Interestingly, the dot.com bust does not seem to have slowed down or discredited the geek subculture at all. Websites like http://geekculture.com and http://thinkgeek.com do a flourishing business, successfully betting investment capital on the theory that there is in fact a common subculture or community embracing computer hackers, SF fans, strategy gamers, aficionados of logic puzzles, radio hams, and technology hobbyists of all sorts. Just the fact that a website can advertise “The World’s Coolest Propeller Beanies!” is indication of how far we’ve come.
I’ve previously observed about one large and important geek subtribe, the Internet hackers, that when people join it they tend to retrospectively re-interpret their past and after a while find it difficult to remember that they weren’t always part of this tribe. I think something similar is true of geeks in general; even those of us who lived through the emergence of geek culture have to struggle a bit to remember what it was like back when we were genuinely atomized outcasts in a culture that was dismissive and hostile.
There are even beginning to be geek families with evidence of generational transmission. I know three generations of one, starting when two computer scientists married in the late 1960s, and had four kids in the 1970s; the kids have since produced a first grandchild who at age five shows every sign of becoming just as avid a gamer/hacker/SF-fan as his parents and grandparents.
Little Isaac, bless him, will grow up in a culture that, in its plenitude, offers lots of artifacts and events designed by and for people like him. He will take the World Wide Web and the Sci-Fi Channel and Yugio and the Lord of the Rings movies and personal computers for granted. He’ll probably never be spat on by a jock, and if he can’t find a girlfriend it will be because the geekgirls and geek groupies are dating other guys like him, rather than being nonexistent.
For Isaac, Revenge of the Nerds will be a quaint period piece with very little more relevance to the social circumstances of his life than a Regency romance. And that is how we know that the nerds indeed got their revenge.
Eric S. Raymond, “The Revenge of the Nerds is Living Well”, Armed and Dangerous, 2004-12-20.
January 23, 2017
January 16, 2017
John Ringo posted this on Facebook, and while I don’t play the particular games he references, I’m also finding that in-game crafting (which seemed like such a cool idea when I first heard of it) is really just an extended PITA:
November 29, 2016
If you engage with [childrens’] interest, you can also help them toward appreciating and understanding the context, most obviously the history and politics, but also the life lessons to be learned from the decision making and engineering, for example the parable of the Panther and the T34 (tldr: “Good enough now is sometimes better than perfect, later.”)
You can even view stories about soldiers and soldiering as workplace adventures, since most of them hinge on office politics and team building.
And, in this context, the violent video games are just another learning tool, for all that they are also fun and a way to let off steam.
The third cost is more nebulous: imagined agency.
Children don’t have a lot of real agency, and, not only is it hard for a child to imagine modern adult agency, it’s also not very exciting.
One of the reasons action stories are compelling is that the main conflict is explicit and easy to grasp, and character agency simple and tangible: you know who Sharpe is struggling with because they are trying to kill each other; and you know he has agency because he has a unit of men, a rifle, and that big French cavalry sword.
It’s just much much easier to play soldiers in the garden, than aid worker, doctor or even adventurer. After a certain age, a child can only spend so long pretending to climb a mountain or pushing through the jungle undergrowth, but they can spend an entire afternoon enjoying a running skirmish, especially if they have those cool laser tag guns that actually track hits.
If you take away the plastic gun (with it’s don’t-shoot-me orange cap), ban Call of Duty, and censor books with guns and explosions on the cover, then — to me — it feels like you’re saying, Don’t imagine making important decisions, balancing risks, or being proactive.
M. Harold Page, “Children and War Toys and Violent Video Games and Action Stories”, Charlie’s Diary, 2016-11-15.
October 27, 2016
Published on Oct 23, 2016
Sunday bonus video! A few days ago I had to chance to put some questions to Karsin and Tuccy of the WoWs Dev Team regarding the new Royal Navy cruisers. Here’s what they had to say.
October 19, 2016
Published on 18 Oct 2016
So I’m about to do an HMS Belfast video when Wargaming contact me and say “Hey, we gave you all the RN Light Cruisers again, your video can go up tomorrow and the whole thing goes live in two days. Any questions?”
TWO DAYS! YOU’RE KILLING ME HERE!
Yeah, I know, first world problems. Here’s the Royal Navy light cruiser line in general, and the premium tier 7 cruiser HMS Belfast in particular. THEY’RE AWESOME!
The Naval Hymn performed by the US Navy Band Chanters
October 13, 2016
I have no expertise in this area, but it appears to me that if the “Silicon Valley billionaires” are right and we are living in a simulated reality there are only two likely options. First, we’re (if you’ll pardon the simplification) “players in the game” — whether we’re aware of it within our simulation or not — and we can leave the simulation in the same way a World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy XIV or Guild Wars 2 player can log off and resume life in “meat space”. Second, most or all of us are actually NPCs and there’s no way to leave the simulation because (some|most|all) of us have no objective existence outside the simulation we currently occupy. If the second option is true … and mathematically it’s the one that’s overwhelmingly likely if we’re actually in a simulation, then there’s little point in discovering that it’s true, as we’ll all cease to exist when our home simulation is turned off.
October 9, 2016
In PC Gamer, T.J. Hafer offers a few ideas to help you get started in your first few Civilization VI games:
Going from Civ 4 to Civ 5 was probably the biggest step out of the comfy, immortal dictator shoes Sid Meier’s flagship series had ever taken, but Civ 5 to Civ 6 is an even more significant transformation. So whether you’re totally new to this world domination thing or a veteran of weathering Gandhi’s aggressive nuclear policy — along with battling the rest of Civ 6’s leaders — it’s wise to seek some understanding of the basics. There are some tricky concepts to come to terms with a couple layers under what Sean Bean will tell you in the tech pop-ups. And it’s Sean Bean, so you never know when he might get impaled or immolated, leaving us to navigate the winds of time on our own.
Barbarians have gotten a lot smarter
You know that scene in Jurassic Park where they realize the velociraptors have figured out how to open doors? My first couple encounters with Civ 6’s barbarians were a bit like that. The first barbarian unit you see is probably going to be a scout. And guess what? He’s coming to scope out your city and determine if it’s weak enough to attack. Not only that, but when his friends do arrive, they’re likely to have an intelligent unit composition and an understanding of the terrain similar to a human player.
City centers can’t attack in Civ 6 until walls have been built, so your first couple dozen turns can really put you at the mercy of the barbarians. Don’t wander off too far with your first warrior. I also recommend building at least one more warrior and a slinger very early on — before you even make a second settler. It’s worth it. On the bright side, barbarians are also now smart enough to retreat and lick their wounds if they know they’ve been beaten. So you only really need to kill a little more than half of their raiding party to buy yourself a respite.
Spread your Traders around to build road networks
Since trade routes now automatically generate roads between cities (and this is, in fact, the main way of building roads), you’re going to want to keep re-basing your traders every time their mission expires to add another link to your network until all the cities of your empire are connected. Roads are more important than ever due to the harsh terrain movement changes I discussed with Tom. They can easily be the difference between being able to reinforce a city that’s under siege, and allowing it to fall to friggin’ Saladin and his friggin’ auto-heal overpowered stupid-face Mamluks.
Also, don’t forget to protect your traders passing through the fog of war! I lost two of them to a barbarian scout with one health that I let live after the destruction of his village, thinking he wasn’t worth chasing and wouldn’t be a threat anymore. He apparently learned kung fu and took vengeance for his ancestors, costing me a lot of money, and I wasn’t too happy about it.
October 6, 2016
August 18, 2016
Published on 17 Aug 2016
Ahoy there, shipmates! Splice the mainbrace and shiver me timbers! British cruisers are coming and here’s our first look!
Scott Alexander linked to this site which is compiling links to all of the public information available for the soon-to-be-released game Civilization VI. I’ve pre-ordered my copy, and I’ve been casually following the development process, so I’ll probably be visiting this site pretty regularly.
June 16, 2016
I’m currently reading this two-volume history of the US Navy’s submarines in the Pacific during WW2 by Clay Blair, Jr., so I was interested to see this review of a wargame covering this exact conflict:
Consim Press has published a fantastic solo player wargame in Silent Victory: U.S. Submarines in the Pacific, 1941-1945. With game design by Gregory M. Smith, Silent Victory offers a little bit of everything for someone looking for an immersive, historical naval wargame that is easy to play yet detailed enough to be fulfilling for an advanced gamer.
It covers one of the biggest problems American sub commanders faced for the first two years of the war:
For every torpedo you fire, you’ll roll a 1d6 dice for a dud. Roll a 1 or 2, well, you are out of luck. It might have hit, but it didn’t explode. Dud. This happened to me at least three times in two patrols. It was a fact — the U.S. Navy had a torpedo problem. Clay Blair Jr.’s magisterial book Silent Victory: The U.S. Submarine War against Japan made this clear:
“…[T}he submarine force was hobbled by defective torpedoes. Developed in peacetime but never realistically tested against targets, the U.S. submarine torpedo was believed to be one of the most lethal weapons in the history of naval warfare. It had two exploders, a regular one that detonated it on contact with the side of an enemy ship and a very secret “magnetic exploder” that would detonate it beneath the keel of a ship without contact. After the war began, submariners discovered the hard way that the torpedo did not run steadily at the depth set into its controls and often went much deeper than designed, too deep for the magnetic exploder to work.”
Blair notes that not until late 1943 would the U.S. Navy fix the numerous torpedo problems.
Actually, the depth control issue was only the start of the problem. Once enough sub skippers had complained to their chain of command that the torpedoes were running too deep, and were able to get a few of them tested to prove it, then other problems became apparent. Even if the torpedo ran at the correct depth, the magnetic exploder would not reliably trigger the warhead when it passed under an enemy ship. The German and British submarine services had also developed similar exploders, but had abandoned them after wartime testing proved them to be ineffective. US Navy submarine admirals would not be convinced, so it took much longer for the sub captains to get permission to de-activate the magnetic exploders and use the contact exploders instead.
Unbelievably, it now became clear that there were also problems with the contact exploder as well, so even if it hit the side of the target it might not explode. American torpedoes had a significantly smaller warhead than those of other navies, because it had been expected that the magnetic exploder detonating below the keel of an enemy ship would be sufficient to break the back of the target and sink it. When used as ordinary torpedoes, it often took three or four hits to guarantee a sinking even on a merchant ship. Warships, having better compartmentalization, were even tougher to sink without lucky shots that hit fuel or ammunition compartments.
There are three reasons why this game succeeds.
First, historical accuracy. From the problems with torpedoes, to the detailed lists of Japanese merchant and capital ships, or to the specific weapons load out of each U.S. submarine in WWII, it is all there. The makers of this game did not cut any corners. They did their homework and tried, I think successfully, to incorporate significant historical facts into the gameplay.
Second, a risk/reward based gameplay experience. Every decision you make — from the torpedoes you use to deciding if you want to attack submerged and at close or long distance — incurs risk. There are numerous tradeoffs. For instance, you can attack from long distance submerged, but you suffer a roll modifier and risk not hitting your target. Or, you can be aggressive, and attack at close range, surfaced at night, which may increase your chance of hit but also increase your chance of detection. It just depends.
Finally, simple game rules. Complicated games are no fun to play. As a player, I don’t want to spend 10 minutes looking up rule after rule in a rulebook the size of a encyclopedia. In Silent Victory, the designers have done us a favor. The rules are clearly written and extensive, and after a single read through I referred to them occasionally. But more important, the combat mat has the dice roll encounter procedures printed on it, all within easy view. Also, the other mats all have reference numbers and clearly identify which dice should be rolled for what effects. It is all right there on the mats. This makes for a fun, smooth playing experience. And finally, if I were add another reason why this game is worth your money, it is the game’s replay value. You can conduct numerous patrols and no two patrols will ever be the same.
Silent Victory is a fun naval wargame that will appeal to the novice or expert gamer – and maybe you’ll learn something along the way.
May 27, 2016
Published on 25 May 2016
Civ 6 Interview discussing canal cities, graphics, happiness, and more!
Description of Civilization 6 from the Official Website:
“Sid Meier’s Civilization VI is the next entry in the award-winning Civilization franchise, which has sold in nearly 33 million units worldwide, including more than 8 million units of Civilization V.
Originally created by legendary game designer Sid Meier, Civilization is a turn-based strategy game in which you attempt to build an empire to stand the test of time. Become Ruler of the World by establishing and leading a civilization from the Stone Age to the Information Age. Wage war, conduct diplomacy, advance your culture, and go head-to-head with history’s greatest leaders as you attempt to build the greatest civilization the world has ever known.
Civilization VI offers new ways to engage with your world: cities now physically expand across the map, active research in technology and culture unlocks new potential, and competing leaders will pursue their own agendas based on their historical traits as you race for one of five ways to achieve victory in the game.
EXPANSIVE EMPIRES: See the marvels of your empire spread across the map like never before. Each city spans multiple tiles so you can custom build your cities to take full advantage of the local terrain.
ACTIVE RESEARCH: Unlock boosts that speed your civilization’s progress through history. To advance more quickly, use your units to actively explore, develop your environment, and discover new cultures.
DYNAMIC DIPLOMACY: Interactions with other civilizations change over the course of the game, from primitive first interactions where conflict is a fact of life, to late game alliances and negotiations.
COMBINED ARMS: Expanding on the “one unit per tile” design, support units can now be embedded with other units, like anti-tank support with infantry, or a warrior with settlers. Similar units can also be combined to form powerful “Corps” units.
ENHANCED MULTIPLAYER: In addition to traditional multiplayer modes, cooperate and compete with your friends in a wide variety of situations all designed to be easily completed in a single session.
A CIV FOR ALL PLAYERS: Civilization VI provides veteran players new ways to build and tune their civilization for the greatest chance of success. New tutorial systems introduce new players to the underlying concepts so they can easily get started.”
May 14, 2016
Published on 13 May 2016
SORRY FOR THE SOUND QUALITY, WE WERE IMPROVISING A BIT.
Thousands of people decided to watch our show since the Battlefield 1 trailer made its debut last week, so we decided to welcome all the new fans with a trailer analysis.
May 12, 2016
Firaxis has announced the release date of the next version of Civilization, along with a number of changes to the game that may increase the challenge level (and disrupt the current “meta”):
In many ways, Civilization 6 takes its predecessors and iterates on the systems that have come before. There are changes being made to trade, research, religion and more. Based on the limited amount of information so far released, these changes seem to be incremental.
But there is also a big change coming. In previous Civ games, city improvements were mere statistical boosts or manufacturing gateways, rendered prettily with a slightly different artistic representation. You built a wall and your defenses improved and your city, quite clearly, became encircled by a wall. They lived within the city, outside your control.
Civilization 6 is not the same. It demands that you place your city improvements in geographic locations in hexes around the city, which best take advantage of that building’s boosts and functions.
This means that your city upgrade path is no longer a rote event. It is a matter of geographic practicality.
In Civ 5, combat changed significantly. But combat is merely a system, albeit an important one. In Civ 6, it’s the city itself — the throbbing organ of all Civ games — that is being altered.
The improvements you build in your cities will now actually need to be placed in the tiles surrounding your city and can derive benefits from the terrain if built in better or worse locations. This will probably place an even greater emphasis on finding the best possible spot to found a city, as the long-term growth and development will hinge to a much greater degree on the city’s hinterland than in earlier Civ games.
While I’ve certainly enjoyed the most recent game, I found myself very often following an informal “script” or template when playing Civ V, which Firaxis developers think they’re addressing in the new game:
Why has Firaxis decided to make this change to how cities are structured, to merge the building elements of the city with its surrounding geography?
“We want players to adapt to the map every time they play the game,” says lead designer Ed Beach. “We want people to think on their feet, to respond to being put in different types of terrain, to being put in situations while playing different leaders.”
He says that the “number one” problem the team has identified about Civ 5 is that players often settle on certain strategic paths, and they play the same way every time. For example, when I build cities, I’m almost always looking at Monument, Shrine, Granary, Library, Walls, Coliseum. I rarely change this formula, nor others theirs.
This is why Civ 6‘s cities are different. “It’s as big a change for the economic side of the game as unstacking the armies was with Civ 5,” says Beach. “We want to throw different things at the player at different times and make them have to adapt.”
April 28, 2016
Professor James Lacey explains why he introduced commercial wargames into his curriculum for USMC officers at the war college:
As every team plotted their strategic “ends,” students soon realized that neither side had the resources — “means” — to do everything they wanted. Strategic decisions quickly became a matter of tradeoffs, as the competitors struggled to find the “ways” to secure sufficient “means” to achieve their objectives (“ends”). For the first time, students were able to examine the strategic options of the Peloponnesian War within the strictures that limited the actual participants in that struggle.
Remarkably, four of the five Athenian teams actually attacked Syracuse on Sicily’s east coast! As they were all aware that such a course had led to an Athenian disaster 2,500 years before, I queried them about their decision. Their replies were the same: Each had noted that the Persians were stirring, which meant there was a growing threat to Athens’ supply of wheat from the Black Sea. As there was an abundance of wheat near Syracuse, each Athenian team decided to secure it as a second food source (and simultaneously deny it to Sparta and its allies) in the event the wheat from the Black Sea was lost to them. Along the way, two of the teams secured Pylos so as to raise helot revolts that would damage the Spartan breadbasket. Two of the teams also ended revolts in Corcyra, which secured that island’s fleet for Athenian purposes, and had the practical effect of blockading Corinth. So, it turns out there were a number of good strategic reasons for Athens to attack Syracuse. Who knew? Certainly not any War College graduate over the past few decades.
All of these courses of action were thoroughly discussed by each team, as were Spartan counter moves. For the first time in my six years at the Marine Corps War College, I was convinced that the students actually understood the range of strategies and options Thucydides wrote about. In the following days, I was stopped dozens of times by students who wanted discuss other options they might have employed, and, even better, to compare their decisions to what actually happened. A number of students told me they were still thinking about various options and decisions weeks later. I assure you that no one even spent even a car ride home thinking about my Thucydides lectures.
At the end of each wargame, students walked away with a new appreciation of the historical circumstances of the period and the events they had read about and discussed in class. And even though all wargames are an abstract of actual events, I am sure that no student exposed to historical gaming will ever again read about the Peloponnesian War without thinking about Sicily’s wheat, the crucial importance of holding the Isthmus of Corinth, or what could have been done with a bit more Persian silver in the coffers of one side or the other’s treasury. Similarly, the next time one of this year’s students reads about Lee and Grant in 1864, they will also be thinking about how the truly decisive actions took place out west. For, as it was during the actual conflict, in every game the students played, Grant’s role was to pin down the Army of Northern Virginia, while the western armies ripped out the economic heart of the Confederacy.
In fact, I was astounded at the number of students who approached me after the Civil War exercise to mention that despite having studied the Civil War before, this was the first time they realized that the war was won in the west. I could go on for another few thousand words discussing other revelations students experienced through gaming and simulations, but the key point is that these experiential learning experiences linger in students’ minds for a very long time. I once asked my seminars how many of them had discussed the games and their results with their spouses. Every hand went up. I am quite sure that very few of them ever discussed one of my lectures with their spouses.