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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