Sunday, October 29, 2006

The complete opposite to a blood-thirsty game

And so here's the second game I wanted to write about. It's a German one, actually, called "Anno 1701". Unlike "Jaws Unleashed" which is rightfully not for anybody under the age of 18 (that's the highest level anything can get in Germany), "Anno 1701" is free for everyone from 6 years onward. I'd say that a 6-year-old kid may find the game quite difficult, but I can go wrong about that.

"Anno 1701" is the third game in a series of games in which you have to build up a settlement. This seems to be what German game designers are best at, as the other widely known game from Germany is "Die Siedler" ("The Settlers" would be the best translation). In such games you have to build up a settlement by creating production chains. For example to get bread you need a few farms, a mill and a bakery. The game has been one people here in Germany have been waiting for a long time, especially since the second one of the series ("Anno 1503") had a lot of rather useless features and was hard to play.

"Anno 1701" is much better, it's easier to build up a working settlement with houses for the settlers and production chains than it has been before. You still get to build tools yourself quite early (that's important because you need tools as a material for all kinds of buildings and you don't get that many of them in the beginning), but a lot of the production chains have been made a bit easier. In addition the realistic, but rather useless idea of sending a scout on the islands to find out what to harvest or mine there (certain things like cocoa, tobacco or flowers are harvested while gold, iron, marble or clay are mined) has been cancelled. You only have to approach an island with your ship (and not even that if you play without the fog of war that's usually covering the parts of the map you have not been to) to get all necessary information.

The game looks extremely good, too, you only have to play the free demo to find out about that. If your computer is up to it, you can get very realistic oceans with waves slowly running up the beaches, the palm trees of the southern islands move in the breeze, the animals run around and feed - until you build up a hunter to get food, that is - and your settlers gather in the village square to buy stuff or chat, sometimes also to watch or meet a special guest. This isn't just so the designers can show off how good they are, though, but it's useful. You see, while playing a game like that you'll always have some times when you can't really do a thing, because you still lack enough building material to build the new marketplace or to build a harbour on another island to be able to farm for certain goods there (you have to do that sooner or later because you'll never find an island you can harvest everything from). With game graphics like those you can spent that time watching your settlers or your workers or - later in the game, once you've established trade routes - your ships zooming in and out of your harbour to deliver or pick up various goods.

You don't even have to wage war - though keeping a couple of warships is nevertheless wise because of the pirates - to win a game. You can train and command troops, but that's just secondary to your other tasks. Once you've got enough noblemen (and -women, of cause) in your settlement, you can gain independence from the queen and start your own empire. You can later on build an enormous palace if you want to, fill your main island with a teeming city holding over 100.000 people, make a lot of money or just become a master of trade. The game offers a lot of different goals you can either define at the beginning of a new game or just set up for yourself.

"Anno 1701" is the anti-thesis of everything computer game critics go on about. It's not violent, it makes you think about and calculate your actions (which island to build a harbour on first, strike that deal with the pirate or rather risk more of your ships being attacked?), it's very nice to look at and it's something you can spent a long time with before you might get bored.

Musings on a blood-thirsty game

Something new for the computer game-haters has turned up yesterday. At least the game I'm going to write about (one of two, actually, but the other one's much nicer) confirms their believes of how blood-thirsty and brutal computer games are these days.

The game is called "Jaws Unleashed" and - as you could expect from the name - it's about a certain shark that has featured in 4 movies going by the name "Jaws". And just as you would expect, there's a lot of blood in the game. I - as somebody who's been fascinated with sharks for quite some time - would say that comes from living things having blood in their bodies and sharks not exactly having the best table manners (but it's hard to use a napkin without hands, to be completely fair). Critics who see computer games as something evil might say that it comes from the game industry trying to get people to buy the game because of the violence. I didn't buy the game because of the violence (although admittedly I like giving those American hotheads, who decide that the first thing to do to a shark swimming close to the beach is shooting at it, a bit of a fright and maybe take a bite or two out of them...) but because after years of waiting it's the first interesting underwater game I've come across. The last was "Eco the Dolphin", definitely a game without much blood, even though Eco munches on fishes as well.

In Germany you have to be 18 to buy the game, and I think that's exactly the right thing. I've not come far - the game's not easy -, but I've already seen quite a lot of blood and, yes, I've already maimed and killed some people ... and some sharks ... and even some jellyfish, though probably nobody is going to complain about them.

Fact is that the Great White Shark is a predator and it doesn't look as cuddly as a lion or tiger. It's got a lot of teeth set in a very strong pair of jaws (hence the title of the movies and the game) and it's not afraid to use them. And even though there are only very few people killed by sharks in reality (and most of them are killed by Bull Sharks), the Great White Shark has had a shady reputation even before the movies ... or this game.

To a critic going on about the violence and level of blood in this game I'd like to ask this question: What do you find worse: a human shooting other humans or a shark just acting on it's instincts? And the shark looks and moves damn good, too...

To me "Jaws Unleashed" is a very good example of a game not belonging into the hands of kids or teens, but it's nevertheless interesting. For one thing there's a whole section about the animals you may encounter, giving you a lot of information about the underwater life, and in addition to that during the loading screen you get a lot of interesting information about the movies and the incident from which the idea came.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Horror yesterday - horror today

I've been re-reading Stephen King's "Dance Macabre" recently - actually not a novel at all, but a book about horror as a such. It's an interesting read I can recommend for everybody who is either interested in this field or just has to find out about it for college or university. It's written quite well and even though it's not very up to date - it was written in the 80s -, most of it is still right. After all, the novels and movies he writes about do not change just because new one are produced.

Anyway, the book made me think about horror novels and movies as a such. I've been a fan of those from around 13 when I tackled Bram Stoker's "Dracula" for the first time and also read the first Stephen King novels. While I'm not reading that many horror stories today - I've found a host of other interesting books as well -, I still like them and remember some of them, like "Dracula", "Salem's Lot", "Needful Things" and a variety of penny dreadfuls quite well.

The same goes for a lot of movies I saw in my teens - and I'm currently being remembered of those movies a lot, given the fact Hallowe'en has finally arrived in Germany and most TV-stations answer to this by packing their late night programs with horror movies.

While the looks of the movies have changed a lot since the 80s, mainly due to the new special effects you can do with a computer these days, the topics - as I've realized while going through the book again - still remain the same. There are still a lot of vampires about (especially since "Underworld" and "Van Helsing") and there's still the strong theme of 'Things Mankind Is Not Supposed To Know'. The only thing sadly missing at the moment is a good movie about spiders or snakes, in my point of view. I haven't seen a decent movie about snakes in a while and "Eight Legged Freaks" wasn't a real horror movie to me. Sharks are still there (my favourite is "Deep Blue Sea" and I'm still waiting for a good movie version of Steve Allan's "Meg"), but where would Hollywood stand without those creatures of the deep?

The same goes for the novels. Some things have changed - ever since 'Interview with a vampire' our perception of the vampire as a such has been different - but most things remain the same. After all fear is one of our most basic emotions and we've found out how to tease it a long time ago.

Ever tried out Google Earth?

As I've been going through my posts, I've realized that I've been moaning and bitching around a lot. I don't mean to just go on ranting about the bad things in the world, though, therefore I'm going to add a post about ... Google Earth.

This morning, while I was checking the internet for various other things and going through the forums I post in regularly, I stumbled upon the new version of Google Earth and - being the computer-crazed girl I am - downloaded it. I installed it right away and found my own home - my actual house, really - within minutes, even though the picture isn't completely accurate (there's a bunch of newly build houses missing, even though they have been there for a couple of years now). For me, who at the moment doesn't have the money to actually travel a lot, it's quite interesting to scan the streets of New York or London from my home - and I was finally able to put the right coordinates in my moon-calendar to get the right times for moonrise and moonset in my hometown.

This might not sound like something important, but for a werewolf it is (just joking, I'm definitely not growing hair and fangs on a full moon). Actually I just like knowing about the moon. Sunrise and sunset are a lot easier to see, for one thing.

Giving Angela Merkel a chance

As you may or may not be aware of, Germany does by now have a female leader, Angela Merkel. While I'm not a fan of her party (CDU, the Conservative in my country), I never the less love the idea of us finally having a woman in the leading position.

But ever since she has started doing her job last year, people are unhappy with the way she does things. Admittedly there are some things which have been happening that shouldn't have.

Like the rise in our consumer taxes that is going to take place at the beginning of 2007 (from currently 16% to 19% - and yes, I know that's still low compared to some other countries in Europe). Originally her party claimed that there would be no tax rise during their reign - something I highly doubted even then - and surely not with any taxes that concern the majority of the German people.

Then there are the changes in our health system and considering our pensions. While I personally don't like the idea of having to work longer (especially considering the fact that today it's almost impossible for a person over the age of 50 to find a new job anyway) and having my meagre health care cut even more, I know that those things need to be changed, whether I like the changes or not.

While one can argue about how the government tries to solve these problems, it's obvious that there have to be changes. We need those solutions and they have been put off for far too long.

Our last chancellor - Gerhard Schröder - has had almost eight years to take care of those problems and he hasn't solved them. I say we need to give Angela Merkel the same amount of time - even though I still can't stand her party.

Monday, October 23, 2006

What about Size 0?

Size 0, in Germany it would be Size 24, seems to be the latest and best in fashion - and I really wonder why. While I surely will never fit in anything Size 0, I don't think any grown-up, adult woman should fit in a Size 0.

I actually wasn't aware of this new 'must-have' size until I saw two stories on TV about it (one on "Extra" and one on "Punkt 12"). Surely, I had realized women in the public were getting thinner and thinner - they have for years - but I really thought they were at least within the range of grown-up sizes. The German equivalent to Size 0 is Size 24 - a size considered to be right for 12-year-old girls - and I really wondered about how a grown-up woman with a normal bone structure could actually fit into anything made for a pre-pubescent girl.

Now, my mother, for example, was always considered 'thin' when she was younger. She wore a Size 38, sometimes even 36 or 34. This would make her overweight for a fashion model these days, but earned her holidays to gain weight in the 1950s, when she was young.

While I will readily admit that I'm overweight - but I'm doing something against that -, I also have to ask why any woman with a normal figure wants to become a skeleton with skin just because - as I sometimes see it - the fashion designers these days don't know how to fit a dress to a female body. Really, elementary sewing should be part of the education of every fashion designer…

So this is what I want to tell all the girls out there still thinking you have to be thin to be pretty (and you never can be 'too thin', as people often say): Beauty doesn't come from the weight charts, it comes from your mind and soul. Your character makes you beautiful or ugly - and a lot of the 'pretty' girls out there are far more ugly than anybody can ever be physically.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Are computer games evil?

My first real post is about computer games, actually. I don't know how it is in other countries, but in Germany most media - except the games magazines, of course - treat computer games like some sort of training for future mad gunmen. To me, who has been playing computer games for years (I'm 32 at the moment and have played computer games since 1993) without experiencing any urges to go out and kill people, this is always very annoying. Recently a couple of magazines ("Der Spiegel" and "P.M." among others) have put out articles about computer games running along the lines of 'games are bad for you'. They usually argue with either people getting more aggressive because of games or people ending up all alone and not caring for anything in this world because of games.

Do not misunderstand me: I don't thing 3D-shooters belong in the hands of kids. I do believe kids ought to spent a lot of time in fresh air and certainly not play games like 'Prey' or 'Quake 4'. To me it's the same as not giving horror movies to kids below a certain age. Just as a kid doesn't need to watch a movie supposed to be watched by people above 16 or 18, it doesn't need to play a game like 'F.E.A.R.' or 'Half Life 2'.

At the same time I'm old enough to still remember the way people used to talk about movies - especially horror movies - when I was a teenager. Then, before games became photorealistic, everything bad a kid did was blamed on those horror movies. You could hardly blame 'Pong' for it, after all it was just a square ball (?) and a pair of paddles moving up and down the sides of the screen. This can in no way be interpreted as picturing actual violence.

The violence has increased in the meantime, that is true. But so have hopelessness, unemployment and fear of the future. Is it so far fetched to think that those factors - and others - do have something to do with the higher rate of violence in the world?

The second big argument the magazines and TV documentaries have at the moment is the addiction to online games some people have developed. While it surely is true and sad that people spent all their life in the virtual world, it's not just games people can become addicted to.

There are people out there addicted to sports. They spent all their spare time working out and training to get better at the sport they've chosen for themselves. At the same time a bit of work-out surely is good for you.

There are even people out there addicted to work. They spent all their time working, not just because they need the money, but also because they crave working. The only time they realize their spouse has left is when they find fresh shirts missing in the cupboard. At the same time working usually is seen as something good.

So yes, there are dark sides to gaming, just as there are dark sides to everything else in life. But computer games can be something interesting and useful as well and it would be nice if the people from those magazines realized this soon. And it would be nice to find an anti-gaming article wrote by somebody who actually knows what he or she is talking about, just once. Going over the first two paragraphs and finding three or four things the writer mentions which are completely wrong - facts like the name or content of a game - simply makes it hard to take the article serious.

Welcome to my world

I've decided to start this Blog so I can share my views of the world with other people - silently hoping I'm not the only person on the world who thinks like this. Despite the fact that I'm German, I'm going to post in English to reach a greater audience, so please pardon the mistakes I'm surely going to make.