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Space station meets alt-Victorian world with Arkane

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One is set in a fantastical alt-Victorian world. The other takes place on a space station. Dishonored 2 and Prey are clearly very different games – yet they share one thing in common. They are both developed by Arkane Studios.

Make that more than one thing. Ever since Arkane was founded in 1999 in Lyon, France, the studio has specialized in making a certain type of game that is, well… uniquely Arkane. These games defy easy genre descriptors. They’re not shooters, but you can shoot stuff. They’re not pure action games, but you can certainly get your fill of bloody, brutal combat. They’re not RPGs, but you have the ability to make choices with real consequences. And they’re not purely stealth games, but there are times when you can finish a mission without ever being spotted.

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“At Arkane, we always apply the same values to the games we make,” says studio President and Co-Creative Director Rafael Colantonio. “Dishonored and Prey share a lot of those values.”

For Colantonio – who led the original Dishonored with Co-Creative Director Harvey Smith – that means a game “where simulation is very important, and where the choices of the player are very important.” Or, as Smith adds, “Arkane is dedicated to very immersive games that engage in first-person combat and first-person stealth. We allow the player to recombine powers and moves in different ways that we couldn’t even predict. We care about empowering the player. You can play our games very creatively.”

After the original Dishonored released in 2012, Colantonio moved his focus to directing Prey in Arkane’s newer studio located in Austin, Texas. Meanwhile, Smith – an industry veteran who joined Arkane in 2008 to work with Colantonio on Dishonored – moved to Lyon to direct Dishonored 2. While they now live in different countries, the two of them continue to collaborate on a daily basis, testing each other’s games, sharing expertise and more. “Harvey and I are constantly talking,” Colantonio smiles. “Either we’re chatting on Skype, or we’re texting each other.”

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A Sense of Place

For Smith, Arkane has become more than just a studio. “From the time 17 years ago when Arkane was just Rafael Colantonio and four guys in an office in France, with a network cable between their computers for transfers, a lot has happened – a long, rich history culminating most recently in the Dishonored series,” Smith says. “I’ve been with the company for eight years, which blows my mind. It’s longer than I’ve been with any other company. It’s amazing, it feels like home.”

When it comes to Arkane’s games, that feeling of “being at home” is no accident. “We are very much into creating a deep setting where there are layers of history,” Smith says. “We understand the architecture of the place, and the waves of settlers that came in, and how the foods have changed since then. It’s the kind of company where we just really care about creating worlds.”

While that makes sense for a lore-rich, fantastical setting like Dishonored’s Empire of the Isles, how does this world-building philosophy translate to a sci-fi game like Prey? Set on board the space station Talos I, Prey offers a vision of the near future that’s built upon a foundation of reality. “But it’s not the world exactly as we know it,” Colantonio says. “It’s another version of 2032. In our world Kennedy survived his assassination. We’re not very overt about it. We hint at it. This allowed us to take all the filters the new timeline would create, and build our world through those filters.”

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Which is why astute observers will see a mix of eras and styles reflected in the design of Talos I: Everything on board is rooted in a carefully thought-out alt-history timeline, with all details accounted for. The space station even includes some very lavish elements because, as Colantonio explains, “They built it in a way that would be attractive to the best scientists in the world. There’s even an artificial park with some engineered trees.”

Self Discovery

Within these Arkane worlds, the teams are also passionate about allowing players to build their own identity. It’s why Dishonored 2 offers a choice of two playable characters – Empress Emily Kaldwin or Royal Protector Corvo Attano, each of whom has unique powers and different perspectives on the world around them. And in Prey, players can choose whether Morgan Yu is male or female – but that’s just for starters. One of the major themes of Prey is identity: Along with killing aliens, players embark on a journey of self-discovery. This is even reflected in the gameplay. “We track what players do all along so there can be consequences to their choices,” Colantonio says. “We give players a lot of tools. It’s all simulated. Players can explore those tools in the environment and against the different AIs, who are themselves simulated – they’re not on a set path but are organically moving around based on what they sense. There’s a full ecology with the aliens. All of this combined really provides for experiences that are unique to every player.”

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Of course, Prey and Dishonored 2 are very different games as well. Dishonored is mission-based, with richly detailed, signature levels that you explore and complete in a myriad of ways. Prey, on the other hand, is built around a massive contiguous space, with areas you can revisit. Dishonored places a greater focus on stealth (with the option to play as chaotically as you choose); in Prey, stealth exists, but it’s not the central pillar of the gameplay. And while both games include a wealth of customization options, Prey places an even greater emphasis on RPG-like elements.

And yet they both share similarities that make them uniquely Arkane. “If you like Arkane games – those games that blend narrative and simulation, some choices and a lot of player exploration – Prey will be a game for you,” Colantonio says.

For Smith, Dishonored 2 represents eight years working at Arkane on Dishonored games. “I have a great passion for it,” he says. “The whole team does. Down to every object, the watermarks on the walls, the history of the place you go to, all the quirky characters. We just want our very vocal fans to know that we really are inspired by their passion and their enthusiasm. And for everybody who hasn’t played the first game, we think this is going to be a great entry into the Dishonored world, and Arkane games in general.”

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Prepare your cam to capture the Blood Moon

On 27 July 2018, South Africans can witness a total lunar eclipse, as the earth’s shadow completely covers the moon.

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Also known as a blood or red moon, a total lunar eclipse is the most dramatic of all lunar eclipses and presents an exciting photographic opportunity for any aspiring photographer or would-be astronomers.

“A lunar eclipse is a rare cosmic sight. For centuries these events have inspired wonder, interest and sometimes fear amongst observers. Of course, if you are lucky to be around when one occurs, you would want to capture it all on camera,” says Dana Eitzen, Corporate and Marketing Communications Executive at Canon South Africa.

Canon ambassador and acclaimed landscape photographer David Noton has provided his top tips to keep in mind when photographing this occasion.   In South Africa, the eclipse will be visible from about 19h14 on Friday, 27 July until 01h28 on the Saturday morning. The lunar eclipse will see the light from the sun blocked by the earth as it passes in front of the moon. The moon will turn red because of an effect known as Rayleigh Scattering, where bands of green and violet light become filtered through the atmosphere.

A partial eclipse will begin at 20h24 when the moon will start to turn red. The total eclipse begins at about 21h30 when the moon is completely red. The eclipse reaches its maximum at 22h21 when the moon is closest to the centre of the shadow.

David Noton advises:

  1. Download the right apps to be in-the-know

The sun’s position in the sky at any given time of day varies massively with latitude and season. That is not the case with the moon as its passage through the heavens is governed by its complex elliptical orbit of the earth. That orbit results in monthly, rather than seasonal variations, as the moon moves through its lunar cycle. The result is big differences in the timing of its appearance and its trajectory through the sky. Luckily, we no longer need to rely on weight tables to consult the behaviour of the moon, we can simply download an app on to our phone. The Photographer’s Ephemeris is useful for giving moonrise and moonset times, bearings and phases; while the Photopills app gives comprehensive information on the position of the moon in our sky.  Armed with these two apps, I’m planning to shoot the Blood Moon rising in Dorset, England. I’m aiming to capture the moon within the first fifteen minutes of moonrise so I can catch it low in the sky and juxtapose it against an object on the horizon line for scale – this could be as simple as a tree on a hill.

 

  1. Invest in a lens with optimal zoom  

On the 27th July, one of the key challenges we’ll face is shooting the moon large in the frame so we can see every crater on the asteroid pockmarked surface. It’s a task normally reserved for astronomers with super powerful telescopes, but if you’ve got a long telephoto lens on a full frame DSLR with around 600 mm of focal length, it can be done, depending on the composition. I will be using the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with an EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Ext. 1.4 x lens.

  1. Use a tripod to capture the intimate details

As you frame up your shot, one thing will become immediately apparent; lunar tracking is incredibly challenging as the moon moves through the sky surprisingly quickly. As you’ll be using a long lens for this shoot, it’s important to invest in a sturdy tripod to help capture the best possible image. Although it will be tempting to take the shot by hand, it’s important to remember that your subject is over 384,000km away from you and even with a high shutter speed, the slightest of movements will become exaggerated.

  1. Integrate the moon into your landscape

Whilst images of the moon large in the frame can be beautifully detailed, they are essentially astronomical in their appeal. Personally, I’m far more drawn to using the lunar allure as an element in my landscapes, or using the moonlight as a light source. The latter is difficult, as the amount of light the moon reflects is tiny, whilst the lunar surface is so bright by comparison. Up to now, night photography meant long, long exposures but with cameras such as the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV now capable of astonishing low light performance, a whole new nocturnal world of opportunities has been opened to photographers.

  1. Master the shutter speed for your subject 

The most evocative and genuine use of the moon in landscape portraits results from situations when the light on the moon balances with the twilight in the surrounding sky. Such images have a subtle appeal, mood and believability.  By definition, any scene incorporating a medium or wide-angle view is going to render the moon as a tiny pin prick of light, but its presence will still be felt. Our eyes naturally gravitate to it, however insignificant it may seem. Of course, the issue of shutter speed is always there; too slow an exposure and all we’ll see is an unsightly lunar streak, even with a wide-angle lens.

 

On a clear night, mastering the shutter speed of your camera is integral to capturing the moon – exposing at 1/250 sec @ f8 ISO 100 (depending on focal length) is what you’ll need to stop the motion from blurring and if you are to get the technique right, with the high quality of cameras such as the Canon EOS 5DS R, you might even be able to see the twelve cameras that were left up there by NASA in the 60’s!

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How Africa can embrace AI

Currently, no African country is among the top 10 countries expected to benefit most from AI and automation. But, the continent has the potential to catch up with the rest of world if we act fast, says ZOAIB HOOSEN, Microsoft Managing Director.

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To play catch up, we must take advantage of our best and most powerful resource – our human capital. According to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), more than 60 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 25.

These are the people who are poised to create a future where humans and AI can work together for the good of society. In fact, the most recent WEF Global Shapers survey found that almost 80 percent of youth believe technology like AI is creating jobs rather than destroying them.

Staying ahead of the trends to stay employed

AI developments are expected to impact existing jobs, as AI can replicate certain activities at greater speed and scale. In some areas, AI could learn faster than humans, if not yet as deeply.

According to Gartner, while AI will improve the productivity of many jobs and create millions more new positions, it could impact many others. The simpler and less creative the job, the earlier, a bot for example, could replace it.

It’s important to stay ahead of the trends and find opportunities to expand our knowledge and skills while learning how to work more closely and symbiotically with technology.

Another global study by Accenture, found that the adoption of AI will create several new job categories requiring important and yet surprising skills. These include trainers, who are tasked with teaching AI systems how to perform; explainers, who bridge the gap between technologist and business leader; and sustainers, who ensure that AI systems are operating as designed.

It’s clear that successfully integrating human intelligence with AI, so they co-exist in a two-way learning relationship, will become more critical than ever.

Combining STEM with the arts

Young people have a leg up on those already in the working world because they can easily develop the necessary skills for these new roles. It’s therefore essential that our education system constantly evolves to equip youth with the right skills and way of thinking to be successful in jobs that may not even exist yet.

As the division of tasks between man and machine changes, we must re-evaluate the type of knowledge and skills imparted to future generations.

For example, technical skills will be required to design and implement AI systems, but interpersonal skills, creativity and emotional intelligence will also become crucial in giving humans an advantage over machines.

“At one level, AI will require that even more people specialise in digital skills and data science. But skilling-up for an AI-powered world involves more than science, technology, engineering and math. As computers behave more like humans, the social sciences and humanities will become even more important. Languages, art, history, economics, ethics, philosophy, psychology and human development courses can teach critical, philosophical and ethics-based skills that will be instrumental in the development and management of AI solutions.” This is according to Microsoft president, Brad Smith, and EVP of AI and research, Harry Shum, who recently authored the book “The Future Computed”, which primarily deals with AI and its role in society.

Interestingly, institutions like Stanford University are already implementing this forward-thinking approach. The university offers a programme called CS+X, which integrates its computer science degree with humanities degrees, resulting in a Bachelor of Arts and Science qualification.

Revisiting laws and regulation

For this type of evolution to happen, the onus is on policy makers to revisit current laws and even bring in new regulations. Policy makers need to identify the groups most at risk of losing their jobs and create strategies to reintegrate them into the economy.

Simultaneously, though AI could be hugely beneficial in areas such as curbing poor access to healthcare and improving diagnoses for example, physicians may avoid using this technology for fear of malpractice. To avoid this, we need regulation that closes the gap between the pace of technological change and that of regulatory response. It will also become essential to develop a code of ethics for this new ecosystem.

Preparing for the future

With the recent convergence of a transformative set of technologies, economies are entering a period in which AI has the potential overcome physical limitations and open up new sources of value and growth.

To avoid missing out on this opportunity, policy makers and business leaders must prepare for, and work toward, a future with AI. We must do so not with the idea that AI is simply another productivity enhancer. Rather, we must see AI as the tool that can transform our thinking about how growth is created.

It comes down to a choice of our people and economies being part of the technological disruption, or being left behind.

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