26-29 JUL

SO, Thailand is a pretty crazy place. After landing in Don Muang airport, David and I were briefly stopped, along with every other white male on the flight. The policemen were looking for one Thomas Atkinson (clearly a pseudonym) and after showing our passports we were courteously let on our way. Outside of the airport we met Tom who helped us carry our bags and haggle for a cab to our hostel. The price ended up being some 100baht (about $3.50 AUD)
The roads in Thailand are insane, a frenetic free-for-all of Tuk Tuks, Scooters and Cars filling every square foot of road in no particular order. I say foot here instead of meter because it gives a more accurate impression of the space involved. When the cab started to drive faster than 100kmph I reached for my seatbelt, only to find there wasn’t one there. Somehow though we arrived alive and subsequently I haven’t seen a single crash or accident on the roads. Thai have some innate ability for this type of driving but it seems totally alien to me. Our hostel was located down Soi (denoting a side-street) 38 Sukhumvit Rd. Sukhumvit is an absolute hive of activity. Every day, food stalls, markets and businesses are erected on the street under the shade of the Sky Train, a concrete monstrosity of public transport that dominates the landscape. Famished as we were from our long flight we sat down in a market and were promptly presented with six different menus from six different vendors, which they pushed around the table in a Tetris like fashion, vying for the our attention. The humidity of that first night absolutely killed Dave and me; we were sweating so much, in fact, that when we were offered ice for our glass of beer we gladly accepted (despite warnings to the contrary, my bowels haven’t exploded yet, a good sign)
After dinner we caught the Sky Train a few stops to a popular area further down Sukhmvit to check out the bars. ‘Bar’ however is quite a loose term in Bangkok with some venues being little more than a few plastic chairs on the sidewalk next to a vendor with a coolbox, while some, presumably in place for quite a while have ornate wall fixtures laden with delicious drinks, some exotic, some familiar. Particularly delicious was Leo beer, which went for about 60baht (one dollar) and the buckets of margarita, which went for 300baht (ten bucks) Needless to say, we got pretty smashed and had a great time though being poked and prodded by the working girls got a little bit tiresome. After a raucous night of drinking we staggered back to our hostel, and knowing that we weren’t able to drink the tapwater, but too ruined to go and find bottled water, collapsed into our beds, unprepared for the vicious dehydration fuelled hangover that would persist much of the next day.
Not to say that the next day wasn’t fantastic though. After finding a ripper place to eat (I, un-adventurously ordered the American Breakfast) we met with Tom’s friend, Gon, at Pho, site of the amazing lying Bhudda and proceeded to get drenched by a monsoonal downpour which was somewhat mitigated by my fashionable 100 baht Minnie mouse umbrella (which gave up on life sometime later in the afternoon)
We then took a completely sodden boat ride over the river to view the Wat of Rama II, a really amazing structure that had a sign out the front prohibiting bootie-shorts or miniskirts.
Finally we went out to dinner in Bangkok’s Chinatown in a restaurant that served a variety of seafood (including shark fin which nobody in our party ate) I opted for some fried chicken and rice being not much of a seafood fan. After a cabride that Gon was able to negotiate for us at a reasonable price we went back to the hostel and relaxed, perhaps for the first time since we had arrived. It was to be a formidable trainride the next day, as we’d decided to leave Bangkok to the relative tranquillity of the northern city of Chaing Mai renowned for it’s party scene and awesome landscapes. The trainride was epic, more than twelve hours of some of the noisiest train travel I’ve ever experienced. A derailing some weeks previously on the same track was slightly disconcerting but there was scattered evidence of repairs all along the route and as it turns out we arrived in Chaing Mai safely. The cabins are spacious and far more comfortable than plane travel, and the ability to take life into your own hands and have a cigarette on the bucking walkway between carriages is awesome. Not to mention the beautiful scenery as soon as the train had cleared the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, jungles, which I’ve never seen before are awesome. Particularly when punctuated by the sometimes gravity defying mountainous rocks that dot the lush landscape. I had a quick conversation (with Tom translating) with the train’s janitor. Where I come from is flat and brown, I said, not mountainous and green like here, it’s beautiful! He knew the word, and as I gestured to the fog capped jungle peaks that the train was hurtling by he looked me in my eyes and gave a warm smile. People here are awesome.
Now we’re in Kiki’s guesthouse in Chaing Mai a really spacious, comfortable and welcoming place set in the heart of the old city. After Bangkok, the more laidback vibe is really welcome. In fact, this bed is pretty comfortable, I think I’ll have a nap.

Robolenin Reviews: Civ 5 Brave New World

Oh boy.

Regular readers might have noticed a slight obsession with the Civilization series of games, so you can imagine how excited I was for the release of Civ5’s second expansion pack, Brave New World which dropped in Australia last night.

Perhaps ‘excited’ isn’t the best description of how I felt leading up to Brave New World’s release; it was more like trepidation. My mates and I had reached a point where our games of Civ had become painfully predictable. Egypt and Russia would battle for early production and more often than not, start a chain of obscene wonder-spam which could double or treble the scores of players with less lucky start rolls. Civilization for us had become a battle for the most production hammers and the game was starting to feel rather empty. This was coupled with my frustration at the piecemeal release of DLC Civilizations like Korea, that not only had to be purchased by the player who chose to lead them, but by your opponents as well. So while I was excited for some new DLC for my favorite game, I was also worried that something in the implementation was going to leave a bad taste in my mouth. Would trade unbalance the game even more? Could they actually make culture worth a damn?

Then I started a game.

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A new fantastic point of view.

Firstly, Brave New World has cut wonder-spamming Civs down to size with a new system that makes social policy trees prerequisites for certain wonders. Aside from just balancing the game, social policy wonders have the effect of encouraging development along leader specific lines, instead of an inexorable grind for hammers. Subsequently all the civilizations and their leaders feel more distinct, more characterful and vibrant than before. Additionally the victory system has been largely overhauled with a new diplomatic and culture victory. Diplomatic victories are perhaps the most exciting, a certain number of votes at a UN round table meeting can secure you immediate victory, but you’ll have to curry favor with the city states in order for it to happen. It’s great to see city states becoming a friend and valued ally for a change instead of just free workers or a juicy target. Even more excitingly though is the other element introduced with diplomacy, namely proposals. Any player is able to make a proposal to the UN to determine global policies. For example, if you have an annoying opponent with a lot of wine, you might propose to the UN to make wine illegal! Otherwise you might try to establish your religion as the world religion via political means, or perhaps just embargo your foes completely (if you can get the votes!) There’s a hell of a lot to like here, if you were a fan of some of the older Sid Meier games (Alpha Centuri springs to mind), then the system here is undoubtedly going to please you.
Next though is the new cultural victory which introduces the concept of tourism. Tourism essentially acts as offensive culture and has devastating implications for players in the game. A high ratio of your tourism to another player’s culture can destroy a player’s happiness, bringing expansionist but culturally bereft civilizations to their knees. Gain a certain ratio of dominance over a number of players simultaneously for victory.

The other major addition here has been the trade system. Players are now able to produce caravans and cargo ships to ferry aid in the form of food or hammers to friendly cities or trade with other civs, yielding impressive profits. It’s a great dynamic that allows for some quite daring play which is great fun to be a part of. There are some awesome nuances to the system too, a trade route with another player will yield you an amount of gold, but will also reward the other player with a fraction. Additionally if you create a trade route with a civ that has tech that you don’t, you’ll receive a small science bonus. You can even spread religion through trade routes, making the system a potent offensive weapon of sorts.

Gah, basically everything that’s been done here is great. Brave New World is a great damn game. Even when one of my friends crashed and had to rejoin the game we discovered that the multiplayer loading system has been overhauled. The game simply displays ‘game is paused, player joining’ and lets you at least look around your empire instead of brutally crashing you into a loading screen. Everything has been tightened here and seemingly not just for the sake of charging the player another $45 but because it make the game better. Brave New World just feels like it’s come from a place that loves it.

If you own a copy of Civ 5 or are a fan of the series, this is a no-brainer. There’s more here to love than ever before and there’s no better time to hop back in than now. Even if you’re not a seasoned strategy nut, give it a try, Civilization is a behemoth of the genre, and for good reason.

The final verdict; Civilization 5 Brave New World gets five nuclear-bomb-riding-Ghandis out of five.

Civ 5 sequential turns (be careful what you wish for)

In an unreleased podcast, my offsider, popculturereference and I had a huge rant regarding simultaneous turns in Civ5. Coming from a turn-based background, having to furiously click and move units to safety at the start a shared turn with your opponent induces rage of truly epic proportions. Then, like a shot from the blue, a pre expansion update included a few new multiplayer options, hybrid and sequential turns. 

PRAISE BE, we thought. The hybrid mode lets players take their non-warring turns simultaneously but then reverts to a turn-based format when players finally go to war. It was the exact same idea that we had posited in our rant several months earlier. It was as if Sid Meier himself had descended from on high and plucked the idea from our minds.

It’s just a pity our idea was so shit.

I can just imagine the people in the Firaxis offices now. “We brought those people out of the wilderness” they would say “-we gave them back their lives. Don’t they remember how long games of Civ used to take?” 
We had surely forgotten.

No matter how frustrating the simultaneous warring turns had been before, having to wait at least double the amount of time for a new turn in Civ 5 is game-breakingly frustrating. To make matters worse, we had forgotten all of our coping mechanisms. At first we just tried to sit there and patiently wait for the other players to finish their turns. Then we tried conversation, but all these attempts were just hollow gestures of denial. We were fucking bored, and when Hughberticus brought out his DS and started playing Pokemon, I knew something was really, really wrong.

The truth is, you never know what you have until it’s gone. The ability to finish a game of Civ in just a few sessions is something that we had come to take for granted. Even having your aircraft carrier, loaded with nukes, taken out by a submarine after you’ve moved all your units is nothing compared to the forgotten frustration of waiting for your damn turn. 

Maybe it’s time to take a break from Civ. Maybe it’s time to go out into the world and see those wonders that we so covet in game. Perhaps that’s what Sid Meier was trying to say, that if you want to live life then you have to do your turns simultaneously.

Well that’s it, I quit Civ forever, there’s nothing left for me here.

Wait… what’s that sound?
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God damn it.

The dankest of banks.

There is grandeur in this view of life
Basked in weed dank throes of streetlight.
Confused needs, envoys and treaties
Dotted round the night like fireflies.

Enemies or friends are just
A lottery, formed of cosmic dust.
We’ll meet again in different forms
In future as well as the past.

Don’t lament on things unkind
On windswept tundra you will find
The universe is unknowing love
Abstracted from us by our minds.

And if by chance you give your thanks
For these celestial, grandiose pranks,
Think of me as I think of you
Nestled in our entangled banks.