WOMEN of SCIENCE!

Women of Science

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Harrison Ford Crash Lands After Solo Flight

Strap Harrison Ford down

(In reference to THIS…)

[Update] Apparently he got out okay….

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Goodbye, Mr Spock

RIP Leonard Nimoy

“Of all the souls I have encountered on my travels, his was the most…human.”

Captain James T Kirk, Stardate 8210.3 (2285)

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Girl Gamers! Present your Gaming Certificate Now!

Gamer Certificate

LOVE this! Sexism in any sphere is NOT OKAY, guys. The “Don’t Be A Dick” rule applies in life as well as gaming.

(image shamelessly stolen from TheMarySue.com. Click the image to see the artist’s other amazing work)

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RIP Casey Kasem

Voice actors are an amazing breed of people. Being a mimic of small repute they’re probably my favourite breed of actor. I found it impossible to grow up in the 1980’s without developing a fine ear for vocal performances after listening to the many hundreds of cartoons characters we were blessed with back then. Many cartoons came from the same studios so you’d often hear the voice of Optimus Prime, for instance, pop up in Jem, Visionaries, Dungeons and Dragons, G.I.Joe, etc. Once you learned their names, they became celebrities just as big as the faces on TV and Film but with that added mystery of maybe not even knowing what they looked like!

One of the biggest names in voice-acting of that era, and in fact earlier and right up until his tragic passing a month ago, was Casey Kasem.

My fellow Brits can be forgiven for not recognising the name but unless you’ve been living under a rock since the 1960s I absolutely guarantee you’ve ALL heard his voice at some point:

Shaggy Rogers*

Shaggy was far and away his longest serving and best known role (1969-2009!) but I’ll always know him best for his classic performances in the very first Transformers cartoon where he voiced Teletraan 1 (the Autobot’s omnipresent computer), Bluestreak, and this fan-favourite red-horned jerk:

Cliffjumper (Transformers)

(Fun Fact: Fellow Scooby Doo alumni, Frank Welker aka Fred Jones, also worked on Transformers, providing the voice of ultimate villain, Megatron!)

He was also a very popular and well-known radio disc-jockey in America – the very definition of a ‘household name’ – alongside other greats such as the incredible Wolfman Jack. To put him into context for Brits, perhaps the best British personality similar to Kasem is the legendary Tony Blackburn. Being such a well-known voice, Kasem would pop up in other places as well…

Himself (Ghostbusters)(from 1:05 – 1:21)

That brilliant, brilliant montage sequence is perhaps only made so brilliant by the addition of Casey’s unforgettably slick vocals. (Fun Fact: Frank Welker voiced Dan Akroyd’s character, Ray Stantz, in the classic cartoon series, The Real Ghostbusters! Those guys got around!)

Ladies and gentlemen: the man, the legend, Casey Kasem.

Himself (Radio DJ)

(April 27, 1932 – June 15, 2014)

RIP

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*Wait. Shaggy’s last name is “Rogers”? He’s called “Shaggy Rogers”? Ok, One: how is it possible I didn’t know that? Also, Two: thanks to Austin Powers’ second cinematic outing Americans are probably all aware that “shag” is a sexual slang-word in the UK. What they probably don’t know is that ‘Roger’ is also a slang-word for sex! “Roger” is a term that is becoming less common, and was always used more in England than the wider UK, but yeah…that character’s name now reads as Sex(adjective) Sex(verb). Sexy Sexington. Fucky fucks. Pumpy Lovehammer. Shaggy Rogers. Wow.
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Play Lego Marvel Super Heroes Now!

In the 80’s, if you’d told my mother that I’d still be playing with Lego at 38 years of age, she’d have laughed, destroyed you for mocking her child, then laughed again as she walked away from your smouldering ashes. But here I am, much to her presumed disappointment, playing the latest PC version of the brick-building/Geek IP fusion, Lego Marvel Super Heroes! Sorry, Mum, but it’s awesome!

This all began in 2005 with Lego Star Wars, at that time one of the greatest ideas ever to hit gaming. The formula was simple: re-tell the Star Wars prequel trilogy using Lego figures, in a Lego world, shot-through with gentle, family-friendly humour. It became the 13th best-selling game of 2005. A “surprise hit”, apparently! A sequel focusing on the far more beloved original trilogy soon followed, to even greater acclaim. One more Star Wars game later (a fusion of both Star Wars titles into one mega Saga edition, plus a wealth of new content) they soon branched out into other famous film properties. And thus was a monster franchise born!

  1. Lego Star Wars: The Video Game
  2. Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy
  3. Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga
  4. Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures
  5. Lego Batman: The Video Game
  6. Lego Indiana Jones 2: The Adventure Continues
  7. Lego Harry Potter : Years 1-4
  8. Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars
  9. Lego Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game
  10. Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-8
  11. Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes
  12. Lego The Lord of the Rings
  13. Lego Marvel Super Heroes

That list reads like a map of my soul, probably explaining why I own most of them!

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The series appears to be still going strong, despite relatively few innovations to the  original pioneering formula. Oh they’ve added open-world hubs, RTS-lite segments and expanded the mini-figure’s abilities a little, but you’ll still be destroying absolutely everything in a level to appease your stud-collecting OCD (play a few of these and you’ll probably develop it), to unlock new characters with new abilities to open new parts of the level to gain more studs to unlock new abilities…

That we aren’t heartily sick of these games by now rests almost entirely on each game’s immense charm. Also, British developers Traveller’s Tales work very hard to ensure that each game meets the most ardent fan expectations in terms of characterisation and world-trivia. And hey, destroying Lego creations never gets old.

It’s Lego without the pain of accidentally standing on a wayward brick or having to tidy it all away when you’re finished!

Lego Marvel Super Heroes: The Game Wot You Can Play!

Lego Marvel Super Heroes

I’ve been anticipating the Marvel Super Heroes game since the initial announcement. I’m a life-long fan of Marvel comics so I have a huge expectation for this game to do the proper justice to characters I’ve known all my life. However, if you’re a UK resident there’s been a bizarre delay to getting your hands upon this gem.

Publishers Warner Brothers (who own long-time Marvel rivals DC, so no conflict of interest there at all, eh readers?) have delayed the UK release until the 15th of November despite the game already being released for our colonial cousins. However…thanks to the miracle of globalisation and digital purchasing from other countries, the game is available to UK residents on Steam if you buy the license code from Brazilian website, Nuuvem.com.br. The site is entirely in Spanish so make friends with Google Translate. Oh, and don’t pay any attention to the prices, they’re listed in Portuguese dollars; Paypal will translate that into your local currency. Not only that but it’s cheap as chips, too! I paid £13:41. (The price will vary according to the exchange rate on any given day; it was 4 pence cheaper the day before) Considering Amazon UK is charging £17.99 for the pre-order, and you can play the game two weeks before the official release, this is an incredibly attractive option!

Since it’s taken me a week to write this article I made sure to jot down a few first impressions.

Firstly, the game is gorgeous. Reflective surfaces abound beneath some truly beautiful lighting. I’m not sure what, if anything has been upgraded since Lego Batman 2 – itself a very handsome game – but this game simply looks more attractive. There’s a level set in Asgard that mimics the look of the films to a staggering degree; an establishing fly-over showing off that gloriously coloured city-and-starscape to breath-taking effect. But within levels, too, so much of the technology to be found glows with neon-lighting, radiating vivid rainbow colours across the surrounding architecture.

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Animations are similarly rich. Every character – and there are 150 of the blighters to find and collect – has been imbued with unique movement and style.  Incidental animations, such as the many platforms and interactive structures scattered seemingly everywhere, have been masterfully put together. Yesterday I watched a series of robotic arms built a jet plane in an animation that took nearly a full minute to complete. It was very similar to that moment in Iron Man 2 where Stark lands on a platform and, while walking into the building, robot arms swing up and precisely dismantle his armour piece by piece. Very, very cool, Traveller’s Tales.

What’s even cooler than that, though, are the moments where bricks become particles that flow around the screen in pre-defined patterns. Amazingly demonstrated in the first level (and demo) during the encounter with Sandman, who constructs a ‘body’ form composed of these particles, it is beautifully demonstrated in the Magneto boss-fights as well. These are jaw-hit-floor moments which show just how far the Lego series has evolved and how much money and technical skill is now lavished on these games.

Lego Batman 2 was the first Lego game to feature a vast open world as a between-levels hub, presumably to allow flying characters enough space to do so. Lego Marvel continues this trend, but where Gotham was nightmarishly dark and fantastical, Lego Marvel gives us a bright, gloriously sunny rendition of a contemporary New York. It feels bigger, too, although I’ve a feeling that’s perception rather than reality. Maybe the sunshine makes it feel less claustrophobic? As with Lego Gotham, Lego New York is packed with games, surprises, races and other challenges. It’s quite possible to get side-tracked from the main story missions just walking/driving/flying around the streets and seeing what you can find.

Possible to get side-tracked? I say thee NAY! Recommended!

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A word on flying; In Lego Batman 2 flight was controlled differently depending on if you were indoors or out in the hub. In Marvel, they’ve developed a system that tries to do both. It’s slightly clumsy, and some functions have been insanely bound to the same button; fly downwards and land share a button, and all too often you’ll press to go down but end up landing instead. When it works, it’s wonderful. But players will have to get used to the idiosyncrasies and be mindful that these frustrations exist and will occur often.

Marvels Comics fans will feel right at home in Lego’s world. There are enough characters and references to please just about everyone, although some decisions, such as power sets and costumes, are confusing (or just plain WRONG!) to those of us immersed in Comic history. Spider-Man is unable to operate computers, for instance (WRONG!). This is nonsensical given his well-known intellect, and the paradoxical inclusion of Horizon Labs (his most recent employers in the comics) as a landmark in the city. Also weird: Cyclops and Jean Grey are depicted in classic mid-90’s attire, Cyclops wearing his blue and yellow circa Claremont’s Blue-and-Gold team era. Meanwhile Archangel is depicted in his much more modern X-Force uniform, black with silver trim, which makes no sense considering he’d have been blue-with-neon-pink trim in that era. Havok’s costume is bang-up-to-date. For me this ruins immersion slightly: I’d have preferred Lego’s world (Universe 1390, as RPS have wonderfully named it) to have presented a consistent time-frame, rather than a pick-n-mix plethora of developer’s favourites.

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Speaking of which, many characters now have multiple costume identities on the same character icon: a first for the series as far as I’m aware. Iron Man has about six or seven, each one conferring different abilities according to which movie-variant armour is depicted (again, very cool). Cyclops has one more to unlock which I’m hoping is a more modern variant. All in all, though, these are minor gripes and are plain churlish when you consider there’s such an enormous variety of characters, looks and abilities to choose from, my favourite part of any Lego game. It’s the first game since Marvel: Ultimate Alliance to have presented so many of Marvel’s brilliant characters within one game and for that alone I’d recommend it to every Marvel fan out there.

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(Gaming note: it’s possible to select new characters to romp around with in-between missions but you can’t access the select screen using hold-Y until you open the option first by visiting one of the shield base-stations scattered around the city and changing your character there. The game seems to be steering you to do the story missions first using their pre-defined character choices but it’s easy to ignore that and go do your own thing once you’ve visited a base-station and chosen another character.)

I’m really enjoying the game, and there’s so much I haven’t even mentioned! It ticks so many boxes for me as a fan, in ways that the DC-powered Batman 2 just couldn’t hope to reach.  It’s perfect for kids…and adults defined by their inner-children! It’s got great co-operative play, perfect for enjoying it with younger children or with a similarly geeky girlfriend, should you be so blessed. It’s just fun. Oh, and these guys also show up at some point…(I’ll be talking more about them soon!)

1397570_10200307285963222_66139137_oI AM [Lego] GROOT!

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Console vs PC – FOV Explained

PC Gamers suffer in this world of Console-led game development. Although most console games are constructed using PCs, in general they are optimised for those devices, mostly ignoring the capabilities and requirements of the more generally capable PCs. So when games are released multi-platform, or start on console and later get ‘ported’ to the PC, there’s always good cause to worry if enough of the PC’s unique technical and player requirements have been taken into account.

One of the most frustrating issues plaguing PC ports is that of FOV, or Field of View/Vision. On consoles this generally locked at a 55/60 degree angle. But on PC this narrow view looks really claustrophobic and can actually cause headaches and/or dizziness in susceptible players. We tend to prefer an FOV setting of around 90 degrees.

It had always been something I’d been aware of and either lived with or found a fix for (part of the fun of being a PC owner is hacking around in settings!). Today I tried to find a fix for Red Faction: Armageddon. You can find the fix here.

The Red Faction games are notoriously poor at providing FOV options on PC. This is the third in the series, Guerilla. I played the entire game like this, hating just about every minute of the pinched perspective. But lets not pick on poor old Red Faction - this is very common among PC versions of console-targeted games.

The Red Faction games are notoriously poor at providing FOV options on PC. This is the third in the series, Guerilla. I played the entire game like this, hating just about every minute of the pinched perspective. But lets not pick on poor old Red Faction – this is very common among PC versions of games developed with consoles foremost in developer’s priorities.

Whilst there, I discovered that someone helpful had posted links to the following Youtube videos, where someone very talented explained clearly and concisely the science behind FOV and why it was a problem for PC gamers. Hurrah! I understood that there was a difference, and which FOV setting I preferred, but up until this point I’d never really understood why. Now I do: Double hurrah! Vids below, for your pleasure:

The thing I took away from watching these, apart from the clarity of understanding precisely why PC gamers get so wound up about FOV, is just how poor many game developers are at understanding this: they really should know better. But all too often games are provided on PC with this very basic technical point completely neglected, meaning we have to wait for either a patch (unlikely) or some clever player to hack the game in some way that means we can adjust the FOV to our comfort (what usually happens). PC Gamers often get accused of superiority complexes, or told that they’re just “whining” about these things, but the science behind FOV is real, provable and so simple to understand that it makes a mockery of any game that fails to include an adjustable option for it. A game designed to work on a display 10 feet away from the player needs to be configured slightly differently for players who sit only 1 or 2 foot away from their displays. It’s not rocket surgery!

Sort it out, Game Developers!

(NB: If you’d like to understand more of the issues that plague console games on PC, and some of the amazingly helpful suggestions that developers could do to make ALL gamers happier, RockPaperShotgun has a fabulous series of articles cataloguing many of them.)

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