Monthly Archives: September 2012

TechEd Day 3: Less Hectic, More Interesting.

Today started out pretty much like yesterday. I did my typical thing of staying up just a tad too late thanks to DOTA 2 and my terrible addiction to watching the Discovery Channel if its on the hotel TV (you should’ve seen the gold dredging showdown I watched, it was incredible television) meant I wasn’t at 100% when I got up but the smorgasbord of breakfast stuffs and coffee are a powerful motivator. Also it seems the combination of some good old fashioned delayed onset muscle soreness coupled with what I think is a mild cold has left me in less than stellar shape. Still I made it to all the sessions I planned to today and some of them really impressed me, not least of which was PowerShell V3.0

I won’t go into terrible detail about it here as my post tomorrow on LifeHacker will give a better rundown of the features but suffice to say I’m excited to use it. It might be a long time before I get to see any of it in production (my current project is only just getting onto Windows 7) but I’ll probably be playing around with it at home as there’s an awful lot of good stuff in there that I could make use of. I’m probably going to have to sweet talk my way into a TechNet/MSDN subscription though as I don’t have access to one at the moment (nudge nudge wink wink Microsoft).

I was also very impressed by the number of value add services available from Microsoft for any kind of application. Long time readers will know of the pains I had back when I thought that I was only 2 steps away from being the next Internet success story and it seems I’m not alone if Microsoft has put this much effort into giving us plebs some amazing things for free. I’ve actually got an application in the pipeline that I’ve been working on casually for the past couple weeks and I think it’s going to be a good candidate to try some of these services out and hopefully actually launch it instead of procrastinating endlessly.

There was one particular session I was rather disappointed in (Building Cross Device Mobile Applications Powered By SQL Azure Federations if you were wondering) as the name lead me to believe there’d be a heavy focus on the challenges of cross platform development. It wasn’t unfortunately as the majority of the session was dedicated to the back end infrastructure with the cross platform part of it amounting to little more than “We used MonoTouch”. That’s cool and all but it’s nothing I didn’t learn a year ago after an hour or so of Googling the different options. I can understand that they can’t really spend the majority of their time here spruiking another company’s product but that doesn’t stop me from feeling somewhat disappointed.

Tomorrow’s my last day here and thankfully it’ll be a relatively tame affair as my current condition coupled with the potential shenanigans that I might get up to at the Hype party that’s currently raging near me could leave me as an incoherent mess. I’ll power on though because I’m crazy like that and it’d be a right shame to let an opportunity like this go to waste because I wasn’t feeling perfect on the day.

TechEd Day 2: Ah So This Is Journalism.

I can’t say I was enthused at the prospect at getting up at 7:00am this morning to meet with all the other media people over breakfast but I figured I should make the effort, if only for the fact that free food is hard to turn down. It was a bit of a struggle but nothing compared to attempting to do the same in freezing Canberra weather, something that I’m thankful for the brief respite from. After the breakfast and a quick chat with everyone we were whisked back down to the showcase floor to have a cosy session with some of the Microsoft guys, their customers and some solution providers.

If I’m honest these kinds of high level talks bore the crap out of me. I understand their place, they’re great for people who aren’t into the nuts and bolts of technology, but for someone like me who lives and dies by their understanding of how to implement/configure/maintain things they’re just not that useful. After that it was off to our session choices for the day and I had chosen a path that was focused on virtualization/cloud topics which turned out ok, save for the couple sessions that were simply not worth attending. In case you’re wondering the sessions I attended were:

  • VIR312 – Whats New in Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V Part 1
  • WSV313 – Architecting Private Clouds Using Windows Server 2012
  • AZR314  – Azure SQL, Tables, Blobs, Queues, Cache, Hadoop – Which one is right for me?
  • VIR315- Whats New in Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V Part 2
  • VIR316 – Comparing Private Cloud Capabilities
  • DEV317 – WinRT Deep Dive (I was going to do some Cloud Auth thing but this looked better).

VIR 312 and VIR315 well worth attending as they gave a really solid overview of the new features in Hyper-V 3.0. I had read about most of them before but it was great to get an introduction to those things that aren’t usually covered in much detail in marketing material. Those two sessions were the basis for the first part of my blog for LifeHacker (which will be up tomorrow morning I believe) with the second half being based on some of the things I gleaned whilst attending the cloud sessions. The sessions I’d probably skip catching up on are WSV313 and VIR316 as they’d only be useful if you’d never designed a virtual infrastructure before or if you you weren’t capable of comparing Microsoft and VMware’s offerings. The last two were really just for me, although I’ll probably use some of the info I got from them in tomorrow’s post.

I was also lucky enough to win one of the helicopter rides because I tweeted something non-generic at the right time. It was a pretty quick affair, just a 15 minute jaunt around Broadbeach and Soutbank but it was pretty awesome to get a birds eye view of the place. I certainly didn’t expect to win when I entered with my slightly bizwank-esque tweet but obviously the people behind the account love to indulge in a little geek humour.

The whole day was really entertaining but thoroughly exhausting. When I wasn’t in a session or a helicopter I was up in the media room review my notes from the previous session and attempting to draft up the post for the day. When I was first told that I only needed to do one post a day I didn’t consider it much of a challenge, I mean I’ve been doing exactly that for years now, but its one thing to research a single idea and write about it and a whole other thing to try and distil 6+ hours of content into a single blog post. I think I did a good job of getting at a couple ideas I believe are key (and the editor liked it) but I’m so exhausted that I’m not sure how the greater public will recieve it.

But then again I don’t usually know that anyway 😉

TechEd Day 1: Toys, Technology and Technobabble.

Having been given the choice of coming up here late last night or early this morning I did what any enterprising person would do and elected to spend the extra night up here at the Gold Coast so I could enjoy a leisurely start to my day. It was worth it too as instead of having to get up at 4:30 in the morning I was able to stroll out of bed at 8am, wander aimlessly around Broadbeach for a while looking for food and then casually make my way over to my hotel for the rest of the week. After wasting a couple hours on Reddit waiting for the appointed hour to arrive I headed on down to the convention centre and met up with the guys from LifeHacker, Allure Media and the other contest winners. It was great to finally meet everyone and to put names to the faces (like Terry Lynch and Craig Naumann) and of course I didn’t at all mind that I was then presented with the shiny new ASUS Zenbook and Nokia Lumia 900 to take home. Whilst I’ve given the Zenbook something of a workout already I haven’t had a chance to play with the Lumia thanks to my sim being of the large variety and it needing a micro.

Hopefully I’ll get some time spare to sort that out tomorrow.

We then headed off for lunch where I met one of their videographers and talked shop with everyone for a good couple hours over steak, wine and honeycomb bark. As an informal affair it was great and we were pretty much told that there weren’t any restrictions on what we could talk about, so long as they were at least tangentially related to Windows Server 2012. Thankfully it looks like the focus of this year’s TechEd is going to be about Server 2012 anyway so even if we were going to go off the rails we really wouldn’t have far to go. Still I was pleased to find out that our choices of sessions provided a good mix so that we were all able to go to the ones we wanted to. I’ve chosen to cover primarily Windows Azure and the cloud integration aspects of Server 2012 as whilst I’m sure there’s a lot going on below that level my interest, at least in recent times, has been focused on just how Microsoft is going to bring cloud down to all those loyal system administrators who’ve been with Microsoft for decades.

The keynote was equal parts run-of-the-mill tech announcements coupled with, dare I say it, strange forays into the lands of philosophy and technology futurism. Now I can’t claim complete innocence here as I did make a couple snarky tweets whilst Jason Silva was up on stage but in reality whilst his speeches and videos were thought provoking I struggled to see how they were relevant to the audience. TechEd, whilst being full of creative and dedicated people, isn’t exactly TED; I.E. it’s not a big ideas kind of deal. It’s a tech show, one where system administrators, architects and developers come together to get a glimpse at the latest from Microsoft. Delving into the philosophy of how technology is changing humanity is great but there are better times for presentations like that like say TEDx Canberra which was just on recently.

The technology part of the keynote was interesting even if it was your usual high level overview that lacked any gritty detail. For me the take away from the whole thing was that Microsoft is now heavily dedicated to not only being a cloud provider but becoming the cloud platform that powers enterprises in the future. Windows Server 2012 appears to be a key part of that and if what they’re alluding to turns out to be true you’ll soon have a unified development platform that will stretch all the way from your own personal cloud all the way back to a fully managed public cloud that Microsoft and its partners provide. If that promise is sounding familiar to you it should as HP said pretty much the same thing not too long ago and I’m very keen to see how their offering works in comparison.

There were also some performances from various artists like the one from Synaecide above in which he utilizes as Kinect controller to manipulate the music with his movements. It was certainly impressive, especially in comparison to the interpretive dancer who obviously had zero control over what was happening on screen, and these are the kinds of things I’d like to see more of as they show off the real innovative uses of Microsoft technology rather than just the usual PowerPoint to death followed by a highly scripted demo. After this all finished we were allowed to go off and have a look around the showcase where all the Microsoft partners had set up shop and were giving out the usual swag which was when I decided to take my leave (after raiding the buffet, of course!).

With all this being said I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into the real meat of TechEd 2012: the new technology. It’s all great to sell ideas, visions and concepts but nothing is more powerful to me than demonstrable technology that I can go home and use right away. Those of you following me on Twitter will know that I’ve already expressed scepticism at some of the claims has made during the keynote but don’t let that fool you. Whilst I might be among Microsoft’s critics I’m also one of their long time fans so you can rest assured that any amazing leaps will be reoported and missteps pointed out and ridiculed for your amusement.

Now I’d best be off, I’ve got an early start tomorrow.

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron: Until All Are One.

As a child that grew up in the late 80s/early 90s it should come as no surprise that I have a bit of a thing for the transformers franchise. I spent countless hours watching nearly all forms of the animated series and my parents would loathe to tell you just how much of their money I spent on the action figures. I can tell you now that whilst I didn’t mind the first of the recent movie adaptations I wasn’t as impressed with the instalments, only seeing them after they were released on DVD. You can then understand why I was somewhat tentative about the release of games within the Transformers franchise as whilst they’re not based directly on the movie they were almost certainly done in order to capitalize on their existence. Still there were many good reviews floating around and even my highly sceptical gamer friends were saying positive things about them so they couldn’t be half bad.

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron takes place long before the movies and starts with you, playing as Bumblebee, aboard the Autobot’s ark departing Cybertron after the last war ravaged the planet causing it to shut down. Fall of Cybertron then takes place through a series of flashbacks to the week leading up until the events at the start, showing the final battles upon Cybertron. You’ll play as both Autbots and Decepticons, giving you a feel for both side’s motivations. Eventually you’ll come full circle back to where the game originally started you at for a final epic battle between the two leaders of the Transformer armies.

Fall of Cybertron is a visually intensive game that has scenes ranging from wide open battlefields that seem to stretch on forever to claustrophobic corridors that you’ll barely be able to navigate around. The graphics aren’t exactly cutting edge, most likely due to this game being primarily designed for consoles, but it does quite well within those limitations. This is usually achieved through things like motion blur and extensive use of dynamic lighting, something which is extremely costly to do on a console but easily worked in for a PC port. Fall of Cybertron’s visual style is also a testament to the idea that bright colours help keep a game visually interesting for extended periods of time as I didn’t once feel like I was trudging through a repetitive environment.

Right off the bat I got the feeling that Fall of Cybertron was very similar play style to another action/shooter game, namely Warhammer 40K: Space Marine. They feel quite similar in the way they play as they’re both action oriented shooters that are broken up by sections with distinctive game play. That line though is somewhat blurry in Fall of Cybertron as once you’ve been given the ability to transform you’re pretty much free to do it whenever you want to which makes the delineation of sections somewhat moot. It can also be the different between breezing through a certain section and struggling with it for a long time as some areas are much easier in vehicle form despite them having been designed for robot form.

That being said though the combat of both forms is really enjoyable. Initially it’s pretty much just full time run and gun as you can just blast your way through everything with caring too much about strategy. As the game goes on however that kind of strategy starts to falter and you’ll find yourself having to plan your moves carefully lest you get torn apart by the hordes of other transformers waiting in the wings. Since you’re never playing the same transformer for longer than a chapter you’ll also have an unique ability each time that you’ll have to make use of which helps to keep Fall of Cybertron from feeling too repetitive.

It bears mentioning however that there really is a huge difference in the difficulty levels in Transformers: Fall of Cybertron. Now as I’m something of a power gamer I chose to go for the hardest difficulty right off the bat and for quite a while I found the challenge to be right up my alley. However there came one section (the first time when Optimus Prime sees Starscream butchering his fellow Autobots) where there really was no strategy that could get me past there. From what I could gather this was because the ramp up in difficulty level was, in essence, giving the enemies more damage and a faster reload. When confronted with 2 shotgun troopers in a confined space this meant I couldn’t take more than a single hit before keeling over and I had to reduce to the difficulty setting to pass. With this in mind I don’t feel like there’s anything to be gained from playing the game on its hardest difficulty setting as there’s not much more enjoyment to be gleaned from upping it.

Fall of Cybertron also includes an upgrade system that allows you to improve yourself and the myriad of weapons you’ll come across whilst venturing through Cybertron. Most of them are pretty bog standard things: improved reload time, upgraded damage and better accurary but once you’ve unlocked all the upgrades the last one is usually something quite unique to the weapon in question. The Riot Cannon, for example, has a last upgrade that makes every last shot in the clip do 500% damage which can be incredibly devastating if used at the right time. I’ll have to admit though that I barely touched the consumables and the other upgrades as I didn’t really feel like I needed them and I certainly didn’t struggle to complete Fall of Cybertron without them.

There’s also a couple of stealth sections where you’ll have to sneak around and avoid detection in order to move on. If I’m honest I’d have to say that these sections were my least favourite aspect of Fall of Cybertron as whilst the cloak mechanic is done well the sections built off it are less so. For instance the stealth detecting transformers will switch into a heavy armoured mode upon detecting you meaning you’ve really only got a short window to do damage to them. It would take about 3 or 4 attack cycles for me to be able to bring one down and there are sections where there are upwards of 5 or more. Sure I can understand that I probably wasn’t meant to engage them at that point but when alerting 1 alerts all of them within the area you really don’t have a lot of choice at some points.

The stealth sections also seem to run somewhat counter to the rest of the game which was very much run and gun. So every time I had to try and stealth past something, usually spending minutes waiting for them all to move out of the way so I had a clean run through, felt like hours compared to the intense action in other parts. This could be remedied by giving the stealthers some form of one shot kill to use against those detector things as then you’d have a viable strategy to take them all out. Still since these stealth sections were in the minority I won’t fault Fall of Cybertron too much for this, although there are some things I feel I have to comment on.

Fall of Cybertron has a few very noticeable glitches, at least in the PC version that I played. The screenshot above is from one of my less than favourite stealth sections where I managed to get outside the level box and ended up driving around on top of the level before falling endlessly and restarting from a checkpoint. I got there by aggroing the stealth detector bots then hiding in one of the tunnels which was quite small. Their attacks can bounce you up a little bit and it seems that in doing so this turns clip off briefly which pushed me through the level. Try as I might to get back in there was no way to do it apart from reloading which was rather frustrating.

Enemies also appear to suffer from clipping issues as well as I had several of the Jumper bots get stuck on ledges or partially in walls after they’d try to attack me. For those times I didn’t have to reload (although the one stuck in the wall with his back almost fully covered by said wall was close) but it did signal to me that there were some systematic issues at play here that could do with fixing. I don’t believe they’d be a hard fix either but since they’re not game breaking I don’t expect that we’ll see a fix to them any time soon.

The story of Fall of Cybertron is also pretty true to the Transformer’s canon and as a long time fan of the franchise this makes me quite happy. There’s not a lot of substance to it of course, thanks to its origins as a kids show and being a primarily action focused game, but all the key characters are there ensuring that fans of the Transformers will likely get to meet and/or play their favourites. Whether they’ll continue to develop the Transformers game franchise from this point on though will be interesting as I’ve heard hints that they be going off canon for the next instalment and I’m not sure how well that would work out.

Transforms: Fall of Cybertron is probably the best Transformers game I’ve played and I think that’s due to it being untied to a movie and was allowed to explore the canon in its own way. The game play, for the most part, was really enjoyable and the minor glitches and so-so stealth sections were long forgotten by the end. The praise heaped on these Transformers titles is well deserved as they’re pretty well polished experiences that are well versed in the Transformer’s universe making it an awesome experience for the fans.

Rating: 8.75/10

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is available on PC, PS3 and Xbox360 for $49.99, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC with 7.2 hours of total playtime and 36% of the achievements unlocked.

Housekeeping And Heads Up For Next Week.

Just going to make a quick post housekeeping post today as there’s a couple things I want to update you guys on. If you’re a dedicated LifeHacker reader you may have noticed that my ugly mug graced the front page for a while yesterday   and yes it’s true I’ll be covering TechEd 2012 Australia for them. It’s an incredible opportunity and I’m very excited to be doing it so for most of next week I’ll probably be recapping my day on here with all the real writing appearing on LifeHacker’s site. The posts on here probably won’t be at their usual time however so if you’re looking for your regular lunch time-ish article I’m going to have to disappoint you for a while.

I’m in the middle of migrating this blog over from my old Windows VPS that’s served me well over the past couple years to a Linux VPS with a ton more capacity. I tried to make the move last night but after getting everything up and running everything seemed to go pear shaped and nothing but index.php was being served by Apache so I trashed it all and started again this morning. I’m hopeful that this migration will go along smoothly but if things disappear it’s mostly because the two databases weren’t completely in sync at the time. This post was written on the old server and will likely disappear when the real migration occurs. Once that happens though I’ll know everything has worked and I’ll be working to get everything back up again.

Also, if you’ll allow me to get a little sappy for a second, I want to give you my heartfelt thanks for reading my tripe for the past 4 years as that was what motivated me to enter the LifeHacker competition in the first place. I didn’t start off as a great writer (as I’ve been told several times in no uncertain terms) but the feedback, comments and pageviews you guys gave me were enough incentive to keep on writing and improving my craft to a point where I felt confident enough to attempt something like this. That being said the true test is going to be how well the wider public receives my writing which is making me both excited and extremely nervous at the same time. Still I have no doubt it’s going to be great and I really do feel that all of you helped me get there in some way.

Now back to configuring Apache… 😉

How Colour Works and Other Interesting Stuff With Light.

Ever since my red-wine induced inspiration struck some months ago I’ve been on a bit of a period of rediscovering my love for all things photographic including the science behind it. I’m not terribly good with high concepts of these sorts of things and found that I work much better if I understand everything from a fundamental level. Whilst this might lead me into some rather esoteric areas of science (Scheimpflug principle, anyone?) I do find that the understanding that I glean from them helps me understand a whole host of things that seemed like a mystery to me before.

Of course browsing Wikipedia for hours is not everyone’s fancy so today instead I give you a video done by the Vsauce guy from YouTube on how colour works:

If that wasn’t enough then check out the amazing properties of calcite crystals which exhibit some really intriguing behaviour:

 

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet: A Cinematic Shooter/Puzzler.

The number of games that find success on one platform and then spread to others has trended upwards significantly over the past couple years. If I was to hazard a guess as to why this is I’d have to say that the tooling available is probably the primary reason as many of the games that make the transition are Xbox Live Arcade titles. For that we can thank the Microsoft XNA framework which does a lot of the heavy lifting for the developers meaning that the only thing holding back a cross platform release is reworking the UI/controls for a different platform. That’s still a challenge which is why you don’t see every single XBLA game instantly on the PC but even a modicum of success will usually mean a PC release not long after. Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is one such title having found wild success late last year and then debuting on the PC this year.

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (I’m going to abbreviate this to ITSP from now on) takes place in a far off galaxy in a solar system inhabited with a highly advanced race of aliens. Everything seems peachy until a tangled black mass rockets through their home system, eventually crashing into their sun. Instead of being instantly vaporized however it appears to take over the sun itself, forming a kind of Dyson Sphere around it. Then it launches several other replicants of itself at all the planets in the system that perform much the same function as the original asteroid did. You then take it upon yourself to rid your solar system of this menace,  jumping in your hilariously stereotypical UFO and heading out with nothing much more than a scanner and a vendetta.

Right off the bat ITSP sets itself apart from all the other 2D puzzlers I’ve played recently by having some incredible cinematic direction. Whilst games like Unmechanical did the majority of their story telling through the game itself ITSP does quite a bit in some incredibly well directed cutscenes. Indeed the initial plot summary I gave you above all takes place within one such scene and everything about it, from the choice of artwork to the awesomely epic soundtrack, just made it feel like it was ripped directly from a high budget animated movie. That artistic style continues on throughout the game and it’s probably one of the most enjoyable things about ITSP.

ITSP brands itself as a “multi-directional shooter” however I feel like it’s far more appropriately classified as a 2D puzzler with shooter aspects. While you will spend a good amount of time firing at all the various enemies that will try to get you in all sorts of random ways the majority of your time will be spent solving some kind of puzzle. They’re not mutually exclusive things either as quite often you’ll be force to try and solve some kind of puzzle whilst under fire from all directions making what would be a simple encounter much more challenging. The two core game mechanics blend well together making for both exciting and challenging game play.

Initially you start off with just a few simple tools with which to complete your tasks. The first tool you’re given is a scanner which allows you to investigate objects in ITSP and then get a visual cue as to what you need to do in order to interact with it. This is extremely helpful as if you get stuck on at a particular stage you’re usually only a couple scans from working out what the intended solution is. Of course there are still some puzzles that are non-obvious even with those little clues but suffice to say that it serves well as a built in hint system that doesn’t feel like the answers are being handed to you on a plate.

As you progress on the tools you have at your disposal increase with every passing section leading to more and more complicated puzzles. In all I believe there were a grand total of 8 different tools at your disposal each of them with a unique ability that unlocks another section of the ITSP map. You’ll often find yourself flying past obstacles that you can scan but don’t yet have the tool to access it giving you a kind of foreboding as to what is to come later on.

The puzzles are, for the most part, quite well done as there’s a good balance between challenge and progression. Indeed if you’re struggling with a particular puzzle or boss fight then its usually because you’re not understanding the mechanics properly or you’re going about it in a really odd way. There are some challenges that are far less fun than others (I’m looking at you, rocket in a maze where you can’t hit the walls) but I didn’t often find myself stuck on a particular section for long which made the game feel a lot better paced than some other games in similar genres.

ITSP does have a few glitches that I believe are worth mentioning however. So to the developer’s credit they included a map that helps you navigate your way around ITSP, which is good. However should you go into said map whilst you’re holding something in the claw tool or holding a key down you will drop said object or that key you were holding down will stop working. It’s not game breaking but it is rather annoying when you’re in the later stages of the game where you’re required to drag an item along with you all the time and there’s not a lot of light so you have to keep checking your map to make sure you’re going in the right direction. Yes I know that you can use the power wheel thing to get a direction queue but that has the unfortunate side effect of changing whatever tool you had equipped at the time which can be deadly if you do it at the wrong time.

The physics are also a little wonky for some of the challenges, the most notable being the one above. Again it’s not game breaking but trying to get those damn crystals into the holes (or indeed anything that requires a little precision) is fraught with difficulties. ITSP does have a rudimentary snap-to system which works for something but not others and the crystals in the ice stage appear to be one of the things it doesn’t work for. It might make sense when you’re using a controller however I don’t know anyone who’s played this on the Xbox so I’m not completely sure of that.

The boss fights are equal parts fun and challenging with each of the bosses being unique in their own weird way. The one above was probably the most challenging boss fight of the lot as one mistake or slip up could easily see your ship ruined long before you had enough time to react. They were a very good way to break up the relative monotony of flying around, solving puzzles and looking for hidden stashes and it’s something that a lot of similar games forego because they simply can’t be worked in well. ITSP however does a very good job with them and they were definitely my favourite combat challenge.

ITSP’s story is a simple affair when taken on face value and really I’m not sure if there’s much more depth intended by the developers. Sure there are many themes that you could say are explored (invasion, uprising, etc.) however since there’s no real backstory or explanation behind the vast majority of things that happen within ITSP I can’t say that I was playing it for the plot. Thankfully it doesn’t matter that much as the game play and cinematic quality of ITSP carries it without the need for an in depth storyline.

ITSP was one of those unexpected gems that I came across by chance when I was in a hurried state looking for the next week’s game review. It’s cinematic cut scenes are a joy to watch, it’s game play is fun and varied and there are only a few issues that detract from it overall. Its short length also make for a good Sunday afternoon distraction that doesn’t drag on unnecessarily. If you’re a fan of 2D puzzlers or shooters or just enjoy a well crafted game then I can’t recommend ITSP  enough as it really is just damn good fun.

Rating: 9.25/10

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is available right now on PC and Xbox360 for $14.99 and 800 Microsoft points respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC with around 3.6 hours of total game time.

Three Screens Begins With Windows 8 and Xbox Live Arcade.

In the middle of last year I commented on some rumours that were circling around the Internet about how Xbox Live was coming to Windows 8 and along with it the ability to play some Xbox titles. The idea would have seemed to come out of left field for a lot of people as there’s no real incentive to enable such functionality (especially considering just how damn hard it would be to emulate the Xbox processor) but considering it alongside the Three Screens and a cloud idea it was just another step along the platform unification path. Since then however I hadn’t seen much more movement on the idea and instead figured that eventually everything would be united under the WinRT platform and was waiting to see an announcement to that effect.

As it turns out Microsoft are actually bringing several Xbox titles to Windows 8 next month.

The lion’s share of the titles that will be released on the Windows 8 platform are from Microsoft Studios with a couple big name developers like Rovio and Gameloft joining in the party. All of the first wave of titles will be playable on any Windows 8 platform and a few of them (most notably the relatively simple titles like Solitaire and some word games) will stretch onto Windows Phone 8 with things like resuming games that you started on another platform. Looking at the list of titles I can’t help but notice the common thread among them and I’m not quite sure to make of it.

For many of the third party titles its quite obvious that their release on Windows 8 (ostensibly on WinRT) is just yet another platform for them to have their product on. Angry Birds, for instance, seems to make it a point of pride that they’re on pretty much every platform imaginable and the fact that they’re on Windows 8 really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Indeed quite a lot of them are already multi-platform titles that cut their teeth on one mobile platform or another and realistically their move onto the Xbox (and from there to Windows 8) will just be another string in their bow. I guess what I’m getting at is that many of these titles already had the hard work of getting ports working done for them and it’s less indicative of how flexible the underlying WinRT platform really is.

Indeed the most innovative uses of WinRT come from the first party Microsoft titles which, whilst being unfortunately bland, do show what a truly agnostic application is capable of. They all feature a pause/resume function that works across platforms, ability to work with both touch interfaces as well as traditional mouse and keyboards and lastly some of them feature cross platform competitive play. It’s unfortunate that the third party developers didn’t look to take advantage of these capabilities but I can understand why they didn’t for these first wave of games; the investment would be too high for the potential pay off.

What I think really needs to be done is to bring the WinRT platform to the Xbox360 via a system update. Whilst its all well and good to have some Xbox titles ported to Windows 8 its really only a stopgap solution to bringing a unified platform to all of the three screens. Right now the only platform that’s lacking some form WinRT is the TV screen and that could be remedied via the Xbox. Whether that comes in the current generation or in Durango though will have to remain to be seen but it would be a great misstep from Microsoft to ignore the fact that the final piece of the puzzle is WinRT in the living room.

Microsoft really is onto something with the unified experience between all their available platforms and they’re really not that far off achieving it. Whilst it will take a while for third party developers to come out with apps that take advantage of the platform the sooner that it’s available across all three screens the sooner those apps will come. This first wave of games from Xbox live gives us a tantalizing little glance of what an unified platform could bring to us and hopefully subsequent waves take inspiration from what Microsoft has been able to do and integrate that into future releases.

Why The Planetary Annihilation Kickstarter Is Crushing It.

I have to admit that I was somewhat sour on the whole Kickstarter idea for quite a long time. Not that I thought it wasn’t viable or anything like that, there are many many projects to prove to the contrary, more that in the age of near instant gratification for nearly anything you can care to dream of the idea of shelling out cash long before a product would ever grace my presence made me…apprehensive. It was also partially due to the fact that I didn’t really need nor want most of the products I saw on Kickstarter, even if they were technically cool. However I’ve recently backed 2 projects that I really wanted to see succeed and both of them I backed at something of a premium level.

The first was the OUYA, the crazy Android games console that could shake up the console market in much the same way that the Nintendo Wii did. Of course it could also easily go the other way as whilst the Kickstarter numbers were impressive they only translate to some 60,000ish consoles which in comparison to any of the 3 current major players is really quite small with most of them selling that number every week for as long as they’re available. As long as the hardware gets delivered to me I will consider it successful as whilst its primary purpose might be gaming it will make a solid media extender for a long time to come thanks to its use of Android as a base operating system.

One that really caught my eye though was Planetary Annihilation. Now game Kickstarters are always fraught with danger as the majority of them will never make their funding goals however whilst Planetary Annihilation didn’t have an explosive day 1 like many high profile projects do it did have consistent funding growth over time. In fact it was only just last week that it reached its seemingly lofty funding goal of $900,000 but it’s steadily been growing ever since. It’s rather contrary to many of the other high profile Kickstarters I’ve seen over the past year or so with many reaching their funding goals early and then staying steady until a last feverish burst before the final deadline. Looking at the way they structured their rewards you can see why this is so.

Most Kickstarters start out with their initial goal and upon getting more funding than they expected will usually try to make an announcement of what they intend to do with the extra funds. Whilst its admirable that many do come up with good ideas it usually comes late in the piece so the stretch goals can’t be used as a carrot for those who were on the edge of funding them or not. Right from the beginning though the guys behind Planetary Annihilation made it clear that they had many additional stretch goals already planned out should they get the requisite funding and, just to make people want to fund them more, kept them secret until previous funding goals had been achieved.

Additionally they continue to add value to the more premium tiers to encourage people to up their pledge level. This means people coming back to check on how the Kickstarter is going will have that little extra incentive to jump up to the next tier and indeed the vast majority of their funding is coming from the $95 and above tiers showing just how effective this can be. Whilst the extra rewards didn’t really mean that much to me (I pledged $250 because I’m one of those crazy collector’s edition nuts) I was definitely happy to see I was getting even more for my money.

With just 11 days to go on this particular project it’ll be interesting to see how many more of the stretch goals the Planetary Annihilation guys can hit before they reach the end of the funding period. In the week since achieving their funding goal they’ve already added on another $200,000 so it’s quite possible that they could hit their next stretch goal without too much trouble. Whether this consistent funding flow builds to a mighty crescendo at the end thought will have to remain to be seen.

I’d definitely recommend backing them though, even if you only spend $20 to get the full game upon release. Some of the guys behind Planetary Annihilation are the same people responsible for Total Annihilation and the first Supreme Commander, two games which took the traditional RTS idea and took it to a truly epic level of scale. If anyone can pull this kind of game off these guys can and I really can’t wait to follow this game from the alpha stages right up to its final release.