NASA Commerical Crew Transportation Program

NASA’s Choice of Chariot: SpaceX and Boeing.

As of right now there’s only one way to get humans into space: on board a Russian Soyuz craft. It’s an incredibly reliable spacecraft, and probably one of the longest serving spacecraft ever, however it’s ability to only send up 3 astronauts at a time does limit it’s capabilities. Couple that with the fact that the going rate for a seat on one of them is about $70 million you can imagine why there’s an imperative on NASA to find another way to get themselves up there. Whilst there’s been a lot of internal work to develop the next generation of crew transportation NASA has realised that the private space industry will very soon have that capability. To that effect they created the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCTCap) award, a $6.8 billion dollar contract to provide crew transportation services.

Today they announced the winners: SpaceX and Boeing.

NASA Commerical Crew Transportation Program

The contract split gives $2.6 billion to SpaceX and $4.2 billion to Boeing. Considering NASA’s long relationship with Boeing it’s not surprising that they got a larger chunk of the pie (and the fact that they’ve already sunk about half a billion into the program already) however I’m sure SpaceX won’t be unhappy with that much business coming their way. Both companies are already well underway with their respective crew transports, Boeing with the CST-100 and SpaceX with the Dragon, which is likely why they were chosen in the first place. This program won’t replace the work that’s currently being done by NASA with the Orion capsule (under contract with Lockheed Martin) and will instead function as a supplement to that capability.

Being awarded work under CCTCap isn’t all roses however as NASA is looking to have at least one of the capsules up and running by 2017. That largely lines up with the timelines that SpaceX has for their Dragon capsule, with the first flights scheduled for late next year with crewed missions to follow shortly after. As to how that fits with the current CST-100 schedule is less clear as whilst there’s been some mockup tests done a couple years ago I haven’t seen much progress on it since. Boeing isn’t the same kind of company that SpaceX is though so there’s every possibility that the CST-100 is just as far along its development pipeline as the Dragon is. Still the CCTCap only calls for one of them to be ready by that time and if I was a betting man my money would be on SpaceX.

Both company’s solutions are of the reusable capsule variety which might seem a step backwards but it’s actually the smarter way to do space travel, especially if cost is a primary factor. The Space Shuttle, whilst iconic in its shape and unmatched in its capabilities, was a compromise between far too many objectives that were at odds with each other. If you’re goal is just getting people up and down then capsules are the way to go. It will be interesting to see if the economies of scale kick in with these craft as the Dragon is designed to be launched many times per year and the CST-100 can be reused up to 10 times before it needs a full teardown.

Needless to say this is an incredibly exciting announcement. I’ve long been of the mind that NASA should leave things like this to the private companies who can deliver the same service at a much better price without compromising on saftey. That then leaves them free to do the big picture stuff that will inspire the next generation, the kinds of things that we all remember the NASA name for. The CCTCap is the first step towards them rekindling that spirit and, as an avid space geek, that makes me so wonderfully happy.

PlayStation 4 See The Future

It’s Been Almost a Year, But My PS4 is Finally Getting Used.

Ever since I bought my PlayStation4 a year ago it’s sat there next to my TV, begging me to play it. The problem is that pretty much every game that I would play on it has also been available on PC and since that’s my platform of choice the PS4 unfortunately falls by the wayside. It also doesn’t help that the one launch title that I wanted to play, The Witness, has since been delayed to “when it’s done” status which means we’re not likely to see it for some time to come. However one of my mates convinced me to go and play Destiny with him and since it won’t be available on PC for sometime I figured this would be a good chance to give the PS4 a burl.

PlayStation 4 See The FutureFor starters it seems that the PS4 exhibits some rather strange behaviours when it’s not connected to the PSN, usually when it requires an update. I was trying to put the disc in to get everything going but, for some reason, it just wouldn’t grab it. I’m not sure if this is because Sony don’t want you installing games offline or something like that, but it was rather frustrating to see what I had assumed would be default functionality turned off when it couldn’t contact home. A quick Google shows that this particular issue has plagued others as well, although what leads to it happening seems to be somewhat random.

Another gripe I have is the game installation and update process. Whilst the initial installation seems to be relatively painless (it just does it in the background) the update process is rather cumbersome. You’ll automatically get any updates for the game added to your download queue however you don’t apply them from within the game. Instead you have to wait for the download to finish, find the download (a chore in of itself) and then tell it to apply. You can’t simply sit in the game, watch the download and then apply the update from there like you could with the PS3. Honestly it feels like a huge step backward in terms of usability and I’m not hopeful that it will ever get changed if it’s still like this almost a year down the track.

The gaming experience is pretty good, however. It didn’t take long for me to get into a party with my mate and to get voice chat going although the quality of the included mono headset is probably about as mediocre as you can get. I was somewhat sceptical about the new controller design, it looked a little goofy, however it does feel very comfortable in the hands. The stick buttons were a little hard to push down (a little annoying as that’s sprint in Destiny) but that might just be them needing a little breaking in before they become usable. I didn’t get a chance to check out the inbuilt sharing features unfortunately as that’s something I definitely want to see in action.

I’ll probably touch more on the PS4 experience in the greater Destiny review (coming in the next couple weeks) however my first impressions are good, if marred by some issues that really should have been sorted out by this point in time. Whilst I lament the fact that it’s sat there for the better part of a year unused I’m at least somewhat happy that it has managed to provide a good gaming experience once I did find a title for it. I’ll develop a more fully formed opinion of it whilst I bash my way through Destiny and will hopefully be finally able to tell you if it’s worth buying or not.

Better late than never, right?

 

Tailoring Stuff

When Will Buying Clothing Online be as Good as Offline?

I’m not exactly what you’d call a fashionista, the ebbs and flows of what’s current often pass me by, but I do have my own style which I usually refresh on a yearly basis. More recently this has tended towards my work attire, mostly because I spend a great deal more time in it than I did previously. However the act of shopping for clothes is one I like to avoid as I find it tiresome, especially when trying to find the right sizes to fit my not-so-normal dimensions. Thus I’ve recently turned towards custom services and tailoring in order to get what I want in the sizes that fit me but, if I’m honest, the online world still seems to be light years behind that which I can get from the more traditional fashion outlets.

Tailoring Stuff

For instance one of the most frustrating pieces of clothing for me to buy is business shirts. Usually they fall short in one of my three key categories (length, sleeve length and fit in the mid section) so I figured that getting some custom made would be a great way to go. So I decided that I’d last out for a couple shirts from 2 online retailers, Original Stitch and Shirts My Way, to see if I could get something that would tick all 3 categories. I was also going to do a review of them against each other to see which one of the retailers provided the better fit and would thus become my defacto supplier of shirts for the foreseeable future. However upon receiving both shirts I was greeted with the unfortunate reality: they both sucked.

They seemed to get some of the things right, like the neck size and overall shirt length, however they both seemed to be made to fit someone who weighed about 40kg more than I do with the mid section being like a tent. Both of them also had ridiculously billowy sleeves, making my arms appear to be twice as wide as they should be. I kind of expected something like this to happen with Original Stitch, since their measurements aren’t exactly comprehensive, but Shirts My Way also suffered from the same issues even though I followed their guidelines exactly. Comparing this to the things I’ve had fitted or tailored in the past I was extremely disappointed as I was expecting as good or better service.

The problem could be partially solved by technology as 3D scanning could provide extremely accurate sizing that online stores could then incorporate in order to ensure you got the right fit the first time around. In fact I’d argue that there should be some kind of open standard for this, allowing all the various companies to develop their brand of solutions for it that would be interoperable between different clothing companies. That is something of a pipe dream, I know, but I can’t be the only person who has had this kind of frustration trying to get the right fits from online retailers.

I guess for now I should just stick with the tried and true methods for getting the clothing that I want as the online experience, whilst infinitely more convenient, ultimately delivers a lacklustre product. I’m hopeful that change is coming although it’s going to take time for it to become widespread and I’m sure that there won’t be any standards across the industry for a long time after that. Maybe one day I’ll be able to order the right fits from the comfort of my own home but, unfortunately, that day is not today.

The Sims 4 Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

The Sims 4: Narcissim Simulator 2014

The Sims have always been something of an anomaly. The game play really is unlike anything else on the market, putting you in charge of a virtual household and the residents that dwell within. Whilst many players quickly devolve into seeing how much pain and suffering they can inflict on their poor subjects just as many attempt to provide the best life possible for them. Most interestingly it’s one of the very few games where the player base is predominantly female, representing a staggering 60% of the total. This is not to say it’s squarely aimed at that demographic, far from it, as it appears to have widespread appeal across all the world. The latest release, predictably dubbed The Sims 4, comes 5 years after the release of its predecessor and brings with it a vast number of improvements to the tried and true franchise.

The Sims 4 Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

As with all previous The Sims titles you’re the mysterious god that floats about the world that the Sims dwell within, guiding their actions when their less-than-stellar AI behaviour falls short. Depending on how you crafted your Sim they’ll have different wants, needs and career paths in life and it’ll be your job to ensure that they can meet all of them. Along the way you’ll interact with dozens of other Sims, forming relationships, breaking others and engaging in other humanesque behaviours. What kind of Sim will you create? The rich and handsome playboy that could have everything he wants? Or the struggling single parent who wants nothing more than to see their child succeed? All of this, and so much more, is possible within the world of the Sims.

The Sims has never been a graphical masterpiece, preferring simplicity so that the game would run well on almost any PC that you could throw at it. The Sims 4 continues this tradition as the graphics, whilst vastly improved over its predecessors, are still fairly rudimentary. There’s been improvements in the lighting engine, higher polycount models and better textures to be seen everywhere but they’ve still been heavily stylized to give it a cartoony feel. The Sims 4 keeps the same visual aesthetic that the previous titles had with the clean interface design that favours solid, clear cut colours. Overall it’s pretty much what you’d expect from a Sims game so no disappointments here.

The Sims 4 Review Screenshot Wallpaper Out on a Date

Like the previous Sims titles The Sims 4 puts you, initially, in charge of a single Sim that you craft through a rather detailed process. In there you select traits, characteristics and aspirations which define who your Sim will be in this world. Then you’re given a token amount of money and let loose to find a property or lot that you want to purchase. You’ll need to make some tough decisions here though as your choice of house, and the fixtures contained within it, will have a direct effect on how your Sim fairs. Once you’re in your new house you’ll unlock a veritable cornucopia of different things to do, all of which have some form of impact on your Sims mood, desires and needs. All of the activities that you’ll do will feel familiar to long term Sims players although the breadth of what’s possible has increased significantly.

One thing that I feel bears mentioning is just how well designed the new interface is. My vague memories of The Sims 3 reminded me that it took quite a long time to figure out where everything was, drastically increasing the time it took me to get anything done in that world. By comparison The Sims 4 interface is amazing with everything being readily discoverable and being incredibly easy to use. The search and rooms features on the construction menu are fantastic, allowing you to easily track down the exact product you’re looking for without wrestling with the interface. After about an hour I was pretty confident I had a grasp on pretty much everything with the few finer points covered off in help tips whenever I came across them.

The Sims 4 Review Screenshot Wallpaper DIGITAL SPORTS

The core game play aspects of the Sims series are present in The Sims 4, giving you a variety of different objectives complete. Whilst there are some staple things you have to accomplish in order to keep your Sim happy, like feeding them or making sure they use the bathroom before its too late, you’re pretty free to pursue whatever you want at your own leisure. I primarily like to produce career focused Sims and so my playtime usually revolves around that. However if that’s not your style there’s plenty of other things to keep you occupied although, honestly, I couldn’t really tell you much about the things outside the career focused ones.

And yes getting someone to move in with you is a career choice (don’t have to leave the house for the social need, score!).

Like most Sims games it’s pretty easy to cheese your way through certain things if you make a few key decisions in the right way. For instance, if you’re so inclined, purchasing the best sink you can get means your Sims barely have to shower as simply washing your hands will keep them going for a very long time. Similarly you can eliminate a lot of wasted time by cooking party sized meals and just eating them over and over again. Indeed your Sims don’t seem to get tired of eating the same thing repeatedly and once your cooking skill is high enough they’re just as satisfied with eggs on toast as they are with a gourmet blackened salmon dish.

The Sims 4 Review Screenshot Wallpaper Sit Ups in the Bathroom

In fact that’s probably my biggest gripe with The Sims 4. Whilst there might be a huge variety in what you can do it all starts to feel really samey after a not too long period of time. This becomes all too obvious when you’re trying to befriend someone and you’re constantly spamming all the different options with the results usually being the same gibberish response and a ++ in the friendly column. This is usually when most people start to unleash their sadistic side on their Sims, removing doors, making prisons or denying them food and facilities until something horrible happens. I’ll admit that I was too attached to mine to do anything (I even enabled cheats to reverse the aging of one of my Sims, forgetting that you can turn that off in the options menu) but I can’t say I wasn’t tempted.

There seems to be a lot of gripes circling the Internet regarding the features that have been taken out, like toddlers and pools, as well as the somewhat unusual decision to not send out review copies. I think most of these criticisms are valid as whilst there does seem to be a lot to do in The Sims 4 it does feel a little limited compared to my vague memories of its predecessor. In all honesty it didn’t affect my playthrough too much (although I’d love multiplayer in this) but then again I wouldn’t consider myself the biggest Sims fan out there. Indeed I doubt I’ll barely touch it past this review as I’ve pretty much done all I really wanted to do in it.

The Sims 4 Review Screenshot Wallpaper Dave Pops The Question

The Sims 4 is an evolutionary step forward for the Sims franchise, bringing with it all the trimmings you’d expect for recent release of this classic series. The graphics, interface and overall playability has been greatly increased making it much less of a chore to get into than previous entrants into this series were. There’s an incredible amount of depth to the mechanics that made it into the game however the criticisms around lack of content and certain features do feel like valid concerns to me. Overall I enjoyed my time with The Sims 4 and whilst I won’t be sinking many more hours into it I’m sure fans of the series will get a lot of enjoyment out of it.

Rating: 7.5/10

The Sims 4 is available on PC right now $89.95. Total play time was 8 hours.

BBC Derp

The BBC Thinks all VPN Users are Pirates.

If you want Netflix in Australia there’s really only one way to do it: get yourself a VPN with an endpoint in the states. That’s not an entirely difficult process, indeed many of my less tech savvy friends have managed to accomplish it without any panicked phone calls to me. The legality of doing that is something I’m not qualified to get into but since there hasn’t been a massive arrest spree of nefarious VPN users I can’t imagine it’s far outside the bounds of law. Indeed you couldn’t really do that unless you also cracked down on the more legitimate users of VPN services, like businesses and those with regulatory commitments around protecting customer data. However if you’d ask the BBC users of VPNs are nothing but dirty pirates and it’s our ISP’s job to snoop on them.

BBC Derp

In a submission to the Australian Government, presumably under the larger anti-piracy campaign that Brandis is heading, the BBC makes a whole list of suggestions as to how they should go about combating Australia’s voracious appetite for purloined content. Among the numerous points is the notion that a lot of pirates now use a VPN to hide their nefarious activities. In the BBC’s world ISPs would take this as a kind of black flag, signalling that any heavy VPN user was likely also engaging in copyright infringement. They’d then be subject to the woeful idea of having their Internet slowed down or cut off, presumably if they couldn’t somehow prove that it was legitimate. Even though they go on to talk about false positives the ideas they discuss in their submission are fucking atrocious and I hope they never see the light of day.

I have the rather fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on how you look at it) ability of being able to do my work from almost anywhere I choose, including my home. This does mean that I have to VPN back into the mothership in order to get access to my email, chat and all other corporate resources which can’t be made available over the regular Internet. Since I do a lot of this at home under the BBC’s suggestion I’d probably be flagged as a potential pirate and be subject to measures to curb my behaviour. Needless to say I don’t think I’m particularly unique in this either so there’s vast potential for numerous false positives to spring up under this system.

Worse still all of those proposed measures fall on the ISP’s shoulders to design, implement and enforce. Not only would this put an undue burden on them, which they’d instantly pass onto us in the form of increased prices, it would also make them culpable when an infringing user figured out how to defeat their monitoring system. Now everyone knows that it doesn’t take long for people to circumvent these systems which, again, increases pressure on the ISPs to implement even more invasive and draconian systems. It’s a slippery slope that we really shouldn’t be going down.

Instead of constantly looking towards the stick as the solution to Australia’s piracy woes it’s time for companies, and the Australian government, to start looking at the carrot. Start looking at incentives for rights holders to license content in Australia or mandating that we get the same content at the same time for the same price as it is elsewhere. The numerous Netflix users in Australia shows there’s demand for such a service, we just need it to match the same criteria that customers overseas expect. Once we get that I’m sure you’ll see a massive reduction in the amount of piracy in Australia, coupled with the increase in sales that the right’s holders seem so desperate to protect.

Apple Watch Space Black

Now We Can Stop Talking About the iWatch.

I honestly couldn’t tell you how long I’ve been hearing people talk about Apple getting into the smartwatch business. It seemed every time that WWDC or any other Apple event rolled around there’d be another flurry of speculation as to what their wearable would be. Like most rumours details on it were scant and so the Internet, as always, circlejerked itself into a frenzy about a product that might not have even been in development. In the absence of a real product competitors stepped up to the plate and, to their credit, the devices have started to look more compelling. Well today Apple finally announced their Watch and it’s decidedly mediocre.

Apple Watch Space Black

For starters it makes the same mistake that many smartwatches do: it follows the current design trend for nearly all other smartwatches. Partly this is due to the nature of LCD screens being rectangular, limiting what you can do with them, however for a company like Apple you’d expect them to buck the trend a bit. Instead you’ve got what looks like an Apple-ized version of the Pebble Steel, not entirely unpleasing but at the same time feeling incredibly bland. I guess if you’re a fan of having a shrunken iPhone on your wrist then the style will appeal to you but honestly smartwatches which look like smartwatches are a definite turn off for me and I know I’m not alone in thinking this.

Details as to what’s actually under the hood of this thing are scarce, probably because unlike most devices Apple announces you won’t be able to get your hands on this one right away. Instead you’ll be waiting until after March next year to get your hands on one and the starting price is somewhere on the order of $350. That’s towards the premium end of the smartwatch spectrum, something which shouldn’t be entirely unexpected, and could be indicative of the overall quality of the device. Indeed what little details they’ve let slip do seem to indicate it’s got some decent materials science behind it (both in the sapphire screen and the case metals) which should hopefully make it a more durable device.

Feature wise it’s pretty much as you’d expect, sporting the usual array of notifications pushed from your phone alongside a typical array of sensors. Apple did finally make its way into the world of NFC today, both with the Apple Watch and the new iPhone, so you’ll be able to load up your credit card details into it and use the watch to make payments. Honestly that’s pretty cool, and definitely something I’d like to see other smartwatch manufacturers emulate, although I’m not entirely hopeful that it’ll work anywhere bar the USA. Apple also toutes an interface that’s been designed around the smaller screen but without an actual sample to look over I really couldn’t tell you how good or bad it would be.

So all that blather and bluster that preceded this announcement was, surprise, completely overblown and the resulting product really does nothing to stand out in the sea of computerized hand adornments. I’m sure there’s going to be a built in market from current Apple fans but outside that I really can’t see the appeal of the Apple Watch over the numerous other devices. Apple does have a good 6 months or so to tweak the product before release so there’s potential for it to become something before they drop it on the public.

Supermoon_comparison

Just How Super is a Supermoon?

It seems I can’t go too long without hearing about everyone’s favourite celestial event: the Supermoon. It’s a somewhat rare event, typically occurring once every 14 months or so, but given the amount of attention it seems to get on various news and social media sites you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s more akin to a total solar eclipse. Considering what actually happens during this event, I.E. the coincidental alignment of the moon being full whilst also being at it’s closest point on its orbit around Earth, you wouldn’t expect there to be much interest in it but everyone seems to be wowed at just how huge the moon appears when this happens.

Problem is though that it’s not that much bigger at all.

Supermoon_comparisonAs you can see the supermoon on the right hand side isn’t really that much bigger than the more regular moon on the left. Indeed if I could somehow show you both of them in the sky at the same time you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between them. Still come tomorrow morning I’m sure there’ll be dozens of pictures showing the moon in all of its super glory, towering over buildings and dwarfing every other source of light in the night sky. So the question is then where do all these pictures come from and why is the moon so gosh darn huge in them.

The answer is somewhat complicated, and we don’t have an exact answer for it yet, but it comes down to something we’ve dubbed the Moon Illusion. Essentially any stellar object in our sky, be it the moon, sun or even stars, will increase in apparent size the closer it is to the horizon. All those amazing pictures you’ll see of supermoons around the globe tomorrow will likely be taken when the moon is rising when this effect is at its most pronounced. This makes the moon appear much, much bigger than it would normally but over the course of it’s full rotation it’ll begin shrinking back down to a more reasonable size. This is why you don’t see any pictures of it up in the middle of the sky, it just doesn’t look as massive as it would otherwise.

Photographers are also somewhat guilty of exacerbating the moon’s super-ness during this time by using telephoto lenses that compress the visual space significantly, often putting other objects near or in front of it to make it appear much bigger than it would with your eyes. Don’t get me wrong it makes for a stunning picture but it also feeds into the idea that the moon appears that huge at all points in the sky. The reality is unfortunately nothing like that.

I know I’m probably being a killjoy for some people mentioning this but honestly things like this fall into the same realms as those claiming we’d have 2 moons when Mars was at its closest approach to Earth. Sure it’ll be bigger than it would be otherwise but the effect is usually beyond our ability to perceive and the photos just give a false impression of what a supermoon actually is. To be fair though the term supermoon isn’t a scientific term at all (it comes from astrology) so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised about the smoke and mirrors that surrounds it.

Professional Memory Holder

DDR4 Appears on The Market; I Realise I’ve Been Under a Rock.

Whilst I don’t spend as much time as I used to keeping current with all things PC hardware related I still maintain a pretty good working knowledge of where the field is going. That’s partly due to my career being in the field (although I’m technically a services guy) but mostly it’s because I love new tech. You’d think then that DDR4, the next generation in PC memory, making its commercial debut wouldn’t be much of a surprise to me but I had absolutely no idea it was in the pipeline. Indeed had I not been building out a new gaming rig for a friend of mine I wouldn’t have known it was coming, nor that I could buy it today if I was so inclined.

Professional Memory Holder

Double Data Rate Generation 4 (DDR4) memory is the direct successor to the current standard, DDR3, which has been in widespread use since 2007. Both standards (indeed pretty much all memory standards) were developed by the Joint Electron Device Engineering Council (JEDEC) who have been working on DDR4 since about 2005. The reasoning behind the long lead times on new standards like this is complicated but it comes down to a function of getting everyone to agree to the standard, manufacturers developing products around said standard and then, finally, them making their way into the hands of consumers. Thus whilst new memory modules come and go with the regular tech cycle typically the standards driving them remain standard for the better part of a decade or two which is probably why this writer neglected to keep current on it.

In terms of actual improvements DDR4 seems like an evolutionary step forward rather than a revolutionary one. That being said the improvements introduced with the new specification are nothing to sneeze at with one of the big improvements being a reduction in the voltage (and thus power) that the specification requires. Typical DDR4 modules will now use 1.2V compared to DDR3’s 1.5V and the low voltage variant, typically seen in low power systems like smartphones and the like, goes all the way down to 1.05V.To end consumers this won’t mean too much but for large scale deployments the savings from running this new memory add up very quickly.

As you’d expect there’s also been a bump up in the operating speed of DDR4 modules, ranging from 2133Mhz all the way up to 4266Mhz. Essentially the lowest tier of performance DDR4 memory will match the top performers of DDR3 and the amount of headroom for future development is quite significant. This will have a direct impact on the performance of systems that are powered by DDR4 memory and whilst most consumers won’t notice the difference it’s definitely going to be a defining feature of enthusiast PCs for the next couple years. I know that I updated my dream PC specs to include it even though the first generation of products is only just hitting the market.

DDR4 chips are also meant to be a lot more dense than their DDR3 predecessors, especially considering that the specification has also accommodated 3D layering technologies like Samsung’s V-NAND. Many are saying that this will lead to DDR4 being cheaper for a comparable amount of memory vs DDR3 however right now you’ll be paying about a 40% premium on pretty much everything if you want to build a system around the new style of memory. This is to be expected though and whilst I can eventually see DDR4 eclipsing DDR3 on a price per gigabyte basis that won’t be for several years to come. DDR3 has 7 years worth of economies of scale built up and they won’t become irrelevant for a very long time.

So whilst I might be a little shocked that I was so out of the loop I didn’t know a new memory standard had made its way into reality I’m glad it has. The improvements might be incremental rather than a bold leap forward but progress in this sphere is so slow that anything is worth celebrating. The fact that you can build systems with it today is just another bonus, one that I’m sure is making dents in geek’s budgets the world over.

Lichdom Battlemage Review Screenshot Wallpaper Oasis

Lichdom: Battlemage: Power Overwhelming (or I’m So OP).

Of the numerous games that I’ve played that have come up through Steam’s Early Access program few have felt like they were actually finished games. The core gameplay is usually refined enough however they rarely feel like a cohesive whole, the rough edges of a just finished beta still rearing their ugly head. Sure they may have come a long way from where they were originally, and to those who’ve been involved with them for a long time they might feel a lot more polished, but all too often they feel like they still needed a bit more work before being unleashed on the world. Lichdom: Battlemage however is one of the rare examples where its Early Access stint was obviously well spent as the result title is just awesome.

Lichdom Battlemage Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

You were just a simple blacksmith, one who enjoyed his craft and was good to his loving wife. However your life took a dark turn when one of the local nobles took exception to your refusal to sell him your wares, slaughtering your wife in front of you before knocking you out cold. When you came to though you weren’t in your shop, instead you’re out in the streets with a strange robed man hovering above you. His name is Roth and he has bestowed upon you a great gift: a pair of magical bracers that grant you control over some great power. It seems that, at least for the moment, your goals align as Roth wants you to take out the noble who wrong you however not for the reasons you’d first expect.

Interestingly Lichdom: Battlemage is built on CryEngine 3, the same engine that brought us the visual masterpieces that were Crysis 2 and Crysis 3. Whilst it’s not exactly up to the same level as those titles (few games are) Lichdom is still quite impressive in its own right. There were numerous scenes that just made me stop and admire the scenery. Combine this with just how ridiculous the effects can get when you’re using different spells on the vast hoards of enemies you’ll face and you’ve got a recipe for a game that never feels visually dull. It did stress my rig to its limits, with the graphics fan roaring into life on many occasions, but to Xaviant’s credit everything ran pretty smooth for the most part. I would like to see how Lichdom goes on a more modern rig as I’m sure it’d be incredible.

Lichdom Battlemage Review Screenshot Wallpaper Thats a Big Tree

Lichdom: Battlemage’s core gameplay is probably best described as a fantasy take on the modern corridor shooter however the mechanics backing it up, which take inspiration from your more traditional RPG style game, add an incredible amount of depth. You start off with a couple basic spells but as you blast your way through the levels you’ll acquire new components which you can then use to craft different kinds of spells. Initially these start off as just better versions of the spells you already have however as you unlock more components and more spell types the kinds of effects you can create increase exponentially. So what starts out as a relatively simple concept, a mage with unlimited spammy power, quickly evolves into a deep game of mechanics, one where the more you explore mechanics the more awesome combos you find.

The combat itself is always fast paced, filled with dozens of effects, projectiles and enemies throwing themselves in your general direction. For the most part you’ll likely be able to get by spamming a single ability however if you want to do things efficiently you’ll need to make use of every different weapon in your arsenal. There are some elements of strategy, like taking out enemies that summon other enemies first, but for the most part you’ll be focused on blocking/dodging attacks and spamming out whatever ability you’ve chosen as your primary damage dealer. Of course your mileage may vary on this considerably as depending on which sigils you choose the strategies you’ll need to use will change dramatically.

Lichdom Battlemage Review Screenshot Wallpaper Under The Mountains

There is a distinct lack of variety in the enemies you’ll face however. There’s the cultists, undead and demons and they’ll will pretty much be the same kinds of enemies no matter where you go, just with more health. Sure you’ll get the occasional buffed enemy that has some special attribute (like reflection, grrrrr) however after about 4 hours in Lichdom you’ll have seen every enemy you’ll face from then on out. The boss fights are, to their credit, unique and challenging but they’re so far apart that their uniqueness is often lost between long bouts of repetitive encounters. The numerous different types of spells go a fair way to alleviating this however I don’t feel it should be up to the player to provide their own variety, even if there’s a lot of it to be had.

The main source of enjoyment in Lichdom comes from the crafting system which has an incredible amount of depth to  it. You’ll collect spell types and augments throughout the game, all with quality levels derived from the traditional RPG style loot systems (common, uncommon, etc.). You can use these components directly or you can upgrade them to a higher tier of quality by sacrificing two other same quality level items. All of them also have a power level associated with them which determines how large the effect will be. Combine this with the 8 or so base sigils (fire, ice, lightning, etc.) and you have literally billions of possible combinations of different spells, effects and modifiers. Initially I found it mostly just a chore to sort through everything in order to get the spell I wanted but later on it became my main source of enjoyment.

Lichdom Battlemage Review Screenshot Wallpaper The Twins

I eventually settled on a combination of fire (damage dealer), ice (mastery application, basically a damage boost) and kinesis (because I got 2 unique spells for it). With this combination I was able to root large groups of enemies in place, cover them in mastery and then one shot enemies at my leisure. Before I switched to kinesis I was using lightning with a nova that had a 35% apocalyptical chance, enabling me to turn into a lightning god whenever I needed to and lay waste to large swaths of enemies. However the later build was much better for instagibbing enemies, something which you really need to do when 1 hit from them can take off a whole bar of your shield. I’m sure there’s hundreds of other viable combos out there though as I didn’t touch half of the sigils I unlocked.

The story is pretty rudimentary, giving your character enough motivation to go along with the plan that’s been laid out for him but lacking any kind of emotional connection. They did manage to get some top notch voice talent, Troy Baker (Joel, Last of Us) for the male dragon and Jennifer Hale (Femshep, Mass Effect), and whilst they do a great job it’s not their acting that’s the issue, it’s the incredibly light on story. Whilst it’s not exactly a huge flaw if you were looking for a good story then Lichdom will disappoint as it’s really only enough to keep the story moving forward.

Lichdom Battlemage Review Screenshot Wallpaper Oasis

Lichdom is pretty well polished with the only noticeable issues being things like the AI acting strange (often getting stuck on nothing or clipping through walls when they shouldn’t) or mechanics not working how you’d expect them to. I did have one major issue where my PC crashed during a longish session which corrupted my save game. However upon checking out the Steam forums I found that several people had the same issue and emailing my save game to Xaviant should get it fixed. 2 hours later I had an email back from them with my restored game files and recognition that they’re aware of the issue and working on a fix. Honestly I’ve never had that kind of response before so a big thumbs up to Xaviant for not only fixing my issue but also being incredibly responsive.

Lichdom: Battlemage is a game that, on first pass, appears to be a simple mindless game of spamming spells and collecting loot. However once you dig under the hood a little the incredible depth of the mechanics available to you becomes apparent and suddenly you’re playing a completely different game. There are a few issues that plague the experience, like the lack of variety of enemies and the so-so story, but otherwise Lichdom really does stand out as one of the better titles to play before the ramp up to bevy of titles that will be slamming us this holiday season.

Rating: 8.75/10

Lichdom: Battlemage is available on PC right now for $39.99. Total play time was 12 hours with 23% of the achievements unlocked.

Earth, Milky Way Galaxy, Laniakea Supercluster.

How much do you know about where we are in the universe? I’d hazard a guess that nearly everyone can say that we’re the 3rd planet from our sun and that we reside in a large spiral galaxy called the Milky Way. You might not know though that we’re towards the end of one of the Milky Way’s tendrils and that we’re part of a larger group of galaxies called the Local Supercluster. However the definition of what constitutes the Local Supercluster had always been a little loose, essentially just a sphere of space in which all contained galaxies were defined as part of it. Scientists in Hawaii though, led by R. Brent Tully, have come up with a new way of defining superclusters and have dubbed our new home Laniakea.

YouTube Preview Image

It’s reminiscent of when the International Astronomical Union refined the definition of what constitutes a planet. Sure the new definition might mean that some previously neighbouring galaxies will get excluded, and new ones included, however rigorous definitions like these are what form the basis of good science. We might feel some kind of attachment to the ideas (I was honestly surprised by how many people were outraged by Pluto losing its planet status) however science abhors hand waving and sometimes we have to accept some loss in order to make further progress.

However I find the science behind Laniakea to be incredibly beautiful. Instead of our local group of galaxies being defined by some arbitrary points we’re now a group of celestial bodies all sharing the same journey. We might not ever see each other, nor ever cross paths, but the idea that we’re sharing the same galactic journey with billions and billions of other balls of matter is, to me, incredibly poetic.