Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Another game done

So, because I'm a lazy bum, I was up till 2AM last night playing Entrepreneur, by Stardock Games, which was published in 1996. This is a game that I started once upon a time, I don't even remember how long ago, then picked back up, then decided to start a new game, then put back down, then picked back up months later, and then forgot about till last night. Continue for my (kinda crappy) review.

Entrepreneur is a game where you try to develop a monopoly for a certain product in a certain region. The product and region are both chosen when you start a new game. You can choose from among 3 products: Cars, Cola, and Computers. The region is also chosen at this time, my version (I don't even remember how long ago I got it) has 12 different regions to choose from, including two maps of the world, and one of the US, among others). Your other choices upon starting a game include picking a specialty: Manufacturing (make things faster), Marketing (make better/more ads), and Engineering (research faster); naturally I choose Engineering. Then you can name your company and CEO, choose what color your company will be represented by, select difficulty, how many and what names your opponents will have, and finally, how much money each company starts with.

After making your decisions and continuing on, you are taken to the main game screen, which has a number of windows explaining the various sections. This is a good intro, and means that in principle you need not find a manual for the game. The only problem you run into if you can;t find a manual is if you come back to the game after months of not having played, but the main play area is fairly self explanatory, and you can start a new game to see these help windows, then quit, if you remember about them. These help windows pop up each time you go to a new screen as well, so that you're not left in the dark when starting a new game.

The gameplay is fairly simple, mainly consisting of moving sales executives from one region to another in order to boost the sales of your product there. Of course, there are other ways to boost sales, as well, such as marketing campaigns, which can either hype your product or put down another company's product. Naturally, you can also change the price that you're selling at, make it lower, and you'll have more demand, in general, just as expected. The game map is broke up into regions (for the world it's generally countries, for the US it's states). In order to be able to sell products in a region, you have to investigate that region in order to determine what people there want. You start off the game with a single site (place where you can build structures in order to manufacture, research, etc) and sales exec., and only that region investigated. In order to investigate a region, you select it from the map, pay a fee (that depends on the map being played and the size of the region), and wait a few weeks. Once the region has been investigated, it will no longer have question marks covering it, but will be colored to reflect the stats you choose.

Now what consumer is happy with the same product month after month, year after year? In order to spice things up a bit, you can build engineering labs in order to research upgrades to your product. These upgrades are specific to your product, and change various aspects of it. for example, if selling computers, you can upgrade space required, reliability, aesthetics, manufacturing cost and time, performance, ease of use, and a few others. Each of the different components can be upgraded in this way, such as the ram, graphics card, cpu, hard drive, among others. The case can also be changed, starting with a full tower, and proceeding to a mini tower, desktop, and finally laptop. The aesthetics and manufacturing cost decrease as you upgrade these, along with the available space.

The other main facet of gameplay is the existence of direct action cards. These cards can turn the tides of the game, from making the government take anti-trust actions against another company, to inciting one region to completely boycott a company's product. You obtain one card at the end of each year, and can only play it if you control the necessary resources, which are scattered around the map and are obtained by winning market share in that region.

There are two ways that you can win, either make all the other companies go bankrupt, or obtain a certain percentage of total market share (which differs, depending on how many companies are currently in play). Usually, in the course of the game a few companies will go bankrupt before you can even get close to the required market share, so it can take a little while.

All in all, Entrepreneur is a fun game that can help to while away the hours, as long as you don't care too much about graphics and sound (the game is from 1996, after all). I think next, I'll try Stardock's follow-up: The Corporate Machine.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Various Items

So I made another loaf of sourdough bread today, and I think as far as texture and consistency go, this is the best yet, although the flavor is a bit milder than my previous loaves, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I also recently bought some yeast so that I can try to make some regular white bread, or any of the sundry variations on it. So far I've made one loaf of white, using a recipe from my regular cookbook, which took about 1.5 hours from start to finish. All things considered, I think it came out quite well, although I think I'd like to try a recipe that doesn't rush the dough.

On the schooling front, I've received all of my grades from this past semester, and it turns out that I earned A's in all 3 classes (Advanced Quantum, Particles, and Qual Prep). This is, I believe, the first time I have earned a 4.0 for a semester, so yay for that. Now, all I have to do is pass the Quals in August, and I'm home free.

Finally, I have decided that on those (fairly rare) occasions that I complete a game (computer, video...) I think I'll attempt to post a (hopefully) smallish review of said game here. I'll hide them all behind the expanding post thingy that I have so that they don't bloat the post lengths though. With, that, let's start things off with a review of The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass.

The Phantom Hourglass is one of those few Zelda games that is a direct sequel, in other words, it's easy to set the game in a definite time line, in this case, it takes place at some point after the events of Windwaker. Because of this, Nintendo decided to use similar art for this game, which makes everything, even the scary monsters, look adorable. The visuals are about on par for what I expected from a Gameboy game, although it's been a while since I've played GB.

This is the first DS game I've played (aside from about 5 minutes of Brain Age), so it was interesting having the main game window in addition to the top screen. Which brings me to the first complaint that I have, even though it's a minor one: the entire game is played with the touch screen. Everything you want to do, from moving Link and attacking, to using items, is controlled with the tiny little stylus. There are a few "hotkeys," such as pressing right and left on the d-pad to open the main menu and the item menu, and pressing (and holding) L to ready an item, but you're still spending the whole time gripping the stylus and tapping or swiping the screen. I'm sure this wouldn't be a problem for many people, especially the younger players out there, but after playing for a while, my hand would start to get sore and cramped, since the tiny stylus was clearly not meant for my long fingers/hands. That issue aside, the control scheme is fairly nice. Sure, it takes a little getting used to, but once you do, it seems almost second nature, and with the hotkeys you can quickly and easily ready an item for use, even in combat.

Having two screens is cool, and I can't imagine the game using them better. While most of the action occurs in the bottom (touch) screen, the top screen shows a full map of the area or room you're in. This is nice to see in a Zelda game, since in general, the on screen maps tend to be limited, making you pause the game to figure out where you need to go. It's also good on the collection screens, since it let's you see more of your inventory at a time, which means you don't have to cycle through 3 or 4 different screens to find what you're looking for.

Since this is a sequel to Windwaker, the land is covered in a great sea, with numerous islands that you travel to. The sailing was pretty fun, some of the enemies get old after a while, but they help to break up the monotony. There are two minigames that you can play while sailing, salvaging and fishing. Fishing is fun, although I quickly gave up on catching anything other than the two most common fish out of 5 or 6 types. Salvaging is also a fun pastime, and is the most common way to get different parts for your ship. There are a number of different "styles" that you can make your ship, though you have to find different parts to do it. This almost turns into a game of Pokemon, where you want to collect all of the different pieces so you can make your ship look however you want. There is a bonus to finding other pieces in addition to the aesthetics: if you use a style other than the starting one, and match multiple parts from that style, your ship's health will increase, which is useful if you find yourself running into sea battles often.

As far as the story goes, it seems a little short, but this could be due to marketing towards a younger audience, which I suppose would make sense for a GB game. This would also explain why, in general, the puzzles were slightly easier than other Zelda games, usually revolving around some form of "hit the switches in x y z order." This is another place where the touch screen was implemented well, requiring you to make notes on your map in order to pull levers or note the path of an enemy. There were also a few places where you can draw a picture on the screen in order to teleport somewhere, or to open a door. The nice thing about the notes you make is that they don't disappear when you leave the area, which is important.

The one major complaint I have is in regards to one out of the 6 or so dungeons that you must traverse: The Temple of the Ocean King. I won't spoil anything about it, but this dungeon is one that you must go through a number of times. Oh, and it's timed, in a way. And there are monsters that can kill you, but you can't kill. And there are traps...that reset when you leave the temple. This is where the note-taking comes in handy, you can trace the patrols of the invulnerable enemies, mark down how to disable the traps, and make other helpful little notes on your map that will be there the next time you visit. There are about a dozen floors to the temple, and you descend a little bit deeper each time you visit it, since you need different items to get past various obstacles. The main problem is that each time you visit, you have to go through the previous levels before you can continue deeper. At some point, you can make a kind of save point so that from the entrance you can skip a few floors while keeping the time you used to get there. The problem with this is that the floors you skip are easy and once you get the save point they pose little to no problem, it's the following floors that are the bothersome ones. I can understand having to go through them once, but by the third time you almost want to just turn the game off.

The sound was on par for a Zelda game, with the requisite effects for finding secrets and unlocking things and so forth, and the expected Zelda theme, remixed to fit the game. Otherwise, I can't remember anything specific about the sound effects or music other than the fact that they seemed fitting. Obviously a Gameboy is not meant to output astounding quality audio, though it was better than I expected.

All in all, I think Phantom Hourglass is an enjoyable game, and I would recommend it to any Zelda fan, though I might not suggest it to someone who wants to get into Zelda, since there are better ones that don't have sections like the Temple of the Ocean King, that annoy you to no end.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

For Realsies?

So if you search the ESRB ratings for Earthbound, it lists the rating as Everyone, and the platform as Wii. This surely can only mean that they plan to release Earthbound on the virtual console! I swear, Nintendo, you had better not merely be toying with our feelings.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Lessons learned

So, not too much happening since last time, but a few noteworthy events. First, as of Friday, May 9, I am officially done with classes FOREVER. I handed in my particle project and had turned in my last quantum homework earlier. Also, I checked my grades today and apparently I earned an A in Advanced Quantum, despite the fact that I know some of my homeworks used mathematics of a questionable legality. YAY! Moral of the story? You can try, and even if you fail, you might succeed.

Next up, after turning in my project, I headed to the Red Cross Blood Drive that was on campus. I was fairly confident, having given blood a mere 5 years ago at UMBC. However, when I was at the sign in table, a nurse came up and asked if I would like to make a double red donation. I figured it couldn't hurt, so I agreed. I should have known it was going to go poorly when, in order to take my blood pressure, the nurse had to use 3 cuffs. Anywho, after all the preliminary paperwork and testing to make sure I could actually do it, they took me over to the apheresis machine. A different nurse now had to do paperwork for it and whatnot, then looked for a vein in my arm. Right arm? No good. Left arm? "I think we can use this one, let's do it." Definitely fills me with confidence...
So, she eventually sticks the needle in me and starts up the machine. At some point it must have started beeping, though I didn't notice it. Another nurse comes over and looks at things, then moves my arm out, then in, then back to where it originally was, more or less. She then told me that she had to adjust the needle in the vein, and proceeded to do it. I think that was the point when I started getting really hot and lightheaded. It turns out that when she adjusted the needle, she broke the seal of the vein and the needle, so some of the liquids leaked out. I gather that the machine was saying that I wasn't doing so hot after that, and so they finished up what they could and unhooked me. In the end, I donated a unit of whole blood instead of 2 units of red blood cells, and was left with a good sized bruise and some soreness. Moral of the story? I should not donate double red, and probably should not even try apheresis again.

Finally, as I was returning to Philly from Baltimore the other night, I got quite a surprise: the normally 2 hour drive took me 5.5 hours; I left at 6 PM, got to my apartment around 11.30 PM. The first problem was an accident that was "blocking all lanes" on 95, which I didn't believe until I hit the backed up traffic from it. 2 hours later I'm back on 95, and hit some traffic due to construction on the Tydings bridge: 2 of the 3 lanes closed.
Eventually that clears up and I can continue through the toll and get my gas in Elkton: $3.75/gal. By 9.45 I was back on 95 again, and looking forward to getting back around 10.30 or so. But shortly after I got going on 95, all but one lane was closed (yet again) until 495. From there, it was smooth sailing, but I still didn't get back till 11.30 or so. Moral of the story? Belligerent design works.