Tag Archives: gaming

What to do with a graduate degree

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been gaming.

The zombie shooter Left4Dead has recently seen the release of two fan generated campaigns Dead Before Dawn and One 4 Nine.

Dead Before Dawn takes the basic premise of the Zach Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead where the characters work their way to Crossroads mall where they make their final stand and eventual escape (hopefully).  The campaign does a nice job of expanding upon the idea of completing tasks beyond the ‘start the generator and wait for the horde’ task that most of the Steam generated scenarios rely upon.  Granted they’re almost all essentially re-skinned versions of that task but at least there’s a bit of variety.

It also felt like there was a lot more ‘explorability’ in this campaign setting than in the original campaigns with multiple ways to get to the same end point.  The game was a little buggy (I got hung up several times and had to restart) but not outrageously so for a non-official campaign and it was a challenging play throughout.

I haven’t played One 4 Nine yet but it uses the zombie apocalypse as a function of secret government tests theme.  It’s received very high ratings and the authors continue to tweak it with the most recent update being posted on the 14th.

I also picked up the beta version of Fate of the World which advertises itself as:

…a global strategy game that puts our future in your hands. Decide how the world will respond to rising temperatures, heaving populations, dwindling resources, crumbling ecosystems and brave opportunities.

If you buy it now you get it at a discount, can play the beta version now plus some extras and so I figured I’d give it a shot for $16.

The beta version has one scenario available for play which involved dealing with the consequences of a world wide oil shortage and limiting the effects of global warming.  You play the role of the head of a global environmental organization that actually has power and resources to do things.  The world is divided into 12 regions that act as coherent political entities that you have to engage with.  They contribute to your cash flow while members of your little club but can also assert their sovereignty and kick you out if they think you’re dissing them.

The game starts in 2020 with turns covering 5 year increments and ends in 2120.  ‘Victory’ involves keeping global warming increases under 3.5 degrees, the global HDI above .5 and maintain membership in at least 5 (I think) regions.

The beta version of the game doesn’t come with rules but the basics of the system are fairly easy to figure out.  The nuances and interactions of the numerous factors and components of game play are more difficult to figure out and time will tell if that’s going to be part of the game (‘Hey!  You’ve switched the entire North American transportation industry to biofuels.   Great work on reducing emissions!  Oh, by the way, 200 million people are dying of starvation in India because nobody is growing food anymore.  Nice job.’)

I have to admit I underestimated the complexity of the game system because the user interface is so simple.  I suppose there will be critics that argue with some of the underlying science involved but it is neat  to see how interconnected environmental/developmental/economic policies and played around with various strategies like focusing only on the developed world, trying to do a bit of everything everywhere and trying to strong arm the world.  The possibilities are endless and even within those broad strategies there are so many potential alternatives you could (and I wanted to) always feel you’re so close to success with just a bit of tweaking (I haven’t made it yet).  Focus on heavy R&D, business friendly policies, heavy handed regulation, disaster mitigation or whatever your heart desires.

And don’t get the impression that this is all about tree-hugging, feel good lefty stuff.  The game designers seemed to want to give you a lot of options to accomplish your goals.  So, in one game I launched (covertly, of course) a biological plague upon India to reduce its population (using too many resources and becoming politically unstable threatening to kick me out) by 25% in five years.  In the same game I also overthrew a government or two, launched an insurgency and implemented a secret sterilization program in China’s water supply (hey, you can’t make an omlette without breaking a few eggs).  Unfortunately, my scheme was found out and I was brought to trial for crimes against humanity but what are you gonna do?  The pressure you feel as you see that temperature creep up every turn and you get the news of species going extinct, mass famines, natural disasters and wars makes you contemplate increasingly drastic measures, especially when you start to see whole portions of the world start to kick you out and you realize you’re pulling in less and less money to do things in fewer and fewer parts of the world.

There’s tons of data and metrics here so I assume you can totally geek out if you want.  GDP, employment, demographics, energy usage by sector, etc. etc. etc.  all changing as a result of your policy decisions.

I hesitate to say this is a ‘fun’ game in the same way L4D or even another strategy game like the Total War series but I suspect that’s because there’s less opportunity for periodic payoffs.  Things are grim and probably going to get grimmer and the best you can hope for is a pathetic crawl across the finish line by the skin of your teeth. But I was hooked for gobs of time on it over the weekend and have a half a dozen strategies peculating in my mind that I’d like to try.

The game has definite teaching potential and I’d like to see a co-operative version (with players either playing as the heads of regions that can cooperate or not as they see fit or on some executive council where negotiations could add a whole additional level of complexity and realism to the game).



Hannibal: Rome and Carthage playtest

I got and finally had some time to play Hannibal – Rome and Carthage, the game I’ve written about a couple of time before.  Now, I’m ready to pass judgement.

While I really enjoyed it, I think the true pleasure of this game comes from having a familiarity with the subject matter.  Without it, it might be a casual wargame of some limited potential but it really comes alive (and is worth your time) if you’re familiar with the course of the Second Punic War.

And if you are familiar with that war, boy are you in for a treat.  I was blown away at how the designer could use such an apparently simple set of game mechanics to realistically capture the flow and feel of that war.

The game graphics are beautiful if decidedly low tech.  Everything about the game is designed to replicate the feel of the time, from the parchment notes to the sound of stones sliding against each other while you’re moving tiles that represent your armies.

It finds a nice balance between strategy and fate with both random events (Yeah, that huge fleet you’ve been building up?  Storms can be a bitch in the 2nd century BC.) and through event cards that you can use for varying effect (encourage a revolt at Syracuse to get them to switch to your side; play up the unpredictability of the Guals by making half of them get drunk right before a crucial battle, let Hannibal slip through the Roman fingers by escaping by sea, etc.).

The game flows back and forth with mind spinning speed and, just like the real war, you can be convinced all you’ve got left to do is mop up some rag tag Romans one moment and the next turn you’re scrambling to regroup before you’re the one that’s crushed.  But how you can develop your long term strategy will determine how well you can withstand cruel twists of fate.

The AI is very robust and I was quite happy playing at the introductory level for quite a while.  The ‘normal’ level gives me a good run for my money and I’ve yet to beat expert.  What I particularly like about the AI is that it just doesn’t increase the size of the Roman armies or make harder to damage.  The Romans actually strategize better.

And the real gem is that at the ‘advanced’ level of play, you not only have to deal with Roman armies, but you also have to contend with the Carthagenian senate.  At all levels of play the Senate decides what the main theater of the war will be and that’s the ONLY theater that you can move reinforcements in to.  Things looking ripe for a raid into Sardina?  Too bad. The Senate thinks you should be paying attention to Spain so quit screwing around.  This isn’t Rome after all. We’ve got civilian control of the military.  Now do what you’re told or you’ll find yourself cruicified.

At the introductory and normal level of play the Senate will do whatever Hannibal wants.  It still means you can only move forces to one theater at a time so you still have to plan several moves in advance while trying to hold off Roman advances if you want to make your plans comes together.  At the advanced level, however, the Senate feels free to do what it wants and Hannibal can only offer advice.  There are ways to exert more influence on the Senate (through event cards) but that usually comes at the price of giving up additional army units.  So you have to decide how important it is to try to get the Senate to go your way and how much you can try to ignore them and just get the job done in spite of them.

The game turns each represent one year and if neither Rome or Carthage hasn’t been captured (or Hannibal killed) the game ends at the end of the 20th turn and some system determines how you fared (it explains the system in the rules, I just haven’t read it since I generally don’t like to look too closely under the hood while I’m first playing a game).

I defy you to play this game and not have at least one or two moments where you go ‘Ah…now I get why the Romans did this or Hannibal didn’t do that.’

Kvick Tänkare

Who knew the Germans were still paying reparations from WWI (uh, probably the Germans.)?  Their last payment is due on the 3rd of October.

A study came out claiming that atheists and agnostics are pretty knowledgeable about religion.  More so, in fact, than all religious groups.  That kind of makes sense since agnostics/atheists need to understand a wide variety of religions before they can reject them. Winner quote about the story is from the NY Times:

“I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people,” Mr. Silverman said. “Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.”

CNN had a short (10 question) quiz from the poll so you can check out you knowledge (for the record, I got 9 out of 10).

A while ago I wrote about a demo of an upcoming game called Hannibal.  Well, it’s out now.  I’ll be picking up a (virtual) copy soon.  It has a cool, old-school board game look to it and the demo was a lot of fun.  Check it out and crush those pesky Romans!

Last winter the Finns created a massive snow pile from plowing the streets of Helsinki.  Well, the thing has just about melted…just in time for snow to start falling again.  It was ginormous when it was created (see picture below).

Weekend miscellany

I’m listening to the Teaching Company’s course Bach and the High Baroque now and it rocks.  I’m totally sold on Baroque music and haven’t been able to get enough of it.  Conversely, I’m thinking that music from the Romantic era sucks…bunch of pretentious poseurs (Beethoven is the exception that proves the rule, btw).

So, here’s your weekend music

Since I recently wrote about Soviet/Finnish conflict, EnglishRussia comes through again with some photos of a Soviet bomber that crashed in 1939 on the way to the front.

Some really cool people have created a trading card game (think Magic:  The Gathering) based on the principles of biodiversity and ecology.  It’s called Phylo and it’s free.   There’s a forum where the game system continues to be hashed out (the game is still in beta).

Kvick Tänkare

Great headline:  Monkeys hate flying squirrels, report monkey-annoyance experts. (h/t Boingboing)

IBM has created a web-based version of the CIA factbook.  There’s enough variables to filter, views to alter and colors to see that even the most jaded of you will start to drool. (h/t sources and methods)

Sitherine is coming out with a new game that looks fun.  Battlefield Academy is based on a free BBC game of the same name.  You can still play the BBC versions with allow you to fight the Battle of Trafalgar or the original games which takes you through Rome, the Middle Ages, Napoleon’s time and WWII.

Peter talks about the Soviet withdrawal from his country (Hungary).

FBI epic fail.  Wikimedia epic win!  Hopefully the FBI realizes they are in a hole and will stop digging.

Lung Hu has two great posts worthy of your attention both revolving around that Iranian scientist defector/abductee/whatever Sharram Amiri. If you like your international relations with a lot of alternate hypothesis you probably haven’t heard before, check it out.

Kvick Tänkare

Nice video about the war on drugs (h/t daily dish)

The reliability/credibility ratings most intelligence personnel use in the U.S. is bunk and information to that effect has been known since 1975.

I want one….now!  And please don’t burst my bubble by telling me how impractical it is.

I have no idea what this game will be but the promo video has a 1984 feel to it and I’m a sucker for distopian entertainment….

Yesterday the Swedes officially ended conscription and are now converting to an all volunteer force.

Machine teaches men what it feels like to menstruate.  And why would I want to know that?  I also don’t know what it feels like to have hemorrhagic fever, is some knucklehead going to make a simulator for that too?

Kvick Tänkare

Scientists are examining the possibility that Polynesians, those most famous of sea travelers, made it all the way to South America.  They came to this conclusion, in part, by studying the DNA of sweet potatoes.  Sweet Potatoes on the Chilean coast are more closely related to those found in Polynesia than those descended from those brought to Europe by early explorers.

…many researchers now think it likely that Polynesians reached South America by about 1200 C.E., after the settlement of Easter Island, and several centuries before Europeans arrived around 1500 C.E.

As a side note, I picked up this story from the Science Podcast.

Never forget…the surge worked.

I just found out about Forced March Games which is developing what looks like a great little game about the 2nd Punic War.  It’s got a totally retro/board game look and feel about it and should be coming out soon.  I downloaded the demo and it’s pretty fun (although you can only play two turns on the ‘beginner’ level so you don’t get much of a feel for its long term playability).  You can, however, go through the whole tutorials so if it is something you’ll want you’ll know how to play it as soon as it comes out.

Everyone knows about the terrible destruction of habitat and animal life caused by the BP oil spill.  So, how are other states reacting?  Let’s look at New Jersey:

A three-year effort to reestablish oyster beds in the Hackensack River by a Rutgers University researcher has been derailed by a new ban on such projects by the state.

Despite pleas from researchers, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin last week issued the ban on research-related “gardening” of commercial shellfish in polluted waters to protect the state’s $790 million-a-year shellfish industry, which is centered in cleaner southern New Jersey waters.

Oysters are filter feeders and are really good at cleaning up polluted waterways (which New Jersey has in abundance) but, the nitwits in the NJ Department of Environmental Protection has decided that since Southern oyster beds are going to be devastated by BP the temptation for poachers to raid the test oyster beds (which will be contaminated and unfit for eating) will be irresistible and if someone got sick it might damage the reputation of the New Jersey shellfish industry.   So…the answer (of course) is destroy all the oyster fields.  Yeah…How about a word from some crazy, hippie do-gooders.

Our oysters are not fit for human consumption. Just like blue crabs, ribbed mussels, finfish and all manner of other crustaceans and shellfish in the harbor, our oysters live and grow in contaminated water and are the subject of consumption advisories. The DEP seems to fear that there are people out there who will find our reefs — though underwater at all times, — choose our oysters — though they are too small for human consumption, — remove them — though they are firmly affixed to immovable structures, — and then sell them to unwitting consumers. We think that danger is vanishingly unlikely.

More here.  It just makes you want to bang your head against a wall.

July 1st is going to be a great day.  Starbucks will begin offering free wi-fi at all their U.S. locations.  At that point there really is no need for me to physically go to that brick crap box where I work anymore.  Unfortunately, the man will not agree with that view and force me into my wage slavery at said crap box.

Holy moly…the German defense minister is 38 years old.  I guess I really am a slacker.  I’m 41 and still haven’t been named the head of a major national department yet.  It can’t be that hard of a job.  I mean, even I can do this well in an interview:

SPIEGEL: Minister Guttenberg, how will the German Armed Forces, the Bundeswehr, look in 10 years?

Guttenberg: Different.

Cruel and unusual punishment

Apparently the Wisconsin prison system has enacted a regulation preventing inmates from playing Dungeons and Dragons.  According to the Oakland Tribune:

Prison officials instigated the Dungeons & Dragons ban among concerns that playing the game promoted gang-related activity and was a threat to security.

Uh, I thought we dispensed with this sort of goofy thinking back in the mid-80s.  If the biggest gang threat in your prison is guys sitting around a table arguing about the blast radius of a fireball (c’mon, don’t you pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about) then you really should just sit back and count your lucky stars.

Dungeons & Dragons “promotes fantasy role playing, competitive hostility, violence, addictive escape behaviors, and possible gambling,” according to the ruling.

Yes, we need less of this sort of behavior, let’s get inmates involved in more wholesome activity like metal working (best shanks in town!), learning how to bribe prison guards for cell phones, drugs and other contraband, and real hostility.

It seems to me that since we’ve essentially decided to forgo rehabilitation in favor of warehousing prisoners we could do worse than allow prisoners to self-organize to participate in activities which promote cooperative behavior, following rules, suppressing impulsive behavior, etc. (all of which D&D does if you know anything about it).

h/t boingboing


I’ve just gotten the new game Borderlands and having a couple days before the start of one of my never ending classes I decided to give it a spin.  I’m still a newbie when it comes to PC gaming and so don’t have a huge amount of experience to draw on in order to compare this with other.  My experience with first person shooters is limited, in fact, to Left4Dead and Team Fortress2.

Borderlands has a larger universe than either of those taking place on a post-apocalyptic, Mad Max style world.  The gameplay is pretty straightforward.  You get missions (almost always involving killing a bunch of mutant psychos, bandits, or local wildlife that’s looking to make you into a meal) and, if you survive them, you get rewarded.  I don’t think they’re breaking any molds here, yet the game is very addicting for a few reasons:

  1. Visuals:  The game is really quite stunning to look at.  It’s not overly realistic in its appearance and yet not too cartoonish either.  The landscapes are fantastic…so good in fact that after one mission in which I was surveying a sun scorched desert seeing nothing moving and only the corpses of a dozen or so skags I had just slaughtered littering the landscape I was overtaken by a sense of dispair.  I had, indeed, become death, destroyer of worlds.
  2. B.F. Skinner:  They totally figured out how to tickle that reward seeking part of your brain.  They advertise having ’87 bazillion guns’ that you can win/find/buy/loot and I think they’re right.  You always want to see what’s next and before you know it, it’s 2 a.m.  Intermittent reinforcement, my boy.  That’s the name of the game.
  3. A kick-ass soundtrack.  The sounds are great in this game.  From the voice work to the mood music to the theme music.

Check out these vids (ideally at a high volume)…


Oh…and the best news?  They’re getting zombies

Kvick Tänkare

Sven’s very good post about the characteristics that make the difference between success and failure of units in battle that appear to be qualified while in garrison.

Another modder is planning to release a Left 4 Dead campaign on Halloween.  Might as well wait for L4D2 to get all the bugs worked out and go on sale before buying it.

Check out this focus group report about conservative perceptions.  Yes, it’s by a democratic consulting group but it’s got some very interesting insights.  I only wish it looked at other (i.e. younger) age groups.