Beat Saber

From the moment I first read about Beat Saber, I suspected it was going to be something I would love. Now that it’s finally available for Oculus Rift and I’ve spent some time with it, I can confirm that it’s every bit as good as I’d hoped.

Beat Saber is essentially a Virtual Reality rhythm game, although that description does little to convey what a ridiculously fun, engaging experience it is. The aim is to slash blocks, in time with music, with a pair of blades, within a highly stylised, neon-lit virtual environment.

The game’s developers describe Beat Saber as “a mashup of Guitar Hero and Fruit Ninja in VR”. The one factor they neglect to mention (presumably to try and avoid any legal wrangles with Lucasfilm) is that the pair of blades the player controls look uncannily like light sabers. Anyone with a passing interest in Star Wars will no doubt jump at the chance to wave around a pair of realistically rendered sabers while smashing cubes out of mid-air, and watching them shatter around you. The actual music featured in the game might be a bit more subjective, as the soundtrack consists entirely of loud, up tempo EDM. It’s the perfect soundtrack for the nature of the gameplay, but it might not be to everybody’s taste.

Beat Saber is without a doubt the most fun experience I’ve had in VR. It’s definitely a game that is perfectly suited to the medium. It’s just a shame that at this moment, the hardware required to run it (Beat Saber is currently available for Oculus Rift and HTV Vive, which in turn require a relatively powerful PC) makes it inaccessible to many gamers. However for anybody who does own one of those platforms, let’s be honest, the range of high quality VR experiences available right now is fairly limited. And with that in mind I really can’t recommend Beat Saber highly enough.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The latest chapter in the Star Wars saga has just been released, and naturally myself and my fellow geeks (aka my children) were at our local multiscreen for the opening night. This post isn’t a review as such, more a bit of a brain dump as these days, seeing a brand new Star Wars movie for the first time is always a bit of a strange experience for me. I grew up with the original trilogy and have seen episodes 4-6 so many times now that they hold no surprises for me whatsoever, so the prospect of brand new plot twists wrapped in such a familiar formula is always a bit… just… odd. It would be fair to say that The Last Jedi definitely has more plot twists than any other Star Wars movie so far.

I’m writing this the day after having seen The Last Jedi for the first time, and I’ve already spent more time this morning than is reasonable just thinking over everything that happened – at least the bits I could remember. It’s probably the most incident-packed SW movie, as well as the longest. That’s not necessarily a good thing; the second act did feel quite drawn out and there was definitely a good half hour in the middle where, if my phone had been turned on, I’d probably have been checking my email. But the first and third acts, wow… director Rian Johnson has succeeded in making a Star Wars movie that feels like a continuation of the saga that so many people know and love but at the same time makes brave, and exciting departures, from the well trodden formula. In a lot of ways it feels like the last part in a trilogy, rather than the middle, but I’m already looking forward to see how JJ Abrams will wrap things up in episode 9.

The Centre for Computing History, Cambridge

ET riding a Sinclair C5

Nestled in a small, nondescript industrial estate in Cambridge is the Centre for Computing History, a museum of sorts with a large collection of vintage computers, games consoles, peripherals, ET riding a Sinclair C5 (obviously) and more. Much of the collection can be used by visitors. It was interesting to see my iPad-literate son playing with (or attempting to) the first ever Mac, although neither of my kids were as fascinated as I was with the collection of 80s video games. I have to admit, playing with an original and fully-functioning Grandstand Astro Wars unit gave me a bit of a Proustian rush and actually made me quite emotional.

Logic gates

There’s more than just nostalgia on display here though, the centre has four learning zones where visitors can get involved in exercises from composing computer based music, to controlling light systems with a Raspberry Pi.

As well as the regular, more permanent exhibits the Centre also hosts a number of events; Hackathons, gaming nights, and computing festivals. There’s a list of upcoming events here.

Turing Ferranti machine



Star Wars: The Force Awakens

So it’s finally here. Brand new Star Wars. And tonight, three generations of Parker (me, my Dad and my son) saw it together. If you’re wondering why I’m talking about it in such grand terms, it’s because I’m a massive geek and, like many folks my age, the original Star Wars trilogy was a big part of my childhood. So getting to see a new entry in the series is kind of a big deal for me.

At this point, a couple of hours since the credits rolled, I’m still not sure exactly what I thought of it. I think it’s because, as it’s been a lifelong habit of mine to watch Star Wars movies over and over again, seeing a new one for the very first time is a bit strange. It’s like first listen of a new album you’ve been looking forward to hearing, the first pass is really just an introduction, the finer points only become evident further down the line. But I already know I like it more than all of the prequels, so that’s a good start… [update 30/12/15: just had a second viewing and I can confirm I absolutely love it]