What happened to No Man’s Sky?

Like a lot of people I had been looking forward to No Man’s Sky for some time. However I didn’t preorder it, and when it was announced that it would not be a multiplayer game I decided it wasn’t for me.

During the week of launch a friend of mine bought it. Having seen the opening of the game and then reading some articles online my wife thought it sounded like something she’d enjoy, something akin to minecraft in space. So I bought it for her as an anniversary gift (‘cos I’m romantic like that) and she’s been playing it on and off for the last week.

Now I will stress that besides a quick ten minute stint of a bit of mining and a bit of flying I have not played the game. I have however been excitedly following the progress of the game since E3 2015 and I’ve also seen my wife playing the game (a lot) for the past week. As far as I can tell the game whose progress I had been following and the game that she’s playing seem to only share graphics.

While the procedurally generated planets do have some variety, it seems the variety is largely in the things you don’t need to interact with. The main resources that you are required to mine seem to take on a fairly similar, if not exactly the same, appearance on all the worlds she’s visited. The fauna and flora beyond that all seem to only yield carbon and there seems to be no reason to interact with any of it, other than the financial reward for discovering new species.

The planets, at least the ones I’ve seen her play through seem quite sparse and very repetitive. Every building that she’s come across appears to be exactly the same as the last. Sometimes it has one of aliens in it with the choose your own adventure question, sometimes it’s a computer asking you to figure out the next number in a sequence and sometimes they’re devoid of life. The buildings themselves though seem to be exactly the same on every planet, in every galaxy that she’s visited.

One of the standout features was the ability to seamlessly leave a planet and travel through space and that works as previously demoed, but it seems vastly watered down from the experience I had been looking forward to. So far I’ve not seen a single space battle, and whilst there are other ships out there you don’t seem to be able to interact with them. The huge space stations are all identical and consist of just two rooms and a hangar with one alien at a desk and some other random aliens flying in and out. The sum total of interaction with other characters seems to consist of picking the right answer, buying resources, selling resources or buying their ship.

It just feels so unfinished. Part of me wondered in a game world universe so large perhaps she just hasn’t come across any of these events yet. So I read some reviews online to see what other people thought.

With an average score of just 65% – ignoring Eurogamer, who also published a video called “Where did No Man’s Sky go wrong?” despite recommending it – it seems I’m not alone in my criticism. The core mechanic of the game is mining resources to power and upgrade your suit, mining tool and ship. As a passive viewer it feels that the game’s unfathomably huge, open universe becomes merely a backdrop to a fundamentally tedious activity. One that ultimately has no reward except to make the tedious activity a bit quicker.

Once you start earning upgrades for your equipment, tasks like mining start feeling less like a tedious chore. There’s no worse modern game design convention than “this task sucks until you upgrade to make it suck less”, and that’s a convention No Man’s Sky is oddly invested in, sadly. — Alex Navarro (Giant Bomb)

It really feels like Hello Games invested all of their energies and innovation into building a vast game world and somewhere along the line forgot to actually add the game to it. I’m left feeling quite conflicted; part of me appreciates the enormity of what they have achieved. Creating this huge open-universe game where you can transition between the planet you’re on and the planet or moon that you’re looking up at without a loading screen is genuinely impressive.

However they must know that this is not the game that they had previously demoed. They must know that some people will have preordered it and will now be massively disappointed with what they have received. I hope that with the influx of cash they have surely received since launch that they can continue to patch the game. That they can add the factions, the meaningfully different ships, the space battles, maybe even some missions and I hope that one day they can make a multiplayer version of the game that they demoed, because after all that is the game that people were excited about.


No Man's Sky Refund
This is probably not what you want to see as the top search suggestion a week after release…

Pebble Review

Note: This post was originally published on iamianwright.com it’s been moved here for archival purposes.

What is a Pebble?

The Pebble smartwatch connects to your Android or iPhone handset via bluetooth and displays text messages, emails and other configurable alerts on it’s e-ink display. It’s the result of the most successful kick-starter project since the site’s launch. Pebble were originally looking for $100,000 but wound up raising a staggering $10 million during their campaign.

I thought it looked like a great product when I first saw the demo videos during the funding stage but due to a lack of funds I didn’t back it. I signed up to pre-order one in February this year and was contacted at the beginning of August to say that my Pebble was ready for me. It arrived about three weeks later and after paying around £25 in import duty it was in my grubby mitts.

It arrived in a very minimal package, just the watch and the proprietary USB charger in a long thin mailing box. The setup instructions are available online and in the companion apps for iOS and Android. Setup was almost instantaneous, download the app, open it, it asks for permission to connect on both devices and then you start configuring any IMAP accounts you want it to alert you to.

(NOTE: As I have an iPhone 5 the rest of the pebble review will be around the experience of pairing a pebble with iOS 6.)

Notifications

Notifications were the main reason I wanted a pebble. Text messages (SMS) and iMessages are displayed on the Pebble in full and they work flawlessly. I have been surprised at how handy it is and I wouldn’t want to be without my Pebble for this feature alone!

Like most people I get a lot of email, some of it is even important but soon after getting my first iPhone I disabled the email notifications as it became frustrating to get my phone out when it buzzed only to delete yet more spam or social media notifications. Pebble allows you to set up a number of IMAP accounts that it watches and then notifies you when new email is received. It vibrates and displays the first few lines of the message. For email notifications to work the Pebble app has to be running in the background on the iPhone. So far I have found that it doesn’t consistently alert me to emails but it’s hardly life or death.

You can set up notifications from any app to display on the Pebble by setting them to show on the lock screen in the Notification Center preferences of the iPhone. However at the moment this is a bit hit and miss. Pushover seems to work fairly consistently but Prowl refuses to play nice with the Pebble at all. The general consensus seems to be that iOS notifications should be improved in iOS7 and until then it’s a case of turning the settings on and off until they stick.

Pebble Apps

Pebble comes with a built in Music app that allows you to play, pause, skip forward and skip back through what is playing on your iPhone. It also works flawlessly, if nothing is currently playing it will start playing wherever you left off, whether you were in an album or playlist. There are no controls to navigate through your library so you’ll have to get your iPhone out if you fancy switching album or playlist. In it’s current incarnation I think it’s perfect for skipping the dud tracks on albums while commuting or walking when you might rather leave your phone out of sight. It’s also good in shuffle mode to check the name or artist of a track you’ve forgotten.

There’s an inbuilt Alarm Clock app that allows for multiple alarms. The alarm itself is silent as it just vibrates the watch against your wrist. I don’t really have any need for it as I don’t wear it to bed and have no need of alarms during the day but it’s a sensible addition.

There is one other app included although it only gets activated when you launch a compatible companion app on the iPhone. The Sports app works with iOS apps like RunKeeper to display information on the Pebble about your workout; elapsed time, miles covered and current pace. It also allows you to pause the workout without having to get your phone out. I have been using it to track my rides to work for the last week. I found just the act of tracking them to be quite motivational and being able to put my phone in my bag and start/stop the workout from my wrist makes it much more convenient.

The Pebble SDK has been available for a few months and there are some third party apps available. Even though I didn’t buy the pebble for apps, it was a fun to play Space Invaders on my watch although the buttons make it too uncomfortable and impractical to be any more than a novelty. I did also download Cave Worm, which is a clone of a game I spent many hours playing on the school computers during form time. It runs smoothly and is easily playable, in part because it requires only one button but again it becomes uncomfortable quickly.

It will be interesting to see what third-party developers will come up with as the install base increases.

Watchfaces

There are quite literally thousands of watchfaces available for the Pebble. The vast majority of them are created using online generators and as such are all much the same. There are some diamonds in the rough though, in the picture above I’m using Squared, I also really like the idea behind LinesWatch although it’s not easily legible. The built in Fuzzy Time face was part of the original draw for me as I’m a bit of a typography geek.

I cobbled together my own watchface with the generator and it was very simple but limiting in what you can achieve. The SDK is available and there seems to be quite an active community but I don’t have time to investigate it in detail at the moment.

In Use

Having not worn a watch for a few years it felt strange for the first day but I soon got used to it again. It’s light and comfortable on my wrist although I wonder if people with slimmer wrist might find it a little too large. The build quality is pretty much exactly what I expected, it’s not Apple’s level of industrial design but it looks good and it’s the first product from a small crowd funded startup. It’s smooth and sleek, the screen is excellent and clearly legible in all lighting conditions. It comes with a user-replacable silicone strap which I will be changing as I’ve always found they irritate my skin in the past. It’s a fairly standard size so there are plenty of options to customise the strap.

The vibrations are strong enough to get your attention but discreet enough not to alert everyone around you.  The battery life is quoted at around seven days and so far that seems in keeping with my experience. I had been concerned that it might kill my iPhone’s (already poor) battery life but it doesn’t seem to make a huge amount of difference and I’m still charging the phone each night.

I have received a couple of positive comments on my Pebble mostly due to the slightly peculiar watchface I’m using. It seems that most people have never heard of it but at least one person that I talked to about it asked where to buy one. I think the Pebble is understated enough that the majority of people are unlikely to remark upon it unless they recognise it.

My only real worry is scratching the face of the watch as it’s plastic. There are a number of companies offering wraps for Pebble and they also include a clear screen protector so I may invest in one of those.

Verdict

After my first week with it I’m really impressed with the Pebble and I wouldn’t willingly give it up. I’ve been fascinated by wearable technology since I was a teenager and it seems like this may be the first consumer priced step on that journey. I’m hopeful that the imminent release of iOS 7 will address some of the inconsistencies with notifications and possibly allow more communication from phone to pebble.

If the much rumoured Apple smart watch ever materialises then no doubt it will have a higher build quality and be more feature rich than the Pebble but I doubt it will be priced around $150 nor will it last a week on one charge.

Pebble offers an attractive, well-priced and open platform to those interested in wearable tech. It’s probably not for everyone but it suits me and I’m looking forward to integrating Pushover in future projects purely for geek value.

Car Buying Compromises

Note: This post was originally published on iamianwright.com it’s been moved here for archival purposes.

Performance, economy and price, you can’t have all three, there’s always a compromise. The difficulty comes in deciding where to compromise and figuring out which is best in the long run. For example lets budget £3,000 for a car, it needs four wheels and preferably four seats.

Compromising performance gets you a 2002 Ford Fiesta 1.4 Diesel, 64mpg and 68bhp. Compromising economy gets you a 1996 Skyline 2.5 Turbo, around 20mpg and over 250bhp. Compromising price gets you a 2006 Alpina D3 2.0 Diesel, 47.9mpg and 200bhp but for three times the budget at £9,000.

Personally I wouldn’t drive the Fiesta, couldn’t afford to run the Skyline or buy the Alpina but they illustrate the point nicely.  I’ve been looking at the total cost of ownership over a few years for a variety of cars that I’ve been considering. What I’ve found is that it’s cheaper over three years to buy a less economical car than to pay the premium for the “economical performance cars”. It’s food for thought so now I just have to make a decision.

GPS Quadcopter Servers

Note: This post was originally published on iamianwright.com it’s been moved here for archival purposes.

Wow. Hack a Day made mention of The Pirate Bay’s suggestion that they were going to turn to Low Orbit Server Stations as a way to avoid being shutdown in future.

With the development of GPS controlled drones, far-reaching cheap radio equipment and tiny new computers like the Raspberry Pi, we’re going to experiment with sending out some small drones that will float some kilometers up in the air.

Linked from the comments on The Pirate Bay’s blog was a project that created temporary filesharing networks in public spaces using a swarm of GPS quadcopters.

It’s fascinating to me how far we have come in such a short space of time.  They made it clear that The Pirate Bay’s project is at it’s very beginning but what an amazing concept.  I’ve been wanting to build a GPS Quadcopter for a while, with a view to shooting video and stills but this really intrigues me.

I presume that similar things could be achieved, albeit over a much shorter distance, using an Arduino with a wireless shield and an SD card for storage. There is already a very active community building copters and gliders powered by arduinos so adding on the ability to run a simplistic fileserver would presumably not be beyond the realms of possibility.

The problem, as ever, is powering the device.  Being airborne the logical choice would be solar power but as far as I understand it we are not yet at a place where high efficiency solar panels are plentiful or affordable.  There is an interesting article from DIY Drones which was published two years ago and concludes.

Considering these factors, building a bigger solar airplane is probably harder than building a small solar airplane. Based on the successes referenced above, I must conclude that it is possible, but not easy (or cheap).

Hopefully I’ll have some time to research this further and find out how the technology has progressed over the last couple of years.

Photo Credit: Mad Props UK Aerial Photography and Aerial Video