Back in the day it didn’t take much for me to get excited about a new technology. The rapid progressions we saw from the late 90s through to the early 2010s had us all fervently awaiting the next big thing as it seemed nearly anything was within our grasp. The combination of getting older and being disappointed a certain number of times hardened me against this optimism and now I routinely attempt to avoid the hype for anything I don’t feel is a sure bet. Indeed I said much the same about HP’s The Machine last year and it seems my skepticism has paid dividends although I can’t say I feel that great about it.
For the uninitiated HP’s The Machine was going to be the next revolutionary step in computing. Whilst the mockups would be familiar to anyone who’s seen the inside of a standard server those components were going to be anything but, incorporating such wild technologies as memristors and optical interconnects. What put this above many other pie in the sky concepts (of which I include things like D-Wave’s quantum computers as the jury is still out on whether or not they’re providing a quantum speedup) is that it was based on real progress that HP had made in many of those spaces in recent years. Even that wasn’t enough to break through my cynicism however.
And today I found out I was right, god damnit.
The reasons cited were ones I was pretty sure would come to fruition, namely the fact that no one has been able to commercialize memristors at scale in any meaningful way. Since The Machine was supposed to be almost solely based off of that technology it should be no surprise that it’s been canned on the back of that. Now instead of being the moonshot style project that HP announced last year it’s instead going to be some form of technology demonstrator platform, ostensibly to draw software developers across to this new architecture in order to get them to build on it.
Unfortunately this will likely end up being not much more than a giant server with a silly amount of RAM stuffed into it, 320TB to be precise. Whilst this may attract some people to the platform out of curiosity I can’t imagine that anyone would be willing to shell out the requisite cash on the hopes that they’d be able to use a production version of The Machine sometime down the line. It would be like the Sony Cell processor all over again instead of costing you maybe a couple thousand to experiment with it you’d be in the tens of thousands, maybe hundreds, just to get your hands on some experimental architecture. HP might attempt to subsidise that but considering the already downgraded vision I can’t fathom them throwing even more money at it.
HP could very well turn around in 5 or 10 years with a working prototype to make me look stupid and, honestly, if they did I would very much welcome it. Whilst predictions about Moore’s Law ending happen at an inverse rate to them coming true (read: not at all) it doesn’t mean there isn’t a few ceilings we’ve seen on the horizon that will need to be addressed if we want to continue this rapid pace of innovation. HP’s The Machine was one of the few ideas that could’ve pushed us ahead of the curve significantly and its demise is, whilst completely expected, still a heart wrenching outcome.
Growing up as a gamer my gaming intake consisted predominately of platformers. The reasoning behind this is simple, the hardware at the time wasn’t capable of doing much more, and thus most games developers went the platformer route in order to make the most of their chosen platform. As the power of PCs and consoles started to increase and things like real 3D were possible the platformer started to take a back seat to other genres that had, up until then, played second fiddle to the platformers. The genre has experienced something of a resurgence in recent times with the independent developers rebooting the platformer genre for modern times. Limbo is one such title, and one that I feel I should have played earlier.
Without any hint of explanation of who you are, what your motivations might be or even what the controls are you are placed in control of what appears to be a small boy. His only defining features being the glowing eyes that pierce through dark world that he exists in. You then being your journey to nowhere, navigating your way through numerous obstacles many of them designed with a single purpose in mind: killing you in the most gruesome ways possible. Indeed the dark world that this boy finds himself in seems to be some kind of semi-futuristic place that’s hell bent on ensuring that the kid never makes it to his final destination, wherever that might be.
For a game with such simple graphics and limited colour palette the atmosphere that Limbo generates is nothing short of staggering. There’s little music or sounds to speak of, leaving the only constant sound being the soft wind and your footsteps. It’s strangely engaging, not exactly something I expected but taking a step back I can see a similar style in games like Silent Hill. The elements that are included then are done so deliberately and elegantly, giving you the feeling that the game’s creators spent an incredible amount of time on the all the little things that make up the Limbo world.
Whether intentional or the game play of Limbo has a sense of dark comedy about it. Whilst you’ll try your best to make sure that the little bugger makes it through each section safely it is inevitable that you’ll end up killing him in some of the most hilarious ways possible without even thinking about it. For me the first time was simply cratering him when I misjudged the distance to the floor below, his limbs flying off in opposing directions and the little glowing orbs blinking out. As the game progresses the ways in which you can die become more and more ludicrous, to the point where you’ll meet your end at the hands of fantastical futuristic contraptions.
On the flip side though I can see people playing Limbo as something of a survival horror rather than the dark comedy that I played it as. There are some moments that, if played with the lights off and late at night, would definitely give you a bit of a scare. Granted its nothing like the original Resident Evil series, something which gave me nightmares for a week after playing it through in one sitting, but the atmosphere alone is enough to set some people on edge. Maybe my view of Limbo as a dark comedy is just a coping mechanism I developed so as not to get attached to the little guy…
The core game play of Limbo is that of a classic platformer mashed up with modern day physics puzzles. Neither of these aspects are terribly complex with the platformer sections being relatively forgiving and the physics resembling all other games that utilize the Box2D physics engine. Still many of the challenges will having you engaging in a good helping of trial and error to see which solution works best. There are also many ancillary challenges available for those achievement junkies that will test your problem solving skills more rigorously should the core of the game not prove challenging enough.
Thinking back on my play through of the game it’s interesting to remember how the environments changed from the dark, foreboding forest at the beginning to some kind of futuristic factory belonging to a mad scientist. As far as a plot goes that’s about all you’ll be able to get out of Limbo (save for a couple moments in the game and at the end) and what it means is left as an exercise to the reader but looking at the title you can probably guess what the changing scenery is a commentary on.
Limbo is one of those games that just simply begs to be played at least once and all in one sitting. It’s a short game, something that can be easily knocked over in an afternoon, but for a game of this type that short length works well in its favour. Whilst there’s little plot to speak of the story telling that Limbo achieves without a single line of written or spoken dialogue is quite an achievement and is one of the reasons why it has received such critical acclaim. Limbo then is a game that I believe anyone who calls themselves a gamer should play, just because it’s such an unique experience. One that is unlikely to be repeated at any time in the near future.
Limbo is available on PC, PS3 and Xbox360 right now for $9.99, $15 and 1200 Microsoft Points respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC with 3.3 hours played and 23% of the achievements unlocked.
My parents always used to tell me that bad things came in threes. When I thought about it there was always 2 other bad things that would’ve happened around the same time so it seemed to make sense. Of course it’s just a convenient way of rationalising away coincidences as something bad will always end up happening to you and the rule is so loose that those three things could cover quite a large time period. Still yesterday seemed to be one of those days where I had at least three things go completely tits up on me in quick succession, sullying what would have been otherwise quite a cheerful day. The common thread of this whole debacle was of course computers; the one thing I get paid to be an expert on are most often the cause of my troubles.
The day started off pretty well. My MacBook Pro had arrived yesterday and I cheerfully went down to the depot to pick it up. A quick chat and a signature later I had my shiny new toy which I was all too eager to get my hands onto. There was enough for me to do at work that I wasn’t completely bored yet I had enough time to not feel pressured about anything. A few good emails from close friends ensured that my not-so-secret project was on track to actually be useful to some people, rather than just me deluding myself into thinking that. It all came undone about 15 minutes before I was about to leave work and cascaded on from there.
Part of the environment I’m responsible for went, for lack of a better word, completely berko. People couldn’t access machines whilst others just refused to start. After spending an hour trying various solutions I knew that I wouldn’t solve this problem within the next 3 hours so I decided to set up some things that would hopefully get the system to rectify itself and ran out the door as quickly as I could. After getting stuck in traffic for nearly an hour I was finally at home and ready to unbox my prize that I had been waiting a long time for, and it was well worth it.
Whilst I’ll do a full review of the MacBook Pro a little later (once I’ve got to know it better) I will say that it’s quite a slick piece of hardware. After fooling around in OSX for all of 20 minutes I fired up BootCamp and started the unholy process of installing Windows 7 on it. To Apple’s credit this process was quite smooth and in under an hour from first unboxing it I was up and running without a single hiccup along the way. After declaring that a success I decided that I should reward myself with a little Starcraft 2, and that’s when my PC got jealous.
You see I have a rather… chequered record when it comes to my personal PCs. They almost always have their quirks in one way or another, usually from me either doing something to them or not bothering to fix or replace a certain piece of hardware. My current desktop is no exception and up until recently it randomly suffered from a hard drive that would erase the MBR every so often along with being slow as a wet dog in molasses. Before that it was memory problems that would cause it lock up not 10 seconds into any game and before that it was a set of 8800GTs that would work most of the time then repeatedly crash for no apparent reason. Anyone who talked to me about it knew I had a habit of threatening the PC into working which seemed to work surprisingly often. I wasn’t above parading around the gutted corpses of its former companions as a warning to my PC should it not behave, much to the puzzlement of my wife.
For the most part though the last couple months have been pretty good. Ever since upgrading the drives in my PC to 2 Samsung Spinpoint F3s (faster than Raptors and cost almost nothing) I’ve had a pretty good run with the issues only being software related. The past few days though my PC has decided to just up and shut itself down randomly without so much of a hint as to what went wrong. Initially I thought it was overheating so I upped the fan speeds and everything seemed to run smoothly again. Last night however saw the same problem happen again (right in the middle of a game no less) but the PC failed to recover afterwards, not even wanting to POST.
You could say that it was serendipitous that I managed to get myself a new laptop just as my PC carked it but to me it just feels like my trouble child PC throwing a jealousy fit at the new arrival in the house. My server and media PC both know that I won’t take any of that sort of shenanigans from them as I’ll gut one of them to fix the other should the need arise. My PC on the other hand seems to know that no matter how much shit it drags me through I’ll always come crawling back with components in hand, hoping to revive it.
My house is a testament to that adage that a mechanic’s car will always be on the verge of breaking down. My PC deciding to die last night was frustrating but it then also let me indulge in some good old fashion hardware ogling, filling my head with dreams of new bits of hardware and what joys they may bring. My quick research into the problem has shown there will probably be an easy fix so it’s not all bad. Still at 10:00PM last night part of my head was still screaming the rule of three at me, but I managed to drown that out with some good beer and an episode of Eureka.
Now to prepare the sacrificial motherboard for the ritual tonight… 😀