Monthly Archives: July 2009

Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution

5dlIf you are a fan of Sid Meier games on the computer, I recommend trying out his console version of Civ (I play the Xbox 360 version).  Civilization Revolution, if you are not familiar with the series, is a turn based strategy game in which you play the leader of a colonizing civilization.  It is your duty to build cities, troops, wonders and city buildings while amassing gold and researching new technology; all in the name of making your “country” the best.  There are multiple civilizations to choose from, with different benefits associated with them.  There are also four different ways to win the game: Domination, Technological, Cultural, and Economic.  This gives some variety to the game-play and allows you to work with each civilization differently depending on their attributes.  I have spent many hours trying to get all of the achievements for this game, and I am still working on it with enjoyment.  Replay factor on this game is high!  For your enjoyment, here is the trailer from IGN.

Pros

  • Easy to learn how to play and learn the controls.  This makes the game playable by people who have never played Civ before and/or are not heavy duty gamers.
  • Multi-player!  Yes, there is online multi-player.  That is all that needs to be said there.  What would Civ be if you couldn’t conquer your friends?
  • The game was scaled down appropriately for the consoles.  On the PC, sometimes you would have to ammas gigantor armies of troops (50+ units) to attack a city.  In the console you rarely have to make more than 10 units attack the same city.  This makes it much easier to navigate with a controller vs. keyboard and mouse.
  • DLC is available.  There are new maps to play (some of them free), new wonders, and new ancient artifact thingies that you can discover.
  • You can group 3 of the same units into an army.  This gives bonuses to attack and defense while making the troops more manageable.

Cons

  • You cannot change the name and colors of your civilization.  I enjoyed making my civ bright pink and calling them the Elephanteers in the PC games; would that option have been too hard to add?
  • The Advisers!  They seem to pop up every damn time you turn around to tell you what you already know.  Not only are they annoying, they slow down the load time of turns.  Grrrrrr.
  • You cannot choose who or how many enemy civs you have for a specific game.  Sometimes it is fun to have only 3 people on a huge planet or 12 people on a tiny one.

Most of my complaints are things that I am able to work around and deal with because I like the game that much.  Next, I want to see a console version of Alpha Centauri (another Sid Meier game).  I had so much fun playing that game on the PC (Win 95/98).  I think that it would make a good expansion for the Civilization Revolutions game.  You would not need to make a whole new game, just re-skin the current game and add some new civilizations.  I think that the game mechanics could mostly be kept the same.

Scientific State of the Union

An interesting and depressing article was brought to my attention by Jack.  Americans See Science Lagging Here posted on cnet describes the disparity between how scientists see their work compared to the American public. 

Personally, being a scientist, I found this article astounding.  I sincerely thought that the public had a much better knowledge of basic science and more faith in the progress American scientists were making in their fields.  Apparently I was mistaken.  Jack says that this is because I rarely talk with anyone who is not a scientist or engineer of some sort, but I still cannot shake my sense of impending doom if this is the level of public knowledge.

WhatPublicKnows

I was not surprised by 91% of people knowing that aspirin is used to prevent heart attacks; there are commercials for that every time you turn on the TV.  I was slightly concerned by the only 72% of people that knew continents were moving.  These and a few others, I expected most of the population to get correct.  On the other hand, only 54% of people knowing that antibiotics will NOT kill viruses and the 47% knowing that lasers do NOT work by focusing sound waves was disheartening to say the least.  Isn’t this basic knowledge?  I wonder what the results on these questions would have been if they surveyed children as another group.  I have a feeling that children would have done better than the adults.

PartisanshipIdeology

In addition to surveying science knowledge, the study also asked about the religious beliefs and political associations of scientists, the perception of American scientific discoveries, and the media portrayal of science.  I found the differences in religion and politics between the public and scientist very interesting.

ReligiousBeliefs

I think that it goes without saying that there is a large difference in the way scientists and the public think about science.  Does being a scientist lead to the differences in belief from the public or do those differing beliefs predispose one to becoming a scientist?

The Pew Research Center conducted a survey of 2,001 members of the general public by phone and 2,533 members of AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) online.  Read the full study HERE.  (All images credited to the Pew Research Center)

Tales of Vesperia

A new month, a new game I am playing.  Tales of Vespeira is my current time sink, and what an enjoyable one it is!  Actually I have been playing this game since April off and on; one free rentaltales_of_vesperia coupon per month makes it hard to get really into a game.  I was finally able to pick up a used copy of Tales and immerse myself in the story.  And what a story it is!  I am getting close to the final boss and I have already played the game for almost 60 hours, and I skipped a ton of side quests and events.  Once I finish this play-through I plan on doing it all over again and getting that 100% completion I am so fond of.

At first I was leery about playing this game because, while I like watching the occasional anime, I cannot stand cell shaded games.  I hate it when a game uses all of this wonderful technology to make everything look 2-D.  I was convinced to give this game a try by my local game store employee and friend, C.  I was debating between Tales, Devil May Cry 4, and The Last Remnant and asked the opinion of C, who likes many of the same games I do.  C said to try Tales because I like RPGs and it has a really good story, but don’t expect achievements from it.  So I gave it a whirl and ended up using the April, May, June, and July free renal coupons on it; Jack was irritated with this because he wanted to play Hot Wheels.

There are many things to enjoy about this game:

  • The storyline is deep and immersive with a few unexpected twists.  There is nothing completely out of the blue and extraordinary about this story, but like a favorite children’s story, you just want to hear it anyways.  None of the villains are all that bad, and not all of the “good guys” are pure and innocent.  It does a very good job of representing the grey areas of morality that are more accurate representations of what people actually have to deal with.
  • There are titles and items that your characters can get to change their outfits and accessories.  While this seems superficial, it is so much fun to be able to have the main character wear a black fedora or mustache and pipe.  It makes things different; yay for variety in costume!  (I am such a girl!)
  • Combat is easy and intuitive.  A jPRG with real time combat seems like it should be against the rules, but it works very well in Tales.  The controls are easy to learn and the battle tutorial is smoothly integrated into the story of the game.  The spontaneous monster encounters are also avoidable because you can see the monsters and simply walk around them.  This is a big thing for me because, sometimes I am just trying to get to a save point fast!

There are also some things that just bugged the crap out of me in the game:

  • The forced dialogue sections require you to hit a button after each person speaks.  This really cramped my style because I always used those sections to make a bathroom break or refill the snacks and beverage. Yes, my place is small enough that I could still hear the game while not in front of the TV.  By having to hit the button after each sentence (and some of these conversations were loooooong) I missed my usual pit stops and had to make artificial interruptions in the game-play to perform these necessary activities.  The button pushing also made the conversations halting, which really breaks the game trance.
  • The map was very difficult.  While I am happy to have a mini-map on screen while traveling,  The big map was constantly referenced to see where I was, and usually where I needed to go.  The big map, while you could zoom it, did not do much good because you could not highlight the name of the place by scrolling over.  You had to select it from a list next to the map (and the list was big) and know if the area you were looking for was a city, dungeon, or field.  Finally, there was no clear indication of where you needed to go next in the storyline.  Many hours did I spend wandering around the map looking for a city.

Tales has so many little details and events that you must see and do to get all of the achievements, I would say that a guide is necessary for 100% completion.  If you just want to enjoy the game, then don’t stress over it.  I am using GameFAQs for my general guide and then 360Achievements for my achivement guide.   Honestly, I did not use them this first play-through very much, but I am going to be using them like crazy the second and maybe third time through.

In summation, I thought that this was a very well made game with an immersive story.  My main gripe is the endless dialog that requires button pushing to further it along; if that was changed I would think this was the best game I have played all year.  If you have at least 50 hours that you want to dedicate to a good RPG, then pick the game up.  As I learned, renting this game does not work very well.

Otherland: City of Golden Shadow

I have read Otherland: City of Golden Shadow so many times that the binding on the book is starting to fall apart.  Granted, it is a paperback novel and I am none to gentle with my books, but it takes a special novel for me to read it enough for it to fall apart on me.  Tad Williams is one of my favorite authors; which one is my #1 favorite changes depending on who is actually publishing right now (not very scientific, i know)  

Rather than write my own summary, here is what the author has on his website:

Otherland. Shrouded by secrecy, it is home to the wildest dreams and darkest nightmares. Incredible amounts of money have been lavished on it. The best minds of two generations have labored to build it. And somehow, bit by bit, it is claiming the Earth’s most valuable resource – its children.

Only a few have become aware of the danger. Fewer still are willing or able to take up the challenge of this perilous and seductive realm. But every age has its heroes, and unusual times call for unusual champions.

Renie Sulaweyo, a teacher and the backbone of her family, proud of her African heritage, has fought all her life simply to get by. She has never wanted to be a hero. But when her young brother is struck down by a bizarre and mysterious illness, Renie swears to save him. When people around her begin to die, she realizes she has stumbled onto something she is not meant to know, a terrifying secret from which there is no turning back….

!Xabbu is a Bushman, come to the city to learn skills which may save the spirit of his tribe. With the heart of a poet and the soul of a shaman, he will journey with Renie on this quest into the very heart of darkness….

Paul Jonas is lost, seemingly adrift in space and time. As he flees from the bloody battlefields of World War I to a castle in the sky, and onward to lands beyond imagining, he must not only evade his terrifying pursuers, but solve the terrible riddle of his own identity….

Fourteen-year-old Orlando is also the invincible barbarian Thargor, but only in his imagination. However, youth and frailty are not enough to get you excused from saving the world….

And Mister Sellers, a strange old man on a military base, a prisoner of both the government and his own body, may be the greatest mystery of all. Is he part of The Grail Brotherhood? Does he oppose them? Or, as he sits like a spider at the center of a vast web, does he have ambitions of his own?

The answers will only be found in Otherland…

I cannot decided if this novel is science fiction or fantasy.  It has the high tech computers and virtual reality that would make it a SF novel, and yet the characters travel to fantasy worlds, interacting like the Fellowship of the Ring.  I guess it will have to be filed under both for my purposes.

The novel is very well written, with full use of the English language (meaning that there were a few words that even I had to look up).  Tad Williams does not pander to the lowering standards of literacy that America is falling to, but writes in full and descriptive sentences.  He even uses ::gasp:: semi-colons!  The characters are very well developed by the end of the first novel, and the challenge/quest is clearly described.

Unfortunately, this book is not one that you can read without having the next one ready when the first is finished.  Tad obviously wrote these books with a single train of thought; this is great for a consistent story without false endings between books, but inconvenient if you do not have the next book handy.  Hence, I recommend purchasing all 4 of the books in this series at the same time and get ready to stay up late for a week at least!

Solis Winery

Here is yet another wonderful winery in Santa Clara Valley.  Solis Winery uses “modern technology to produce meticulously crafted award-winning wines” that also taste good!  Solis is located on Hecker Pass, on the left if you are coming from Gilroy, with a cluster of other wineries.  Because it is near so many other wineries, they get quite a few tours coming through the tasting room and can be quite crowded on the weekends.  I personally like a more intimate tasting experience, so I recommend going there during the week if possible.  The tasting room is actually down a few SolisWinerystairs once you enter the building and there is a very nice outdoor area that you can enjoy while tasting.  Their tasting room has always stuck in my mind because of the stairs that you have to go down and the almost half circle bar that they have; it is unique in my experience.  There were two wines that I found exceptional in my experience: the Seducente and the Merlot.

2005 Seducente – Pronounced “sed-u-chent-ay” (I was corrected on this so many times I was ready to throw it in thebottles02 face of the person correcting me).  It is a Super Tuscan wine made of estate Sangiovese and Merlot from Mann Vineyards.  I found strong flavors of black cherry when I tasted this wine, and the Sangio blended with the Merlot really smoothed out the tannins.  I am a huge fan of Sangiovese by itself, so when it is blended I usually wonder why a good wine was wasted.  I did not wonder that with this wine; this blend works perfectly.  I want to buy enough of it to have a bottle every week (too bad the reality of bank accounts and having no place to store it keep me from doing just that).

2005 Merlot Estate – I thought that this was an excellent example of what a Merlot should taste like.  It had body and flavor without being too heavy on the tannins; extremely smooth and easy to drink.  I tasted berries and plum in this wine, along with a slight hint of earth, ironically I couldn’t smell anything past the good red wine smell.  I was enraptured.  I am not surprised that this wine has won two gold medals, only surprised that it has not won more!

While I did not personally taste the 2004 Sangiovese Estate, I have been told by many friends that it is an excellent wine.  Currently the winery is sold out of it, which is why I did not taste it, but it can be found stores.  I was referred to the local Nob Hill Foods as the best bet to get some.  They also make a Fiano, which is a rarely found Italian white wine varietal.  I cannot wait to go back and try this one in particular.  Along with these superb wines, Solis produces Syrah, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Meritage called Cara Mia among others.  One final thing to mention is the Solis Wine Club; I am not a member but I have friends and family that are.  If you are interested in joining a wine club that has great events focused on food and wine pairings, you might want to consider Solis.bottleneck