Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Best RPG ever

That is, up to 2016. It's called Witcher 3.

By the way, I'm a big fan of pc gaming. But good games are hard to come by. I remember when I started PC gaming, it wasn't counterstrike. It was Lode Runner. 2d, played over a 386 or a 486 as the intel platform was then known - and at that time, it was ms dos, and not even windows. That was more than 30 years back. I didn't experience the first few generations of Optima. My next big experience was Red Alert. Russia invaded the US. It was the first time in my life glued to my pc playing overnight a mini pixelated soldiers and military units fought with tesla coils (electro turrets), chronospheres (teleportation device) and red (invulnerability) curtains. Lode Runner was platform game. Red Alert was RTS. I remain hooked to RTS for a long time leading to in more recent times - Supreme Commander, Homeworld Deserts of Kharack. My first RPG experience was Knights of the Old Republic where dialogue choices lead to different outcomes. My next big addiction came in Mass Effect trilogy. Between then and now, there're a load of really good first person games including Crysis, Hitman, Deus Ex, Remember Me etc. Didn't really catch my imagination though they have really good graphics. Then I dabbled, and was hooked for a while with Fallout 4. There as a bit of hiatus between Fallout 4 and Witcher, but I finally came about to play the Witcher series. The first one was a bit dated in terms of graphics, and the inventory system was just a bit cumbersome. Witcher 2 had a great story, but I didn't like the time sensitive reactionary boxing matches, and I couldn't jump or fall off the ledge even if I wanted to.  Then came Witcher 3.

Here's why I love it.
1) The graphics is excellent - the sunsets make you want to just ride your horse around the countryside without caring about your quest
2) The story line is gripping, even the key side quests
3) Multiple outcomes - the team must have really cracked their heads together considering all the permutations of one side quest finishing before or after another - how that would affect dialogue - and they are cohesive
4) The characters - both NPC and playable characters were all beautiful - we could be talking about a peasant girl or elf right up to the townfolks or the tavern help
5) they must have spent considerable time designing the costumes and weapons because the variety is just mind boggling - just building up a witcher school full gear will take you some time that it is effectively a full storied side quest - but it's worth it
6) the opening music to Witcher 3 was wistful, haunting and in a way majestic at the same time - the music is just lovely
7) every time your quest deals with ghosts or vampires, and you are in a dungeon or cave, you can bet that your hair will stand up - now, try playing this part at 2am in the morning for maximised scare factor
8) there's a subtle reference to Star Wars - some NPC soldiers/guards will pip the tune that sounds like the Star Wars theme. There is light reference to Star Wars in that Witchers are warrior monks, taken away for training at  young. Substitute the Force with magic and mutations, lightsaber with steel/silver swords, and you have a relevant comparison - nothing like this archetype for people to relate to
9) the entire witcher concept makes sense - in the end, the hero has to fight vastly more powerful monsters and enemies - how could be survive, unless he has extraordinary powers  - therein lies the justification of mutation
10) the magic users have a lot more depth - they cast a variety of spells, not just raining meteor from the sky, but teleportation, seeing into the past/future, lighting up a dark place, or closing inter-dimensional portals. Magic towers can be teleported in entirety due to magic based security system. There's handheld device that looks like modern day long distance walkie talkie. All these references to conventional and futuristic technology makes it so relatable
11) the hero does not just brood - he has a wicked sarcasm and humour about him, and has a good way with children and women, even though he is wont not to dabble into politics. He whines to people he knows and who cares for him and he is lazy at times - which sounds like any man worth his salt. The two leading ladies are diverse, yet both in some ways loveable, so much so that it is difficult to choose between them
12) I don't have a problem with the gameplay mechanics at all, except perhaps you can't dump any quest items even though they carry weight
13) For educational value, it is worth playing Witcher 3. Grey moral decisions that require some thinking, very good English (except when they purposely replace words like "thought" with "thunk").

There's only 1 reason I don't like it - I hate that it eventually came to an end and there's no further expansion. And there are some bugs yet to be worked out. For instance, upon finishing a stage to a quest, the next goal may not be correctly prompted - and if you skip that goal, you cannot continue.

For me, Witcher 3 sets the benchmark as to what a story based RPG ought to be. I hope there will be more of the Witcher in the future.  In the meantime, the developer is making an epic modern game called Cyberpunk 2077. Can't wait to play it.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Star Wars VII The Force Awakens: Did Disney Just Condone Patricide?

Before the show, rumour has it that:
1) Ren and Rey are siblings
2) Rey fixed the Milenium Falcon
3) Finn is son of Lando Calrissian
4) Someone will die at the end of the movie

Build up before the movie:
JJ Abrams tried to deflate fan expectation. I felt nervous - what if it's another disappointment like Phantom Menace? 2015 has been such a tumultuous year for Malaysia, for me to some extent, that a really wonderful, hopeful movie would be such a nice way to close off the year. Lucas and Disney did not see eye to eye on what, we don't know. At the end of this analysis, it would be fair to say that Lucas may well be vindicated.

How it turned out - spoiler alert.

Ok, I won't go into the plot. I think it's out in wikipedia. Here, I'm just going to dive into how I felt about the movie from start to end, and especially what bugged me.

It's been a long time, 10 years ago since the last Star Wars movie was made. There is a lot of expectation. It's a wonderfully strange sensation to be watching the words springing up on the screen, this time without 20th Century Fox prelude theme that we have been so used to for the other SW movies.

From then, the galactic confrontation seems reduced in enormity and gravity. From then, at certain milestones in the movie, more and more things I begin to find disturbing. Here they are:

1) If Finn has such conscience issue about wiping out entire village, how did he make it past quality control in the First Order? Captain Phasm ordered him to be reevaluated and reorganised. How did he go around finding Poe freely?

2) Kylo Ren could stop a blaster fire in the middle of the air, as if in suspended animation. It makes great visual and story telling. But just like Abram's love to stretch it a bit more, this one falls into that category - not necessary, and not impressive. And Adam Driver - he's just not evil enough. And praying to Darth Vader - that's just odd. The New Republic would have battled many enemies, the latest the First Order - and the boy has little appreciation of what the dark side could wrought on the galaxy? Didn't his uncle tell him Darth Vader was redeemed in the end? Plot disorder.

3) It is not true, that Rey fixed the Falcon. Some junk dealer on Jakku did. It defies believe that the Falcon is introduced as a comic plot device - that old junk that won't get far. The fastest ship in the galaxy just lying there in the open, not under guard, not under lock and key, for any random scavenger to steal. And yeah, of course for Rey and Finn to steal.

4) How in the galaxy did Han Solo and Chewbacca find the Falcon dead in space? Did they have a tracker on? We're not talking about a Jakku village. We're talking about a big wide galaxy.

5) How did Ren turn to the dark side? Apparently, mom didn't send him to uncle Luke. Really? Seriously? After Lucas through the expanded universe tells us that Luke is building the next Jedi Order, and there's an Academy on Dantooine etc.? And when Ren turned to the dark side he just ran away and go into hiding? Yoda and Ben Kenobi went into hiding because the Jedi Order was wiped out and there was nowhere else in the galaxy they could strike the Empire from. Why would Luke go into hiding when there is still the Republic?

6) It is not like Luke to abandon Solo and Leia. He almost died to save them at Bespin City in Empire Strikes Back. His absence from galactic affairs resulted in the apparent destruction of the Republic and the death of Solo.

7) The Republic fleet was apparently wiped out in a single strike from Starkiller Base against Republic capital on Hosnian. Now, was the Starkiller Base really so well hidden? A construction that scarred the face of the planet that is not visible to any Republic surveillance?  Why is the Republic fleet all congregated here? If Starkiller Base is the HQ of the First Order, its defences are pretty crappy.

8) Rey discovered she could manipulate minds, and wield a lightsaber better than Kylo, just based on instinct. Apparently, you don't need training to be a Jedi anymore. She is obviously carved after the character of Jaina Solo, the most powerful Jedi of the Solo clan and one hell of a pilot and engineer.

9)  The map to find Luke - B88 had a part of it. R2D2 was on low mode as he scoured the galactic internet to find the rest of the map. The two droids put it together in the end. There was no reconfiguration of the map. It was there for people to see in plain sight. Yet remember what some characters say? We only have this piece - it does not correlate to any known maps that we know. It may be an insignificant plot progression piece, but it shows that having been in post-production for such a long time, they failed to say something at least sensible about this, is disappointing. Especially to the techies, cryptographers etcs who are surely amongst the legions of SW fans.

10) And finally - and this is my ultimate peeve - it may well be called literary licence/business calculation, and there's probably good reason to finally kill off Solo, but there is a sea of difference between who Quigon Jin and Ben Kenobi were to the movie audience before they were killed off in the first movie of each trilogy. Solo is clearly of a different class. He provided the humour that has endeared SW fans for decades. He never did accepted the odds and always came out winning. And this very dark episode of Star Wars introduced something which has never been introduced for real in the SW universe before - Patricide, and especially one which is completely outside the conflict between Jedi/Sith. I find this very disturbing and disappointing. There could have been so many ways for heroes of the past trilogy to go out. The whole Episode 7 could have taken place after all their demise, and you can bring them to live by holocron records etc. Luke and Leia could have appeared as Jedi spirits. If Disney's idea is to kill off our beloved heroes one by one in each episode counting to 9, I think it will be a brutal blow to fan psyche. Rotten Tomatoes rated Episode 7 on a scale of 95% on a review by 200+ reviewers. The numbers will come down once people have digested and realised the travesty done to the original characters. I cannot believe JJ Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy did this to us. It is as if they never learnt how the Next Generation was panned when Rick Berman, Ronald Moore and Brannan Braga killed off James T Kirk. The worst part - he didn't even get a proper burial -  fell into the chasm of Starkiller Base until it imploded into a sun. And it is also to Disney's discredit that Leia and Solo were reduced to the role of a dysfunctional family, not especially when the expanded universe have planted so much hope on what this power couple could do to the galaxy. Why the hell did Solo go back to what he does best when by ROTJ, he already turned into a respectable general? He was reduced to captain a scarvenger ship, and disrespected by other smuggling/pirate groups who told him there's no one else he would swindle in the galaxy. A hero of his stature did not deserve this movie characterisation.

I came out of the movie feeling disappointed and troubled. Never had that feeling before even in Episodes 1-3, because in a way, we expected that the ending will be a sad one - it was always just a question of waiting for Lucas to convincingly enthrall us that Anakin turned to the dark side in the most conflicted way possible. Of course Lucas failed to do that. You train a Jedi for almost 2 decades, and he end up believing in some hyperbole of being able to bring back to life the dead. It was bad then. But this is worse. It makes me not interested in continuing to watch Star Wars Rebels. What's the point? Solo is going to die an unheroic death in the future, and our heroes displayed a collective act of failure in leadership. All of them, including Luke.


To be fair, here are a few (not many) good things:
1) The visuals are alright even though JJ Abrams almost spoilt it with his signature over the top action with ridiculous flying of the Falcon. I especially liked the choreograph when Finn was shooting stormtroopers on the ground while Poe was decimating targets both on the ground and in the air in the background over Takodana.
2) B88 is an interesting droid concept
3) The new X-wing is sleeker, looks more menacing
4) Chewbacca gets a more powerful crossbow blaster
5) Finally, there is no single exhaust port that allows a ship and single proton torpedo to blow up the damned battle station, and no huffing and puffing about unrealistic risk assessment - just evacuate!

But that's hardly enough to stem my disappointment. I'm going to sleep over this and hope I feel better tomorrow.

By the way, back to the speculations:

1) Ren and Rey are siblings - status unknown
2) Rey fixed the Milenium Falcon - not true - wish it could have been to do justice to our favourite freighter
3) Finn is son of Lando Calrissian - status unknown
4) Someone will die at the end of the movie - true, which is tragic, and an abuse of literary licence by Disney - maybe I'll start boycotting Disney films too

I said in my facebook that if JJ Abrams screwed up, Lucas may well be redeemed. How true.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

To boldly motivate where no motivators have gone before...

Dear reader,

This blogsite started off as a commentary for things quirky, so far, largely on science and science fiction. Along the way, I realise how science and science fiction is very much part of life, and hope. Hope offers motivation, the engine that keeps us going in life. I used to have another website dealing with motivation. I've decided to use this blogsite as the 'go to' blogsite for motivation issues and close down the other site. Let me share the opening letter in my other website:

Are you bored with work, studies or your social life?

Do you feel like waking up in the morning as a chore and you dread going to work or college?

Do you dread doing what you’re doing now, or feel that life is taking a direction you’re not happy with?

Do you feel like your life’s direction ought to change, but you’re not certain how?

If you have these pressing issues, you’ve come to the right place.

Clear Blue Skies

It started off as a profound philosophical question – what do we want out of life? The general answer is surely to maximize a state of well being and happiness, and to reduce the state of discomfort or unhappiness.

Some aspects of happiness are best answered through lessons in fitness and health – eating right, sleeping right, exercising etc.

Others are more subtle – habits and patterns formed through our family and social interactions, the relationship choices we make, our values and personality, or our spiritual choices etc.

Yet perhaps the mother of all questions would appear to be finding oneself and one’s purpose in life. Keeping busy doing what we fundamentally want to do is probably the most satisfying experience one can have.

Discovering personal goal could take years for some. For others, it’s the first thing they find, and become their source of bliss and contentment. It’s the same for love sometimes.

Then, there’s a different question of what you do with your purpose once you find it.

There are many books written on how we go about finding our purpose, and what we do once we find it, but what most people find useful, is a made-to-fit coaching.

This coach listens, analyses, resolves and encourages, and if circumstances call for it, prods, reminds, challenges and cajoles you out of your occasional stupor. It’s not counseling. More like live action.

We’ll have many stimulating conversations, to cultivate into habit the baby steps you’ll take as you develop the skill to find yourself and the courage to develop your personal goal. And what’s unique about this coaching, is that along the way, we’ll have a blast of a time while finding yourself, finding your purpose, and acting on that purpose. We’re not going to be sitting in the office, but we’ll be out there – walking in the park, bush walking, enjoying a cuppa al fresco style, having a sumptuous meal, attending a theater etc.

My personal experience in the past 15 years as a recruiter, trainer and motivator to the law firm in which I am a partner, and our lawyers; and my experience with myriad people whom I’ve had the privilege of coming across in my life and my profession, provides me with a unique perspective of personal goal finding and goal implementation.

My self discovery took a while, and may well be a continuing, refining process. I’ve set out to accomplish some of my goals, and then there are some left unfulfilled. What I will aspire to do for everyone I coach, is that I not only share with you what I already know, but what the continuing process might be like. As much as it is coaching, it is also sharing, and I look forward to learning from you, with the hope that we all stay true to our real purpose in life and make the most happiness out of acting on them.

I can’t be everything to everyone. That’s true not only of leaders, managers, friends, lovers etc., but it’s also true for coaches. Since chemistry matters, my coaching will only work if we have chemistry. If you wish to find out more, we can have a brief conversation. Drop me a line at klclearblueskies@gmail.com

In the meantime, be well, and be safe.

Yours truly,
Hiro

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Super 8

Was it a great movie?

1) It's typical Spielberg fare in recent years, reminiscent of War of the Worlds + ET.

2) The only outstanding character is Elle Fanning, only 13.

3) Typical misguided US military.

4) Starting, leading up to the derailment, was great movie making. It went downhill after that. Ending was plain cheesy. The characters were not instrumental in anything except to tell the alien that he's been through bad times but he can still leave (big deal). And it was so easy for it to leave - makes you wonder why it needed to go through an elaborate process of stealing components to build some subterranean base, and what's his use of those people he captured. And knowing that the cubes build the ship, what were the trucks still doing in town? The plot and the circumstances just don't add up.

5) The only consolation was to watch the zombie movie in the end.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Star Trek, going where no wrong has gone before

It's been a year since Star Trek movie no 11, on the alternative timeline, has been shown, and won the franchise' first academy awards for best make-up. When I first saw it, suspending any expectations, I liked it just that much that I was not motivated to watch it again. A lot of people said they found it enjoyable. Why wouldn't it be? Topless handsome male lead roles, hot Uhura reboot, an Enterprise on steroids that jumps to warp speed like Star Wars ship jumps into hyperspace, phasers that shoot more like pulse guns... I guess you could say the packaging was good, and the fact that you don't disturb the "canon" timeline seems to justify doing whatever it is necessary to reboot the franchise. Yet I felt a disconnect.

Star Trek TNG cast featured movies weren't a particular hit save for First Contact, but after rewatching them, I couldn't help feel a connection. There is consistency in characterisation, in the characters, and most of all, there is continuity. The story telling wasn't great, and the stories could have been grander but for the budgetary constraints, but at least it was a case of right people in the right time being caught in an event doing the right things. Because it is coherent, it ended up potentially boring.

Take Generations. Enterprise D need not have found Dr Soren, it could have been another ship. Could they have stopped him? Who knows? But even if they didn't, it would just have been Dr Soren ending up in the Nexus, with hundreds of millions dead when the Veridian sun explodes. The galaxy would have continued, and Enterprise D would have continued exploring the galaxy.

First Contact was different. Enterprise E was uniquely qualified to be part of the event, because Picard had special knowledge of the Borg. To up the stakes, the Borg planned to assimilate Earth in the past so that Earth will never make contact with the Vulcans, without which there would be no United Federation of Planets posing a threat to their advance. This makes good story telling.

Insurrection was a nice story. But the stakes were not high enough, therefore it didn't make grand space opera. But it was nevertheless consistent with Picard being the philosopher, the Captain that preserves the best traditions of Star Fleet - preventing forced relocation. Perhaps the folks in US and Europe didn't quite like the movie because it reminded them of what Israel stands for.

One pertinent aspect to note, both First Contact and Insurrection was directed by Jonathan Frakes, otherwise better known as Commander Riker, the Number One to Captain Picard. He's a good director.

I'm not certain why Nemesis did badly. Was it because they killed Data? Or because it's another story of Picard in emotional conflict? Was it the absurd idea of a single Romulan Warbird annihilating Earth with Polaron radiation weapon? Or the irritation of using a dune buggy? If Data was not detected when he first went on board the ship, why didn't he scout around to find a weakness, or plant a bomb, or a computer virus, as a tactical advantage as he so eloquently put it? Shinzon didn't look like he's a poker face - why didn't Troi detect his scheming? It would seem like Nemesis is a trap onto itself, full of pitfalls... making it a sad ending for TNG cast featured movies.

But my question is this - does bad story telling make it justifiable for one to abandon the canon timeline to explore an alternative timeline? Couldn't they have fixed TNG movie at 12 or 13? Bring in DS9 or Voyager crew perhaps? What was wrong with finishing Star Trek Enterprise into Season 7, and perhaps bring Enterprise E back to when Jonathan Archer became President of the Federation? Time travel is always fascinating. You just need to find a compelling reason or excuse to do so.

In contrast, yes, Star Trek 11 is enjoyable, but Kirk was not the right person to be at the event. NCC1701 was a new ship. It's Captain and Science Officer would perhaps be outstanding. But of all people, why did Captain Pike make Kirk first officer to Spock when he was called to the Romulan ship? On hindsight, that could have been an impressive command decision, but there is no way in hell StarFleet would have made a StarFleet cadet who is not even an ensign the first officer of any starship, least of all the Enterprise. Yes, I have a bone to pick about this, and it is a very large bone. And also consider all the new faces. Is it possible that in alternate reality, people look different? That must be the first this happens in our science fiction universe.

Question - what if Star Trek 12 flops? Sure, it can be entertaining, but usually, you need to break a few rules of consistency just to do so. Just think Transformers 2. If the Alternative Timeline flops, it's too late to go back to reconnect the dots between Star Trek Enterprise all the way to Voyager. The circle is already broken by this bastard child called the alternate universe.

I didn't like how Star Wars Episodes 1 - 3 were told. I had a wish list. Despite the eventual turn to the dark side for Anakin Skywalker, it could still have preserved some levity of the original trilogy. But at least I appreciated the attempt at consistency, even as I was appalled by the story's gaps. Could you imagine George Lucas realising how the Phantom Menace irked a lot of people, and decided to pull the plug on Episodes 2 and 3, and decide to reboot with an alternative timeline? It would have been unimaginable, and unbearable. Why then are we asked to accept Star Trek's audacity to do so?

Star Trek should have gone where no one has boldly gone before. If the studios were courageous enough to put a new face to old characters, they should have been just as bold to create a totally new set of cast, and throw them another ship, and set them off to an amazing adventure. Star Trek is a universe. It is not the playground of Kirk alone. Look at how Star Wars has expanded the Clone Wars, which is a force onto itself. Or the Old Republic, an actually completely new universe. And look at what they are trying to achieve by bringing to fore the minor characters, so that they become major roles in the live action series, now put off for another few more years due to budgetary constraints.

Star Trek 12 may well be entertaining, but I will always feel a disconnect, because it isn't my reality. As far as I'm concerned, it's gone where no wrong has gone before.

Monday, 7 February 2011

3D - Benefit or Bane?

There seems to be an ongoing argument about the benefits of 3D movies - does it add an immersing visual experience? Or is it one additional gadget moviegoers can do without + some people are just not suited to watch movies with goggles - gives them headache, visuals seem darker etc..?

Frankly, in my view, if a movie is good enough, no 3D experience is going to enhance it greatly. If it is a bad movie, no visual enhancement is going to safe it. I haven't come across a viewing experience where I exclaimed "wow, wait til I see this in 3D". It'll be a different story if it's 3D as in Star Wars hologram (with high resolution and colour)! That way, the value-added viewing experience is you get to see the same scene from any angle that you choose.

Anyway, I have no quarrel with cineplexes showing movies in 3D. My pet peeve is if they stop doing films in 2D and put it all in 3D. That will be the day when the masses will rise against movie-makers and distributors, for crossing the line for greed. Imagine the number of goggles people need to buy/rent. The day will probably never come, because just like Blueray, what's not acceptable to the torrent community will unlikely make it big in main stream.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Stepping stone to human advancement, or famous last words?

Yahoo! reports today:

MEYRIN, Switzerland - The most powerful atom-smasher ever built could make some bizarre discoveries, such as invisible matter or extra dimensions in space, after it is switched on in August.

But some critics fear the Large Hadron Collider could exceed physicists' wildest conjectures: Will it spawn a black hole that could swallow Earth? Or spit out particles that could turn the planet into a hot dead clump?

Ridiculous, say scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by its French initials CERN — some of whom have been working for a generation on the $5.8 billion collider, or LHC.

"Obviously, the world will not end when the LHC switches on," said project leader Lyn Evans.

David Francis, a physicist on the collider's huge ATLAS particle detector, smiled when asked whether he worried about black holes and hypothetical killer particles known as strangelets.

"If I thought that this was going to happen, I would be well away from here," he said.

The collider basically consists of a ring of supercooled magnets 17 miles in circumference attached to huge barrel-shaped detectors. The ring, which straddles the French and Swiss border, is buried 330 feet underground.

The machine, which has been called the largest scientific experiment in history, isn't expected to begin test runs until August, and ramping up to full power could take months. But once it is working, it is expected to produce some startling findings.

Scientists plan to hunt for signs of the invisible "dark matter" and "dark energy" that make up more than 96 percent of the universe, and hope to glimpse the elusive Higgs boson, a so-far undiscovered particle thought to give matter its mass.

The collider could find evidence of extra dimensions, a boon for superstring theory, which holds that quarks, the particles that make up atoms, are infinitesimal vibrating strings.

The theory could resolve many of physics' unanswered questions, but requires about 10 dimensions — far more than the three spatial dimensions our senses experience.

The safety of the collider, which will generate energies seven times higher than its most powerful rival, at Fermilab near Chicago, has been debated for years. The physicist Martin Rees has estimated the chance of an accelerator producing a global catastrophe at one in 50 million — long odds, to be sure, but about the same as winning some lotteries.

By contrast, a CERN team this month issued a report concluding that there is "no conceivable danger" of a cataclysmic event. The report essentially confirmed the findings of a 2003 CERN safety report, and a panel of five prominent scientists not affiliated with CERN, including one Nobel laureate, endorsed its conclusions.

Critics of the LHC filed a lawsuit in a Hawaiian court in March seeking to block its startup, alleging that there was "a significant risk that ... operation of the Collider may have unintended consequences which could ultimately result in the destruction of our planet."

One of the plaintiffs, Walter L. Wagner, a physicist and lawyer, said Wednesday CERN's safety report, released June 20, "has several major flaws," and his views on the risks of using the particle accelerator had not changed.

On Tuesday, U.S. Justice Department lawyers representing the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation filed a motion to dismiss the case.

The two agencies have contributed $531 million to building the collider, and the NSF has agreed to pay $87 million of its annual operating costs. Hundreds of American scientists will participate in the research.

The lawyers called the plaintiffs' allegations "extraordinarily speculative," and said "there is no basis for any conceivable threat" from black holes or other objects the LHC might produce. A hearing on the motion is expected in late July or August.

In rebutting doomsday scenarios, CERN scientists point out that cosmic rays have been bombarding the earth, and triggering collisions similar to those planned for the collider, since the solar system formed 4.5 billion years ago.

And so far, Earth has survived.

"The LHC is only going to reproduce what nature does every second, what it has been doing for billions of years," said John Ellis, a British theoretical physicist at CERN.

Critics like Wagner have said the collisions caused by accelerators could be more hazardous than those of cosmic rays.

Both may produce micro black holes, subatomic versions of cosmic black holes — collapsed stars whose gravity fields are so powerful that they can suck in planets and other stars.

But micro black holes produced by cosmic ray collisions would likely be traveling so fast they would pass harmlessly through the earth.

Micro black holes produced by a collider, the skeptics theorize, would move more slowly and might be trapped inside the earth's gravitational field — and eventually threaten the planet.

Ellis said doomsayers assume that the collider will create micro black holes in the first place, which he called unlikely. And even if they appeared, he said, they would instantly evaporate, as predicted by the British physicist Stephen Hawking.

As for strangelets, CERN scientists point out that they have never been proven to exist. They said that even if these particles formed inside the Collider they would quickly break down.

When the LHC is finally at full power, two beams of protons will race around the huge ring 11,000 times a second in opposite directions. They will travel in two tubes about the width of fire hoses, speeding through a vacuum that is colder and emptier than outer space.

Their trajectory will be curved by supercooled magnets — to guide the beams around the rings and prevent the packets of protons from cutting through the surrounding magnets like a blowtorch.

The paths of these beams will cross, and a few of the protons in them will collide, at a series of cylindrical detectors along the ring. The two largest detectors are essentially huge digital cameras, each weighing thousands of tons, capable of taking millions of snapshots a second.

Each year the detectors will generate 15 petabytes of data, the equivalent of a stack of CDs 12 miles tall. The data will require a high speed global network of computers for analysis.

Wagner and others filed a lawsuit to halt operation of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, or RHIC, at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York state in 1999. The courts dismissed the suit.

The leafy campus of CERN, a short drive from the shores of Lake Geneva, hardly seems like ground zero for doomsday. And locals don't seem overly concerned. Thousands attended an open house here this spring.

"There is a huge army of scientists who know what they are talking about and are sleeping quite soundly as far as concerns the LHC," said project leader Evans.

==========================================

"Obviously, the world will not end when the LHC switches on," said project leader Lyn Evans.

"If I thought that this was going to happen, I would be well away from here," David Francis,
a physicist on the collider's huge ATLAS particle detector.

Famous last words, or a major leap in human advancement? We'll know in August. But should there be any disaster from this, it will be stuff of a blockbuster in years to come, if we're still around.