2006-03-21

CommonWealth Games

Image hosting by PhotobucketThe Commonwealth Games are a joke. Foxtel wants to sell you special packages to watch everything on at least seven channels of coverage, Channel 9 are stuffing in as many advertisements as they can and showing only the highlights of all events except swimming, and making absolutely no use of their other digital channels which could be showing events in full - they want you to pay extra via foxtel if you want to see that.

How I hate competitive swimming. This sport has been shoved down our throats by the media moguls, beating up an incredibly boring event to where the hype-prone populace actually feel some excitement, all in order to sell some insurance, dishwashing liquid, moisturiser and so on. Then some of these over-publicised water-bound athletes have the audacity to do wonderful things like break contracts but still want the public funds because they believe they think they deserve a break. Let's just have the highlights of swimming, if people want more then let them pay for foxtel or just broadcast on the other digital channels that you own.

Please stop broadcasting medal ceremonies in the hopes that someone cries and we get a "golden memory". I'm sick of the Australian anthem and I have little interest in hearing other nations, especially when the events that I am interested in get only miniscule amount of air time while medal presentations get a whole bunch.

While we're at it, will people stop listening to Ray Warren; he's the commentator who gets overhyped, spouting useless information and cliches while he builds to a fever pitch screaming when the swimmers are about to win. He also calls Rugby League and a bunch of other events where I have to turn the volume off. His excitement is practiced and paced, to me it is as fake as the smiles on american comedy shows. What's worse, it seems that other commentators have studied this technique and are using it in other events, like the rascist imbecile who was commentating on the weight lifting.

As we have known for a while, the commercial rights to "major" athletics events are nicely sold away to corporate interests for vast amounts of money. We then have a branded event that makes them the governing bodies get all snarky when someone else might mention the words "Commonwealth Games" and thereby potentially make buckets of money that should go to the people who paid to be allowed to say these sacred words. Despite the heavy amount of public funding, throwing up images on the net or taking photos is just not on. Certain athletes (usually swimmers) get very upset when you use their image with your corporate logo. It is all about the marketing and too many viewers are buying into it.

Then there are the medal tallies which are a personal hobby horse for me (qv Olympics). We get all excited because Australia is so far ahead of everybody else in the simple medal count. Which, in the end, means very little. Some people will say that Australia "won" the Commonwealth Games. If you define the criteria for winning as the most medals collected by a country to which athletes claim to represent, then this is indeed the case. However, if you think about exactly what that count of medals means and gain some understanding of the numbers, you will see that "winning" as a group has little meaning at all. Winners are the media corporations, the contracting companies who built the infrastructure.

Most likely the athletes came out winners too and not because they got a chunk of metal around their neck, but more for participating, for visiting a new country and competing with their peers, hopefully making new friends. While that may make you feel good as a viewer, it shouldn't. You've been taken for a ride. Your government just spent heaps to host the events, athletes, the middle men in suits, government officials, diplomats, business people and so on. The politicians use the games to show what a great sport they are. The government sold your rights to view these games to corporations who sold time to advertisers who will hook some of us into buying their useless crap at inflated prices because they have to pay for the extraordinary advertising you were forced to watch.

2006-03-04

Civilization IV

Image hosting by PhotobucketI had spent many hours developing civilizations back in the dark days of computing of the early 90s. The game "Civilization" came out after the other hit; "Sim City" had started to lose its shine. The games are similar, but different enough to warrant buying and playing both. If I cast my mind back even further, there was a textmode war game that I spent many hours on called Empire which had a slightly similar feel to Civilization's battle system. A big thanks to Bryan at Textmode for continuing to host programs such as that.

I was in the Philippines and had some time to kill because a coup had me flee the country a little earlier than I had planned. I spotted the latest incarnation of Civilization in the airport and made the purchase (after checking the net to ensure that I wasn't getting ripped off).

Civilization IV has some nasty minimum specs which exceeded that of my 2 year old laptop (Toshiba A10, 2.2GHz Celeron, 768Meg RAM). I was faced with a dialogue telling me "Your machine is below minimum specifications. Civ4 will not run on this hardware setup." So I spent some time downloading the latest drivers (of which I had already it turns out), just to make sure it wasn't something simple. No. The problem is that the game needs some nifty little hardware based rendering features on your graphics card or you will get this error. LIES! It ran OK on my machine despite this. Sure it was a little jerky and slow, but that just completed the nostalgic trip for me.

Civilization IV is the same game as the 1991 version but with a lot slicker interface and some very sweet music. I did not try the online play, mainly because I do not think that I would be as ruthless with other real life players. Plus you can't trust people. At least with the computer AI you know that the friendly nations will generally tend to do friendly things. So until I play the multiplayer version I cannot give a complete review, but I don't think that will happen anytime soon.

Civilization is a turn based game, so you do things in turn, wait for the other civilizations to have their turn and then start all over again. So you play it at your leisure, considering each move as you develop your world. You build towns, who can build a unit (eg: soldier, missionary, worker) or upgrade (city walls, banks, hospitals). You have a directive of sorts which heads your civilization to create new developments (eg: iron, electricity, theology, communism etc). You trade with other civilizations through a very easy to use interface. All rather complex, and difficult to fully explain without becoming a manual. The game actually prompts you when it thinks you have been neglecting something, and many of the units have an auto-mode so they can go about happily developing or protecting your civilization without you having to micro-manage them.

This game is full of joy. Building towns that flourish, satisfying your people so they spontaneously celebrate your leadership, building relationships with other civilizations that you like, and the cold shoulder to other civilizations that you know you are going to have to "take care of" later; oh they may beg for mercy, offer tribute, but they never seem to want to hand over half their cities for peace, they would prefer the inevitable complete destruction that I only too willingly hand to them.

I had forgotten that you spend ages developing this civilization, the towns, the diplomacy with other governments. Then the damn game ends and it is all gone. Oh the hollow feeling, the loss, the futility of it all! OK, maybe not that bad, but very similar to reading an excellent book, getting to the end and wishing there was more.

This game rocks. But like last time, I may only play it one more time. Not too bad value if you consider the cost of the game and the number of hours you spend on it. If you want to get your own copy I would suggest you check out eBay but make sure that you get an unused serial number or you won't be able to play online. Make sure you download and install the latest update, done from within the game.