The links between games and other forms of media have always been…cumbersome. Movie tie-ins are that first that come to mind and are often derided as being low-quality cash grabs. Similarly games that included full motion video (like the Crusader series) were met with criticism, often for their relatively low budget and quality of acting. However those perceptions haven’t stopped those kinds of games from being developed and indeed many games, like Defiance, sought to expand on the idea further. In similar vein Quantum Break, from Remedy Entertainment, attempts to integrate an episodic TV show with a player-controlled narrative. Whilst the mix-media approach has definitely come a long way there are numerous unfortunate decisions which marred the overall experience that Quantum Break was aiming to provide.
You are Jack Joyce (Shawn Ashmore) brother of renowned physicist William Joyce (Dominic Monaghan) and long time friend of Paul Serene (Aidan Gillen) a prominent businessman. You haven’t spoken to either of them in years however as you’ve been travelling the world, getting yourself into all sorts of trouble. Then out of the blue Paul contacts you and arranges for a first class flight back home. He needs your help but he won’t tell you what for. The events that unfold from that pivotal moment when you arrive back home will change the course of time as we know it, with you at the centre.
There’s no denying that Quantum Break is an extremely pretty game, making use of every inch of computing power you can throw at it. Unfortunately the film grain effect can’t be switched off meaning that no matter how high you crank the graphics there will always be a little fuzz everywhere. Additionally, due to the fact that it’s a Universal App (only available on the Windows store, which I’ll get into more later) there’s a few graphics options that will either not work or cause major issues. G-SYNC appears to cause it to use software rendering only as my graphics card reported a mere 7% usage when it was on. Disabling it however allowed Quantum Break to flex its muscles a little more although I did have to tone down a few settings in order to get it to run properly. This is even after the massive patch that was released so there’s still some work left for Remedy to do to make Quantum Break run a lot smoother.
From a core mechanic perspective Quantum Break is a 3rd person, cover-based shooter that integrates a whole host of abilities centred around time. You’ll be able to freeze enemies in place, blow them up and zip your way around the battlefield. You can carry a maximum of 3 guns, one of each type (pistol, regular and heavy). There’s also a few time based puzzles that will need solving although they only use a few of the half dozen abilities you’ll be imbued with. You’ll also have a decent amount of sway over how the story progresses which, interestingly, have a direct impact on events in the show. Most of these come in the form of major decisions made at critical points however there are collectibles around the world which will change the show in small and sometimes incredibly amusing ways. So at its roots Quantum Break might be exactly revolutionary but it does manage to do many things well that others have done badly in the past.
Seasoned shooter players will likely find little challenge in Quantum Break’s combat as the treasure trove of abilities, especially when they’re upgraded, make you almost invincible. After about halfway through the game the only way the game challenges you is by throwing more of the same kinds of enemies at you which doesn’t really ramp up the challenge significantly. The only real challenge is ensuring you have enough ammo for the gun you like as the amount you can carry for most guns is ludicrously low. If you’re so inclined you can mix things up a bit by using the various environmental traps however it’s usually easier to just take out enemies directly. Suffice to say that Quantum Break doesn’t really trend much new ground with its core mechanics but I get the feeling that was largely intentional.
If you’ve been reading much of the news around Quantum Break you’ve likely heard about how broken the release is and, unfortunately, my experience was no different. Buying the game in the Windows Store was a true pain as the download would seemingly stop and start randomly. As it turns out it was pre-allocating the disk space, something it couldn’t do at the same time it was downloading it (Steam has managed to solve this problem, however). The aforementioned G-SYNC issue was the cause of much frustration as was the various issues induced by the games varied performance, even with the frame rate cap on. Whilst other games have shown that being a Universal App doesn’t have to be a bad thing it certainly hasn’t helped Quantum Break. Whilst there has been a commitment to iron out most of these issues in future updates in July that does little to help the problems happening now. That and the fact that everyone will still want everything on Steam anyway.
The mixed media approach of Quantum Break is done quite well with big name actors gracing both the in-game and television series world. Whilst the story is little more than your usual sci-fi doomsday scenario guff having a little influence over what happens in the show is a nice touch. The little collectibles, like the audio book you can play over the radio (which then happens in the series), are a real nice touch too. I have to take points off for the ending screaming “HEY SEQUEL” so loudly that it hurt my ears however, as that’s the one unforgivable sin that any story teller can make. Overall I think Quantum Break shows that game/movie/tv series hybrids can work, they just need the same level of investment and polish on both sides to make the whole experience work well together.
Quantum Break evokes a time long gone past, when full motion videos in games were a novelty and production budgets were low. Instead here we have a game that’s staffed by big name actors and large production budgets. The game is nothing new, mixing together power ups and cover based shooting to give us an experience that we’ve likely all seen before. The TV show, and its integration with the events in the game, are done well enough that I feel that Quantum Break largely achieved the goals it set for itself. However the overall experience is marred by technical issues, some of which stem from the fact that it’s on Microsoft’s new Universal App platform. Overall it’s a good but not great experience, one that’s worth a look in if you’ve got a craving for the mixed-media experiences of years gone by.
Quantum Break is available on XboxOne and PC right now for $79 and $59.99 respectively (Only on Windows Store for PC). Game was played on the PC with approximately 9.5 hours of total play time and 93% game completion.
Truly unique game mechanics are a rarity. This is not because of any lack of imagination on the part of game developers, far from it. More it’s to do with the fact that there have been so many games made that it’s almost inevitable that a mechanic has been explored before. So often game developers combine different mechanics, hide them cleverly or just rely on the story to carry things along. SUPERHOT however brings with it the novel mechanic of only moving when you do, putting you in a kind of eternal bullet time movie. It was this mechanic that made it a Kickstarter success (full disclosure: I backed it at the $75 level) and the resulting game is much more than just an extended version of their prototype.
You get a message from your friend. It’s this game, superhot.exe, and it’s amazing. He sends you a crack for it so you can get in on the action. It’s interesting but in the end it’s just you, no plot, no nothing. Just killing red guys. Still you can’t seem to draw yourself away from it, going back again and again, playing through the various scenarios it throws at you. Things start to get weird after an unknown entity starts talking to you, warning you that you don’t know what you’re doing. Will you play on? Or will you quit while your mind is still free?
SUPERHOT retains the minimal, low poly aesthetic that featured in the original game and accompanying marketing material. The environments are all stark white, lacking in any real detail apart from a few objects strewn here or there. Your enemies are bright red, easily distinguishable against the plain background. Other than that there’s not much to say about SUPERHOT’s graphics as they’ve been done to focus your attention, rather than be a distraction. Considering how hectic things can get, even though the game doesn’t move unless you do, this visual simplicity is something I’m sure all players will be thankful for.
At it’s core SUPERHOT could be considered a simplistic FPS, one where a single shot takes down all enemies (and you, if you’re not careful). Of course what changes it from being a rudimentary FPS to the novelty that it has become is the fact that time only moves when you do. So whenever you shift sideways, look around or perform an action the game will advanced forward. This means that you have an almost unlimited amount of time to plan your next move, choosing the best course of action possible. Each level you clear is played back to you, showing your superhero like fighting skills in real time. In the end SUPERHOT ends up being more like a FPS puzzler as each level is a game of optimization and understanding what actions happen when.
The core time mechanic would, on the surface, make the game incredibly easy. However whilst the game freezes while you contemplate your next move you are not an omnipotent being and, as such, you don’t know everything that’s happening around you. Whilst most of the time it’s easy enough to figure out what you need to do there are numerous puzzles where enemies spawn behind you, meaning you’ll probably have to die a few times before you know exactly what to do. Also the AI isn’t dumb and will attempt to lead you when shooting which can see you running into their bullets rather than away from them. Indeed whilst the first few levels are a breeze SUPERHOT quickly becomes a much harder game than you’d first expect it to be.
Most of the levels are done well, giving you enough opportunity to flex your FPS and prediction skills whilst punishing your mistakes. Some levels are far more strict than others, really only having one solution that you need to execute perfectly. One issue that I have to point out though is that the AI doesn’t react in the same way to the same situation every time which makes some of the more difficult levels pretty frustrating. The very final fight, for instance, required a good chunk of luck for everything to go perfectly. In the first 10 seconds an AI deciding to pick up a shotgun or simply run directly at you could be the difference between barely making it through and not having a chance at all. All that said however the challenges are beatable but they can be a little frustrating at times.
The story, whilst somewhat basic, is presented in an interesting way. Most of the dialogue is presented to you through a DOS-like terminal at the start of the game, taking the form of a chat between you and someone on the other side. Eventually it takes over the main game, using the SUPERHOT flashes. It’s best described as a psychological thriller, one which makes you question what is real and what is not within the game world. It ends rather predictably but then again I wasn’t expecting massive narrative development from a game that’s only a couple hours long. Suffice to say for a game that rode to fame on its mechanics the story was well above my expectations but SUPERHOT isn’t a game you’ll play for the narrative.
SUPERHOT sets the bar for Kickstarter games priding themselves on innovative game mechanics. The minimal visual aesthetic is purposefully done to focus your attention on what matters most, casting all visual distractions aside. The core “time only moves when you do” mechanic is done well, transforming an otherwise rudimentary platformer into an intricate puzzler. The story is above par for these kinds of games, even if it is somewhat predictable towards the end. Overall SUPERHOT is an excellent game that makes great use of its core mechanic,
SUPERHOT is available on PC right now for $24.99. Total play time was 2 hours with 36% of the achievements unlocked. The writer was a backer of the project on Kickstarter at the $75 reward level.
Time is a strange beast. As far as we know it always appears to go forward although strange things start to occur in the presence of gravity. Indeed if you synchronized two atomic clocks together then took one of them on a trip around the world with you by the time you got back they’d be wildly out of sync, more than they ever could be through normal drift. This is part of Einstein’s theory of general relativity where time appears to speed up or slow down due to the differing effects of gravity on the two objects which results in time dilation. This effect, whilst so vanishingly small as to be inconsequential in day to day life, becomes a real problem when you want to tell super accurate time, to the point where a new atomic clock might be worthless for telling the time.
Most atomic clocks in the world use a caesium atom to tell time as they transition between two states with an exact and measurable frequency. This allows them to keep time with incredible precision, to the point of not losing even a second of time over the course of hundreds of millions of years. Such accurate time keeping is what has allowed us to develop things like GPS where accurate time keeping allows us to pinpoint locations with amazing accuracy (well, when it’s not fuzzed). However a new type of atomic clock takes accuracy to a whole new level, being able to keep time on the scale of billions of years with pinpoint precision.
The Strontium Optical Atomic Clock comes from researchers working at the University of Colorado and can hold perfect time for 5 billion years. It works by suspending strontium atoms in a framework of lasers and then giving them a slight jolt, sending the atoms oscillating at a highly predictable rate. This allows the researchers to keep time to an incredibly precise level, so precise in fact that minor perturbations in gravity fields have a profound impact on how fast it ticks. As it turns out Earth is somewhat of a gravitational minefield thanks to the tectonic plates under its surface.
You see the further away you are from the Earth’s core the weaker its gravitational pull is and thus time passes just a little bit faster the further away you get. For us humans the difference is imperceptible, fractions of a fraction second that would barely register even if you found yourself floating billions of kilometres away in almost true 0g. However for a time instrument as sensitive as the one the researchers created minor changes in the Earth’s makeup greatly influence its tick rate, making accurate time keeping an incredibly difficult job. Indeed the researchers say that these clocks are likely to only be able to truly useful once we put one in space, far beyond the heavy gravitic influences that are found here on Earth.
It’s amazing that we have the ability to create something like this which throws all our understanding and perceptions around such a common and supposedly well understood phenomenon into question. That, for me, is the true heart of science, uncovering just how much we don’t know about something and then hunting down answers wherever they may lie. Sure, often we’ll end up having more questions when we come out of the end of it but that’s just a function of the vastness of the universe we live in, one that’s filled with ceaseless wonders that we’re yet to discover.
There seems to be two major camps of thought when it comes to levelling in MMORPGs. The first are those who like to take their time with it, soaking in the experience of the vast world presented to them and diving deep into the story elements. The others are fiercely focused on the end goal: get to max level and begin attacking end game content to create the most powerful characters possible. Both are legitimate forms of play and indeed a good MMORPG caters to both players but no matter which camp a player belongs to they will all ask the same question of a new game before they dive into it.
How long does it take to get to max level?
The reasons for asking the question differ significantly between both camps. For those who enjoy the levelling experience (I count myself as being primarily in this camp, although a little more on that later) the time to max level is a signifier of how much content they can expect to see before their preferred experience comes to an end. Heavily story based MMORPGs like Star Wars: The Old Republic the answer comes back as varied range depending on how far you want to dive into a particular story arc. End game raiders typically want to know the minimum amount of time required, often shortcutting past story elements and less efficient levelling zones, as the game for them doesn’t really start until they reach max level.
After you’ve done the levelling once though it’s often not the same when you go through and level again. Whilst many recent MMORPGs have made significant inroads to delivering unique experiences to different character classes, factions and whatever delineations they might have it’s almost inevitable that there will be some overlap between them. Thus levelling another character, referred to as an alt (alternate), can often be seen as something as a chore. Indeed for my first alt in World of Warcraft the game played out almost identically with the only difference being how combat evolved and my place in the various dungeons. It’s quite different now though and indeed the time taken to reach max level has been drastically reduced so when an item like the above shows up, allowing you to reach max level instantly for a price, the reaction has been somewhat mixed although I feel it’s overwhelmingly a positive thing.
I’ve been the proud owner of at least one max level character (usually 2) in every World of Warcraft expansion that’s come out. Whilst I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the levelling process on every occasion I rarely want to go through it again. Indeed nearly every time I’ve come back to World of Warcraft there’s been some kind of incentive program that made my levelling life a whole lot easier and the thought of having to redo it, for real this time, often doesn’t appeal enough. Something like this which would allow me to try out a character class which I’d otherwise have to slog through for countless hours for seems like a good deal to me, even if I feel the asking price is maybe a smidge above what I’d be willing to pay. I think that’s the point though and the next expansion comes with a free level up anyway.
I would put one caveat on it, if I could, and that would be that you would need at least 1 max level character before being able to purchase additional ones. This is something that the World of Warcraft forums have long debated over, often wanting the ability to boost their alts up to a certain level once they have a single character at max. I think the idea has merit as those who truly enjoy the levelling experience will do it regardless and those who are seeking end game content, the ones who usually spend the most time with the game by far, will always have at least a single max level character before they seek out another.
For me though things like this present a chance to reinvent myself every time a new expansion comes out. Whilst I’ve been an on again, off again player for the better part of 10 years now there are still classes I’ve yet to play in any meaningful sense and the allure of starting completely fresh in a new world is always enticing. I may never purchase one of these level boosts but I’m glad they exist as they would give me the opportunity to play with others who don’t have the time to invest in levelling.
The multiple years of experience that came prior to it.
It’s no secret that whilst I’ve been developing for a long time I’m no rockstar when it comes to the world of web programming. Indeed my first foray into this world was a bastard of a page that was lucky not to fall on its face constantly and the experience had me running to find better solutions, eventually falling to Silverlight. The reason for this was obvious, it allowed me to leverage my desktop development experience into a new platform. Sure I struggled with the ideas that just couldn’t be boiled down into the desktop world (like that whole REST thing) but it was a quick way to get myself into this world and expand from there.
So of course when I saw people saying they built this incredible website in only a weekend when it took me several months worth of weekends just to get mine working I was intrigued. I even made the foolish mistake of reading up on some of their “how I did it” posts on Hacker News and saw all these wonderful frameworks that they had been using, assuming this would make me a master overnight. Stepping through some of the tutorials and looking at the tools available started to raise some eyebrows since they were unlike anything I had seen before, and this is where I got suspicious.
You see I could whip up a simple desktop app or PowerShell script in minutes that would do some function using the tools I have in front of me, but that doesn’t mean you should be using those tools to create your site. Neither does that mean you would be able to whip up the same thing using the same tools in the same amount of time, no matter how skilled you were in other languages. The simple reason for this is that whilst you might be a rockstar in ruby or an expert in PHP your experience is confined to the environment to which you’re most accustomed and should you need to retool and reskill for a new language it’s going to be several months before you’re at your maximum competency again.
Sure good developers are able to adapt much faster than so-so developers but there’s a significant opportunity cost in switching away from your current knowledge comfort zone in order to try and emulate those who you idolize. I came to this realization a couple months back after staring at so many Ruby/Python/SomeDynamicLanguage web sites, wondering at how the heck they got them looking and functioning so well. In truth the platform they were using had little to do with it, these guys had just been in the game for so much longer than me that they knew how to get these things done. With me still in the grok stage of my first really truly web framework I really shouldn’t be comparing myself to them just yet, not at least until I can get my new application functioning the way it should.
It’s so easy to get disillusioned with what you’re doing when you see others progressing so much faster than you ever thought you could. My new application was supposed to be a testament to my coming of age as a web developer, having giving myself only a short time to get it off the ground before actually launching it. Since my deadline for that has come and past I’ve been forced to change the way I view myself as a developer and have come to realize that unless I’m working in something I’ve developed with before I shouldn’t expect myself to be a rockstar from day one, instead recognizing that I’m still learning and pushing through the pain barrier until I become the rockstar I thought I was.
¹If you’re interested, what’s hot right now is photo sharing apps. What’s not? Location apps, go figure.