16 December 2014

Out of Aestivation

Aestivation is like hibernation, in that an organism slows its metabolism to a trickle and avoids all activity, but during the summer months. As such it usually refers to animals who take a break in especially arid environments to avoid the most scorching months rather than people who work summer jobs with insane hours, but it's close enough. Will this blog now return to "regular" updates (as much as that term ever applied to it)? I'm not sure, actually. But in the interest of catching up a little, here's a song that was stuck in my head on repeat a month or two ago; enjoy.

26 February 2014

Getting started in Banished

This guide as a whole is intended for people who have little or no experience with the game. If you've played a bit and think you're doing everything right but still have failing settlements, the "Distribution" and "Miscellaneous advice" sections might be good places to check.

The PC strategy game Banished from one-man-show Shining Rock Software was released last week. I'd been looking forward to the game for quite some time, as it scratches a particular city-building itch that I've had for years. Part of why I've anticipated it so much is that to group it in with traditional "city-builder" games is actually a bit of a misnomer: it's decidedly a village- and town-builder. The goal isn't to expand into a bustling metropolis through long ages: it's simply to get your small group of settlers to survive through each winter.

The game's causality and timing are also more realistic than your typical city-builder. For instance, plopping down a house doesn't cause a new family to materialize from nowhere, and instead gives one of your young couples a place where they'd be comfortable to raise some kids, encouraging natural population growth. And planting that orchard today will give you a nice yield of fruit, sure... three or four years from now when the trees have grown. To some this may sound tedious, but for others of us it's a godsend.

It's not flashy, it's not grand—but it's committed and it's grounded. It has no combat, but you'll instead find yourself locked in battle with the elements. When things go wrong it's brutal: an early frost can destroy your yield from farms, and whole families and neighborhoods can succumb to disease. But when things are going well it's downright cozy: smoke drifts up from chimneys and the townsfolk go about their work in the fields and forests. If you ask me, it's the perfect game to play with a big mug of tea.

It's not a game I'd necessarily recommend to everyone, but if what I've described sounds appealing to you, I'm here to offer a few tips for getting started in Banished. I'll note that these tips are based on my experience with the game so far and advice I've seen on the forums and wiki (and you should definitely play the in-game tutorials to learn about the interface, building placement, etc.). There may well be other approaches to the game, but they're likely more challenging and could discourage new players from the game. I'd recommend starting according to the following suggestions, and then after you've gotten a feel for the game, if you want to see if you can get away with breaking these rules, by all means do so (I know I will be). My suggestions also assume that you're on a valleys map with a fair climate and disasters turned on.

My primary piece of over-arching advice for this game is this: You're better off drawing your assumptions from the real world instead of other strategy games. Specifically, make sure you keep in mind that Banished takes place in the pre-industrial world (most people seem to think it's medieval-era while it strikes me as clearly colonial-era, but at this scale they're not terribly different). The game's not perfectly realistic but it skews farther that way than many others, and so by remembering the setting you'll have a much better chance of guessing the proper course of action. We'll see how this applies in several particular cases below.

Your settlers have three main needs: food, warmth, and shelter. Most of what you do in the game is going to be related—directly or indirectly—to keeping up with those needs as your population grows. We'll start with the basics of those needs and then move on to other important concepts.

05 February 2014

Answering creationists' questions on behalf of Bill Nye

This Buzzfeed list has been bouncing around Facebook, showing questions posed by creationists for Bill Nye* before the recent debate he had with Ken Ham. I don't know if Nye will actually go about addressing them himself, but if I might be so bold I'm going to answer them here on his behalf. The fact that these folks made it through a high school education without learning the answers to many of these questions left me too frustrated not to respond.

*On re-reading the article it seems the questions are posed to non-creationists in general, not Bill Nye specifically, but I'll leave the title and my responses as they are.

You can see all the original images at the Buzzfeed link, and I'll just transcribe the questions for this post.

1. Bill Nye, are you influencing the minds of children in a positive way? 

He encourages kids to use logic, think for themselves, and to get excited about the world we live in, so I'd say yes.

2. Are you scared of a Divine Creator? 

I can't speak for Bill Nye on this, but there are a couple good common responses. One is that if there is a God why would He give us logic and the ability to discern things about our world if He didn't expect us to use it? 

Another outlook is offered in this quote: “Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.” (It's often attributed to Marcus Aurelius, but I believe that's incorrect.)

3. Is it completely illogical that the world was created mature, i.e., trees created with rings, Adam created as an adult?