Wednesday, 9 April 2014

civ 5

I've been playing quite a lot of Civilization 5 recently.

I got a bit pissed off with SimCity and have essentially stopped playing.  They've now released the off-line "single player" (like I ever played multi-player!) version, but I've not actually played this yet.  Hopefully it will fix the key issue, which is the ridiculously broken multi-city play, but I'm guessing not.  I think they've just re-engineered it to make it off-line playable, rather than fixing how it does what it does, so I'm guessing it will continue not to make any sense.

Anyway - Civ 5.

I've mentioned Civ3 a lot before on the blog as a game I've played repeatedly and as my favourite of the Civ series.  I found Civ4 quite disappointing - it was pretty and I liked some of the ideas in it, but overall it felt really cramped and compressed as a game, encouraging you just to have, like, 3 cities.

Civ4 I honestly played a handful of times and then went back to Civ3.

Civ5 I followed the development quite closely and was intrigued by some of the new concepts - the game was moving to having hexagonal tiles, rather than squares, and combat was being seriously overhauled.  Given square tiles had some weird impacts on the game and combat has been rather broken for a while I liked the sound of it.

However, when it launched it was one of these new online steam registration jobs and was a nightmare to get installed.   I also then started playing and found a lot of graphical glitches - including tiles I couldn't even see.  It also didn't really seem to explain the new things properly - the advisors just seemed to pop up with links to the civilopedia, rather than actual advice, for example.

I therefore stopped playing altogether.  I had literally only played half of one of the tutorial missions and that was it - I'd give it a few months for patches to be issued and then pick if back up.

Only 4 years passed :/.  I even bought the first expansion pack with the idea of using that as a way to start playing again, but it just sat on my shelf gathering dust.  It was only the combination of the second expansion pack, my being pissed off with SimCity and my complete re-install of my games machine that eventually caused me to start playing the game!

And I have to say I've really enjoyed it.

I mean, it's not perfect, but there's a lot I like.  I like that they've taken some of the core concepts and built them up - you have a lot of smaller events, rather than bigger ones.  So, as a random example, if you're doing culture, you have great artists, great writers, great musicians, but also in the late game archaeology can generate loads of stuff too.  It feels like each of the elements is more in-depth and complicated.

It does maintain the specialisation of cities, which was an aspect I wasn't keen on in 4 - I've always liked building everything in all my cities - but now it's a bit easier to have a mix (so a city that is for gold can also be useful for science), but it's also clear what buildings do what.  If you're doing culture in a city, you have a progression of additional culture buildings that have pre-requisite building of the same type.  It's also helped because the new hex system and increased city influence radius makes cities much more significant entities - you can have loads of citizens doing stuff relating to a specialisation in just one city.

The game does seem to be set up again to discourage large empires, as it was in Civ4.  I'm a little puzzled by the logic of this, as at some point you're going to go to war with somebody and if you're any good at the combat side of things you'll start winning their cities.  And if you're going for a domination victory you have to take all the other player's original capital cities, which means you can't avoid the relevant punishment - the capitals can't even be destroyed.

There are a few options for not having cities as part of you empire - making them puppets, which makes them less of a punishment, but it's still a punishment to have them; or you can raze them, but this can take ages and comes with its own punishments.  Of course, given many of the leaders are often hell-bent on war on the higher difficulty levels this can get quite frustrating.  And those of us who want to build a world-spanning empire, it becomes quite difficult.

As mentioned, combat has been overhauled generally, as we're now only allowed one unit per tile.  The whole thing also works very differently, as combat is now not generally definitive.  Unless there is a significant difference between two units basic strength, combat generally results in damage, so it can take three or four turns to kill a unit.

This is fine, but when you can only have single units on tiles and most units only move 1 or two tiles until the late game it can all get quite frustrating.  It's also very annoying moving armies around when weak ranged units that need protecting only move short distances and need to use up movement points to "set up" for a ranged attack.  This is particularly tedious now every road & railroad you construct costs you gold, making long-distance movement problematic - especially since, of course, one unit per tile also applies to workers.

To be honest, it's like playing two separate games - the combat system is like playing a table-top war game a la Warhammer, only you're playing it on a risk board.  That means loads of obstacles and bottlenecks and restrictions making everything horribly frustrating and inefficient.

But then this is Civ - combat has always been poor, and judged with that background, this version is actually much better.  And there are good things - it's easy to tell what's going on, and the combat predictions are generally accurate and cities have their own defensive strength and ability to attack.

They've badly broken diplomacy, though - I mean, it has a few nice ideas, but key elements are gone, and generally the AI behaves illogically.  To be honest, the AI is generally bobbins - even now, with two expansions, it does daft things and can be very predictable.  Espionage is also rubbish (if they do a further expansion, I hope these get serious work) and you're almost better off ignoring it.

Wow - this is going on a bit, so I'll just mention scenarios and leave it there.

Previous versions of civ have generally had scenarios, but I've mostly found they weren't worth playing.  However, the scenarios that come with Civ5 are actually quite good.  They change the game on more fundamental levels and work as separate games.  They're also generally short enough to enjoy but without eating too much time.

The game also has very good support for modding and they've taken the right approach when it comes to add-ons (when compared to EA with SimCity), which appears to be the good side of it being a steam game.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

bahrain grand prix

I only actually watched the Bahrain grand prix last night.

They've decided to make Bahrain a night race for some reason - I'm not quite sure why.  With Singapore making it a night race has the advantage of putting the race in a timeframe more suitable for European audiences.  It also works as a venue, being at night and in the middle of a city.  However, Bahrain is a proper track and is in the middle of the desert.

The race itself was therefore at close to tea time and the BBC only showed highlights as well, which meant they showed it at 10PM, which is just too late for me - it ended at 11:30, which would mean I wouldn't get enough sleep.

As such, I listened to it on the radio (the radio coverage was notably lacking as well, only showing the qualifying and race - this seems to back up my theory I mentioned that the BBC has further cut the budget.) on the day and recorded it to watch last night.

I have to say, the radio coverage was better than the TV coverage.  I think with doing highlights they had a real problem, because the whole race had something going on non-stop.  This meant they had to show you some bits well, or more stuff in less detail, if you see what I mean and I think they went for the latter.  It also didn't help that they clearly had some sound issues on the TV coverage.

Anyway, in my mind Bahrain is one of the boring races, but last year it produced a good race.  This year it did the same - indeed, it seemed to be one of the best races in a good while.  Certainly it showed what I felt previously - that the first couple of races were simply okay where others said they were great.  This was a properly great race.

Well, great if you were in a Mercedes powered car.  The power plant they've come up with is clearly way ahead of anyone else.  And the Mercedes team has combined that with a truly great car to produce a phenomenal package.  If the performance difference shown after the safety car restart is to be believed (when they would obviously want to turn the car up to maximum to avoid losing the 1-2 and having saved fuel while under the safety car) then they're up to around 3 seconds a lap faster than even the other Mercedes powered cars.

That's a phenomenal margin - Red Bull's dominance was never that sort of scale: maybe up to about 1 second at its biggest.

I'm obviously particularly pleased that real racing is on for this year, with my whole trip to Canada.  I was a bit worried it would be a bit of a non-season.

Monday, 7 April 2014

more on interviews

So, the other two interviews.

The next interview was with another big defence company.  Unfortunately, a similar issue occurred to some of the previous interviews - I'd only been told the big company name and only found out the particular division quite a way into the process.  Indeed, in this case I'd actually only found out once the interview was set up, and if I'm totally honest it's not a division I would particularly have wanted to pursue if I'd found out earlier.

Still, I figured I'd go along anyway, and I was owed some time off in lieu, so I took this (plus a day) and had half a week off.  The interview was really intense - the main guy barraged me with questions and I got into a muddle.  In particular, one of the things you're really not supposed to do is bad-mouth your current company.  As you can image, this is particularly difficult for me - especially when they ask me why I want to move on.  What I'd really want to say is "I can't stand the MD and find the whole experience a horrible combination of annoying and frustrating."  Which wouldn't be a good thing to say, but as I say, with him firing questions at me so much I ended up saying some non-complimentary things - though not in that blunt a way.

As I say - not sure I'd want to work for that division anyway, as it sounds a bit dull.  I also think they were looking for someone with different experience (more on that in a moment).

I've not heard anything about this one as I write, but then I'm writing this some way in advance so that's not necessarily surprising.

The final interview was a weird one - I'd applied a while back and they'd said if you don't hear within 5 days you've been discarded; however, it was 3 weeks before they contacted me, and it was clear that it was all being done in a panic.  I mean I sent the recruitment person an e-mail saying I'd be interested in a chat and mentioned we could talk on one of the days off I'd booked the following week, and then suddenly I'm being asked for an interview on one of those days!

The interview was held with the boss and the guy who I would be replacing, who I got a chance to chat with before the interview and it turned out that this was his last day.  To the extent that he was literally grabbing his box of stuff and going home once the interview was over!  He hadn't been sacked or anything, but ti was clear they hadn't timed things well.

Now in this job you would essentially be working on your own in the role.  So, in other words, I'd found out that the only person who could do a handover of the role was not going to be there after that day!

It was another small division of a big company and it sounded fairly interesting.  Unfortunately I don't think the interview went all that well - I find the questions that get asked are either very predictable ones I'm asked a lot or I can think of myself beforehand, or they're total blind-siders.

In particular, the blind-siders often tend to focus on areas that I just don't have any experience of, but also, more importantly, have no mention on my CV.  So, for example, my CV says nothing about me having done project management, because I haven't.  Yet the person will launch into a whole set of questions that really focus on skills that are ore relevant to PM.  I mean, sure, there's overlap with Bid Management, but the important aspects are unique to each job.

This was like that - they asked a bunch of questions that I couldn't really answer because I didn't have relevant experience, but in particular, weren't really mentioned on my CV.  I mean, I'd done similar stuff, but not the exact thing they were asking about, so I struggled.

It was also weird - they were all dressed very casually.  I'm guessing this was because of a dress-down Friday, but I felt like I'd turned up to a wedding in a clown suit!

However, on the good side, they have let me know quite quickly that I was unsuccessful, though even here it was a bit weird - the feedback didn't make any sense.  I mean, I'm grateful they have let me know, but the fact I've been told was because they weren't keen on my answer to a questions they never asked is a bit weird.

In fact I was going to set down some moans about the whole process, but I've prattled on for a while, so I'll save that for another day.