November 2009 Archives

...but they're having a giant sale this weekend that seems well worth checking out.  There's something new on sale every day, supposedly -- but today has, of note, Dragon Age, Arkham Asylum, and a few other big titles, as well as the THQ complete pack for just 50 bucks, which has something like 10 games in it (including all the Dawn of War and Company of Heroes titles, Saint's Row 2 and a bunch of other stuff).  Just thought I'd give people a heads up -- you can see the deals here.


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So this week has had a pretty epic amount of peer pressure resistance failure on my part. After holding out from getting a Facebook account for probably 2-3 years longer than most people I know at this point, I finally gave in last Saturday and got myself an account.  This was after being harangued by a fair number of friends for months, maybe even years now and generally resisting because....well, simply because I didn't really see what it offered to me I suppose.  I've had a LinkedIn account for a while, which I got when I was looking for a new job a while back (that, obviously, never panned out).  It seemed decent enough, but LinkedIn is very clearly a "work" networking tool, with a strong focus on the professional.  For me, that seemed like enough in terms of social networking.

Facebook, on the other hand, is a lot murkier (Twitter, i think, can suffer from the same problem).  That's where you see people who for some reason have their boss as a friend and then are surprised when he catches them calling in sick after posting pictures of their drunken antics the night before.  Certainly, it's a networking tool that a lot of people still use to connect professionally, but the line is a lot blurrier -- or rather, people don't take into account that there's a line, even though the Facebook Lists feature allows you to segment your friends lists into "people I want to display my drunken antics to" and "people I need to maintain a professional relationship with."  Not to mention it seems chock full of productivity-destroying games that may or may not be cleverly disguised scams.

On the other hand, I've also read articles and seen presentations on the web on how Facebook can be used productively -- though to be fair, a fair number of people trumpeting its usefulness are people who specialize in social media marketing.  So, eventually, I cracked; already this week I've found it's a good way to keep in touch with people I don't necessarily have reason to talk to on a regular basis.  Not only is this a nice thing socially, but maintaining those relationships is probably not a bad idea professionally either when I start job hunting again, or looking for roommates, or looking to unload furniture, or whatever else I might use it for.  Thankfully, the games stuff can largely be avoided by judicious use of the ignore function (which I have made great use of this week).  So far, I think it's been a net positive, and I sort of wonder if it wouldn't have been a good idea to get started with it long ago.

This week also marked the end of my "a cell phone is for making phone calls" mantra; after 3-4 people already got them at work, I finally went out and bought myself a Motorola Droid Thursday night.  I admit I'd be looking a bit jealously at people's iPhones for a while, and I've been chatting with Deidei via Google Talk on her G1 too, which made having a phone that was a bit more than a phone seem pretty handy.  When I went to Seattle this year for PAX, it was the first time when I really used a lot of text messaging and I realized how handy something like that might be when you can't really have a phone conversation.

Since the Droid is my first smartphone, it's a little hard for me to say how it compares to the iPhone, the G1, or the other offerings out there.  However, I'm already finding stuff like being able to browse the web and SSH from my phone to be pretty damn handy, in addition to combining the features of an mp3 player and a PDA.  Will I end up getting 30 bucks of value out of the data plan every month?  I'm not sure, but at this point I wouldn't be surprised.  I'm looking forward to trying out the navigation features next time I go to Chicago, as well as all the other apps you can get for it.

And despite these two failures of will, I've already got people trying to get me to join Twitter now....

Tropico 3

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Back in August or September, the demo for Tropico 3 was released on Steam.  I'd heard of the original Tropico, but I'd never played it when it originally came out.  Being moderately interested in the premise, the fact that the demo was free and I didn't have anything else to mess with at the time, I checked it out.

The demo really grabbed me; I think I played each of the two demo missions at last a half dozen times, just playing with how things worked.  I put off fulfilling win conditions just to try out different buildings and strategies, and really got into it.  After a while though, the limited scenarios with the demo did get a bit repetitive.  I bought the original first two from Steam and played the first one quite a bit; I didn't really get into the second one, but the first was a lot of fun.  On the other hand, it was a big step back and a lot of annoyances that have been weeded out in the new game (I'll get to those in a second) drove me nuts.  So I've been looking forward to the release of Tropico 3 for quite a while, and the repeated postponement of the release in North America was slowly driving me batty.

Finally, two weeks ago, Steam got the release and I've now finished the entire campaign as of last night, and I think now I'm ready to render a verdict on the game.

The Good

  • If you played the first game and liked it, you'll probably find almost everything you liked from the first game is back in Tropico 3.  The flavor is very much the same and the Latin soundtrack is very catchy, though it gets a bit repetitive after a while.  The customization of your avatar is there, as is all the wheeling and dealing with the superpowers and the juggling act of taking care of your island.
  • One of the biggest and most obvious improvements in Tropico 3 is the graphics -- they are very pretty, though there seems to be some sort of induced haze as you zoom out that made me think my eyes were going (well, more than they already are).  Being able to control the camera also makes it easier to figure out how to build things and where they are on the geography, something I had a little trouble with in the original Tropico.  If you're just playing the game for eye candy, it has it in spades.
  • One of the biggest problems I had with the first game was getting people to build things; construction workers never wanted to go very far from their home base, it seemed, so it was nearly impossible to spread out over an island without daisy-chaining construction yards across the island.  Thankfully, this chore has been largely eliminated in Tropico 3 by two changes: first, roads are built instantly when placed, and second, Tropico 3 adds vehicles to the mix, meaning that travel times for your citizens are greatly reduced so long as there is a nearby garage (which many buildings, like the construction yards, incorporate).  Now it is possible to build a construction yard on the other side of the map where you want a satellite town, drop a road between your main city and there, and it will get built in short order.
  • Following up the last point, you also seem to need fewer teamsters and dockworkers, thankfully.  There was nothing more painful in the first game than seeing thousands of dollars worth of exports sitting at your production centers or on the docks, and no one can be bothered to haul them because they're busy at the pub or simply wandering the island aimlessly.  Teamsters now seem more efficient thanks to the roads and you only need to have one dockworker arrive to load all of the stuff you have waiting there.  While the point could be made that this makes the game considerably easier to manage and takes away some of the challenge, I consider this a big improvement.
  • You can now rotate ANY building.  This is an improvement on the first one for me, although I admit it's mostly because of aesthetics.
  • Another added element that makes the game a little more transparent is that the game does a much better job of breaking down why the various political factions are or are not happy with you.  In the first game, it gave you a general idea, but it was often not very helpful; several times I would find a faction was unhappy with the state of the island, but it didn't say why.  In Tropico 3, you will get a breakdown of what the problems are: no armory or church, for instance, or the average wage is below the Carribbean average.  That average, by the way, is now displayed prominently in the economy second of the almanac, whereas in the first one I never could figure out where that was.
  • The scenarios for the campaign mode are a lot of fun to play and well-written, and offer a variety of gameplay challenges that force you to work for very different goals.  I never played the preset scenarios from the original Tropico, but the ones for Tropico 3 have a variety of different win conditions, from exporting a certain number of goods, to having a certain number of tourists, to amassing a large Swiss bank account, to reaching a certain level of happiness.  The storyline elements that play out in the game can throw a wrench into your plans and offer very different experiences even for scenarios with similar goals.  I haven't played with the scenario editor yet, but I'm looking forward to doing so.
  • There is a bit of new stuff in the game; oil is added as a new resource to be exploited (and an extremely lucrative one at that), there's a handful of new edicts that weren't in the first game, and there seems like a lot of new random events that weren't in the first game either.
  • The online leaderboard is a neat addition, which adds an online component to the game, as are the challenges.  I am looking forward to trying some of the ones people have designed and developing my own.
The Bad

  • Building roads can sometimes be an exercise in frustration.  Because they insta-build, you can't try to lay them out, then demolish them for free if you didn't place it quite right.  While not as bad as in the first game, where you couldn't demolish them until they were built (which often took ages), it can still lead to a lot of wasted expense.  There's a lot of places where I've tried to build a road on an oddly-shaped outcropping or through a particularly narrow pass where it has taken a dozen tries to get the road laid out properly.  That ends up being a fair bit of wasted money, although roads are far cheaper than in the original game.
  • Islands seem smaller than in the first game; I'm not sure if this is a function of the more efficient travel or if the maps are actually smaller, but it seems like I'm much more likely to have sprawl in Tropico 3 than I was in the original, where I was much more likely to have towns separated by farms, forest, and other open spaces.
  • It seems like there are fewer non-industry jobs for high school educated workers.  A lot of the tourism buildings that used high school workers are not in the new game, like duty-free shops.  Those may have been added in expansions to the first one and maybe they will show up in an expansion for the new one, but it does give me an annoying surplus of high school workers in the tourism-heavy scenarios.
  • There's no real "map editor"; for scenarios you create you generate a random map and go from there, which means you can't change the placement of the palace and other starter buildings, as far as I can tell.  Like I said, I haven't played with it much though so I may be wrong about that.
Overall, the game is excellent, especially at the reasonable price of 40 bucks on Steam, which comes with two new outfits for your dictator (though honestly, they weren't that awesome -- a t-shirt and jeans outfit for each gender) and two new islands for the sandbox mode, which isn't really that awesome since there's a random map generator you can use even if you don't get them.  I highly recommend the game to people who liked the first one, or who haven't played it and like this style of game -- citybuilders like Caesar or Pharoah or SimCity -- and think the theme appeals to them.

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This page is an archive of entries from November 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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