A Trip to Mars

I’ve just finished reading “The Martian” by Andy Weir and its a great read which I recommend to anyone who likes science fiction.

The book is a narrative of Mark Watney, one of the crew members of Ares III; Earth’s third manned mission to Mars. Disaster strikes and the rest of the crew members are forced to evacuate, leaving Watney alone on the red planet, with the whole world thinking he’s dead.

This is an amazing tale of survival and ingenuity, and Weir did an excellent amount of research making everything in the book as realistic as possible.

PAX-imus Prime

As I’ve mentioned before this weekend was PAX Prime, the original Penny Arcade eXpo. Tickets for PAX sold out moths ago but I managed to get a Monday pass from fellow Tested reader at the meetup I attended Friday night. Excellent luck on my part, as I had tried to get a ticket through work contacts bu they were in too high of demand. With a ticket in hand I was able to experience PAX, my first big convention.

I was there on Monday which was probably the least busy day as most people have gotten their fill and are traveling home. That being said it was still a mad house. There were people everywhere and lines for games were dishearteningly long. I stayed on the main floor almost the entire day and, after waiting in line, got to play some cool games.

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Turtle Rock Studio’s Evolve was literally the center of PAX. Walking in you are greeted by their booth with a 17 foot tall statue of the monster Goliath. If that wasn’t enough to draw a crowd they highly anticipated game had its release date pushed back from this October to February, so many were eager to play this elusive game. I tried several times to get in line for Evolve but it was so popular the line was capped and lines to get in line were formed by fans and dispersed by enforcers. After wandering around the expo all morning I decided to commit and wait in line as long as I need to play this game. The enforcers by this point had started giving up and were letting the line get longer, so I was able to queue. The line wrapped around the booth and easily contained a few hundred people. Turtle Rock was running six games simultaneously to try to keep up, but it wasn’t enough the wait was still destined to be 2-3 hours.

Evolve is an asymmetrical multiplayer game; it pits four class based human hunters up against a ferocious monster in a cage match. The monster, controlled by a single player separated from the rest, is very powerful but not strong enough at the start of the game to take on the humans. The monster must run and hunt wildlife until it has fed enough to evolve and get string enough to confront the hunters. This asymmetrical aspect is what has most people so intrigued because it promises new and interesting game play. In Player vs. Player games balance is one the most important factors, and its extremely difficult to get perfect if there is asymmetrical game play. This is why I lined up for Evolve, I wanted to see how well its been done.

The asymmetrical aspect of the game also gave me an advantage in line; people had to play the game in group of five, four humans and a monster, and most people were there with groups of their friends. To let people play the game with the group of friends they brought along the booth coordinators were working very hard to sort everyone into groups of five without splitting any friends up. As I went to PAX by myself I was a sought after singleton. Because there was a group of four ahead in line I was able to skip a good portion of the line and join their team. Excellent luck for me, getting me to the game faster. This group need a monster to hunt and I was it.

I'm a Monster!

I’m a Monster!

I got to play one round of the game as the monster Goliath, though the recently reveled Kraken was also playable. Goliath is a damage tank with strong melee and short ranged attacks while the Kraken is more of a long ranged attack class. Playing as the monster is tough at first as the controls aren’t you regular FPS like the other characters. I decided to pick one attack, fire breath, and stick to that as much as I could; putting most of my upgrade and evolve points into it. The monster is very mobile, it runs faster than the hunters and is able to climb, though I didn’t get the hang of climbing. Knowing the basic mechanics of the game I took off running in a random direction, hopping I wasn’t running towards my death. The monster needs to eat to recharge shields and build up to evolve. I tried but it took me a few attempts before I realized that the wildlife needed to be attacked and killed before you can consume them. While I’m feeding the hunters found me, early confrontation do not bode well for the monster so after fling a few fireballs I got out of there as fast as I could. I had enough snacks and was ready for my first evolution. While evolving the monster has no shields and is paralyzed for a few seconds, so it is important to find a safe, secret place to do this. I traveled to the bottom of a ravine and tried to hide myself under a waterfall. I started the evolution process and as I was choosing my new perks I was found! This is my pitfall of the game, I was stuck in the evolution menu and I didn’t know how to exit to defend or run, and my help was dropping. Luckily I was able to flag down the attendant for out table and they were able to help me out. I spat a few fireballs and got out of there very quickly. After munching on a few more native fauna I noticed the hunters nearing, but they hadn’t noticed me yet, as I was on the other side of a hill. It was only a matter of time until they did so I launched a surprise attack. Even in my weakened state I managed to take out the medic, tracker and support hunters. It was down to the assault and I and we weren’t quitting. His health was low, but so was mine but we duked it out til the end, my end. I died and the hunters were victorious. putting down the controller and taking off the headset I realized that my heart was racing. The game had really gotten my adrenaline pumping. It was fantastic, well worth the wait.

 SUNSET OVERDRIVE

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Another A-list game that I got to play was Sunset Overdrive and Xbox exclusive being developed by Insomniac Games. I got to play one round on one of the eight player maps. On the map there were strategic points that needed to be held against waves of zombies.The game art is beautiful whimsical. everything is exaggerated to the point of being a little cartoonish, which sets up the tone of the game to be a bit whimsical. similar to Titainfall this is a very fast shoot that has many vertical levels. In Sunset Overdrive the game play is all about grinding on rails, rooftops, and power lines. In the multiplayer mode the anound of grinding you have been doing acts as a score multiplier so to be #1 you have to do it. While this is to reward you for using a core mechanic of the game the grinding system is where I felt the game had most of its problems. The grindable surfaces are magnetic so if you are in position with a push of a button you are attached to the rail and automatically start moving. In my game play getting onto rails wasn’t always as easy, there is no way of knowing if you are close enough to a rail to attach so you think you are swinging out of danger but you accidentally swing into the enemy’s mouth. Once you are on the rails you move along with no input into speed or direction, your options are to reverse or jump off. This makes the third person shooter a rails shooter, which I am horrible at playing. Whilst on the rails you are above the map so it’s a good place to be, but because you a moving it hard to get a clean shot with a precision weapon. I would recommend sticking only to splash damage weapons in Sunset Overdrive if you can figure out the weapon switching interface.

Overall this game has both the potential and the marketing push to be the next big game on Xbox. I feel like because of its deviation from standard first person shooters that it takes a few rounds of game play to understand what’s going on, and as I only played once my experience was not representative of what playing it really is. I do feel that Insomniac Games could polish it a little more to make it easier to pick up and play.

AGE OF EMPIRES: CASTLE SIEGE

Another game published by Microsoft Studios that I was glad to see made it to PAX is Age of Empires: Castle Siege. This is mostly Microsoft pimping out Age of Empire name recognition, but I really don’t know what else they would call it. Age of Empire Castle Siege looks and plays like a mobile game, but its available for PC as well as Windows phone. The reps told me it was playable with a mouse and keyboard but the idea was to play it on a touch screen like the Surface Pro 3. Looks like Microsoft’s getting good at eating their own dog food. The station had a bunch of Surface tablets set up and as it was set upstairs from the main floor it was not too crowded. The game demoed was a siege senario, although I believe you can also design fortifications. I was given a set number of units of varying types and was able to deploy them anywhere around the fortress, with these I was to raze as much of castle as possible in the 6 minutes given. The lack of economy management is the reason this is not a full Age of Empires game, but sieges are what those economies are for. The touch controls are very intuitive but not as precise as the classic mouse and keyboard. Even with only a few group of units on the map I found it very difficult to manage them all. I lost all my units around the five minute mark with only 50% of the fortifications destroyed I did not do too well.
This is a fun little mobile game that is way to pick up for a few minutes at a time while on the bus or waiting at the doctor’s office, this does not mean they are reviving the Age of Empires franchise. If they port this game to android I would buy it instantly but it seems its locked to Windows for now.

Those are the highlights from PAX, there was a lot else going on and many other games I got to watch and play. I enjoyed my self more than I expected just walking the floor, I look forward to next year when I’ll have the opportunity again.

Into the Rift

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After a slight SNAFU with the UPS over the delivery I finally have received my Oculus Rift Developer Kit 2! As this is one of the most intriguing, exclusive and amazing tech toys of this year, I was amazingly excited to finally have it in my grasp. Now, if only I could turn it on.

I have an Oculus Rift but lack a computer capable of running it. being still in the process of moving to the Emerald City, my computer has not yet arrived. I have my old school laptop, but after years of uses and having its cooling fan replace three or four times it can hardly handle rendering Netflix, it wouldn’t survive an interactive 3D demo. So I am the very proud owner of the worst pair of ski goggles ever created. But I wasn’t going to just sit and wait for my new nemesis, UPS, to deliver my computer.

With some help from a friend at work, who is still waiting for their pre-order to ship, the Oculus Rift was giving life! We tried out a few demos including Desk Simulator, an immersive desk simulator where one gets to sit at desk in an empty room; Cyber Space, a simulation of a carnival pendulum ride with the added bonus of being flung from the ride at the end; and Helix, a recreation of a real roller coaster at some amusement park.

I was most impressed with Cyber Space, of the three demos we tried that gave my the most gut wrenching feeling of presence. Though the pixels of the display are visible creating a ‘screen door effect’ its not horribly distracting, but it is still present enough that it take awhile tog et used to you field of vision being filled with dots. I think that the depth perception in Cyber Space is what makes it terrifying. The area around you has been filled with houses that are 3D geometry that you eyes can focus on as you swing higher and higher, Helix might have been as enjoyable, but on the computer we were running it on the frame rate was noticeably low. A jittery frame rate really tears one out of the experience. I don’t think we had the V-Sync in the proper configuration to force needed 75 fps needed for the low persistence display technology to be utilized. Another thing to note is that all the demos I’ve tried so far are passive experiences, the play only has the ability to look around and observe the virtual environment, not to interact with it. I have a few games that either have or sill soon have support for the DK2 lined up. I feel that adding interactivity will make presence in the Oculus Rift more easily reachable.

My experience with my Rift so far has been brief, but one I have my machine up and running I will be putting the new technology through its paces and maybe even try my hand at making a demo. After all it is a development kit.

 

The Aquabats Super Show

Last night I went to a show with a friend, a band he suggested that I had never heard of, The Aquabats. I looked them up on youtube and found this:

Of course I was amazed! Burger Rain is musical artistry at its highest level. I immediately purchased the tickets and was excited to see them live. The show was amazingly fun and went far beyond any expectations that I ever could have mustered. The Aquabats are a ska band that have been staring The Aquabats’ Super Show, a children’s music television show, for about 20 years. This leads to a show with a wide a demographic as imaginable. There were a lot of teen and 20s punk rockers moshing in the front. On the sides the older generation stood nursing their drinks and in the quiet middle ground where the little kids, four and up riding their parents shoulders dressed in blue spandex with an A embossed on their chests.

Some highlights:

  • Quality family friendly music
  • A bit of mosh pitting
  • A man in a chicken suit throwing fried chicken over the audience
  • Said chicken man fighting a giant crab in slow motion
  • Beach balls and inflatable toys thrown around a small venue
  • A six year old crowd surfing on top a shark

To sum it up it was a fun and amazingly unique show!