Welcome once more to Teacups & 1UPs, a fortnightly-ish column in which I talk about games and pair them with tea. Last intallment was the first of my three-part special, where I talked about single player games at PAX Australia, and now it’s time for part two, which is all about games in a medium I’m particularly excited about: virtual reality.
I first tried VR last year at PAX Aus with the breathtaking Earthlight (which I returned to this year) and it was love at first sight. There’s something so special about stepping into another world and experiencing a narrative that encompasses your environment. So, of course, I jumped at every opportunity I was given to try out the VR games being shown at PAX this year.
Welcome back to Teacups & 1UPs, a somewhat-regular column in which I talk about games and pair them with tea. Today is going to be a little bit different from usual, as it’s going to be the first of a three-part PAX Aus special, all about the indie games I picked up and tried out while in Melbourne. Each part will briefly look at a bunch of games I tried and liked, rather than examining one in-depth.
First up: single player games, followed by virtual reality and finally, local multiplayer—because there’s not much I love more than kicking my friends’ asses in ridiculous indie games. Of course, there will also be tea.
So, single player. Leave your friends at home, because it’s time for an adventure.
As some of you may know, Shane (my other half and sometimes blogger for Tosche Station) has been working out in New Mexico for the last few months, and since fall break was this week, I traveled out to see him, and we took the opportunity to investigate some of the geeky offerings that New Mexico has to offer, and I have been dispatched to share them with you.
We stayed mostly in the Albuquerque area, but the first thing we did was visit the Very Large Array, the world’s largest radio telescope. It’s recently been upgraded into the Expanded Very Large Array (they’re really sticking with the imaginative names here), in order to revamp and bring the technology up to state of the art. Made up of 27 giant antennas that can be moved around three 21 mile long tracks, the VLA also serves as the control center and part of the Very Large Baseline Array, an array of telescopes that connects radio telescopes from Hawaii to the Caribbean to create one giant, continental radio telescope. You can tour the VLA most days if you’re in the area, but if you don’t find yourself in New Mexico, you can take a virtual tour via the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s website. If you do go in person, know that once you get outside of Socorro, you should go ahead and turn off your cell phone; you’ll drain your battery as it searches for a signal, and when you get to the VLA, you have to turn off your cell phone and any other devices that might transmit radio signals, as they can interfere with observations (though turning your cell phone to airplane mode will allow you to be able to take pictures at the site).
Early this morning, the crew of the International Space Station reached out with its robotic arm and captured SpaceX’s Dragon module. The capture and eventual docking marks the first privately driven cargo delivery to the space station, something that could change the landscape of manned spaceflight.
The ramifications are potentially huge. If SpaceX can make these deliveries reliably, it frees NASA’s budget and brainpower to focus on other projects. Perhaps a high-capacity launch vehicle to send something like the Orion capsule beyond Low Earth Orbit? Of course, SpaceX still has some hurdles to clear in order to become that reliable. First and foremost, it’s got to figure out why one of its Falcon 9 engines failed during Sunday’s launch. Still, this is huge for SpaceX and for NASA. Further progress can get NASA out of the cargo and crew shuttling business and into more Final Frontier kind of exploration.
“As long as there are history books, Neil Armstrong will be included in them,” said Charles Bolden.“As we enter this next era of space exploration, we do so standing on the shoulders of Neil Armstrong. We mourn the passing of a friend, fellow astronaut and true American hero.”
There’s a few dozen celebrating mission control members at JPL right now as Curiosity, the newest and biggest rover from NASA, has safely gone wheels-down on Mars. The absolutely crazy, insane landing procedure looked like something out of a Michael Bay film, but the engineers at JPL and NASA have pulled it off.
Curiosity is the most advance rover to set wheels on Mars. It’s intricate and complex science equipment will hopefully be able to give us a glimpse as to the history of water on the Red Planet and whether or not it was ever capable of supporting life and, more importantly, whether life has ever been there. Here’s one of Curiosity’s first images from Gale Crater.
To celebrate the occasion, Curiosity quoted the philosopher Wheaton
I’m safely on the surface of Mars. GALE CRATER I AM IN YOU!!! #MSL
I always get chills when watching this video. It may not have been readily apparent to those watching at the time, but Apollo 11 nearly had to abort the landing attempt on three occasions. The first two were caused by program alarms when the computer’s processor became overloaded. The third happened as the navigation system directed the lander towards a boulder-filled crater, forcing commander Neil Armstrong to prolong the landing attempt and find a safe landing zone. When you hear “sixty seconds,” it’s CAPCOM Charlie Duke alerting the entire world that if they don’t touch down in a minute, the abort sequence will initialize.
But they landed, thanks to the teamwork at mission control, the watchful eye of Michael Collins, the guidance of Buzz Aldrin, and the cool of Neil Armstrong. On July 20, 1969 with seventeen seconds of fuel remaining, humankind set foot on the Moon.
And we’ve got a little bit of space history made today.
The Dragon Module, a crew and cargo capsule designed by Elon Musk’s SpaceX program, has just docked with the International Space Station. This is the first docking the multinational station and a private space vehicle, marking a huge step forward for low-Earth orbit space travel.
At 3:44 AM EDT Elon Musk and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 finally blasted off the launchpad today and began what may be a new era in spaceflight. For the SpaceX team, it had been a long and bumpy road to get to this point. Several setbacks pushed the launch date deep into May. At the last possible moment on a launch attempt last Saturday morning, the sequence was aborted when a pressure discrepancy was spotted by the computer in the number five Merlin 1C engine.
Today, however, things went off without a hitch.
After the launch and separation, NASA and the SpaceX crew watched as the Dragon supply and crew module successfully separated from the Falcon 9 rocket and deployed its solar array, another enormous milestone for the program.
Today kicks off a roughly two-week mission for the Dragon module that, if all goes well, will lead to the first docking between the International Space Station and a private space vessel. In the macro view, a successful Falcon 9 and Dragon program means that NASA has a much more affordable crew and cargo transport vehicle that frees them from dependency on the Russian Soyuz. Success could even mean that NASA has the freedom to work on something even greater, perhaps a heavy launch vehicle that can deliver crew and cargo beyond low Earth orbit.
Engineers have spent the last few days looking over the number five Merlin 1C engine and have determined the Falcon 9 can be cleared for another launch attempt tomorrow morning, only a few days after the latest scrub.
With any luck, at 3:44AM EDT the mission can resume and we’ll find out if we’re one big step closer towards a new crew transport vehicle.