Dreamfall Chapters Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Dreamfall Chapters: Book One: The Balance has Shifted.

I can remember 8 years ago when Dreamfall first came out and my collective group of friends all talking about playing it. This was just when my love of cinematic styled games was starting to bloom with titles like Fahrenheit only just having graced the shelves. However I was told with no uncertainty that if I was going to play Dreamfall I had to play its predecessor, The Longest Journey, before I could dive into it. Considering that game is some 40 hours long (or more, depending on how long you got stuck on the rubber duck puzzle) it would be no small investment but suffice to say I’m glad I did. After a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign Red Thread Games is finally continuing the story of Zoe Castillo and her journey to save two worlds from the impending darkness.

Dreamfall Chapters Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Betrayed by a mother she only just found out was still alive Zoe has been trapped in the story time, a place which exists between the twin worlds of Stark and Arcadia. Her body lies motionless in the real world, hooked up to a machine that ensures she stays alive but makes no attempt to bring her back. She has found purpose in this world however, saving those who’ve become trapped in their dreams by the Dream Machines by guiding them back to the light and warning them of their danger. This is not what was intended for her however as the darkness that threatens to engulf both worlds still spreads even in her absence. It is time for Zoe to make a return to the real world and to return to her journey.

Dreamfall Chapters looks decidedly previous gen in terms of graphics as it lacks much of the graphical fidelity of its current gen brethren. Primarily this is a function of its use of Unity and cross-platform ambitions which limit the amount of eye candy you can use. However that being said it’s far from an ugly game, with lovely expansive environments that are just brimming with details. It’s definitely best played with an expansive view (both figuratively and literally) as the bigger picture is so much more than the sum of its constituent parts.

Dreamfall Chapters Review Screenshot Wallpaper Storytime

Dreamfall Chapters takes inspiration from the Telltale style of story based games, stripping away all but the essential mechanics and instead placing a heavy focus on the story and player agency. You’ll be following the stories of 2 individuals, the first being Zoe Castillo, the main protagonist from the first Dreamfall game and Kian Alvane, another one of the main characters from the previous title. Dreamfall Chapters retains its adventure game roots, giving you all manner of puzzles to solve in order to progress the story, however it now also includes choices, both major and minor, that will affect the outcome of story. It’s a formula that’s worked well for Telltale for the past and to their credit Red Thread Games have managed to take the essence of it and make it their own.

In terms of game play this first instalment (Dreamfall Chapters is now an episodic game) feels a lot like an extended tutorial coupled with a reintroduction to all the characters, worlds and stories that exist within them. A lot of the mechanics you’ll encounter, like shining a light on things to reveal something that can’t be seen otherwise, are mostly things you’ll only encounter once in the game but are obviously being set up for use again later down the track. You’ll be able to pick up the vast majority of them without too much hassle especially if you’re a long time adventure game player. There are a few puzzles which feel like they’re an homage to the ridiculous puzzles of yore (the pillow on a broom is one example of this) however for the most part you likely won’t find yourself stuck at one point for an inordinate amount of time.

Dreamfall Chapters Review Screenshot Wallpaper The Path Before Us

The dialogue choice system is probably Dreamfall Chapter’s stand out feature as it’s leaps and bounds above what’s in most other story-first games. Instead of being given a bunch of options to choose from with just a small blurb to go on you’re instead treated to the inner monologue of the character as if they’re making that decision. This has two benefits, the first being that you’ll always be sure that the decision you make is in line with what you choose. Secondly you can get a feel for how Zoe thinks her decision will pan out which can sometimes change your mind on how you want a particular situation to play out. On the flip side however this does require you to go through the options fully before making a decision as the dialogue that follows is usually brief and provides no further insight that what can be gleaned from listening to their musings prior.

Mechanically the game is pretty much bang on with performance being great and not a crash to be seen throughout my playtime. However the look to select system feels a little wonky, often requiring you to shift your character and camera around multiple times in order to be able to interact with something. This can be rather frustrating when you notice something pop up (a little eye indicates you can interact with something) only to have it disappear the second you stop to try and click on it. It’s not something that will prevent you from progressing within Dreamfall Chapters, but it does feel like it happens more than it should.

Dreamfall Chapters Review Screenshot Wallpaper A Disturbance in Arcadia

Dreamfall Chapters does a good job of setting up the world that the rest of the game will take place in, reintroducing many of the characters from the previous games and filling in their stories of the past year that Zoe’s been out of action. Whilst the majority of the story is exposed to you directly there’s a fair amount of detail crammed into Zoe’s journal which can be a little bit of a chore to read through. Given the time between the previous game and this one though it almost feels like it’d be worthwhile playing through it again as some of the larger story elements rely heavily on the back story that was built back then. Indeed Dreamfall Chapters isn’t designed for those who are just becoming familiar with the franchise as it leans heavily on what came before it.

In terms of the story of this instalment it’s clear that the primary focus was on setting up the initial world that the following chapters will build upon. Considering the wealth of background that’s available in 2 other games they can somewhat get a free pass for not developing the characters much however if you’re looking for the story of Dreamfall Chapters to go places quickly you’ll unfortunately be disappointed. Don’t get me wrong though, there’s a lot to love in here, you’re just not going to be cemented to your seat from the second you click play.

Dreamfall Chapters Review Screenshot Wallpaper Stark

Dreamfall Chapters fills a hole that’s long been in many gamer’s hearts, continuing the story of Zoe Castillo that felt like it was cut abruptly short at the end of the previous game. It might not have next generation graphics or play as smoothly as some other adventurers other there however it makes up for it with one of the best dialogue systems I have seen in recent times. It will be interesting to see how the player choices pan out in the greater story as they’re making a big deal about player agency and I hopeful that they will be able to deliver on it. Dreamfall Chapters really is only for fans of the series but should your interest be piqued I would heartily recommend making the investment to play through its predecessors.

Rating: 8.75/10

Dreamfall Chapters is available on PC right now for $29.99. Total play time was 3 hours with 86% of the achievements unlocked. The writer was a backer of the Dreamfall Chapters Kickstarter at the $500 level.

Child with learning difficulties

Praising Effort, Process is Better Than Praising Ability.

For much of my childhood people told me I was smart. Things that frustrated other kids, like maths, seemed to come easy to me and this led to many people praising my ability. I never felt particularly smart, I mean there were dozens of other kids who were far more talented than I was, but at that age it’s hard to deny the opinions of adults, especially the ones who raised you. This led to an unfortunate misconception that stayed with me until after I left university: the idea that my abilities were fixed and that anything I found hard or difficult was simply beyond my ability. It’s only been since then, some 8 years or so, that I learnt that any skill or problem is within my capability, should I be willing to put the effort in.

Child with learning difficulties

It’s a theme that will likely echo among many of my generation as we grew up with parents who were told that positive reinforcement was the way to make your child succeed in the world. It’s only now, after decades of positive reinforcement failing to produce the outcomes it decried, we’re beginning to realise the folly of our ways. Much of the criticism of our generation focuses on this aspect, that we’re too spoilt, too demanding when compared to previous generations. If there’s one good thing to come out of this however it’s that research has shown that the praising a child’s ability isn’t the way to go, you should praise them for the process they go through.

Indeed once I realised that things like skills, abilities and intelligence were primarily a function of the effort and process you went through to develop them I was suddenly greeted with a world of achievable goals rather than roadblocks. At the same time I grew to appreciate those at the peak of their abilities as I knew the amount of effort they had put in to develop those skills which allowed them to excel. Previously I would have simply dismissed them as being lucky, winning the genetic lottery that gave them all the tools they needed to excel in their field whilst I languished in the background.

It’s not a silver bullet however as the research shows the same issues with positive reinforcement arise if process praise is given too often. The nuances are also unknown at this point, like how often you should give praise and in what fashion, but these research does show that giving process praise in moderation has long lasting benefits. I’d be interested to see how well this translates into adults as well since my experience has been vastly positive once I made the link between effort and results. I can’t see it holding true for everyone, as most things don’t in this regard, but if it generally holds then I can definitely see a ton of benefits from it being implemented.

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Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo Crashes.

Putting things into space isn’t an easy thing to do. The amount of energy required to reach orbital speeds means that we really only have one option available to us: strapping whatever it is to a giant barrel of explosives and setting light to it. Whilst the science of this is now well understood it doesn’t mean that we’re immune from mistakes, especially those which arise from the inherently complex systems that these rockets have become. Indeed just last week we saw the even a long time space contractor, one with numerous launches under its belt, can suffer a catastrophic accident without any indication that things were going to go wrong. Unfortunately tragedy has struck another private space venture with Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo crashing, killing one of the test pilots.

NTSB_Go-Team_inspects_a_tail_section_of_VSS_Enterprise

This unfortunately isn’t the first tragedy to befall this project. Back in 2007, shortly after their X-prize winning journey and subsequent partnership with Virgin, Scaled Composites had a fatal accident that killed 3 of their engineers. Whilst this wasn’t a flight accident, it was a catastrophic failure of the nitrous oxide tank that the ship uses, it did make many people question just how safe this kind of craft could be made. To their credit the subsequent 7 years were incident free with the prototype undergoing numerous tests both in the air and back down on the ground. Last week however that streak was broken when the VSS Enterprise broke up over the desert in California, killing one of the pilots and destroying the craft.

Initial reports centred on the fact that SpaceShipTwo was testing a new fuel mixture which could have potentially exploded causing the craft to fail. For a motor like the one in SpaceShipTwo, namely a hybrid rocket engine, this is highly unlikely as the fuel doesn’t have the same capability to combust explosively as its liquid cousins do. Had the changes been with the oxidizer or tank design then I’d be more inclined to blame them for failure. Indeed current reports have shown that the motor has been found fully intact at the crash site, indicating that a mid air explosion was not the cause of the crash.

Investigators are now focusing on the events leading up to the crash, including the possibility that the wings were unlocked too early into their flight. SpaceShipTwo has an unique system for its re-entry, it’s wings fold up in a process called feathering that ensures it comes back down belly-first. Engaging this system is a 2 stage process, requiring the pilots to first unlock the wings and then engage the feathering process. Initial reports have suggested that the wings were unlocked during powered ascent although it’s still too early to say if that was the cause of the crash or not.

To his credit Richard Branson has committed himself to the project even in the face of this disaster which means we’ll still be seeing SpaceShipTwo make flights into space sometime in the future. This will definitely set them back but I’m sure that the new versions of the ship will ensure that an event of this nature cannot happen again. It’s an unfortunate reminder that things like this still carry some form of risk with them and those who dare to be on the frontiers like this really are risking their lives for our greater good.

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New Atomic Clock Almost Too Precise to be Useful.

Time is a strange beast. As far as we know it always appears to go forward although strange things start to occur in the presence of gravity. Indeed if you synchronized two atomic clocks together then took one of them on a trip around the world with you by the time you got back they’d be wildly out of sync, more than they ever could be through normal drift. This is part of Einstein’s theory of general relativity where time appears to speed up or slow down due to the differing effects of gravity on the two objects which results in time dilation. This effect, whilst so vanishingly small as to be inconsequential in day to day life, becomes a real problem when you want to tell super accurate time, to the point where a new atomic clock might be worthless for telling the time.

Sr-lattice-optical-atomi-clock_optMost atomic clocks in the world use a caesium atom to tell time as they transition between two states with an exact and measurable frequency. This allows them to keep time with incredible precision, to the point of not losing even a second of time over the course of hundreds of millions of years. Such accurate time keeping is what has allowed us to develop things like GPS where accurate time keeping allows us to pinpoint locations with amazing accuracy (well, when it’s not fuzzed). However a new type of atomic clock takes accuracy to a whole new level, being able to keep time on the scale of billions of years with pinpoint precision.

The Strontium Optical Atomic Clock comes from researchers working at the University of Colorado and can hold perfect time for 5 billion years. It works by suspending strontium atoms in a framework of lasers and then giving them a slight jolt, sending the atoms oscillating at a highly predictable rate. This allows the researchers to keep time to an incredibly precise level, so precise in fact that minor perturbations in gravity fields have a profound impact on how fast it ticks. As it turns out Earth is somewhat of a gravitational minefield thanks to the tectonic plates under its surface.

You see the further away you are from the Earth’s core the weaker its gravitational pull is and thus time passes just a little bit faster the further away you get. For us humans the difference is imperceptible, fractions of a fraction second that would barely register even if you found yourself floating billions of kilometres away in almost true 0g. However for a time instrument as sensitive as the one the researchers created minor changes in the Earth’s makeup greatly influence its tick rate, making accurate time keeping an incredibly difficult job. Indeed the researchers say that these clocks are likely to only be able to truly useful once we put one in space, far beyond the heavy gravitic influences that are found here on Earth.

It’s amazing that we have the ability to create something like this which throws all our understanding and perceptions around such a common and supposedly well understood phenomenon into question. That, for me, is the true heart of science, uncovering just how much we don’t know about something and then hunting down answers wherever they may lie. Sure, often we’ll end up having more questions when we come out of the end of it but that’s just a function of the vastness of the universe we live in, one that’s filled with ceaseless wonders that we’re yet to discover.

 

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Windows XP Finally Meeting its End.

For the longest time, far too long in my opinion, XP had been the beast that couldn’t be slayed. The numerous releases of Windows after it never seemed to make much more than a slight dent in its usage stats and it reigned as the most used operating system worldwide for an astonishing 10 years after its initial release. It finally lost its crown to Windows 7 back in October of 2011 but it still managed to hold on a market share that dwarfed many of its competitors. It’s decline was slow though, much slower than an operating system which was fast approaching end of life should have been. However last quarter saw it drop an amazing 6% in total usage, finally dropping it below the combined usage of Windows 8 and 8.1.

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The reasons behind this drop are wide and varied but it finally appears that people are starting to take Microsoft’s warnings that their product is no longer supported seriously and are looking for upgrades. Surprisingly though the vast majority of people transitioning away from the aging operating system aren’t going for Windows 7, they’re going straight to Windows 8.1. This isn’t to say that 8.1 is eating away at 7’s market share however, it’s up about half a percent in the same time frame, and the upgrade path is likely due to the fact that Microsoft has ceased selling OEM copies of Windows 7. Most of those new licenses do come with downgrade rights however though I’m sure few people actually use them.

If XP’s current downward trend continues along this path then it’s likely to hit the low single digit usage figures sometime around the middle of next year. On the surface this would appear to be a good thing for Microsoft as it means that the majority of their user base will be on a far more modern platform. However at the same time the decline might just be a little too swift for people to consider upgrading to Windows 10 which isn’t expected to be RTM until late next year. Considering the take up performance of Windows 8 and 8.1 this could be something of a concern for Microsoft although there is another potential avenue: Windows 7 users.

The last time Microsoft has a disastrous release like Windows 8 the next version of Windows to take the majority of the market share was 7, a decade after the original had released. Whilst it’s easy to argue that this time will be different (like everyone does) a repeat performance of that nature would see Windows 7 being the dominant platform all the way up until 2019. Certainly this is something that Microsoft wants to avoid so it will be interesting to see how fast Windows 10 gets picked up and which segments of Microsoft’s business it will cannibalize. Should it be primarily Windows 7 based then I’d say everything would be rosy for them, however if it’s all Windows 8/8.1 then we could be seeing history repeat itself.

Microsoft is on the cusp of either reinventing itself with Windows 10 or being doomed to forever repeat the cycle which consumers have forced them into. To Microsoft’s credit they have been trying their best to break out of this mould however it’s hard to argue with the demands of the consumer and there’s only so much they can do before they lose their customer’s faith completely. The next year will be very telling for how the Microsoft of the future will look and how much of history will repeat itself.

Borderlands The Pre Sequel Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel: This Jack Fella Has a Few Roos Loose.

There are few games that manage to mix elements of different genres together well enough to produce a playable game but the Borderlands series stands out as one of the best examples. There’s the right amount of RPG style elements, with all the loot, levels and specializations you could ever want, combined with the fast pace of a modern shooter. That, along with it’s never-takes-itself-seriously style, makes Borderlands games an incredible amount of fun to play even years after they’ve been released. The latest instalment, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, continues along the established tradition bringing the same experience that Borderlands fans have come to expect.

Borderlands The Pre Sequel Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Long before Jack became the handsome bastard that he was in Borderlands 2 he was just a simple Hyperion programmer based on the Helios satellite orbiting Pandora. Still he aspired to be something greater and that’s where you come in vault hunter as Jack wants to find the vault and plunder its secrets for himself. However as you’re making your way to meet him on Helios you’re ambushed by the Lost Legion, a group of fanatical soldiers led by the fearless Colonel Zarpedon, who then take over Helios. Now it’s up to you to fight your way through them in order to retake Helios and, hopefully, find your way down to Pandora to find the coveted vault.

The Pre-Sequel retains the same visual style of its predecessors, bringing along with it some noticeable improvements to the visual effects such as the lighting, physics and particle systems. It still uses the same engine as Borderlands 2, which is the main reason you won’t see it on previous generation consoles, so the overall feel of the game remains largely the same.  It’s at this point where my rig was starting to show its age as after tweaking with a few settings the game rapidly descended into unplayable territory, something I had never experienced with the previous Borderlands title. Once I figured out what I was doing wrong (cranking up PhysX without an NVIDIA card was probably bad idea) the game was buttery smooth throughout.

Borderlands The Pre Sequel Review Screenshot Wallpaper Pandroa's Moon

The gameplay of The Pre-Sequel remains largely the same as its predecessors, giving you the same hybrid RPG/FPS experience with all the Borderlands style trimmings. There are 4 character classes to choose from, each of which is roughly equivalent to the same kinds of character classes from the previous 2 titles. They are unique in their own right however and the skill trees further differentiate them from anything that’s come before. You’ll be collecting dozens of guns again, however this time around you might not be leaving all those greens on the ground thanks to the newly introduced grinder mechanic. Apart from that The Pre-Sequel will play pretty much the same as both of its predecessors, for better or for worse.

Combat flows between you being an unstoppable killing machine, able to lay waste to dozens of enemies without breaking a sweat, to feeling like you’re banging your head against a brick wall. Part of this is due to the game’s slightly off pacing as I often found myself several levels ahead of many of the side quests by the time I got around to them which made me not want to do them. There’s a real dearth around the level 20~24 bracket which I got around by fishing out a couple quests and grinding the enemies, something which put me off playing for extended periods of time. Past that point though it started to feel a lot more balanced with my mistakes rightly punished but careful strategy was rewarded properly.

Borderlands The Pre Sequel Review Screenshot Wallpaper Your Mum

I chose to play as the Enforcer which seemed to match my desired play style pretty well. His action skill summons 2 drones, one that continually heals you and the other who hunts down enemies for you. It felt like probably the best “OH SHIT” action skill out of the lot since I could summon them just before I died and I’d usually end up getting a kill before the second wind timer expired. I did however opt for the more character focused skill tree which made certain gun types absolutely ridiculous at dishing out damage, especially if my shields dropped and I had just offed another enemy. Towards the end I became completely unstoppable however as I, somehow, got my shield recharge rate down to almost instant, allowing me to tank pretty much any enemy face on.

Loot will come at you thick and fast in The Pre-Sequel, much like it did in the previous 2 games. However The Pre-Sequel introduces the Grinder, a machine which allows you to combine 3 items of the same quality into one, hopefully netting you a better item. If you’ve got a hole in your gun selection and nothing good seems to be dropping then this can be a great way to fill it. However it does have an upper ceiling as you can’t combine 3 epic items into a single legendary (you can only create legendaries by combining 2 legendaries with an epic). I can somewhat understand the reasoning behind this, it’s for those end game gun raiders who are looking for the best gun possible, but it was a little annoying to find that out after I had saved up 3 epic pistols hoping to get myself a shiny orange.

Borderlands The Pre Sequel Review Screenshot Wallpaper Empyrean Sentinel

Probably the biggest issue I have with The Pre-Sequel is that it’s just too similar to Borderlands 2. Its predecessor introduced a whole host of new mechanics that made the game fresh and gave the end game players something to progress. The Pre-Sequel on the other hand feels pretty much like an expansion pack to Borderlands 2 as nearly everything is the same, just with new character classes and an additional loot generation mechanic. I’m sure Borderlands purists will love this aspect of the game but for those of us who like to see franchises grow and expand past their roots it’s a little painful to see something spin its wheels, even if the game itself is pretty enjoyable. This is most certainly reflective in my total playtime which is a stunning 9 hours less than in the previous title.

The Pre-Sequel’s story definitely has some moments of brilliance in it, especially with the Australian humour weaved into it. Of particular note is Jack’s transformation from a run-of-the-mill Hyperion employee to the insane psychopath you crossed paths with back in Borderlands 2, even if some of the events that happen feel a little forced. The rest of the characters are pretty much throwaways with enough backstory for you to know why they’re there but nothing to make you care for them in the slightest. It’s pretty much par for the course in the Borderlands series, much like the rest of the game.

Borderlands The Pre Sequel Review Screenshot Wallpaper TO THE FACE

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is sure to delight long time fans of the franchise as it brings the same hybrid FPS/RPG experience that keeps many of them coming back for years after initial release. However that’s also what makes the game somewhat weak in comparison to its predecessors; it fails to innovate past the benchmark that Borderlands 2 set all those years ago. Suffice to say I still think it’s worth playing however it’s longevity, at least for me, was drastically cut short due to the high levels of similarity.

Rating: 8.5/10

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is available on PC, PlayStation3 and Xbox360 right now for $89.99, $79.95 and $79.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 16 hours of total play time and 38% of the achievements unlocked.

Antares Rocket Explodes Shortly After Launch.

There’s numerous stories about the heydays of rocket engineering, when humanity was toying around with a newfound power that we had little understanding of. People who lived near NASA’s test rocket ranges reported that they’d often wait for a launch and the inevitable fireball that would soon follow. Today launching things into space is a well understood territory and catastrophic failures are few and far between. Still when you’re putting several thousand tons worth of kerosene and oxygen together then putting a match to them there’s still the possibility that things will go wrong and, unfortunately for a lot of people, something did with the latest launch of the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket.

The mission that it was launching was CRS Orb-3, the third resupply mission to the International Space Station using Orbital Sciences Cygnus craft. The main payload consisted mostly of supplies for the ISS including food, water, spare parts and science experiments. Ancillary payloads included a test version of the Akryd satellites that Planetary Resources are planning to use to scout near Earth asteroids for mining and a bunch of nano Earth observation satellites by Planet Labs. The loss of this craft, whilst likely insured against loss of this nature, means that all of these projects will have their timelines set back significantly as the next Antares launch isn’t planned until sometime next year.

NASA and Orbital Sciences haven’t released any information yet about what caused the crash however from the video footage it appears that the malfunction started in the engines. The Antares rocket uses a modified version of the Russian AJ-26 engine who’s base design dates back to the 1960s when it was slated for use in the Russian Moon shot mission. The age of the design isn’t an inherently bad thing, as Orbital Sciences have shown the rockets were quite capable of putting things into orbit 4 times in the past, however the fact that Antares is the only rocket to use them does pose some concerns. The manufacturer of the engines have denied that their engines were to blame, citing that it was heavily modified by Aerojet prior to being used, however it’s still probably too early to rule anything in or out.

One thing I’ve seen some people pick up on is the “Engines at 108%” as an indication of their impending doom. The above 100% ratings typically come from the initial design specifications which aim to meet a certain power threshold. Many engines exceed this when they’re finally constructed and thus any power generated above the designed maximum is designated in this fashion. For most engines this isn’t a problem, the Shuttle routinely ran it’s engines at 110% during the initial stages of takeoff, so them being throttled over 100% during the ascent stage likely wasn’t an issue for the engines. We’ll know more when NASA and Orbital Sciences release the telemetry however.

Hopefully both Orbital Sciences and NASA can narrow down the cause of this crash quickly so it doesn’t affect any of the future CRS launches. Things like this are never good for the companies involved, especially when the launch system only has a handful of launches under its belt. The next few weeks will be telling for all involved as failures of this nature are rarely due to a single thing and are typically a culmination of a multitude of different factors leading up to the unfortunate, explosive demise of the craft.

It did make for a pretty decent light show, though.

Alienware Graphics Amplifier

External GPUs are a Solution in Search of a Problem.

If you’re a long time PC gamer chances are that you’ve considered getting yourself a gaming laptop at one point or another. The main attraction from such a device is portability, especially back in the heydays of LANs where steel cases and giant CRTs were a right pain to lug around. However they always came at a cost, both financially and opportunity as once you bought yourself a gaming laptop you were locked into those specs until you bought yourself another one. Alienware, a longtime manufacturer of gaming laptops, has cottoned onto this issue and has developed what they’re calling the Graphics Amplifier in order to bring desktop level grunt and upgradeability to their line of laptops.

Alienware Graphics Amplifier

On the surface it looks like a giant external hard drive but inside it are all the components required to run any PCIe graphics card. It contains a small circuit board with a PCIe x16 slot, a 450W power supply and a host of other connections because why not. There’s no fans or anything else to speak of however so you’re going to want to get a card with a blower style fan system on it, something which you’ll only see on reference cards these days. This then connects back to an Alienware laptop through a proprietary connection (unfortunately) which then allows the graphics card to act as if it’s installed in the system. The enclosure retails for about $300 without the graphics card included in it which means you’re up for about $600+ if you’re going to buy one for it. That’s certainly not out of reach for those who are already investing $1800+ in the requisite laptop but it’s certainly enough to make you reconsider the laptop purchase in the first place.

You see whilst this external case does appear to work as advertised (judging by the various articles that have popped up with it) it essentially removes the most attractive thing about having a gaming capable laptop: the portability. Sure this is probably more portable than a mini tower and a monitor but at the same time this case is likely to weigh more than the laptop itself and won’t fit into your laptop carry bag. The argument could be made that you wouldn’t need to take this with you, this is only for home use or something, but even then I’d argue you’d likely be better off with a gaming desktop and some slim, far more portable laptop to take with you (both of which could be had for the combined cost of this and the laptop).

Honestly though the days have long since passed when it was necessary to upgrade your hardware on a near yearly basis in order to be able to play the latest games. My current rig is well over 3 years old now and is still quite capable of playing all current releases, even if I have to dial back a setting or two on occasion. With that in mind you’d be better off spending the extra cash that you’d sink into this device plus the graphics card into the actual laptop itself which would likely net you the same overall performance. Then, when the laptop finally starts to show its age, you’ll likely be in the market for a replacement anyway.

I’m sure there’ll be a few people out there who’ll find some value in a device like this but honestly I just can’t see it. Sure it’s a cool piece of technology, a complete product where there’s only been DIY solutions in the past, but it’s uses are extremely limited and not likely to appeal to those who it’ll be marketed too. Indeed it feels much like Razer’s modular PC project, a cool idea that just simply won’t have a market to sell its product to. It’ll be interesting to see if this catches on though but since Alienware are the first (and only) company to be doing this I don’t have a high hopes.

Fuck Gamergate

Everything About Gamergate Needs to Die.

I’m fucking fed up.

Fuck Gamergate

I’m fed up with the fact that I can’t go  a week without a female gaming icon getting harassed to the point where she has to leave her house. I’m pissed off that rational discourse broke down so quickly that all anyone talks about now is the hate. I hate the fact that I, as your stereotypical male gamer, feel like I’m responsible for all this shit despite the fact that I treat every female gamer like any other gamer. I’m fucking tired of feeling like all I can do is stay silent and try to be a good member of the community so I can lead by example, just like the countless others I play games with on a daily basis. So fuck it, I’ll paint a target on my back by calling out both sides of the argument for the shit they’ve flung in the wrong directions and hopefully I’ll convince someone that everything about this whole controversy needs to die a fucking swift death.

The one thing I’m going to abstain from doing is going over what sparked this (every recount of what happened to get us to this point is so charged with bullshit swinging one way or the other) and if you’re reading this you likely have your own idea of what the fuck is going on. So instead of getting off on the wrong foot here, although I’ve already likely done that with the first paragraph, I’ll just dive into the meat of what I think needs to happen here and then you can all feel free to flame/dox/death threat me in the comments.

If you’re one of the cadre who backs the idea that Gamergate is about ethics in games journalism then there’s really one thing, and only one thing, you need to do: stop fucking using the Gamergate term. No matter how good you think you are at dodging all the hate, bullshit and utterly atrocious actions of a minority of people you’re never going to rise above the rabble that they’ve managed to generate. There’s a larger debate in there that could have some wide reaching ramifications for how games sites handle their relationships with publishers and developers and it’s one I think still needs to be had. However should you go charging in brandishing the Gamergate tag as your source of inspiration all you’re doing is giving credance to those assholes who use the same platform as a place to spread their hate.

In fact I have no fucking idea why anyone who’s actually interested in having a rational debate about these matters even hold onto the tag at this point. I mean it’s not like we can’t create a new one #fuckingEthics or something like that and use it instead, what’s the point of holding onto a term that only gets press when it runs someone from their home? We may not be responsible for the people who are peddling this bullshit but fuck me, we can decry the label as one that’s been mutilated in only perpetrating hate and continue the conversation that needs to be had somewhere else.

The anti-Gamergate crew isn’t entirely blameless in this whole shitpile though as they’ve often lumped the wider gaming community in with hatemongers. Look a minority of people causing a shitstorm in the larger group is nothing new to the world and it is not fair to anyone in that group if you tar them all with the same brush. If we’re going to ascribe that kind of thinking to everything we might as well just assume all Muslims are terrorists and start treating them all as if they were. The hard and fast fact here is that whilst yes, the hate peddlers of Gamergate identify themselves as gamers, they are not representative of the whole and it does us all a great injustice to think that.

I know anecdotes don’t mean much in the larger scale of things but I’ve always tried to be inclusive of women in the games I play with them along with supporting titles that feature strong female characters as leads. I had a look through my reviews of this year and whilst, yes, they’re primarily filled with lead male protagonists a good half of them allowed you to choose your gender with half a dozen or so featuring what I’d consider a well written female lead. However if you formed your opinion of me based on the fact that I’m an (almost) 30 year old white male who spends an inordinate amount of time playing games and all you had was the Gamergate controversy to go on you’d figure I’m just another fucking misogynist hellbent on ensuring the female race stays out of my games.

Just…fucking no, that’s not me at all.

I want to do my part to stop this kind of shit from happening but there are some larger conversations I want to continue in spite of the hate. Hell I don’t think it’s too much to ask, I consulted with my journo friends when I first started getting offered game copies for reviewing and got great lessons on full disclosure, but it seems like maybe now isn’t the right time. What needs to happen now is for everyone to put a bullet in the Gamergate tag and then anyone who brandishes afterwards can be rightly labelled the peddler of hate that they are. Then, once it’s dead and buried, we can resurrect the conversation about journalistic ethics without the bullshit. I have no fucking idea if that will work or not, it probably won’t, but one thing is clear, everything about Gamergate needs to die right fucking now.

Alan Eustace Record Breaking Jump

Google VP Alan Eustace Breaks Baumgartner’s Record.

It was just over 2 years ago that Felix Baumgartner leapt from the Red Bull Stratos capsule from a height of 39KMs above the Earth’s atmosphere, breaking a record that had stood for over 50 years. The amount of effort that went into creating that project left many, including myself, thinking that Baumgartner’s record would stand for a pretty long time as few have the resources and desire to do something of that nature. However as it turns out one of Google’s Senior Vice Presidents, Alan Eustace, had been working on breaking that record in secret for the past 3 years and on Friday last week he descended to Earth from a height of 135,890 feet (41.4KM), shattering Baumgartner’s record by an incredible 7,000 feet.

Alan Eustace Record Breaking Jump

The 2 jumps could not be more different, both technically and generally. For starters the Red Bull Stratos project was primarily a marketing exercise for Red Bull, the science that happened on the side was just a benefit for the rest of us. Eustace’s project on the other hand was done primarily in secret, with him eschewing any help from Google in order to avoid it becoming a marketing event. Indeed I don’t think anyone bar those working on the project knew that this was coming and the fact that they managed to achieve what Stratos did with a fraction of the funding speaks volumes to the team Eustace created to achieve this.

Looking at the above picture, which shows Eustace dangling from a tenuous tether as he ascends upwards, it’s plain to see that their approach was radically different to Stratos. Instead of building a capsule to transport Eustace, like Stratos and Kittinger’s project both did, they instead went for a direct tether to his pressure suit. This meant he spent the long journey skywards dangling face down which, whilst being nightmare material for some, would’ve given him an unparalleled view of the Earth disappearing from him. It also means that the load the balloon needed to carry was greatly reduced by comparison which likely allowed him to ascend much quicker.

Indeed the whole set up is incredibly bare bones with Eustace’s suit lacking many of the ancillary systems that Baumgartner’s had. One that amazed me was the lack of any kind of cooling system, something which meant that any heat he generated would stick around for an uncomfortably long period of time. To get around this he essentially remained motionless for the entire ascent, responding to ground control by moving one of this legs which they could monitor on camera. They did include a specially developed kind of parachute though, called Saber, which ensured that he didn’t suffer from the same control issues that Baumgartner did during his descent.

It’s simply astounding how Eustace and his team managed to achieve this, given their short time frame and comparatively limited budget. I’m also wildly impressed that they managed to keep this whole thing a secret for that period of time too as it would’ve been very easy for them to overshadow the Stratos project, especially given some of the issues they encountered. Whilst we might not all be doing high altitude jumps any time soon the technology behind this could find its way into safety systems in the coming generation of private space flight vehicles, something they will all need in no short order.