Thursday, 28 March 2013


Easter this weekend so this is the last post of the week.

I’ve no particular plans for this weekend other than to relax, given how busy these last couple of weeks have been.  I think the main challenge will be to stop myself from playing SimCity constantly.  Really it’s the perfect opportunity to catch-up on a lot of recorded TV and watch and read some other stuff - particularly since the weather is forecast to me more of this cold stuff.

One thing I didn’t mention from the last few weeks that I thought I should record in the blog was how I locked myself out of my car before the stag do.

Basically I went to the driving range (I haven’t played golf in 4 years and wanted to “warm up” and there’s a course with a range just up the road from work) and managed to lock the car with the keys on the dashboard.

I’ve done the same basic thing loads before - I sit in the driver’s seat with the door open to change my shoes, dumping the keys on the dashboard.  Once changed, I then close the door, obviously, walk around and get in the driver’s side.

Well I guess on this occasion I hit the lock button as I took the key out of my pocket (it was in my trouser pocket, where I usually put them in my jacket/coat pocket).  So when I closed the door that meant the car was locked and when I went round to the driver’s side I couldn’t get in.

Luckily I’d kept my phone in my jacket pocket, which I was wearing, so I was able to call work and explain and then call for help.  Basically I called the RAC and the guy came out fairly quickly.  The big problem was that the keys were clearly visible on the dashboard, so I couldn’t leave the car, which, even though he was still quick, it was a couple of hours before it was all sorted.

The RAC guy had the car open in about 10 minutes.  Basically he slotted some airbags into the car and slowly inflated them to create a wedge where he could slot a long pole with a hook on the end in and fished the keys off the dashboard.

It really did take him just 10 minutes.  Of course, it’s not something you could do without attracting attention, but it just goes to show you - it he’d used a stiffer rod he could have used it to pull the handle, which would unlock the door.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

simcity thoughts

So I've been playing SimCity quite a lot and enjoying it a great deal, but also mentioned before finding it a bit frustrating.

My main frustrations have centred on how I'm meant to achieve stuff.  I've basically focused on two city types, trying to use and unlock all the bits relating to the mining and drilling specialisations.  I've done this in several different maps but I've found it all a bit confusing.

If this were another type of game people would complain about the difficulty of the learning curve.  However, "learning curve" implies that you have a path to learn that they've created.  For the new SimCity it's more like a learning orienteering adventure.

By that I mean there's probably a basic set of points that you have to find in order to learn, but you're simply given end-points and kinda expected to find your own way there.  I mean, there's in-game information stuff and challenges that I think are meant to push you in the right direction but the information is often generic and therefore often unhelpful.  The challenges get you pointed in the right direction, but often without any clues how you're supposed to get there.  And your advisors just bleat on about the same stuff.

So, for example, it will challenge you to unlock the next level of the mining HQ (you're merrily drilling for ore and coal) and you're told you need to make so much in daily profit.  It will then shade this bar in as a percentage of how far you are away.

Well that's all well and good, but how do I increase the profit?  Open more pits?  What if I'm already mining all my coal and ore seams with the maximum number of pits?  Is there a way to make things more efficient?  I generally add in the maximum number of delivery trucks so stuff doesn't build up at the trade depot.  But is this the best way to maximise profit?

I've actually found the mining one not too bad - it doesn't seem to take too many pits to make the required amount.  However, drilling is a different matter.  You seem to have to open up at least 3 (and usually 4) oil extraction places in order to make the required amount of money.  This makes it much harder to achieve your goals.  And it's not clear to me if you should open a single field with lots of derricks or lots of separate fields.  It will tell me a field is producing x barrels a day, but I've no idea how this works or what it really means.

However, I'm also doing all this with the game partially disabled.  All the global market stuff seems to still be disabled and I've no idea whether there will be a tendency for the price to go above the level it currently is or below.  If it will tend to be much higher than that will make these elements easier to achieve, but if it goes lower I can imagine it would make the game rather frustrating.

The game also lacks cheetah speed still, which again makes it rather frustrating.  SimCity has always been one of those games where you have to sit and wait a bit for your new budget to arrive so you can buy that extra thing you need.  Yes you can take out bonds, but only so many at low value and of course you have to pay them back with interest.

Also you might want to whack it in cheetah speed to wait until your city develops - until all those big apartment blocks have finished building and your revenue settles down.  Or just to watch things unfold, but not take all day about it.

My other real frustration is that the game is still very buggy.  I won't go into all the details as you can search online (YouTube in particular) and I personally haven't had too many annoying issues (I think partly because what I've been trying to achieve doesn't rely too much on the areas where the worst bugs are) but I find some stuff in my cities bizarre.

In particular the guy winging on about zoning is quite tedious and the whole RCI system is either broken by accident or they've designed it such that you can never achieve perfect balance.  If it is intended, then presumably it's so the game is "never finished", but with such tiny cities you can easily fill them and it's still moaning about you to provide RCI for everything (how can there be huge demand for all residential types, all commercial types and industrial - it makes no sense).

It's also quite frustrating when the police advisor is moaning about "crime having the upper hand" and people are protesting city hall about all the crime, but when you go to edit the police coverage you see there's actually only 1 criminal in your entire city.  1 criminal = crime has the upper hand?  What?

But then it's difficult to know what things are bugs, what is simply down to poor tuning or bad design and what is deliberate.

Roads in particular are very frustrating.  You lay down all these roads and they just seem to fill up for no apparent reason.  The whole logic system seems horribly simple.  I think this is because it's simulating Sims in an incredibly simple way and everything rushes about going to the next "event", irrespective of it that makes sense or not.  And if that changes while they're on route then they all decide to go to the next most important event at the same time.

You can really see this with the buses.  You lay down buses and set stops for them, trying to get the best coverage (it shows green).  You instinctively think this means lots of stops with stops on both sides of the road and lots of buses to service them all.

In reality what happens is all the buses set off at exactly the same time and go to the exact same stops in the exact same order.  And because they're going in some sort of priority about number of people waiting they wander all over the map in a great chain of buses, making ridiculous U-turns and going up and down the same street over and over, clogging up the traffic.

I mean, why can't I just set the bus routes?  If the AI is going to be dumb, let me control it.  Bus stops can simply be waypoints - something that's been in games for donkey's years.  I can buy a new bus route and it lets me put down 10 stops and the AI simply path finds to them in the order I put them down.  If I've done something dumb then it's my fault.

The solution to bus spam is therefore contradictory - you need fewer buses with stops a good distance apart and that are all on the same side of the street if they're on the same road.  Of course your public transport claims to carry less people, but that way at least your buildings don't all die because all your Sims are sat in their cars while 50 buses undertake millions of U-turns.

The region stuff is even worse - all the buses from all other regions turn up at the exact same time and try to go to the exact same stops in the exact stuff.  Then add in the police cars, ambulance, fire trucks, garbage and recycling trucks and it's like your neighbours are trying to cripple your city, even though they point is they're meant to be helping.

Wow - longest blog post ever!

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

a course of course

I mentioned yesterday that I spent Sunday and Monday basically playing SimCity and this wasn’t a particularly great idea.

The problem was that SimCity's the sort of game where you sink hours on end into it, and I had a lot of stuff to catch up on, plus I stayed up incredibly late to play.  Unfortunately I also picked up a cold - where from I’m not sure.  No-one on the stag had one that I could remember but then they could have been carrying it.  But also my landlord had a cold and when I got back to work some people there did too so it could have been caught any time.

It turned out to be a wimpy cold - I’m basically already over it - but as I say, I’d not really slept after a heavy weekend, so Tuesday I was like some sort of sniffling zombie.  Of course, rather than just go to bed when I got home I played more SimCity... (More on the game tomorrow probably.)

Wednesday and Thursday I went on a course for work.  It was really good and I learned a lot, but it was also very frustrating.  It pretty much confirmed a lot of the stuff I’ve been worried about at work.  However, there’s some stuff I think I can implement without too much fuss.

Friday I was back in the office.  It was a very bity day, but I also discussed the course with a few people at work.  It was interesting and also confirmed many of my frustrations.

This last weekend was really weird.  I had a bunch of domestics to do but I also had to clean up all the clubs and stuff from the stag.  And I woke on Saturday to find it snowing...

It wasn’t forecast for here and it wasn’t deep, and on Sunday it pretty much cleared up, but I mean seriously - it’s nearly April, how comes it’s snowing and settling at all?  It’s Easter next weekend!

It feels like summer hasn't really happened for about 4 years and I have to confess it's getting a bit boring.  I'm not much of a one for hot weather, but a bit of it is good each year - it makes me appreciate the times when it's more to my liking.  Plus if you have a hot summer then it tends to mean autumn is more pleasant and to my liking too.

Monday, 25 March 2013

long time no see

Feels like months since I last blogged.

It’s been a hell of a couple of weeks.

So the first thing that happened was the stag do.  I enjoyed this more than I thought I would.  I was a little worried that there would be some uncomfortable stuff - you hear all sorts about stag dos, but there wasn't anything like that.

I mean, they gave the stag something of a hard time - they stole his clothes and he had to wear a skirt they bought him, for example - but nothings spectacularly bad or that made me feel uncomfortable.  The planned events were also good.

The stag was in Bristol and on the Friday we played golf.  This harked back to when we were kids (I’ve known him since school) and was a good idea, except for one thing - the Great British weather.  As I arrived at the course it started raining and got steadily worse.  Not only was it raining hard but it was windy and cold too so it was truly horrible to be out playing golf.

We ended up only actually playing 9 holes and calling it a day. We then ate at the clubhouse and found the house.  This was a mess - no-one knew where the house was and only some people had directions/sat nav.  I tried to follow someone and it worked okay for a while, but he was rubbish at it - he dashed through a red light and that was t, I was lost.

However, after a dozen phone calls for directions I eventually found the place.  And it was a weird place.

I mean, the building was a bit unusual - a huge mansion - but also it was oddly furnished in that it looked like some students lived there.  As in still lived there and they’d been murdered and buried in the back garden.  It was weird.

So we then got drunk - and I drank much more than was probably sensible for the first day.  On the second day we went clay pigeon shooting.  This in particular I was rather unsure about, but as I said, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

I dunno - it’s difficult to explain, but I was rather nervous around the gun. I mean, that’s understandable - it’s a 12-guage shotgun, after all - but I dunno, I was really worried about doing something stupid.  And it didn’t help I was tired and it was cold and drizzling again.  But as I say, it was more enjoyable than I expected.

We then went out on the town.  As it happened it was the last game of the six nations (he decider between Wales and England - England deserved to loose) so we watched that and then went for a curry.  Then it was back to the house for more beers.

This second evening was a bit weird.  We got back fairly late and I started drinking, but suddenly it was 1AM and we had to be out of the house by 10AM so I went to bed.  I think quite a few sloped off to bed early - certainly I didn’t see as many people about as in the first night.

I drove back on the Sunday and it was the journey from hell.  I wouldn’t say I was hung over particularly, but I was extremely tired.  So I was shattered and when the weather played up - driving snow and all sorts.

I'd taken the Monday off to recover and should have used that stuff to do stuff like watch the Grand Prix and tidy the flat.  Unfortunately I basically just played SimCity solid.

I’ll continue with more about the intervening time tomorrow.