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Ramblings from the Marginalized » 2008 » August

August 2008


Books August 30th, 2008 by HMTKSteve

Warriors Box Set: Volumes 1 to 6 (Warriors) (Paperback)

The Warriors is a series of books written by Erin Hunter that follows the lives of a group of wild cats known as the Clan Cats. There are four clans; River Clan, Thunder Clan, Wind Clan and Shadow Clan. The series focuses on the the life of the Thunder Clan cats and their interactions with the other clans around them.

The books are currently on their third series but this review will focus on the first series of books; The Warriors.

The story begins when a kittypet named Rusty decides to leave his life of comfort for the more adventurous life of a Clan Cat. At the tender age of six moons (months) he leaves the familiar life of comfort and joins Thunder Clan. Many in the clan resent his kittypet roots but he soon earns the trust and respect of many of the other cats in Thunder Clan. Not all of the other cats appreciate having a former kittypet in their clan and a small faction led by Tigerclaw does its best to cause trouble for Rusty (now known as Firepaw).

    The Books

  • Into the Wild
  • Fire and Ice
  • forest of Secrets
  • Rising Storm
  • A Dangerous Path
  • The Darkest Hour

Thunder Clan

Thunder Clan is led by the she-cat Bluestar. It is her, while on a patrol with Greypaw and Tigerclaw, that welcomes Rusty (Firepaw) into the clan. She does this in part due to a prophecy that has been revealed to her: Fire alone can save our Clan.

After joining the clan Rusty is renamed Firepaw during his apprentice ceremony. He quickly proves his mettle in a short skirmish at the end of the ceremony. Bluestar herself decides to become Firepaw's mentor and Greypaw and Firepaw become instant friends.

Over the course of the books Firepaw becomes the warrior Fireheart and he uncovers a traitor in the Thunder Clan ranks. The traitor sub-plot spans all six books.

The Other Clans

There are four clans in the forest and a fifth clan known as Star Clan. Star Clan is where the spirits of the fallen go to dwell. Some cats do not join Star Clan when they die and are instead left to wander the spirit forest alone for all of eternity.

All of the clans live by the Warrior code; a set of laws devised to ensure a level of civilization exists among the cats of the forest. Living by the Warrior Code is very important to the cats of the Clans. the Warrior code is very similar in spirit to the code of chivalry.

Once every full moon all of the Clans gather at Fourtrees for a Gathering. It is during this one night of truce that disputes are resolved and news is shared. At all other times the clans do not mix.

There is a special type of cat known as the Medicine Cat. These cats are both healers and spiritual advisers to the clan leaders. They have the power to commune with the members of Star Clan and often pass on important information to their clan leaders. Medicine cats live on the outside of the Warrior Code in that they are allowed to mix with Medicine Cats from the other clans.

Each clan has a designated area of the forest that is theirs. Patrols leave scent markers to mark the boundaries of said territory and fights can (and will) erupt if another clan ignores those boundaries.

    Clans and their Territories

  • Wind Clan - Wide open meadows. They are fast runners and hunt rabbits.
  • River Clan - Their territory is surrounded by a river. They are the only clan that eats fish from the river.
  • Shadow Clan - They live in a boggy area that is also covered in pine trees. They are known for being sneaky and sly.
  • Thunder Clan - They live in a hardwood forest. Thunder Clan is known for being very honorable.

Writing Style

Now, I realize that these books can be found in the Young adult section of the library (my daughter got me interested in reading these) but I have to say that the writing style is very engaging. In fact I have read every book in the series over the course of the last month. I am eagerly awaiting the release of the next book in the third series this coming Tuesday.

The name of Erin Hunter is a pen named used by the three writers behind the series of books; Cherith Baldry, Kate Gary and Victoria Holmes. The three writers decided to use the pen name instead of their own to insure that the books would all be grouped together on the shelf.

Each book in the series has a few sub-plots in addition to the overall story arc that spans all six books. Many issues relevant to young readers are addressed over all six books. The very first book talks about what it is like to enter a new school when Firepaw joins Thunder Clan. Other issues covered are what to do when you know a secret and dealing with forbidden love among others.

The books are very well written and the characters stay true to themselves over the course of the books. However, each new series of books focuses on the next generation of cats.

If this series of books sounds appealing to you a box set of the first six books can be purchased from Amazon: Warriors Box Set: Volumes 1 to 6 (Warriors) (Paperback)

Games August 17th, 2008 by Josh L.
Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit

Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit is, if anything, a spectacularly cinematic game. For one thing, the graphics are wonderfully stylized to mimic the look of the anime. Sickly-sweet day-glo sugarcoated cell shading stuns; visually, if I'm Peppermint Larry then DBZ:BL is my Candy Wife (a Flapjack reference for the uninitiated).

Not only are the visuals analogous to a sugar high, but the speed and ferocity of battles indicate a game fed a diet far too heavily on pixie stix. Full of whooshing and biffing, packed with ka-pows and caked in crashes. Unfortunately the fast action is marred by the less than ethereal dialog and voice acting meshed in between all the ki blasts and taunts. Not so much ear candy as eye candy (at least during matches). I do quite fancy the opening score.

So far as the the meat and potatoes, the fighting, is concerned: As previously stated, choreographically and visually DBZ: BL strays little from the source material. But, this is a game after all, and not a cartoon, so the interactive elements are paramount in deciding the title's fate as a success or a flop. A brief rundown of the controls:

Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit Vegeta
  • D-pad/left stick: Move character
  • D-pad (double tap and hold)/left stick: Dash
  • A: Guard, action
  • B: Ki blast
  • X: Rush attack
  • Y: Smash attack
  • A+X: Grab
  • A+Y: Taunt
  • Left bumper: Aura spark
  • Right bumper: Transform
  • Left trigger: Blow-away attack
  • Right trigger: Pursuit/ultimate guard
  • Start: Pause menu

To elaborate on some of the more nebulous commands: Not only is A your guard, but you may also tap the button with the right timing to pull off quite a few nifty maneuvers. Example: Tapping A just before the enemy attack makes contact to dodge, or tapping A plus left or right on the left stick to counter-attack. While this proves satisfying when actually accomplished, this feature is finicky and somewhat un-responsive, I have found, so it feels as if more luck than skill is required. In addition to blocking and counter-attacking, A + the left stick down serves to switch whatever way you're facing N-S-E & W. I honestly feel as if the right stick should've been utilized for camera control, as it has no other real function. Also, the directional pad, while actually functional, is seldom used. It'd be far better suited for command input, which would take some of the burden away from the main face & shoulder buttons. For instance: Instead of initializing aura spark with the left bumper, press left on the control pad, etc.,. likewise for other commands.

Multiplayer is just as fun as I expected, especially when you're battling friends who, unlike myself, are avid fans of the show. With loads of game customization options, I have no gripes in this department.

Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit

Z chronicles

At first the Z chronicles may seem un-organized and random, especially to a DBZ virgin like myself. as you plug along and win battles though, you'll soon begin to see the pieces start to come together to form coherent sagas and scenarios. Snapshots of matches are arranged in a sort of loose grid. Like the periodic table of elements, there are families and there are rows, vertically and horizontally aligned, respectively. Vertical columns represent themed battles pulled straight from the Anime which may have lasted one or many episodes. You play as whatever character won the battle in the anime, be they benign or malevolent, until you defeat your opponent and continue upwards through that specific column until the story arc is complete. In the Z chronicles menu you may at any time switch from one column to another, unlocking more scenarios with each consecutive victory. It's really like playing the show. While this somewhat eliminates one of the hallmarks of modern video games-- the ability to mould the game world as you interact with it-- it's quite fresh to me as I haven't had the story spoiled for me on account of the fact that I've hardly caught a minute of the actual anime. I suspect, though, that even religious DBZ denizens will not find the apparent lack of free will to be a deal breaker, as I believe that they'll quite enjoy reliving the series' most memorable fights.
Drama pieces & bonus characters:

Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit

You may unlock so-called "drama pieces" and associate multiple pieces with whatever character you fancy. A drama piece is a cut-scene that may be purely cinematic, but may also serve the purpose of aiding you in battle by initiating aura spark, calling upon a helper character, etc.,. Some are indeed helpful, but others are downright silly and the 'senzu bean' cut scene has got to be the strangest instance of item use I've yet seen in a fighting game. Sometimes I find drama pieces to be annoying, but they are usually beneficial and amusing and help to add to the game's cinematic feel. So far as other unlockables are concerned, you may rest easy knowing that just about every fighter seen in the anime may be attained in DBZ: BL.

DBZ: BL is a wonderfully fresh and fun fighting game that n00bs and fans alike are sure to enjoy. It's worth the price, though I'd shop around.

Games August 12th, 2008 by HMTKSteve

Descended from a Turkish prince of Jurjan as-Suli is known as one of the greatest (shatranj) chess masters of the Arab world. For over 600 years his reputation remained unchallenged.

It was during the reign of al-Muktafi, (Caliph of Baghdad from 902 - 908 A.D.) that as-Suli came to prominence. A chess tournament was arranged between the court champion, al-Mawardi, and as-Suli. Though the Caliph clearly favored (and encouraged) al-Mawardi during the game as-Suli conclusively defeated him leaving no doubt as to who was the better player.

After winning the tournament the Caliph transferred his favor to as-Suli, dismissing al-Mawardi with the pun, "your rose-water [maward] has turned to urine!"

as-Suli remained popular at court for three reigns (al-Muktafi, al-Muqtadir and al-Radi). After al-Radi's death he fell from favor due to his sympathies for the 'Alids (Shi'ites). He was forced from Baghdad to Basra, where he eventually died in poverty in 946 A.D.

as-Suli was the first player to try to discover the science behind the game and his book Kitab Ash-Shatranj (Book of Chess) documents ten standard openings, common problems in middle play, and a collection of end plays with comments. A collection of manuscripts also survives in which games played by as-Suli are documented. It is the existance of these records that allow us to recognize as-Suli for the great chess master that he was.

as-Suli created a sharanj problem known as "as-Suli's Diamond" that went unsolved for over a thousand years. It was not until the mid-1980's when it was solved by Russian Grandmaster Yuri Averbakh.

Sources:
Robert Charles Bell (1980). Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations. ISBN 0-486-23855-5
Wikipedia - Abu-Bakr Muhammad ben Yahya as-Suli

General August 10th, 2008 by HMTKSteve
Car Crash Anatomy, part 1

In the world of life insurance there are two different types of policies; whole life (lasts your whole life) and term life (lasts for a fixed number of years).

When you buy term life insurance you pay a small premium and if you die within the confines of the insurance contract a payment is made to the beneficiary. Normal exclusions include suicide, fraud, war, riot and civil commotion. These exclusions are in place to keep people from scamming the insurance companies.

Whole life is seen as more of an investment opportunity than an insurance policy. The premiums are much higher than in a term life policy but the money invested can be made available to the policy owner before death.

Now I'm not an insurance salesman and I'm sure I butchered a thing or two in my above descriptions. I'm not looking to talk about life insurance but to talk about car insurance.

Anyone who owns a car is the USA has to have some form of car insurance on it or a bond, rates and amounts vary by state.

Most people look at car insurance as a necessary evil. If you want to drive you have to have insurance on your car.

Now, what if we took the idea of investment life insurance and applied it to automobile insurance? What if the premiums you paid to your car insurance company were treated as an investment that you could draw against at a later date?

Do you see where I am going with this?

I think such a thing would lead to more responsible drivers and less fraud. If you knew that any claim you filed with the insurance company would result in a lowering of the cash value of your investment wouldn't you be more likely to drive more carefully? what would be the point of attempting insurance fraud if the only one you are cheating is yourself?

Because most people look at the thousands of dollars a year they "lose" by paying for car insurance they don't have any sympathy for the insurance company when they file a claim or hear about others trying to defraud the insurance company. When you turn it around and make the policy holder an investor and let them know that if they don't get into any accidents or file any claims there will be money left over for them to have at a later date you change the whole relationship.

Now, this is just an idea at this stage and I'm sure there are some problems that I have not even thought of. Think about it though. Car insurance where you got money back for being a good driver! Where can I sign up?

Car Crash Anatomy, part 1 by flickr member Dr. Keats used under Creative Commons License

video games August 9th, 2008 by HMTKSteve
Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution

Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution on the DS is a game, or is it? Calling it a game sounds almost like an insult.

Way back in the early 1990's I was first bitten by the Civilization bug. Back then it was the original version of the game on Windows 3.11. No, I did not start with the DOS version of the game though I did pick it up at a later date.

Civilization is one of those games where you start playing it and quickly forget all else. Countless times I would sit in front of the computer telling myself, "just one more turn and then I'll go to bed," only to find myself looking up to see the sunrise! Some folks complained about solitaire on Windows being the ultimate time wasting piece of software but that venerable bit of code has nothing on Civilization and its offspring.

After the Windows version ran its course Civilization II was released. About the same time Civ-Net was released. Civ-Net was just a network version of the original. Due to the great additions made available in Civilization II many people did not like the idea of playing a network version of the original. Sales were not very good for Civ-Net (yes, I have a copy). Lucky for the world (or is it luck?) a network version of Civilization II was eventually released. I played that version quite a bit but a good game would often take weeks to complete.

The main line is now up to Civilization IV and that is what Civilization Revolution is based on. I only have the Nintendo DS version so the rest of this review will focus on that.

Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution

Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution

The game makes good use of the dual screen nature of the Nintendo DS. The bottom screen shows the map of the world while the top provides information. In a battle the top screen shows an animation of the battle (can be skipped) while in regular play it provides information on terrain.

You can use either the stylus or the control pad to move around the bottom screen. I prefer to use a combination of both; using the stylus to select units and towns while using the control pad to navigate said units. The designers also made the intelligent decision to map the right button to take you to the next city, which saves a lot of time and gets rid of the problem of forgetting to check on a far away city. I have no complaints about the control system.

When units are stacked a small window appears on the side from which you can select the unit you want. Up and down arrows appear if the list is rather long.

You can end your turn by either pressing the B button or by touching the "End Turn" button that appears on the bottom screen.

Civilizations

The game includes 16 playable civilizations. Each one has its own bonuses and fits a certain style of play. For example, if you prefer to play the aggressor and want to win a Domination Victory (capture all enemy palaces) you may want to go with the Aztec empire. Their main bonus is that their units heal fully after any battle that they win. This is a huge advantage in the game that makes them very hard to defeat.

Other civilizations are better at acquiring new technologies or meeting the other victory conditions. There is no one perfect civilization and the game can be won using any of the civilizations provided. One may better fit your style of play but all are more or less equal.

Victory Conditions

When the original Civilization game hit the market in the early 1990's there were only two ways to win; kill everyone else or make it to Alpha Centauri. In Civilization Revolution there are several ways to win:

  • Cultural - A civ wins a cultural victory by amassing 20 of the following - great people, wonders, and/or culturally flipped cities - and then constructing the United Nations wonder.
  • Domination - Capture all enemy capitals.
  • Economic - A civ wins an economic victory by amassing 20,000 gold and then constructing the World Bank wonder.
  • Technology - Discover all of the technologies necessary to construct and launch the space ship. One the space ship reaches Alpha Centauri you win.

Domination is the only victory that is fast. The other ones have a construction phase that can not be rushed. I have also found that most CPU civs act like castrated dogs once you take their capital!

Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution

Culture War

One thing I found very interesting in this game is the way you can wage a culture war. That's right, you can take control of enemy cities without sending in ground troops!

Some of the buildings you build (and some wonders) increase the culture level in your lands. As your cultural influence expands so do your borders. If your culture comes into contact with an enemy city, and their civ is less cultured than yours, there is a chance the city will flip and join your civ. The best part is that flipping a city does no harm to your diplomatic relations! This can also back-fire if you run into an enemy civ (or even a friendly one) with more culture than you.

When a city flips all military units inside the city also flip. No buildings are destroyed either.

There are also some great people who can cause cities to flip. The construction of city walls will prevent a city from flipping unless the other civ has the Hollywood wonder.

War!

Combat is very straight forward. You select a unit and select the unit (or stack of units) you want to attack. The top screen shows the battle.

What is new is the ability to make armies out of three of the same unit. If you have three legion units in the same square you can combine them into an army that has three times the attack and defense scores of one single legion! It is very important to build armies as otherwise your battles will be nothing more than meat grinders.

An Aztec army is extremely deadly, three times the power and they heal 100% as long as they win? Yeah, good luck taking them down!

The only problem with armies is one that applies to the units. Once you acquire a new military technology odds are that one of your military unit choice will no longer be available. This is very frustrating when you are getting ready to build the third unit for an army and suddenly you can't produce them anymore! you also do not have the option to upgrade units you already have, unless you create Leonardo's Workshop, which is a one use wonder (flipped units will not upgrade).

Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution

Technology and Units

The tech tree has been pruned a bit for this game. Some things you may be used to no longer exist, this applies to both technologies and units (buildings too).

The fabled chariot, origin of the "chariot rush" strategy from earlier incarnations of the game is absent. Looking for workers to build roads and change the terrain around your cities? They are not there. You can still build roads but you do it from the city menu.

There are only two types of aircraft in the game; fighters and bombers. Once you progress far enough with your navy you will only be able to build cruisers, battleships and submarines. Cruisers function as transports.

Like going for the nukes? You only get one! After you use it it is gone. No, the people will not let you use it so don't even try it under a Democracy!

The tech tree, unit lists and building options have been thinned to make the game quicker and easier. I don't miss much but you might.

Game Play

The game plays fast. Expect to take about one to two hours for a game at your skill level. Game time will shorten or increase based on your ability and how spread out the other civs are.

On the easy settings the CPU civs are fairly stupid. I don't think I faced a single army until I set the game to the middle difficulty level. Enemy civs also do not press their advantage until you hit the middle difficulty setting.

It might have just been the settings I was using but I found it annoying that the enemy civs did not account for our diplomatic histories. If I double crossed them ten times they still offered peace. I never did get one of them to give me a technology in exchange for peace but they often offered me the paltry contents of their coffers not to destroy their final city!

The game does have the "one more turn" aspect to it but, unlike the PC version, you will not be playing all night.

Conclusion

Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution is a great game for the Nintendo DS. It takes 85% of what is great from Sid Meier’s Civilization IV and converts it into a portable format. Even though your options are severely limited compared to the PC version you will still have a good time playing it.

The multi-player side of things requires everyone to have their own cartridge when playing locally. If you want to play online you need friend codes or you can just play with random players on Nintendo WFC.

    The Good

  • Plays fast.
  • Very streamlined.
  • "One more turn" will not have you seeing both the sunset and sunrise over the course of one game.
  • It's portable!
    The Bad

  • Limited unit selection.
  • Limited options.
  • Easy difficulty settings just have the AI forget to take actions rather than have them play with simpler logic.
    The Ugly

  • Only one nuke!!!
  • No map maker.
  • Friend codes.

I don't understand why anyone would want to play the non-portable versions of this. If I'm going to sit down in front of a screen in my house it will be a PC monitor with Civilization IV on screen!


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