenbyte focusing some of its efforts on their iOS platform Splot, however most of the long development time has been spent on Trine 3 itself. Indeed when you hear that Trine 3 incorporates 3D into the mix, after the last 2 being 2D platformers, you can get a feel for why it stayed in development for so long. However Frozenbyte’s ambition may have been its undoing as it’s clear that Trine 3 fell short of its ultimate goal.

Trine 3 Artifacts of Power Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Once again our heroes: Amadeus, Pontius and Zoya, are trying to live their lives as they were before the Trine started interfering with them. Amadeus was finally spending time with his family, taking them to see the giant turtle migration. Pontius continued to be a hero of the people, ensuring that no thief or neerdowell went unpunished. Zoya continued her quest for treasure, tracking down a giant emerald. However, just like always, the Trine showed up at the most inopportune time to whisk them away on an adventure. Little did they know that this one would take them to the heart of the Trine itself and the darkness which lied within.

Trine 3 makes use of Frozenbyte’s own custom engine and, whilst I’d warn most indie developers about doing that, what they’ve managed to create is, put simply, absolutely stunning. Trine 2 managed to have some great vistas however, due to the 2D nature, they were always somewhere off in the background. With the inclusion of 3D in Trine 3, and the addition of the vastly improved artwork, Trine 3 is yet again another step up from its predecessor. The art style and direction is retained, with vibrant colours and effects everywhere, along with the great soundtrack and voice acting. Indeed Trine 3 feels like a AAA title in almost all respects as there are few indies who can produce such quality work.

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The core of Trine remains largely the same with the platforming, puzzle solving and emergent, physics based game play all making an appearance. The abilities of the three heroes are largely the same as well although the game has been radically simplified when compared to its predecessors. Amadeus can summon just one box, Pontious’ abilities have been reduced to a charge and slam and Zoya’s arrows are merely garden variety now, although she can now attach things together through the use of her grappling hook. The talent system is completely gone and progression now comes in the form of collecting shiny triangles which you’ll use to unlock further story and side missions. All in all Trine 3 feels like a far more streamlined game, one that would be far more welcoming to newcomers to the series.

The introduction of 3D changes the core platforming and puzzle mechanics significantly as now you have a whole extra dimension to contend to when attempting to solve the puzzles. It’s not true full 3D in all aspects however as it seems, for simplicity’s sake, that there are some constraints on your movement. If you jump off a wall in one direction you’ll essentially be locked to moving in that direction. For things parts of the environment that spin or move this can lead to some unpredictable behaviour as mistiming your jump means you move in a completely different direction to the one you intended. The same rules seem to apply to using the grappling hook as well, locking you into one direction to swing across (I.E. you can’t say, swing around in a loop). I’m sure I’m not explaining this well enough but once you play Trine 3 you’ll see what I’m getting at.

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Combat feels largely the same, being one of the few times that you’ll use Pontius for something. You’ll be able to complete most combat sections by just mashing buttons and jumping around randomly however some of the later fights do require a bit more finesse. The only really challenging combat encounters are the boss fights (of which there are 2 from memory) and the various side quests which lock you into a single character requiring you to figure out how to best use them in combat. For long time fans of the series this will feel largely in step with previous games in the series as combat was always something of an also-ran, a curious distraction to break up the platforming and puzzle solving.

The emergent gameplay is as rampant as ever with most puzzles having numerous unintended solutions. Most of these are born out of their basis on physics, allowing you to exploit various things in order to make the puzzle think it’s solved. One of the most egregious things you can exploit is, yet again, the wizard’s ability to move boxes and other objects around. Whilst you can’t box surf like you once could you can, say, jump off a box and then lift it up with blazing speed, launching you far above whatever obstacle was in front of you. It’s certainly not as crazy as previous Trine games were but you can still pull off some rather crazy feats if you put your mind to it.

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Emergent gameplay does have a dark side however, coming in the form of glitches and unintended behaviour. You’ll more than likely come across your fair share of glitchy enemies, puzzles that don’t work for whatever reason or deaths that don’t feel like they’re entirely your fault. There’s nothing in there that I’d consider game breaking, indeed most of the time you can work your way around whatever glitch you’re stuck on, however it does mean that some of the puzzles are far more frustrating than they need to be. Some of the glitches are hilarious too, like when enemies clip through the floor and then rocket back out. I guess when you think in terms of the overall Trine series Trine 3 is the least glitchy of the lot, which is saying something.

The story is where Trine 3 falls down, not for the content mostly, that at the very least retains it’s mostly passable qualities, the real issue comes with its length. You see Trine 3 was Frozenbyte’s most ambitious game getting triple the budget of its predecessor. Whilst this is most certainly reflected in the quality of the game it still wasn’t enough for them to finish the game in the way they wanted to. Thus the game ends at what feels like the first third of the story, leaving you on a cliffhanger that feels like it should’ve been somewhere in the middle of the game rather than at the end of it. This is what has led to much frustration from the wider gamer community, something which Frozenbyte has acknowledged and provided some insight on. In my mind the quality of the game they’ve created isn’t in question however it’s obvious that Trine 3 has fallen far short of their vision.

Trine 3 Artifacts of Power Review Screenshot Wallpaper The Adventure is Just Beginning

Trine 3 is an absolutely stunning game, one that keeps true to the Trine roots but unfortunately fell prey to the sin of ambition. The artwork, soundtrack and cinematography are still top notch, showcasing production values that I’ve come to expect from the series. The core mechanics and gameplay are still there, just streamlined a bit in order to reduce friction. However the game is clearly only a third of the creator’s original vision, with numerous levels and story left undeveloped, never to be explored by us gamers. It’s really quite unfortunate as parts of Trine 3 we’ve got are just incredible but that quality has obviously come at a cost. Hopefully this isn’t the death of the series as it would be a real shame to see it go just as Frozenbyte was reaching its peak.

Rating: 7.5/10

Trine 3 is available on PC right now for $21.99. Total playtime was 4 hours with 64% of the achievements unlocked.

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Latest LHC Results Suggest Non-Standard Model Physics Afoot.

If you cast your mind back to your high school science days you’ll likely remember being taught certain things about atoms and what they’re made up of. The theories you were taught, things like the strong/weak forces and electromagnetism, form part of what’s called the Standard Model of particle physics. This model was born out of an international collaboration of many scientists who were looking to unify the world of subatomic physics and, for the most part, has proved extremely useful in guiding research. However it has its limitations and the Large Hadron Collider was built in order to test them. Whilst the current results have largely supported the Standard Model there is a growing cache of evidence that runs contrary to it, and the latest findings are quite interesting.

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The data comes out of the LHCb detector from the previous run that was conducted from 2011 to 2012. The process that they were looking into is called B meson decay, notable for the fact that it creates a whole host of lighter particles including 2 leptons (called the tau lepton and the muon). These particles are of interest to researchers as the Standard Model makes a prediction about them called Lepton Universality. Essentially this theory states that, once you’ve corrected for mass, all leptons are treated equally by all the fundamental forces. This means that they should all decay at the same rate however the team investigating this principle found a small but significant difference in the rate in which these leptons decayed. Put simply should this phenomena be confirmed with further data it would point towards non-Standard Model particle physics.

The reason why scientists aren’t decrying the Standard Model’s death just yet is due to the confidence level at which this discovery has been made. Right now the data can only point to a 2σ (95%) confidence that their data isn’t a statistical aberration. Whilst that sounds like a pretty sure bet the standard required for a discovery is the much more difficult 5σ level (the level at which CERN attained before announcing the Higgs-Boson discovery). The current higher luminosity run that the LHC is conducting should hopefully provide the level of data required although I did read that it still might not be sufficient.

The results have gotten increased attention because they’re actually not the first experiment to bring the lepton universality principle into question. Indeed previous research out of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center’s (SLAC) BaBar experiment produced similar results when investigating lepton decay. What’s quite interesting about that experiment though is that it found the same discrepancy through electron collisions whilst the LHC uses higher energy protons. The difference in method with similar results means that this discrepancy is likely universal, requiring either a new model or a reworking of the current one.

Whilst it’s still far too early to start ringing the death bell for the Standard Model there’s a growing mountain of evidence that suggests it’s not the universal theory of everything it was once hoped to be. That might sound like a bad thing however it’s anything but as it would open up numerous new avenues for scientific research. Indeed this is what science is built on, forming hypothesis and then testing them in the real world so we can better understand the mechanics of the universe we live in. The day when everything matches our models will be a boring day indeed as it will mean there’s nothing left to research.

Although I honestly cannot fathom that every occurring.

Everybodys Gone to the Rapture Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture: The Light Fantastic,

In the 3 or so years since I reviewed Dear Esther, a game which in my opinion was an incoherent mess, I’ve come to appreciate the walking simulator genre. They’re definitely not for everyone, what with the achingly slow pace and reliance a strong story to really make them, however they can shine beautifully when done right. If I’m honest though had I known that Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture was done by The Chinese Room (the guys behind Dear Esther) I probably wouldn’t have played it. Thankfully though I didn’t find that fact out until I was a fair way in as Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture deserves to be judged on its own merits and not its heritage.

Everybodys Gone to the Rapture Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

It’s a beautiful day in the quiet small town of Yaughton in Britain. It’s one of those places where you feel like you could hear a pin drop a mile away, the only sounds being the rustling of the leaves with the occasional bird chirp or quiet rumbling of a car off in the distance. That stillness belies something far more sinister however as you quickly discover that this town is bereft of people and the only thing that remains is an eerie ball of light that dances through the streets. As you walk through the town it begins to reveal its story to you and that of the people of Yaughton.

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture utilizes the Crytek 3 engine and definitely makes good use of the capabilities that it provides. Whilst it’s not the pinnacle of graphical mastery that the engine’s flagship game was it’s still a decidedly pretty game. Indeed the sweeping views of an idyllic English countryside backdropped by columns of light are some of most enjoyable and serene set pieces I’ve seen in a long time. However what really sets Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture apart from all others in its genre is the absolutely stunning soundtrack, one that wouldn’t be out of place as a movie score. It definitely pleased me to find out that Jessica Curry, the composer, has received a BAFTA for her efforts as her current work shows just how capable she is.

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As the genre would suggest Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is essentially a sightseeing tour, one that will walk you through the town of Yaughton and gradually reveal the story to you. Unlike most walking sims though there’s a guide to show you the way, a small ball of light that will dance and flit around from point to point, urging you to follow it. Then, when you reach certain trigger points, you’ll see events of the past rendered in a shower of light, the voices clear but the people seeming like ghosts playing out their past lives. The only real game mechanic to speak of is tilting your controller one way or the other to sync up with the light but beyond that it’s a lot of holding the left stick forward.

Walking sims generally encourage you to explore the environment, usually with the promise of revealing more of the story to you or opening up a shortcut. The addition of a guide, in this case the ball of light that races around from place to place, would seem to be contrary to that but it’s something that I actually came to enjoy later on. You see, whilst it’s easy enough to figure out what general direction you should be heading in, there’s a lot of places you can get yourself into which don’t lead anywhere. Following the ball, and straying from the path where it seems obvious to do so, seems to be the best way to play Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.

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One mistake that was unfortunately repeated by The Chinese Room was providing avenues of exploration, ones that seemed wholly intentional, that lead to absolutely nothing. The best example of this was the church early on in the game which, when you first go to it, you can’t access the second half of. However if you look around it’s clear there’s another path available to you but you’ll have to go all the way around to get to it. Naturally I did that only to be greeted by sweet fuck all when I arrived there. In any other game this would be a minor annoyance but in a walking simulator it was a 15 minute ordeal, even with the sprint button pegged down. This was the same issue I found so much frustration with in Dear Esther and it pains me to see them making the same mistake.

Thankfully the one mistake they didn’t repeat was delivering the story to you in randomized, disjointed sections. Whilst the story is still far from linear, delivered in vignettes as you stumble across key locations, it at least has a sense of flow and timing to it. Each section follows a particular individual’s story over the course of the events that preceded your arrival, revealing more and more details about their particular part they played. There’s also optional bits of dialogue that you can trigger by picking up phones or turning on radios which are key to understanding the central character’s motivations.

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For me the way the story was delivered was the key difference between Dear Esther and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. In Dear Esther I struggled to have any empathy for any of the characters as it was hard to tell where I was in the story and how that section fit into it. With Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture on the other hand whilst the vignettes might be told in any order they’re at least internally consistent and often reference a point in time in the larger story. This means that there’s a flow to the larger story that its predecessor lacked, giving you a much better sense for how the events that led up to your arrival unfolded.

The story itself does meander a bit but it’s interleaved with enough background and character development that you feel drawn into their lives and the minutia of this small town. It grips you early on, especially with one scene (pictured in the second screenshot) where a desperate mother struggles to understand what’s going while being comforted by the local priest. The slightly disjointed nature means you know the ending long before it happens however the final few reveals were still an emotional journey. It may not have left me an emotional wreck like other similar games have done but it was definitely one of the more memorable stories in recent memory.

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Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture aptly demonstrates the talent that The Chinese Room team has. Everything about this game, from the graphics to the story to the soundtrack, are well above par in all regards. They may make the same mistake of opening up paths of exploration without reward however there’s many more issues that plagued Dear Esther that are simply not present in their latest title. Indeed Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is one of the few games in this genre that I feel would have appeal beyond that of genre fans as it truly is a great experience.

Rating: 9/10

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is available on PlayStation4 right now for $29.99. Total play time was approximately 5 hours.

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Age Related Cognitive Motor Decline Starts at 24, But It’s Not All Bad News.

Professional eSports teams are almost entirely made up of young individuals. It’s an interesting phenomenon to observe as it’s quite contrary to many other sports. Still the age drop off for eSports players is far earlier and more drastic with long term players like Evil Genius’ Fear, who’s the ripe old age of 27, often referred to as The Old Man. The commonly held belief is that, past your mid twenties, your reaction times and motor skills are in decline and you’ll be unable to compete with the new upstarts and their razor sharp reflexes. New research in this area may just prove this to be true, although it’s not all over for us oldies who want to compete with our younger compatriots.

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The research comes out of the University of California and was based on data gathered from replays from StarCraft 2. The researchers gathered participants aged from 16 to 44 and asked them to submit replays to their website called SkillCraft. These replays then went through some standardization and analysis using the wildly popular replay tool SC2Gears. With this data in hand researchers were then able to test some hypotheses about how age affects cognitive motor functions and whether or not domain experience, I.E. how long someone had been playing a game for, influenced their skill level. Specifically they looked to answer 3 questions:

  1. Is there age-related slowing of Looking-Doing Latency?
  2. Can expertise directly ameliorate this decline?
  3. When does this decline begin?

In terms of the first question they found that unequivocally that, as we age, our motor skills start to decline. Previous studies in cognitive motor decline were focused on more elder populations with the data then used to extrapolate back to estimate when cognitive decline set in. Their data points to onset happening much earlier than previous research suggests with their estimate pointing to 24 being the time when cognitive motor functions being to take a hit. What’s really interesting though is the the second question: can us oldies overcome the motor skill gap with experience?

Whilst the study didn’t find any evidence to directly support the idea that experience can trump age related cognitive decline it did find that older players were able to hold their own against younger players of similar experience. Whilst the compensation mechanisms weren’t directly researched they did find evidence of older players using cognitive offloading tricks in order to keep their edge. Put simply older players would do things that didn’t require a high cognitive load, like using less complex units or strategies, in order to compete with younger players. This might not support other studies which have shown that age related decline can be combatted with experience but it does provide an interesting avenue for additional research.

As someone who’s well past the point where age related decline has supposedly set in my experience definitely lines up with the research. Whilst younger players might have an edge on me in terms of reaction speed my decades worth of gaming experience are more than enough to make up the gap. Indeed I’ve also found that having a breadth of gaming experience, across multiple platforms and genres, often gives me insights that nascent gamers are lacking. Of course though the difference between me and the professionals is a gap that I’ll likely never close but that doesn’t matter when I’m stomping young’uns in pub games.

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Windows 10: Much The Same, and That’s Just Fine.

New Windows releases bring with them a bevy of new features, use cases and controversy. Indeed I can think back to every new Windows release dating back to Windows 95 and there was always something that set off a furor, whether it was UI changes or compatibility issues. For us technical folk though a new version of Windows brings with it opportunity, to experiment with the latest tech and dream about where we’ll take it. For the last month I’ve been using Windows 10 on my home machines and, honestly, whilst it feels much like its Windows 8.1 predecessor I don’t think that’s entirely a bad thing.

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Visually Windows 10 is a big departure from its 8 and 8.1 predecessors as, for any non-tablet device, the full screen metro app tray is gone, replaced with a more familiar start menu. The full screen option is still there however, hiding in the notifications area under the guise of Tablet Mode, and for transformer or tablet style devices this will be the default option. The flat aesthetic has been taken even further again with all the iconography being reworked, ironing out almost any 3D element. You’re also not allowed to change the login screen’s laser window background without the aid of a resource hacker, likely due to the extreme amount of effort that went into creating the image.

For most, especially those who didn’t jump in the Windows 8 bandwagon, the navigation of the start menu will familiar although I must admit after the years I’ve spent with its predecessor it’s taken some getting used to. Whilst the charms menu might have disappeared the essence of it appears throughout Windows 10, mostly in the form of settings panels like Network Settings. For the most part they do make the routine tasks easier, like selecting a wifi network, however once things get complicated (like if you have say 2 wireless adapters) then you’re going to have to root around a little bit to find what you’re looking for. It is a slightly better system than what Windows 8 had, however.

To give myself the full Windows 10 experience I installed it on 2 different machines in 2 different ways. The first was a clean install on the laptop you see above (my trusty ASUS Zenbook UX32V) and that went along without a hitch. For those familiar with the Windows 8 style installer there’s not much to write home about here as it’s near identical to the previous installers. The second install was an upgrade on my main machine as, funnily enough, I had it on good word that the upgrade process was actually quite useable. As it turns out it is as pretty much everything came across without a hitch. The only hiccup came from my audio drivers not working correctly (seemed to default to digital out and wouldn’t let me change it) however a reinstall of the latest drivers fixed everything.

In terms of features there’s really not much in the way of things I’d consider “must haves” however that’s likely because I’ve been using many of those features since Windows 8 was first released. There are some interesting little additions however like the games features that allow you to stream, record and capture screenshots for all DirectX games (something which Windows will remind you about when you start them up). Microsoft Edge is also astonishingly fast and quite useable however since it’s so new the lack of extensions for it have precluded me from using it extensively. Interestingly Internet Explorer still makes an appearance in Windows 10, obviously for those corporate applications that continue to require it.

Under the hood there’s a bevy of changes (which I won’t bore you with here) however the most interesting thing about them is the way Windows 10 is structured for improvements going forward. You see Windows 10 is currently slated to be the last major release of Windows ever but this doesn’t mean that it will remain stagnant. Instead new features will be released incrementally on a much more frequent basis. Indeed the roadmaps I’ve seen show that there are several major releases planned in the not too distant future and indeed if you want a peek at the them all you need to do is sign up for the Windows Insider program. Such a strategy could reap a lot of benefits, especially for organisations seeking to avoid the heartache of Windows version upgrades in the future.

All in all Windows 10 is pretty much what I expected it to be. It has the best parts of Windows 7 and 8 and mashed together into a cohesive whole that should appease the majority of Windows users. Sure there are some things that some won’t like, the privacy settings being chief among them, however they’re at least solvable issues rather than showstoppers like Vista’s compatibility or 8’s metro interface. Whether Microsoft’s strategy of no more major versions ever is tenable or not is something we’ll have to see over the coming years but at the very least they’ve got a strong base with which to build from.

Buran-Baikonur

Buran: The Russian Shuttle That Almost Was.

Space history of the past few decades is dominated by the Space Shuttle. Envisioned as a revolution in access to space it was designed to be launched numerous times per year, dramatically reducing the costs of access to space. The reality was unfortunately not in line with the vision as the numerous design concessions made, coupled with the incredibly long average turnaround time for missions, meant that the costs far exceeded that of many other alternative systems. Still it was an iconic craft, one that several generations will point to as the one thing they remember about our trips beyond our atmosphere. What few people realise though is that there was potential for the shuttle to have a Russian sister and her name was Buran.

Buran-Baikonur

The Buran project started in 1974, only 5 or so years after the Space Shuttle program was kicked off by NASA. The goals of both projects were quite similar in nature, both aiming to develop a reusable craft that could deliver satellites, cosmonauts and other cargo into orbit. Indeed when you look at the resulting craft, one of which is shown above in its abandoned complex at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the similarities are striking. It gets even more interesting when you compare their resulting specifications as they’re almost identical with only a meter or two difference between them. Of course under the hood there’s a lot of differences, especially when it comes to the primary purpose of the Buran launch system,

The propulsion system of the Buran differed significantly from the Shuttle with the boosters being a liquid oxygen/hydrogen mix rather than a solid rocket fuel. There are advantages to this, chief among them being able to shut down the engines once you start them (something solid rocket boosters can’t do) however at the same time these were not designed to be reusable, unlike their Shuttle compatriots. This would mean that the only reusable part of the Buran launch system was the orbiter itself which would increase the per-launch cost. Additionally the Buran included a fully autonomous flight control system from the get go, something the Shuttle only received during an upgrade later in its life.

That last part is somewhat telling of Buran’s true purpose as, whilst it could service non-military goals, it was primarily developed to assist Russia’s (then the Soviet Union) military interests. Indeed the winged profile of the craft enables many mission profiles that are simply of no interest to non-military agencies and having it fully autonomous from the get go shows it was meant more conflict than research. Indeed when commenting on the programme’s cancellation a Russian cosmonaut commented that the Buran didn’t have any civilian tasks planned for it and, with a lack of requirements to fuel a military programme, it was cancelled.

That was not before it saw numerous test flights, including a successful orbital test flight. The achievements that the Buran made during its single flight are not to be underestimated as it was the first craft to perform such a flight fully unmanned and to make a fully automated landing. That latter feat is even more impressive when you consider that there was a very strong crosswind, some 60 kilometers per hour, and it managed to land mere meters off its originally intended mark. Indeed had Russia continued development of the Buran shuttle there’s every chance that it would have been a much more advanced version of its American sister for a very long time.

Today however the Buran shuttles and their various test components lie scattered around the globe in varying states of disrepair and decay. Every so often rumours about a resurrection of the program surface, however it’s been so long since the program was in operation that such a program would only share the name and little more. Russia’s space program has continued on to great success however, their Soyuz craft becoming the backbone of many of humanity’s endeavours in space. Whilst the Buran may never have become the icon for space that its sister Shuttle did it remains the highly advanced concept that could have been, a testament to the ingenuity and capability of the Russian space program.

superconductor2

Record Warmest Temp for Superconductor Achieved.

Superconductors are the ideal electrical conductors, having the desirable attribute of no electrical resistance allowing 100% efficiency for power transmitted along them. Current applications of superconductors are limited to areas where their operational complexity (most of which comes from the cooling required to keep them in a superconducting state) is outweighed by the benefits they provide. Such complexity is what has driven the search for a superconductor that can operate at normal temperatures as they would bring about a whole new swath of applications that are currently not feasible. Whilst we’re still a long way from that goal a new temperature record has been set for superconductivity: a positively balmy -70°C.

superconductor2The record comes out of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington DC and was accomplished using hydrogen sulfide gas. Compared to other superconductors, which typically take the form of some exotic combination metals, using a gas sounds odd however what they did to the gas made it anything but your run of the mill rotten egg gas. You see to make the hydrogen sulfide superconducting they first subject the gas to extreme pressures, over 1.5 million times that of normal atmospheric pressures. This transforms the gas into its metallic form which they then proceeded to cool down to its supercritical temperature.

Such a novel discovery has spurred on other researchers to investigate the phenomena and the preliminary results that are coming out are promising. Most of the other labs which have sought to recreate the effect have confirmed at least one part of superconductivity, the fact that the highly pressurized hydrogen sulfide gas has no electrical resistance. Currently unconfirmed from other labs however is the other effect: the expulsion of all magnetic fields (called the Meissner effect). That’s likely due to this discovery still being relatively new so I’m sure confirmation of that effect is not far off.

Whilst this is most certainly a great discovery, one that has already spurred on new wave of research into high temperature superconductors, the practical implications of it are still a little unclear. Whilst the temperature is far more manageable than its traditional counterparts the fact that it requires extreme pressures may preclude it from being used. Indeed large pressurized systems present many risks that often require just as complex solutions to manage them as cryogenic systems do. In the end more research is required to ascertain the operating parameters of these superconductors and, should their benefits outweigh their complexity, then they will make their way into everyday use.

Despite that though it’s great to see progress being made in this area, especially one that has the potential to realise the long thought impossible dream of a room temperature semiconductor. The benefits of a such a technology are so wide reaching that it’s great to see so much focus on it which gives us hope that achieving that goal is just a matter of time. It might not be tomorrow, or the next decade, but the longest journeys begun with a single step, and what a step this is.