Civilization V – or How I Spent My Day Being Sick And Still Getting Things Done

Civilization games are great, especially if you like thinking far in to the future and planning the logistics of world domination. Most of the articles I’ve written on this have dealt with games that were “completed” in some fashion; this is very much a game  that can’t really be completed. Why note it as complete? In this case it’s more about: winning, using all available mechanics, and generally enjoying things.

I usually win Civ V games through culture, diplomacy or science; very rarely through domination. This time I played random, got English, and was very happy to be on a map with a ton of water and where long range snipping was a valid tactic to take my own continent. In the end, I won through domination, got Augustus Caesar rank, and felt pretty good about the whole thing. Got one round away from using a Giant Death Robot in a legitimate combat situation.

Two of the mechanics that were “missing” from the original release of Civ V were religion and espionage. In many ways I think it helped with the new feeling and tactics of this game to not have those mechanics present at first. The game to make a name for itself with the city state premise, let along the death of the stack of death. With all these changes for long time players not having the complexities of these systems I think it was a good call. This may have led to a slight over tilt towards combat mechanics, however the new faith mechanic and espionage bring things back in to balance. It took a few games for me to figure out that religion was more of a side game, something to actually be used much later in the game rather than early game. Espionage I’ve enjoyed in pretty much every iteration, this was no exception: helped keep me in line with lanes of research I had no desire to spend time on, and furthered my city state goals nicely.

Even with my rig late game turns can take a few minutes. In some games, or in times where all I wanted to do was play games, this was seen as a bad things. Anymore, I see it as a perk! The long wait times actually made it easy to get work done, made for a great timer of focus: five minutes of nothing while the game thought about what should happen. Knowing that I had a short time span to get things before my next move actually helped with some things; it forced me to create more code comments to make sure I knew what I was doing when I’d get back. When not working, knowing that I had some time coming up made it easier to get up and walk around, use the restroom, take care of cats, and all while not feeling like I wasn’t managing time well. I may have been sick, but Civ V helped me relax and still get things done!

Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD – Nostalgia on Wheels

There are a few games that I’ve been willing to play and/or buy on multiple platforms, much less try to be good at it on all of those platforms. Tony Hawk Pro Skater and Pro Skater 2 are on that very short list. The games after THPS2 aren’t quite as good in my opinion, but still quite good.

The music in both games is almost the soundtrack to young life. From Superman, Jerry Was A Race Car Driver to Guerrilla Radio, When Worlds Collide. Come to think of it the cliché of soundtrack to my youth very much fits. Playing through the HD version and having all that music playing over the Warehouse and The Hangar brought back great memories of sitting on friend’s floor and trying to get that hundred move long combo worked out. A lot of the songs I already greatly enjoyed it, but these games just reinforced it.

THPS2 was the first real port I got my Mac way back when, got a nice controller from MacAlly that went with my largish hands better than most other controllers (aside from the N64 at the time), and my siblings played the crud out of that game. My sister realized she was the grind queen and my brother actually got in to skateboarding from it.

Enough about then, what about now? How does this new version stack up? The music is still there and compiled. The graphics are improved. The items and goals are pretty much in the same spot, too. Wait, how did I get back on nostalgia moments, weren’t we moving forward? Well, that’s the joy of an HD remix of a classic game. Thankfully, the equation of the game is just plain awesome and well worth playing though again.

There’s No More Zombies On My Lawn! Er, wait…

Plants vs Zombies (PvZ) is a very entertaining and relaxing game; sadly I took forever to finish this one thanks to shifting priorities. From a design perspective there is a great mix and variety of game play and decisions. Day to night, lawn to pool, roof to bowling. The pacing, music, and overall fun factor of the game is pretty awesome.

On pacing, the non-traditional levels of random “cards” coming down and limit any sort of fatigue factor to both play styles. The mix of normal levels mixed with special levels, mini games, and side quests keeps the function going and reinforcing that there’s an end in sight. A weird thing to think about but it’s a place where the original Mario Bros. really shines: the world changes at an escalating pace reinforcing the build up to the end.

The one nitpick-y “bad” thing that I felt they did was introduce a completely new mechanic at the end: the roof and “launched” items. Why do I consider this bad? I feel like the end of a game should be the culmination of everything before it; it’s why I think Blizzard games have been so successful, they build to the end. Thankfully they didn’t do it to the same extent that inFamous (the first one) did with it’s level design and quests. That’s not to say that new things shouldn’t be introduced, but they should build and culminate. For the most part PvZ also does this, and if anything it’s like the flip side to the night time. I think it could have been “fixed” a bit by putting the roof in chapter three instead of five and just going back and forth.

Musically the great cohesion puts the game on par with even the most “blockbuster” of title; plus that credits song is just so catchy and intoxicating. Being a musician there are times that I may put too much emphasis on music at times, but this time I think it pays off.

Due to my large list of things to slug out I’m not able to enjoy the replay ability of this one as much as I’d like, but there’s a ton of it! The different puzzle, endless, and zen garden modes give a whole lot to do once the main story is done. If anything I may end up playing it more on my iPad as a mental checkout when I’ve played too much Strategery.

All in all, a great game that I really should have finished sooner than I did.

Around the Web: 2013.01.22

Surprising things that make a brain?

http://www.technologyreview.com/view/510141/what-makes-a-mind-kurzweil-and-google-may-be-surprised/

While I understand large bits of the subject at hand I want to draw the most attention to the comments on Watson: it’s good at trivia but not so great at problem solving. As a society we base communication on trivia, and we seem to assume that that thought is based on said communication learning techniques; but it doesn’t that that’s the case! Yes, we are a sum of our experiences, but it’s the sum of our problem experiences that were solved!

Dark Ages now brighter!

http://www.technologyreview.com/view/509876/the-algorithms-that-automatically-date-medieval-manuscripts/

Building a bit on the compounding communication part, I find this rather fascinating. Basically, it’s holing communication changes to a generation or a migration; something that the AI guys try to do with modern changing vernacular- only this is over thousands of years instead of days or months!

Assuming Siri is… wait, what?

http://www.technologyreview.com/view/510081/dont-make-siri-a-character-apple/

It’s a good point to think about: what does Siri need? I tend to think that a writer would be brought on to make things shorter or least more varied while being rather brief.

The Fall of Communism- I mean Social News!
http://corte.si/posts/socialmedia/trouble-with-social-news.html

The Long Contract of The Law

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2013/01/google-stands-up-for-gmail-users-requires-cops-to-get-a-warrant/

I’m rather glad Google is doing this; maybe our data will start to be our data! When your mail goes through the post office it’s still your letter that the post office is hanging on to for a little bit (not perfect I know, but you get the idea). Maybe more exposure to such things will get people to start to really think about their data more critically.

Mu-nundrum

http://arstechnica.com/science/2013/01/hydrogen-made-with-muons-reveals-proton-size-conundrum/

Interesting read to be sure; would be interesting to see how the experiment would pan out in six months from now to see if anything is different due to tilt or seasons.

Sunday Movie Night

Some movies just need to be bad to be good; Demolition Man very much fits that profile. Many of the characters are over the top caricature of stereotypes from other genres. Complete with bag guys that can’t aim! Very little of the overall movie makes sense really; but Dennis Leary adds a bit of understated bravado that balances out the more slapstick over the top feeling one gets from watching Snipes or Stallone.

Just watched Demo Man and now moved on to the Les Mis inspired Aladdin; can you have two different movies? The actual bad guys in Demolition Man are actually a bit ethereal, whereas in Aladdin they’re fairly cut and dry overall.

And look: Cinderella! The movie that doesn’t understand time, location, or titles for that matter.

To say this was an interesting night of movie watching may be an understatement of massive proportions.

Television

I watch one show every week and make sure not to miss it: Castle. I’ve slowly added in Suits. Burn Notice used to be in that category but has declined recently sadly, same with Parenthood. Once Upon a Time has caught my attention more this season; I stopped last season about half way through since they were going a bit too far with the “no more happy endings” thing that was entertaining for me. Iron Chef as well as Diner’s, Drive-Ins, and Dives are still staples in my weekly viewing. Grimm I will more or less listen to while my wife watches it and I code or game on the couch. That leads over to Netflix.

When I need something to just be on, or want to relax with some sic-fi I go to my Netflix queue. I’ve been re-watching Deep Space Nine since it was available on Netflix, not barreling through and it’s been fun to watch an episode and think back to when I first saw it, what it really means for the human state before continuing on with my day. Recently I got through the rest of StarGate Universe that I failed to watch in its original run; the change of day made it almost impossible for me to watch it or record it in the second season. Another post coming soon about that show; it was almost really good. At this point, the majority of my movie and show watching happens long, long after it’s new if at all.

Makes my normal viewing habits of television for a week are up to three hour of paying attention, and then a variable amount of “noise” while my wife watches her shows. I did not/do not include sport in this list; they are quite seasonal and I treat it more as news given how much of it I watch in clips on the web.

This post is very specific on television with a foray in to movie consumption; where I get most of my visual entertainment is “streams” of games, gaming related video casts, and various youTube videos. That’s some thoughts for another day though.

Time Commitments

Recently I decided to map out my week and have a table for time vs percentage and another of ideal; my ideal schedule I still haven’t really come up with, but documenting what a “normal” week looks like was hard enough in its own right. Looking at my schedule over the last couple of years this is what a normal week tends to look like apparently.

Activity – By Week Hours Percentage Notes
Total 168 100% This is how many hours a week possible
Music Practice 9 5 Three 3 hours rehearsals
Work Commute 12 7 2 Hours Train, 30 Minutes Redline, 30 Minutes Walking & Bus- 3 Hours/Day; I always try to work from home one day a week.
Work 40 24 Really this goes over a lot…
Comics 7 4 Between reading and picking up it’s about an hour a day
Sleep 42 25 Really this is a minimum, but it tends to be pretty true
Television 5 3 For shows I watch and various things my wife would like me to watch
Gaming 7 4 I really only end up averaging an hour a day at this point; this needs to improve dramatically
Church Activities 3 2 This is the other things I would like to bump up a lot
Personal Projects 10 6 From coding to everything else
Time with my Wife 25 15 I note this not as an obligation, but a privilege that I get to have at least this much time with my wife a week; typically it’s more, too!
Workouts 8 5 It’s about an hour each day with some spillage

That’s 100% of my week. I didn’t think I actually had it planned out that much, but I really do. Thankfully for me, there’s a lot of these things that I can do at the same time; like commuting and personal projects! I wrote this on one such commute. I did not include eating as I tend to pair it one of the other items above. Sadly, due to both our schedules, my dedicated time to enjoy my wife’s company gets cut tragically short all too often. Additionally this doesn’t even include various transportation timing that eats in to activities. Realizing that work plus sleep is half my week gone out the window was not an inspiring thought…

This has been a very interesting excursive for me; really having to think about the things I do/don’t do in a week and what my real priorities are. It’s also inspired me to make “Time Commitments” an on-going look at how I spend my time and how I think about my time.

Football, Drones, and Walls: A Weekend Review

Given my teams that I hope to win things, I’m down to just the 49ers in the hunt to the Super Bowl. I was quite hoping for a Broncos-49ers Super Bowl in New Orleans; Manning against an upstart defensive team, would have been entertaining!

Of all the things that I saw covered at CES the only thing I’m really interested in is the Parrot AR 2.0; GPS with programable routes, better camera control, and an SDK. Yes please. The 84″ touch screen was cool and gives me some ideas for a project at work to be honest.

On Saturday I helped a friend start to tackle his yard. We built 30′ of wall for a planter four (4) feet high. There were five of us working all across the yard and a lot got done in one day; at one point we were all even looking for extra things to do! My body is certainly paying for it today, but in so many good ways. The lifting that has been going on most mornings for the last few months came in handy, not only was the chore of carrying over seventy (70) bricks weighing over twenty five (25) pound made easier, but recovery is much easier, too!

Up for this week is helping my wife with her projects around the house, finishing another video game, a lot of writing, and hopefully releasing an alpha for a game I’ve been wanting to make for a long, long time.

Django – Insensitive Case

When using Django in Python there’s these awesome things called QuerySets that are a full blown ORM to make it so I don’t have to think in SQL to get things in and out of a database! One of the things I didn’t find documented very well was case sensitivity vs insensitivity.

If you’re using the MySQL backend the case-sensitive is implied, i.e. using BINARY LIKE instead of just LIKE

series = Series.objects.filter(name__contains=srch_str)

To make sure that you’re searching for some that’s case insensitive you can do the following:

series = Series.objects.filter(name__icontains=srch_str)

If you want it to work case insensitive no matter the backend, collation, or collection type just use icontain, istartswith, iendswith, iregex, iexact.