Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Rise of Nations

Well then, my blog appears to be filling up. Third article: Rise of Nations review.

Okay, I'm not about to write an academic thesis here. Rise of Nations is the latest strategy video game from Microsoft and also with assistance from Sid Meirs (of Civilization fame) . With this in mind, it has been hailed as a cross between Age of Empires and Civilization. However, in reality it is much more alike to Age of Empires in terms of interface at least.

You start with a small city, build another city and another and gradually create a nation with a strong economy that can be used to build an army that you will use to battle with and defeat your opponent. To do this, you create citizens that will gather resources of food (from farms), timber (from trees) and metal (from mountains) with wealth being generated by markets and caravans. Along with this, they will also be used to construct the necessary buildings to aid in national development. If you have played Age of Empires, then this will no doubt sound like a familiar format.

Where this game comes into its own however, is with age advances. Unlike the Age of Empire series which deals with ages in separate titles; in Rise of Nations you can work your way up from ancient times (stick and stone armies) right up to the current day Information age (Nuclear weapons, Tanks, Stealth Bombers etc) - all in the space of a single 1 hour game! This adds a considerable amount of depth to the game and a considrably larger variety of units than any Age of Empires title offers.

Along with this, you also have the concept of national borders which expand with cultural influence and number of cities. Providing you have researched attrition, any opposition army that walks within your borders without a supply wagon will suffer damage. No doubt that this is a game concept that has been imported from Civilization 3.

Another game concept from the Civ series is that of Wonders. As you advance through the ages you can construct Wonders of the World from the pyramids to the space program. Each wonder gives you some sort of additional advantage. For example, the space program reveals the entire map for you and enables you to see where all your opponents troops are located.

So, what else does this game offer? Well, you have the nations themselves. You can select from a variety of nations to play with: British, Spanish, Inca, Germans, Russians, Japanese, Chinese, French, Bantu, Mongols etc. Although curiously America is not included within the game. Each nation comes with its set of unique units and special powers - not to mention national architecture.

The graphics are nice, with detailed units and landscapes. With water vessels you can see the reflection of the units in the sea. The sound is of reasonable quality too. You can hear pretty much every gun shot and bomb dropped. Although, I do think the in game music could have been better.

I also feel that a greater degree of strength could have been given to defending nations in the form of city walls or trenches. Once your opponent attacks, there is little you can do to stop his army from waltzing right into your cities. Once your defensive army has been breached then it is pretty much game set and match.

It is a good game but perhaps has been justly criticized for being a little bit like Age of Empires. Although, the different ages give the game a great deal more depth and unit variety. The game would have also benefited from a few more defensive features to aid in defense of nation. The solo conquer the world game (whereby you try and conquer the real world with a nation) is slightly easy with tribute cards and alliances. To defeat any powerful nation you simply invade their capital nation with a lot of armies so that you outnumber them in the actual battle.

But overall, I liked this game. It is a good game but could have been better. You want me to rate it?

Graphics: 8/10

Sound: 7/10

Originality: 6/10

Play ability: 9/10

Difficulty: 7/10

Overall: 8/10

Monday, October 17, 2005

Learning with Learndirect

I hope you enjoyed reading my post on England's world cup chances. But, I am not just using this blog to write about football. No, my blog contains literature on any subject that happens to interest me. And Learndirect is one such thing.

So, for those of you who have never heard of Learndirect. What is it? Well, Learndirect is an adult based learning scheme aimed at improving IT and basic skills in English, Maths and a few other things besides. There are also a substantial number of courses tailored towards business skills e.g. accountancy, finance, marketing and the like.

Essentially, these courses are delivered in two ways. Either on-line or via work books and CD-ROMS. These can be studied either at home or at Learndirect centres equipped with computers for delivery of courses. This way, you can just walk into a Learndirect centre and start your learning (providing there is a computer not being used). Therefore coining the term, flexable learning - learning to fit around your own time.

Of course, you do not work in isolation entirely. Personal tutors are available at centres to provide assistance with courses being studied. A time sheet is kept, which is kind of like a diary of what you have done on your course in each learning session. When a course is completed, you have to complete some sort learning aim as evidence of what you have learnt.

Now, few things are free. And, most Learndirect courses come at a price. The cheapest are available for the likes of £10 while the most expensive go for hundreds. They come in different shapes and sizes. Some are only a couple of hours in duration while the longest can take an estimated 48 hours which would amount to a number of months.

Of course, if you are on benefits then you can get exceptions from payment. That is to say, a great number of courses are made available for free. Providing you can come up with some sort of evidence of receipt of benefits.

So if ever the time comes when you wish to improve your skills, you may wish to take a look at what Learndirect has to offer. Their web site address is:


Thursday, October 13, 2005

England Qualify for World Cup

So, England have qualified for the 2006 World Cup. Although, the 1-0 win against Austria was hardly inspiring a more convincing 2-1 win over fellow qualifyers Poland has offered reason for optimisim. So, what are England's chances? Now, certainly I am no expert but I will add my thoughts here.

As of yet, all the qualifying spots have yet to be decided. However, the usual footballing powers such as Brazil, Germany, Italy, Holland, Argentina, France and the like have now qualified. Certainly, Brazil will rank as favourites but usually South American teams don't play well in Europe. As this one will be in Germany that must bode well.

Germany has had difficult times on the international stage in recent years. With the exception of the last world cup when to everybody's suprise, including their own, they made it to the final only to be beaten by Brazil. Performances in the last European Championship however were not very good and they were eliminated at the first stage. England have proven they are well capable of beating them.

Italy have flattered to deceive for a while now. Like Germany, eliminated from the European Championship early but under unfortunate circumstances. Under Lippi they have qualified for the world cup more convincingly but his team may not quite have the experience to lift the ultimate prize.

Holland continue to be erratic. Didn't qualify for the last world cup but reached the semis of the European Championship. Inconsistency like this won't do them any favours again.

Argentina always field good teams but England proved at the last world cup that they can beat them. I don't see any reason why that has changed.

France seem to have lost a few good players through retirement and the like and it remains to be seen whether they have found good replacements. I would not rank them as one of the favourites.

And, what of the European Champions Greece? They won't even be there!

So, it can only be said that England can be quietly confident going into this world cup. If injuries are avoided they have a chance!