WorkingFromHome

Finding the Balance When Working From Home.

I have had the somewhat enviable position of being able to work from home for a decent part of the last couple years. During my various stints (which could be largely split into 2 major chunks) I’ve become familiar with the various trials and tribulations that come with more flexible working arrangements. For the most part I’m still very much in the positive camp however there were a few gotchas which I feel could catch many people out. Indeed it wasn’t until I stopped working from home that I realised some of the destructive habits that I had fallen into, many of which curtailed any benefits that could be derived.

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My initial bout of working from home was on a very large government contract that was still in the tender stage. This meant that I was, for the most part, spending a lot of my time on the phone and email. Like any government contract things didn’t move quickly and I spent the better part of 3 months barely ever leaving the house. Now this isn’t really much of a problem for me, I do fine by myself, however what I had found was that I struggled to break myself away from the feeling of being “at work”.

Recent studies have shown that this is a common problem that many people face when working from home. For me it manifested as a relapse into depression, something that hadn’t happened to me in the better part of a decade. Indeed I only came to the conclusion that that was the cause after I had returned to a normal work schedule. During my second run of working from home however I found several things that helped stave off those potential problems, most of which seem rather obvious when you think about it.

The first and foremost was getting out of the house. Whilst I’m fine with social isolation what really put a toll on me was the lack of time spent anywhere else but home. Whilst this is fine for a week or so over time you begin to associate your environment more with the activities you primarily do there. For me this meant feeling like I was “at work” whenever I was at home and thus I wasn’t able to fully disconnect myself in order to get a break. During my second work from home run however I spent far more time at client sites, meeting with colleagues and generally switching up my scenery far more often than I did in the past. Thus my home felt just like that, not my office where I felt obligated to work.

Probably the most important factor though was having work that I was engaged with. During my first spell I wasn’t fully engaged as the vast majority of my time was spent on long calls with lawyers or the prime contractor. These weren’t the most enthralling things and were often discussions around definitions, limitations, exclusions and all sorts of other words that will send you to sleep. By contrast during my second stint I was meeting with clients, designing solutions and working through the internal machinery of my company to make things happen. Being engaged is the key to being happy at any workplace however it becomes crucial when you’re in a flexible working arrangement.

Once I avoided those pitfalls though the benefits of working from home are numerous. I’m more easily able to manage my professional and personal schedules together, enabling me to dedicate more time to both without feeling exhausted. I spent far less time travelling as I’d be on the move during off-peak times rather than battling rush hour traffic each way. I was able to set up my work environment the way I wanted it to be, allowing me to be far more productive in the same amount of time. I could go on but there are so many more benefits, both tangible and intangible, that come from such flexible working arrangements.

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Star Wars Battlefront: This is Not the Star Wars Game You’re Looking For.

It’s a great time to be a Star Wars fan, as this writer is. Whilst the IP has never really been left alone it’s seen new life breathed into it with the latest movie and the hubbub that has surrounded it. Released just before the movies the revived Star Wars Battlefront game had promised to bring the big screen action to your home PC or console, putting you on the ground in some of the key battles that defined the franchise. However the controversy surrounding the game’s release has been strong with many long time fans (and the game’s original incarnation) simply straight up boycotting the game. I’ve finally managed to get some time with the title and, in all honesty, I can’t disagree with many of the issues that have been raised, some of which are made even worse by some horrendous design choices.

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Battlefront takes place on the various iconic sets that defined the Star Wars triologies. You’ll be down on the ground during the battle of Hoth, fending off imperial AT-AT walkers from the base’s power supplies. Next you’ll find yourself on the forest moon of endor, dodging and weaving through the trees to do battle with the opposing force. There’s even numerous maps on the new desert planet of Jakku where the ruins of an imperial fleet play host to numerous skirmishes and large 40 v 40 battles. There are a few single player challenges for you to try your hand at but they mostly function as a way to introduce you to some of the mechanics and to give you credits to spend on in-game unlocks. Suffice to say in terms of settings EA got a lot right, focusing on the things that fans of both the franchise and the original game wanted to see.

Battlefront stands out as the pinnacle of graphics in 2015 with the expansive environments filled with incredible amounts of detail having no rival. This should come as no surprise given its pedigree with the developer, DICE, being responsible for previous graphical marvels in the Battlefield franchise. This no doubt helps with the larger than life feeling that the game strives to create as no environment feels more alive than the ones that DICE created for this version of Battlefront. Of course if you’re wanting to see this game at its peak you’ll need to pay admission price, something which even my recently upgraded rig struggled to achieve at some points.

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Mechanically Battlefront is your typical multi-player shooter set in the Star Wars universe and many of the mechanics take their inspiration from it. There’s a variety of weapons at your disposal, the choice of which largely determine by your play style. The star card system, which allows you to pick 3 different power ups, allows you to customize your character further. The unlock system feels like the original Black Ops online mode with credits being awarded at the end of each match which you can spend to unlock gear (most of which requires a certain rank to attain). There are handful of different game modes most of which will be instantly familiar with a number of them that make use of Battlefront’s more unique mechanics like the hero powerups. Suffice to say Battlefront has all the trappings of a decent multiplayer only shooter however that’s only half the battle and, unfortunately, it’s that other half which it loses hard.

The FPS combat mechanics are a little odd, tending more towards the current console shooter trends more than its PC roots would have you believe. There’s a 3rd person mode which strangely imposes no penalties (which means you should be using it, no question) and the ADS system doesn’t provide an accuracy bonus. As someone who’s played far too many hours of Call of Duty recently this took a little getting used to but it’s serviceable once you get settled. Battlefront, like the Battlefield games before it, is one that rewards players with more powerful weapons and powerups the longer you play. This means that you’ll often come up against opponents that have far better gear than you. Whilst skill can overcome that gap in most situations it does mean for latecomers like myself you feel at a significant disadvantage for a decent period of time. This is somewhat made up for by the relatively fast levelling system, however that’d only work if the matchmaking of Battlefront wasn’t so horribly broken.

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Among the various questionable choices made (I won’t touch the DLC debacle, that’s already been done to death) Battlefront’s matchmaking does away with dedicated servers in favour of its own matchmaking service. On PC though this system simply doesn’t work 90% of the time, failing to find games or putting you in an empty lobby which never gets past half full. It’s not limited to the big game modes either as every time I’ve opened up Battlefront I’ve tried every single mode at least once to see if I can find a game. Should Battlefront have the option to queue for a full game (like its Battlefield predecessors did) this wouldn’t be an issue but alas there isn’t one. Worst still is the fact that the teams aren’t balanced or randomized after every game, meaning that should one team completely destroy the other that will likely continue indefinitely. Sure you can try and leave and rejoin, but you’ll likely get stuck trying to find another game for 30+ minutes again.

It’s a real shame because it’s these kinds of frustrations that up and kill most of my motivation to play Battlefront. The game itself is a great bit of fun, even if it’s not balanced well like other shooters are, but when it’s locked behind so much waiting I find myself drifting back to my old haunts. Sure some of these problems are due to the relatively small PC player base (some 10% of the XboxOne or PlayStation4) but even 10,000 players should be enough to ensure near instant queues for games. Unfortunately it seems like a solution to this problem won’t be forthcoming any time soon and will likely be hidden behind the dreaded season pass paywall.

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Battlefront has all the makings of a great Star Wars game, one that faithfully pays homage to the original IP, but unfortunately falls short of attaining it. The graphics are simply marvellous, easily the best of any game that was released in 2015. The game play, whilst feeling a little unpolished when compared to other similar titles, does have a certain charm to it even when you’re facing off against foes who are far beyond your own level. The matchmaking brings the whole show down, ensuring that half your play time will be spent waiting for a game which will inevitably end up being an unbalanced horror show, either in or your favour or against. Whilst I’ll likely return for a bash every so often I can’t see myself forking over the extra cash for the privilege of doing so, at least not until EA and DICE get off their collective asses to fix it.

Rating: 7.5/10

Star Wars Battlefront is available on PC, XboxOne and PlayStation4 right now for $59 on all platforms. Game was played on the PC with approximately 8 hours of total play time.

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The Talos Principle: What Does it Mean to be a Person?

Even with my 1 per week review schedule there are still some games that manage to slip by. My little notepad with games I’ve flagged to review lists no less than 30 titles which I didn’t manage to get to in their year of release, some of them which received wide critical praise. Every so often though I get a chance to go back through that list and pick one lucky title to play through. On a whim I installed The Talos Principle before a recent trip down to the coast, figuring I might have a couple hours spare to see what everyone was talking about. Now, 18 hours of solid game time later, I’m incredibly glad I did as The Talos Principle really isn’t the kind of game you’d expect from the same development team behind the mindless shooter Serious Sam.

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You awake to find yourself in what looks like a courtyard of a ruined castle. A disembodied voice booms, announcing itself as ELOHIM: your creator, protector and guide through this world. Should you do your tasks diligently, he says, you will be granted eternal life alongside him. The trials he has set out before you are curious ones and the various terminals dotted around the landscape contain data that seem to speak of a world beyond this one. ELOHIM only has one restriction which he has placed upon you: the grey tower that extends into the sky must not be climbed. Will you be his diligent servant and attain eternal life? Or will you defy your god and seek out what truth lies atop the tower?

The Talos Principle certainly has a nice aesthetic to it, even if the environments are somewhat barren of detail upon closer inspection. The various worlds you’ll be solving puzzles in are certainly something of a contrast to the mechanics that reside in them. The worlds often being somewhat decayed, like they’d been there for centuries, whilst the puzzle mechanics are things straight up sci-fi. You’ll probably be spending the better part of 3~4 hours in each section (more if you’re going for stars) and so they do start to feel a touch monotonous after a little while. However you don’t need to 100% complete a section to get to the next one so you can always mix it up a bit if you’re seeking more variety.

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From a raw mechanics perspective The Talos Principle is a puzzler, requiring you to collect various “sigils” which are trapped behind gates or located somewhere inaccessible until the puzzle is solved. In the beginning you only have one tool at your disposal however each section comes with additional mechanics to ramp up the challenge. The Talos Principle is also not hard and fast when it comes to solutions either, allowing you to make use of some emergent game play in order to solve a puzzle in unintended ways. Many of the mechanics that you’ll learn early on, like the fact that 2 jammers can be taken pretty much anywhere, will come into play again and again. How you learn these tricks though can be an exercise in frustration as they seem incredibly obvious once you’ve figured them out.

However the “game” part of the Talos Principle is really just a medium for the much larger part of the game: it’s story. Whilst I won’t dive into details yet (I’ll save that for the spoiler section below) suffice to say that the game’s expertly crafted story, which is woven into nearly all aspects of the game, is what will keep driving you forward. Indeed if The Talos Principle was just the mechanics described above it’d be another puzzler in the vast sea of that genre however it’s the story which elevates it far beyond that. There are few games in which I’ve worked so hard in order to unlock all the endings and apart from one of them I’m very glad I did.

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The puzzles are mostly rewarding exercises in figuring out how to exploit all the mechanics you have at your disposal in order to open the requisite gates. The beginning puzzles for each new mechanic start off easy so you can get a feel for them without a mountain of frustration. However they quickly ramp up to the point where you have to constantly question your approach to solving them. So many times I would be attempting to solve the puzzle in the way I thought it should be solved before realising that was what was stopping me from solving it. The Talos Principle is also probably one of the most devious and deceptive games I’ve ever played in that respect, playing upon the player’s assumptions in order to make the puzzles far more challenging than they really are.

That’s probably one of the most genius aspects of The Talos Principle as just as you think you’ve got them figured out they’ll throw another curve ball at you. When you figure out some puzzles actually involve other puzzles it feels revelatory, until you realise that knowing that can send you down so many wrong paths it’s not funny. Indeed you can never quite know when knowledge granted to you is going to be a blessing or a curse. Considering the game’s underlying philosophical theme, which forces you to question the very reality you find yourself in, that seems quite fitting. Even if I sometimes cursed them for leading me astray.

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MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS FOLLOW

I liked that, early on, you’re given a pretty good sense of what the world is and what led to its creation. Of course the nuances of the world are much harder to figure out like who ELOHIM is, who that mystery voice is in the terminals and just why exactly you’ve come to be in this world. Discovering all those facts, intertwined with various bits of philosophy and legend, give you clues towards what the ultimate truth is. For me the puzzles were simply a means to the end, hoping to find the next tidbit of information that could lead me to a better understanding of the world I now found myself in. The philosophy parts felt like a bit of a cheap shot sometimes, the voice in the terminals needling you on any inconsistency (although doing the same to it was incredibly satisfying), but it does make for some good thought provoking discussion. Still since this is a video game there is obviously one “correct” answer when, in reality, that very concept is something that should be up for debate too.

Of the three different endings my favourite was by far the transcendence one as that feels like the fulfilment of your original purpose which now leaves you to define your own. The first and easiest ending definitely felt unsatisfactory, at least from the point of view of an outside observer. I have to admit I judged the gray sigil ending incorrectly, figuring it would have you taking over as ELOHIM, but knowing what I know now becoming one of his messengers seems like the a fate that no one should choose. Perhaps this is something that’s explored in a bit more depth in the story DLC, something which I unfortunately haven’t had the time to play. Still overall The Talos Principle does an exceptional job in telling its story, even if 2 of the endings felt a little lacklustre.

PLOT SPOILERS OVER

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The Talos Principle is an absolute gem of a game, expertly weaving a deep and enthralling story into a mechanically complex and rewarding puzzler. The core game is a great example of a physics based puzzler, taking inspiration from many similar titles but creating its own unique experience. Behind this though is a story which has you questioning nearly all aspects of existence, from what it means to be a person through to whether or not you can really empirically prove anything. For a game which I had only thought would get a few hours of my time The Talos Principle did an amazing job of sucking me in and ensuring I could not leave until I had completed its every challenge. For that I commend it and sincerly regret not getting to it sooner.

Rating: 9.0/10

The Talos Principle is available on PC right now for $9.99 ($49.99 usually). Total play time was 18 hours with 68% of the achievements unlocked.

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Anno 2205: To The Moon.

Most single player games are played either for relaxation, escapism or a combination of both. However there are some that feel more like running a marathon, igniting your mental faculties in such a way as to leave you exhausted by the end of it. StarCraft and other RTS are like this, requiring concentration far beyond that of any other genre I’ve played. Anno 2205 requires a similar level of concentration however, instead of RAW APM and macro, it instead requires you to constantly recalculate the finite balance of the numerous resources you have to manage. One wrong move can send you on a downward spiral that can be hard to pull out of, or send you on your trajectory to corporate supremacy.

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Anno 2205 predictably takes place in the future, some 135 years after the previous instalment in the series. In this future the Earth has become starved for energy and other precious resources and thus has turned towards the Moon in order to save it. You are the head of a fledgling new corporation who has been accepted into the Lunar Licensing program which aims to free Earth from its current energy bonds. Your goal is to establish a fusion reactor on the moon and transmit that energy back to Earth, no small goal for a company that just established its first warehouse. Along the way you’ll have to establish global trade routes, fight off those who would thwart you and ensure that your company remains financially viable so you can continue expanding your empire.

The graphics of Anno 2205 are a marked step up from its predecessor with a whole new engine powering a complete overhaul of the graphics and UI. Gone is the semi-dreamlike aesthetic which has been replaced by a crisp, detailed world. The typical Anno stylings are still present however so if you’ve played any of the preceding titles it will still feel familiar. These upgraded visuals do come at a cost however as even my machine would start to sputter and spurt whenever I hovered over a particularly dense part of the world. Still it rarely became unplayable but for those who might be on lower end hardware long games are certainly going to be a struggle.

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Anno 2205 retains the same RTS/city building hybrid game play that its predecessors had however many changes have been made in the name of streamlining the experience. Instead of managing trade routes within a single map everything is shared instantly. You still have trade routes to manage however they’re at a more macro level between areas. Anno 2205 also guides you through the various trials and tribulations that it will throw at you, telling you what critical shortages are impacting you and when you should investigate something. There’s also some new mechanics included to make sure that you don’t find yourself in an unrecoverable situation, however it’s still up to you to get yourself out of it. The combat has also been relegated to its own separate encounter, meaning you don’t have to manage your military and trade all in the one spot. Other than that however Anno 2205 plays out much like its predecessors did, requiring you to make sure you have enough of everything so your employees stay happy so you can remain profitable.

Like most similar games Anno 2205 feels extremely overwhelming on first play as there is just so much you need to learn and understand. Thankfully though the tutorial is great at stepping you through the various goals you need to meet in order to reach the next objective. You are, of course, free to ignore that completely and pursue your own objectives independently however Anno’s rather linear progression means that you’d be wise to follow its instruction. After a while you start to get a feel for the impact that your actions have on your world and that allows you to start building out a plan of attack for progression towards the next goal.

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For instance your advanced resource colonies (Arctic and Lunar) are almost always going to be loss-leaders. I tried extremely hard to make them profitable however they just never seemed to get into positive territory. The main tropical ones however can have you rolling in cash in no short order, meaning you should focus on building them out as much as you can whilst only building the minimal components in the others in order to support them. Then, once your cash reserves are high enough, you can look towards building them out a bit more in order to support the next goal or tech tier which will then allow your main colony to thrive further. Attempting anything else seemed to lead to me running into negative cashflow territory quickly, something which torpedoes any kind of growth you were experiencing.

Thankfully when that happens the game, at least on its default settings, is generous with the bailouts it gives and the conditions that are imposed on you when they’re given. This means that, should you find yourself in a dire situation, you’ll get lump sumps of cash from the Lunar Licensing program in order to continue your work. Gone are the days when a downward spiral in Anno meant you’d be restarting your game, something I was thankful for given I flirted with bankruptcy more than once. Past a certain point though credits no longer matter and it all comes down to the resources you can generate.

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In the beginning this all comes from simply building as many things as you can, however that will quickly have you running out of credits and space. After that point you’ll need to engage in combat missions in order to get upgrade materials to make your resource generation more efficient. These missions are essentially micro exercises, pitting your combat fleet against a torrent of enemies and objectives. They’re not especially difficult although they do have a gear check requirement for the higher levels which can’t really be overcome with skill alone. Still whenever I found myself wanting for resources it didn’t take long to get them, something I was thankful for given the rather huge time sink requirement games like Anno have. Removing this aspect from the core game is a welcome change too as it always felt far too fiddly having to manage all those aspects together all in the same map in previous instalments.

Indeed whilst many Anno purists where crying foul over the streamlining I feel like it was the best thing about 2205. 2070 always had far too much going on with so many variables to track in order to make sure that everything was working as intended. 2205 by contrast keeps you informed of what’s going on without being too heavy on the information side and shows you exactly where the deficiencies are coming from so you can address them directly. Sure it might be a simpler game, one that’s not so mechanically complex, but there is such a thing as too much complexity and that’s definitely how I felt with 2070.

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Anno 2205 is a great evolution of the series, bringing with it streamlined gameplay and updated visuals that really ramps up the Anno experience. The core game remains largely the same, with the resource balancing act still being the key to everything, however it’s a lot less mentally exhausting. The various other aspects have been carved up into their own little sections, further reducing the mental burden. You’ll still be saddling up for quite some time however as reaching the ultimate goal took even this seasoned gamer numerous hours to complete. For fans of the series or just this type of game in general Anno 2205 is a great title, one that’s sure to provide countless hours of addiction…I mean entertainment.

Rating: 8/10

Anno 2205 is available on PC right now for $59.99. Total play time was approximately 9 hours.

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SpaceX Falcon-9 Sticks the Landing.

An efficient, cost effective reusable launch system has been the holy grail for all those seeking access to space. There have been numerous attempts, the most notable of which being the venerable Space Shuttle, however even that failed to achieve its goals of drastically reducing the cost of putting things into orbit. SpaceX has made significant headway into making orbital access cheaper however their lofty goals of a reusable system have eluded them thus far. However, just yesterday, they managed to hit a critical milestone: the first stage of their V1.1 Falcon-9 making a successful vertical landing at their site at Cape Canaveral.

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The mission was set to launch the day previous however it was delayed in order to increase the chance of a successful recovery landing by another 10% (which also gave us a spectacular night launch, depicted above). The payload aboard the Falcon-9 was 11 ORBCOMM satellites which are low earth orbit communications satellites designed for Machine to Machine communications (essentially tracking and sensor data primarily). After a successful launch into orbit the first stage begun preparations to bring itself back down to earth. Then, only 10 minutes after the initial launch, it landed successfully back on earth to much fanfare from the ground control crew at SpaceX.

Unlike previous first stage recovery attempts this one used an area of flat land rather than the sea based drone ship. This is something of a simpler challenge, since you’re not trying to track a moving target, however those initial tests provided significant risk mitigation should something have gone wrong. Whilst this is the first successful demonstration of the technology at an orbital scale it’s definitely not the first time SpaceX have managed to successfully land a rocket vertically (despite what Jeff Bezo’s tweet about it would lead you to believe). That achievement is held by SpaceX’s Grasshopper demonstration rocket which has been in operation for some years now.

This achievement allows SpaceX to continue development on their reusable launch system program. Whilst the rocket has made it successfully back to Earth it’s certainly worse for wear, showing significant discolouration along its entire fuselage. The challenge SpaceX faces now is how to refurbish the rocket in order to make it flight worthy again, something which has proved to be quite costly for other reusable systems. However SpaceX has said it is confident that the recovery process will make their Falcon-9 rocket either cheaper or more performant (or both, they hope). Whilst they’ve long since abandoned any plans to make the Falcon-9 fully reusable (the second stage is considered unrecoverable, for now) it will be very interesting to see how the first stage recovery affects the service SpaceX can provide.

This is an incredible achievement for SpaceX, demonstrating that they’re quite capable of pushing the envelope in launch system technology. It’s these kinds of improvements that help drive down the cost of access to space and will hopefully pave the way for NASA and other space faring nations to focus on what they do best.

Star Wars The Force Awakens

The Physics Faux Pas of The Force Awakens.

Before we get started let me just put this here:

LARGE PLOT SPOILERS BELOW FOR THE NEW STAR WARS MOVIE

There, now that’s out of the way let’s get onto the meat of this post.

Star Wars The Force Awakens

I, like all Star Wars fans, had been very much looking forward to the latest movie. Whilst I have my reservations about some aspects of it (which I’ll reserve for a conversation over a couple beers as to avoid a flamewar on here) I still thoroughly enjoyed it. However like most sci-fi movies The Force Awakens plays fast and loose with science. Following the rules of our universe when it suits the plot and sweeping them under the rug when it doesn’t. There are some grievances that I’m willing to let slide in this respect, this is fiction after all, however there’s at least one egregarious scene in which physics is completely thrown out the window when it really didn’t need to be.

My grievance lies with Starkiller base, the bigger and badder version of the Death Star which now encompasses an entire planet rather than just a small artificial moon. Whether such a device is something that could be built is something I’m willing to gloss over however the fact that it’s powered by drawing off mass from its neighbouring star brings with it a few niggling questions. It’s ultimate destruction, which then brings about the resurrection of its parent star, is also not something that would happen and not something I’d be willing to write off with space magic.

We get to see Starkiller base fire once and then begin preparations for firing again. Assuming that it didn’t travel to a new star in the interim (I don’t remember that being indicated as such) then it would’ve consumed half of its parent star’s mass to fire that single shot. That would’ve caused all sorts of grief for everything in orbit around it, not to mention the fact that that mass is now present on Starkiller base itself. Any asteroid or other debris near by should have rocketed down to the surface with incredible speed, laying waste to the surface. I’m willing to give a pass for a “gravity pump” or something else on the inside parts but being able to negate half the mass of a star over the entire planet is pure fantasy rather than a stretch of fiction.

However the final destruction of Starkiller base is the most egregious flaunt of the laws of physics. Putting aside all the mass contained within the star issue for a moment when it was all released the result would not be a new sun just like the old one. Whilst the mass was likely not compressed past its Schwarzschild radius (I’m assuming it’s a Sun like star) it would still be far too compressed to simply balloon back out. Instead it would likely become a white dwarf, that is if the explosion wasn’t violent enough to simply disperse the star’s material across its solar system. Since the system that Starkiller base resides in was never named I’m hazarding a guess it’s not relevant to the future plot so the returning sun just seems like a little bit of laziness more than anything else.

Of course I’m not advocating for 100% scientific accuracy in all films (indeed I don’t think there’s one good sci-fi epic that does) however a few nods here or there wouldn’t go astray. There are certain times where scientific accuracy would harm the plot and in that case I’m fine to relinquish it to induldge in the fantasy. Other times however it would do no harm and provide an interesting talking point as sometimes the physical reality can be far more interesting than the fantasy.

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Just Cause 3: Another Day for Rico Rodriguez.

The time has long since past when it was taboo for a game to not take itself seriously or take a hammer to the fourth wall. Indeed many titles have made their fame and fortune on just such a premise like the Saints Row and Just Cause series. The latter series longevity can almost wholly be attributed to the modding community that sprung up around it, allowing you to engage in rampant carnage with your friends at your side (along with other fun things). Expectations were then high for the sequel to include many of these improvements into the core game. Whilst not all of them made it in you can definitely see the influence the modding community has had on Just Cause 3, even if those improvements can’t cover some of the more lacklustre aspects of this latest instalment in the series.

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6 years after the events of Just Case 2 Rico Rodriguez makes his triumphant return home to Medici. His island has fallen under the iron fist of General Sebastiano Di Ravello, a not-so-benevolent dictator. His return home sees Rico pairing up with his childhood friends and some familiar faces from previous games all in the hopes of overthrowing Di Ravello. Of course his plan of attack is a simple one: cause as much chaos and destruction as possible, weakening the infrastructure upon which Di Ravello relies. It’s no small task but Rico is not one to shy away from a challenge like this.

Compared to nearly any other current generation game Just Cause 3 feels behind the times graphically. Indeed this contrast is no more stark than when compared to another recent release from Avalanche studios, Mad Max, which makes use of the same engine. After some initial tweaking I got it to look a little better however there’s really no hiding the fact that the graphics were simply not a priority. They’re serviceable, and to some extent expected given the level of chaos that can be on screen at times, but Just Cause 3 feels like it has more in common with the B-grade titles I’ve played rather than the rest of the AAAs it was released with.

Just Cause 3 Review Screenshot Wallpaper Blowing up a bridge

Staying true to its roots Just Cause is an open world game where there’s little difference between running missions and simply blowing up stuff at random for the fun of it. You’ve got a long campaign to follow if you so wish, but if you’d prefer to just have a bit of fun there’s more than enough to keep you interested. There’s various challenges which unlock mods for your gear, towns to liberate and an endless supply of collectibles and novelty items for you to scrounge up. Realistically though we all know what people are buying this game for: destroying anything and everything they set their eyes on, something which the game wholeheartedly enables and encourages. Everything else that’s contained herein is just icing on the destruction sandwich.

Combat is like any other 3rd person shooter with an incredibly generous infinite health mechanic. You can literally run and gun your way through entire army bases without having a care in the world, only needing to grapple away for a second or two when things go really south. It’s initially limited to aim-assisted console style shooting, which feels a little weird on the PC, but unlocks later change that up if you so wish. However killing enemies is really only a distraction from setting things on fire, blowing things up or making things fall on other things. This can be incredibly satisfying when you manage to pull off massive chain reaction, unleashing explosion after explosion as you sit back and watch the carnage. Other times it can be an exercise in frustration, searching for that one last thing you need to blow up in order to move to the next mission or objective.

Just Cause 3 Review Screenshot Wallpaper Wingsuit Challenge Fail

This is certainly fun for a little while however once you’ve liberated the 30th town things really do start to feel incredibly repetitive. There’s literally no variety to be found at all as once you’ve done a couple towns the rest are simply a different mix of the objectives you’ve seen. Worse still most of them feel visually identical, just the buildings rearranged slightly. Sure you can tackle the challenge in different ways but there’s only so many times you can drive a tank through the middle of a town and still be entertained. In all honesty I had thought that I had conditioned myself to be able to tolerate this for the sake of the main storyline. For Just Cause 3 though I was honestly so bored by the end that I just couldn’t be bothered to open the game up any more.

One thing that did keep me playing for longer than usual were the little challenges that popped up in the right hand side. Shown above is my failed attempt to beat one of my friend’s long standing wing suiting records, only to miss out by a mere 7 seconds right at the end. Whilst many of them are easy to game if you go on YouTube it can be quite a bit of fun to figure out how to maximise a certain thing in order to get to the top of the list. Less useful was the “X beat you 1 hour ago” pop ups which mentioned dozens of random players who I don’t know as I really couldn’t care if they beat my record or not. Still it’s a good mechanic, even if it isn’t the first game to use it.

Just Cause 3 Review Screenshot Wallpaper Farmer Rico

Of course no review of Just Cause 3 would be complete without mentioning the numerous glitches, bugs and annoyances that are permeated throughout the entire game. You’ll likely get stuck more than once trying to grapple to something, either resulting in your instant death or necessitating a reload. Wingsuiting anywhere close to terrain can result in your untimely death as well, often without any obstacle near you. Probably the worst thing though is the insanely long loading times which are especially frustrating when you’re trying to max out a challenge or going through a rough patch of crashes or glitches. Suffice to say I, whilst my expectations weren’t exactly high for Just Cause 3, I certainly wasn’t expecting the Bethesda levels of jank in Avalanche’s latest title.

Similarly Just Cause has never really been known as a game with high aspirations for the story and Just Cause 3 is no exception. The plot is paper thin at best with all of the characters being thoroughly 2 dimensional. Most of them are outrageous stereotypes that border on being racist with none of them being even remotely believable. This time around I couldn’t even be bothered to look for a mod to get me past the main missions so I could finish the main campaign, it was really that uninteresting. The one thing it has going for it is that it fits the whole B-grade feeling the game has, although I’m not quite sure that counts as a positive.

Just Cause 3 Review Screenshot Wallpaper Just Keep Driving

Just Cause 3 is pretty much what you’d expect it to be: a destruction sandbox and little else. The combat and destructible world, whilst not exactly inspired, does the job it was set to do. The world is large and expansive however it starts to feel repetitive very quickly given the lack of variety. It is unfortunately a bug and glitch ridden affair, something that is only made worse by the lacklustre story. Had Just Cause 3 come with multiplayer by default I may have been more forgiving as with all things B-grade they’re far better when enjoyed with a few beers with your mates. However Avalanche have left that task up to the modders once again, forgoing an opportunity to capitalize on the frenzy that they had created. Just Cause 3 might be worth the asking price for some, but for others it might be worth waiting until it goes on sale.

Rating: 6.5/10

Just Cause 3 is available on PC, XboxOne and PlayStation4 right now for $59.99, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 8 hours of total play time with 32% of the achievements unlocked.

A River of Ice in the Desert.

Climate change is happening, there’s no doubt about that, and the main factor at play here is us. The last decade has seen an increase in the frequency and severity of weather events all of which can be traced to the amount of carbon we dump into the atmosphere. Thankfully the Paris climate deal is a good first step towards remediating the problem, even if the majority of the provisions in there aren’t legally enforceable. Until we start true action though extreme weather events will lead to things like below, where a river of ice flows through the middle of a desert:

The river, which on first glance appears to be a flow of sand, was caused by extreme weather in Iraq that saw the country blanketed in heavy rain and hail. The ice then overflowed rivers and ended up creating this incredible phenomenon. It’s also the second freak weather event to hit Iraq since its last summer, when the country experienced an extraordinary heat wave where temperatures hit 52°C in Baghdad. Whilst things like this are interesting they’re a symptom of a much larger issue, one that we all need to work together to solve.

mitch fitfield

Hard Numbers Show MTM NBN Cost Blowouts, Delays.

In my mind there’s never been any doubt that the MTM NBN has been anything more than a complete debacle. At a technological level it is an inferior idea, one that fails to provide the base infrastructure needed to support Australia’s future requirements. As time went by the claims of “Fast, Affordable, Sooner” fell one by one, leaving us with a tangled mess that in all likelihood was going to cost us just as much as the FTTP solution would. Now there’s some hard evidence, taken directly from nbn’s own reports and other authoritative sources, which confirms this is the case and it’s caused quite a stir from the current communications minister.

mitch fitfield

The evidence, released by the Labor party last week in a report to the media, includes the following table and points to numerous sources for their data:

Labor NBN Cost Blowout Delay Table

The numbers are essentially a summary of much of the information that has already been reported on previously however it’s pertinent to see it all collated together in a single table. The first row showing that the initial cost estimates were far out of line with reality has been reported on extensively, even before the solution was fully costed out in the atrocious CBA. There was no way that the initial claims of the FTTN install costs would hold, especially with the amount of cabinets required to ensure that the speeds met their required minimums. Similarly assuming that Telstra’s copper network was only in need of partial remediation was pure fantasy as the aging network has been in sore need of an overhaul for decades. The rest of the figures simply boil down to the absolutely bullshit forecasting that the Liberal’s did in order to make their plan look better on paper.

This release has prompted a rather heated response from the current communications minister Mitch Fifield, one which strangely ignores all the points that the Labor release raised. Since the figures have been mostly taken directly from nbn’s reports it would be hard for him to refute them however he made no attempt to reframe the conversation to other more flattering metrics. Instead it focuses on a whole slew of other incidents surrounding the NBN, none of which are relevant to the above facts. With that in mind you can only conclude that he knows those facts are true and there’s no point in fighting them.

It’s completely clear that the Liberal’s have failed on their promises with the NBN and this song and dance they continually engage in to make it seem otherwise simply doesn’t work. The current state of the NBN is entirely on their hands now and any attempt to blame the previous government is a farce, carefully crafted to distract us away from the real issues at hand here. They could have simply replaced the nbn’s board and continued on as normal, claiming all the credit for the project. Instead they tried to make it their own and failed, dooming Australia to be an Internet backwater for decades to come.

Take your licks Fifield and admit that your government fucked up. Then I’ll grant you some leniency.

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Nurofen Ordered to Remove Misleading Products, Others Still Remain.

Marketing your product to different demographics in order to increase your marketshare is a trick as old as business itself. You can see it with nearly any product that’s got a his and her version as quite often they’re pretty much identical, save for the price. Others are more subtle in their approach, sometimes selling products in weird sizes or even going as far as saying that one product is actually a completely different one (when it isn’t). The latter is what has landed Reckitt Benckiser, the maker of the analgesic Nurofen, in a lot of hot water with the ACCC.

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The 4 above products, which are labelled in such a way to make you believe they’re designed to target specific types of pain, are in fact all identical to their generic pain reliever. Indeed even in this picture above (sourced directly from Nurofen’s site I might add) clearly shows that the active ingredients in all of these products is exactly the same. However the price on these products was significantly higher than their generic pain reliever which is what caught the ire of the ACCC. Nurofen has since lost their court battle with them and has been ordered to remove these products from shelves within 3 months, pay for the ACCC’s court fees and publish corrections in the media.

Whilst we’d all like to think that we’d be above such manipulation it appears that the vast majority of consumers would seek out treatment for specific types of pain rather than going for a generic pain reliever. This obviously presents an opportunity to artificially segment the market in order to generate more profit, something which nearly all major analgesic manufacturers currently do. This ruling then sets the precedent for ensuring that companies don’t engage in this kind of deception. However I hope the ACCC has their sights set on others as Reckitt Benckiser wasn’t the only one engaging in this practice.

Indeed Australia’s beloved brand Panadol also has various products that are also segmented along similar lines. Their Back and Neck pain tablets are identical to their standard tablets and the Osteo and Long Lasting Back and Neck pain ones are also identical in their formulation. Whilst I’m sure this ruling will likely prompt action from all analgesic manufacturers in Australia the ACCC can’t be discriminatory in whom it targets and they’ll need to pursue others who engage in such deceptive marketing strategies.

This ruling highlights the importance of being an informed consumer. Whilst there’s been great leaps made in recent times to make the information more accessible to your average buyer (unit pricing, for example) there’s still a major rift between them and the companies marketing to them. Rulings like this help to make sure that the companies are engaging honestly with us however we still need to be vigilant to ensure they don’t get away with any further tricks.