Sunday, February 26, 2006
Initial Impressions of GalCiv II
As I predicted in last week's post, I've gone ahead and downloaded Galactic Civilizations II. Installation process went smoothly and easily (relatively high download speeds as well), but while I enjoy the game as a whole, I found a few things baffling. Here are my initial thoughts:
Update: Ok, so I must have accidentally surrendered (instead of offering a peace treaty) from the diplomatic dialogue. That's the only thing I can think of that would have caused the defeat. I just went back to my saved game and was able to mop up the rest of the Drengin empire without a problem (except that once I really had their backs to the wall, the surrendered their one remaining planet to another alien race, dammit!) So the problem I encountered seems like a fluke, which is great news!
Update II: After I figured out what happened, I went back and played more and the game is truly excellent. My only complaint is that the ship design interface is a little difficult to use at times... but the good far outweighs the bad when it comes to that feature, as it is one of the coolest aspects of the game, allowing you to interject your own personality on the game...
Update III: I've written up a game example...
Sunday, February 19, 2006
Galactic Civilizations II is coming...
Brad Wardell has been posting a lot of interesting stuff over on his blog. Wardell is the founder/owner of Stardock, a company that is known more for it's windows customization programs like WindowBlinds than for it's video games, but each of their games I've played is excellent. They're currently gearing up for the release of Galactic Civilizations II, a sequel to their excellent turn-based strategy game in which you vie for galactic influence with a number of alien races. All throughout the development of the game, Wardell has been posting progress reports and generally shedding some light on the process.
I was a fan of the first GalCiv game. Since I started my posting schedule of at least once a week, I've only missed a Sunday post a few times, mostly because I was travelling. However, there was one week in which I was so engrossed in a galactic war that I actually skipped posting that week. And it looks like the new game will fix some of the things that bothered me about the first game, namely the ability to control social and military production at a planetary level (as opposed to the first game where this was done at the civilization level). There also appears to be much more customization involved (you can design your own ships, etc...)
Wardell was in charge of the AI for the game, so much of his commentary focuses on that aspect of things, but it's still quite interesting. Here are a few posts to check out:
The game comes out on Tuesday of this week, and I'll most likely purchase it at some point. One other feature that's nice is that he's made the system requirements deliberately low, so I don't have to upgrade my computer just to play the game (though it probably won't look as nice). Who knows, maybe I'll miss next week's post due to another galactic war...
Sunday, February 12, 2006
A little while ago, I came into the possession of a collection of 9 early Alfred Hitchcock films (i.e. 1920s and 1930s, his pre-Hollywood films). Since Cinecast (a film podcast) was doing a Hitchcock Marathon, I decided to play along in a manner of speaking (the major difference being that I'm going to watch more than the 6 films they've selected... in fact, the only film on their list that's currently in my collection is The 39 Steps).
I started my marathon with one of Hitchcock's first efforts, a 1926 silent film called The Lodger. I enjoyed the film a lot, though it had a lot to do with the context and conventions of silent films. Moving in chronological order, I've progressed through three more films: Blackmail, Rich and Strange, and Number 17.
During the Cinecast marathon, the hosts of the show referred to one of Hitch's final efforts as "Minor Hitchcock, the work of a director whose best days are clearly behind him." With the films I've seen so far, I'd have to also classify them as Minor Hitchcock. However, these films are the work of a director whose best days are clearly ahead of him. Even as early as The Lodger, you can see Hitchcock's standard themes developing as well as flashes of his future brilliance. I'm only four films in though, and I'm fairly certain that the later films in the collection will pick up a bit...
More thoughts on all three, including Spoilers as well as a few screenshots (with the typical sarcastic captions) below the fold...
Blackmail (1929): One of the first British "talkies," this film started production as a silent film and the producers decided to change part-way through the production. As such there are actually two versions of the film, one silent, and one with sound, though the version with sound (the one I saw) seems to be the best remembered version. The movie tells the story of Alice White, a woman dating a policeman named Frank. She's bored with Frank and decides to mess around with an artist. To make a long story short with the help of spoilers, the artist is a perv who attempts to rape Alice so she kills him with a breadknife that just happens to be conveniently located on the bedstand:
(Click images for a larger version)
I used this knife for bread, and only bread. This is the face I make when I'm cutting bread.
Rich and Strange (1931): Offbeat, a little uneven, and seemingly out-of-character for Hitchcock, this film follows the story of Fredy and Emily as they unexpectedly come into money and decide to cruise around the world. The couple eventually winds up becoming romantically entangled with other passengers. Hijinks ensue. Aside from the ending, this film isn't what you'd typically expect from Hitchcock - it's more of a romantic comedy than anything else. Even visually, I wasn't particularly impressed. It's good at what it does, but was a little too slow for me...
Number 17 (1932): This film follows a gang of thieves who have stashed their loot in a safehouse. The police are hot on their heels, of course, but they have an escape plan. This film is most notable for Hitchcock's obvious experimentation with the medium. Hand held cameras, movement, and quick cuts are all used effectively. Making extensive use of candlelight, he plays with lighting and shadows throughout the film:
Stepping through my shadow...
No, these are not obviously miniatures.
No miniatures here, move it along.
Again, these early films show glimpses of Hitchcock's future brilliance, but are not especially brilliant in themselves. There were a lot of plotting and pacing problems in particular, though I do wonder how my modern perspective affects my perception of these movies. As with The Lodger I wonder how much of the impact of these films is lost because of the modern, cynical attitudes towards storytelling. As I said in my previous post:
These days, we're so zonked out on Lost and 24 that our minds immediately and cynically formulate all the ways the filmmakers are trying to trick us. Were audiences that cynical 80 years ago? Or did the ending truly surprise them?And, of course, the more pressing question: did people really leave loaves of bread and knives on their bedstands?
Thursday, February 09, 2006
The Art of Rainmaking by Guy Kawasaki: An interesting article about salesmanship and what is referred to as "rainmaking." Kawasaki lists out several ways to practice the art of rainmaking, but this first one caught my eye because it immediately reminded me of Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, and regular readers (all 5 of you) know I can't resist a Stephenson reference.
“Let a hundred flowers blossom.” I stole this from Chairman Mao although I'm not sure how he implemented it. In the context of capitalism (Chairman Mao must be turning over in his grave), the dictum means that you sow seeds in many markets, see what takes root, and harvest what blooms. Many companies freak out when unintended customers buy their product. Many companies also freak out when intended customers buy their product but use it in unintended ways. Don't be proud. Take the money.This immediately reminded me of the data haven (a secure computer system that is protected by it's lack of governmental oversight as well as technical means like encryption) in the "modern-day" segments of Cryptonomicon. Randy Waterhouse works for the company that's attempting to sett up a data haven, and he finds that the most of his customers want to use the data haven to store money. Pretty straightforward, right? Well, most of the people who want to store their money their are criminals of the worst sort. I guess in that particular case, there is reason to freak out at these unexpected customers, but I thought the reference was interesting because while there may be lots of legitimate uses for a data haven, the criminal element would almost certainly be attracted to a way to store their drug money (or whatever) with impugnity (that and probably spam, pornography, and gambling). Like all advances in technology, the data haven could be used for good or for ill...
Sunday, February 05, 2006
A Spectrum of Articles
When you browse the web often, especially when you're looking at mostly weblogs, you start to see some patterns emerging. A new site is discovered, then propagates throughout the blogosphere in fairly short order. I'm certainly no expert at spotting such discoveries, but one thing I've noticed being repeatedly referenced this past week is the IEEE Spectrum (a magazine devoted to electrical engineering). I've seen multiple blogs referencing multiple articles from this magazine, though I can't think of a single reference in the past. Here's a few articles that seem interesting:
Where am I?
This page contains entries posted to the Kaedrin Weblog in February 2006.
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Philadelphia Film Festival 2006
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Weird Movie of the Week
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