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No Man’s Sky: five years of meteors, mining and metaphysics | Games

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As soon as I set foot on my first planet in No Man’s Sky five years ago, dying almost immediately in the boiling atmosphere of an utterly barren, deserted world, I was hooked. Here at last, was a space game for the rest of us, and by the rest of us I mean kids who grew up watching Silent Running and Solaris, and reading the trippy existential sci-fi of Ray Bradbury, Stanisław Lem and Ursula K le Guin. Here was a space game with no space marines, where making a bad decision on a hostile alien planet or in some distant asteroid belt could have deadly ramifications, and where existence among the stars was about toil and patience and long periods of silent travel.

This wasn’t how everyone felt about the game upon its much-hyped launch in 2016. No Man’s Sky was famously revealed at the 2014 Game Awards, a hugely popular showcase for new mega-budget blockbusters, the gaming equivalent of advertising during the Super Bowl. This high-profile introduction, together with some ludicrously ambitious plans from tiny Guildford developer Hello Games, led to wild expectations – a gigantically detailed massively multiplayer space opera, combining elements of Elite Dangerous, Eve Online and Star Citizen into one giant production.

No Man’s Sky wasn’t that game (at least, not back then). It was a strange, lonely space exploration sim, giving players a small craft and some laser tools to wrestle resources from often ugly procedurally generated planets. These rocks, chemicals and components could be sold at space stations to buy slightly better equipment, and an oblique storyline was unpicked through hours of mining, trading and travel. But that was it. You were on your own – metaphorically and literally. On release there was furious controversy. Many felt their expectations hadn’t been met; YouTube videos listed frenzied complaints, revealed bugs and made unflattering comparisons with pre-release promises, pulling in hundreds of thousands of views. And of course, this being the video-games industry, the development team and their families were threatened with violence.

Somehow, amid this bewildering maelstrom, Hello Games kept working. Over five years, No Man’s Sky has been expanded and improved through a series of updates and additions – all free. Players can now construct bases on planets, explore landscapes in robotic suits, buy huge freighters to seek out new galaxies, have pets. Friends can also meet up and explore together or visit each other’s base stations – like an intergalactic version of Animal Crossing. Another major update was announced as part of the game’s fifth birthday celebrations.

No Man’s Sky remains, however, an unashamedly strange, metaphysical space exploration adventure, a chill-out experience as much as a game. It is about the lonely beauty of distant travel, about finding places that maybe no one else has ever seen, and trying to stay alive there, often accompanied only by the wonderful ambient soundtrack from 65daysofstatic. You can sit out under purple skies and watch meteors explode as they enter the atmosphere, or see starcraft zoom past in formation; you can view distant space battles from orbit, accompanied by the rattling hum of your engines.

When I wrote a defensive polemic about No Man’s Sky just after its release, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such anger, such vicious recrimination, from gamers in the comments section and on forums. They listed bugs and broken promises at me for days. But the game was always what I expected, and despite all the excellent improvements and additions, it still retains its original spirit. It is Roy Batty’s Blade Runner speech, it is Kubrick’s Star Gate sequence, it’s the SF book cover art of Chris Foss and Bruce Pennington rendered into life. Ultimately, No Man’s Sky is the interactive embodiment of Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell’s famous quote about space travel:

“Something happens to you out there.”

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Chinese could hack data for future quantum decryption, report warns | Hacking

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Chinese hackers could target heavily encrypted datasets such as weapon designs or details of undercover intelligence officers with a view to unlocking them at a later date when quantum computing makes decryption possible, a report warns.

Analysts at Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm, say Chinese hackers could also steal pharmaceutical, chemical and material science research that can be processed by quantum computers – machines capable of crunching through numbers at unprecedented speed.

In a report titled “Chinese threats in the quantum era”, the consultancy says encrypted data could be stolen by “Chinese threat groups”. It says quantum-assisted decryption will arrive faster than quantum-assisted encryption, giving hackers an edge.

“Encrypted data with intelligence longevity, like biometric markers, covert intelligence officer and source identities, social security numbers, and weapons’ designs, may be increasingly stolen under the expectation that they can eventually be decrypted,” the report says. It says “state-aligned cyber threat actors” will start to steal or intercept previously unusable encrypted data.

However, it adds there is a “very small” likelihood that quantum computing could break the latest encryption methods before 2030. The analysts say quantum computing’s advantages over classical computing – the computing used in everything from laptops to mobile phones – are at least a decade away.

“Although quantum computers’ current abilities are more demonstrative than immediately useful, their trajectory suggests that in the coming decades quantum computers will likely revolutionize numerous industries – from pharmaceuticals to materials science – and eventually undermine all popular current public-key encryption methods,” the report says.

Quantum computing is viewed as an exciting development. For example, experts say it could predict accurately what a complex molecule might do and thus pave the way for new drugs and materials.

China is already a strong player in the field, and Booz Allen Hamilton says it expected the country to surpass Europe and the US – where IBM recently made the most powerful quantum processor – in quantum-related research and development.

“Chinese threat groups will likely soon collect encrypted data with long-term utility, expecting to eventually decrypt it with quantum computers,” the report says. “By the end of the 2020s, Chinese threat groups will likely collect data that enables quantum simulators to discover new economically valuable materials, pharmaceuticals and chemicals.”

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UK Space Agency asks kids to make a logo for first launches • The Register

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Good news for those in the UK with primary school-aged kids and wondering what to do when the next bout of home-schooling hits: design a logo for the first UK satellite launches.

2022 could be a big year for launching satellites from Blighty’s shores as the first launchers gear up for a historic blast-off. Assuming the facilities have been built and all the necessary consents given and boxes ticked.

There are currently seven possible spaceport sites across the UK, from Cornwall in England through Llanbedr in Wales and up to the Western Isles in Scotland. Cash has been lobbed Cornwall’s way to support a horizontal launch by Virgin Orbit from Spaceport Cornwall and more toward Scotland for Orbex’s ambitions to launch vertically from Sutherland.

Should all the approvals happen and construction be completed, there is every chance the UK might host its first launch at some point in 2022.

Hence the need for a logo and thus a competition aimed at inspiring kids to consider a career in the space industry. And, of course, it is all worthy stuff: “Logo designs,” intoned the UK Space Agency, “should reflect how data from small satellites can help inform solutions to climate change as well as generate a source of pride in the UK’s space ambitions.”

What, we wondered, could possibly go wrong?

We put this question to Rob Manuel, one of those behind web stalwart b3ta.com. B3ta has a long history of (among other things) image challenges, the results of which tend to pop up, often unattributed, in timelines around the world. Now heading into its third decade, the site continues to push out a weekly Friday newsletter to email subscribers.

In terms of how to engage participants, Manuel said: “If anyone asks me, and they rarely do, I encourage competitions to be as open as possible – publish the results as they’re coming in. Try and create a buzz that something is happening rather than everything going in the bin.”

“As for things going wrong,” he went on, “well, there’s always an element who’ll want to subvert it.”

The competition is open to children aged 4-11 and will run until 11 March 2022. There are two age categories (4-7 and 7-11) over 12 regions in the UK. Designs can be drawn, painted, or created on a computer and either submitted on the logoliftoff.org.uk site or via post. Some basic questions also need to be answered, and children can work on their own or in a team of up to four.

We asked the UK Space Agency if it would take Manuel’s advice and post entries ahead of the competition close. We will update should it respond. ®

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Video analytics platform RugbySmarts named ‘most investable’ at SportX

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The Galway tech start-up was one of two winners at the sport-focused pre-accelerator programme.

A start-up developing real-time video analytics for sports has been named ‘most investable’ at SportX, a new pre-accelerator in Ireland for founders with sports and wellness business ideas.

RugbySmarts took the title at the inaugural SportX showcase last week, securing a cash prize.

The Galway-based start-up aims to automate and simplify sports analytics using AI,  machine learning and computer vision, helping coaches to improve player and team performance with a platform that could also be transferred to other sports.

RugbySmarts was founded last year by CTO William Johnstone, who has previously worked with Connacht Rugby, and CEO Yvonne Comer, who is a former Ireland international rugby player.

Meanwhile, the award of ‘best impact on sport’ was given to TrojanTrack. This start-up, founded in 2021 by Dublin-based Stephen O’Dwyer, is looking to combine quantitative biomechanical analysis with deep neural network tech in the equine industry.

The aim is to gain feedback on a horse’s injury or gait imbalance without using invasive technology, such as motion-tracking software that requires markers to be attached to the animal’s skin.

‘Next-gen sports-tech entrepreneurs’

SportX was launched earlier this year by advisory firm Resolve Partners, Sport Ireland and ArcLabs – the research and innovation centre at Waterford Institute of Technology.

The aim of the pre-accelerator programme was to build on tech and business ideas for the sport and wellness industries, giving founders access to academic, clinical and commercial resources.

The six-week programme involved workshops and engagement with advisers, entrepreneurs, subject experts and investors. Participants also had the opportunity to pitch to the US-based Techstars Sports Accelerator.

At the SportX showcase last week, nine teams had five minutes each to pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges.

The two winners were selected by the panel, which featured Gary Leyden of the ArcLabs Fund 1 GP, Sport Ireland’s Benny Cullen and Niall McEvoy of Enterprise Ireland.

At the launch of SportX earlier this year, Leyden said the goal of the programme was to find “the next generation of sports-tech entrepreneurs who can leverage the amazing enterprise and sports-related supports within the south-east of Ireland”.

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