Before the days of ubiquitous broadband many of us would have to wait until the monthly LAN event to get our fix of multiplayer gaming. Of course this was also the time when the vast majority of games didn’t include some form of multiplayer so the long time between drinks was easy enough to handle. However since then the inclusion of some form of multiplayer in many games has diluted experiences that used to be specifically crafted for that purpose. Indeed the most rare of rare kind of multiplayer game, the one where you and bunch of mates would crowd around a TV to play, have shrunk down into a very specific niche. However there are still titles that come out every once in a while that exemplify that multiplayer-first experience of years gone by and Rocket League is one of them.
Rocket League is the sequel to the 2008 game Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle Cars which was met with a rather lukewarm reception upon its release. Being a PlayStation3 only game, one with niche appeal at best, it’s easy to see why. Rocket League takes the same basic idea, rocket powered cars playing soccer, and modernizes the idea slightly, packaging it up for today’s gaming market. The reception this time around has been far more welcoming but looking back through videos of game play from its predecessor it’s hard to see the differences that make Rocket League that much more appealing. Still the buzz was more than enough to convince me that it was worth a look in.
On first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking that Rocket League runs on something other than the Unreal 3 engine as it does manage to do a lot with so little. Psyonix, the developer of Rocket League and its predecessor, does have something of a history with the engine having co-developed Unreal Tournament 2004. That experience has definitely come in handy as Rocket League looks great and runs fabulously, admittedly on my incredibly over-speced PC. One thing I did note however is that it doesn’t look anywhere near as good on the PlayStation4 as it does on the PC, even when running at the same resolution. That’s just my anecdotal experience however and I’m sure it’d look great on a much larger screen (I run my PlayStation4 through a HDMI capture card to my main PC monitor)
At a basic level Rocket League is a simple game: get the ball into the opposing team’s goal. However instead of human players you’re driving around in what looks like an overgrown remote control car, one outfitted with a rocket boost system that allows you to reach incredible speeds and heights. You’ll start out by driving around on the ground, attempting to crash and bash your way through your opponents in order to score a goal. After a while though you’ll start to get a little trickier, flying through the air to intercept the ball and bringing it crashing back down to earth with incredible speed. Of course no multiplayer game is complete without a treasure trove of cosmetics behind it, allowing you to customize the look of your little racer however you see fit. For the ultra-competitive amongst us there’s ranked matchmaking and an inbuilt league system, allowing you to set up tournaments for your friends and foes alike. Taken as a whole it’s got the makings of a game with aspirations to be an eSports contender, although whether it will become one is up to the community at large.
All matches have a 5 minute timer on them meaning that, for the most part, a full game won’t take you much longer than that to complete. Of course if you or your opposing team is dominating you, and the entire team doesn’t skip the goal replays (which seems to happen all the time), it’ll take a lot longer than that as you watch every goal repeated for 30 seconds. Still it’s not the kind of game where you’ll start a game an hour before you have to do something and then find yourself running short on time. For the most part you’ll spend most of this fervently chasing the ball around the court, trying to pry it off your opponents and ramming everyone enthusiastically. You’ll get points (which are just used to determine who the MVP of the game is) for doing things like scoring and stopping goals which are a good way to encourage you to actually play properly rather than just playing like a ball obsessed puppy.
At the start the matches are chaotic and fun, with everyone racing around everywhere trying their best to wrangle their car to hit the ball in the right direction. However it didn’t take long for the matchmaking system to breakdown somewhat, often paring me with opponents who far exceeded my (and my team-mates’) own abilities. This is partially due to me being a little late to the party, coming into it almost 3 weeks after its initial release, however a good matchmaking system would ensure that, for any given match, we had a 50/50 chance of winning. So now, with the initial wave of players starting to dwindle, the people that are left behind are the ones who are more than a couple steps above rookies like myself. It’s a challenge that faces any multiplayer game that has aspirations of running for years past its original release date and unfortunately one that doesn’t have a great solution. Rocket League will still be a blast with friends, you can pick up the core mechanics in 10 minutes, but the online may end up being just as difficult to crack as other long term multiplayer games.
Whilst I didn’t get enough time on the PlayStation4 version to comment on how stable it is (although tales of PlayStation4s overheating while playing it don’t bode particularly well in my book) Rocket League on PC is stable during regular play. However I had numerous, inexplicable crashes to desktop that seemed to occur randomly during the game. Sometimes it was during the initial part of the game where I was revving my engine, others whilst a bunch of us crashed into each other. Looking through the Steam folder I can’t seem to locate any crash dumps or debug logs so I can’t comment as to what’s causing it but it’s definitely an issue that I’ve yet to see a resolution for.
Rocket League demonstrates that sequels can outshine their predecessors as it took an idea that was met with lukewarm reception and turned it into the game everyone is talking about. The core game play is fun and frantic, made even better when you throw a few friends into the mix. The online multiplayer works well for the most part however newcomers might be greeted by a wall of players who are far more skilled than they are. Still that doesn’t detract from the fact that playing this game with a bunch of mates is tons of fun, something that will keep it alive for many years to come.
Rocket League is available on PlayStation 4 and PC right now for $19.99 (currently free for PlayStationPlus subscribers). Game was played on both platforms with a combined playtime of approximately 3 hours with 31% of the achievements unlocked on the PC.
With an abundance of space and not much else the rural parts of Australia aren’t really the place where a kid has much to entertain themselves with. From the age of about 12 however my parents let us kids bash our way around the property in all manner of vehicles which has then fed into a lifelong obsession with cars. This has been in direct competition with my financially sensible side however as cars are a depreciating asset, one that no amount of money invested in them can ever recoup. However I still enjoy the act of driving itself, especially if it’s through some of Australia’s more picturesque landscapes. You’d think then that the idea of a self driving car would be abhorrent to a person like myself but in reality it’s anything but.
We’re fast approaching the time when cars that can drive themselves to and from any location are not only technically feasible, they’re a few short steps away from being a commercial reality. Google’s self driving car, whilst it has only left its home town a couple times, has demonstrated that it’s quite possible to arm a car with a bevy of sensors and have it react better than a human would in many situations. Indeed the accidents their car has been involved in have not been the fault of the software, but of the humans either controlling the self driving car or those ramming into the back of it. Whilst there’s still many regulatory hurdles to go before these things are seen en-masse on our roads it would seem like having them there would be a huge boon to everyone, especially those travelling as its passengers.
For me whilst driving isn’t an unpleasant experience it’s still a time where I’m unable to do anything else but drive the car. Now I’m not exactly your stereotypical workaholic (I will keep a standard hour day and attempt to automate most of my work instead) but having an extra hour or so a day where I can complete a few tasks, or even just catch up on interesting articles, would be pretty handy. Indeed this is the reason why I still fly most places when travelling for business, even when the flight from Canberra to the other capitals is below an hour total. It’s not me doing the driving which allows me to get things done rather than spending multiple hours watching the odometer.
There’s also those numerous times when neither the wife nor I feel like driving and we could simply hand over to the car for the trip. I can even imagine it reducing our need to have separate cars as I could simply have the car drop my wife off and return to me if I needed it. That’s a pretty huge benefit and one that’s well worth paying a bit of a premium for.
This would also have the unintentional benefit of making those times when I wanted to drive that much more enjoyable. Nothing takes the fun out of something that enjoy than being forced to do it all the time for another purpose, something which driving to work every day certainly did for me. If I was only driving when I wanted to however I feel that I’d enjoy it far more than I’d otherwise would. I think a lot of car enthusiasts will feel the same way as few drive their pride and joys to work every day, instead having a daily driver that they run on the cheap. Of course some will abhor the experience in its entirety but you get that with any kind of new technology.
For me this technology can not come quick enough as the benefits are huge with the only downside being the likely high cost of acquisition. I’ve only been speaking from a personal viewpoint here too as there’s far much more to be gained once self driving cars reach a decent level of penetration among the wider community.
That’s a blog post for another day, however.
Long time readers will know I’m something of a petrol head. It’s an obsession that grew out of my introduction to all things automotive at a young age when my parents let me ride around our property on our little Honda Z50 which continued on through multiple bikes and cars as I grew older. Since these cars were usually bound for the scrap heap keeping them running wasn’t something I (well my parents, really) had much interest in spending money on so I became intimately acquainted with the inner workings of late model Datsuns. Whilst I don’t bother diving under the hood of my current car very often the interest in the technology that drives them hasn’t faded as demonstrated by my fixation on this video:
The one area I never really wanted to touch was transmissions, mostly because they’re one of the hardest parts of the car to work on and taking them apart is fraught with danger for unqualified hacks like myself. Whilst I knew the basics of how transmission worked I didn’t know the complex dynamics of power transmission through the varying gears. Whilst this video might not be reflective of how current transmissions work (indeed that’s a world’s a worlds away from how an automatic works, to my understanding) the fundamentals are still there in beautiful 1930’s video glory.
What I’d really be interested to see is the gear work behind some of the advanced transmission schemes that power some of the more modern cars like Volkswagen’s Direct-Shift Gearbox (which is essentially 2 gearboxes working in tandem). There’s also the Continuously Variable Transmission which has the peculiar behavior of letting the engine rev itself out whilst it gradually gears up. This can allow a driver to peg the engine at its optimal RPM and keep it there until the desired speed is reached. Although this is typically undesirable as it feels like clutch slippage in a traditional transmission so many CVT based cars have “gears” that are essentially different response profiles. There’s even more exotic things on formula 1 cars but that’s whole other world to me.
You’d have to be a keen reader to pick up on my obsession with cars. I haven’t posted about it much, heck the only post I could dredge up was this one from my trip to the USA last year, but I’ve been something of a car nut for the better part of 15 years. You can put this down to my rural upbringing where we had big plot of land that my parents let me drive around on. It started with motorbikes, seeing me own no less than 3 different ones before I was legally allowed to do so. Then thanks to a father who wanted something different to drive rather than his Morris Minor came into posssesion of not 1, but 2 Datsun 120Ys one of which (after he salvaged for all the good parts) became mine.
My brother and I then became obsessed with making the most we could out of our new found toy. Whilst we had a rather vast backyard in which to indulge in our various driving exploits most of it was cut off from us by a giant forest of eucalyptus trees. Undeterred we spent the better part of our summer holidays clearing a path through the forest so we could get to the wide open paddock in the back. We got there eventually and what followed was weeks of driving the car around our makeshift track, thoroughly enjoying the small bit of freedom that we had created for ourselves. I even managed to secure an upgrade to a Datsun 200B when a family friend no longer needed it, giving my brother and I both our own cars with which to tool around in.
You’d think then that once I had a decent job that a good chunk of my pay check would’ve been sunk into buying some kind of slick sports car. That was somewhat true as my first real car, a 1988 Honda Prelude, had nearly double its purchase price sunk into it in the form of body kits, stereo systems and all sorts of modifications. It was a workhorse of a car having nearly 400,000KMs on the clock before I retired it out to my parents farm. It even still runs fine, just that it needs about $4,000 worth of work done on it before it’ll be fully road worthy again. Since then I’ve been sharing the little Hyundai Getz that my wife bought a long time ago, not being able to bring myself to buy another one.
The reasoning behind that is quite simple: cars are depreciating assets. The old adage of a car losing a third of its value after you drive it off the lot explains this well as cars drastically reduce their value in just a few short years. Ever since my financial coming of age back in 2007 (the time when I first realized this) I’ve always looked at cars with a kind of strained appreciation. I love them for their technology, beauty and the thrill you get from driving them but the discomfort I get from the thought of losing that much value so quickly just doesn’t sit right with me. To that end I’ve kind of reserved myself to be an avid spectator, always looking but never touching.
That hasn’t been easy, especially when the limitations of a single car come into play. It hasn’t been that much of a big deal really, just scheduling conflicts that lead to either myself or my wife having to waste a couple hours here or there, but it’s enough to send me down the dark path of potentially purchasing a car again. Of course I have exacting requirements (that’s the only way to satiate the fiscal conservative in me) and that’s made finding that right car inexorably difficult. My lust for technology doesn’t help either and that’s made the search for something that I might actually end up purchasing quite difficult.
There is the notable geek lust short circuit exception¹ however and there’s one car that’s managed to trigger it: the Tesla Model S. I’ll be honest I started off hating it as the first couple design iterations were just hideous, especially compared to the striking design of the Tesla Roadster. The current design however is just stunning and combined with all the technology and gadgetry under the hood (did I mention that it’s fully electric?) I find myself not asking if I’ll buy one, but when. I’m glad that these kinds of decisions don’t happen too often as that would be rather disastrous for my current financial planning.
Since the Model S won’t be available here for some time my mind of course drifts to what I could purchase as a practical car now. It seems my criteria for what I’d consider practical now is quite rigid: all wheel drive, wagon body and preferably something in the 4 cylinder range with a turbo on it. It covers all the bases of my current needs (infrequent camping, carting stuff around and my inner hoon) but the cars that suit this are thin on the ground. Indeed the only options for this are decade old models of things like the Subaru Forester or Outback, with no one else really competing. Indeed the section that those cars used to serve has been usurped by the SUV market, swelling all of their current generation to ludicrous sizes that I just have no requirement for. The V6 variant of the Volkswagen Passat Wagon is getting pretty close though and the amount of gadgets in there are enough to make buying one sound half reasonable.
As you can see my relationship with cars is a complicated one, layered with cognitive dissonance stemming from my competing goals for financial freedom and simple wunderlust. I know that I’ll eventually have to cave in once the Getz starts getting a little long in the tooth but until then I’ll probably just settle for my usual longing glances and enthusiastic conversations with my work mates.
Maybe its time for me to get another rent-a-racer, you know to keep the car enthusiast in me at bay 😉
¹Should a piece of technology represent something so novel, advanced or just plain cool (for lack of a better term) my financial conservative switches off completely. The most recent purchase to trigger this was the Samsung Galaxy S2 and I feel not one hint of buyer’s remorse.
Again my alarm woke me today with its irritating buzzing. This time however I did not shun it into silence repeatedly, I did it once and promptly obeyed the order it gave me. I shot out of bed and started getting ready for the day that lie before me as this was to be the grandest of days in the short yet painful times I have spent absent of my wife. Today I would trade in my red training wheels for a sleek yellow dragon that I would ride for 4 hours down to the tropical location of Miami. Today was the day when I got back to my roots when 15 years earlier I took my first drive by myself in a Datsun 120Y.
Today, I would get me a Chevrolet Corvette.
But before I could get my hands on such untold fun I had to run an errand first. Although I hadn’t gone far in the little red Yaris the day previously I had done enough to use up a noticeable amount of fuel. Plotting the course on Google maps showed that I could do the round trip to the closest 7/11 in just under 15 mins. Guessing that it would take me about 15 mins to fuel up I then doubled my estimate to an hour, thinking that the amount of fail that I had attracted on this trip thus far ensured that should I cut it any closer I wouldn’t have the car back before I got slugged with another days rental. Good thing I did this too as I couldn’t for the life of me find the blasted car, roaming the parking lot aimlessly for a good 30 minutes before realising that I was on the wrong level. With the car fuelled up I returned it to its keepers and went about securing my quarry.
Now when I had first booked my training car the website told me I was getting a Toyota Corolla. The Yaris is roughly identical so there’s no big deal there, but it had me worrying about whether or not I’d get an actual Corvette or something similar (like a Mustang). Not that I would’ve knocked it back but I had been hyping this moment up in my head for quite some time, and not driving a the yellow beast I had imagined would’ve had me feeling like the whole deal was rather pointless. 30 tentative minutes later they radioed someone to bring around my new prize to where I was, and all my fears were laid to rest.
Thanks to my slightly nervous nature I had been bothering the poor Hertz attendants up until they brought the car around. They got their own back though, noting the almost giddy look I had on my face when the Corvette finally rolled around. It too was perfect, a beautiful yellow accented with a single black stripe down the middle, just as I had imagined it. There’s little room to spare in the vehicle though with my bag only just fitting in the boot and having to wind the seats almost all the way down and back to fit my 6 foot frame into it. Still the moment when I pushed the ignition button (yes, like a flippin’ RACE CAR) I forgot all about those worries and set about punching in my first destination on the GPS: the local Walmart. Whilst I can see the irony in taking a rather expensive car to one of the cheapest places on earth I needed to get some supplies before embarking on the 4 hour journey south to Miami and of course I wanted to see Walmart 😉
The GPS got me there without a hitch, proving that I should’ve just got one of the damn things earlier rather than trying to cheap out on something so valuable. Upon entering the Walmart I was struck by how similar it was to Big W we have back in Australia but the similarities were only skin deep. The fact that I could find almost anything that I needed there kind of shocked me, from pharmaceuticals to clothing to even jewellery left me awe struck as I walked slack jawed around this monstrous store. Then I saw the prices, almost unbelievable how they could make money on anything that they sell there. Still you don’t get to be the Fortune number 1 company for nothing so obviously their ability to shift massive volumes means they can get prices that no one else can.
No wonder people fight them whenever they try to set up in their little neighbourhoods.
After grabbing a few things I made my way out and programmed the GPS for my final destination, the Viceroy hotel in Miami. After a few short turns I was out onto the highway where the speed limit is a cool 70 miles an hour. Having only given the car a couple quick boots to see how it would go I wanted to do a standing 0-70 in it and the highway seemed to be the best place to do it. I pulled over to the side of the road and then waited for the traffic to break so I could really put my foot down. A couple minutes later I did and the thrill was nothing short of amazing. The car literally threw my head back into the seat as its 436 horses roared into action, propelling me to 60 in just over 4 seconds with 70 coming in not less than a second later. A quick bit of research shows that this particular breed Corvette, the ZHZ, was specifically built for Hertz themselves and had a few performance tweaks along the way. Having something like that must be a business boon for them, especially with nutjobs like me chomping at the bit to have a go in one of them.
The drive down to Miami was fairly uneventful, as most long drives are. The scenery was familiar yet different with shrubs being the dominant species rather than large eucalypts. I made a couple pit stops at the “Service Centres” which appear to be miniature shopping malls with their own food court and selected shops, mostly perfume and sun glasses. About 15 minutes away from my final destination and the traffic started getting wild, jolting me out of my semi jet-lagged state that had developed over the past 4 hours. Still I arrived at my location safely, and boy was I in for a surprise.
This was my first ever time having a car taken from me by a valet and the whole thing happened so quick that I was inside with all my things before I realised I was out of the car. The bell hop, who appeared to be more of a concierge, took me up to my room and showed me around it. He also gave me some tips on where to go whilst I was staying since I had no idea what I was going to do other than work out in the gym and blog about my mishaps online. I barely listened to him though as the room had me transfixed for the entire time he was there.
No one picture does this room justice, every piece of it just screams high class and opulence of the highest order. The bathroom and main entrance are lavished in marble with chrome accents everywhere. The wardrobe is two giant mirrors covered in wood that hide not only the closet but also a full sink, microwave, stove and coffee machine. It’s bordering on a self contained apartment but for the price I paid (about $500 for 4 nights) I wasn’t expecting this. Hotwire really does earn whatever money they made off me when I made all those bookings.
I had also decided that I didn’t want to dine in the hotel as my last experience with that hadn’t been too great. Hitting up Yelp on my iPhone I found a local restaurant called Zuma not more than 5 minutes walk from where I was. The reviews were quite spectacular and it was Japanese so I thought I had a slight inkling into what I was getting into. As it turns out this was quite the place to be with the place being packed on this quite Tuesday afternoon and I was only able to be seated at the sushi bar. Still I was going to make the most of it and order a full meal and a Hitachino White Ale to wash it down. I had read in one of the reviews that they were a bit antsy about taking pictures so I refrained but the bottle was a curious one with an anime owl adorning the front. The taste was a clean with a distinctly soapy mouthfeel too it with the trademark wheaty aftertaste. I haven’t had enough wheat beers to say if was any good but it was fitting with the rather eclectic food I had been served.
It was at this sushi bar I got talking with a woman who I only managed to catch the last name of: Mrs Swann. She’s a business development manager working to get companies interested in investing in minority businesses and since I happen to know a little bit about the venture capital market (thankyou start-up future) we hit it off quite well. It was a nice way to end what had started off as a rather awkward night, sitting beside someone for 30 minutes without saying a word to them.
Tomorrow is the first day when I don’t have anything pressing I need to do in the morning, and it feels great. I’ll probably head down to south beach as that’s apparently where everything happens around this place but if I spend a whole day on my ass watching Discovery channel I won’t be surprised. I haven’t not being doing something since I landed here 3 days ago so it might be nice to take a day to catch up on some things. With this blog post fast approaching 1700 words I think I’ll leave it there for tonight and indulge myself in some late night American TV 🙂