I love moral ambiguity in games. I love characters who struggle with intense yet believable emotions, and who are conflicted by their actions and beliefs to the point that they nearly destroy themselves. I love the simple humanity of this, and I love it when this is set against a bleak, gritty setting that offers scope for exploring the darker side of human nature without being too pretentious. I’ll take a plot where simple people tear themselves apart over one in which heroes save the world any day.

I finished playing Iji the other day and it fits that characterization well. Here’s the trailer:

And, here’s why I liked it:

Plot & Character

The game begins with the world’s destruction in a massive alien assault. Any hope for a happy ending is gone before you it has a chance to materialize.

Iji wakes up in a lab in an underground base, having been modified by now-dead scientists with game necessary but plot irrelevant nanotech. She’s confused, lost, and angry at the world in a hopeless, self defeating way. Even worse, she shortly discovers that her brother is still alive, but, though he tries to help her, has become hardened and cold, and expects Iji to get over her fears and save the world.

The basic premise isn’t particularly novel, but the way Iji plays out really works. The insanity of the situation she’s in isn’t dismissed as irrelevant with a short angst session early in the game, rather, she breaks down and cries from stress at various occasions, and it just works. She’s not a hero type, she’s just a person, stretched to the emotional limit.

I just loved this – I can’t recall ever seeing a game in which the hero breaks down and cries over their victims. Probably no surprise given the constant reminders that she’s slowly turning into a killing machine. As you play, you pick up logbooks left behind by aliens; early in the game you find a diary entry in which an alien scout waxes lyrical about his lady love, stationed elsewhere in the facility. You can imagine that this doesn’t turn out well.

Anyway, I won’t go into any more detail for fear of spoiling things, but this was one of the most emotionally satisfying games I’ve played in a very long time.

Level design

Most of the levels are somewhat linear with occasional secret areas. What’s interesting is that you can approach them in several ways. By no means do you have to go on a rampage, killing everything in sight. In fact, it may well be to your advantage not to (certainly, in the later levels you’re almost forced to just run away from things lest they set you on fire). Furthermore, the game’s weapon options allow for a variety of different tactics in confronting your enemies.

Even more interestingly, though, you can play the game as a pacifist. That is, you can make it through the whole game without killing more than two of the game’s several hundred aliens. Unsurprisingly, this results in the plot taking a fairly different direction.

Gameplay

With a range of different weapons combined with various special abilities and an attribute point system, Iji creates a wide range of options for the connoisseur of killing. Different weapon choices require different styles of play, and not all weapons are effective on all enemies. Multiple weapons aren’t special in themselves, but few games use them to produce diversity of play in the way that Iji manages to.

In some games, only the boss fights require much thinking and observation in order to determine how to defeat a given set of enemies, but in Iji, this is frequently the case. Even on normal difficulty, you have to use your brain.


Iji takes about 3-5 hours to completely, and is definitely worth the time if you can find it. It’s a free download for Windows at Remar Games.


Oh, and the music’s pretty awesome – make sure you grab the high quality soundtrack. Particularly the closing credits track by Lifeforce.

x-posted in a bunch of places


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When a supernova occurs, it releases a burst of neutrinos and gamma rays that would obliterate life anywhere in the vicinity – within a couple of hundred light years, apparently. There’s no obvious supernova candidates nearby, so this isn’t something to worry about – it’s more of an amusing science fiction plot.

When a binary supernova occurs (two stars circling into one another), gamma rays are concentrated in two beams shooting out along the axis around which the two stars are rotating. Because it’s so concentrated, the range at which it is harmful is much greater – apparently, some researchers suggest that a late Ordovician mass extinction was due to something like this.

Anyway, the picture is of a binary system about 8000 lyrs away. It’s rather a pretty barrel to be looking down, really..

via Cosmos. Read the article for more interesting details..


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Prosthetic limbs are another harbinger of the future. They’re becoming increasingly sophisticated, and it looks like IEEE Spectrum is going to run a special issue on them in February.

There’s an interesting article up now about the ‘Luke’ arm, named for Luke Skywalker’s prosthetic in Empire Strikes Back. Check it out in this video.

What’s really cool is the range of control mechanisms available – gone are cumbersome mechanical arrangements, replaced by controls based on nerve signals, twitching related muscles, or even underused muscle groups such as toes. The video below shows an arm based entirely on neural feedback – the patient doesn’t need to learn special commands – his prosthetic responds to messages from his brain similarly to a real one.

Another article discusses cosmeses – coverings for the arm mechanics designed to make them look real. Unfortunately, there’s no pictures, though from the description of “silver-black carbon fiber, shimmering with a pattern of subtle scales” sounds pretty damned awesome.So far, no one has replaced their body parts with prosthetics voluntarily, but given their progress and potential, I give it at most ten years.


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I’ve always loved the name ‘rail gun’ – of all the various futuristic weapons concepts I’ve encountered, it’s probably the most down to earth name. And, since it’s based on an idea you can replicate at home with a bunch of wire and a battery, it’s always seemed one of the most practical.

The US Navy’s been interested in rail guns for use on their various capital ships – they’re aiming for a 64 MJ version that will be able to lob projectiles up to 200 miles.

A recent article in the MIT Technology Review describes a 10 MJ gun which is nonetheless scarily impressive. Particularly because, at over 2 kilometres a second, a 3 kg slug is travelling fast enough to cause flakes of aluminium on it to spontaneously combust, leaving an impressive fiery tail.

Video


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