Spoiler Alert!


FFS now RPS is making me spend money on music.

Just as an aside KG mentions that blokey from Art Brut has done a side project about superheroes. I go look. I listen – for free – to all the tracks. Over and over.  I find myself captivated by Spoiler Alert! and have actually spent real internet monies on their fantastic EP. I now love Booster Gold, of whom previously I had indeed “never heard”.   Yeah… they deserved my money, but they got it cos they didn’t make me give it to them. Odd innit?

Cover art for the EP by Spoiler Alert

Anyway, it can’t be Eddie Argos from Art Brut –according to his blog he’s far too busy.

I am also currently the top scorer on all three tracks of that EP on Audiosurf.  That makes me happy.  I am less happy that it’s cos I am the only person who’s played them.  Curse you’seresreress.


Some time later I got an email saying I’d been dethroned on Audiosurf and no longer held the high score for Booster Gold.  I mean, hooray that someone else played it, but still.  I’ve won that back now.  I missed that I’d been beaten on Blue Beetle as well.  At first I thought that maybe it was because I’d posted about it, and that maybe my blogging was having an influence on the world.  No, of couse not.  It was bloody Kieron Gillen again.  I wondered at first if it was him that had actually beaten my scores.  No, of course not.  He just subtly influences his minions by mentioning the band in The Sunday Papers on RPS.





Machine as hero


So Obama cancelled the Constellation program apparently and there’s no going to the moon in 2020 for NASA.  That utterly utterly SUXXXXXORS!!!!  It’s great if there’s some anger about this decision.  It seems the opposite of hope really, though cancelling something is “change” I suppose.  However, I’m angry about some of the things that have been said against robots.

Stephen Colbert interviewed Neil deGrasse Tyson on 8th April 2010 (f you don’t know how to watch that watch this or use google and sort your own life out)  The two COMPLETELY BRILLIANT people both of whom I love express surprise that Obama would do such a thing after  He said “We will restore science to its rightful place”  in his inaugural address.  However, there are those in the space science community who have been saying for years that putting people into space is not really science.  That the science is done better by robots.  For these people, putting science at the heart of NASA would mean ditching the space penises and their jock pilots so that we can get on with the geology.  No, I’m not referencing or linking to anyone.

So Obama could have been sending a coded message that peopled space flight was not real science.  Well, he didn’t really.  The other half of that sentence is about healthcare, and at the time I assumed he was referring to things like climate change and evolution.  Searching just now I couldn’t find any reference to the words “space” “moon” or “NASA” in the speech.  What does it matter?  There’s more to space exploration than geology.

There are those who say that NASA should also be providing us with what we want.  These people wanted the FACE ON MARS investigated.  “We’re” paying for it, make it fun for us.  Exploration isn’t just about finding interesting science, it’s about finding amazing places and views.  No, I’m not referencing or linking to anyone.

Neil deGrasse Tyson said that we need astronauts to be the inspiration for the future.  That they’re the heros that we looked up to when we were little and are the reason we’re interested in space in the first place.  That no-one can idolise or be inspired by a robot.  Well I bloody was.

I was inspired by Viking Landers.  I was too little to really remember the last Apollo missions.  I sort of remember the Apollo-Soyuz meeting up in space over Cadburys hot chocolate.  Landing on Mars!!! With pictures?!?  I mean, MARS!!!! THE ACTUAL MARS!!!!! I also loved Vikings, so I guess it was a double bonus.

I was in the middle of this post when I RPS alerted me that Warren Ellis has writted this.  He say that spaceflight is clearly vital yep and yep.  Eggs, baskets.  “The dinosaurs died because they did not have a space program” (no idea who said that first oh it turns out someone mentions it in the comments and attributes it to Larry Niven.  It should be a trite statement hongu).  People seem to think that the money spent on space programs is put into a rocket and fired at the sun.  That somehow shuttle launches are fuelled using equal weights of dead HIV children and the tears of baby seals.  Actually the money gets given to real people who spend it on food, rent, cinema tickets, phonecalls, and the tears of baby seals.  So fur-Q if that’s your argument.

I am passionate about people going into space, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to slag off robots.  They’re a companion species.  We do things they can’t, they do things we can’t.  They’re like dogs.  I was inspired by K9 an’all.  I like robots, but that doesn’t mean I want to fuck all of them.  You might think that’s the sort of over the top rant I say all the time, but apparently:

“The only people clamouring for space launches to Mars to recover the wandering robot skateboard currently stuck in a sandtrap there are, well, the people who want to make it their android whore.”

I can only assume he wants to be fucked by a Saturn 5.  Maybe he wants Buzz to come back avec his soapy fish? I’d have thought that if anyone wanted to bring them back it’d be to put them in the Smithsonian.  Don’t think we should though.  We should leave them right where they are, with a view to putting a plaque next to them.  We should be planning to build the visitors’ centre and the gift shop.  (Skateboard though – really?  Sigh.  I suppose that makes Warren Ellis is a lemur who writes shopping lists then).

clip from XKCD comic

How can you not be inspired by the tenacity of Spirit and Oppotunity? And gods peed the Mariners, Pioneers, and Voyagers.  So far from home.  Our brave metallic explorers.

Would you rather have the child of a god or that of some acne-scarred artisan?  Which child would you rather be?  Jumping through fire is good for you anyway.  Games are good for you, because they are harder than not doing them.  It’s that old protestant work ethic that could have ruined my slacker dream were I not able to subvert it towards something you might think is pointless.

Why pretend to conquer worlds when you could really be stacking shelves?  Why live in a fantasy of power and importance when you could er… well I’m sure you can work out where that’s going.  So yes Good Works and helping the less fortunate and eating a great meal and sex and sunshine are all great.  They make us feel good.  That’s because of chemicals and electricity in our heads.  Working, succeeding, failing, saving every day in the fictional worlds that we also inhabit triggers the same feelings and they are ultimately the same chemicals and electricity.  Have you looked up lately?  I mean, it’s fucking vast out there and so whatever you’re doing with your time it hardly makes much odds.

Well I seem to have said that.  Right.   Last October we were forced to move house.  It was a bad time, loss of control.  Loss of a home.  Loss of stability.  Lots to do…


There’s only so many days you can face booting up the computamabob and watch as Firefox opens up the many, many tabs of Gumtree ads and estate agent websites.  Only so many times you can cycle between “why am I wasting my time looking at these houses when I haven’t got a job?” and “why am I wasting my time looking for a job when I haven’t got a house?”  Only so many times you can wake screaming in the night shaking with rage and bellow “WHY GOD DID YOU GIVE ME THIS IRON CLAW INSTEAD OF A HAND?  YOU SHALL PAY FOR THIS AND THEN YOU SHALL DIE!!!!!!” before you realise that it’s time to take a break, take stock, and take it out on the pixels that live at the bottom of the garden.  Er I mean hurt virtual people.

Evil Genius is a god-game/base-builder er… it’s a game where you are the villian in a hodge-podge Spy-Fi comedy parody world.  It’s very much like Theme Hospital but with poison-gas traps.  You build your secret base under a mountain, with locker rooms for minions, a generator, a research lab, training… all the stuff you need to build an evil empire.  The bits of machinery are sometimes funny in themselves.  You’ll be dogged, DOGGED I TELLS YA, by loads of stupid tourists and secret agents.  So you build hotels and casinos to distract them, and traps to catch the unwary.  Oh yes the traps… SUCH FUN!  Setting it up so that the FOOLS get blown around and then… shall we say… removed?  No, let’s say “KILLED” and THEN removed to the morgue in a body bag so as not to upset the tourists.  Actually, I had to amend one of my amazing chains of traps cos far too many of my minions were getting caught in it.  They’re supposed to know better idiots.  I mean I wish I knew better idiots. Or commas.

Yes! Pretending is good, pretending is fun, and the fun I had from Evil Genius mostly came from role-playing and laughing a laugh bwa-ha-ha mine is an evil laugh.  I could have fixed that trap-chain a lot earlier, but watching the foolish minions snuff it… well that just seemed like part of the job.  Unusually (er probably) for a game like this you the player are actually represented in the game world.  There’s a little guy walking around who is actually you.  All he can do is walk around, but his presence boosts the loyalty of those present.  The only real action he can do is to kill a minion.  THAT boosts the loyalty of the surrounding peasants an’all.  As does letting them watch you torturing prisoners.  God, don’t tell Alan Part^H^^H^H^HTitmarsh about this game.

There’s the occasional graphical glitch including one that really freaks me out which is occasionally one of the tourists seem to have the top half of their bodies stretched into a horizontal plane, all jitterry.  Eugh.  I really find it disturbing for some reason.  Now I don’t have a screenshot, nor have I actually played the game for a while.  It’s there though, on the Steam list.  I know I was running out of room on the island.  I needed to expand and for that I needed to increase my infamy.  (I’ve already miniturised and stolen the Eiffel Tower – I keep it in the generator room, my engineers redouble their efforts in it’s presence.  Maybe it’s cos it looks like a series of exponential curves.)  It’s a world to which I will return.  Lovely to look at, really really great soundtrack.  It got me through a bad time.

I only paid £1.74 for it cos I am a patient evil genius.  However, that was last November.  Where were you maaan?  Well, you’ll just have to suck it up souled-out-sista, cos them days is go-o-one.  However, lovely Lewie of Savygamer points us to  Evil Genius, PC where it can be yours for £3.27.  Well sort of.  That’s the page for the game.  The sale itself is here and says teh game is yours for $4.99.  Whatever a $ is.  It’s a string isn’t it? So why the float. Just confusing.  Well this sale gave me the spur to write something about the damn game.  Made me do it in a hurry too.  Where are all the great insights into GAME AI then?  Eh?  No-bloody where that’s where.  Sheesh.

Blimey and I nearly forgot to mention that this reminded me of villainsupply.com which was a comedy “evil ebay” that has gone now as you’d guess if you look at the url…

Harmony in Paradise


Well it turns out I actually have a lot to say about Robot Unicorn Attack and thought that it’s better to actually write and publish it in chunks rather than what I usually do which is write huuuuuge and immense posts that I never finish so never publish.

The other night I was enjoying the therapeutic balm of RUA, enhanced by my lovely AmbX lights and Aurora Synesthesia and when my consciousness returned inbetween wishes I wondered about why RUA is so good.  There’s a definite er… synergy between the music and the game.  The music often ascends and is full of positive uplifting words.  There’s continuous motion for your character towards the right.  The two player controls are dashing, which moves you to the right on the screen, and jumping, which moves you up and to the right.

The play structure is such that being up and to the right is rewarding and uplifting.  Double-jumps are so weirdly satisfying in games, and in RUA the timing needed/allowed is perfect.  It enables you to match the speed and shape of the music.  Somehow, all this means that the game can flow and give you the feeling that you’re getting somewhere, that it will all be worth it in the end.  Then you crash.  It’s just below frustrating.  Then I realised what else gave me that feeling.  Burnout.

Much as I love RUA and will prescribe it to all and sundry, I also like the feeling of getting somewhere.  I mean, really getting something done.  Not real things for goodness sake, I mean things in games.  I’ve got loads of games that I need to finish, so playing RUA is wasting precious time.  It might seem like I’m getting somewhere, but I’ll never recover that document in Stalker or find the secrets of Rapture at this rate.  I’ve god stuff to do. Like collecting all the cars in Burnout Paradise..

I loved Burnout 3 on the PS2.  The slow motion and the crash mode were the best.  Over Xmaz, Burnout Paradise was less than a fiver on Steam.  My dad (yes I have one) gave me some money and so I’ve decided that he bought it for me.  Actually I’m not sure I told him that.  He also got me The Orange Box in the same sale by the way.  Cheers dad!  Chad!

Well I say that I need to collect all the cars.  I also need to crash through all the billboards and yellow barriers.  I also don’t really care about those things.  I felt I needed to finish Portal for that whole “deficit theory of gaming” thing.  I needed to get Half-Life 2 so that I could play fantastic indie mods.  Burnout Paradise was a frivolous purchase.  Just for fun.  Fun it certainly is.  It’s the same as RUA.  There’s a flying swooping feeling to the driving.  Crashes are beautiful.  The game is just this side of frustrating.  The openness of it means that you are encouraged to just do something else.  On top of that the cars that open up and the events that get ticked off provide an ongoing sense of achievement far beyond merely beating a previous score.  All this we know.

What occured to me though was the flying swooping feeling.  Paradise city is supposed to seem haphazard.  It’s an open world with no set racetracks.  It’s obvious though that the designers spent a great deal of time on constructing routes.  Unfinished bridges which line up with train tracks or whatever.  All of which enables you to soar.  I was surprised that there were so few musical tracks with the game.  There were loads in Burnout 3. Neither can you make custom playlists of your own music.  That seems a pity, I love DJ Atomica.  As it goes I just googled “Erasure Radio Station”, loaded up LastFM, set my AmbX, alt-tabbed to Burnout and there was harmony in Paradise.

One of the things that is great about Robot Unicorn Attack is that it’s one of those games that enables you to enter a trance like state. Your conscious grasp of what’s going on on screen is replaced with a holistic understanding of everything.  It’s beyond hand-eye coordination, the universe is no longer experiencing itself subjectively, there’s just an inevitable flow of happenings.  When you’re in the zone, time will disappear from your life.  Suddenly, it’s an hour later.  This is a common experience, and comment.  It’s also like Schopenhauer’s sublime. Your head pops out of dreary existence and into the world beyond will. You are off the wheel of desire and failed fulfilment. Ataraxia. Nirvana. Your cynical defences are down, your ego has disappeared, you are completely unaware of the rainbow joy you are mainlining. Then you crash into a wall.

The one-button-game Canabalt is so successful at causing this state that I was worried at first that the two buttons needed for Robot Unicorn Attack would be overcomplicated.  Then I realised.  Of course, Tetris has far more complicated controls, and that’s the king of the zentrance.  Learning arbitrary controls may require an initial conscious effort, but once they’re successfully mapped inside your head…

You are not pushing ‘z’ – you are jumping

… and once the zen kicks in… you are no longer jumping,  there simply is a jump

I saw this on the BBC from the Institute of Psychiatry at Oxford University.  Two groups of subjects were shown traumatic stuff on video. One group then sat quiely. The other group then played Tetris.  It seems that the 6 hours after seeing something are crucial for memory formation.  Apparently Tetris uses the same areas of the brain and so disrupts the laying down of the memory.  A week later the Tetris players had fewer flashbacks.

The beeb article goes off on one about the ethics of erasing mempries, which (OF COURSE) isn’t what the research is about.  It’s not about forgetting what happened.  It’s not even about never remembering it. It’s about lessening the impact of that memory.  Not overstrengthening it so that it’s all you ever remember ever again. This is about seeing something terrible and it not haunting you for the rest of your life.  In the original article[IAMAFOOTNOTE] (which is from Jan 7, 2009 so how this is still news I’m not sure hey-ho) they say that there’s been a lot of good work done on treating PTSD, but not much on preventing it. They talk about a “cognitive vaccine”, but since they are suggesting applying Tetris thirty minutes after the trauma it seems to me more like “cognitive first aid”.

I’d like to see what happens if they play Tetris before the trauma.  Would that make it worse? Would it be warming up your visual comprehension or wearing it out?  Does it only work for trauma?  If you watch a beautiful film that makes you feel wonderful, and then you play Tetris, does that mean you have fewer “positive” flashbacks?  I guess so, but I don’t think that Post-Elation-Happiness-Disorder is either recognised, or contraindicted.  Away from trauma, is this a danger for revision?  Is there really no effect on conscious recall?  If you’ve just watched a film, and then you play Tetris, will you not remember the film as well?  I mean, be careful.

What can we learn from all this?  If you’ve seen something bad on the internet, then just looking at a nice picture afterwards isn’t good enough. To firmly cock up that memory becoming all powerful you need to actively engage your brain, and apparently the zen-like-trance that you get into playing Tetris is good for that.

What I’m taking from this is that there is such a thing as a Unicorn Chaser, but you have to be active. Can you tell what it is yet?  The true brain bleach is:

Robot Unicorn Attack!!!

[IAMAFOOTNOTE] Holmes EA, James EL, Coode-Bate T, Deeprose C, 2009 Can Playing the Computer Game “Tetris” Reduce the Build-Up of Flashbacks for Trauma? A Proposal from Cognitive Science. PLoS ONE 4(1): e4153. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004153

I wonder if Robot Unicorn Attack is one of those internet phenomenado-dooo-do-doo-doo that has actually only just started. I mean it’s finally been on BoingyBoingy and everything. I always think I’m late to the party, but hey maybe not.

The comments have several people asking for the name of the song, and several right answers. Yeah, several times people ask and answer the same question, on the same thread. You know this whole generation of kids who’ve grown up with the net and yeah they’ll “get” it in a way that we old people never could yeah? It’s like in their DNA, they *are* the net generation? Yeah? How come they can’t fucking google? I mean, Yahoo! Answers is full of stupid questions that people could have got the answers for far quicker by using, ooh I dunno… Yahoo! As for the people who actually post “answers” which say “i dun no! lol” oooh… grrrr. GRRRR. (Yes you old git, it’s because the social interaction and validation is more important than finding out the actual answer in the most efficient way. They ask for directions because they want to talk to someone, not because they can’t read a map. Although they can’t.)

How can such grumpy stress be defused?
[ plays RUA… ]

Obviously this post could be the kiss of death to the idea but hey, maybe off the back of this Erasure will have a small hit, and be on talk shows explaining that it all comes back to Robot Unicorn Attack. Of course these days you don’t need to re-release the single. It’s there on Amazon for 89p or itunes or whatever. I await the “Let’s get Erasure Always 2009 remix to number 1!!!” FaceBook group. Although Vince might consider renaming it “Robot Unicorn Attack Song” if he really wants to storm the charts…

In all honesty, I wanted to post something miserable just so I could post this:

Robot Unicorn Attack

It’s truly truly awesome and has genuinely made my household happy today. Ooh not shown it to Stevie He loved Canabalt and this is like (indiehitmusthaveplayed)Canabalt crossed with Rainbow Brite. With a horn. It didn’t just make us happy, it actually made /v/ happy! The amount of time I’ve wasted on 4chan, and when something good happens all I can do is read about it after the event on Encyclopedia Dramatica like everyone else.

The music matches the gameplay really well.  The double jump speed is in time with the music in a really pleasing way.   Hey, you want synchronicity? Go look at here and wait for the first line… Parallel Lines That’s Ambilight tech simulation er… see Ambx post below.

Far more importantly…

Robot Unicorn Attack!

Robot Unicorn Attack!!

Robot Unicorn Attack!!!

People occasionally email me about games.  Some of them are big companies.  They all want my input.  By ‘input’ I usually mean ‘money’.  I’d really like to turn that relationship around.  However, I digress.  I mean I do that a lot.  An I mean A LOT.  I mean not just like one lot that you might have when you are drawing lots and it’s only a straw or something, I mean the size of a really big parking lot.  Like maybe you know in the USA where they have all those planes mothballed in the desert?  That’s probably a lot isn’t it.  Well it’s that sort of lot that represents the particular “a” lot that I digress.  However, I digress.

I have actually had people read this blog that I don’t actually know you know.  However, some of them I do know.  Alright, many of them are me, but no matter.  This is why I’m putting off the group gaming blog cos then half my readers will also be the writers.  Hmmph.  Anyway – BLOGGING  ABOUT VIDEOGAMES WILL RESUME.

Little Eccentrica writes:

couldn’t sleep so I have just played that Air Pressure game you bookmarked … had to google before I got that Air Pressure is supposed to be ‘about drugs’ – mind you there is a comment on here from the game author who says:
“The game though is not about drugs, although it is valid to interpret it that way.”

I know, Death of the Author and all that…

seems like games have gone so sad. Maybe you’ll say that games have gone so *everything* there are so many out there esp. in the indie world. But there seem to be loads about fear, loneliness, being around people you don’t like. do you think a reaction against total lack of character psychology in many games for so long? I keep thinking about the old woman in the graveyard one – suspect more so than if it was a short film – being ‘active’ even if it just involves pressing an arrow key puts you in a fundamentally different state from passively watching a completed and sealed product (no idea why text keeps going red sorry)

I liked the red text, I thought it added drama, so  I’ve reproduced it here.  I’ve also added links in cos I is well professional video games blogger hongu.  Anyway, I wrote back:

There seems to be some disagreement as to what Air Pressure is about, but it does seem sad somehow.  I played through 4 times and got three different endings.  First I did everything to save the relationship.  I just agreed with her regardless of what “my thoughts” said.  Anything to stay with her.  Next play I was as sullen and unresponsive as possible.  I took every opportunity to get away from her and ignored her and told her to go away.  In that ending, she did.  I knew there was a third ending and wasn’t sure how to get there… took a couple of goes to get “closer” to her.  I thought that this must be the good ending.  The status quo wasn’t going to make me happy, leaving seemed brave rather than happy.  I thought things needed to change somehow and everything could be better.  Then I ended up in hospital.


I was almost relieved (though felt a bit stupid) when I read that it was “about drugs” cos I’m not sure I understand it otherwise.  Though I thought I’d ended up in hospital at first cos of self-harm or suicide pact.  Aaaaanyway.  To be fair to the “sadness” level of these things, “Air Pressure” is like an arty parody of a LOT of Japanese “dating sims.”  It’s vastly outnumbered by men on bullet trains playing with their virtual girlfriends on their nintendo DSes and marrying their pillows.

No red text there, and I’ve added in the link to the mighty RPS which is obviously where I got the link.  They are at the same time my inspiration, and the reason it’s hardly worth bothering.  I really should focus on analysing the AI in games really.  Have you played Empire:Total War? Shocking.  One of these days I must tell you about that.  However, let’s carry on with that big issue of our day.  Yes, games are completely wonderful and are an amazing new way of telling stories etc etc.  yadda-yadda immersion Braid blah blah Half-Life blah ….

You are completely right about these things being more effective than films because of the interaction.  The slightest sliver of agency makes all the difference in the world.  I played through Dear Esther the other day.  It’s very beautiful but it seemed quite linear.  However, there’s a point where you have to jump down into a cave.  I knew there was no choice really if I wanted to carry on with the story, but I was scared.  That was great.

Okay, not as scared as when playing Korsakovia in the dark on my own in red-green 3D.  I actually had to stop playing.  Both of these are mods of Half-Life 2 so you have the familiar FPS controls and everything, but this is so far from the supersoldier badass on ice gliding around corners that you get so used to.  I was SO relieved to find a crow-bar that I could use as a weapon.  Not that I ever saw a bad guy. Just this empty hospital… A different one.  Blimey how much time do I spend in video game hospitals?  Arkham Asylum’s another.  Also finally got round to starting the original Bioshock (faaaan-tastic) and have just toured their medical facilities.  The doctor was still there though.  He had never finished his quest to make a person truly beautiful.  To escape the “tyranny of symmetry” o_O  That’s a great game with a brilliant plot and setting.  The Idle Thumbs were imagining a world where video games grew up differently and weren’t all about shooting people.  Bioshock is a case in point, the shooting people almost spoils the game…  For that reason I’m playing it on “Easy”  – I just want the experience, I don’t need the exercise.

Argh long response.  Really should get back on the blog innit. lol. Etc.

Your wish is my command little earlier self!  On the blog you are!

If we are being serious about the burgeoning art-form or whatever, then it’s relevant to say that anger is the easiest emotion to fake.  It’s easy to scream and shout.  That’s violent games.  Easy to evoke the right emotions maybe?  I’ll say that sadness is also easy.  So then:

Video Games®

Immerse yourself in misery.™

I bought myself the “Philips AMBX Advanced Interactive Gaming Lighting System *Currently Includes Free PC Games Operation Flashpoint 2 and TOCA Race Driver 3
er… w00t? Well yes. Dunno if you’ve heard of them, or of Philips’ Ambilight. They’re a set of lights that you put around your computer and behind your monitor that are controlled by your computer to enhance whatever is on your monitor. I’m in love with these flashy lights. Once they’re really working properly, they’re like the opposite of distracting. Play a game where you’re running around in the sun and they are bright and white, go underground and you’re plunged into darkness. Trigger that burglar alarm, and your Ambx lights flash as red as the ones on screen. Actually, it’s cleverer than that. Simplest case: if the left of your screen is blue and the right is red, then the lights to the left will be blue, and the ones to the right will be red. They’re capable of a great deal of subtlety.

The lights are driven by RGB LEDS that are really really bright and are able to do yer full 16.8 Megacolours. They have a real quality feel and a pleasing soothing modern laid-back style. If you just wanted to buy some lights I think you’d be hard pressed to find two table lamps and a three way wall-washer for less than £60. Oh, and for whatever reason, Ambx starter kits are currently readily available for £25 inc p&p. Having got them, and loved them, I have also bought the add on rumbling wrist-rest and fans o_O!

You see the original idea was that games makers could use Ambx’s scripting language to embed effects in their games.  Console gaming has taught us that rumbling feedback is surprisingly immersive.  A rumbling wrist rest brings that to PC gaming.  The fans seem more mental.  Yeah, I had to have them.   You point them at your face and they simulate wind effects.  The starter set comes with TOCA 3 which apparently makes full use of them and is definitely a serious pain to get to work on my Windows 7 install so I have no idea about that.  Hmmph.  However, if you pitch in now you can get Operation Flashpoint – Dragon Rising for free too.  I’ve had a quick go of that and the wind is surprisingly good.  A very gentle breeze when I was out in the open, which I only really noticed when I went indoors ducked into cover and the air was still.  Hmm.  In the alternate universe where they became popular an intelligent use of them may have evolved into something wonderful    By lucky hap I happened to have bought, and not even installed  Elder Scrolls IV –  Oblivion which apparently makes good use of the fans with things like a little puff of wind when you open a door.   Yeah not yet played that.  I’ve only just completed Portal, and I’ve only just started on Bioshock so bear with me.  I’m looking forward to eventually picking up Far Cry 2 which has proper weather and full on directional wind… (fnarr).

Ambx scripting means that effects can be tied to off-screen events. So the lights can pulse red when you’re low on life. Or represent the location of the Sun, even if it’s off screen.  The system uses 8 different directions, so you can surround yourself with lights and fans.   Ooh imagine spinning round at sunset… I don’t think I’ll be buying another set of fans though… hmm.. we’ll see.  To be honest though, buying the fans is only something to do if you are either very silly, or you are very serious about games and don’t care if all the games you could ever use them for have already been written.  Cos the fans and wrumble wrest-rist will only work if they’ve been coded into the game, or the Ambx dudes have written a patch.

As for the lights, so far every game I’ve played has worked.  If Ambx detects game a game it doesn’t recognise it gives you the option to enable lighting effects with one of several profiles (racer, fps, rpg, rts, and the ever popular “default”.  For these detected games the effects can only be based on what’s on the screen but that alone has made my enjoyment all the better.  It give you ambient light that isn’t distracting.  It gives you the illusion that you have a wall-sized monitor but that you’re only focussing on the middle bit.

There’s a full list of the games that support Ambx here.

… AMBX means that I can watch movies at night without it being one bright square in a dark room.  Did I say movies?  Yes, AMBX also detects media players.  There’s embedded code in Windows Media that means the lights can react to sound.  Outside of entertainment an included app uses the lights for various Windows events (warnings, USB device plug ins, IM notification…)  Of you do dive in and buy the lights (and you so should) then let me mark your card as to what to do next. Philips developed the technology, but have since spun the Ambx brand out as a separate company. It’s there that you want to go to get the latest software to drive your beastie.

I must make a special mention of Aurora Synesthesia which is software written by an enthusiast. It’s great and combines reacting to what’s on the screen with reacting in a sound-to-light way. You just leave it running in the tray and it applies lighting effects to whatever’s on your screen. Web pages, youtubeifyouwantto. I originally had the Ambx for Audiosurf set to be “racer”. I’ve now turned that off and use Aurora Synesthesia since that amazing game is more like a visualiser…

So even if no-one ever makes anything for the damn things ever again they’re amazing. Oh, and in January, Mad Katz announced a licensing deal to manufacture Ambx peripherals for the Playstation 3, so the story may well continue.