49 Years Since The First, 46 Years Since The Last

On July 20th, 1969, humans first stepped onto the Moon with Apollo 11’s mission. That was 49 years ago and it’s been 46 years since Apollo 17’s final landing. We haven’t been back since.

Today, the US space program is in shambles. Much of it has been given over to private entrepreneurs. It’s a global embarrassment that humans haven’t been back, and 2019 will be the 50th anniversary of that first Moon landing.

There’s some hope that if people can work together across borders, we might see another manned mission to the moon by 2029 or 2030.

Danger Zone 2 Review (Windows)

Is Blue Sky Crashing Back? Find out, in this review of Danger Zone 2.

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Danger Zone 1 was close, so close, to matching the fun of the old Burnout games’ Crash Mode. It just couldn’t reach the last few meters, even though it brought some interesting new ridiculousness to later levels that had floating cars and a chance for raining taxis exploding along the route. Danger Zone 2 might be a correction that loses the virtual crash simulation for a return to something closer in spirit to that beloved crash mode of yore.

If you’ve ever played a Burnout game crash mode, you’ll recognize the way that Danger Zone 2’s crash puzzles work. Drive up to an intersection at high-speed and attempt to rack up as much damage as you can, scored in dollars, by smashing into other vehicles. Once you rack up those high scores in Danger Zone 2 you can admire them on the online leaderboard for each scenario and collect virtual medals to mark your progress, but that is it for progression. You won’t unlock cars, or skins, or anything else.

Go for the gold

There are a few big changes to the gameplay formula this time out. Danger Zone 2 calls the intersection the “Danger Zone” and now has optional objectives before you hit it. They call this the “run up,” like smashing into every limo or jack-knifing every articulated truck. Those goals can be fun, but they’re also a distraction from the original goal of slamming into an intersection and trying to ping-pong off of each vehicle and nailing every smashbreaker power-up and score bonus for the “grand slam.” Sometimes you could be driving for a few minutes in the “run up” before hitting the Danger Zone, which makes it a bit more difficult to work on improving your scores.

It’s frustrating to have a good run up, hitting all of your goals, and then completely botch the score-seeking fun in the Danger Zone and remember that any restart you do is going to wipe out your progress on the run up. It is even more frustrating to struggle with meeting your goals in the run-up while nailing the Danger Zone crash and having that level marked as incomplete. At least the levels load and restart much quicker with Danger Zone 2 on Windows than they did for me on the Xbox One version of the original game.

Danger Zone 1 had a virtual NTSB-style crashing test facility aesthetic that encompassed the whole game from the menu to the pithy jokes before the level began. Danger Zone 2 has blue skies across a global, but somewhat samey, real-world style environment.

Danger Zone 1’s game-ending grid ruined your day if you fell off the virtual test track, Danger Zone 2 has environments that sometimes oddly let you roam off-track until you crash into something or hit an invisible wall. That feels like an improvement except the original environment blessed Danger Zone 1’s designers with the freedom to place tracks for you to drive on in elaborate mid-air configurations. Danger Zone 2 is definitely more graphically pleasing at first glance, but sometimes you’d have a half-dozen of levels of track to tumble through in Danger Zone 1, bringing chaos and destruction with you. Danger Zone 2’s real-world style of environments have none of that creativity. I still believe there’s a mid-point between these two styles to be made with the outrageous designs of DZ 1’s tracks around real-world style environments.

Danger Zone 2 has a wider range of vehicles, some offer boosting while others focus on destructibility, but you can’t pick what car you would like for a scenario, you’re limited to whatever the designers chose for that level. The finest experience in DZ 2 might be driving the tractor-trailer cab which can knock over any of the other vehicles in the game, but you won’t bring that experience to any other scenarios, and the menus don’t bother to tell you ahead of time which vehicle you’ll be driving with so you can’t easily return to one that had a favorite mode unless you remember the level’s name.

Boosting can be earned from driving dangerously, just like in Burnout, but Danger Zone doesn’t have enough visual and audio feedback to let you know that you’re earning boost and what caused it. Was it a near-miss? Does driving into oncoming traffic still do it? The game just doesn’t tell you.

The first game felt a little incomplete, it had some of the most abbreviated menus in gaming. Danger Zone 2’s menus are sterile and boring without Danger Zone 1’s style. These menus are so barren that you can’t change the sound settings or rebind keys. The rest of the settings are limited to some graphic rendering options, toggling controller vibration, and changing the sensitivity of the mouse cursor if you’re trying to play without a controller. You’re either going to play crash mode in one of the 23 crash puzzle scenarios, or you can try the 3 survival racing scenarios to challenge the online leaderboard. That is it.

The wonderful driving music hook from the original Burnout games is still missing a Danger Zone-y counterpart. Instead, the menus just have a relaxing scene of traffic breezing along behind them. Typically I listen to music while writing these reviews, instead I left the main menu on to collect my thoughts, which was a completely unexpected feature from a game about crashing cars.

My car would sometimes become stuck in the road. This was one of the odder bugs I came across just a few times.

Many of Danger Zone 2’s missing features feel like what you would get only if the game was about more than crashing and also featured the other side of the older Burnout games, the destructive racing that necessitated more thought into feedback systems and driving tutorials. For example, Danger Zone 2 has drifting, but it’s never explained and is rarely useful, yet there is a Steam achievement for drifting over a long stretch of track in their F1-style car. These days you’d expect an in-game counter to pop-up and tell you how close you are to achieving that goal, at least. That isn’t in Danger Zone 2.

While I finished the main campaign in about 3 hours, I can spend more time getting higher up the leaderboards on some levels, Danger Zone 2 feels a little bit like a sneak peak of something else when it ends with a prompt to look forward to Dangerous Driving, the upcoming racing game coming out later this year. It feels like perhaps Three Fields has stretched themselves too thin in trying to ship too many games at once. Danger Zone 2 is an almost complete crashing game that just came out, and the other half of it just might be in a game coming out so soon.

Maybe I’m wrong. This could be the complete vision from Three Fields for their crash mode but I feel like this game is ultimately too limited for the $20 asking price. There is something to be said for stripping out some of the crap that was stacked on top of the later Burnout sequels and starting over from a bare-bones base. I recently tried to play Burnout Revenge for the 360, emulated on the Xbox One and it had almost too much going on, but at least it felt like a complete game.

Danger Zone 2 might be supported well after the release like Three Fields did with their previous games. Dangerous Golf and Danger Zone 1 both got gameplay updates with more levels for free long after they came out. However, with the post-game advertisement for Dangerous Driving I’m not very hopeful that this game will get the love that it needs.

It’s just kind of baffling as to who thought this game was done and would encourage anyone to buy a driving game in the same universe when it’s released in a few months. My hope is that Three Fields continues to work on it and find some success in their niche, but they’re facing more competition now than they were a year ago. Games like Wreckfest and Onrush bringing new ideas to the vehicular-smash-em-up genre, as it is, I would probably recommend Danger Zone 1 over 2, because the first game expressed a new vision with new ideas. Even if Danger Zone 1’s simulated environment was drab, the level design was completely ridiculous. It’s $5 cheaper, to boot.

2/5 jackknifed tractor-trailers for Danger Zone 2.

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Sailor Moon’s Long-Lost Americanized Bizarro-World Counterpart

Cecilia D’Anastasio has the fascinating story behind the version of Sailor Moon created for a western audience that never aired. I don’t give a shit about Sailor Moon, except that it was valuable in broadening the audience for different kinds of animation outside of the typical Ninja Scroll-tier of garbage that was popular at the time, but this was still worth reading:

Decades later, the pilot for the American Sailor Moon show has achieved mythological status. That pilot—the only episode ever made—vanished into thin air, its remains scattered across the internet like animated ashes. Fans have labored to piece together the show’s history on Geocities-style websites with infinite-scroll Sailor Moon fan art and labyrinthine lost-media wikis. For over two decades, they’ve searched for its only episode with no success. I was unable to play bystander to a piece of lost anime ephemera. Immediately upon hearing about the legendary American Sailor Moon pilot, I knew I had to try to find it. I would not rest until I’d exhausted every lead.

Zachtronics’ EXAPUNKS Announced For August

The Zachtronics behind the other programmatical puzzlers like TIS-100 and Shenzhen I/O have announced a new one of those, EXAPUNKS.

I can’t explain how much I love these games, both for their niche and the wonderful aesthetic each game embodies so well. In this adventure you’re an ex-hacker with a bad case of the phage who made a deal to hack for the cure. You’ll be programming your EXAs, which are the viruses that you’ll use to attack different institutions.

EXAPUNKS will be out in Early Access on Steam for $20 on the 21st of August for Windows, macOS, and Linux. There’s a limited edition pre-order for $35 on the Zachtronics website for the game that includes the feelies you’d normally need to print-out to get your instructions for the game. This time it’s a few issues of Trash World News, 3D glasses, and an envelope with secret contents. I’m normally against any kind of pre-ordering for games, but I can’t think of a time when a Zachtronics game was disappointing.

iFixit Says The 2018 MacBook Pro Keyboard Might be Fixed

The ongoing saga of the unreliable MacBook Pro keyboard continues. According to Sam Lionheart for iFixIt the new 2018 MacBook Pro 13″ and 15″ keyboard has a new silicone barrier that:

…is quite obviously an ingress-proofing measure to cover up the mechanism from the daily onslaught of microscopic dust. Not—to our eyes—a silencing measure. In fact, Apple has a patent for this exact tech designed to “prevent and/or alleviate contaminant ingress.”

Danger Zone 2 is Out Almost Everywhere

It feels like just yesterday that I was reviewing the first Danger Zone game from Three Fields Entertainment. That was the Burnout-like car-crash-em-up made by ex-Burnout developers, but it didn’t quite hit the mark. The virtual space that housed Danger Zone 1’s intersections was a little boring, but that and the car-eating grid that took away your score looks like it might be gone for good in the sequel, Danger Zone 2.

It looks like Three Fields took the feedback to heart and have set this follow-up on 26 real-world streets that’ll be more entertaining for the whole family to crash on.

Hopefully Three Fields found a way to preserve some of the end-game ridiculousness that made Danger Zone 1 good, I’ve got a request for a Windows review copy out to the developer.

Danger Zone 2 is out now for $20 on the PS4 (and upgraded for the Pro), Xbox One (and upgraded for the X), and on Steam for Windows.

Apple Updated the Unreliable MacBook Pro

The Terrible Keyboard Got a Slight Update

Apple invited some journalists to see new MacBook Pro laptops, they have newer and faster chipsets and processors with more RAM as an option, but didn’t talk about reliability. Dieter Bohn:

…it’s just hard to trust a keyboard after so many reports that it can be rendered inoperable by a grain of sand and that is incredibly difficult and expensive to repair or replace. This new third-generation keyboard wasn’t designed to solve those issues, Apple says. In fact, company representatives strenuously insisted that the keyboard issues have only affected a tiny, tiny fraction of its user base. (There’s now a four-year repair program for the keyboard in case it fails.)

Casey Johnston wasn’t invited to the event.

Apple also stopped selling the only reliable laptop you could buy from them, the 2015 MacBook Pro that had the old keyboard.

Microsoft’s Surface Go is Almost An iPad Cheap

Dan Seifert for The Verge:

Microsoft is getting back into the cheaper tablet game today with the new Surface Go, a smaller, less powerful take on the popular Surface Pro device. The Go features a 10-inch screen, integrated kickstand, Windows 10, and a similar design to the Surface Pro, and starts at $399. It is available for preorder starting July 10th and will ship in August.

The Surface Go doesn’t change Microsoft’s Surface design philosophy one bit — it really just looks like a smaller version of the Surface Pro design that’s been around since 2014’s Surface Pro 3. It has a 3:2 aspect ratio display (1800 x 1200 pixel resolution), the signature built-in kickstand with unlimited positions, a front-facing camera with facial recognition login, and Microsoft’s proprietary Surface Connector port for charging and connecting to a desktop dock. Microsoft has added a USB-C 3.1 port, capable of charging the tablet or outputting video and data to external devices. It has also rounded the corners a bit compared to the latest Surface Pro, but overall, it’s the same familiar magnesium design Surface users have come to expect.

The thing that kind of sucks about the Surface Go, besides the lack of capable and competitive apps in Microsoft’s app store, is that even Paul Thurott points out how shitty the base model is and you really have to get a more expensive Surface to have an acceptable level of performance:

Sure, the $400 price tag looks compelling. But the PC you’re getting at that price is not compelling, and it’s absolutely not future-proof. The biggest issue here is the same thing that doomed Surface 3 to poor performance: This entry-level Surface Go utilizes slow eMMC storage rather than speedy SSD storage. Combined that with just 4 GB of RAM and a low-end Pentium processor, and you have the makings of a disaster.

The good news? For just $150 more, you get some nice upgrades: 8 GB of RAM and more and faster storage: Not only does the higher-end Surface Go configuration double the storage from 64 GB to 128 GB, that storage is dramatically faster, since it is based on NVMe SSD technology. That’s a device that might actually make it through four years of high school or college.

I’m not sure if the eMMC storage performance, as well as the other cheap parts, are as bad as Apple carrying around 16GB base models of their iOS devices for too long, but it’s pretty bad that you have to go to $550 before you get something that might be functional. I’d probably rather have the 2018 iPad Cheap.

Casey Johnston: Apple admits its computers are broken

The “winner?” of the ongoing Apple portable keyboard saga, Casey Johnston, writes about the new repair program for Macbook keyboards:

While the repair and replacement program covers costs and notes that Apple will repair both single keys as well as whole keyboards when necessary, it doesn’t note whether the replacements will be a different, improved design that will prevent the problem from happening again (and again, and again). Having become a one-woman clearinghouse for people complaining about these keyboards since I broke this story, I feel justified in saying that keyboard failures – dead keys, sticking keys, double-spacing spacebars – appear to happen early and often, and repairs do not permanently fix the issue. I also feel justified in saying that the design on offer as recently as February still presented the exact same issues as the design I purchased in the fall of 2016.

Of course, that means nobody should be buying Apple’s modern* laptops until there’s some kind of hardware revision to stop the problems with minuscule grains of nothing destroying these delicate keyboard keys. It’ll be better when I have a reason to stop pining for an iPad with XCode, gcc, an official Terminal.app, and a clamshell keyboard case from Apple.

*Apple will still sell you the 2015 MacBook Pro in various configurations online if you want more standard ports and a keyboard that won’t quit on you if a butterfly flaps its wings within the surrounding 200 miles.