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Friday, November 12, 2010

Retro Games We Love: Buzz Aldrin's Race Into Space Edition

Spring, 1957: How will you venture into the cosmos?
I recently discovered this website, where you can find a fantastic port of the classic strategy game Buzz Aldrin's Race Into Space for modern Windows systems!  Awesome.  Kudos to the developers: Unlike playing BARIS in DosBOX, the sound and video for this version of the game are fully functional, which really improves the gameplay experience.  If you have never played one of the most innovative and fresh strategy games ever created, now is a great time to give it a try!

Don't forget to read our previous post about BARIS!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Initial Thoughts on Civ V

Civ V weekend has finally come (...and gone!)

Here are my initial thoughts on the game:

1) It took some time to adjust to the new interface, but overall the game-play is more straightforward and most of the annoying things, like Spies and Religions, are gone. The new "Policies" format was fun, it was more like a mini tech tree, or like RPG-style "leveling up" for your civ.

2) Many user-configurable features have been removed: such as the option to have single-character units, how to handle multiplayer dropouts, in-game clock in multiplayer, and other small tweaks that I enjoyed.

3) I like the new ability to see a small Wonder "info-graphic" upon completion of wonders in the mulitplayer game.

4) I also enjoyed the new City States, which provide your civ many benefits like culture or free units.

5) In mulitplayer, the animations of your units are disabled so they just jump from tile to tile. This was kind of disappointing; I hope they bring the animations back in a future patch.

6) There were some bugs. For example, the City State stautus is buggy and sometimes it will say they are angry even though you just friend-ed them.

7) Some "features" of the interface were frustrating: for example, the active unit will change after doing an action, but focus remains on the old one. I kept accidentally moving units that were offscreen to the wrong places and couldn't easily find them.

8) Another frustrating feature of multiplayer is that the game doesn't let you do things between multiplayer turns. It seems like it may only queue one action between turns, and I found myself repeatedly commanding units or cities to do something, only to find nothing was happening. In a mulitplayer game, it's nice to queue things between turns while waiting for others to finish.

I have yet to finish a game, but Civ V looks promising. In the meantime, I'm hoping for a patch to tweak the small game-play deficiencies.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

A Timely Review of Sins of a Solar Empire: Trinity

Or: Forget Everything You Thought You Knew About Strategy Gaming And Learn to Define Victory For Yourself

A Joint Review by Blood N' Glory Possum and Jraptor

Since Galactic Civilizations II doesn’t have a proper multiplayer module, we’ve been hunting for a good 4X sci-fi-themed space empire game. We bought the original Sins of a Solar Empire a while ago when it got phenomenal reviews, hoping that it would fill the multiplayer 4X void. At the time, we thought that the original Sins had lots of potential, but found the whole pirate aspect tedious (unlike, for example, the Antarans in Master of Orion II). We recently gave Sins of a Solar Empire: Trinity an extensive “test drive” because it offers some gameplay improvements over the original game (like fortifications), as well as the ability to disable the pirates. Our comments here cover the Entrenchment game and not the Diplomacy add-on because we were never able to get that to load in multiplayer mode.

During install and multiplayer set up we encountered a surprising number of bugs, considering the maturity of this product (it has, after all, been on the market for some time). During install, three links are created for each of the three different versions of the game; however, only one of them actually worked. If you do manage to directly load each version of the game, you will have to reset the video and sound settings on the first load of each version. Fortunately, you can switch between versions of the game from the in-game menu; it basically closes and reloads the game into the selected mode. But at least this way, your video and sound settings are preserved.

When we tried to enter the multiplayer waiting room, we encountered errors about our game versions not matching even though we both had the latest updates. Checking the file system, one of us had an additional file in one directory. The only thing we can think of to explain this is one of us had installed the original Sins and then the Trinity add-on while the other only installed a virgin copy of the Trinity pack. It seems odd to us, however, that this should cause such an extreme error that could have been quietly resolved if the game merely synced our files. We were, ultimately, able to resolve the problem for the Entrenchment game by uninstalling the version that had the original Sins upgraded to Trinity and replacing it with a fresh install of just the Trinity pack. However, the Diplomacy game still gave us a “files don’t match” error and declined to let us play.

From the beginning, it was not obvious that the only way to win Sins: Trinity is through domination. No where in the game manual does it say how you actually “win” the game. We have divined from internet searches that the way to win is through total obliteration of all other factions. We also gather from internet searches that more win modes were added in for the “Diplomacy” expansion. However, since we were never able to win the game (or load the Diplomacy expansion), we still don’t really know. We suspect others have had the same problem since some websites suggested that “winning is how you define it for yourself.”

Overall, the gameplay was good. Managing the planets is simple when “auto-placement” is turned on. However, this will severely weaken your defenses because the algorithm that the game uses to place them is not at all good. It will lump them all together, or place them on the opposite side of the planet from where enemies would be expected to arrive. To the credit of the game creators, the manual doesn’t say that “auto-placement” will do desirable things.

We tried many strategies during gameplay that usually work in other strategy games. However, after 3 days and several restarts, we were, in the end, always completely overwhelmed by hundreds of enemy AI ships. The AI is aggressive and in our opinion unreasonably difficult even when on “Easy” mode. While we aren’t looking for a free lunch, we found this to seriously limit our enjoyment after 72 hours.

In particular, we found that the Vasari were vastly more powerful than either the TEC or the Advent. To test this theory, we played one game with only Vasari factions, figuring this would put us all on the same level playing field. We found that we did better this way, and our ships would occasionally survive a battle (as the TEC and Advent, our ships had an annoying tendency to explode after only a few seconds in combat). However, we were still completely unable to match the fleet production of the AI teams, and for hours we watched them produce 1 ship every 30 seconds, forming huge fleets of hundreds of ships. It’s possible that our game was so unbalanced because the Pirates were disabled; however, the game should be able to compensate for this.

As we lost planets, we also lost the ability to use the higher level technologies we had researched because we started loosing the labs needed to conduct and maintain high level research. So, as you get pushed back, you are put at an even further disadvantage, one that makes it impossible to recover -- your faction will effectively revert to a more primitive technological state in addition to the loss of economy as planets fall to the enemy. This severely limits the quality and quantity of ships you can produce and your ability to fend off attackers.

As soon as the AI smells weakness, it is relentless in your destruction. First, it will break all deals with you, then it will ignore your pleas for mercy, and finally it will taunt you as you’re crushed under the wheels of destruction. We tried the game on “Normal” mode first and then on “Easy”; in both cases we saw little difference in the game’s actual difficulty level. The AI in both modes still out-performed us economically and fleet-wise.

In general, we are big fans of Stardock; they treat their customers really well. The trend continues with Sins. We really appreciated how Stardock allows at 2 LAN players per copy of the game, which is great for multiplayer gaming on a home network. Sins also has truly reasonable system requirements - it can even run on a netbook! Unfortunately, this is not the game for you if you’re looking for a quick victory or any measurable victory at all; it lacks the perfect design balance of (for example) Rise of Nations. This game is designed to be difficult and is horribly unforgiving of even the tiniest mistake. The uncanny AI will know all your moves and move against you before you can recover. Think it won’t notice that you’ve moved your fleet to another planet for a few turns? Think again. Think those last 50 enemy ships you destroyed was the best they could do? Nope, wrong again. They’ll be sending a “little surprise for you” very soon, oh and they’ll taunt you about it, too.

The bottom line is that we’re still waiting for a great modern multiplayer sci-fi 4X game to build on what Galactic Civilizations II accomplished. Sins has a lot of good ideas, but it really doesn’t come together to make a compelling multiplayer experience.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Giving up on Colonization

As a big fan of the original 1994 MicroProse classic Sid Meier's Colonization, I had high hopes for the new Civilization IV: Colonization standalone expansion pack.  The Beyond the Sword expansion pack for Civilization IV added several nifty and much-desired new features, including random events, quests, some great scenarios (including the epic "Nextwar" mod, which comes vaguely-close-ish to being the "Longer Reach of History" Civ game I've yakked about in the past), and some new military units.  However: Beyond the Sword had a big huge problem; namely, the 3.19 patch (which added some of the most desirable things, like switching off the hated espionage component) rendered the LAN multiplayer mode unplayable with dreaded "Out-of-sync" errors that inevitably occur. Oh, you can try to minimize the OOS errors by switching off random events and clearing your cache, but eventually during a long LAN game you will have an OOS error, and it's really aggravating. It's not really characteristic of Firaxis to leave a big atomic monster bug like this unpatched, so that was one of my earliest indications that Civ V was in the works - I figured that they must have been busy with something!

So, I was hoping that Civ IV: Colonization would be a much-needed return to form for Firaxis.  Unfortunately, this plot below accurately sums up my experience playing the Colonization remake:

The game starts out promising enough. There is a small graphical upgrade from baseline Civ IV; the water looks especially good. The interface is close enough to Civ IV to be familiar, but still reminiscent of the original 1994 game. You settle in, open up your root beer, and dash across the Atlantic to the New World...

...and then the wheels fall off. This game has an insane amount of micromanagement. You have to manually adjust all of your colonists, and the population grows at a snail's pace. The economy of your settlements almost never gets going. Equipping and building military units is a tedious chore, and when the Revolution happens (if it happens at all, since Liberty Bells aren't that easy to make, either), the Royal Expeditionary Force is so large that it is impossible to beat - and this is on Chieftain mode!

Now, I'm usually the first person to stand up and say that complexity is not a bad thing. After all, Flight Simulator is one of my favorite games and in real life, colonizing the New World wasn't exactly a picnic. However, Civ IV: Colonization is just annoying and tedious. What a shame - the original game is a timeless classic, but new one just isn't as fun as the original. Unless I get really bored at some point in the future (which isn't likely, since I'm barely 1/8 of the way through Dragon Age: Origins and I have an unopened copy of Sins of a Solar Empire waiting in the wings) I probably won't ever try to play the Colonization remake again. I really hope that this isn't a preview to what Civ V is going to be like! I guess we will all find out on September 21st...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Spore Glory

More beautiful Spore in-game art to inspire our readers (and maybe ourselves, too) to play more Spore. One of my favorite parts of the "Space" phase of the game is playing with the Earth-like terraforming tools. At first I thought (perhaps like you) that it would be a waste of time, but it really is fun and addictive. Filling your spaceship hold with your favorite plants and animals collected over the galaxy and then populating empty planets may seem pointless, and perhaps it is, for what do you have to gain? Nothing much really, other than a completely satisfying (if unexplainable) sense of self-satisfaction. Kind of like a work of art.

It was not, however, the terraforming tools that first got me playing Spore. What initially drew me in was the single-celled organism part of the game. I had never seen anything like it, and I really, really, really liked it. The world is beautiful. Some players have complained that this phase of the game has overly simplistic gameplay, and that might even be true *if* (and I stress if) I could ignore all the other awesome things about it -- like how much you can interact with your environment, the diversity of creatures, employing strategy and cunning to defeat your larger foes, the intuitive feel of the game, as well as the overall beauty of the environment. Any way you look at it, playing as a single-celled organism that keeps getting bigger while the world keeps getting smaller is just so cool!

Monday, August 16, 2010

More Awesomeness from LROC

More awesomeness from the Moon! NASA's LROC (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera) recently released this mosaic of Orientale Basin, a huge impact basin on the Moon that is 930 km across! The central floor is flooded with basaltic lava flows and so are some of the rings.

Image Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Read Full Article here: http://lroc.sese.asu.edu/news/index.php?/archives/247-Orientale-Basin.html

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Volcano on the Moon

Shown here is part of a Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera image (NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University) of what are probably two small volcanoes on the Moon. The volcanoes are only ~1.5km in diameter each.

Read full article here: http://lroc.sese.asu.edu/news/index.php?/archives/262-Volcanoes-in-Lacus-Mortis.html#extended

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Mantle of Ice on Mars?

This image from HiRISE shows a "mantled" terrain where features of the landscape appear subdued. This might be due to a surface layer of water and carbon dioxide ice that varies seasonally or with changes in Mars' orbit.

Image credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

link to original article here: http://www.uahirise.org/PSP_002917_2175

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Bit of Asteroid Candy

Perhaps old news now, but well worth a second (or first) look: 

Asteroid Lutetia at Closest approach.


Link to original ESA article here: http://www.esa.int/esaCP/SEM44DZOFBG_index_0.html

Sunday, August 08, 2010

New crater on the Moon

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera team recently released this figure showing a new crater on the Moon the formed sometime in the last 38 years. They know it's that young because the crater wasn't there when Apollo 15 flew over the same location in 1971!

Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Link to original article here: http://lroc.sese.asu.edu/news/index.php?/archives/260-New-Impact-Crater-on-the-Moon!.html

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

How-to: Get 1024x768 back on an Eeepc 1005HA after a Windows 7 upgrade

I love netbooks. They're like the USS Voyager - small, portable, and useful, and able to go to places where a full-sized notebook will be overkill. I can totally see why folks are buying the iPad in such huge numbers, but I don't think that tablets will ever completely replace the netbook; netbooks are just too useful. I think that both tablets and netbooks have a useful niche in the gizmonic hierarchy.

I got an Asus Eeepc 1005HA last fall, and I love it. It was a dramatic upgrade over my first netbook, a Dell Inspiron 910 with a tiny little 4GB solid-state drive, and I've grown to really love the small form factor, the extended battery life, and the nearly full-sized keyboard. I routinely take my 1005HA on trips where I can expect a four or more hours on an airplane instead of my larger notebook. Last week, I added another GB of RAM (bringing the total to 2 GB) and upgraded the OS to be Windows 7. I had held off upgrading from the OEM Windows XP because I was afraid that Windows 7 would be too much of a resource hog and cut into the battery life on my 1005HA, which running XP is a phenomenal 10+ hours. However, I really like Windows 7 and wanted to get all of my PCs running the latest and greatest version of the world's easiest to use and stable operating system, so I took the plunge. My fears were totally unjustified - the upgrade to Windows 7 on my 1005HA worked fantastically well, and is snappy and responsive, and the battery life seems to be basically the same.

I give Asustek gets a lot of credit for having outstanding Windows 7 support for their systems. I also upgraded my Dell XPS 1530 laptop to Windows 7 recently, and I have to say, Asus's Windows 7 support is much, much better. Dell never upgraded the wireless card drivers in the XPS 1500 line for Windows 7, so now my XPS laptop gets absolutely terrible wireless reception. On the other hand, Asus fully supports Windows 7 on the 1005HA and so the Windows 7 upgrade went incredibly smoothly. The one hiccup: The Windows XP video drivers for my Eeepc allowed you to select the 1024x768 screen resolution setting needed by such games as Galactic Civilization II, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, and Civilization III. All of those games ran really well on the 1005HA...until I upgraded to Windows 7. The default Win7 video drivers for the 1005HA actually improve the video performance quite a bit for video playback and gaming, but they only allow either 800x600 or 1024x600 resolutions. Without that critical 1024x768 option, GalCiv2 won't even start, SMAC truncates the bottom 200 pixels, and CivIII does this annoying scrolling thing.

After some googling, I found some handy instructions for getting the higher resolution settings back. To my surprise, it turns out to be really easy to get the 1024x768 screen resolution back on the 1005HA after a Windows 7 upgrade. Here's how to do it*:

*(generic disclaimer: As with any "How-to's" on this blog, this info is provided as a general public service, and we aren't responsible for anything you do to your own computer. We do not endorse anything on websites linked from this blog, and anything you download from those sites, you do at your own risk. Also please note that this fix isn't guaranteed to work on all systems, and we're not experts on this sort of thing to begin with, so don't blame us if your computer goes **poof** because you followed any of the procedures you see here.)

1) Run the Windows Registry Editor (Run > regedit)
2) Back up your registry
3) Search for all values that match "Display1_DownScalingSupported" and change their values from "0" to "1". There were two matches for that variable in my system's registry - change them both.
4) Restart the system.

That ought to do it! You should have two new resolutions, 1024x768 and 1152x864. Now you can play GalCiv2, SMAC, and CivIII! They might be a little squished, but they'll run.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Changes in methane lakes on Titan

A recent article in the New York Times highlighted that during the four years Cassini has been at Saturn, the level of liquid in the methane lakes of the southern hemisphere of Titan have dropped. The methane lakes were originally detected by radar instruments onboard the spacecraft. Because Cassini has had a unique opportunity to study the planet and it's moons over time, the changes can be linked to seasons on Titan.

Image credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech

Full article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/27/science/space/27titan.html?_r=2

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Defcon: Victory via Destruction

Defcon: The game where you will use nukes and lots of 'em.
You get 2 points for every person killed and only -1 points for every person lost.
Overall a fun way to spend an hour with no unpleasant guilty aftertaste.

It takes a while to get used to how to control your units (I'm still not sure I have that figured out) and to figure out what each one does. The game does come with a manual, which is full of handy information and bonus tips on how to "survive" an actual nuclear attack. You know, just in case the computer doesn't think it's a game anymore ;)

While playing a 2-on-2 game, we discovered that Europe can kick some serious butt against Asia. Moscow and Leningrad didn't even know what hit 'em in the first strike. This screenshot shows the total destruction of Russia. Eastern Asia hung on until the end mainly because it takes a long time to get all the way around the top of Russia, and I couldn't get there before the victory timer expired. In this Old World, 2 team match (humans v. AI), Europe was easily most defensible continent with 67.8 million kills and 0 loses. 'Nuff said.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Orbiter 2010 is out!

After 4 years, a new version of Orbiter has been released! Although all of the improvements look really nifty, I'm probably the most excited about the autoscripting functionality. I am also jazzed about the fact that there is a proper Windows installer now, vastly reducing the effort required to start virtually exploring the Solar System. I'm really looking forward to trying it out! Download it here!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Herschel Crater on Mimas of Saturn: Needs Pink Spice Geysers

Check out this Astronomy Photo of the Day:

Herschel Crater on Mimas of Saturn

Q: Why is this giant crater on Mimas oddly colored?
A: Because the outer solar system is a fascinating place! Could use some pink spice geysers though.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Amazing sand dunes on Mars

It's a Mars-filled weekend here at SRV. Check out this amazing HiRISE image of a sand dune inside a crater on Mars.
This image also appeared in a Discover Magazine online article: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/05/05/are-martian-gullies-formed-by-water-or-not/

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona. Full Image at: http://hirise.lpl.arizona.edu/PSP_001440_1255

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Martian polygons

This HiRISE image shows polygonal ridges that may have originally been dunes. How they formed is still unknown. Link to full image: http://www.uahirise.org/ESP_017348_1910

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A Few Small North American Impact Craters (Or: Fun with Google Earth)

Several of our posts in the past here at Space Race Victory have had to do with Google Earth. One of many cool features you can see in Google Earth are impact craters. Here are just 3 of the smaller ones that can be found in North America. I wanted to look at impact craters worldwide, but it turns out that there are a lot of them, around 500 actually, with Google Earth aiding in the discovery of new ones every year. So, these will have to do for  now.

Meteor Crater: One of the best studied and one of the first craters thought to be formed by meteorite impacts is Barringer's Meteor Crater in Arizona, USA. It is a small crater (~1 km in diameter) formed ~50,000 years ago (in the Pleistocene). It's shape is typical for small impactors and is bowl-shaped. The impactor was a metal (iron and nickel) meteorite ~50 m in diameter.

Excerpts from Wikipedia:
"In 1903 a mining engineer and businessman named Daniel Moreau Barringer suggested that the crater had been produced by the impact of a large iron-metallic meteorite.

Barringer's arguments [were] met with skepticism, as there was a general reluctance at the time to consider the role of meteorites in terrestrial geology. He persisted nonetheless and sought to bolster his theory by uncovering the remains of the meteorite. At the time of first discovery by Europeans, the surrounding plains were covered with about 30 tons of large oxidized iron chunks from the meteorite. This led Barringer to believe that the bulk of the impactor could still be found under the crater floor. As impact physics were poorly understood at the time, Barringer was unaware that the meteorite had in fact vaporized on impact. He spent 27 years trying to mine the crater and find metallic iron, drilling to a depth of 419 m (1,376 ft), but no significant deposit was ever found."

Upheaval Dome: located in Canyonlands National Park, Utah, USA. Upheaval dome was originally thought to be a salt upheaval dome but is now known to be the eroded core of a 5-km impact crater. Upheaval Dome was formed in the last 170 million years (Ma). The crater has been subjected to heavy erosion since its formation and is interrupted by stream-eroded canyons. Once 1-2 kilometers of material overlain the now-exposed-but-once-buried impact core.

Sierra Madre Crater: lies in western Texas, USA. Sierra Madre is a 13-km crater formed in the last 100 million years. It can be recognized as a circular mound of hills (dark green in the Google picture at the left) surrounded by a stream that follows the arch of the crater rim.

Some nice impact crater kml files for playing with can be found here: http://www.thinklemon.com/pages/ge/

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How-to: Get Knights of the Old Republic Working in Windows 7

In my opinion, Windows 7 is really the greatest, most intuitive, most responsive, and most fun to use operating system on the planet today. However, as great as Windows 7 is, the downside to upgrading to this superlative computing experience is that some older, legacy software titles do not function as expected. One of those titles is BioWare's 2003 epic Knights of the Old Republic. Recently, we here at SRV wanted to take a nostalgic tour through Knights of the Old Republic, but were stymied by the fact that it would only run for about 5 minutes of gameplay, then crash to the desktop. After much googling, we determined a set of steps that seems to get the software working under Windows 7 - or, at least we haven't had a problem yet, anyway*.
*(generic disclaimer: As with any "How-to's" on this blog, this info is provided as a general public service, and we aren't responsible for anything you do to your own computer. We do not endorse anything on websites linked from this blog, and anything you download from those sites, you do at your own risk. Also please note that this fix isn't guaranteed to work on all systems, and we're not experts on this sort of thing to begin with, so don't blame us if your computer goes **poof** because you followed any of the procedures you see here.)

We eventually found what we needed to know at this excellent comprehensive post over at the LucasArts forums. Here are the steps that we followed to get it working on our own systems:

Step 1: Apparently Windows 7 allows fractional screen refresh rates (i.e., 59.35 Hz) where previous versions of Windows forced those numbers to be integers (i.e., 59 or 60). So, you have to set your monitor refresh rate to be 60 Hz, the only setting that KOTOR recognizes. I know my monitor is rated to 70 Hz, so this isn't a problem for me, but your mileage may vary. Find the display properties tab and override so that the refresh rate is manually set to 60 Hz.

Step 2: Install KOTOR from the original installation disks. Note that I did not run the setup as administrator and I haven't had any problems. Some of the advice I saw on the internet suggested that you run the installation as administrator.

Step 3: Patch the game to 1.03, which adds new higher resolution display options as choices.

Step 4: Download the unofficial Vista/7 KOTOR fix and replace the mss32.dll file in the KOTOR directory with this unofficial!!! fix file.

Step 5: [Optional] Supposedly, installing a no-CD crack can help to keep the game from locking up. I didn't do that and it works fine, but I bring it up here out of completeness.

Step 6: In the main KOTOR directory, edit the swkotor.ini file. In the [graphics options] section, add a line:

Disable Vertex Buffer Objects=1

Step 7: We currently have NVIDIA graphics systems here at SRV, so this step will obviously not help those with ATI graphics. You Radeon users are on your own at this point. However, NVIDIA users should open the NVIDIA control panel, select the 3D settings tab and click "add program". Select swkotor.exe. Set "Vertex Sync" to "Force on".

Step 8: Right click on SWKOTOR.exe. Select "Properties." On the compability tab, for the compatibility mode, select "Windows XP SP 3" Also check the following items on the compatibility tab: "Disable visual themes", "Disable desktop composition", and "Disable display scaling on High DPI systems".

Step 9: Make new shortcut to SWKOTOR.exe and use this new shortcut to start the game.

That should do it! We followed these steps and the game has been agreeably stable in Windows 7 64-bit.

On my soapbox: I do feel constrained to point out that KOTOR is still being sold as part of the "Star Wars: Greatest PC Hits" compilation in brick-and-mortar stores as well as a direct download from Steam, so I would humbly suggest to LucasArts that they might want to invest some resources in coming up with a Windows 7 patch for the game. If KOTOR had been "abandoned" and was no longer commercially available, then I would completely understand that people play it at their own risk on modern systems. However, I feel strongly that if something is available in the marketplace, vendors have a responsibility to the end-users to make things as easy as possible. This is especially true for PC Gaming, which, after all, is supposed to be, y'know, fun and whatnot. Generally, complicated 8-step procedures that involve twiddling with important system settings culled off the webbytubes isn't as fun as playing the game that you were looking forward to. Still, it's worth it to be able to play KOTOR again!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Martian glaciers

This image from the HiRISE camera in orbit around Mars shows features on Mars that suggest the material has flowed as in terrestrial glaciers. The glacier is covered by dust and debris and looks darker than glaciers on Earth.

Image credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
Link to full image: http://www.uahirise.org/ESP_017024_2230

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Go buy Mass Effect 2. Now.

Back in ye olden tymes, there were certain game companies that when they released a new game, I would just buy it without waiting a few months for the reviews in Computer Gaming World. MicroProse was one of these developers, along with Origin, LucasArts, and Sierra, too. With the Mass Effect series of games, BioWare has now joined their august ranks. Mass Effect is that good. Sure, regular readers of SRV know that I think that Knights of the Old Republic was, in addition to being the best Star Wars experience since the Timothy Zahn novels of the early 1990s, the best computer game since Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, and easily the best computer game of the 2000s. But, as good as KOTOR was, it might have been a fluke. I had never paid attention to RPGs at all before, but KOTOR got me interested, pretty much singlehandedly. However, KOTOR was using someone else's IP, and an IP that had been decimated by the recent movies, at that. Plus, BioWare didn't develop the sequel, which was developed in a hurry and felt a little rushed. So, I thought that KOTOR might have been a fluke.

It wasn't a fluke. Go buy Mass Effect 2 right now. In fact, while you're at it, buy the original Mass Effect if you haven't already and start playing it as soon as you can.

The graphics are outstanding; the digital “acting” in particular (with the exception of the Illusive Man in ME2, who looks like a demented Muppet) is unparalleled. These are the most “cinematic” games since the Wing Commander games. The gameplay has tactical and strategic depth without overwhelming the player. The “interrupt” system for conversations is one of the most innovative things I've encountered in a RPG of this type. Tired of talking? Use a Renegade interrupt to just shoot the guy. Awesome.

Although I had actually bought the original Mass Effect in 2008, I didn't actually play it until late last year and I didn't finish it until last month. So, I got to finish the original ME, then import my Shepard character almost immediately into ME2. Bringing not just the character, but that character's decisions, and then making you live with them throughout the sequel, was a brilliant move by BioWare and the most innovative thing about the sequel. Not only does it really bring you into the story, but it has also made me want to go back to the original again after I finish playing ME2 for the first time and change some of the decisions that I made in order to see what would happen. That's just about the best and most entertaining way to increase the replayability of a game that I've seen, well, since the original Wing Commander's branching storyline.

Speaking of storyline: The Mass Effect universe is easily the best science fiction universe in gaming right now. These games are the best science fiction storytelling of the past ten years. The story is gripping – it really sucks you in like a good book. BioWare clearly put an extraordinary amount of time into producing this fully-realized universe populated by interesting (and in some cases, decidedly nonhuman) aliens. In all fairness, some of the ideas and themes you see in Mass Effect aren't terribly original. David Brin's Uplift books, in particular, which feature the plucky human heroes against a universe populated with an array of truly nonhuman aliens, appear to have been a major inspiration for BioWare (and are explicitly referenced by some of the characters). But, BioWare did an extraordinarily good job of putting all of the parts together, and it feels right. It hasn't been this much fun or interesting to explore the galaxy since Star Control II. In fact, the Mass Effect games are probably the closest thing we'll ever get to proper sequels to the first two Star Control games, although the ME universe lacks the zany humor of Star Control and is much more dark than the Star Control universe. That is actually pretty surprising, considering that the Earth in Star Control II got brutally subjugated and the whole point of Star Control II was preventing a genocide. But, I digress. The storyline of the Mass Effect games is incredibly compelling – it's pretty obvious that they sat down before the first game and really diagrammed the whole thing out, and the game is much better for it.

It wouldn't be an SRV review without the quibbles about ME2—very minor, in this case. The original game was much more plausible from a gameplay standpoint; I really liked the regenerating guns (with depleting health being the major game mechanic), and I think that the whole “thermal clip” thing in ME2 feels a little forced (the cover-based shooter mechanics, on the other hand, are fun). I like the concept of surveying planets, but the implementation gets tiresome rather quickly. Most importantly, I also appear to be the only person on the planet who really, really enjoyed driving the MAKO around on the alien worlds in the first game. Driving the MAKO was itself fun, but it was also a completely believable way to explore a planet. Well, they took the MAKO completely out in ME2, and I really miss the driving when I'm planetside – the “Hammerhead” expansion pack, while fun, just isn't the same. Finally, in some of the cutscenes, we see human characters exposed to vacuum for prolonged periods with nothing but breathing masks – d'oh! But these are minor quibbles indeed.

What BioWare has done with the Mass Effect games is absolutely incredible. I haven't had this much fun with a computer game in a very long time. I haven't even finished ME2 yet, but I can hardly wait to play it through it again – and pre-order Mass Effect 3.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Preparing to Journey to the Center of the Unknown Universe

What I guess is the ultimate goal of the Spore Space Stage is to journey to the center of the unknown universe and make wondrous discoveries. With that goal in my creature's oddly-shaped mind, my current Spore strategy is to build up my automated defenses on my bloated empire with the hope that I can leave my carefully sculpted planets alone with the pirates long enough that I will have an empire to come back to. Also, I'm packing away the energy packs like a rabid squirrel.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Martian Megabreccia

This is a new image of Mars showing the central part of a large impact crater on the surface. It has a rock texture called 'megabreccia' because the rock clasts are bigger than in normal breccias, which are formed when impacts break up the surface rocks. This type of rock had never been seen before HiRISE observed it. For a more technical description read the whole feature by the HiRISE camera team:  http://www.uahirise.org/ESP_017257_2360

Image credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

I just love all the new discoveries coming from all the current spacecraft on and around the planets and moons, it's so amazing that objects people have been observing for hundreds to thousands of years can still hold surprises! Who knows what we could find if we look even closer?!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Spore candy: It's the small things

The best thing about Spore is the little added touches like this: a meteorite that I found while flying around a planet. Sure, if you've played Spore at all this is no surprise, but its one of the things that really makes this game great.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Retracing the Steps of Apollo 15

From the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera: follow link to read full article.

Retracing the Steps of Apollo 15: Constellation Region of Interest

In this image you can see where astronauts (and the lunar rover) disturbed the lunar surface on Apollo 15 at Hadley Rille.

Image credit: [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ash and Lightning Above an Icelandic Volcano

Another Astronomy Picture of the Day link:

Ash and Lightning Above an Icelandic Volcano

Why did the

A pretty pheonominal photo worth an extra click to view.

Saturn's Moons Dione and Titan from Cassini

Astronomy photo of the day link:

Saturn's Moons Dione and Titan from Cassini

What would it be like to see a sky with many moons?

Q. What would it be like to see a sky with many moons?

A. Totally awesome, it'd be like playing Spore, but I'd still want my terraforming tools :)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Springtime Avalanches on Mars

Springtime dust avalanches on Mars caught in action with the HiRISE camera.

Image credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

Original Posting: Springtime For Avalanches

Monday, April 19, 2010

Space potato

Just for fun, a link to the Astronomy Picture of the Day from April 5:

Prometheus Remastered

What does Saturn's shepherd moon Prometheus really look like?

Q: What does Saturn's shepherd moon Prometheus really look like?

A: It looks a lot like a giant, grey space potato. But still, a very dramatic pose.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

SimCity for iPod update

A quick (hardly exhaustive) internet search to follow up on my question about the maximum possible population limit in Sim City for iPod/iPhone has shown that the largest number floating on the surface of the internet is about 350,000.

Some handy tips for gameplay can be found here: http://www.iphonestrategygames.com/strategies/simcity-guide

Some cheats here (not that you'd want to use them, wink, wink): http://www.insidesocialgames.com/2009/01/13/simcity-for-iphone-cheats-tips-tricks/
And here: http://www.insidesocialgames.com/2009/03/07/simcity-for-the-iphone-%E2%80%93-more-cheats-tips-tricks/

I'll have to try again and see if I can beat 350,000!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Venus hotspot

Hotspots on Venus detected with the Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer on Venus Express may be active volcanoes. This would be a first for the terrestrial planets in the inner Solar System besides Earth.

Image credit: NASA/JPL

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Funny Face Craters on Mars

Not very scientific, but here are some Mars emoticons. Image taken with the HiRISE camera. The smiley and frowny features are explained as dunes on the floors of the craters.

Image credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona, more info at: http://www.uahirise.org/ESP_017020_1620

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Saturn's PacMan

The so-nicknamed PacMan on Saturn's moon Mimas imaged with Cassini is just temperature variations over the surface possibly due to different surface materials.


Today's Candy (Copernicus Crater)

This is a portion of a publically-released LROC (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera) image of Copernicus crater.
It's a bit of the central peak, a central mountain that forms during the impact that formed the crater.
Follow link to view the whole image; I just grabbed a low res screencap from here:  http://wms.lroc.asu.edu/lroc/view_lroc/LRO-L-LROC-2-EDR-V1.0/M109365462RE

They've also released an Image of the Day about Copernicus crater here: http://lroc.sese.asu.edu/news/?archives/160-Fresh-Copernican-Crater-.html

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Space Race Victory Now Running Windows 7

Space Race Victory has finally made the switch to 64-bit Windows 7 from 32-bit Vista! Now we have a whole 'nother 32 bits to play around with.

Do we like Windows 7? Yes, we do! It feels a whole lot better.

Why and how, you ask? I dunno, I reply. It has a certain ineffable, indescribably better quality of some kind, or at least a general feeling of overall improvement in a sort of qualitative way.

In function and design, Windows 7 is not really all that different from Vista, but yet maybe it is. The taskbar is really great. It seems to run faster, too. It's a bit more organized. Plus, it just looks nice. Now (the real question), do games run better?

Friday, April 09, 2010

Spore-Candy of the Day

No words necessary. Just looking. (and drooling...)

SimCity for iPhone pop cap?

Is there some sort of theoretical population limit for my small patch of land? I can't seem to top approximately 250,000 people. If this were any decent urban center, they would keep packing in there. I've let the game run on super-speed for many hours but the population never goes up. This requires some research...

New gaming addiction

Quick, easy-to-play games for the iPod Touch have great appeal to me at the end of a long day.
Pictured is a sceencap from SimCity for the iPod/iPhone. You get a small patch of land to start with and skyscrappers soon follow ...


After 3 years, will this site be revived?
The suspense is heavy.