This weekend daylight saving time ended in the US. While I will agree that it is a silly practice with very little reason to exist the time transition is a lot easier if its all automatic. In my life all my time sources automatically switched from 1:59am to 3:00am giving the illusion that it is just a regular weekend that there hasn’t been any tampering with my sleep schedule. My wall clock syncs its time from an atomic clock in Colorado, my watch gets it time from my phone which synchronizes with the cell towers and my TV and Computer get their time from the internet. But there is one device that still makes me remember that the clocks have been messed with and that I’ve lost an hour of sleep: the microwave.
I want to live like I’m on the Enterprise. There is so much in every run of Star Trek that the creators and writers of the show try to pass off as 24th century technology that is possible today. One can say that 3D printers wil be the grandparents of the replicator or that virtual reality goggles are the first step towards have a functioning holodeck, the the ‘futuristic’ technology from Star Trek that I am currently pursuing are the lights.
How many scenes in Star Trek start with someone waking up or entering the room and setting up the level of apprehension by yelling “Computer: Lights!” to illuminate the room. The call for “Computer: Dim lights” has set the table for some romantic encounters across the series. The point is the crew of the Star Trek have lighting control integrated into their computer system and there is no reason we cannot have this as well.
While it does not (yet) allow for a voice interface smart LED bulbs are hitting the market as part of the awful catch all ‘Internet of Things’. There are many reason why this is infantile way to speak of the future connectivity amongst devices but that is something for another post. We want to know more about lights.
Connecting lights to a computer or network is not really that new. Many buildings have lights connected to motion detectors or timers and the often forgotten Street lamps operated in a connected network, though not a very smart one. Three advances are driving ‘smart’ lighting out farther into the mainstream; the phasing out of incandescent bulbs, miniaturization of microprocessors and radios, and more advanced software.
Many states have started to limit or ban the sale of incandescent light bulbs, to encourage energy efficiency. Washington has a sales restriction on the bulbs though a few can be found around. In California new homes are no longer being built with the standard E26 size build socket. Instead all home are constructed with new G27 sockets supported only by energy efficient bulbs. Changing a burn out compact fluorescent in my kitchen I found that I had some of these new sockets as well. A new fluorescent bulb with this new socket type was going to be over $7 but which made me look more favorable at the $15 connected LED bulbs that are starting to come to market.
In the not to distant past to create an automated light one would have had an adapter in the lamp or somewhere in the wall controlling the power to the bulb. With low power LED bulbs and small microprocessors and transmitters the radio and power controller can be contained inside the light bulb. Smart bulbs will fit in standard lamps with no modification. The only change is that the switch can be left on and the bulb will manage the light levels.
So a move to LEDs and better cheaper smart bulbs can get Star Trek lights into the home, but with out anything else there is very little reason to have them. Need a phone handy to turn out the lights is more of a nuisance than flipping the light switch. Clever applications of software and other hardware are what is making these bulbs behave like Star Trek and better.
Although those in New York and Boston might not remember the meaning of the word it seems like spring has come to the Pacific northwest. The once forgotten sun has started to emerge between the gray clouds and the weather has started to warm up.
This weekend, warm and sunny, I saw flowers in bloom, and buds on the trees. Though Punxsutawney Phil may say there are 6 more weeks of winter it seems that the weather here is not listening. There could not have been better weather this weekend for valentines day, and I hope that the sun will continue to beat out the rain as the axis or rotation starts shifting back towards us up North.
This past weekend I went on a short trip to Portland; where according to the popular TV series, Portlandia, the dream on the 90’s survives. While only there for a weekend I cannot say if this is completely true I think I got a pretty good taste of Portland for the time I was there.
I went to Powell’s City of Books, the self proclaimed largest independent bookstore in the world. The books store took up an entire building, which was about a city block with books available on multiple floors. The store is now so large that they’ve had to expand and create Powell’s Books 2 across the street. Though the books store was massive it was also full of people. Powell’s Books is what a physical book store aught to be, especially in a era of online shopping. Unlike the last Barnes and Nobel I went to Powell’s has not restocked their aisles with easy sells; games and toys and hundreds of copies of the latest popularized pulp, Powell’s embraces the written work, filling floor to ceiling shelves with thousands of unique volumes. A know this tactic requires an extremely literate population to keep the store full and it seems Portland and those who visit provide frequent Powell’s enough that its doing good business. While I was there I stuck mostly to the Science Fiction section, looking for a book on my reading list that I could enjoy on the train back to Seattle. I found the book but I was greatly distracted by the hundreds others there.
Another Portland landmark, the original Voodoo Doughnuts. Possibly the only place that has a line around the corner for fired doughy confections. The line moves quickly and you’ll probably need the time to decide which of the dozens of doughnuts you’ll get, if you still can’t decide you can let the staff pick a dozen for you.
Some of the noteworthy donuts that we got in our dozen: the Marshal Mathers, a doughnut covered in M&M’s; the Butterfingering, a doughnut covered in crushed Butterfingers; and the Loop, a doughnut covered in fruit loops.
When in Portland its also advisable to go to one of the many microbreweries, as most of them are also restaurants its a good place for a meal too. We went to Descutes, for the simple reason that it was close by, for in Portland you only need to throw a stone to find the closest micro-brewery (or Starbucks, its a 50/50 chance). The dinner at Deschutes was excellent and the beer was even better.
To round out the experience I also managed to catch a screening of the recent release of the The Boxtrolls. Though it premiered internationally this weekend it was created by Portland’s Laika Studio.
It seems like Seattle’s summer is over as this week we get our first rainstorm of the season. As the cool and moist spreads over the Sound a sigh of relief spreads over its residents. Summer in Pacific Northwest is beautiful; there is sun everyday, its warm but never humid, and everyone is always out trying to get a little vitamin D. But these are foreign elements to Seattle, visitors that only stay for a few months and then depart. So with the rain everyone in Seattle can settle into their normal routines, uninterrupted by sunshine or a call to the outdoors.
And this city is gorgeous in the rain.
This past weekend I took a day trip to Leavenworth, WA a Bavarian themed tourist town about two hours away from Seattle. When I heard it was a Bavarian town I figured it was a location settled by immigrants from southeast Germany founded and settled the town, which still retains that culture today, but I was pretty far off. Leavenworth was just a former railroad town until it was transformed into the Bavarian themed tourist trap in the 1960’s to revitalize the towns economy. Though not genuine the effort seems to have paid off as the little village was full off people this weekend.
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.
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 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.
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.