Sci-tech

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Mind Over Matter


It has long been believed that ancient Hindu and Buddhist texts describe advanced techniques of meditation (mind over matter) with which ancient priests/monks could influence not only their body, but also manipulate the elements of nature. These ancient practices are still followed by a handful, mostly the tantric sect of Buddhism which is more common along the remote borders of Tibet, ranging from Tabo in the west to Lachen in the east. Whether this is true or not, you will find people in the remote regions swearing by it…indeed it is a part of their lives in fact! … and why not… in such desolate areas where survival is a challenge, Im sure the mind adapts to a higher plane that we, with all modern comforts, have totally lost out on.

There are quite a few examples that bear one to think of the power of the untapped mind is very real (modern hypnotists and healers aside)

Kyi monastery, near Kaza (Spiti valley)

A couple of decades ago, in Ghuen village in the remote Spiti valley in Himachal Pradesh, a 500 year old mummy of a monk was accidentally found, meditating in the esoteric posture of tantric Buddhist practices. He had sacrificed his life, using advanced meditation techniques, for his village to save it from an outbreak of scorpions. The story goes that the moment he gave up his life, there was a flock of butterflies that appeared and the scorpions disappeared.

Lama Sangha Tenzin – the amazingly preserved mummy of a monk who sacrified himself.

(More details can be found here)

To test the mental abilities of the monks, a team from Harvard performed strictly monitored tests, which was made into a documentary shown on the History channel, trailer shown below.

This takes me back to my earlier post – the X Dimension, and leads me to wonder ever more what the mind could truly be capable of.  A lot to be researched, perhaps the answers lie up in the mountains… or perhaps they lie in simple disciplined meditation.

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The Dinosaurs’ Last Stand!!!


Along a secluded hill, facing the mighty Kanchenjunga range, the chill wind gusts downwards, past the dinosaurs running amok in this Jurassic Park!

The Last Stand Of The Himalayan Dinosaurs 🙂

Ok, its not THE Jurassic Park and neither are the dinosaurs alive 🙂 This is one of the most unusual, surrealistic science parks I have come across. Situated well away from the town of Kalimpong, up on the hill that leads onto Delo (famous as a picnic spot with splendid views of the Kanchenjunga range) lies an often overlooked, splendid science park, simply known as the… Science City 🙂

Whilst the actual exhibits in the building mid-way up the hill are the usual mini science experiments which are your usual run of the mill…the real treasures hide up on the crest of the hill. Walk up the path to the top and the vista will open out in front of you with an amazing array of life size, well crafted dinosaurs of all shapes and sizes, looking well at ease on the wind swept hill. Making their home among these interesting specimens are a number of excellent large scale science exhibits demonstrating various principles of physics. All in all a beautifully made mini science park which does not get the due attention it deserves.

The next time you are in North Bengal – Kalimpong, do drop in for a visit. Kids will surely love the place and adults will be amazed and amused by it 🙂

Just for the record, I end with the usual photograph of the spectacular Kanchenjunga range taken from the Delo viewpoint further up the road.

The Beautiful Mt. Kanchenjunga from Delo, Kalimpong

A Guide To Games Development – Games Industry Over The Years


I’m back with the third part of my series. For the previous 2 parts, please click below –

Part 1 – Introduction

Part 2 – The First Foray

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The games industry has seen many changes over the years. It has never been the easiest to work in, but for those passionate about games, it has always been rewarding.

THE TRADITIONAL GAMING CONSOLES

Among the earliest games were the big arcade machines where gamers would spend hours competing against each other. Probably the most famous was Donkey Kong … (watch a video of the actual arcade machine below).

There had of course been the games for the early PCs – the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum home computers. Games for those machines were really challenging involving a lot of hard work managing the memory and oodles of creativity to use the bits of data to display graphics to make the games that modern gamers would probably laugh at…but these were real gems of innovation. the most endearing aspect was the amazing music that was composed for these games… truly classic scores that are legend!

As technology progressed, games started evolving with the advent of the handhelds, among which the GBA (Gameboy Advance) was the best selling portable gaming device for quite a while. This was quite a leap from existing hardware and allowed programmers to create pseudo 3D worlds and some absorbing platformers.

While the handheld market was gaining steam, the early Nintendo gaming consoles such as the SNES had competition form the hugely popular Sony Playstation. These gaming consoles were a shot in the arm for gamers as they were specialised for gaming with their graphic chips used purely for gaming due to which the games could be much more detailed and better looking.

Next was the golden era of gaming with the HUGE launch of the Playstation 2 and the Nintendo DS, a massively advanced version of the GBA. While the Playstation 2 ruled the roost with high quality graphics and intense gameplay, the Nintendo DS brought up unconventional ideas to the fore. It had dual screens with the lower one being a touch screen as well as a microphone and programmers used ingenious means to interact with them both.

Seeing the success of the handhelds, SONY decided to come out with their own version, which true to usual SONY form, had the most amazing visual capabilities with the strongest graphics chipset yet and a gorgeous big screen – the PlayStation Portable (PSP)

Microsoft also decided to jump onto the bandwagon with its XBox, which received a mixed response to begin with, but slowly started gaining momentum.

Nintendo were again the first console maker to raise the bar with their innovative Wii – a console that had a wireless remote and “nunchuk” that would, for the first time, allow gamers to interact with games in new ways. Swing your remote like a bat in a baseball game and the ball would soar for a home run (if you timed it right!) The console did massive sales until SONY came out with their updated console – the Playsttation 3 which brought to the table stunning graphics and brilliant games. Add to it, their version of a wireless controller called “the Move” and used in conjunction with “the Eye” , would effectively do the same thing as a Wii Remote.

Microsoft went one step better with the launch of the XBox 360 and went on a spree signing up studios to make great game franchises for their console. The killer blow that helped the X360 reach the top of the market (where it is now) was the revolutionary controller – the Kinect, which finally made hand free gaming possible. Just the way you moved your body was interpreted by the sensor and allowed you to interact with the game in ways that had never been seen!

Currently, Nintendo are very very close to the launch of their latest consolethat should again up the bar – the Wii U. It is expected to release in the US on Thanksgiving…how successful it will be, is a matter of discussion among industry pundits.

Since its glory days, the gaming industry has plumbed to new lows over the last few years since the recession struck home. Many studios have had to close down as they tried to make bigger and better games with huge teams. When the games failed to succeed, in a recession hit market, these studios could not absorb their losses and had to shut shop. Everyone is hoping the Wii U will rejuvenate the stagnant console market where only the big studios with massive financial backing have managed to stay afloat.

THE INVASION OF THE SMARTPHONES AND SOCIAL MEDIA

On the other side of the equation is the handheld market. With the advent of the iphone and smartphone sin general getting more and more powerful graphic chips, the traditional handhelds are dying a rapid death. The rise of the mobile phone as a viable and profit making gaming platform, has also seen the “casual” gamers far outnumber the traditional hardcore gamers. Instead of the hours spent playing games by a handful of kids, it is now the bored housewives and the busy officegoers who now form the new breed of gamers. A huge database of people who like to play for short periods of time while commuting or while having free time, and who also like interacting with their friends across social media networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

The new gaming mantra now works on providing free games with virtual currency to entice people to play. the sheer volume of players sharing their exploits among their friend son social media then leads to the games going viral and bringing in the cash.

SO WHAT’S THE STORY FOR A GAME DEVELOPER?

While in the beginning, a game programmer was most likely a serous geek, who was pretty much a genius, as the years went on and game consoles became more mainstream, gaming companies were setup. these companies/studios, involved teams of artists and coders to work on games simultaneously, and games would last between 6 months to a year (or more) to complete. Independent programmers would have little chance of their games being published, since big publishers ruled the roost, and dictated what was put out.

With facebook and smartphones, not only have consoles lost ground, programmers have found increasing opportunities to be able to create games on their own. Now it is possible for one programmer with a great idea to create a casual game on his own and hope to earn quite well without having to share with anyone. this has been a blessing during the recession era, allowing studios to cut down staff and costs by making short, quick, casual games and get better turnover on investment made.

At the end of this crash course in gaming history (it is in no way comprehensive, nor was it meant to be) my main aim was to try and make you understand the avenues ahead before you take the plunge as a game developer.

a. Would you like to work in a traditional studio, working with others on big budget games? 

OR

b. Would you like to work from home trying your luck with your own mobile or facebook games. (of cours eyou could also join a small setup that works on casual games!)

With the Wii U coming out, and SONY and Microsoft also likely to respond with updated consoles, it looks possible that perhaps big studios will get a shot in the arm and traditional game development will once again boom. However it is also true that smartphone and social media casual gaming is here to stay … although the competition amongst the many independent developers and casual gaming studios is also quite intense, and having made a game does not guarantee success!

Its tricky as always being a game developer and you should do your research before you decide what you really would like to do. remember, being a gamer is never easy at the best of times, and its more difficult than ever in the current global market…so be certain you have the fortitude to stick to your guns! 🙂

Breaking News : Are We All Martian?


Ok well that was tongue in cheek but it throws up interesting possibilities. Me, being the eternal thinker (of absurdities) begins to wonder what may have been…

The Curiosity Rover has just confirmed the past existence of vigorous, fast flowing streams of water on the now barren red planet. Perhaps Mars was once a thriving colony of beings, not too dissimilar from us? I do not think there is any doubt that life did exist on Mars, but for how long? Was it able to adapt in time to prepare for its annihilation?

Dried water channels and rounded pebbles beamed from Mars by Curiosity

Did the beings managed to adapt? some maybe fleeing to earth in spaceships (yea far fetched but amazingly romantic notion) or some digging down deep where they still move around under the surface, unobserved?

I do not think the question is “did life (as we know it) exist on Mars?” Thats probably been solved by this stunning discovery. The real question is “did life get enough time to evolve into sentient beings?” and the scarier question is “are we looking at our own future here? the way we are going!”

I would not be too surprised if the next discovery would be a fossil or a small exoskeleton or even a microbe! In fact, I’m sure that discovery is not as far fetched as it sounds! 🙂

Keep dreaming and commenting! and make sur eyou are subscribed to the Curiosity twitter and the NASA JPL page to get the news as it breaks! 🙂

A Guide To Games Development – The First Foray


Hi again,

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I am hoping you reached this page after having read the introduction…if you have not, then please click here and read it to get an idea of what this guide entails.

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Its a long story below, if you do not wish to read it, skip down for the final section 😀

No its not me, but close enough! 🙂

The story starts a long time ago, when I was a plump little kid. My world was one where I would play a bit of cricket at times, but most of my day was a mix of being populated by schoolbooks or by superheroes (Superman, Batman…) or some fantastic escapades by a bunch of kids along remote windswept coasts and eerie towers – battling pirates and smugglers! (Enid Blyton and her bunch of kid detectives, the Three Investigators etc) As I grew older, (by a couple of years!!) I started reading the Hardy Boys series of books. This was a bit more cutting edge and more realistic and I would envy them for their adventures, and curse my school for having nothing of the ilk! Add another year or two and the Hardy Boys seemed to get older too with the release of a new series called “The Casefiles”. This had some glossy covers (which had me drooling…yea I know it sounds typically nerdy and sick, but hey books seem to have got ingrained into my psyche real bad)

The first issue of the CaseFiles

More interestingly, the boys had now got a van with something known as a modem installed in the back of it, attached to a computer, where they would sit around and hack into anything they wanted! That was intriguing AND exciting, cos in the time of analog telephones in India with internet being unheard of, I just could not fathom how it would be done. (yea magic to me!  and one I was determined to try and learn)

A few more years and I got my first computer after a lot of begging and wheedling 🙂 Computers were extremely expensive and this was a reward to me for my consistently good grades. I joined an institute while in school to learn  BASIC language and that is where I saw my first few monochromatic games. (I had seen a few games earlier on the ZX Spectrum but those PCs had been prohibitively expensive back in the days) Among the first few games I ever played was Paratroop and Styx and I really loved them and wondered how I could make my own games (and of course hack someone!) 😀

Cut to sometime later, and we finally had internet in India!!! I was one of the first to beg and sell my soul to get a modem with a terrible 14.4 kbps connection cos I thought… modem = yep, that means … hacking! 😀 Well in a sense, it was true, cos me not having any money to buy expensive internet access, had to “borrow” accounts  without authorisation to surf the net 🙂 SO yea, I did “hack” something!

So now I had internet and I had the opportunity to fulfill my dream – the big question was how?! search engines were not very optimised back then and whatever search result I got was written in such fancy programming lingo that I could make no sense of it! So I did the most logical thing possible, I decided to try and begin with web designing and do my own page up on Geocities. (especially cos it was free and seemed easy enough to understand)

After a pretty pyschedelic page, I wondered what I should do next. A friend from Canada (yea, a chat friend :D) asked my help on a web design project. They were supposed to make a website with Java applets which was obviously Greek to her. I obviously agreed to help without quite knowing what I was up against, and then began my single minded research into what applets were. I learnt how to use them and within 2 days had an amazing rippling effect done to a photograph, which was sufficient to get good grades and give me brownie points 😀 It was this singular moment that led me to believe that I could actually do what I wanted to! that I need not be specifically educated from an institute. I had learned to do things I could only imagine about a year ago, all through some wonderful people on the internet with their helpful hints and tips.

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What was the point of the long winded rhetoric above? (well I hope some of it entertained those who bothered to read!) The real point though is – unless YOU REALLY want to learn, NOTHING will help you. You may do a million courses, hire the best teachers, but without the desire inside, you will NOT “learn”.

  1. So for all those making their first foray into gaming, I only have the following lines of advice.
  2. Be passionate about games, so much so that you read everything there is to know about it.
  3. Read gaming news, know about the industry, know all cheat codes.
  4. Join gaming forums and read EVERYTHING, even if you do not understand much.
  5. Play as many games as you can on any platform you find.
  6. Once you know you want to get into gaming, quit worrying about it being too difficult to understand/learn. Idiots like me can be in the industry, there is no reason why the millions of smarter people (like you) cannot!  
  7. EVERYTHING you need to learn to get into gaming is available out there – on the internet. The gamer community is super helpful, more so than any other community. There is no need to join expensive courses that end up wasting your time. 
  8. You DO NOT need to a science graduate to be a programmer. (I graduated as an architect!) You only need sound logic and ability to focus. 
  9. Likewise you do not need to be a “qualified” artist to make great artwork. All you need is creativity.
  10. Be proud of being a gamer, and set high standards for yourself. Being a gamer is not a job, its about passion. It is only the passion that will take you through the all-nighters with black coffee as you make your games. You damn well earned your pride at the end of it! 🙂 

If you agree with the above, go on to the 2nd part (when I write it tomorrow.) For now, take care and have a great day!

As always PLEASE comment and let me know your thoughts! 

A Guide To Games Development – Introduction


hi guys,

Yes its a fancy title for someone who himself is learning and evolving everyday in the games industry, but that is true of every tech related field. The important thing is to share what you know, whatever little you know, since I have learned along the years with the information shared selflessly by some awesome guys, for newbies like me. This “guide” is in no way comprehensive and only deals with my practical experiences.

My hope with this “guide” is to help anyone getting into games, to be able to know exactly what he should expect in terms of a career, the learning curve and also the hard work that he would need to put in. 

Another important aspect of this guide is aimed towards my fellow Indian programmers – we have a lack of institutes that provide quality education in programming, and the few that we have do not really prepare you for what the games industry actually needs. This leads to a virtual “trial by fire”  for fresh graduates, who have to actually learn on the job, and who find that reality is far removed from what was “taught” in class! This guide will hope to speed up your induction into gaming and hopefully help the games industry here in India to finally be able to churn out a worldwide best selling game, all on our own 🙂

Please keep in mind that since this is a comprehensive attempt from my end, I will have to go about it in parts. Please bear with me and do keep checking back as I keep adding parts to the guide (hopefully everyday or at least alternate days)

If you like this guide, please share it among your friends and link back to me, and most importantly, PLEASE comment and let me know if it helped you. In fact, it would be even better if you could let me know what this guide is missing, so I could add the information as I go ahead. Please also correct me where I am wrong, and add anything you find helpful. I hope it will be a collaborative effort with reader feedback making it truly comprehensive. Without further ado, let us begin…

This is how I will (tentatively) be constructing the guide, so you will know what to expect in the various parts. As I add parts, I shall update the text below with the url links, so this can serve as the index.

Yep, thats what i wanted to be too!

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  1. The First Foray
  2. Games Industry Over The Years
  3. How To Get Started – 1 (Deciding what you want to do within the various games industry specialisations)
  4. I Want To Be An Artist (all I know to help you get started with being an artist in the games industry)
  5. I Want To Be A Games Designer (all I know to help you get started with being a designer in the games industry)
  6. I Want To Be A Games Programmer (all I know to help you get started with being a programmer in the games industry)
  7. I Want To Make My Own Game! (nowadays this is pretty simple to achieve, read all about it here)
  8. Final Words (what you need to keep in mind afetr you have entered the industry)

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That;s it for now, the First Foray is coming up next!

thank you for reading and I hope you go ahead and read the remaining parts as well. Most Importantly, I hope it helps you in some way of achieving what you wish to do!

Impractical or Path Breaking – A Giant “Egg” In Mumbai


Recently I came across this “utopian” (for want of words to describe it) example of architecture being planned in Mumbai by Wadhwa Associates and designed by  James Law Cybertecture International.

A Rendering of the proposed Cybertecture Egg in Mumbai

The “Cybertecture Egg” which is either going to be one of the most radical buildings in Mumbai or a grand failure. It seems the project has been designed without much thought given to the terrible infrastructure Mumbai possesses and the practical feasibility of constructing and/or even recovering the costs post construction!

Of course, Mumbai (and India in general) are no strangers to such white elephants … a nation that has such disparity in the burgeoning middle class, the struggling lower class, fighting to survive, and the uber rich who construct such glorifying edifices with scant thought about the sheer wastage of funds involved that could perhaps have been channeled to improve general living conditions. (Another such controversial monolith is the shapeless, ugly, in-your-face, palace of opulence – Antilia – the skyscraper the Ambanis call home)

Although these projects are all quite interesting with the construction techniques and the possibilities envisaged, the systems used to construct and later on maintain them, are far removed from any thought of the actual climatic conditions here. The grime, extreme humidity, heat, monsoon…all combine to make it very challenging to come up with custom solutions that work with minimal maintenance – which is what such mega, utopian monstrosities need.

To read more, please do visit the website and read the actual report. The rendered visualisation used above is not mine and has been displayed only to make people aware.

OUR GAMES


Wordsearch 3D for iphone

For those who love Word games, this iphone game should be fun. (I sure hope it is………..cos we developed it!) 😀 Please do download it and check it out… its FREE and downloads help us poor developers survive!

Download ON ITUNES

On FaceBoook -> http://www.facebook.com/Wordsearch3DNew

Environmental Armageddon


Over the last couple of years we have seen a number of unusual climatic events – an excessive number of floods, droughts, storms, earthquakes… all harbingers of change, that everyone knows is approaching and is yet loath to admit (fear that admitting it will make it worse?)

The Disappearing Arctic Ice

The latest salvo in this build up to armageddon (contrary to popular belief, armageddon means sudden, intense change…a new beginning) is the lowest ever recorded levels of Arctic Ice. To many this seems trivial since “the oceans havent flooded yet have they? … our cities are still standing!

But the truth is, this could lead to far reaching consequences, of which no one actually has a clear idea. I am not a scientist or an expert on climatology, and so I do not profess to know all the answers but I am determined to find out more…if nothing else, then for the future of my daughter.

So, what does this melting of Arctic ice herald? For starters, the ice would reflect large amounts of sunrays back into the atmosphere, keeping the region cold and the ice solid throughout the year. With very little ice to reflect the rays back, it would mean warming of the North Sea. Currently, the world is encircled by constantly moving ocean currents that dictate mostly the climate of the land masses they pass by (for example, the hot Gulf Stream flows past the United Kingdom and keeps it free from freezing, even though its pretty close to the North Pole!)

Why does the Gulf Stream move all the way up to the poles from the equator? In simple terms this is due to a huge body of cold water at the North Pole sinking down with its weight (cold tends to sink while hot tends to float) and to fill up the “gap”, the warm current from the equator which is much lighter, flows upwards (helped by the motion of the earth – the Coriolis effect) thus forming a giant water “pump” of sorts, that maintains the climatic status quo along the coast of the United States and Britain. As the North Sea starts becoming warmer, the cycle of this warm current will weaken and dissipate, and quite likely cause frequent storms and typhoons along the coastal areas on both sides of the Atlantic. This is alos likely to affect the wind currents, which would mean that certain interior parts of Europe and Asia will also see very unusual weather patterns… the rainy season could alter, droughts could increase…the Sahara could become green again (okayy that was a bit too much) 😀

The Swarm – HIGHLY Recommended Reading

The Swarm is a spectacular book that explains all the possible disasters we are bringing down upon ourselves…and does it while keeping up a completely believable and incredibly entertaining plot. Read all about the plot here  and trust me, get yourself a copy. Its simply brilliant…un-putdownable even! (the first 2-3 pages may be a bit dull but the rest is superb)

Strange Formations Encountered on Mars


Whilst “Curiosity” is stealing all the headlines, a little known fact escaped everyone – that “Spirit” and “Opportunity” the two rovers from 2004 are STILL operational! and have literally gone where no rover has before!

Not sure how many extraordinary images they must have sent back, but this one is definitely worth a ponder (especially to me who always looks for adventure and belief that something definitely is “out there”) 😀

Strange Globules Found On Mars – A sign of Life?

The image above is courtesy space.com – a site I would highly recommend for those curious about our universe and its mysteries. The complete article can be found here.

Whilst the article draws no conclusions, to me, it looks like an aggregation or colony of pods of silica and iron based life forms, some of which seem to have hatched and moved away.

Alright alright, Im not loony enough to raise a placard saying “They are coming, the end is near!” … but am just about curious enough to wonder what may possibly be… the truth?

As has been repeated (and oft proven) – sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction, and the simplest, most obvious explanation; however improbable, is true 😀

Comment with what YOU see in the picture 🙂

Travelling and games for me please :) Check our games https://twitter.com/blackcobragame

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