space

How I Got to Elite: Dangerous

image

Steam informed me recently that a game on my wish list was on sale. I don’t add items to that list often, but there are a few I forget are there. I checked it out and found that it was Elite: Dangerous.

I didn’t know much about it off the top of my head, but investigating the store page reminded me of the appeal. Open world. Milky Way galaxy recreation. Massive scale. MMO. Flight simulator.

So I bought it…

But first, let’s start in the mid-90s. For the record I was unaware until recently that Elite: Dangerous had previous installments during this time period. Had I known this the story would be different.

Anyway, I happened to pick up Lucasarts’ space combat simulator X-Wing when I was a kid. The box art and screenshots entranced me. I too would get to experience the ultimate freedom of space travel and get to blast Tie fighters into sparking fragments along the way.

image

After several disks worth of installation (this was the original DOS version), I was ready to play and within minutes I was in the cockpit of the X-Wing, adjusting shield levels, engine speeds, and aiming at various vessels. This was what I was waiting for. True freedom.

This sense was quickly dashed, if only momentarily, when I noticed that those stars and galaxies and planets far off in the background were merely that, background. There would be no interstellar travel for me. Just intense space combat, and the promise of thrills like the films.

This series was quite popular as it turns out, spanning into the next decade with its sequel Tie Fighter offering the best experience in my opinion.

Still, there was that desire to fly among the stars that gnawed at me.

Let’s flashforward several years to the late 2000s. This is when I first tried EVE Online. This, I thought, was it. This was what I had always wanted. An entire galaxy to explore replete with space stations and starships, enemies and allies, and everything in between. Yes, it truly offers all these things.

Here I had my chance to be a renowned star fighter, but I could also be a pilot, a space miner (and perhaps have a daughter who would wrote a song about such things), an industrialist, or even a scheming CEO of a corporation filled with other real people to manipulate and command.

image

The options were endless, but so was the path to progress it seemed. Now don’t get me wrong, EVE Online is great at what it offers, but it’s also demanding. And slow. And cutthroat. Eventually everything becomes a point and click affair, even space travel, which is more about navigating menus rather than space itself.

It’s not hard to admit that I enjoyed the game, generally but it is hard to admit that perhaps it’s a little more daunting than I would like for something that I want to truly enjoy.

At the end of the day, EVE Online offered quite a bit, more than I imagined in fact, but it still missed that certain something.

There were other games that came close, like Star Trek Online, with its arcade-ish space combat and the ability to lead away teams on planets. If you’ve wanted to be a Starfleet captain, or even a Romulan or Klingon, this is your chance. It’s a lighter version of EVE Online, to be sure, but its content is still entertaining and the fantastic setting is a bonus.

image

After years of playing games, it’s safe to say that some of my earliest wishes have been buried under layers of reality and disappointment, but fortunately they have also been augmented by gaming experiences that have truly been enjoyable in unexpected ways.

So there I was the other day, loading up Elite: Dangerous. I tried the training missions, thinking that this really is a very similar game to EVE. Except that I was sitting in a cockpit. And that I could fly to any available star. And fight. And dock with space stations.

Then it hit me.

No, not that asteroid I collided with because I was still calibrating my controls.

No, it was something else: the realization that this is the game I had been wanting to play for almost twenty years!

Even better is the fact that Elite: Dangerous’ developers have already declared (not speculated as in the case of EVE) the kind of content they will roll out, like planetary landings and such. This is more than thrilling, and I feel like I’ve finally come full circle with those expectations born from the back of the X-Wing box all those years ago.  

image

So, if you’ll excuse me, I need to prep my ship for travel to see either the Sol system in way I’ve never been able to or what lies beyond the other side of the galaxy’s core.

Advertisements

Interstellar: A Review

image

Released in 2014, Interstellar, a film by Christopher Nolan, is an epic sci-fi adventure in the vein of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Featuring award-winning special effects and a boundary pushing plot, Interstellar is sure to baffle the uninformed and enthrall the willing. But is it the kind of epic sci-fi film I would go for?

Let’s see.

• Special Effects

While I wouldn’t consider myself a slave to my vision, presentation is still important. Furthermore, if one is going to utilize computer graphics and other enhancements in film, they must look good. Nothing ruins the experience worse than poorly blended textures and rushed models. Interstellar earned its Oscar. The effects were beautiful, and the depiction of that black hole, at least the outside of it, was gorgeous. The real world settings used for the different planets still managed to look foreign, so nice work there as well. This was a feast for my eyes, which I didn’t realize were hungry.

image

•Characters and Acting

The film was decently cast and well directed for the most part, but this movie wasn’t just about selling character drama. The astronauts all seemed scientifically professional if a bit too stoic when faced with new and frightening space phenomena. Anne Hathaway was a standout, but that’s no surprise. I wasn’t put off by any bad acting, but a few roles could have been enlivened so I wasnt immediately guessing who the background characters or the eventual casualties were from the get go.

image

•Plot

This is where the movie suffered under my scrutiny. First of all, the pacing was off. While I admired that the very beginning showed us a deteriorating Earth rather than straight up telling us, I wish that same caution has been exercised in other places.

Having said that, some exposition was needed in places considering the highly conceptual science incorporated into the plot. That science was fun to see explored in a story like this. However, I felt the attempt to explain relativity and it’s effect on time was over-explained and lessened drama associated with its effects.

Furthermore, it was obvious to me that the that there were two main plots competing for screen time. One was the exploration of space, work holes, relativity, time dilation, ecological disaster, etc.

The other was Huey Lewis’ favorite: the power of love.

Yes, love.

image

Love can cross time, space, worm holes, black holes, and plot holes.

Love can make future men seem like ghosts or monsters.

Okay, I get it.

I appreciate the attempt to fuse the themes of human nature with high science, but it just didn’t work for me here. Just when I thought the movie was over (and a decent ending that would have been), the love story took off and my disbelief was stretched more than spacetime at an event horizon.

Still, the actual ending want terrible, I just want expecting the movie to tear my focus from its attempt at pure logic, to a non sequitur shift to pure emotionalism. Interstellar isn’t the next 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it is a fun ride with a dazzling, if sometimes brutally blunt dash of science thrown in.

Homeworld Remastered is Here

image

It seems like every game is getting remade nowadays. The Curse of Monkey Island got one. Tomb Raider got one. Age of Empires 2 got one. Even Baldur’s Gate got one. So it was only a matter of time before a high profile series like Homeworld got one.

Released in 1999, and spawning a stand alone expansion and a sequel, the Homeworld series is a fully 3D real time strategy experience that features a free moving camera in an outer space environment where you can watch your space ships pew pew each other in glorious freedom. At the time, its interface was revolutionary and allowed you to zoom and twist your camera to view the gameplay in unrestricted ways.

Now that it has been remastered, you can play this game on modern rigs and relive the days when this game was an RTS king. The graphics are wonderful, and combined with its top notch story and production values, you’ll get a beautiful tour through the galaxy.

My original experience with the game was hampered by a PC that couldn’t handle the graphics. I had to choose between poor graphics or poor gameplay and eventually gave up on both. Now I can finally sink my teeth into both and still get updated features. Furthermore, Homeworld Remastered includes the sequel so you can go all the way with the story, and even the original games if nostalgia bites you.

The gameplay is just as you remember (Almost. The first game has been remastered with the sequel’s engine, which alters certain features accordingly). In fact, I actually got bored with the first couple of missions because they were just like before.

Speaking of gameplay, it is of the RTS kind, which features the same kind of rock-paper-scissors unit assortment you’d expect with various weaknesses and advantages. The focus, however, isn’t on base building and complex resource gathering, but rather showcases tactics. Most of the time you must manage your resources and units carefully from mission to mission as you don’t always get the chance to rebuild everything from scratch.

image

This kind of gameplay works well in the 3D environment, which is good, because that’s about all there is to the game. Tactical engagements are the main focus here. Build your units, send them to battle, and watch them fly around space. This means that your time will feel bipolar, switching often between slow resource gathering and manic battle.

At the time of this game’s original release, this was great since it’s interface and graphics were second to none. Now, we have games like Sins of a Solar Empire which feature the same kind of gameplay, but with added features from turn based strategy games that really flesh out the whole experience. Homeworld’s gameplay isn’t bad, it’s just very focused, which can seem limited compared to today’s offerings.

I still have fun exploring the story, and the wonderful soundtrack and graphics really sell the game. Even the skirmish mode adds some intense gaming sessions. Most of the time I still find myself yearning for more complex gameplay after a while.

Add Homeworld Remastered to your list of anniversary, HD, enhanced versions of classic games. It’s a fun game to play through, especially if you missed out on it over a decade ago. Don’t expect anything groundbreaking compared to what we have now. Homeworld already did that back in the day. This ride is purely for nostalgia’s sake.

Meandering Ponderings: Matter and Time Travel

Contrary to the previous content on my blog, there are other things I do than just watch TV and listen to 90s music. On these sometimes rare occasions, I wonder about things like science, our society, or whether to get frozen or canned vegetables (I’ll save that one for another time).

My recent thoughts have been the implausible notion of time travel and it’s effect on the matter within the universe.

Basically, time travel should be possible if one were to travel faster than the speed of light. That person would then speed ahead of light particles, past ones that occurred in all previous moments, and into the past itself, leaving the present behind.

This leads me to two questions.

The first question I have in this situation is, if I were to speed ahead of light into the past, slow back to normal speed and stay there, would I be able to affect the world and happenings around me, or would I be reviewing a lifeless light show that is barely more than a three-dimensional hologram of the irrevocable past?

This leads to my second and bigger question, which is: is the universe flexible enough that matter can slide around it at will from one time to another, or is matter (or also energy) set firmly within a network of time and space?

I shall begin out of order with the second question and elaborate with an illustration of the issue.

First thing about matter is, it can be neither created nor destroyed. Hold onto that thought.

Imagine the universe as a loaf of freshly baked bread, light, airy, and delicious. It has air pockets and bubbles as well as the soft white fleshy part. Though not with the same proportions, this is like our universe with the galaxies dispersed within the vacuum of space. Everything within that loaf of bread was there in one form or another as an ingredient in the dough from which it rose.

image

Now imagine you have a photo of this bread from a few minutes ago and pretend, for the purpose of this example, that that picture is a proxy version of our bread from the past. Pinch a piece of your current loaf (and don’t let your mind wander to nasty thoughts of loaf pinching), and add it to your past-version proxy.

Now we have a paradox. The piece you pinched still exists in the past version, in addition to its future piece at the same time. Furthermore, future version is missing some of its total mass, while the past is in excess.

To be a most accurate example, this all should have happened within the same loaf of bread, but that would be invisible to us, as well as impossible. However, it brings up my point.

The universe has always included the mass that is you, just in different forms. We all came from our parents’ genetic data, and grew in the womb from whatever food our mothers ingested, but that matter has always existed, just as something different throughout time.

If I were to drop dead, my body would remain, it would decompose, its mass continuing to exist as different things. But if I were to pop into the past, our current time would have a void. Like that loaf of bread, there would be a hole in space and my past would have surplus me. So the big question is, space itself is imbalanced, but would time find a way to incorporate excess mass? Does time care? Furthermore, what happens to space if pieces of its mass begin to disappear completely. If humans time traveled en masse, would we leave our present as a crippled universe riddled with holes while we punched holes through the rest of time and space with our travels?

This leads back to my first question. Upon successfully traveling through time, how would our foreign mass interact with its new surroundings? Would we wedge into the current time, stealing space from mass that rightly belonged, or would we be snapped back through time from whence we came, or squeezed out by the time we were invading?

Perhaps I have this all wrong and Time is infinite, and matter can never escape time so it doesn’t matter what chronological sequence it occurs, and rules of causality be damned.

I don’t know. I’m not a scientist, officially. But I’d welcome any insight or discussion on these ponderings.