Archive for the ‘Gaming’ Category

In low orbit around Kerbin

In low orbit around Kerbin

Were you to visit my home and gaze at my bookshelves it would not take a psychological profiler to reach the conclusion that I am a bit of a science nerd. Cosmology, Astrology, Biology, Geology, they all are taking up shelf space. I even spent several years studying natural sciences at University level. Combined with this is an unhealthy interest in simulation games. The first game I really logged serious hours on was a 747 flight simulator on my Dragon 32, the cockpit displayed in all its 8 bit, 16 colour glory and the first time I had ever used an analogue joystick. I never was a platformer fan. Sonic and Mario just never appealed. Many more flight and combat sims (Microprose M1 Tank anyone?) scratched my itch over the following years

Recently, I started to hear about a simulation game that had all the things I needed, science and simulation in one package. At first I was content to hear other people’s experiences. This game was still in beta with new features being added. I thought I would wait until the build was stable, maybe even until it was ready for full release but it was there on my radar (radio, detection and ranging don’t you know).

Still the stories came in. Would be mission controllers launching their spacecraft in to orbit, exploring the solar system or crashing in flames on take-off. Everything about this game piqued my interest. So this weekend I finally caved. Early access or not, I could no longer wait.

This game, of course, is Kerbal Space Program and in just five days I have lost 38 hours and many brave Kerbals to it. I would never normally even begin to recommend a game that is still in early access. Features change and there is no way to know if the game you are playing is the one that will actually ship. This game though is so feature rich and the engine so sound that its hard to believe that there is much more to add.

The titular Kerbals are a race of brave if not completely competent humanoids living on the planet Kerbin. As the controller of their space program it is your job to build, develop and fly their spacecraft. There are two game modes, sandbox and career. Both are pretty much what you would expect. Sandbox gives you a set of tools and sets you loose. Career gives you some basic tools to get you going and then by completing flights and doing science you can unlock the next level of technologies. Science forms the in game currency and is redeemed by clicking on a capsule in flight to get reports or conduct experiments. This data can then either be saved to be recovered with the capsule after the mission or transmitted back to base if you have fitted the required communication antenna. As long as you do this the rest of the story you create yourself. It really is that type of game.

Once you start the game you will be presented with an overview of the space complex. From here you can choose Science and research, tracking, astronaut training, Space plane hangar, and launch site or the vehicle assembly building. It’s this last one where you need to begin. Building your craft is as simple as dragging and dropping components. As you add to your build a sequence of action commands will build up on the left hand side of the screen. It’s important to get these in the right order. A booster will be of little use is if decouples before it fires after all. These commands can be dragged and dropped and the list added too as you continue your build.

Getting ready for launch is a simple as clicking the green launch icon in the top task bar. This will take you to the launch site. This is where the list of actions comes into play. Each press of the space bar will activate the next action. Firing boosters, activating decouplers and so on, if you have the sequence right this will result in your Kerbal heading out on his first suborbital flight.

Once in space the true gem of this game shines through. Its depth is astounding. Orbital manoeuvres, trajectories and re-entry are all presented in an easy to understand way. Despite using words that are not exactly commonplace but totally true to space flight, like retrograde and prograde, the tutorial does a great job of walking you through what is needed. The best bit? No maths, just a simple arrangement of expanding circles to guide you in firing the engine. You did remember to save an engine for orbital flight didn’t you?

The fact that America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has jumped on board to joint develop a NASA missions pack to be used in education speaks volumes of how this game has been received in the science community. It never feels like its teaching you anything but all the time it is revealing the complexities of planning manned space-flight.

I am still only scratching the surface of this game. Eventually I can explore other worlds or build space planes for intercontinental flight. As previously stated this game is still in early access but for anyone with even a passing interest in space-flight I cannot recommend it highly enough. On Steam there is a demo to download and try for free so there is no excuse to not try it. In early access the game currently retails for £19.99 and I feel it is worth every penny. A typical FPS campaign is complete in under 8 hours so I have already had more than twice that at half the cost. The controls are easy to understand and not overwhelming but I do advise you go through the tutorials as it can all seem daunting. Once you get a feel for the types of construction that works it’s easy to build craft that will take you high above the world. Where you chose to go next is up to you.

Darren Lissaman

Screenshot from in-game and is used under fair-use. Rights remain with the owners.

The times, they are a changing.

Posted: January 13, 2014 in Gaming
Tags: ,

Image

The above line, taken from a Bob Dylan song, is rather apt as we are about to revisit the late seventies. It was during this period that I was first introduced to home gaming. Before this I had only played video games in arcades during family holidays with Sega’s Killer Shark, a rear projected and very basic shooter, being my favourite.

During a family visit my Uncle showed us his latest acquisition. Looking like an electro-shock therapy machine the item in the photograph at the start of this post is actually one of the first home consoles.The Binatone had 6 built in games. Four versions of pong and two shooters and I loved it. Despite my pleading though it was several years before my father relented and came home one day with a ZX Spectrum. Technically my first PC, I spent hours typing in lines and lines of code, meticulously copied from enthusiast magazines, to create my own space invaders games. Once the plug was pulled and the game was lost. The spectrum also introduced me to the darker side of our hobby, piracy. Video rental was becoming a thing and, spotting a gap in the market, our local store was quick to offer Spectrum game rental for the princely sum of £1. Of course Spectrum games were based on audio cassettes and nearly everyone I knew had tape to tape recording in their stereos.

Pretty soon the cassettes were doing the rounds in the school playground. I had found my first sub-culture!

After the Spectrum I moved on. First came a Dragon 32 and then a massive leap to an Amiga 500. Games had moved on so far from the humble Pong. Games like Dune and The Secret of Monkey Island were cutting edge and kept my entertained for hours. I had also toyed with a Sega Master System and Megadrive but, and I know this is heresy, I can’t stand platformers. The cutesy graphics of Mario and Sonic just didn’t fire me up in the way a good point and click or action game like Golden Axe did.

And then my first child arrived. Gaming was put on hold for a few years. As my son was getting older I purchased a Sega Saturn for him to play. Games like Sega rally held his interest for hours.    Eventually a neighbour, spying my aging Amiga offered to build me a PC. A lowly 486 but it ran Wing Commander III, and Discworld the game. Pretty soon I had been swept in to the nuclear arms race of PC gaming. Upgrades so I could play Medal of Honor: Allied Assult and F22 Raptor were almost constant. It was around this time that my daughter joined the family and wild expenditure of PC frills had to stop.

Again a few years passed until the dawn of the Wii, a fun, family console that allowed for true co-operative play. I didn’t play much on it to be honest.  As previously stated the games didn’t strike a chord with me.  But then, whilst absconding to Game while my wife did the shopping I found it, the game that dragged me back. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare reflex edition. I picked it up, took it home and I never looked back.

I had always had happy memories of playing Medal of Honor all those years ago and this game was so much more.  I couldn’t wait to get to work and share what I had found. Of course I was so far behind the curve. My work mate said, “ahh yes but of course you realise that isn’t the proper game?” What could he mean? Not the proper game! It was a shooter. Yes I was using motion controls but what could be different?

I stood my ground until Treyarch released Call of Duty Black Ops. I also bought this on Wii but the doubts were placed. There could be no other choice. I had to get an Xbox 360 and I realised then what I had been missing. There were missing levels, improved graphics and better mechanics. Using the controller was a joy.

Since getting the 360 I have had my eyes opened to a whole new world. That sub-culture that I found back in the eighties is thriving. Podcasts, forums, bloggers, gaming is a lifestyle choice with as much credibility now as any other. Huge, big money, tournaments are held as often as the big sporting events and draw an equally big crowd. I now am the proud owner of a PlayStation 3, Vita and a mid-spec gaming PC and am spoilt for choice for games to play. I have tired of the first person shooter that drew me back but that’s ok. Gaming now has stories. While not quite up there with the best Hollywood has to offer it’s easy to see that that’s where we are heading. Games are now events? Don’t agree? I refer you to the latest generation console launches. Microsoft sold 2 million consoles from launch till the end of December while Sony sold 4.2. That’s 6.2 million consoles shipped to customers in a little over a month. Steam, the PC based gaming store, had 7.5 million consecutive users over the Christmas holiday. Even if we assume that some people have access to all three platforms that is still millions of people enjoying gaming. With services like playstation + and Xbox live gaming has never been more social. No longer the image of the spotty teen hiding in their bedroom, afraid to face the world, gaming is, well, hip.

It is hard to predict where gaming will be when my children reach my age. So much has changed since the late seventies that I can barely believe it despite living through it. All I know is I will be there for as long as I can.

Gamer till I die.