Thursday, July 31, 2014

Back to the Societies

When it originally came out, I was thrilled about “SimCity Societies,” but I soon realized it wasn’t a ‘real’ SimCity. However, after playing the new “SimCity” (which rightfully doesn’t add ‘5’ or ‘V’ to its name), I am more than ready to ‘forgive’ the weaknesses of Societies.


Nice, isn’t it? I’m going for a ‘romantic’ city with this one, which is precisely the point about Societies. Instead of focusing on the city building (which is what the ‘real’ SimCity games do), Societies focuses on creating a certain type of society. You can have fun societies, driven by creativity, capitalistic societies, driven by wealth, and many, many more. Romantic is the option I’m currently going for, using mostly creativity and wealth. Those are the resources, by the way, which some buildings produce and others use up. This is how the same place looks, once I’m starting to go down the ‘romantic’ path. Notice the different street graphics?

Overall, “SimCity Societies” is much easier to play than the other SimCity games. For instance, you only need to have energy production somewhere on the map, you don’t need any connections between the production and the rest of the city, which is why I usually find a nice, isolated spot at the border of the map for my energy production (I prefer wind energy) and just build as many facilities there as I need. Then I start my city proper somewhere in the middle of the map and most likely never will need to build any other buildings close to the energy production area. There’s no underground construction, no water pipes, no underground tubes (even though you can have underground stations, there’s on in the picture up there).
You need workplaces to make money and employ your populace (a small amount of it - most inhabitants of any home will not count as workers). You need facilities to educate and entertain your populace. Education is one of the resources, alongside wealth, productivity, creativity, faith, and authority. The balance of the resources determines the kind of society you will get. You need decorations to boost the resources as well.
The game offers several goals, which usually mean ‘make a … society.’ As with every sandbox-type game, though, you make your own goals as well. You try to build your own kind of city, you try to make a huge city confirming to one of the possible societies or you change over time from a tyrannical police state to a fun-based community. That’s actually possible, you just have to build different buildings, break down some other buildings, and concentrate on different resources.

There’s also quite a bit to be seen in the game, if you zoom in and move around a little. For instance, there’s this quaint, little police box - you can build those, if you need a workplace for just one person.

The game still looks surprisingly good, given it’s been out for a while now. The online features are no longer available, but I don’t really care about those, anyway. It plays nicely on my Windows 7 computer, too (even though Vista is listed as high-end OS).

Me? I’m going back to “SimCity Societies” for a while. Much better than the new “SimCity” and at least fun and entertaining, even if it’s not a ‘real’ SimCity.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Returning to an old acquaintance

I was around twelve when I read “The Hound of the Baskervilles” for the first time. I actually snuck to the adult section of the library for it (and, luckily, the librarian knew of my taste for mystery and crime novels and allowed me to check it out, despite my age).

For Christmas that year I wished for a complete collection of all Sherlock Holmes novels and short stories (there was a paperback edition in pink, of all colours, out in Germany at that time). I was lucky to receive it and spent the next six months or so reading my way through it - more than once in some cases. I’ve been in the habit of rereading “The Hound of the Baskervilles” (my favourite Sherlock Holmes novel) very regularly, first in German, later on in English, for years. I might actually have been reading it once a year or more often for a long time. By now, I could probably reproduce most of it. (The only other book I ever got that obsessed over in my life was “Dracula” - in case you want to know.)
I was weaned off Sherlock Holmes later on, preferring the more ‘human’ approach by experience as shown by Agatha Christie’s protagonists for quite a while. I just didn’t have the capacity, by mind and, funnily enough, experience, then to really appreciate the deductive approach. Many more modern authors, some of which I still adore very much, also allowed me to broaden my mind. I kept coming back to Dartmoor, though, to the eerie, glowing dog and the poor Charles Baskerville, scared to death. I liked the more modern approach by Laurie B. King, the novel “The Moor.” I most certainly enjoyed the movie made by the BBC in the early 2000th. I really loved the version they did for “Sherlock.”
Recently, after I had bought my Kindle and started buying e-books from Amazon, I also acquired a full collection of all the Sherlock Holmes stories (plus Doyle’s excellent “Tales of Terror and Mystery”) and had it sitting on my hard drive for quite some time. I read the first two novels in the collection (“A Study in Scarlet” and “The Sign of Four”) while I was fighting with the end of one of my own stories, “Lightning and Ice.” Afterwards, I just read on. I’m a fast reader and most of Doyle’s stories are short (he was a master of the short story, but always thought he was destined to write long historical novels, talk about irony). I’ve finished the first collection of short stories (“The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”) and I’m hooked now. I remember a few short stories by name and a lot more by plot (I was born this way, I always remember the plot, even if I saw or read something ages ago). Yet, it’s interesting to read the stories again, quite some in English for the first time.

What surprises me, though, is how much my own brain has changed in meantime. I was on Watson’s side as a teenager, when I first read the stories. I was marvelling on Holmes’ deductions, sure nobody else could draw them. By now, however, I see what the story shows me and draw my own conclusions from it. More often than not, even with stories which I don’t remember by plot, I’m right.
I don’t get all the details, of course, since I don’t have all the experience Mr. Holmes has (or Doyle had, living in the time in which his character lived as well). Details about the clothing or behaviour that was not ‘normal’ at that time usually pass me by. Specific details about cigar ash or quirks gained through certain professions are something I can’t process, because I miss the necessary knowledge (but at least I know the earth orbits the sun). Most of Holmes’ clues are pretty mundane, though, and work with the modern world and my experience as well.
It feels as if I’m going to a new place, even though I’m really revisiting. I still admire Holmes for his ability to spot all the little clues and traces, but I rather feel like I'm racing along and keeping up with his thoughts than like I'm waiting for him to reveal them to me alongside Watson, as I have done in the past. It makes the stories something new, interesting, and invigorating for me. If you have ever seen an episode from the first season of “Sherlock,” you’re familiar with the way they made the clues dance over the screen as Holmes found them, putting the audience on the same level with him (they returned to that style in the third season, much to my enjoyment). That’s how reading the stories now feels for me, I spot the clues and my mind, much sharper and more adult now, starts spinning them around, looking at every angle, trying to put them together in a coherent story, a coherent ‘what happened.’

I’m returning to Sherlock Holmes and to his late Victorian world, but it really feels as if I’m going into a completely new world. Have you ever felt the same, in a positive way, after revisiting a novel, story, or movie that was dear to you in your youth?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

My Happy End (of sorts) with "Sleepy Hollow"

In March, I complained here about Pro7 starting to air a mystery/horror series and then cancelling the whole thing after only four episodes. The series in question was “Sleepy Hollow.” Happily, iTunes allowed me to pick up the full first season now, in English, but that’s not a problem for me.

I went on a full-fledged marathon with “Sleepy Hollow,” watching the first half yesterday in the evening (getting to bed a little before 2 a.m.) and the second half this morning. I’ve just finished the last two episodes (listed as one double-length episode at iTunes) and I can just say one thing: “More please!”
The first season ends with a huge cliff-hanger, but the second season has already been confirmed, luckily. I might have to wait for quite a while (especially since I will have to wait for iTunes to offer it), but I know the story of Ichabod and Abbie will continue. On the ‘how’ I don’t even want to speculate now.

I can see now, with the whole first season under my belt, how the officials at Pro7 might have believed that the series was not worth continuing. Not because the series is bad, but because it is very complex and demands a lot of knowledge of early American history and the more or less far-spread conspiracy theories wrapped around early America. I suspect the station just thought people wouldn’t be able to follow the series, which is stupid, but understandable.
As a matter of fact, quite some stuff is explained pretty well in the series - and we have Google and Wikipedia, which means everyone can check things online they don’t understand. There is a lot of blood and death in the series, but it is dealing with the headless horseman, after all. What else is a headless rider with a sharp axe supposed to do with his time? Chop wood? Offer free rides to small children? Naturally, he is making people a head shorter.
The series so far has been written excellently, the threads merge, the story weaves in and out, with twists and turns. There are no ‘monster of the week’ episodes in the 13 (12 on iTunes) made so far. Even seeming ‘monster of the week’ episodes, like “Blood Moon” or “John Doe,” have a meaning for the overall story arc. The middle of the season, the three episodes “The Sin-Eater,” “The Midnight Ride,” and “Necromancer,” marks a change in the story, a twist into a new direction. The motives and identity of the headless horseman are revealed, the stage for the end is set, and the group that will have to stay together in the end forms. It’s very obvious the writers knew what they were doing, where they were starting, which ways they were going, where they would end up. I like that in a series, because it shows the creators take it seriously.

What to do now? Well, it’s time to wait for season 2. I still have to finish watching the series “Dracula,” so I will be entertained. It’s too bad, though, Pro7 didn’t have enough faith in their viewers to give an excellent series a chance beyond episode 4.