Few games have been talked about as much as The Order 1886 has been recently and fewer still with as much derision. For some this game seems to embody everything that’s wrong with AAA development, focusing on all the wrong areas and failing to deliver the game experience that they were expecting. Others saw the potential the title had and, whilst still not heaping praise on the overall experience, had high hopes for what Ready at Dawn could do with this IP. After avoiding much of this discussion before playing The Order 1886 I’ve since dived head first into all the discussion and, frankly, don’t disagree with the more nuanced arguments out there. Still this game has its merits and trashing everything about it, like many seem keen to do, doesn’t seem fair.
You are Sir Galahad, member of the Order of the Knights of the Round Table and devout servant to your country. You are sworn to fight the half-breed blight who seeks to destroy humanity and do so with the aid of the Holy Grail which heals all wounds and greatly extends your life. Thus the order has existed for numerous centuries with many of the knights living for just as long and those who fall in battle passing on their name and title to those who follow them. However not everything is as it first seems as turmoil within London sparks an unusual reaction from your leader, prompting you to investigate further.
If there’s one game out there that should serve as the current reference point for graphics on the PlayStation4 it has to be The Order 1886. The world is lavishly detailed in every aspect, from the environments to the weapons to the character models which have some of the best animations I’ve seen to date. The seamless transitions between cut scenes and game play sections is, I’ll admit, jarring at first but after a while they beautifully melt sections together. Best of all this is done without a hint of performance degradation even in the most action heavy scenes, something which most graphical envelope pushing games fail to achieve consistently. Suffice to say that The Order 1886 is PlayStation4’s Crysis and the effort that Ready at Dawn invested in their RAD 4 engine was not wasted.
The Order 1886 tiptoes between the cinematic story and 3rd person corridor shooter genres. The bulk of the game is spent either in cut-scene or wandering around an environment which is then inter-dispersed with sections of cover-based shooting. There are numerous mini-games as well like the unique lock-picking and the transformer overload puzzle. There are a few sections which require you to solve a puzzle in order to progress to the next section but not enough that I could say that The Order 1886 is much of a puzzler. Lastly the fabled quick time event makes numerous appearances throughout the game, sometimes blended into the 3rd person shooting sections and later as the main boss fight mechanic. If this is sounding like a jumble of mechanics without a coherent thread to tie them all together then you’re right, it is and this is why I don’t disagree with the bulk of the criticism levelled at The Order 1886.
Whilst I’m not a huge console FPS/3rd person shooter player I have played an unhealthy amount of Destiny and so I have a feel for when janky mechanics are blame rather than my lack of skill with a controller. With that in mind the combat of The Order 1886 feels decidedly half-baked as I would often line up clear head shots only to have them inexplicably miss. This is somewhat made up for by the inclusion of a bullet-time shooting mechanic but it doesn’t help when the ability is on cooldown and all your bullets seem to miss. The more innovative weapons, like the lightning gun and the thermite rifle, are a blast to use and feel far more effective than any of the other very generic weapons but they’re unfortunately highly limited. With the lack of variety of enemies this means that most encounters are largely the same, just in different locations. Had I not invested so many hours in Destiny I might’ve written this off as just me being derpy with the controller but, unfortunately for Ready at Dawn, I feel that most of the problems stem from the decidedly below average combat mechanics.
I did enjoy the mini-games which were thankfully used sparingly throughout the game, rather than being peppered everywhere like some games tend to do. They don’t take a lot of skill honestly and once you’ve done them once it’s pretty easy to finish them without even thinking about it. Unfortunately even the best of mini-games can’t make up for the faults that the larger game has as whilst they’re fun distractions that’s all they amount to, nothing more. Perhaps some of the time dedicated to these small parts of the game could have been better spent addressing some of the more pressing issues that the game faces like the lack of coherency around what it was trying to achieve.
It’s obvious that the primary goal of The Order 1886 was to make it a kind of cinematic experience, one where there’s a little less focus on game mechanics and a little more on the story and cinematography. The problem I see with this, at least in The Order 1886’s case, is that typically such cinematic games focus on player agency (or at least the illusion there of) something which it doesn’t lack. That means that it’s more apt to compare it to all the corridor shooters which, unfortunately, it can’t hold a candle to as the various combat mechanics are incredibly weak when compared to say Call of Duty titles. So The Order 1886 straddles the boundaries of these two genres, doing neither of them well and unfortunately falling in a screaming heap.
Which is a right shame because there’s a ton of potential in all the jumbled pieces that make up The Order 1886. Each of the individual pieces feel like they’d be right at home in an open world game and there’s numerous other aspects that would translate directly without too much effort. I understand that this is a non-trivial exercise however it’s clear where most of the effort was spent and it wasn’t in making sure the game was a cohesive experience. What The Order 1886 shows us is that you can’t just have a bunch of great elements all thrown together in a pile and expect the resulting game to be great, careful attention needs to be applied in the integration so the sum of the parts exceeds the whole.
The Order 1886’s story, whilst it has strong roots, fails to develop and is utterly predictable which means it doesn’t make up for the range of mistakes that the large game makes. The story follows the well trodden trope of a righteous soldier finding out he’s on the wrong side of the fight which isn’t bad on its own however The Order 1886’s telling of it is just so predictable. I called out nearly every single one of the twists long before it occurred, something which I’m not particularly good at usually. It got to the point where I was browsing Reddit most of the time cut scenes were happening since I didn’t feel the need to hear every bit of dialogue to understand the story. Again, like most of the game, there are elements in here that have tons of potential, like the setting and back stories, but they’re just not developed or cohesive enough to formulate into a solid game experience.
The Order 1886 is a victim of its own ambition, seeking to create a truly cinematic experience but ultimately falls short, failing to even deliver a coherent experience. Without a doubt its crowning achievement is its graphics, something that Ready at Dawn should be proud of, however everything built on top of that fails to achieve the same level of excellence. The combat is repetitive and clumsy, the story predictable and uninteresting and the various other bits and pieces just don’t seem to fit well into the game’s larger picture. It’s a right shame as the different parts wouldn’t be amiss in a more coherent title it’s just that The Order 1886 lacks that one thing to bind everything together. It’s worth at least spending some time with The Order 1886 just to see what the PlayStation 4 platform is capable of, maybe later when you can grab it on special.
The Order 1886 is available on PlayStation 4 exclusively right now for $78. Total play time was approximately 6.5 hours.
For as long as we’ve been using semiconductors there’s been one material that’s held the crown: silicon. Being one of the most abundant elements on Earth its semiconductor properties made it perfectly suited to mass manufacture and nearly all of the world’s electronics contain a silicon brain within them. Silicon isn’t the only material capable of performing this function, indeed there’s a whole smorgasbord of other semiconductors that are used for specific applications, however the amount of research poured into silicon means few of them are as mature as it is. However with our manufacturing processes shrinking we’re fast approaching the limit of what silicon, in its current form, is capable of and that may pave the way for a new contender for the semiconductor crown.
The road to the current 14nm manufacturing process has been a bumpy one, as the heavily delayed release of Intel’s Broadwell can attest to. Mostly this was due to the low yields that Intel was getting with the process, which is typical for die shrinks, however solving the issue proved to be more difficult than they had originally thought. This is likely due to the challenges Intel faced with making their FinFET technology work at the smaller scale as they had only just introduced it in the previous 22nm generation of CPUs. This process will likely still work down at the 10nm level (as Samsung has just proven today) but beyond that there’s going to need to be a fundamental shift in order for the die shrinks to continue.
For this Intel has alluded to new materials which, keen observers have pointed out, won’t be silicon.
The type of material that’s a likely candidate to replace silicon is something called Indium Gallium Arsenide (InGaAs). They’ve long been used in photodetectors and high frequency applications like microwave and millimeter wave applications. Transistors made from this substrate are called High-Electron Mobility Transistors which, in simpler terms, means that they can be made smaller, switch faster and more packed into a certain size. Whilst the foundries might not yet be able to create these kinds of transistors at scale the fact that they’ve been manufactured at some scale for decades now makes them a viable alternative rather than some of the other, more exotic materials.
There is potential for silicon to hang around for another die shrink or two if Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) lithography takes off however that method has been plagued with developmental issues for some time now. The change between UV lithography and EUV isn’t a trivial one as EUV can’t be made into a laser and needs mirrors to be directed since most materials will simply absorb the EUV light. Couple that with the rather large difficulty in generating EUV light in the first place (it’s rather inefficient) and it makes looking at new substrates much more appealing. Still if TSMC, Intel or Samsung can figure it out then there’d be a bit more headroom for silicon, although maybe not enough to offset the investment cost.
Whatever direction the semiconductor industry takes one thing is very clear: they all have plans that extend far beyond the current short term to ensure that we can keep up the rapid pace of technological development that we’ve enjoyed for the past half century. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard others scream that the next die shrink would be our last, only to see some incredibly innovative solutions to come out soon after. The transition to InGaAs or EUV shows that we’re prepared for at least the next decade and I’m sure before we hit the limit of that tech we’ll be seeing the next novel innovation that will continue to power us forward.
Much to the surprise of many I used to be a childcare worker back in the day. It was a pretty cruisy job for a uni student like myself, being able to show up after classes, take care of kids for a few hours and then head off home to finish off my studies (or World of Warcraft, as it mostly was). I consider it a valuable experience for numerous reasons not least of which is an insight into some of the public health issues that arise from having a bunch of children all packed into tight spaces. The school which I worked at had its very first peanut allergy ever when I was first there and I watched as the number of children who suffered from it increased rapidly.
Whilst the cause of this increase in allergic reactions is still somewhat unclear it’s well understood that the incident rate of food allergies has dramatically increased in developed countries in the last 20 years or so. There are quite a few theories swirling around as to what the cause will be but suffice to say that hard evidence to support any of them hasn’t been readily forthcoming. The problem for this is the nature of the beast as studies to investigate one cause or the other are plagued with variables that researchers are simply unable to control. However for researchers at the King’s College in London they’ve been able to conduct a controlled study with children who were at-risk of developing peanut allergies and have found some really surprising results.
The study involved 640 children who were all considered to be at a high risk of developing a peanut allergy due to other conditions they currently suffered from (eczema and egg allergies) aged between 4 and 11 months. They were then randomly split into 2 groups, one whose parents were advised to feed them peanut products at least 3 times per week and the other told to avoid. The results are quite staggering showing that when compared to the control group the children who were exposed to peanut products at an early age had an 80% reduced risk in developing the condition. This almost completely rules out early exposure as a risk factor for developing a peanut allergy, a notion that seems to be prevalent among many modern parents.
Indeed this gives credence to the Hygiene Hypothesis which theorizes that the lack of early exposure to pathogens and infections is a likely cause for the increase in allergic responses that children develop. Whilst this doesn’t mean you should let your kids frolic in the sewers it does indicate that keeping them in a bubble likely isn’t protecting them as much as you might think. Indeed the old adage of letting kids be kids in this regard rings true as early exposure to these kinds of things will likely help more than harm. Of course the best course of action is to consult with your doctor and devise a good plan that mitigates overall risk, something which budding parents should be doing anyway.
It’s interesting to see how many of the conditions that plague us today are the results of our affluent status. The trade offs we’ve made have obviously been for the better overall, as our increased lifespans can attest to, however there seems to be aspects of it we need to temper if we want to overcome these once rare conditions. It’s great to see this kind of research bearing fruit as it means that further study into this area will likely become more focused and, hopefully, just as valuable as this study has proven to be.
Whenever I think of a tidally locked planet, like say Mercury, the only image that comes to mind is one that is barren of all life. You see for tidally locked systems the face of the smaller body is always pointing towards the larger one, like our Moon is towards Earth. For planets and suns this means that the surface of the tidally locked planet would typically turn into an inferno with the other side becoming a frigid wasteland, both devoid of any kind of life. However new research shows that these planets might not be the lifeless rocks we once thought them to be and, in fact, they could be far more Earthlike than we previously thought.
Scientists have long theorized that planets of this nature could potentially harbour a habitable band around their terminator, a tenuous strip that exists between the freezing depths of the cold side and the furnace of the hot side. Such a planet wouldn’t have the day/night cycles that we’re accustomed to however and it would be likely that any life that evolved there would have adapted to the permanent daylight. There’d also be some pretty extreme winds to contend with as well due to the massive differences in temperature although how severe they were would be heavily dependent on the thickness of the atmosphere. Still it’s possible that that little band could harbor all sorts of life, despite the conditions that bookended its environment.
However there’s another theory that states that these kinds of planets might not be the one sided hotbeds that we initially thought them to be. Instead of being fully tidally locked with their parent star planets like this might actually still rotate thanks to the heavy winds that would whip across their surface. These winds would push against the planets surface, giving it enough rotation to overcome the tidal locking caused by the parent star’s gravity. There’s actually an example of this within our own solar system: Venus which by all rights should be tidally locked to our Sun. However it’s not although it’s extremely long days and retrograde rotation (it spins the opposite way to every other planet) hints at the fact that its rotation is caused by forces that a different to that from every other planet.
Counterintuitively it seems that Venus’ extremely thick atmosphere might be working against it in this regard as the modelling done shows that planets with thinner atmospheres would actually experience a higher rotational rate. This means that an Earthlike planet that should be tidally locked would likely not be and the resulting motion would be enough to make the majority of the planet habitable. In turn this would mean that many of the supposedly tidally locked planets we’ve discovered could actually turn out to be habitable candidates.
Whilst these are just beautiful models for now they can hopefully drive the requirements for future craft and observatories here on Earth that will be able to look for the signatures of these kinds of planets. Considering that our detection methods are currently skewed towards detecting planets that are close to their parent stars this will mean a much greater hit rate for habitable candidates, providing a wealth of data to validate against. Whether we’ll be able to get some direct observations of such planets within the next century or more is a question we won’t likely have an answer to soon, but hopefully one day we will.
There’s a new trend among the newer game developers who found success with their earlier titles. Instead of relying on releasing sequels (although most of these kinds of developers still do that) they instead rely on applying their trademark style to different games, allowing them to experiment with new IPs whilst still retaining the majority of the brand loyalty that a sequel would. The most prevalent example of this is Telltale Games who’s titles include various IPs ranging from their signatures like The Walking Dead all the way down to TV tie-ins like their CSI games. Turtle Rock Studios made a name for themselves with the Left 4 Dead franchise which had the unique appeal of putting you in charge of the monsters that terrorized other players. Evolve extends that idea except now instead of being team on team it’s now one versus four and that difference, along with the swath of new mechanics, make it quite an interesting title.
The planet Shear is a planet deep in space, on the far reaches of humanity. We set up colonies there, hoping to plunder the vast riches of this world for ourselves. However the world rebelled against us, sending huge hulking monsters to destroy everything we built and slaughter everyone who dared to tread on its surface. That’s when William Cabot arrived, bringing with him his team of hunters who would put these monsters in the ground, allowing us to escape from the planet’s deadly grasp. You are one of those hunters and its your job to save colonists and collect a fat pay check in the process.
Evolve is the first taxing game I’ve run on my new rig and suffice to say that it looks absolutely gorgeous with everything turned up to its limit. There’s a slight Unreal engine feel to it, most likely due to the texturing more than anything else, which would usually detract from the visual experience however Evolve has so much detail that you stop noticing it very quickly. You won’t have much time to stop and gawk at the huge environments however as you’ll always be in motion, whether you’re the monster or the hunter trying to track it down. This visual pleasure does come at a cost however as DirectX 11 is a strict requirement so if you’ve let your GPU age a couple generations now would be the time to invest in an upgrade.
The mechanics in Evolve are a fresh take on the style that Turtle Rock perfected with the Left 4 Dead series, using the futuristic setting to the fullest extent to create 5 truly unique archetypes that all have their role to play. The monster is the signature character class and, depending on how you play the game, will either be your staple or class you rarely ever play. The Monster is the signature archetype of the game which is controlled by a single player for the entire duration of the match. The hunters make up the remaining 4 archetypes, each of them filling a specific role in bringing the monster down. For the hunters the game centres on team work, ensuring that everyone performs their role correctly and executing whatever battle plan you have in your head perfectly. For the monster however it’s a game of balancing evolving, battling hunters and trying to complete the map’s objective before the hunters get you. So whilst Evolve might be a little derivative from their past titles it’s most certainly a fresh and unique experience, one that is tied to how good your team and/or the monster is.
Evolve gets credit for putting everyone through a couple of mandatory tutorials before allowing them into the main game, ostensibly because playing the monster is a non-trivial exercise and you’ll need to know the basics of movement before you can play effectively as a hunter. Whilst it’s not as thorough as say, the DPS/Tank challenges in World of Warcraft, it’s enough to make sure you won’t be completely useless. Evolve does send a bevy of prompts your way through the game though so even if you haven’t played a class in a while you should be able to pick it up without too much hassle. After that it was only an hour or two before I had grasped all the key mechanics pretty well and was feeling like I was actually contributing to the fight.
There are two main ways to play Evolve: either as a team (which bars you from being the monster) or as a solo player who can choose to play whichever class they want. You won’t always get the class you want however you can set a preference for which ones you’d like to play more than others. I’ve only had a couple games where I wasn’t given my first or second preference so if you’re keen on playing a particular class you shouldn’t go long without getting it. I managed to get some time playing on both sides of the equation and, most definitely, my favourite way is to play with a group of mates. However the game play is still solid enough that playing online with a bunch of strangers is still rewarding although it is a far more variable experience.
This is mainly because in those types of games, the ones which are mostly made up of random people playing together, the advantage tends heavily towards the monster. This isn’t a fault of the game, more a product of the fact that a bunch of randoms are less likely to work as a cohesive whole than a single guy with the power of 4 other people. I definitely noticed this when I was playing as the monster and the hunter’s medic was, shall we say, unaware of the fact that their death would spell the end of their team. I managed to win 4 out of 5 matches against them (foiled at the last stage when the auto balance was at 4 bars in their favour) by waiting for them to trap me in and then going to town on their healer. I’ve also been on the flip side however when a less than stellar monster decided that evolving in front of me was a good idea, something which Parnell (who with Super Soldier activated) took advantage of. I’m not sure how the match making works yet but there definitely needs to be some kind of ranking system in the back end to make the games a little more even since, as it stands right now, most matches are pretty one sided.
Evolve was rock solid for most of the time I was playing it however there were a couple issues that I think bears mentioning. The worst one I encountered was a Cry Engine error that said DXGI_ERROR_DEVICE_HUNG which highlighted the fact that there’s no way to rejoin a match if you crash, lag or disconnect. I looked around for a solution but nothing seemed to give me a solid answer one way or the other and, thankfully, I only saw it once during my 7ish hours with Evolve. I also had the rather annoying issue of my mouse cursor appearing when it shouldn’t (so I could see it while I was playing) and not showing up when it should (like in the menus). This could usually be fixed by alt-tabbing or shift-tabbing however sometimes it would require an entire game restart to get it working. These were minor inconveniences however and didn’t detract heavily from my overall experience.
Like Left 4 Dead before it Evolve has musings of a story peppered throughout it via bits of conversation between your character and your fellow hunters with a few bits fleshed out in various cut scenes. There definitely appears to be a larger world that the world of Evolve exists in however it’s not explored in any kind of depth beyond that of the back and forth banter that your characters sometimes have. Considering this is a multiplayer-first game (there is the option to do solo stuff if you want) like Titanfall I wasn’t really expecting much and so I can’t really count this as a fault. Ultimately the stories you and your friends create in Evolve will be far more interesting than the lore behind of this world you’re playing in.
Evolve is a wonderfully fresh breath of air, taking all the best parts of the Left 4 Dead franchise and rebuilding them in a new world that allowed Turtle Rock Studios to really experiment with what their niche genre was capable of. The game oozes polish in all the right places with only a hint of some issues still present a couple weeks after release. Playing with friends is a great experience, one that will be sure to create tales that will be retold for years to come as Evolve is broken out at LAN parties everywhere. The match-made multi-player experience is, unfortunately, quite varied although it’s not beyond saving and hopefully Turtle Rock is watching these first few weeks carefully to see what tweaks are needed to make it a much more fair experience. Overall though Evolve is a game that’s incredibly fun to play and one I can see myself coming back to when I need a break from the typical FPS drudgery I find myself in.
Evolve is available on PC PlayStation4 and XboxOne right now for $59.99, $99.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with approximately 7 hours of total play time and 27% of the achievements unlocked.
Why the Abbott government hasn’t abandoned their incredibly unpopular metadata policy yet is beyond me. Nearly all other developed nations that have pursued such a policy have abandoned it, mostly because attempting to pass something like this is akin to committing political suicide. Worse still in their attempts to defend the policy from its critics the Abbott government has resorted to tactics and sensationalist rhetoric, none of which has any bearing on the underlying issues that this policy faces. Top this off with a cost estimation that seems to be based on back of the napkin math and you’ve got a recipe for bad legislation that will likely be implemented poorly and at a great cost to all Australian citizens.
Conceptually the idea is simple: the government wants to mandate that all ISPs and communications providers keep all metadata they generate for a period of 2 years. Initially this was sold as not being an increase in the power that authorities had however that idea is incredibly misleading as it greatly increases their ability to exercise that power. Worse still obtaining access to metadata doesn’t require a warrant and isn’t just the realm of law enforcement or intelligence agencies as people on local councils can obtain this data. Suffice to say that the gathering and retention of this data is a massive invasion of the privacy that the general public expects to have from its government and that is exactly why nearly all developed nations have dropped such policies before they’ve been implemented.
As expected the usual tropes for these kinds of policies have been trotted out, initially under the guise of a requirement for national security. I’d concede that point if it wasn’t for the fact that mass surveillance has not proved to be effective in combating terrorism, something which the critics of the policy were quick to point out. The rhetoric has then shifted away from national security to local security with Abbott saying that the metadata will help them track down peadophiles and child traffickers. Suffice to say if surveillance of this nature doesn’t help at a national level then I highly doubt its effectiveness at the lower levels and “think of the children” arguments like this are nothing more than an appeal to emotion.
Yesterday Abbott was pressed to give some hard figures on just how much this scheme would end up costing and he retorted with the rather ineloquent quip that it would be an “explosion in an unsolved crime“. When pressed the figure he gave was $300 million, estimated to be less than 1% of the total $40 billion that the entire telecommunications sector is estimated to be worth. That figure has apparently been sourced from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) however the details of that figure have not been made public. In all honesty I cannot see how that figure can be accurate given the amount of data we’re talking about and the retention times required.
To put it in perspective Australians consumed something on the order of 1 Exabyte in 6 months up to June last year which is a 50% increase on the year previous. The amount of metadata on that data would be a fraction of that and, taking the same 1% liberty that Abbott seems intent on using, you get something like 50 Petabytes worth of storage required. Couple that with the fact that it won’t be stored in one place (negating economies of scale), the infrastructure requirements to provide access to it and the personnel required to fullfil requests and that $300 million figure starts to look quite shakey. Indeed the Communications Alliance in Australia has estimated it to be between $500 million and $700 million which casts doubt over how accurate Abbott’s lowball figure is.
Honestly this legislation stinks no matter which way you cut it and the rhetoric that the incumbent government has been using to defend it speaks directly to that. These policies are just simply not effective in what they set out to achieve and the only tangible result we’ll ever see from them will be an increased cost to accessing the Internet and a reduction in the expectation of privacy. I do hope Abbott keeps harping on about it though as the more he talks the more it seems likely that we’ll be able to cement the One Term Tony phrase in the history books.
The discovery of Stuxnet in the wild was a watershed moment, signalling the first known salvo sent across the wires of the Internet to strike at an enemy far away. The fact that a piece of software could wreak such destruction in the real world was what drew most people’s interest however the way in which it achieved this was, in my opinion, far more interesting than the results it caused. Stuxnet showed that nation state sponsored malware was capable of things far beyond that of what we’ve attributed to malicious hackers in the past and made us wonder what they were really capable of. Thanks to Kaspersky Labs we now have a really good (read: scary) idea of what a nation state could develop and it’s beyond what many of us thought would be possible.
The Equation Group has been identified as being linked to several different pieces of malware that have surfaced in various countries around the world. They’ve been in operation for over a decade and have continuously improved their toolset over that time. Interestingly this group appears to have ties to the development teams behind both Stuxnet and Regin as some of the exploits found in early versions of Equation Group’s tools were also found in those pieces of malware. However those zero day exploits were really just the tip of the spear in Equation Groups arsenal as what Kaspersky Labs has discovered is far beyond anything else we’ve ever seen.
Perhaps the most fascinating piece of software that the group has developed is the ability to write disk firmware which allows them persist their malware through reboots, operating system reinstalls and even low level formats. If that wasn’t nasty enough there’s actually no way (currently) to detect an infection of that nature as few hard drives include the capability to read the firmware once its been written. That means once the firmware has wormed its way into your system there’s very little you could do to detect and remove it, save buying a whole new PC from a random vendor and keeping it isolated from every other device.
This then feeds into their other tools which give them unprecedented control over every facet of a Windows operating system. GrayFish, as it has been dubbed, completely replaces the bootloader and from there completely controls how Windows loads and operates. Essentially once a system is under GrayFish control it no longer uses any of its core boot process which are replaced by GrayFish’s toolkit. This allows Equation Group to be able to inject malware into almost every aspect of the system, preventing detection and giving them complete control to load any of their other malware modules. This shows a level of understanding of the operating system that would rival top Microsoft technicians, even those who have direct access to the source code. Although to be honest I wouldn’t be surprised if they had access to the source code themselves given the level of sophistication here.
These things barely begin to describe the capabilities that the Equation Group has developed over the past couple years as their level of knowledge, sophistication and penetration into world networks is well above anything the general public has known about before. It would be terrifying if it wasn’t so interesting as it shows just what can be accomplished when you’ve got the backing of an entire nation behind you. I’m guessing that it won’t be long before we uncover more of what the Equation Group is capable of and, suffice to say, whatever they come up with next will once again set the standard for what malware can be capable of.
For us long time PC gamers, those of us who grew up in a time where games were advancing so fast that yearly upgrades were a given, getting the most bang for your buck was often our primary concern. Often the key components would get upgraded first like the CPU, RAM and GPU with other components falling by the wayside. However over the past few years technological advances for some pieces of technology, like SSDs, provided such a huge benefit that they became the upgrade that everyone wanted. Now I believe I’ve found the next upgrade everyone else should get and comes to us via NVIDIA’s new monitor technology: G-Sync.
For the uninitiated G-Sync is a monitor technology from NVIDIA that allows the graphics card (which must a NVIDIA card) to directly control the refresh rate of your monitor. This allows the graphics card to write each frame to the monitor as soon as its available, dynamically altering the refresh rate to match the frame rate. G-Sync essentially allows you to have the benefits of having vsync turned off and on at the same time as there’s no frame tearing and no stutter or slowdown. As someone who can’t stand either of those graphical artefacts G-Sync sounded like the perfect technology for me and now that I’m the proud owner of a GTX970 and two AOC G2460PGs I think that position is justified.
After getting the drivers installed and upping the refresh rate to 144Hz (more on that in a sec) the NVIDIA control panel informed me that I had G-Sync capable monitors and, strangely, told me to go enable it even though when I went there it was already done. After that I dove into some old favourites to see how the monitor and new rig handled them and, honestly, it was like I was playing on a different kind of computer. Every game I threw at it that typically had horrendous tearing or stuttering ran like a dream without a hint of those graphical issues in any frame. It was definitely worth waiting as long as I did so that I could get a native G-Sync capable monitor.
One thing G-Sync does highlight however is slowdown that’s caused by other factors like a game engine trying to load files or performing some background task that impedes the rendering engine. These things, which would have previously gone unnoticed, are impossible to ignore now when everything else runs so smoothly. Thankfully most issues like that are few and far between as I’ve only noticed them shortly after loading into a level but it’s interesting to see issues like that bubbling up now, signalling that the next must-have upgrade might be drive related once again.
I will admit that some of these benefits come from the hugely increased refresh rate of my new monitors, jumping me from the paltry 60Hz all the way up to 144Hz. The difference is quite stark when you turn it on in Windows and, should you have the grunt to power it, astounding in games. After spending so long with content running in the 30~60Hz spectrum I had forgotten just how smooth higher frame rates are and whilst I don’t know if there’s much benefit going beyond 144Hz that initial bump up is most certainly worth it. Not a lot of other content (like videos, etc.) take advantage of the higher frame rates however, something I didn’t think would bother me until I started noticing it.
Suffice to say I’m enamored with G-Sync and consider the premium I paid for these TN panel monitors well worth it. I’m willing to admit that high frame rates and G-Sync isn’t for everyone, especially if you’re lusting after the better colour reproduction and high resolutions of IPS panels, but for someone like me who can’t help but notice tearing and stuttering it’s a dream come true. If you have the opportunity to see one in action I highly recommend it as it’s hard to describe just how much better it is until you see it for yourself.
Well it happened: I turned 30.
As someone who keeps company about a year older than himself it was interesting to see my friends’ reactions to hitting their third decade, most of them dreading it with all their being. I think the reason for this is that from that moment on you’re no longer in your twenties and, as such, are shouldered with the burden of expectations of being a mature adult. That’s not something my generation will typically accept gracefully although, honestly, I’d hazard a guess that no generation before has either. Regardless of how you feel about the date though it is a time to pause and reflect on the time you’ve had and the path laid out before you.
I’ve enjoyed quite a lot of success in my life thanks to a combination of determination, support and a healthy dose of luck. If you had told me I’d be in this position 10 years ago I would’ve told you that was obvious (ah, the naivete of youth) but honestly I had tracked out a completely different path for myself then, confident that I had control over every single nuance of my life. That, of course, turned out to be impossible and instead I have made the best of the situation I’ve found myself in. Now instead of attempting to meticulously plan my life out 10 years ahead I instead find myself focusing on the here and now, taking every step I can towards my goals without constraining myself to a set timeframe.
Which brings me to the pertinent point of this post: the goal.
I had an informal, let’s call it a goal, with a mate of mine that we made back in college that we’d both make our first million by the time we were 30. It seemed like a pretty reasonable goal, we had about 12 years at the time to make it which averaged out to something like $83,000/year. He was already on the way to achieving that, having been peddling computer gear and other things through the then nascent eBay, but I was intent on making it by rocketing up the corporate ladder to find myself in a position to earn it directly. Interestingly enough we’ve both progressed our careers along those paths as he’s had several business ventures over the years whilst I’ve spent the majority of mine climbing the corporate structures of Canberra IT.
Now the juicy part: did either of us make it? I can’t speak for Vince (although he did say it changed month by month when I mentioned it in a blog post almost 5 years ago, gosh the time went fast) but for me the answer is a little complicated: yes if you’ll allow me a technicality and no if you won’t. The technicality lies within the capital that I have control over which is well over the threshold however I cannot strictly lay claim to that, the bank still holds an interest in that capital in the form of mortgages. If I was to realise everything I’d probably be closer to halfway to my first million rather than over it which many would argue is the more true figure. Suffice to say I err on the side of the technicality because whilst I might not have a bank balance that says $1 million I do make returns as if I have it and have used that capital as real money in the past.
In all honesty though that’s taken a back seat to my primary goal of just doing the things that I love the most. I made the move to Dell almost 2 years ago now and honestly couldn’t be happier as they’ve allowed me to do things that I never had the chance to before. I’ve literally travelled the world for my work and my blog, something that I had always dreamed of doing but never thought I’d realise. In the last 3 years I’ve played over 150 different games, greatly expanding my gaming world and revelling in the review process. I’ve married my college sweetheart and seen her pursue a career of her own passion which has made both her and myself incredibly happy. Money is all well and good but it’d be nothing without the amazing things that have happened despite it.
It’s strange to think that, even though I’ve been living for 30 years now, the vast majority of my life is still likely ahead of me. I may not be the crazy youth that I once was, the one who thought being the CEO of multi-national company was possible in a sub-10 year timeframe, but I still believe that great things lie ahead. Experience has taught me that those things won’t come my way on their own however and should I aspire to more I’ll have to bust my butt to make it there. It is satisfying to know that the only thing standing between me and my ultimate goals is effort and time rather than whatever nebulous concept I had in my head all those years ago.
Suffice to say 30 doesn’t feel like the doom and gloom it was made out to be 😉
For gamers who’ve been craving solid stories where the player has real agency the last couple years have been a real boon with dozens of titles being released. Telltale remains the king of this particular genre and their style can be seen influencing nearly all others, for better or for worse. Life is Strange, the second game from Dotnod Entertainment who’s only previous title was the rather lukewarmly received Remember Me (although I quite liked it), definitely draws inspiration from the Telltale style but strives to stand out through their use of mechanics and more down to earth setting. For the most part it pulls this off however there are a few key things that, unfortunately, get in the way of the story.
Max had always dreamed of this and it was finally happening: she was going to Blackwell Academy to study under one of her photographic idols. It was so surreal coming back to the place she left 5 years ago, her home town having changed in subtle ways. Everything was going well, or as least as good as it could be given her shy and recluse nature, until she found herself in the grips of a strange nightmare in the middle of class. Upon waking however it appeared that she wasn’t asleep and events that had happened before seemed to be happening again, like the strongest case of deja vu you would have ever experienced. Her return home was about to take a turn for the supernatural.
The art style was described by the developers as “impressionistic rendering” which essentially boils down to them using hand painted textures. In some parts this works well, especially in the wider shots where the detail isn’t so important, however up close the stylization loses its lustre very quickly. This lack of detail is present in almost all scenes from the character models to the environments to even the animations which, jarringly, never seem to line up with the character’s speech. Indeed out of all the aspects of Life is Strange the visuals are the weakest, often getting in the way of the story coming across due to how jarring they are.
Life is Strange is your typical story-first adventure title where the focus is on developing the story and characters whilst giving you some real agency in sculpting how the story develops. However you’re given the unique ability to rewind (but not fast forward) time, allowing you to do things that would otherwise be impossible. Interestingly this ability is extended to all the key decisions within the game, allowing you to see how each of your choices would have played out. You can’t rewind infinitely though but it does give you an indication of how a particular decision would’ve played out and the potential consequences that could arise from it. Apart from that there’s a few rudimentary puzzles thrown in here or there, all of which make use of the rewind mechanic, but they’re a minor distraction from the rest of the game however.
For those of you who played Remember Me the rewind mechanic will be somewhat familiar as it’s very similar to the memory replay mechanic. Most of the time you’ll be rewinding to try and catch some kind of detail or figure out a series of events that needs to unfold in order to progress to the next stage. Interestingly items you pick up and your position in the world don’t change when you rewind, something which takes a little getting used to since that’s different from most other time travel games I’ve played in the past. Suffice to say the main mechanic is novel and definitely makes Life is Strange stand out a little more from the current crop of story-first games.
Thankfully Life is Strange does avoid the common pitfall of attempting to put in too many game mechanics that many story first games do, usually to avoid being lumped in with the walking simulators. The puzzles are relatively simple and the game usually gives you an indication of what you need to do through audio cues or visual prompts so it’s unlikely you’ll get stuck on them for any length of time. Instead Life is Strange encourages you to explore around your environment, uncovering bits of back story for all the characters you’ll come across and gaining insight into what Max is thinking. It’s a good balance, one that I’m hopeful more games like this will be able to achieve so their stories can shine rather than being hidden behind needless tedium.
As this is the first episode of what’s shaping up to be a 5 part episodic game it’s hard to get a complete picture of the story however this first instalment is a strong one. Life is Strange does require you to explore quite a bit in order to get the full picture and there’s a treasure trove of back story hidden in the journal that’s never really made reference to. However if you spend the time to explore, read and soak in the various details of the story it’s clear that there’s a rich world of detail that the writers are drawing on and the supernatural aspects are simply an aside rather than the main draw card. Overall this first episode sets up the game with a strong base, now all that’s left is to see if they can build on that and, potentially, give Telltale a run for their money.
Life is Strange is an interesting change of direction for Dotnod Entertainment, casting off their action roots in favour of a story first experience that, for the most part, achieves what it set out to. It’s quite clear where the majority of their focus was however and unfortunately some aspects of the game suffer because of it. I’m often of the mind that graphics don’t matter if the story is strong however Life is Strange’s art style and simplistic lip syncing detracts heavily from its well crafted story. This is somewhat made up for by the novel time rewind mechanic and strong story but it’s hard to escape it when you’re constantly reminded of the rather below par visuals. I am interested to see where this story goes however as it has the potential to set up Dotnod as one of the few developers able to execute well in the episodic game space.
Life is Strange is available on PC right now for $4.99. Total play time was 2 hours.