You really have to marvel at the thought process of developers who make games in the frustration genre. I’m sure a healthy portion of it is done “for the memes” as kids say these days but at the same time you need to figure out how you’re going to make something that’s a) funny, b) somewhat approachable so people just don’t give up on it straight away and c) actually masterable in some way so the streamers have a goal to shoot for. I’ve seen many, many games that meet 2 out of 3 of those criteria crop up in the Steam store and you’ll likely never hear of them because they’re missing one of those 3 key pieces. Speaking Simulator manages to tick all those boxes, managing to keep the comedy up the entire time whilst also giving you the impression that, should you try hard enough, you could very well 100% every one of the levels.
Not that I’d want to though, of course.
You are our representation in the human world however we’re not ready yet to conquer them so you must blend in. We’ve discovered that humans communicate by wagging their tongue and flapping their lips so you too will do this in order to convince them that you are DEFINITELY NOT A ROBOT. Unfortunately, there were some corners cut on your safety features. If you make errors your systems will overload and your AI will be forced to relieve pressure by triggering one of the various array of facial explosions and mechanical glitches. Since you are a perfect AI however this should not happen and we shall conquer the humans in no time at all.
Speaking Simulator has that distinct default Unity game feel to it with a healthy dose of b-game styled art thrown in for good measure. All of the visual effort has gone into your face, with good reason as it’ll be the thing you’ll be starting at for most of this game. Everything else in the game is very bare bones with minimal animations or work on the background environments. Of course you’re never really playing these kinds of games for the visuals and what Affable Games has done here fits in with the overall theme of this particular genre.
There is a core of frustration game in Speaking Simulator (mostly related to the tongue mechanics) however it’s more akin to something like Bop It! or Whack-a-Mole as you’re constantly tweaking a bunch of different things in order to say the next word. It starts off with you just needing to click buttons with your tongue (which is very hit and miss) and moving your mouth around. However from there you’ll unlock your eyes, eyebrows and whether your expression is happy/sad/neutral. You’ve got about 8 seconds to say each word and should you not manage to say something in time or, should you miss a cue, whatever part of your face you were meant to manipulate will start malfunctioning. This only serves to make it even more challenging as you might not be able to be sure if you’ve moved everything into the right position, triggering even more chaotic facial expressions.
At the start it’s actually pretty fun and not particularly challenging. It’s even pretty fun to mess up a couple times just to see what will happen, although sometimes the consequences can be rather annoying (nothing like continuous lip smacking to set the mood, amiright?!). However it quickly becomes quite the challenge, so much so that I ended up only playing a mission or two most times because it was just such a mentally exhausting experience to manage all the different mechanics. It is pretty rewarding though when you manage to pull off a couple words in a row quickly but that quickly wears off as you have to adjust a dozen things just to get the next one out.
This is definitely a game that could heavily benefit from multiplayer. Whilst you could kinda do it now (one person on the tongue and the other on…well all other bits of the face) I think there’s a great party game hiding in here for up to 5 people, each one controlling a different aspect of your robots face. I’m not sure if that’s something that’s on the dev’s TO-DO list but I know a couple of my friends would love to give this thing a crack if that option was ever made available.
With these kinds of games it’s always hard to tell what’s something that’s in need of patching/fixing/polish and what’s been deliberately left like that as part of the game experience. There’s definitely a little more work to be done on some of the UI elements as they tend to blend into the background a bit, making it hard to know what you need to do next. There’s also a log ticking over in the top right hand corner but you’ll barely ever notice it, which can lead to you not being completely sure if you’ve actually completed a move or not. Having the text from there pop in saying “perfect!” or “good!” or something DDR like would go a long way. I could complain about the lack of precision in some things but honestly that cuts both ways as quite often there were times where I got something right when I really had no reason to. Overall it’s pretty much in-line with what you’d expect for a game of this genre.
Speaking Simulator is a great example of what this genre can be: fun and challenging but not in such a way as to deliberately punish the player. The dev team has focused all their efforts on what matters: making a robot face contort and bend in all sorts of whacky ways for our enjoyment. That means that the rest of the game is very basic but that just means you’re clearly focused on the core game play. If you’re just after a lark or are a fan of the frustration game genre then there’s really no going past Speaking Simulator.
Speaking Simulator is available on PC right now for $17.50. Total play time was 2.5 hours with 63% of the achievements unlocked.
My history with the Trine series is long, stretching all the way back to 2011. However it could have never happened at all as I missed the game when it first came out, it not really registering as a blip on my radar back then. It was on the recommendation of a friend, one who had noticed the uptick in my gaming consumption, who recommended that I give it a shout. What’s bloomed from that is a love of the quirky series that I’ve seen go through ups and downs over the decade of its existence; from it’s awkward beginnings as a quirky physics based platformer all the way through to its latest incarnation which, I’m happy to say, is the best one in the series to date.
This time our intrepid trio of heroes isn’t summoned to adventure by the Trine, instead the request comes from the Astral Academy. Prince Sellius, one of their “students”, suffers from intense nightmares. This would be one thing but he’s also gifted with potent magic abilities and those nightmares are starting to invade the waking world. So the call goes out once again to the Wizard, the Thief and the Warrior to help save the kingdom from this threat and, hopefully, save the prince in the process.
Trine has always had amazing visuals and the latest instalment is no different. The trademark dreamlike quality is retained, coming to us through the liberal use of bloom and bright lighting effects. The 3D backgrounds and set pieces have become even more elaborate, becoming bigger and more detailed than they ever have before. The game still runs on the in-house proprietary engine and it appears that Frozenbyte has done a great job in improving its capabilities and optimising the implementation as the whole game runs very smoothly, even on old hardware. Suffice to say that Trine continues to be one of the most visually impressive platformers in the market and I’m glad the developers keep pushing themselves to improve upon what they’ve delivered before.
As anyone who played Trine 3 could predict the game has returned to its 2D platformer roots, removing the 3rd dimension and going back to what they know. For fans of the series this is a great thing as whilst the 3D version of Trine was indeed a step up the fact that they could only deliver a third of the game they wanted to with 3 times the budget of Trine 2 says a lot about the effort required to make it work. So in that respect Trine 4 is much more of an evolution of what Trine 2 was rather than a rework of 3 and the mechanics are all back to their roots. There have been some changes to make all characters more equally a part of the overall experience however, notably with the Wizard now having substantial combat capability and the Warrior being a key piece of numerous puzzle mechanics. Progression is now split into 2 tiers: one from combat and one from finding experience jars. The former is effectively the unlock for new puzzle mechanics whilst the latter unlocks augments to those abilities, effectively being quality of life improvements. Frozenbyte describes this as the “most complete Trine” experience they’ve ever created and, I’m glad to say, I wholeheartedly agree with them on that.
Combat is, as it always was, something of an also ran in the Trine experience. To be sure, there’s a more comprehensive combat experience to be had there than there ever has been, but pretty much all the engagements play out in the same way. The addition of more combat abilities to the Wizard, in the form of abilities that allow you to slam objects and levitate enemies, does make for a more varied experience but in all honesty most of them will get done with a lot of hack and slashing. The resurrection mechanic is also very, very forgiving ensuring that you’re unlikely to actually die and need to go back to a checkpoint at any time. To be fair this kind of combat fits into the whole overall zeitgeist of what Trine aims to be: a casual puzzle platformer that could be enjoyed by anyone. In that respect I don’t ever envision the combat aspects getting much more complicated than they already are.
The puzzles have gone back to their roots with physics based problems being the name of the game. The wizard still has the ability to conjure boxes and platforms, the thief grappling hook things and now the warrior’s shield forms a core part of the experience with its reflecting ability. There are numerous augmentations to all of these abilities which bring with them a wide variety of challenges for you to solve. For the most part though the majority of puzzles are going to be heavily focused on the last mechanic you unlocked with only a couple other abilities required to solve them, at least for the main puzzles. The secret ones do ramp up the challenge somewhat although they, like pretty much every puzzle that’s ever been created in Trine, is subject to the whims and whiles of the emergent gameplay that the series is well known for.
Initially you’re pretty limited in the shenanigans that you can get up to as your abilities are significantly limited. However once you’re able to summon 2 items things start to get pretty interesting and only start to rocket up from there. Indeed the combination of multiple boxes plus the fairy rope means you’re able to make platforms of arbitrary height that you can grapple onto, meaning that no matter what the height of something is you’ll be able to get to it. Combine that with the fact that the developers have still not solved the likely unsolvable issue of the Wizard levitating things he’s standing on in some capacity (this time you can grapple 2 boxes together and then levitate one of them, which can fling you basically anywhere) and you’ve got a recipe for some rather whacky solutions to the puzzles at hand. Additionally, and I don’t remember noticing this in Trine 2, but the co-op aspects have obviously played a bit into the level design as there are some puzzles that have multiple solutions, most only requiring one character. So for those it’s usually very easy to get past them with all 3 abilities at your disposal.
Despite all of that though the game is very well polished, not really suffering from any major game breaking issues or glitches. I mean sure, there were times where something happened that I wasn’t exactly expecting but I was deliberately trying to find ways to break the game’s physics engine in order to solve a puzzle in an easier way than intended. Perhaps my most enjoyable moments was when I was trying to grappling hook 2 boxes together, one of which was directly on top of the other. Doing that is fine however the second you start to levitate them things go wildly out of control as they start to clip and bounce off each other. I’m sure there’s easy fixes for edge cases like that but honestly, I think the game is better off with them in.
The story is perhaps the most well fleshed out of the Trine series but it’s not like that was a high bar to get over. The focus of Trine has always been on the visual and puzzle experience, notsomuch the characters or the world that they reside in. To be sure this does expand the world of Trine a little but it’s a pretty standard affair with a rather predictable outcome. Thankfully the story doesn’t get in the way of the game at all, mostly playing as background to what’s happening on screen.
Trine 4 is a return to form for the series, taking the essence of what made it great originally and building that up significantly. The more varied and deeper puzzle mechanics make for some truly interesting game play, especially with the trademark exploitable physics engine that allows you to do all sorts of things that the developers never intended you to do. The visuals are once again of AAA quality, retaining the same stylings that have become a trademark of the game. The usual not-so-great features are still present in this instalment with the middling combat experience and a run-of-the-mill story that you’re likely to forget shortly after playing. Still what makes a Trine game great is here in spades and for fans of the series this is a definite must-play.
Trine 4 is available now on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch right now for $42.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 9 hours playtime and 53% of the achievements unlocked.
There aren’t many games that can get away with providing essentially the same experience over and over again whilst still being successful. Rarer still are long running IPs that, when they try to change up the formula, get lambasted for deviating from their core experience. So it seems is what has drawn the ire of many a gamer with Just Cause 4 as it’s move away from the core destruction mechanic has seen many long term fans unhappy with the direction that the game has taken. Once again though I find myself on the opposite side of popular opinion as Just Cause 4 managed to keep me engaged far longer than any of its predecessors did. Not that that means a whole lot given that many of the issues that plagued the past instalments are still present in this most recent instalment.
Once again you take control of Rico Rodriguez, former Agency operative and freedom fighter who’s been liberating dictatorships for most of his adult life. After the events of Just Cause 3, you are approached Mira Morales who convinces you to come to Solís to uncover the truth about Project Illapa, a weather weapon that Rico’s father had a hand in creating. What follows is the usual tale of fighting back against the oppressive dictatorship using any means necessary, picking apart their power structure whilst bolstering your own.
The Just Cause series has never been known for being graphically advanced and the latest instalment is no exception. Whilst the open world environments can certainly have their moments that all fades away rather quickly when you get up close, revealing previous generation graphics that are focused on performance more than anything else. There’s good reason for that of course as you’ll be taxing the physics and rendering engine constantly with all the random chaos you’ll be creating as you play. You’ll also need to do some tweaking as some of the more modern settings will do nothing but highlight the flaws in the graphics, like the motion blur and level of detail settings which can make everything look truly horrific if set incorrectly (which they are, by default). You will encounter performance issues but this is largely expected for games like this, ones where the whole point of the game is to get the physics engine to freak out and do some impressively crazy things.
Just Cause 4 retains many of the features of its predecessors whilst changing the fundamental progression mechanic (much the chagrin of its fans, so it seems). Instead of simply causing chaos by blowing this up and being a general nuisances now you’re the head of an army and you’ll need to gather troops in order to liberate areas. You still earn troops by increasing your chaos level but it’s painfully slow and other mechanics provide a much faster route to progression. Other than that the game is the same as you’ll remember it from previous instalments including the grappling hook (which now has a bunch of mods built in), leaderboards for feats that let you battle with friends and a whole raft of open world missions for you to do in order to unlock upgrades for your gear.
The combat in Just Cause 4 feels like it did in the past: chaotic, awkward and mostly enjoyable. The main issue is mobility as there’s no sprint, instead you’re suppose to grapple your way around. This is equal parts fun and frustrating as its quite easy to get yourself into awkward positions in the heat of battle. Thankfully the combat is pretty forgiving, only requiring a couple seconds of not getting shot to get you back up to full health. The weapons are also a bit samey and many of them are really ineffective against the higher tiers of enemies you’ll face. There are, of course, some absolutely ludicrous guns which are a bunch of fun to use, one of which (the lightning gun) can be both the best and worst thing for you and your enemies. After the first few fights though there’s not much variation in the encounters, the challenge instead coming from increasing numbers of enemies and waves. All in all it’s a very middle of the road experience.
The progression mechanic, where you need to acquire troops to push the front line forward and unlock a new area (giving you access to new things in your supply drops), is honestly quite laborious at first. In the early days the only way to get more troops is to increase your chaos level and this is painfully slow. I vaguely recall there being increasing multipliers in previous instalments that went up as you chained more destruction together. In Just Cause 4 there’s only one, when the “heat” is on, which is 2X and doesn’t seem to make much of an impact. This means that for the first couple hours you’re basically going to be grinding chaos in order to progress and, honestly, it was at this point that I almost put down the game.
After the first few areas though you’ll be able to unlock areas that give you troops rather than use them and you’ll quickly have more than you can use. Most areas will still require you to complete an in-region mission in order to unlock them and they are unfortunately quite repetitive, all requiring you to perform a multi-stage task in order to unlock the region. If you’re a fan of well laid out progression paths, as I am, then this is something that will keep you coming back as you’ll know how much effort you need to put in to unlock the next thing. If you were a fan of the previous system however it’s likely to be a right pain in the ass as the free form “just blow shit up” progression is gone, replaced with a repetitive grind. As someone who’d previously cheated his way through the game to unlock the campaign missions I actually prefer the way Just Cause 4 does it but I completely understand those who aren’t exactly enamored with the change.
Of course it wouldn’t be a proper Just Cause release without it being riddled with bugs, glitches and crashes galore. I had the game crash on me multiple times, sometimes when I was deliberately testing its limits and other times when nothing particularly special was happening on screen. The physics engine is as complete as any other Just Cause game, meaning there’s going to be a lot of interactions that don’t make a ton of sense. For instance I tied two of the large round fuel tanks together with the pull grapple and they started rolling towards each other. Instead of exploding in a glorious fireball they instead rolled through each other which was both disappointing and confusing. I also won’t delve into what a mess the vehicle system is, nor the default control scheme which circumvents all major game conventions for its own brand of weirdness. All of this won’t come as a surprise to fans of the series but if you’re new to it be warned, this is a high budget game that comes with high levels of jank.
The story has thankfully shed much of its borderline racist parts whilst still retaining its rather light on approach to character and plot development. It’s certainly built for long time fans of the series, bringing back the usual cast of returning characters whilst attempting to flesh out Rico’s backstory a little more. The rest of the characters are pretty one-dimensional, serving really only to support the cliche action movie style plot that’s common to the Just Cause franchise. Of course no one is playing Just Cause games for the story, although it seems a few reviews don’t seem particularly happy with the new tact that Avalanche has taken here, but if you were hoping that the narrative here would be one of the things that’d keep you engaged you’d be sorely mistaken.
Just Cause 4 is more of the same from Avalanche Studio’s flagship IP with one small difference which seems to have gain the disapproval of many of its fans. For myself I did manage to find more enjoyment in this instalment than I have in previous ones, however many of the core issues that have plagued the series for almost a decade now are still there. It’s certainly a fun distraction, likely worth picking up on sale, but if this is going to be your first time in the Just Cause series your money might be better spent elsewhere.
Just Cause 4 is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $89.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 13 hours play time and 32% of the achievements unlocked.
Given my last 2 reviews have been for MMOs you can probably guess that I’ve been a little strapped for time to get around to playing other titles. It even got to the point where I was playing Destiny and WoW in the same night, something which I knew wasn’t going to be particularly sustainable if I wanted to keep my 1 review per week cadence going. So I went in search of some shorter titles and stumbled across Donut Country, another Annapurna Interactive published title, which seemed to be charming and, thankfully, quite short. Whilst I might have been drawn in by the game’s brevity the visual style, kitschy dialogue and simple mechanics made it far more enjoyable than I was expecting.
Racoons have moved into the quiet town of Donut County, taking over the local donut shop. Every time someone orders a donut however a mysterious hole shows up at their house, devouring everything in sight. The hole is piloted by none other than BK, one of the new racoon residents, who’s doing so in order to get enough points to get his hands on a sweet new drone. However once he falls into one of his own holes he finds the citizens of Donut Country trapped 999 feet below the surface and they’re understandably quite mad about his recent shenanigans. What follows is the story of how the town became swallowed up and their journey to get back out.
The single developer behind Donut County, Ben Esposito, set himself a few constraints when designing the game’s visual style: no lighting effects, textures or gradients. Whilst those rules aren’t adhered to 100% they are the driving force behind the games minimalistic aesthetic. The result is a kind of flat, cartoon like environment filled with bright, solid colours which is really quite charming. Indeed whilst there’s a lot of games with a similar visual style I’m actually struggling to come up with one that’s exactly like it as most games won’t go so far as to abandon the use of textures, nor even simple gradients. As someone who’s worked as a sole developer on a couple projects I can definitely appreciate setting yourself boundaries and working within them; sometimes there’s really nothing as liberating as working within a strict ruleset.
The game’s mechanics are simple: your a small hole which grows bigger as it consumes things (kind of like a reverse Katamari Damacy). There are a bunch of small challenges which will require you to get a little inventive with how you use a few mechanics but other than that the game play doesn’t deviate too much. That being said it’s kind of fun to try and figure out which things will fit and which ones don’t as sometimes you can get away with getting bigger things in if you know how to position them right. That being said this is a physics based game so there’s many opportunities for things to go pear shaped, with items flinging themselves wildly across the level and getting stuck in areas that you won’t be able to reach. Of course you’re only a restart of the level away from fixing that so it’s not that much of an issue.
The story is a simple affair, seemingly reflective of the developer’s own conversational style (as evidenced in their Gamasutra interview here). It’s a lighthearted commentary on their experiences in Los Angeles and it issues they want to touch on certainly come through. Overall though there’s not much to write home about, it’s simply there to set the scene for the various puzzles and to tie the whole thing together.
Donut County is a fun little distraction, combining simplistic art work with lighthearted dialogue for an interesting experience that’s really like no other. It’s exactly what you’d expect from a game idea that was born out from Peter Molydeux; something completely left of center that pays little heed to the creed and conventions of modern game design. After chewing my way through too very heavy game experiences over the last couple weeks I was incredibly glad to cleanse my palate with something a little lighter. So if you like me are experiencing a little fatigue with the AAA barrage that comes this time of year then Donut County is most likely the game for you.
Donut County is available on PC and PlayStation 4 right now for $12.99. Game was played on the PC with 104 minutes of play time and 55% of the achievements unlocked.
Before we get started let me just put this here:
LARGE PLOT SPOILERS BELOW FOR THE NEW STAR WARS MOVIE
There, now that’s out of the way let’s get onto the meat of this post.
I, like all Star Wars fans, had been very much looking forward to the latest movie. Whilst I have my reservations about some aspects of it (which I’ll reserve for a conversation over a couple beers as to avoid a flamewar on here) I still thoroughly enjoyed it. However like most sci-fi movies The Force Awakens plays fast and loose with science. Following the rules of our universe when it suits the plot and sweeping them under the rug when it doesn’t. There are some grievances that I’m willing to let slide in this respect, this is fiction after all, however there’s at least one egregarious scene in which physics is completely thrown out the window when it really didn’t need to be.
My grievance lies with Starkiller base, the bigger and badder version of the Death Star which now encompasses an entire planet rather than just a small artificial moon. Whether such a device is something that could be built is something I’m willing to gloss over however the fact that it’s powered by drawing off mass from its neighbouring star brings with it a few niggling questions. It’s ultimate destruction, which then brings about the resurrection of its parent star, is also not something that would happen and not something I’d be willing to write off with space magic.
We get to see Starkiller base fire once and then begin preparations for firing again. Assuming that it didn’t travel to a new star in the interim (I don’t remember that being indicated as such) then it would’ve consumed half of its parent star’s mass to fire that single shot. That would’ve caused all sorts of grief for everything in orbit around it, not to mention the fact that that mass is now present on Starkiller base itself. Any asteroid or other debris near by should have rocketed down to the surface with incredible speed, laying waste to the surface. I’m willing to give a pass for a “gravity pump” or something else on the inside parts but being able to negate half the mass of a star over the entire planet is pure fantasy rather than a stretch of fiction.
However the final destruction of Starkiller base is the most egregious flaunt of the laws of physics. Putting aside all the mass contained within the star issue for a moment when it was all released the result would not be a new sun just like the old one. Whilst the mass was likely not compressed past its Schwarzschild radius (I’m assuming it’s a Sun like star) it would still be far too compressed to simply balloon back out. Instead it would likely become a white dwarf, that is if the explosion wasn’t violent enough to simply disperse the star’s material across its solar system. Since the system that Starkiller base resides in was never named I’m hazarding a guess it’s not relevant to the future plot so the returning sun just seems like a little bit of laziness more than anything else.
Of course I’m not advocating for 100% scientific accuracy in all films (indeed I don’t think there’s one good sci-fi epic that does) however a few nods here or there wouldn’t go astray. There are certain times where scientific accuracy would harm the plot and in that case I’m fine to relinquish it to induldge in the fantasy. Other times however it would do no harm and provide an interesting talking point as sometimes the physical reality can be far more interesting than the fantasy.
There are some technological ideas that captivate the public consciousness, our want for them to exist outstripping any ideas of practicality or usability. Chief among such ideas is the flying car, the seemingly amazing idea which, should it ever become mainstream, poses far more issues than it could ever solve. Still there have been numerous companies who have worked towards making that idea a reality with nearly all of them meeting the same fate. A close second (or third, if you’re more a jetpack fan) is the hoverboard, a device that replicates the functionality of a skateboard without the wheels. Our collective desire for something like that is what results in videos like the following and, honestly, they give me the shits:
Anyone who’s followed technology like this knows that a hoverboard, one that can glide over any surface, simply isn’t possible with our current understanding of physics and level of technological advancement. However if you grab a couple powerful electromagnets and put them over a metallic surface you can make yourself a decent simulacrum of what a hoverboard might be, it just can’t leave that surface. Indeed there’s been a few of these kinds of prototypes in the past and, whilst they’re cool and everything, they’re not much more than a demonstration of what a magnet can do.
This is where Lexus comes in with their utterly deceptive bullshit.
Just over a month ago Lexus put out this site showing a sleek looking board that was billowing smoke out its sides, serenely hovering a few inches above the ground. The media went ballistic, seemingly forgetting about what would be required to make something of this nature and the several implementations that came before it. Worst still the demonstration videos appeared to show the hoverboard working on regular surfaces, just like the ones in the movies that captured everyone’s imaginations. Like all good publicity stunts however the reality is far from what the pictures might tell and I lay the blame squarely at Lexus for being coy about the details.
You see the Lexus hoverboard is no different to the others that came before it, it still uses magnets and requires a special surface in order to work. Lexus built that entire set just to demonstrate the hoverboard and was mum about the details because they knew no one would care if they knew the truth. Instead they kept everything secret, making many people believe that they had created something new when in reality they hadn’t, all they did was put a larger marketing budget behind it.
Maybe I’ve just become an old cynic who hates fun but, honestly, I really got the shits with Lexus and the wider public’s reaction to this malarkey. Sure it looks cool, what with the slick design and mist cascading over the sides, but that’s about where it ends. Everything past that is Lexus engaging in deceptive marketing tactics to make us think it’s more than it is rather than being straight up about what they did. Of course they likely don’t care about what a ranty blogger on a dark corner of the Internet thinks, especially since he’s mentioned their brand name 10 times in one post, but I felt the need to say my peace, even if it wouldn’t change anything.
It’s hard to understate the significance of the science that has been done because of the Large Hadron Collider. Whilst it’s famously known for discovering the Higgs-Boson, the particle which gives all other particles mass, it has a long list of achievements outside of that singular event. What makes these discoveries even more interesting is that the LHC has been operating at something of a disadvantage since it was first turned on over 6 years ago, operating at around half the potential energy it was capable of. Shortly after the discovery of the Higgs Boson the scientists and engineers at CERN have been working to bring it up to full capacity and with it the potential for some even more radical discoveries.
The doubling of the collision energy increases the potential for the LHC to generate even more exotic particles than it has previously, ones which can give us insights into some of the most perplexing mysteries in particle physics to date. One such source of intrigue is how our universe, which is composed of nearly entirely matter, came to be that way. Another seeks to explain why the universe seems to be riddled with matter that’s not directly observable but is seen through its gravitational effects throughout the universe. These, and many other questions, have potential to find answers in the newly upgraded LHC which is slated to come online this year.
In the beginning, the beginning of everything according to scientific theory, there existed both equal quantities of matter and antimatter. Upon annihilation these two entities should have completely destroyed each other, leaving behind a wake of energy with no matter to speak of. However casual observation will show that our world, and the rest of the universe, is dominated by matter. This strange preference for matter (dubbed the CP Violation) has perplexed scientists for decades however the newly upgraded LHC has the potential to shed some light on where the Universe’s strange preference comes from. The LHCb detector focuses on the decay of the Beauty Quark, a fundamental particle that decays in all manner of strange ways when created in a collider. Studying these decays could grant us insight into where the CP violation comes from and why we live in a matter dominated universe.
However what’s far more interesting (for me at least) is that the LHC could have the potential to generate dark matter, the highly pervasive as-of-yet unobserved substance that binds galaxies together via its gravitational influence. There’s numerous theories that posit dark matter being made up of WIMPs (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles) which could potentially be generated in the LHC. It’s highly unlikely that we’ll be able to detect them directly, their very nature means that they’re far more likely to simply pass through the detectors, however should we generate them their signature will be left on the reactions. Essentially we’ll be looking for a reaction that’s missing energy and then seeing if that can be explained by a WIMP being generated. Should we find that we’ll have a solid basis to further investigate this elusive form of matter, furthering our understanding of just what makes up our universe.
It’ll likely be another few years before we hear any further news from the LHC as it’s going to take time to generate the data and even longer to sift through it to find the reactions we’re looking for. However I’m very confident that the results will forever change the scientific landscape as either confirmation of current theories or evidence against them will provide dozens of more avenues for further research. That, to me, is the beauty of science, the never ending search for answers that inevitably lead to more questions, starting the process of discovery all over again.
If you’re reading this article, which is only available through the Internet, then you’re basking in a tsunami of electromagnetic radiation. Don’t worry though, the vast majority of these waves are so low power that they don’t make it through the first layer of your skin before dissipating harmlessly. Still they do carry power, enough so that this article can worm its way from the server all the way to the device that you’re reading it on. Considering just how pervasive wireless signals are in our modern lives it then follows that there’s a potential source of energy there, one that’s essentially free and nigh on omnipresent. Whilst this is true, to some extent, actually harvesting a useful amount of it is a best impractical but that hasn’t stopped people from trying.
If you’re a longtime fan of Mythbusters like myself you’ll likely remember the episode they did on Free Energy back in 2004. In that episode they tested a myriad of devices to generate electricity, one of them being a radio wave extractor that managed to power half of a wristwatch. In an unaired segment they even rigged up a large coil of wire and placed it next to a high voltage power line and were able to generate a whopping 8mV. The result of all this testing was to show that, whilst there is some power available for harvesting, it’s not a usable quantity by any stretch of the imagination.
So you can imagine my surprise when a product like iFind makes claims like “battery free” and “never needs recharging” based around the concept of harvesting energy from the air.
The fundamental functionality of the iFind isn’t anything new, it’s just yet another Bluetooth tag system so you don’t lose whatever you attach the tag to. It’s claim to fame, and one that’s earned it a rather ridiculous half a million dollars, is that it doesn’t have a battery (which it does, unless you want to get into a semantic argument about what “battery” actually means) and that it charges off the electromagnetic waves around you. They’ve even gone as far to provide some technical documentation that shows the power generated from various signals. Suffice to say I think their idea is unworkable at best and, at worst, outright fraud.
The graphs they show in this comment would seem to indicate that it’s capable of charging even under very weak signal conditions, all the way down to -6dBm. That sounds great in principle until you take in account what a typical charging scenario for a device like this would be, like the “ideal” one that they talk about in some of their literature: a strong wifi signal. The graph shown above is the signal strength of my home wifi connection (an ASUS RT-N66U for reference) with the peak readings being from when I had my phone right next to the antennas. That gives a peak power output of some -22dBM, which sounds fine right? Well since those power ratings are logarithmic in nature the amount of power output is about 200 times weaker which puts the actual charge time at about 1000 days. If you had a focused RF source you could probably provide it with enough power to charge quickly but I doubt anyone has them in their house.
There’s also the issue of what kind of power source they have as the size precludes it from being anything hefty and they’re just referring to it as a “power bank”. Non-rechargeable batteries that fit within that form factor are usually on the order of a couple hundred milliamps with rechargeable variants having a much smaller capacity. Similar devices like Tile, which includes a non-rechargeable non-replaceable battery, lasts about a year before it dies which suggests a minimum power drain of at least a couple mAh per day. Considering iFind is smaller and rechargeable I wouldn’t expect it to last more than a couple weeks before giving it up, Of course since there’s no specifications on either of them it’s hard to judge but the laws of physics don’t differ between products.
However I will stop short of calling iFind a scam, more I think it’s a completely misguided exercise that will never deliver on its promises. They’ve probably designed something that does work under their lab circumstances but the performance will just not hold up in the real world. There’s a lot of questions that have been asked of them that are still unanswered which would go a long way to assuring people that what they’re making isn’t vaporware. Until they’re forthcoming with more information however I’d steer clear of giving them your money as it’s highly unlikely that the final product will perform as advertised.
I can think of a few titles where bugs or glitches were not only expected they were also thought of being one of the many sources of enjoyment of the game. The Elder Scrolls series is a prime example of this as their titles are almost always riddled with numerous bugs on release and Bethesda’s stance of not fixing the fun (but not game breaking) shows that many players get an awful lot of enjoyment out of their game behaing unexpectedly. I had yet to see a game where bugs, glitches and weird physics were actually the game itself until I came across Goat Simulator, a title from indie game developer Coffee Stain Studios. Whilst it’s definitely an unique concept there’s a limit to how much whacky physics fun you can have before you start to tire of it.
You’re a goat (surprise surprise) and the game centers around you being a goat in a section of a small town. Strictly speaking there are no objectives, there’s no over-arching plot to drive you forward nor any motivation provided for you being where you are, and so you’re free to roam the world doing as you wish. In traditional Goat spirit this of course means destroying anything and everything in your path, headbutting anything that might get in your way. Once you tire of that though there are many hidden challenges for you to unlock, some of which provide you access to powers beyond your wildest goaty dreams.
For a game that was slapped together in the space of a couple months Goat Simulator has a level of graphical fidelity that I honestly didn’t expect. It uses the Unreal 3 engine so you wouldn’t expect graphical miracles from it but the incorporation of atmospheric effects and modern lighting has Goat Simulator punching well above its weight class in terms of graphics. It still runs perfectly fine most of the time too (until you’re intentionally trying to break it, of course) something which, again, I wasn’t expecting. In all honesty for a game that was being touted as a bug ridden, hastily slapped together prototype there’s an incredible amount of polish. Much more than I’d come to expect from other developers of similar calibre.
Goat Simulator revolves around you being a goat that causes all sorts of carnage around the small suburban area that you find yourself in. In the beginning this will be pretty vanilla kind of stuff, destroying fences, headbutting people and generally running amok in the various areas available to you. This is all scored though so whilst your initial inclination will be to just ram things at random eventually you’ll try to figure out how to maximise your score. That’s when you’ll start to add a little strategy into your carnage, looking for places with a cornucopia of objects that you can goat your way through. Of course along the way you’ll run into the hastily slapped together physics that provides much of Goat Simulator’s entertainment.
I started out by just following the prompts to try out different things which serves as a solid, light touch tutorial that doesn’t get in the way if you just want to rampage through the town. This introduces you to how the scoring mechanics work which are pretty similar to what I remember Tony Hawk Pro Skating being like when I last played it almost a decade ago. So whilst you can headbutt that box 100 times in a row your score probably won’t go up by much as the game wants you to try a variety of different whacky things. This helps to add a little direction to a game that would otherwise have been thoroughly confusing without trying to impose on those who couldn’t care less about it.
After a while though there’s really only 2 things that will keep you playing: score and achievements. For the most part getting the highest score is just a matter of patience and not breaking the game too hard (as that can lead to you needing to restart it or the game crashing). something which can only take you so far. The achievements provide some fresh perspective on the game by giving you access to “powers” which can be anything from dropping dead goats from the sky to an impossible to control jetpack. If you’re like me though once you’ve done most of these the rest of the achievements don’t really seem that appealing and all you’re left with is a haphazard physics simulator.
Which, I have to say, is an awful lot less buggy than I thought it would be. You can make the physics engine do some crazy things but they’re really nothing above what I’ve seen in other games that were supposedly coded with good physics engines. You can get people stuck in the wall and launch yourself into the stratosphere but other than that there’s really not much else to speak of. Even when I was deliberately trying to make the game crash (by spawning dozens of other goats and using the console to fiddle with engine settings) all I could accomplish was making the physics engine and game slow to crawl. So if you were expecting a game that was absolutely riddled with bugs you might be disappointed as it’s really anything but.
Goat Simulator is a fun distraction that showcases the enjoyment that gamers can get from emergent game play. Whilst it’s far from the bug laden, glitch filled adventure that many touted it as the core game mechanics are still fun with the added benefit of a whacky physics engine just adding to the mix. It’s a short lived adventure however as whilst it’s fun to rack up a high score there’s nothing really to keep you interested once the achievements are gone and you’ve played with all the powers. If the idea piqued your interest then I definitely recommend grabbing it but otherwise you’re not really missing out on anything if you decide not to play it.
Goat Simulator is available on PC right now for $9.99. Total play time was 2 hours with 62% of the achievements unlocked.
The quest to understand our origins is an innate part of our psyche as humans. You can see evidence of this stretching as far back as we kept records as our ancestors grappled with the idea of where they originated from, whether it was a (relatively) simple question of lineage or the larger question of where we, and all that we know of, came from. Modern science has made incredible leaps in this area, expanding our understanding to show that we live in a universe that is old beyond any of our wildest guesses and is home to more wonders than any could have dreamed of. Still the ultimate question, of where everything began, still puzzles us although as of today we’ve begun to lay down the first few pieces in this puzzle and they’re magnificent.
You’re likely familiar with the concept of the Big Bang, the theorized event that gave birth to our universe and marked the beginning of time. However the specifics of what happened during that time are the subject of intense debate among the scientific community and there are many theories that model what may have happened. One of the most popular theories is that during the Big Bang the universe underwent a period of massive inflation in the tiny fractions of a second after it began, expanding faster than the speed of light. There was a lot of indirect evidence to support this (like the fact that our universe is still expanding) but direct proof of this occurring had been elusive.
That was until the telescope picture above, called BICEP-2, caught a picture of something that could only exist if that theory was correct.
Our universe still has remnants of the Big Bang hanging around in something called the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). It’s a kind of radiation that’s pretty much uniform not matter which direction you look into, something which is pretty peculiar when you consider just how wide and varied everything else we can observe is. BICEP-2 was searching for something in particular though, a pattern in this radiation that could only have happened should the early universe undergone a period of rapid inflation. The technical term for this is primordial B-mode polarization and was widely believed to have a value of below 0.11 based on previous maps of the CMB. BICEP-2 on the other hand has come in at a 5 sigma confidence level (1 in 3.5 million chance of being random, the gold standard for confirmation in this field of physics) as 0.2, excluding many models and theories that were based on that assumption. It opens up a whole new world of physics and is the first direct proof of the inflationary model.
To understand just how huge of an impact this is going to have on the world of physics you just have to see the reaction of Andrei Linde, one of the first to propose such a model, and his wife Renata Kallosh (also a well renowned theoretical physicist) reacting to the news:
It’s one thing to find proof of something and it’s another thing entirely to show something can not be. This discovery is powerful not because it shows us that a certain model is correct more it has shown us that the widely held belief was in fact wrong and we need to start heading in another direction. Confirmation of this shouldn’t be far off (indeed the team behind the discovery held onto the results for a year to make sure) and with that we’ll enter into a new world scientific debate, one that was so much more informed than before.