Showing posts with label tablet. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tablet. Show all posts

Game Review: Sid Meier's Starships

It’s undoubtedly a good sign when both the GIR and I are writing about PC or video games, as it means we can spend a few hours in front of a screen rather than in front of a shovel.  Where the GIR has been hard at work getting out ahead of the release dates for some of our favorite games from PAX East, I’ve had my nose in a title from one of the few AAA publishers I claim any sort of loyalty to. Despite the initial draw of Civilization: Beyond Earth, and subsequent disappointment,  the Sid Meier name piqued my curiosity when Firaxis announced it’d be attached to a new turn-based strategy game: Starships.

There were more than a few raised eyebrows when Firaxis set the release of Starships less than five months after Beyond Earth made its debut. The studio responded with many expressions of, “Don’t worry, it’s a totally different type of game. It’s just set in the Beyond Earth universe.” The not-so-subtle implication there being that not only could they could totally develop a solid game in their appointed timeframe, but that this would be the model for a series of games that would share a setting. So, were they successful in this venture?

Eh, sort of.

That’s not to say that Starships is terrible, there are quite a few very fun bits, it’s just not particularly good and when your game has that Sid Meier prefix, ‘not particularly good’ takes on a considerably more dour meaning. What’s particularly frustrating about Starships is that there’s plenty of potential for it to have been a richer, more enjoyable game but those opportunities seem to have either been ignored or shunted aside in the interest of time or the need for compatibility with mobile platforms.

That last point is actually the foundation for more than a few of the disappointing qualities of Starships. The game looks, feels, and largely plays like it was configured exclusively for a tablet (which it was, as the game is available in the App Store), which translates to more than a few awkward bits when you play on a desktop. You may find yourself frustrated with the hover-to-open-dialogue-wheel controls that are the basis for all the non-combat portions of the game, as these tend to be less responsive to a mouse than they would, say, a finger on a touch screen.

Wait, let's back up a bit.

In Starships, you assume a leadership role in one of the same civilizations available in Beyond Earth. You also select an Affinity for your civilization from the three presented in Beyond Earth though, in all honesty, neither of these choices have a whole lot of impact on actual gameplay. After making your selections, you're hurled out into the darkness of space and presented with a planet that serves as the base of operations/effective capital of your eventual empire. That's quite literally your introduction to Starships. While the game itself is not terribly complex, there is nothing in the way of a tutorial; be prepared for either some trial-and-error or scouring the in-game encyclopedia.

In addition to your home planet, you're provided with a pair of the eponymous starships. These vessels are your primary means of establishing and maintaining your galactic presence. You move them between various planets on a map that's randomly generated at the outset of the game and attempt to gain influence over said planets by performing various tasks for the inhabitants. These quests can vary from eliminating navigating a labyrinthine asteroid field to battling a pirate armada and it's in completing these tasks that you get to experience the high points of the game.

Because dogfighting with space pirates is almost always a good time
Regardless of the goal, the quests all have the same basic form: a turn-based tactics scenario. You maneuver your starships amongst environmental hazards or against any number of adversaries. It can be a lot of fun, particularly after you've installed a few upgrades on your ships, but there's not much variety in the types of tasks you're given, so even the more interesting quests get repetitive towards the tail end of the game. The upgrades to your ships, while definitely helpful, are very clearly modifications to a statistics engine. Furthermore, there's no discernable scale for the difficulty level of each mission, so there may be occasions where you'll lose a mission largely because you had no way of knowing how to prepare properly. To that effect, you're provided with a predicted probability of success for each mission, but this percentage doesn't seem to reflect any actual inputs from the game and thus doesn't provide you with a meaningful gauge of difficulty.

The game throws a ton of information at you, but most of it is noise
The iterative tactical combat gives the impression that Starships is a much deeper strategy game than it actually is. Outside the framework of the quests, you're tasked with cultivating your empire as it exists across the array of planets you've been able to gain sufficient influence over. While there are a handful of ways to do this, namely constructing buildings or wonders, what you elect to do with each planet (and how you manage the array of resources that are produced by each) seems to matter considerably less than just completing the quests. After finishing a few tasks you can treat your fatigued crew members to a bit of shore leave on a given planet, which also seems to do more for influence levels than active engagement.

Whether by building or by blaster, your goal is to extend your influence over 51% of the galaxy. Aside from roaming gangs of pirates, other civilizations will seek to thwart your efforts via varying degrees of aggression. No matter what your play style, the mid-to-end game will come down to warfare of one flavor or another, with battles taking same the turn-based tactical form as the planetary missions. It's all a matter of which fights you pick and who you rumble with. As in some of the classic Civilization games, you may find yourself shaking your head at the questionable choices and sometimes suicidal aggression of the AI.

Starships has its moments; if you're playing on a mobile platform or are just in the mood for light, snack-sized strategy (with playthroughs taking only a couple of hours) then you may get a lot of enjoyment out of it. It's neither particularly challenging, even on the higher difficulties, nor especially deep in what it offers, which can be good if you're, say, waiting to meet up with friends or commuting home. What it's not likely to do is satisfy PC/tabletop gamers who want their 4x strategy fix. If you do want to try Starships out for yourself then I highly recommend waiting a few months and pick it up during a Steam sale.

Final Grade: C/C+
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This Week in Geekdom

*Waves* Happy weekend everyone! Hope the week's celebrations went well for everyone observing a holiday this past week (and/or that you were successful in finding relief from the blistering heat we've been dealing with in North America). They may not be fireworks, but this week's bits of nerdy news were pretty exciting in their own right.

But here are some fireworks just because. Yay pyrotechnics!

Awesomeness: Legendary comic artist Stan Sakai is slated to draw Dark Horse's new adaptation of the 47 Ronin. Bonus: This excellent and fairly comprehensive interview with Stan about this project and the forthcoming live-action movie version.

Are you a DC person? Is your favorite character still "alive" and kicking or were they ripped away to an untimely doom? If it's the latter, you may want to check out this memorial list of the 10 characters taken from us too soon.

In an attempt to garner new readership, Marvel is releasing "chick lit" novels featuring their trademarked superheroes. The end results appear to be of mixed, but generally decent quality.

In a similar demographic-expanding endeavor, DC launched its all-digital comic format with a series based on the 1960s Batman TV show earlier this week. Batman '66 is now available in DC2 format and can be downloaded to your phone, tablet, or other mobile device.


Since the advent of setting a broken bone in order to promote proper healing, the cast hasn't changed all that much. This week, inventor Jake Evill unveiled Cortex, a whole newexoskeletal twist on making the convalescence process a bit more bearable and environmentally friendly.

Bonus: Can be made with a 3D printer
In a coincidental follow-up to our bit on restoring sight to the blind, University Hospitals has developed a functional bionic eye. The device, available in 12 commercial markets later this year, restores a degree of sight to individuals with late-stage retinitis pigmentosa. 

The latest edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences proffered the details archeologists uncovered of perhaps the first instance of flowers being used during human burial rituals.

Microsoft doesn't exactly have the best reputation for fostering open source creativity, but it's not an entirely unfeeling monster. Scott Hanselman breaks down one of the best-kept secrets for Visual Studio.

It may be too late for Ned Stark, but bioengineers have gotten much closer to enabling full human head transplants.


Much to the surprise of no one, the Wii U is not living up to Nintendo's expectations, and here's why.


If this was on just about any other network I'd be more excited, but Syfy (yes, it still exists) is going to release a 6-part pseudo-documentary about some of the biggest names in cosplay right now. The mini-series, Heroes of Cosplay, will debut August 13th.

General Awesomeness

Here's what 16 years of devotion and hard work will get you (if you're a model train lover that is).

Best wishes for the week ahead!
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This Week in Geekdom

Hope everyone's having a great weekend thus far. After a supremely excellent, but very busy, few weekends we're back on our regular posting schedule for This Week in Geekdom.

Let's start off with some science!



Yesterday was the 146th birthday of Frank Lloyd Wright. Here's a bracket-style breakdown of some of his most famous and beloved building designs. Which is your favorite?

In related news, this week the Connecticut state senate passed a bill that denies the title of First Powered Flight to the Wright brothers and instead grants it to Gustave Whitehead. The controversy surrounding which individual (or individuals) is deserving of this title is nothing new but, since the release of the Wright brothers' rather shady contract with the Smithsonian, the debate has been given fresh fuel. 

Late last week the Earth was bombarded with an intense array of solar radiation. While this wasn't ideal for telecommunications, the radio-magnetic storm produced some of the most vibrant, dramatic instances of the aurora borealis we humans have been lucky enough to see? Didn't get a chance to glimpse this amazing phenomenon? Check out this incredible time-lapse video of the event as viewed from Crater Lake National Park.

Ever suspected that those hyper-up energy drinks don't actually do a whole lot more than just plain old caffeine? Turns out, you were right.

We know that compulsions can have profound impacts on human behavior, but have been at a loss as to why they occur and how they function at the neurological level. This week, researchers at MIT released the results of their recent study, in which they were able to completely block the exhibition of compulsive behavior in mice.

What will the Antarctic look like without ice? National Geographic has put together this interactive site to illustrate exactly that.

Refining petroleum creates a lot of waste products, one of which is a heaping helping of sulfur. This week, scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory revealed that this elemental byproduct doesn't have to be a useless one. Read here for the details on how they transformed this second-hand sulfur into battery fodder that outperforms standard lithium-ion batteries.

Since the introduction of the personal tablet computer, journalists and analysts have proclaimed that the personal computer would soon be a thing of the past. Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan took to the stage this week to proclaim what we already knew: the PC isn't dying; poorly run companies who have a profound disconnect with their customers are dying.

File this one under: Things to Buy When I Win the Lottery. The most comprehensive computer workstation technology can bring us to date.

Got an extra $21,500?
The ancient Romans knew a thing or two about what made for excellent building materials. UC Berkley students are in the midst of trying to discern what made the concrete of these ancient architects withstand the test of time and what they could still teach us today.


Cosplayer and anthropologist extraordinaire Emily composed this eloquent, spot-on commentary about some of the disturbing attitudes that con-goers frequently bear towards cosplayers. Unfortunately, the interactions Emily describes are depressingly common. By shining a light on this dark patch of the convention experience is a first step towards addressing this prevailing issue.

Making a full-body suit of armor is up there in the hierarchy of Impressive Feats of Cosplay (alongside building deployable wings or anything involving robotics). Check out the handiwork of C. Rob, who crafted an entire set of Tony Stark's Mark IV armor from cardstock!


Microsoft's introduction of its forthcoming Xbox One console fostered a lot of confusion, and a lot more indignant rage, specifically from gamers who don't feel like regularly dropping $60 USD on titles that they could otherwise buy used. The company released the following this week in an attempt to clarify their stance on used games. Warning: it's still pretty hackle-raising and the Xbox One is still not going to be backwards compatible. 

In what is surely not a coincidence at all (cough cough) Microsoft then cancelled its scheduled post-press conference at the upcoming E3 convention.

If, by chance, you were one of those intrepid, masochistic individuals who gave your hard-earned monies to Goldhawk Interactive and the latter's effort to recreate the challenging grind of the original X-COM you were finally rewarded with early access to the alpha. While I've been building bases and mourning the losses of my soldiers, Rock, Paper, Shotgun has put together a short video reviewing what we've seen of the game so far.


As mentioned earlier this year, DC is desperate for your attention. The publication giant announced this week that they would be introducing DC2, a series of choose-your-own-adventure titles. While the concept of choose-your-own adventure is fairly kick-ass when applied to pulpy books, the guys over at the Gutters do a great job of illustrating the likely course this latest DC misadventure will take.


Are you still downtrodden after bearing witness to the Red Wedding? Does hearing the Rains of Castamere bring about shudders or tears? Fear not, the helpful staff at io9 compiled a list of fun things that viewers can perhaps look forward to (provided the show even attempts to remain in line with the books).

Steampunk, time travel, and a hit man from the future. This is the basis for a new web series from Star Trek writer Jimmy Diggs called "the Crypto Historians."

As always, best wishes for an excellent week ahead!
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Gadget Review: Nexus 10

Hi out there to everyone in Readerland! If you've been following the blog for a bit, you might recall that every three months my life gets consumed by a battle with an Elder Hydra. Ok, so the hydra is figurative but the net effect is the same: long hours spent hacking away at an entity that just...won't...die. This particular iteration of the recurrent battle is especially heinous, mostly for reasons I won't bore you with, but also a couple of legitimately awesome reasons that I'll share in my next post. Speaking of which, the next installment of this here blog will be published in a couple of weeks rather than exactly a week from now. Why? You'll find out soon enough, I promise. I also promise that the blog will resume a regular posting schedule immediately after the break. So just hold tight after today.

Though my conflict with the hydra has taken up most of my time these past couple of weeks, I've not been left completely in the dark with regard to Geekdom. The wide array of interactive options and press coverage provided me with a much-needed escape from the winter doldrums and brought me a live feed of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) out in warm, sunny Las Vegas. That spectrum of show and participant feedback was particularly helpful in navigating the torrent of company updates and product announcements that flood out of the show every year. Unfortunately, also in keeping with CES tradition, a considerable percentage of the novel items that made their debut at the event are barely past the prototype stage and won't be available for you or I to purchase anytime soon. Is it awesome to catch a glimpse of what the future may hold? Sure thing. Isn't it also a bit of a tease to have such things paraded about, only to be told they're years away from actually being sold? Very yes. 

Alternately stymied and excited, I wanted to share the details of a new gadget that's actually available for purchase: the Nexus 10. Released to the market at the tail end of 2012, the Nexus was to be Google's (made by Samsung) rebuttal to Apple's iPad 4 and Amazon's Kindle Fire/Fire HD. Is this salvo into the increasingly competitive tablet marketplace a solid one? The answer is a resounding yes.

For quite some time, the debate had been, "Do we get a tablet or a laptop?" Both offered same desired features: high levels of portability, a plethora of mobile entertainment options, and all the means to remain connected with family and friends. The laptop ostensibly offered more traditional computing (full versions of PC games and word processing capabilities) while the tablet wove all the features of a smart phone into the conveniences of an e-reader. The latter gave me pause; wouldn't a tablet then just be a larger version of my Android phone? While the Nexus does perform many of the same functions as a smart phone, the features it offers that go above and beyond that ground my cynical suspicions underfoot. The following points detail just how the Nexus 10 went about doing so.

Product Specs: The Nexus 10 boasts a 10.1 inch (25.65 cm) screen with a 2560 x 1600 resolution, a measure that tops even the iPad 4. It runs on the Android Jelly Bean 4.2 OS, has a 1.7GHz Exynos 5 (Cortex A-15) dual-core processor, Mali T604 graphics chip, and 2GB of RAM. It's bigger than many tablets currently available, so it will feel quite large if you're presently using a Kindle, iPad mini, or a Nexus 7. Despite the size, the tablet is hardly bulky and weighs in at only 1.39 pounds (630 grams). The actual chassis of the tablet is surprisingly pleasant to hold, offering significant friction against the hand that allows the user to feel entirely comfortable holding the device.

Audio/Video: The speakers on the Nexus are on the margins and the back of the tablet, as is typical of many Samsung offerings. The audio quality emanating from said speakers is decent, but not superb. A pair of headphones easily smoothes out any auditory roughness. The Nexus also features a 5 megapixel back-facing and a 1.9 megapixel front-facing camera, which allows for everything from photo snapping to video chatting and recording. The microphone on the device is remarkably sensitive and could certainly be used to capture even highly nuanced songs or other audio.

Media/Apps:  The Nexus aptly handles video from Netflix, the Amazon Prime library, and Hulu/YouTube. Any hiccups I experienced while watching episodes of Archer or Futurama were almost exclusively due to internet connectivity blips rather than the Nexus. The picture clarity was amazing and there was no distortion, regardless of the viewing angle. The available apps are largely the same as those available on any Android phone with the sole exception of the Amazon suite of applications, which was a bit disappointing. Note: the Kindle app does work on the Nexus, so you can use it as an e-reader. Unsurprisingly, all other Amazon apps will not function on the Nexus, because, of course, its not a Fire HD. There are a considerable number of available games, nearly all of which benefit from the large, high definition screen.  A select number of applications are considerably better on a tablet (Pinterest, TED, Bloomberg, YouTube, and, of course, the Google suite of apps) than they are on a phone or even a desktop; only a few apps were markedly worse (Facebook).

General Utility: The most pleasant surprise I encountered (and continue to encounter) with the Nexus 10 is just its sheer functionality. It should be noted here that I'm a heavy user of all things Google (Gmail, G+, blogger, Google calendar, Google drive, etc) so having all those features that I already utilize in a highly accessible locale is uber handy. If you're similarly ensnared in Google's far-reaching web then you'll almost certainly love its aggregator/summary function which synchs all of the above applications into a single feed. Example: opening the aggregator will present you with a snapshot for your day. It will present you with all your appointments, important events to keep in mind (like birthdays), have a running countdown to much-anticipated events, provide you with the weather forecast, craft a synopsis of what your friends are up to, create a reading list of recent posts from blogs you follow, and track any inbound packages in real time. It's essentially what Facebook desperately wishes it was. Any of the above can be activated and interacted with by voice commands, which work decently (about 65% accuracy, 90% precision and 10% unintentional hilarity). The keyboard is also extremely viable. Is it like a physical keyboard? No. Is it light-years better than what you'd find on a phone? Definitely.  Lastly, the battery life is respectable. It requires charging overnight most nights, but easily lasts through the day without issue, even after heavy use. You can go 2.5-3 days at a time without recharging with light to moderate use. 

Other perks: The Nexus 10 is one of the very few devices presently on the market that does not require the owner/user to link the tablet to an existing account with a wireless provider. There are no data plans attached. Seriously. This is not another iteration of the nonsense Amazon tried to pull with the Fire HD that claimed no data plan was required, then buried the truth that one would be necessary after a year of use in the extra fine print. However, no data plan means that the tablet is not 3G/4G capable in its own right and is entirely reliant on nearby wireless hubs. Keep this in mind if you're in a rural area or otherwise receive spotty wireless. Once the Nexus gets connected it's lightening fast, but will waver and shut down all web based functions the moment it's taken clear of a hub. Like all android devices, all background settings, interfaces, and applications are managed entirely by the user. You have complete freedom to make your experience with the Nexus anything and everything you want it to be. The Nexus also allows for the creation of multiple "profiles" for individual users in a household, which allow each user their own UI and privacy controls.

Cons: Like all new technology, the Nexus is not without its flaws. The screen itself is extremely sensitive and can often lend itself to "misclicks" (we haven't taken off the protective plastic covering and still occasionally get this). Additionally, the OS is prone to freezing and/or crashing every now and again (basically locking up entirely, then rebooting after about 30 seconds).  In the past month or so our Nexus has crashed about 4-5 times. No data has been lost nor any critical functions disrupted, but it can be irksome. The dimensions of the device sometimes do not align with the intended resolution of a given app, which can distort the overall image. Also, though the tablet has a USB port, it is meant to interact with the charger rather than act as a gateway for USB capable devices. It was a bit disappointing to not be able to link the Nexus to an external hard drive, but there are workarounds available to facilitate the transfer of data. Lastly, Flash does not yet work on the Nexus, but this may be remedied in the future.

In all, an excellent bit of hardware and a promising offering by Google/Samsung. It's definitely worth your consideration if you're in the market for a tablet and/or use the Google suite extensively. 

Alright, well with that I am off.  See you all in a couple of weeks!
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