A Mind @ Play

random thoughts to oil the mind

Month: August 2007

Finding Space for the Public in Transport

This is one of those posts which makes it to the draught stage and never any further, but as I was tidying up my WordPress install, I decided with a bit of reworking it’s something I still feel strongly about. The original title had referred to British public transport in particular, but in truth there is very little specific to the British experience.

Virgin Trains

Before I start my rant, let me plainly state that I am great supporter of the principles of public transport. That is not to say that I don’t see the use or take advantage of private transport, merely that I feel the balance in society is generally wrong, particularly in the first world, or whatever the preferred term is these days. These societies should be perfectly capable of providing for the vast majority of man’s annual miles, with our regular combinations of buses, trams, trains etc. and private transport being available to fill in the gaps where required. Being able to pack your bags, grab the kids and hit the road for a weekend away seems like a reasonable thing to do, but where is the logic of moving a ton of metal to work and back five days a week?

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Company of Heroes Review

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Company of Heroes

With some of the highest scores awarded for a real-time strategy, being one of the Top 20 Metacritic All-Time High Scores, Company of Heroes ended up being one of those games I had little excuse not to try out, given that my PC could (just about) run it. Admittedly I’m unable to comment on the graphical splendour which seems to have charmed so many gamers’ hearts, as every setting on my screen reads either ‘low’ or ‘off’, but I’ve played a fair few strategy games over the years, and despite my early cynicism, Company of Heroes has warmed to me after a little experience on the online battlefields.

Whenever a game is released with a major historical theme, such as the ever popular World War II era, cries go up about the loss of realism to the gaming gods. Such and such would never happen, this and that never existed. Of course, many strategy games don’t even attempt to pander to the pedants of realism, and have been all the more successful for it (take the recent Supreme Commander, or any in the Command and Conquer series). Company of Heroes is no saint in this regard either, but its efforts to create a game at once realistic and fun have to be admired. There will always be players who complain about how developers could have stayed truer to real life, but Relic have done a good job in creating a game which at least seems realistic enough, and in ways which make the game fun to play. Shells fired at tanks have a chance of only glancing off the armour, and depending on the situation might even miss altogether; units under heavy fire become surpressed, limiting their movements and actions, or even pinned, leaving them helpless unless pulled out or relieved; and the variety of weapons and vehicles keep the tactics fresh and varied.

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The Settlers of Catan: First thoughts

Settlers of Catan

Occasionally there’s no better way to spend an evening than sitting down around a table with friends and family, having a few drinks and playing a board game. That stands particularly true when the game is something new. Every player goes into the game trying to learn, meaning everyone is that little bit more focused, that little bit more bewildered, and tactics have to be picked up along the way. Although I wouldn’t call any of us board game connaisseurs, this wasn’t the first time we’d learnt a game from scratch of an evening, nor presumably the last time we’ll be up past midnight trying to play one out!

The Settlers of Catan advertises that it can be picked up in fifteen minutes, and with a bit of concentration there really is nothing too complicated about it. The object of the game is to score 10 victory points, which can be gathered in a number of ways, but the key to all of them stems from the same basic root. The island of Catan is divided into various regions or ‘hexes’, each representing a type of landscape which will produce a certain variety of good. Precisely which of these regions will bear fruit on any one turn is determined by the throw of the dice, adding that little element of luck which thankfully doesn’t marr any feeling of player involvement in this game. Placing your settlements and roads wisely should ensure a decent windfall of the produce from the dice throws, and it isn’t necessary to be in control of the dice in order to profit from a roll. Using various combinations of goods produced, a player can expand his network, building more settlements and roads, and creep towards that victory point tally.

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Fishing the planet dry, by saving the dolphins

Feeding the dolphins

There are some pretty banal programmes on television at times, such is the role it plays, but Animal Park – Wild on the West Coast really caught my eye today. It served up the job of a nature programme from California, but it was a real eye opener to some of the ludicrous crap that gets spewed out, and of course funded, in the name of environmentalism. One segment showed how they looked after a sealion with some neurological disease, to the extent of giving the animal an MRI scan, ascertaining it wasn’t going to survive, and then putting it down. If anyone could explain the point of all that to me, I’d be impressed.

Yet the clip which really boiled my noodle was the one which showed how they were exercising bottlenosed dolphins in captivity, in order to measure their heart rates, and ultimately determine how many calories they needed whilst at rest and whilst active. They were then going to use this information to work out how many fish the animals required, and then pass this important information on to the fisheries in the region, essentially intimating that fisheries would be restricted or closed based on the feeding requirements of the dolphins. It really is amazing at times how random ‘research’ can become. It would seem that as long as those cute little dolphins get enough to eat, no one particularly gives a rat’s arse about whether the ecosystem at large is suffering as a result of fishing policies. Plus, you can bet a pretty penny that with all the statistical horse shit they would have to utilise to make any sense out of those pretty useless collections of figures, there will be little correlation between what they would have to tell the fisheries and reality!

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