Sunset on the beach at Carlsbad, California.
Time sure does whiz by when you're busy. This year, I have been unusually busy. You all know that I've been neck-deep in Civilization V for about a year now writing strategy guides. I've also had a lot of home maintenance and repairs come up (but there's always so much more to do). I've been working on a stressful project at work. And my social life has also been surprisingly busy.
I was also recently stung by a scorpion in my home. The little bastard crawled up my pant leg and got me 3 or 4 times on the shin and inner thigh before I was able to kill it. Scorpion stings are really painful! That was not a pleasant morning. But supposedly I took it "like a champ".
Little bastard stung my leg 3 or 4 times!
I ended up sitting with a pack of ice under my leg the entire day. If I removed the ice, my leg would instantly feel like it was being stabbed with flaming hot pokers. Fortunately, I had a pain reliever to help me sleep, and the pain was mostly gone by the following morning.
I do not recommend a scorpion sting, no matter how much you want an excuse to take a three-day-weekend!
At least now I know that I'm not allergic to the sting of the common desert scorpion!
Beach view from the hotel.
Anyway, I had some time off of work the following week for a vacation, and I feel that it was well-deserved.
The original plan was to go camping in Yosemite, but my girlfriend and I had to scrap that plan on account of the park being on fire.
So instead, we decided to take a relaxing trip to the California beach at her favorite vacation spot: Carlsbad, California. No, not the one in New Mexico with the cave; it's the one half an hour north of San Diego..
I've never been to Carlsbad before, and I'm not a huge fan of the beach in general, but it was a very pleasant place to spend a week. We had a nice room in a hotel just across the street from the beach. The weather was comfortable - in the high 70's with a breeze - which is a great relief from the heat of the desert! [More]
Now that I've finished my series of strategy posts about Brave New World's new civilizations, I want to take some time to look into some of the legacy civs that have received updates since Brave New World. France received a major revision in Brave New World out of the box, having its national trait completely redesigned, and one of its unique units was replaced with a powerful new unique improvement.
Humans have been occupying the land of France for at least 1.8 million years. The caves of Lascaux are a famous paleontological / archaeological site, as its cave paintings are some of the earliest and best-preserved examples of early human art and culture. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the region was split up between numerous Germanic tribes. One Germanic group, the Franks, eventually came to control most of the region, and this is where the term "France" was eventually derived. They set up the first French Kingdoms, which gained strength during the medieval periods despite threats from the Vikings and English. The European Enlightenment can trace many of its roots to the intellectual circles of France, which eventually culminated in the French Revolution that deposed and executed King Louis XVI and established a fledgling Republic.
Napoleon Bonaparte seized control of this young Republic in 1799, eventually declaring himself the Emperor of France. He was a military genius of the time and an expert in the use of artillery. He conquered much of Europe from Spain all the way to Russia, and even fought campaigns in Africa (although these campaigns were not successful). His conquests helped to spread French culture, ideals, and reforms around the world, including widespread adoption of the metric system, new military traditions, and the Declaration of the Rights of Man. His armies eventually fell victim to the harsh Russian winters, which halted Napoleon's aggressions and forced a withdrawl. His reign eventually culminated in a devastating defeat at Waterloo (then part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands). He was forced into exile on the island of Saint Helena, where he eventually died of stomach cancer in 1821.
One of Napoleon's nephews, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon III), launched an enormous public works program in Paris in the mid 1800's in order to build hundreds of kilometers of wide boulevards and streets, replace the sewer system, construct parks, and be the first city in the world to install artificial lighting (originally oil-lit lanterns). This made Paris into the world's first "City of Light", allowing people to work and engage in recreational activities around the city during the night, eventually establishing a 24-hour culture and the urban nightlife.
Another good movie in a good year of movies!
This year has been a real treat for my movie sensibilities! Usually, a given year might have one or two high-quality movies that stand above the rest of the dumb summer popcorn flicks. But it's not even August yet, and I've already seen five really good movies. The year started off well with the quirky, sci-fi romance story Her (which I meant to review, but never got around to it). Then, Captain America Winter Soldier turned out to be an exceptional super hero spy thriller. I already reviewed X-Men Days of Future Past and Edge of Tomorrow - both of which I also really liked!
So far, the only disappointment has been the poorly-written Amazing Spider-Man 2 (but this was kind of to be expected, thanks Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci). I also have no interest in Transformers 4 or Ninja Turtles, since those both look like standard Michael Bay garbage.
And so we come to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a sequel to the prequel / reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Rise was a surprisingly good movie that did an excellent job of humanizing a CGI monkey. Dawn picks up ten years after the last movie ended. The virus that James Franco's character created in the lab as a potential treatment for Alzheimer has spread to the rest of the population and almost wiped out the human race, leaving only the small fraction of people that are genetically resistant to it.
The whole first act of the movie doesn't include a single human character at all, or even any dialogue. Instead, it depicts the ape characters and their culture and social structure, and it really helps to build up the apes as sympathetic characters... [More]
I don't typically get excited about E3 the way that other gamers do. I try not to buy into hype, since I've been burnt before. I prefer a good review over the most stellar of previews. E3 tends to be a lot of pomp and circumstance; a cacophony of light and sound and flashy presentations of scripted, pre-rendered previews that are hardly ever representative of the final product.
I also haven't been paying much attention to the new consoles. They just don't excite me that much. Most quality games are seeing multi-platform releases these days, which usually includes a high-quality PC port that is at least as good (and sometimes better) than any console iteration. Gone are the days of sub-par, buggy PC ports. Or at least, that is how it seems to me. So I just don't see the new consoles as being worth while as long as I have a decent gaming PC. And in fact, these consoles will likely be inferior to good gaming PCs within a couple years. So what's the point in investing in one?
There are a few games on the horizon that look intriguing. I've already talked about Evil Within and Alien Isolation as being two of my most anticipated games of this fall. Both of these games will have PC versions that I will likely purchase, so no need to invest in a new console yet.
There's also a new project by the developers of Demon's Souls that was announced as a PS4 exclusive. That game could have the potential to sell a PS4 to me, but I'm going to wait to see more of the game before I get too excited.
But E3 did have one stand-out surprise that really piqued my interest. It's a new game by a developer called Hello Games. The game is called No Man's Sky.
This game was presented during the PS4 E3 press conference, but it's likely to see a PC version as well. If not, then this title could also turn into a PS4-seller for me.
The game is being advertised as an "infinitely-expanding procedurally-generated science fiction universe"... [More]
After 2012's Amazing Spider-Man tie-in game presented some interesting ideas, I was really hoping that Beenox would have an opportunity to take the things they'd learned and apply them to a new, stand-alone Spider-Man game that would not be constrained to the plot and release schedule of a film tie-in. Sadly, that hasn't happened yet, and we have a new movie tie-in game that suffers from almost all of the problems associated with a movie tie-in.
Once again, Beenox was smart enough to know better than to follow along with the movie's asinine plot and opted to write their own side-story. Unfortunately, this one isn't as well written or as well presented as the previous game. It could have been a good story, but plot is clumsily-executed, and the associations to the movie only drag it down further.
The Kingpin is comically (and ridiculously) oversized.
The bulk of the story is based around Wilson Fisk (the Kingpin) using rising crime rates as an excuse to deploy his private anti-crime task force in New York city. His company partners with Oscorp (who supplies the task force with its tech), and sells the task force to the public as a way of stopping crime and ending the vigilante justice that has plagued the city. But secretly, the task force is really out to destroy rival crime bosses and give Kingpin a monopoly on New York's organized crime underworld.
There's another secondary plot about hunting down the serial killer Cletus Kasady, who is killing criminals. This plot is only barely tied to the Kingpin thread, but it takes center stage during a large chunk of the second act of the game, and almost seems to become the main story - almost as if the writers couldn't decide if they wanted the game to be about Kingpin or about Carnage.
Web-swinging uses pseudo-physics that requires more active involvement from the player.
It's more rewarding than the prevoius game, but still not up to the level of earlier Spider-Man games.
Aside form a couple obligatory super villain boss fights with Electro and Green Goblin (Harry Osborn), the game has very little relation with the movie on which it is supposedly based... [More]
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