Monthly Archives: November 2015

The Quest for Dark Matter: The XENON1T.

When we have observed distant galaxies we noticed something peculiar about the way they move. Instead of moving like we’d expect them to, with things further away from the centre moving slower than those closer, everything past a certain point moves at about the same speed. This is contrary to how other, non-galaxy sized systems like our solar system move and so we’ve long looked for an explanation as to how this could occur. The commonly accepted theory is that there’s extra matter present throughout the universe that we can’t see but interacts through gravity, called dark matter. Direct detection of dark matter has so far eluded us however due to its incredibly elusive nature. However there’s one experiment, called XENON1T, that could potentially shine some light on this elusive substance.

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XENON1T is an evolution of previous experiments XENON10 and XENON100 which all shared the same goal: direct detection of a dark matter particle. Even though dark matter is theorized to be abundant everywhere in the universe (millions of dark matter particles would be passing through you every second) since they rarely interact detection is incredibly difficult. However just like the neutrinos before them there are ways of making detection possible and that’s what the XENON series of experiments aimed to do. At the heart of the experiment is a cylinder of liquid xenon, a chilly -95°C, bounded at each end by an array of photomultiplier tubes which are essentially extremely sensitive cameras. The thinking goes that, should a dark matter particle interact with the liquid xenon, a flash of light will occur which can then be analysed to see if it was a dark matter interaction.

The process by which this is determined is pretty interesting relying on 2 different types of interactions in order to determine what kind of particle interacted with the liquid xenon. The first signal, dubbed S1, is the flash of light that occurs at a very specific frequency of 178nm (ultraviolet). The photomultipliers are sensitive enough to be able to detect single photon events so even the smallest interaction will be captured. This photon is then brought upwards through the liquid xenon by an electric field that’s present in the gaseous section of the XENON1T device and when it leaves the liquid xenon it rockets upwards. The photon then leaves a trail of ionization in the gas behind it, dubbed the S2 signal, which allows for the exact position of the interaction to be determined. This is critical as the researchers only want events from the centre of the device as that has a greatly reduced rate of background noise.

The methodology was thoroughly validated by the two previous experiments even though both of them failed to directly detect any dark matter. They did put bounds on the properties of dark matter however, notably their size and potential electron spin. XENON1T is going to be around 100 times more sensitive than its previous brethren so even if it fails to see anything it will put even more stringent constraints on how a dark matter particle could be constructed. This is critical in validating or eliminating certain particle physics models and could give credence to other non-standard physics models like Modified Newtonian Dynamics (MOND).

Research such as this is incredibly important in developing an accurate understanding of how our universe operates. No matter the outcome of the experiment we’ll learn something valuable and it could potentially drive research towards a whole new world of physics. It won’t change our daily lives but ensuring our understanding of the world is as close to its knowable truth is the heart of science and that’s why this research is so important.

Warhammer: The End Times – Vermintide: Rats, Why Did it Have to be Rats.

I, like many of my generation, spent far too much of my time in Games Workshop stores as a teenager. I’d go there to gawk that the miniatures, painted in such exquisite detail that I tried and failed to replicate. That was only half of it though, the sense of community among those of us who’d spend as much time as we could at these places was far and above anything else. Thus the rather tumultuous path that the Games Workshop has walked these past few years has been tough as many of us felt they no longer cared about us, their biggest fans. However one good thing has come out all this and that has been Games Workshop’s more generous attitude towards licensing out its IP. The latest such incarnation comes in the form of Warhammer: The End Times: Vermintide, a Left 4 Dead-esque co-op survival game that breathes new life into the genre.

Warhammer Vermintide Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

You are a band of warriors in the town of Ubersreik, a city that has been overrun by the Skaven, a race of devilish rat people. With the town in peril everyone has been looking towards you to save them and there are numerous quests you must complete to keep the town safe. Some of these are simple, stopping the Skaven from poisoning the wells or destroying the food stocks, others will require you to climb to the top of massive towers to stop powerful magic from falling into Skaven hands. These will not be easy quests, dear warrior, and you’re likely to face much more than just hordes of rats along the way.

Vermintide comes to us care of the Autodesk Stingray engine, essentially a revamped version of the BitSquid engine that powered titles like Gauntlet and Magicka: Wizard Wars. In terms of capability and performance the engine really does shine, with great visuals that don’t drag your system down when the action heats up. The visual style is also very distinctive, being slightly stylized but still feeling as if it was pulled directly out of the Warhammer universe. Of course there have been some sacrifices in order to ensure performance remains consistent, meaning that some areas do feel a bit barren with little detail, but you’re usually too busy dealing with rats to notice. Considering the rather low asking price for the engine I hope to see more indie titles make use of it and the capabilities it can provide.

Warhammer Vermintide Review Screenshot Wallpaper A Ruinous View

As I alluded to earlier Vermintide is a co-op survival game modelled directly on the framework Left 4 Dead so successfully created. You’re a band of four heroes who must make it from the start to the end whilst completing objectives along the way. You’ll be beset on all sides by hordes of Skaven including various special versions which have abilities to disrupt your team and take them out of the fight. Unlike Left 4 Dead however this is not a PVP game, instead Vermintide’s variety comes from the various character classes you can choose, the RPG like levelling and loot system and the rather deep combat mechanics that make the game much more than a simple hack and slasher. Honestly the first hour had me thinking I was simply playing the latest version of Left 4 Dead but once I dug under the surface I was incredibly impressed by the level of complexity that Vermintide has.

Unlike other survival games where melee is a last resort in Vermintide it’s your primary damage dealing mechanism. You still have a ranged weapon, limited by ammunition, but they’re usually reserved for special situations like dealing with special vermin or clearing a path through swarms. This melee focus means you have to be much more aware of what is coming at you, when its attacking and when you should either dodge or block. Sure you can ignore all of that and just go charging in however you’re likely to find yourself running out of health very quickly, something which is at a premium in this game. Indeed we were barely able to finish the first mission on easy by using that tactic and it was only after a more seasoned friend of mine showed us the ways did we start to appreciate just how complex the combat was.

Warhammer Vermintide Review Screenshot Wallpaper Onward

The different character classes have different abilities, strengths and weaknesses, all of which you’ll need to take into consideration when crafting your party. Each character class isn’t locked into a specific role either as different items can change the way you play. I was playing the Empire Solider for the most part and could change from a damage dealer/special slayer into a front line tank by equipping a sword and shield. For other classes weapons can change them from single target to AOE focused or impart some insane abilities like arrows that are guaranteed headshots. Suffice to say there’s a lot to keep you coming back to Vermintide over and over again as the loot and character variety ensure that there’s dozens of hours of gameplay to be had.

That’s not to mention the loot system’s ingeniously evil risk vs reward system. Essentially there are various loot bolstering devices hidden around the map and each of them will reduce your ability to survive the rat onslaught. However should you make it all the way through with them you’ll get bonus loot dies at the end. Some of them are innocuous, like taking away your healing slot (but you can just drop the tome and use the healing then pick the tome back up) to others which reduce the entire parties health by 25% permanently. Suddenly a simple run becomes a balancing game of how much loot you can get vs how well you think you can survive.

Warhammer Vermintide Review Screenshot Wallpaper To The Tower

There’s also a crafting system, allowing you to upgrade, salvage and “forge” better weapons for yourself. The forge is essentially just a dumping ground for all the loot you don’t want as you’ll get, at most, 2 weapons per run (1 from the roll and 1 from a level up) and you’ll need 5 to make it work. Green and higher tier items have upgrades on them which need to be unlocked using certain coloured rocks. Those rocks will come from salvaging other items that you no longer want. Overall it’s a pretty simplistic crafting system but at least it gives you the opportunity to make something of the drops that you’d otherwise get nothing from.

For all its polish though Vermintide still has a couple issues which could do with fixing. The hit detection can get a bit crazy at times, resulting in strange behaviour like pack masters being able to pull players through walls. It works two ways though so sometimes you can get special rats, like the gattling gun one, stuck in a place where they can’t hit you but you can hit them. There’s also some lag induced issues which can cause rats to flit all over the place, fall through the ground or randomly spawn out of no where. I’m assuming this is born out of its P2P hosting nature which means that game sync can get a bit weird if one or more people have a tenuous connection to the host.

Warhammer Vermintide Review Screenshot Wallpaper Roll the Bones

Vermintide would be easy to write off as a Left 4 Dead clone but after a couple of hours you quickly realise it’s anything but. Sure the combat and core mechanics are definitely inspired by the grand daddy of this genre but the extra elements that Vermintide has makes it on its own. The character classes and loot system help keep the game fresh, even after you’ve played the same map a dozen times over. The combat retains that same high tension feeling that we all grew to love in Left 4 Dead whilst distinguishing itself with a bunch of Warhammer inspired mechanics. The crafting system and few rough edges are the few let downs of vermintide but it says a lot that those are the only negative things I have to say about it. For those who were let down by Evolve Vermintide could very well be the game that resells you on the genre.

Rating: 8.75/10

Warhammer: The End Times – Vermintide is available on PC right now for $29.99 and coming Q1 2016 to PlayStation4 and XboxOne. Total play time was 6 hours with 22% of the achievements unlocked.

Congress Passes Bill to Continue Support of Private Space Industry.

The last decade and a half has seen an explosion in the private space industry. We’ve seen multiple new companies started many of which have now flown successful missions to the International Space Station. This is partly due to the regulatory framework that the USA adopted to spur on the private space industry as previously it was impenetrable for all but a few giant multinationals. Today congress passed a bill that ensures this regulatory framework can continue as is for some time whilst also providing a few provisions that will see a few major space projects continue for a while longer. In short it means that the amazing progress we’ve seen from the private space industry is likely to continue for at least the next decade.

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Up until 2004 building and flying your own spacecraft (within the USA) was effectively illegal. Provisions were then made to allow commercial space flights by adopting a “learning period”, essentially preventing the FAA from enforcing flight regulations on private space companies. Whilst this doesn’t make them exempt from any law, ostensibly this transfers the responsibility onto any participants in private space flights, it does give private space companies the room they need to develop their technologies. That period was set to end next year however the recently passed bill will extend that for another 7 years before the Department of Transportation takes over and begins to fully regulate the industry.

There’s also further provisions for ensuring that private space companies can compete and innovate without unnecessary burdens. The first provision is the extension of the indemnification of commercial launches, essentially a risk sharing framework that ensures US based private space companies can compete with overseas launches. There’s also a directive to several government agencies to develop the proper oversight framework for commercial space activities. This will mean a formalization of the many ad-hoc processes that are currently used and should hopefully mean a reduction in some of the headaches that private space companies currently face.

Probably the biggest bit of news out of this bill however was the provision for extending the USA’s involvement in the International Space Station to 2024, a 4 year extension over the current mission time frame. The last time the deadline was extended was 6 years ago and nearly everyone thought that would be the end of it since that matched the originally intended lifespan of the station. Without a replacement forthcoming (Tiangong doesn’t count) this gives us a little more breathing room to come up with a replacement or better plan for the future of our only manned space station.

One interesting provision, and one I’m sure Planetary Resources is excited about, is the establishment of legal rights to resources recovered from space by a private entity. Essentially this means that if you were to say, mine an asteroid and send its resources down to Earth, you now have the same legal rights over them as you would if you mined them here. There’s also a directive in there for the president to pursue off-world resource exploration and recovery which will likely mean increased focus in this space. It’s still something of a nascent industry so it’s good to see it getting recognition at this level.

Of course all of this comes without additional budgetary measures for NASA et. al. to meet these goals however it does lay a firm groundwork for more funding to be put aside. Hopefully when the next budget rolls around these additional objectives will be taken into consideration as otherwise it could just end up putting more strain on NASA’s current projects. For the private space industry however it means a long extension for the conditions they’ve enjoyed over the past decade, conditions which have seen amazing progress. Hopefully the next decade is just as good as the first.

Jawbone Up3: Good, But Still Missing Something.

I was always of the opinion that the health trackers on the market were little more than gimmicks. Most of them were glorified pedometers worn by people who wanted to look like they were fitness conscious people rather than actually using them to stay fit. The introduction of heart rate tracking however presented functionality that wasn’t available before and piqued my interest. However the lack of continuous passive heart rate monitoring meant that they weren’t particularly useful in that regard so I held off until that was available. The Jawbone Up3 was the first to offer that functionality and, whilst it’s still limited to non-active periods, was enough for me to purchase my first fitness tracker. After using it for a month or so I thought I’d report my findings on it as most of the reviews out there focus on it at launch, rather than how it is now.

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The device itself is small, lightweight and relatively easy to forget that it’s strapped to your wrist once you get it on. The band adjustment system is a little awkward, requiring you to take it off to adjust it and then put it back on, but once you get it to the right size it’s not much of an issue. The charging mechanism could be done better as it requires you to line up all the contacts perfectly or the band will simply not charge. It’d be far better to have an inductive charging system for it however given the device’s size and weight I’d hazard a guess that that was likely not an option. For the fashion conscious the Up3 seems to go unnoticed by most with only a few people I knew noticing it over the time I’ve had it. Overall as a piece of tech I like it however looks aren’t everything when it comes to fitness trackers.

The spec sheet for the Up3 has a laundry list of sensors in it however you really only get to see the data collected from two of them: the pedometer and the heart rate monitor. Whilst I understand that having all that data would be confusing for most users for someone like me it’d definitely be of interest. This means that, whilst the Up3 might be the most feature packed fitness tracker out there, in terms of actual, usable functionality it’s quite similar to a lot of bands already out there. For many that will make the rather high asking price a hard pill to swallow. There’s been promises of access to more data through the API for some time now but so far they have gone unfulfilled.

Jawbone Up3 App

What the Up3 really has going for it though is the app which is well designed and highly functional. Setting everything up took about 5 minutes and it instantly began tracking everything. The SmartCoach feature is interesting as it skirts around providing direct health advice but tries to encourage certain, well established healthy behaviours. All the functions work as expected with my favourite being the sleep alarm. Whilst it took a little tweaking to get right (it seemed to just go off at the time I set for the most part initially) once it’s done I definitely felt more awake when it buzzed me. It’s not a panacea to all your sleep woes though but it did give me insight into what behaviours might have been affecting my sleep patterns and what I could do to fix them.

The heart rate tracking seems relatively accurate from a trend point of view. I could definitely tell when I was exercising, sitting down or in a particularly heated meeting where my heart was racing. It’s definitely not 100% accurate as there were numerous spikes, dips and gaps in the readings which often meant that the daily average was not entirely reliable. Again it was more interesting to see the trending over time and linking deviations to certain behaviours. If accuracy is the name of the game however the Up3 is probably not for you as it simply can’t be used for more than averaging.

What’s really missing from the Up3 and it’s associated app is the integration and distillation of all the data it’s able to capture. Many have looked to heart rate monitoring as a way to get more accurate calorie burn rates but the Up3 only uses the pedometer input to do this. The various other sensor inputs could also prove valuable in determining passive calorie burn rate (I, for instance, tend to run “hotter” than most people, something the skin temperature sensor can pick up on) but again their data is unused. On a pure specification level the Up3 is the most advanced tracker out there but that means nothing if that technology isn’t put to good use.

Would I recommend buying one? I’m torn honestly. On the one hand it does do the basic functions very well and the app looks a lot better than anything the competition has put out so far. However you’re paying a lot for technology that you’re simply not going to use, hoping that it will become available sometime in the future. Unless the optical heartrate tracking of other fitness trackers isn’t cutting it for you then it’s hard to recommend the Up3 above them and other, simpler trackers will provide much of the same benefit for a lower price. Overall the Up3 has the potential to be something great, but paying for potential, rather than actual functionality, is something that only early adopters do. That was an easier sell 6 months ago but with only one major update since then I don’t think many are willing to buy something on spec.

Lytro Immerge: True 3D Video.

You’ve likely seen examples of 360º video on YouTube before, those curious little things that allow you to look around the scene as it plays out. Most of these come courtesy of custom rigs that people have created to capture video from all angles, using software to stitch them all together. Others are simply CGI that’s been rendered in the appropriate way to give you the full 360º view. Whilst these are amazing demonstrations of the technology they all share the same fundamental limitation: you’re rooted to the camera. True 3D video, where you’re able to move freely about the scene, is not yet a reality but it will be soon thanks to Lytro’s new camera, the Immerge.

Lytro Immerge

That odd UFO looking device is the Immerge, containing hundreds of the lightfield sensors (the things that powered the original Lytro and the Illum) within each of its rings. There’s no change in the underlying technology, the lightfield sensors have the same intensity plus direction sensing capabilities, however these will be the first sensors in Lytro’s range to boast video capture. This, combined with the enormous array of sensors, allows the Immerge to capture all the details of a scene, including geometry and lighting. The resulting video, which needs to be captured and processed on a specially designed server that the camera needs, allows the viewer to move around the scene independently of the camera. Suffice to say that’s a big step up from the 360º video we’re used to seeing today and, I feel, is what 3D video should be.

The Immerge poses some rather interesting challenges however, both in terms of content production and its consumption. For starters it’s wildly different from any kind of professional camera currently available, one that doesn’t allow a crew to be anywhere near it whilst its filming (unless they want to be part of the scene). Lytro understands this and has made it remotely operable however that doesn’t detract from the fact that traditional filming techniques simply won’t work with the Immerge. Indeed this kind of camera demands a whole new way of thinking as you’re no longer in charge of where the viewer will be looking, nor where they’ll end up in a scene.

Similarly on the consumer end the Immerge relies on the burgeoning consumer VR industry in order to have an effective platform for it to really shine. This isn’t going to be a cinema style experience any time soon, the technology simply isn’t there, instead Immerge videos will likely be viewed by people at home on their Oculus Rifts or similar. There’s definitely a growing interest in this space by consumers, as I’ve detailed in the past, however for a device like the Immerge I’m not sure that’s enough. There’s potentially other possibilities that I’m not thinking of, like shooting on the Immerge and then editing everything down to a regular movie, which might make it more viable but i feel like that would be leaving so much of the Immerge’s potential at the door.

Despite all that though the Immerge does look like an impressive piece of kit and it will be able to do things that no other device is currently capable of doing. This pivot towards the professional video market could be the play that makes their struggle in the consumer market all worthwhile. We won’t have to wait long to see it either as Lytro has committed to the Immerge being publicly available in Q1 next year. Whether or not it resonates with the professional content creators and their consumers will be an interesting thing to see as the technology really does have a lot of promise.

Overwatch Not F2P, But No One Seems to Believe Blizzard.

Last week I wrote about how Blizzard has been working to revamp itself over the past few years with new games that didn’t follow it’s traditional business model. Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm are both wild successes that followed the free to play model and many were wondering when their other titles would follow suit. Indeed it was assumed by everyone that the upcoming team shooter title, Overwatch, was likely going to follow the F2P trend. However at BlizzCon over the weekend Blizzard made the stunning announcement that for the US$40 asking price you’d get access to all the heroes and maps. Plans for future heroes and other content were less clear however and this sent the vocal Internet minority into a tail spin.

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There were numerous interviews floating around where Blizzard employees were pressed about the future of the game and what content they could expect. On the subject of heroes they typically stated that there weren’t any current plans and there would definitely not be any additional heroes at launch. This led everyone to speculate that there were plans to release more heroes in the future and that it’d likely be something that players would have to shell out for. This was concerning due to Overwatch’s emphasis on reactive play, switching up your hero class to counter the enemy’s tactics, which would break if some heroes were locked away behind a paywall. Whilst I’ll admit that the last point is accurate it makes an assumption which I don’t believe to be true.

That Blizzard knows exactly where Overwatch is headed.

As I’ve mentioned before, and which has been mostly confirmed by numerous other sources, Overwatch is the bits and pieces that Blizzard was able to salvage from the failed Project Titan MMORPG. The cancellation of that project occurred in September last year and Overwatched was announced only a few months later in November at Blizzcon 2014. Now here we are, 1 year later, and the game has a solid release date and a closed beta that just got started. Essentially Blizzard has gone from having almost nothing to a fully fledged title ready for release in a year so the project is still very much in the nascent stages, especially by Blizzard standards. To think that they’ve got the whole future of the game mapped out is a huge assumption as Blizzard has likely spent the last year getting the functional, let alone thinking about where they want to take it.

When you also consider the fact that this will be Blizzard’s first FPS title you can see why they’d be a little cagey on what their future plans are. They have a wealth of experience in the MMORPG and RTS genres but little beyond that. Whilst they’ve been successful in some of their recent endeavours there’s a trail of failed ideas behind them which never met the light of day. It’s entirely possible that they’ve been so heavily focused on getting the initial game right that the future runway has been left undefined for the time being. One thing Blizzard has shown a talent for (and I’m ignoring some of the larger issues with Hearthstone for this comment, I know) is reacting to how its community plays its games. My money is on the fact that they’re going to wait until after launch to gauge where everything is at and then, at that point, they’ll see how they want to grow Overwatch further.

Even at that point however I sincerely doubt that Blizzard would break the game in the many severe ways that fans are describing now. The auction house debacle of Diablo III taught them a valuable lesson in how breaking core game mechanics ruins the experience for many and I doubt they’ll look to repeat that with a fresh IP. The good news is that Jeff Kaplan, Overwatch’s game director, has gone on record stating that Overwatch won’t be adopting a Heroes of the Storm type model. Whilst this has done little to quell the vocal swell it does reaffirm my position and should give everyone hope that Blizzard is committed to the Overwatch business model as it stands today.

Rebel Galaxy: Firefly and Freelancer’s Bastard Child.

Freelancer was a seminal game, one that managed to pull Microsoft Game Studios’ reputation out of the gutter and set the bar for any space based game that would follow it. However instead of a glut of similar titles following it, like what seems to happen to any mildly successful idea these days, there was nothing. The decade that followed was devoid of any titles that could hold a candle to Freelancer, both in raw gameplay terms and story. DarkStar One and Evochron Mercenary came close to replicating the feel but, in this humble reviewer’s opinion, were easily forgotten titles that lacked the staying power that kept Freelancer relevant for so long. Rebel Galaxy then is another attempt to rekindle the magic that once was and, whilst it does a fairly good job at that, it falls short on some key aspects which stop it from achieving the same greatness.

Rebel Galaxy Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

It all starts with a panicked message from your aunt. You need to come meet with her she says, sending you the coordinates of a ship you can use and the place you should head to. You’ve always known that your aunt was some kind of big trader but this is out of character for her. Begrudgingly you climb aboard the relic she’s left you and make your way to the destination. However upon arriving you find she’s not there although there is someone who can help you locate her. So begins your journey in the wild side of this galaxy where you’ll deal with all manner of aliens, scum and villainy in order to track down your aunt.

On first blush you’d be forgiven for thinking that Rebel Galaxy was another Unity as it’s actually powered by a heavily modified version of the OGRE engine, made famous by the Torchlight series. It may seem like an odd choice however Double Damage Games is the brain child of the co-founders of Runic Games who were the developers of that series. In that regard it’s easy to see the visual similarities with bright lighting and visual effects abounding. It’s not going to bring a bleeding edge gaming beast to its knees, nor will it win any awards for being the most pretty game, but it does feel fitting for the type of game that Rebel Galaxy is.

Rebel Galaxy Review Screenshot Wallpaper Long Warp to Nowhere

Rebel Galaxy is a space trader and combat sim, drawing influence from all the obvious places. Whilst there’s a campaign to play through, and something that you should probably do on your first time around, you’re basically left to your own devices when it comes to choosing your path. Want to play the spreadsheet game? There’s a full economy simulator in there allowing you to buy and sell your way to riches. That a little dull for you? There’s a whole host of different types of combat missions available for you to pursue. All of these help further the aim of upgrading your ship with better weapons and gear so you can take on ever bigger contracts to make even more money. How the game unfolds is completely up to you, allowing you to become the space cowboy you’ve long dreamed of.

Combat is halfway between Freelancer’s full 3D, 6 DOF style space dogfighting and EVE-Online’s point your ship and things and shoot them on timers style combat. Everything takes place in the same plane (with a couple of exceptions) and you’re likely going to be spending most of your time aiming your broadside canons. You’ll be facing up against enemies ranging from small fighters all the way to large capital ships with devastating arrays of weaponry. For the most part it’s serviceable, even fun when you start to outrank your current enemies firepower, however it falls short of being really satisfying for a couple reasons.

Rebel Galaxy Review Screenshot Wallpaper Tress

The everything in one plane constraint seems fine at first until you start meeting enemies that are allowed to violate that constraint with reckless abandon. I understand why this choice was made, smaller fighters would just get one shot otherwise, however later on when those fighters start getting capital class items and weapons it feels more like tedium than challenge. Additionally the broadsides are rather finicky about when they’ll switch into precise aiming mode, forcing you to wrangle the camera and fire randomly in an effort to get them to lock on. I can deal with pretty much everything else easily (like making sure you’ve got weaponry to deal with numerous situations) but these two issues took the combat down from “great” to just good.

Trading seems like it can be a worthwhile endeavour according to what many of the users on /r/rebelgalaxy are reporting. There’s a complex event system which drives prices on certain commodities in certain directions so, if you know what does what, there’s potential profits to be made all the time. Trading in single player games has always felt like a waste of time to me however so I really didn’t bother getting into it too much. Still if hauling cargo is your thing then Rebel Galaxy has a complex enough economy system that I’m sure there’s more than enough for you to enjoy here.

Rebel Galaxy Review Screenshot Wallpaper Combat

Like many open world games whilst there’s lots to do a lot of it becomes very same-y after a short while. Bounties, blockades and all other types of combat missions are largely the same in the way they play out usually requiring you to knock out all the small fighters before taking out the capitals one by one. The smuggling/trading runs are profitable however you should make no attempt to fight as you’ll likely lose due to the insane number of ships they throw at you. Escort missions are like any other escort mission, mostly boring but interspersed with a few moments of combat action. There’s a lot of exploring you can do but, again, the lack of variety makes that a dull prospect. All in all, whilst I can appreciate that this is the kind of thing some people thrive on, I just get bored after a while, preferring to pursue the campaign.

Unfortunately in that regard Rebel Galaxy isn’t anything to write home about, the story feeling really rudimentary and failing to grab me at any point. Whilst everyone is projecting their Firefly ambitions onto the character (spurred on only by the developer’s choice in music, which I did like) the story of your actual character couldn’t be any further from it. Indeed your sudden escalation from nobody to swashbuckler is so fast that it borders on ridiculous, breaking any idea of relatability that your or any other character might have had. If you ignore it to find your own path in the game then all the more power to you but for me, someone who enjoys a well crafted story, I found little to praise in Rebel Galaxy’s story.

Rebel Galaxy Review Screenshot Wallpaper Bar

Rebel Galaxy is the space sim that many have been waiting for, allowing them to live out their Firefly fantasies out on the edge galaxies. In that regard it delivers much of what is expected of it having all the trimmings that is expected from a game in this genre. The combat is unique however it suffers from a few key problems which quickly turn the challenge into tedium. Its open world nature is likely to appeal to many however the lacklustre campaign left this reviewer wanting. All in all Rebel Galaxy is a solid game, one that’s sure to delight both Freelancer and Firefly fans alike, however it’s not a great game like the ones it seeks to imitate.

Rating: 7.5/10

Rebel Galaxy is available on PC right now for $19.99. Total play time was approximately 8 hours with 14% of the achievements unlocked.

The Sun’s Serenity.

Our sun is an incredibly violent thing, smashing atoms together at an incredible rate that results in the outpouring of vast torrents of energy into our solar system. Yet from certain perspectives it takes on a serene appearance, its surface ebbing and flowing as particles trace out some of its vast magnetic field. Indeed that’s exactly what the following video shows: a gorgeous composition of imagery taken from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. Whilst not all of us have the luxury of a 4K screen it’s still quite breathtaking to behold and definitely worth at least a few minutes of your time.

SDO has been in orbit for 5 years now keeping an almost unbroken eye on our parent star. Its primary mission is to better understand the relationship that our earth and the sun have, especially those which have a direct impact on daily life. To achieve this SDO is observing the sun in multiple wavelengths all at once (shown as different colours in this video) and on a much smaller timescale than previous craft have attempted. This has led to insights into how the sun generates its magnetic field, what it looks like and how the complex fusion processes influence the sun’s varying outputs like solar wind, energetic particles and variations in its solar output. Those images aren’t just rich with scientific data however as they showcase the sun’s incredible beauty.

So, how’s the serenity? 😉

Activison Blizzard’s Plays to Stay Relevant in Today’s Gaming Industry.

World of Warcraft stands out as an exception in the MMORPG world. Where nearly all other titles have either faltered or drastically altered their business models in order to survive World of Warcraft has remained steadfast to its subscription based system. This has made it the most successful MMORPG ever, making it a multi-billion dollar business all of its own. However its heydays are long behind it, with subscriber numbers slowly dwindling over the years. The more regular release of expansions have helped to keep the number up somewhat but the downward trend was still easily noticeable. Blizzard, obviously aware of this, has decided to stop reporting subscriber numbers altogether after their last quarterly report yesterday.

World of Warcraft Legion Expansion

The last subscriber count pegs World of Warcraft’s player count at about 5.5 million, the lowest it’s been in 10 years. Whilst that number might sound like the first rattles of World of Warcraft’s death knell it’s likely anything but as many long time MMORPGs have survived on much smaller subscription numbers. For Blizzard it does present a challenge as dwindling numbers can often have a runaway effect; reaching a critical point where the majority of the playerbase abandons the title for greener pastures. That point is probably still some time away and indeed if the last subscriber peak (from the last expansion) is repeatable then I see no reason for World of Warcraft to go away any time soon. However the change in what (Activision) Blizzard communicates, as well as their recent purchase of King, is indicative of some of the other issues the company is facing in their attempt to stay relevant.

It was around this time that Blizzard was planning to announce their next MMORPG based on an entirely new IP. This was known internally as Project Titan, a name which got more than a few people fired when it was made public. Unfortunately the game simply didn’t work in the way it was originally envisioned and it was scrapped late last year. Whilst Overwatch may have arisen out of its remnants it meant that many who were looking towards Blizzard’s next MMORPG were left wanting and thus began to look elsewhere. Had project Titan been released around this time the demise of World of Warcraft might have been fully sealed but it would have been a greater win for the company overall.

This has led many to call for World of Warcraft to change their subscription model to be more inline with current trend of switching to free-to-play. To be sure the transition can be made as The Old Republic and other titles have shown however there’s little incentive for Blizzard to do so when their monthly revenue rate is still in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Until they’re really hurting for numbers, and I mean really hurting, such a transition would likely devastate their revenues to the point where World of Warcraft wasn’t sustainable. However I think Activision Blizzard recognises this as a potential possibility and that’s where the acquisition of King comes into play.

King, for those who don’t know, are the developers behind the incredibly successful Candy Crush saga. Activision Blizzard is paying a cool $5.9 billion for the company which isn’t a bad deal if their current profit rate of $127 million per quarter is anything to go by. They are undoubtedly one of the leaders in the free-to-play model and there’s every chance they’re buying them with a view to revamp the business models for some of their products. This isn’t limited to Blizzard titles of course, but the timing of the two announcements certainly makes it feel like they might be related.

This definitely feels like a pivot point for Activision Blizzard as they muse through their options for future growth. There’s definitely a trend for their newer IPs to be done differently to those of the past and how Overwatch is positioned will be strongly telling of how they see game development in the future. Right now it points to a free-to-play future, one that could very well make its way into already established IPs. If any company can make the transition work, and work well, it’s Activision Blizzard but no change of this magnitude is without risk.

Windows 7 Ceasing Sales Next Year, Windows 10 Rocketing to Replace it.

The lukewarm reception that Windows 8 and 8.1 received meant that many customers held steadfast to their Windows 7 installations. Whilst it wasn’t a Vista level catastrophe it was still enough to cement the idea that every other version of Windows was worth skipping. At the same time however it also set the stage for making Windows 7 the new XP, opening up the potential for history to repeat itself many years down the line. This is something that Microsoft is keen to avoid, aggressively pursuing users and corporations alike to upgrade to Windows 10. That strategy appears to be working and Microsoft seems confident enough in the numbers to finally cut the cord with Windows 7, stopping sales of the operating system from October next year.

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It might sound like a minor point, indeed you haven’t been able to buy most retail versions of Windows 7 for about a year now, however it’s telling about how confident Microsoft is feeling about Windows 10. The decision to cut all versions but Windows 7 Pro from OEM offerings was due to the poor sales of 8/8.1, something which likely wouldn’t be improved with Windows 10 so close to release. The stellar reception that Windows 10 received, passing both of its beleaguered predecessors in under a month, gave Microsoft the confidence it needed put an end date to Windows 7 sales once and for all.

Of course this doesn’t mean that the current Windows 7 install base is going anywhere, it still has extended support until 2020. This is a little shorter than XP’s lifecycle was, 11 years vs 13 years, and subsequently Windows 10’s (in its current incanation) current lifespan is set to be shorter again at 10 years. Thankfully this will present fewer challenges to both consumers and enterprises alike, given that they share much of the same codebase under the hood. Still the majority of the growth in the Windows 10 marketshare has likely come from the consumer space rather than the enterprise.

This is most certainly the case among gamers with Windows 10 now representing a massive 27.64% of users on the Steam platform. Whilst that might sound unsurprising, PC gamers are the most likely to be on the latest technology, Windows 7 was widely regarded as being one of the best platforms for gaming. Windows 8 (and by extension Windows 10 since most of the criticisms apply to both versions) on the other hand was met with some rather harsh criticism about what it could mean for PC gaming. Of course here we are several years later PC gaming is stronger than ever and gamers are adopting the newer platform in droves.

For Microsoft, who’ve gone on record saying that Windows 10 is slated to be the last version of Windows ever, cutting off the flow of previous versions of Windows is critical to ensuring that their current flagship OS reaches critical mass quickly. The early success they’ve seen has given them some momentum however they’ll need an aggressive push over the holiday season in order to overcome the current slump they’re finding themselves in. It’s proven to be popular among early adopters however now comes the hard task of convincing everyone else that it’s worth the trouble of upgrading. The next couple quarters will be telling in that regard and will be key to ensuring Windows 10’s position as the defacto OS for a long time to come.