Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Ninja Training

So I'm watching Mythbusters, which is of course, awesome, and they're testing ninja myths, including the abilty to catch arrows.

So one of the experiments they did with their world class ninja was have him surrounded by three archers firing padded arrows.

He of course failed spectacularly and was hit about 20 times before he caught one. Still impressive that he caught one- but then, the ninja remarks that no trained ninja would ever actually be caught in a situation like that.

Well, I too have never been trapped in an empty warehouse with three archers. So I guess eating ice cream, drinking coffee and sleeping till noon has served as all the ninja training I'd ever want.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Watched Star Wars Holiday Special last night

With the Rifftrax, which I think is the ONLY way one could get through it. Still so, so painful.

And the craziest thing of all is that I watched this as a kid and despite not enjoying much of it, was *thrilled* to be seeing the guys from Star Wars again, the ships, the guns, the robots.

Cause in the 70's, I had to wait for Star Wars to come to theaters again. Ah, life before the VCR.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Spotlight on the best of Civ 4 Mods

A Guide to Civilization 4 Mods

What is a mod?

A mod is a modification of a game. Some mods make subtle changes to the core civilization experience, such that you might not even realize the game has been changed. Others take everything about the game and change it, adding a new tech tree, new units and even new victory conditions.

Civilization has long been known for its robust mod tools and strong, vibrant mod community and there are a lot of great mods out there. This article will show you where to find mods and point you to some of the best.

Where to find mods?

There are many places to find mods but by far the best, with the widest selection is the civfanatics website, where mods have their own large and active forums. Many of the more popular mods even have their own sub-forums, where you can speak directly to the fans responsible for the mod, get help with installation, get strategy tips and even make suggestions. Many mods are in active development and most developers encourage fan feedback. These aren’t professional game designers, they’re fans just like you.

What do I need to play a mod?

Well that depends on the mod. At a minimum you’re going to need a copy of Civilization 4 but many mods also require one or both of the official expansions: Civilization 4: Warlords and Civilization 4: Beyond the Sword. Some mods even go the extra mile of offering multiple versions but generally speaking, if you have the core game and both official expansions, with the latest free patch, you’re ready to download a mod.

How do I install a mod?

Again, this varies from mod to mod, which is why finding a forum where you can talk to folks who already have the mod installed can be very handy. Some mods are executables, where all you need to do is download and double-click. Others require you to extract the files manually. All the mods we’ll be discussing here have help for those new to mods to make installing them easier.

The Best Civilization 4 Mods

Fall from Heaven 2

Easily the class of Civ 4 mods is Fall from Heaven 2. This is a dark fantasy world and completely revamps Civ 4 in every way. This mod comes in two versions, one “vanilla” that requires only Civilization 4 and another that requires Civ 4 and both official expansions.

As you might expect, Fall from Heaven expands even more on the RPG elements in Civ 4, and adds named hero units to the list of units you can build.

A hero is a unit that gains XP much more rapidly than a regular military unit, has unique abilities and can only be built by one civilization. Basically, a hero is a powerful unit with many of the characteristics of a wonder of the world. However, though heroes are powerful they come with an added catch: if a hero dies he is gone for good.

Fall from Heaven has its own subforum here and can be downloaded here.

The Ancient Mediterranean (TAM)

TAM is a mod focused exclusively on the ancient world. Rather than starting in the dawn of time and moving to the year 2020, TAM moves from 5500 BC to 550 AD. If you are a fan of Greek or Roman history, want to see what would happen if YOU were Hannibal during the Punic Wars, this mod is for you.

It features a completely new tech tree, loads of new units and new civilizations. It also uses a smaller map focused on the Mediterranean region. TAM is a mod for history buffs but also provides a lot of unique tactical challenges for the dedicated Civ fan.

TAM has its own subforum here and can be downloaded here.

Fury Road

Fury Road is a post-apocalyptic mod inspired by movies like the Road Warrior and games like Fallout. It starts in 2020, the year a standard Civ game ends, in a world starting over after a devastating nuclear war.

Feeding your citizens is going to be hard work and barbarians (in the form of punks riding motorcycles) are a constant danger. There’s also lots of dangerous mutated animal life, such as giant scorpions to contend with.

Like the other mods we’ve covered, Fury Road has new technologies and units but the gameplay here is much different than what you might be used to in a standard Civ game. Many of the advanced units, such as tanks and helicopters can no longer be built but they can be discovered in the ruins of ancient cities.

You have to discover the right technologies (so you can repair the vehicles) and then extend your culture around a ruined city. Then every few turns, if you’re lucky, a new advanced unit will be repaired. Once recovered, units need to be fueled, leading to the second major gameplay change in Fury Road: the need for fuel tanks to keep your vehicles running.

In short, there’s a lot that’s new to juggle in Fury Road, providing a new challenge for a veteran Civ player looking for something new to tide her over until Civ 5 comes out later this year.

Fury Road has its own subforum here and can be downloaded here.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Best-case scenarios (more Sunday FERMI-MANIA!)

So in the comments Larry makes the case for passive and/or accidental detection I think. Sure, the aliens might not be trying to contact us, but if alien life is common, shouldn't there be proof?

What are the odds that we would find anyone this way?

Well, what are the best case scenarios for this?

1. aliens aren't looking for us but aren't actively hiding from us
2. use radio technology or something equally noisy that would pollute space at light speed
3. have actually visited the Sol system and left some physical evidence for us to find

1. Seems really naive, but since it's mostly what we're doing, I have to rate it possible.

But this seems like it would be the purest luck to have an accidental encounter or discovery. The galaxy is really old but its also really big. The odds of an encounter here seem really small.

And of course, this assumes it didn't already happen. There's lots of old stories of men from the sky we dismiss as mythology, or build slightly more advanced belief systems on.

And lots of new stories of unexplained things in the sky. And even though these are often made by military pilots known to be sober individuals with great eyesight, they are dismissed.

2. Well this either requires a culture at about our technology level within 100 light years, or would require more sheer luck.

Unless the culture is so close we detect each other simultaneously, with us puzzling over the Gurignagh Show and them puzzling over I Dream of Jeannie, it requires something like SETI. Assuming they detected us that (not a sure thing), then any dedicated signal would a LONG time to get here.

Again at the best case scenario, a culture 100 light years away immediately detecting our earliest radio signal and immediately sending a response, that would just be getting in now, assuming we understand it when it gets here.

For example, scientists see unexplained flashes of light in the sky on occasion but know so little about the galaxy that they attempt to explain these as natural phenomenon.

3. This one is probably our best bet, finding some alien trash but it runs into two problems as I see it. First, space is BIG.

But this is best-case scenario time, so let's assume that somewhere in our very solar system is an alien garbage heap of stuff they left while passing through, let's say 100 years ago (best case remember).

How much of our solar system has been explored? We've sent a few robots to Mars, some some satellite mapping of Venus, and done some flybys at 1,000 mph of the rest.

Now imagine Earth is uninhabited and you're looking for a 100 year old trash heap from orbit. Would you find it? Maybe- eventually.

In short, before we can write off #3, we have to do a LOT more exploration of our very local space.

I hate Fermi's paradox

So I was discussing extraterrestrial life with a friend the other day, and she brought up Fermi's paradox.

For those unaware: Fermi's paradox says there are no aliens, because where ARE they?

God I hate this dumb shit.

So, I said we should have ham for dinner, and I opened the door and we waited all night. No ham appeared. So, there must be no ham anywhere on earth right? Pigs are extinct?

Fermi's paradox takes no account of what the aliens want. It assumes they are just DYING to meet us.

I mean, why wouldn't they. We've achieved soooo much. And our standards of civilization and the habitability of our world *must* be universally appealing, right?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Some words are just ruined.

For the Darwin's World adventure I am currently writing, which you can PLAY at GenCon this year, but I digress, I have these armored buses with escape hatches in the top.

The idea being you crashed into a wall, soldiers come out the top, and scramble over the wall. I decided to call them "trojans" as in "the trojan horse".

After listening to my players chortle every time I mentioned "ghouls scrambling out of the trojan" I think I'm going to go with "battle wagon".


I am reading Traveler for the first time.

Make of this what you will.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Thinking about ENWorld

In a thread over at CM, someone asked what you think about ENW.

As someone who has been posting product blurbs and connecting with fans through ENW for about 8 years now, my thought is that ENW is pretty awesome and I personally owe it quite a bit.

So I donated 5 of my books, my historical fantasy series (Clash of Arms: Cavalry, Clash of Kings: Nobility, Clash of History: Witch Trials, Clash of History: Guilds and Money, Clash of Arms: Infantry) to ENW for their subscriber program.

For those who don't know, you can support ENW for 3 bucks a month, and you get a ton of free PDFs to download when you sign up.

So now there's 5 more. If you were thinking about getting these books sometime, they would normally run you a whopping $6.25 to get all 5 books.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Dreamer and the Dream

It's also worth noting that DS9 has a take on this concept, in what might be the single best hour of Star Trek television since "City on the Edge of Forever".

Season 6 has an episode titled "Far Beyond the Stars" in which Sisko has a delusion (or a vision from the Prophets if you prefer) of a black sci-fi writer in the 50's named Benny, who goes insane while writing stories about a place called DS9.

At the end of the episode, Sisko wonders if Bennie might be somewhere dreaming of him, just as he dreamed of Bennie, and the episode never really answers the question of whether or not Bennie is real. Certainly Sisko is, within the larger Trek universe.

We also know that Sisko is the chosen one of an immortal, non-linear race capable of existing at all points in time simultaneously.

Adding to the weirdness going on here, all the characters are played by actors from DS9, but they're all human.

And if you look close, the story titles on the sci-fi magazine covers in the show are Original Trek episode titles.

I just got a chill.

More Tommy Westphall thoughts

Another funny little tidbit is that, to the best of anyone's knowledge, Dwayne MacDuffie is the first person to expound the theory, in one of the articles I link to.

Which is funny, because MacDuffie is a big-time comics and animation writer, working on shows like Justice League and writing the Fantastic Four.

He relays the notion that, if character crossover equals a shared universe as a counter example, arguing for LESS rigid comic continuity.

The fact that so many folks love the Tommy Westphall hypothesis shows why MacDuffie is in the minority.

Humans love connections.

We see stars in the sky and play connect the dots. We see fuzzy lines on Mars and decide they're canals bringing water to a dying world from its poles.

This is why character crossovers in comics have always been a huge draw. People like it better when Batman can visit Superman, than they do if they're each in their own pocket dimension.

Tommy Westphall has a dream

I happen to think Homicide is the greatest TV show of all time. But before that, showrunner Tom Fontana ran a show called St. Elsewhere, which was also brilliant.

Now in the final show of St. Elsewhere, it is revealed that the entire show took place in the mind of Tommy Westphall, the autistic son of one of the show's doctors. In essence, it was a dream.

Then someone noticed something amazing: characters from St. Elsewhere had appeared on Homicide. Detective John Munch of Homicide has appeared on the X-Files and most of the Law and Order series.

As St. Elsewhere became the Kevin Bacon of TV series, there's a good chance your favorite show is also a figment of Tommy Westphall's imagination, up to and including Dick Van Dyke and the Andy Griffith show, which took place before St. Elsewhere.

This happened because Cheers crossed over with Caroline in the City, which crossed over with Mad About You, which crossed over with both Dick Van Dyke and Andy Griffith.

And of course, if one wants to include the Simpsons, then Tommy Westphall encompasses virtually every TV that has ever existed.

See how fun this is?

I don't know why, but I love this idea more than words can express.

More on the Tommy Westphall Grand Unification Theory of tv can be found here, here and here for the truly neurotic.

Night Ride Part 1

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