Category: musings

Got a Kindle Oasis and I’m reading books again!

After ten years of sort of wanting an e-reader, I finally got a Kindle (first a Paperwhite, which I returned and got an Oasis)! I had been debating whether to try actually reading my next book instead of doing my usual passive listening via audiobook. I’ve come to really like audiobooks, and sometimes would prefer them, especially if it’s narrated by the author. But a lot of content is better absorbed and enjoyed when reading in the richness of silent thought and imagination; for the book I’m reading now, Army of None by Paul Scharre, I’m glad I got it in a Kindle version I can actually read.

And I’ve missed reading with my own eyes; it’s far more of an intimate connection with the author-reader and I love having more space to pause and think about a particular sentence. Clever play of words are often missed in audiobooks, not to mention the difficulty in presenting visual content. Audible does provide downloadable copies of images, which helps a bit but it often feels like a clunky afterthought than a cohesive experience. Having books read to you can also be less engaging. I’m not really enthralled by the idea of sitting in one spot to listen to an audiobook, whereas I can do that for an hour or more with a book in hand.

I had first gotten the Kindle Paperwhite, the 6″ mainstream version and as soon as I got past the first few pages I realized how much different this felt than reading my phone, tablet, or other connected screened device. Perhaps its the eink display, the form factor, or distractionless interface, but despite having used screened devices for decades now, this felt new. Maybe even the idea of having a purpose built device for book reading that made me realize how much I’ve forgotten to actually make time for reading (as opposed to opportunistic passive listening like I do with audiobooks while in the car or on a walk/run).

It was an refreshingly awesome experience and I’m already looking forward to making time to read.

I had originally gotten the Paperwhite for the value, but when compared to the latest Kindle Oasis, I felt the Paperwhite’s screen was too cramped and after some debate, switched up. No regrets–the Paperwhite is almost there, but the Oasis is a better experience for reasons that many have articulated; I agree it’s not the best value, but for me, it is a sufficiently superior reading experience (bigger screen, warm light, physical buttons, ability to turn off touch screen were may biggest factors).

My only qualm was the lack of pocketability–I could actually fit the Paperwhite into many of my pant pockets–the Oasis, less so. But honestly, I don’t want more things in my pocket–I’ll carry around my Oasis just fine. (I guess I also did the whole, “if i pay into it, maybe I will keep more disciplined”, thing to motivate myself to read).

I’ve also been impressed at the huge selection of ebooks books available from the Seattle Public Library and despite a somewhat clunky unintuitive interface between OverDrive and Amazon (and Bibliocommons), so many books are available that I imagine myself reading more loaned vs bought Kindle books.

Overall, I’m quite pleased with how the Kindle is fitting into my life and looking forward to reading more books this year!

P.S. This year has been quite… um yeah. There’s so much I wanted to write over the past few months but never got around to it…

The still ongoing pandemic, still ongoing racial justice reckoning, the 2020 election, events in my own life, or any number of other thoughts on my mind. If I manage to collect myself enough to write about them I may share my thoughts. In the meantime, stay safe everyone!

Space Needle, from Facebook Dexter Building

Happy 2020!

Hello world, and hello 2020!

For this year, effectively the 20th year of my online blog presence, I’ll recommit to posting more of my thoughts this blog. I do intend to maintain this as a more personal blog than something official, so it’ll continue to contain a mix of my own musings on topics of personal interest.

(For a more professional take on things, there’re plenty of other places to do so.)

Will elaborate on a future post!

Raving about Surviving Mars!

Role-playing city building and PVE real-time 4X strategy in a near-future Mars colonization simulation game

Wanted to put out a quick rave about my favorite game of (my) 2019 so far: Surviving Mars (2018), by Haemimont Games (out of Sofia, Bulgaria), published by Paradox (which also published my favorite game of 2015, Cities Skylines)!

Xbox Release Trailer

I bought Surviving Mars on a whim after checking the Steam review metascore, having never heard the game before (kind of the best way to have any kind of media experience, really). I was not disappointed! The title may suggest survival-oriented game mechanics, but I think the best description for the game would be Cities Skylines on Mars. Or as another reviewer wrote: Simcity with soul.

Simulations are one of my favorite game genres (the first game I ever bought was SimAnt, by Maxis) and games like the SimCity and the Sims series’ have provided me hundreds of hours of fun, challenge, and a sense of accomplishment; kind of like growing a virtual garden from scratch and checking it out once completed. The sheer scale of what you can build and simulate produce intricate emergent properties entirely artificial life constructs that are fun to observe on their own. It’s kind of like the Conway’s Game of Life, but with far more variables and a sense of purpose.

Come on USA! We got $8 billion dollars; LFG!

Clearly a lot of love went into this game to represent a believable martian environment both at the macro planetary level as well as down to the human scale. I particularly love that the game provided the ability to land basically anywhere on the planet, including some historical sites–just to give it a, “this is the real Mars” personality. It doesn’t create any in game consequence though. Just use a little imagination 😉

We’ll check out the Viking 2 Landing Area
Choosing a landing site
Mars is a harsh, unforgiving place… can it be tamed and made livable by soft fleshy humans?

The purpose of Surviving Mars, of course, is to build a self-sustaining city on Mars (Elon Musk would earn his ST:Discovery mention if he can get humanity to this point). This is no novice task — Surviving Mars has you starting with a rocket (imagine the early iterations of SpaceX’s pre-Starship BFR) landing with a skeleton complement of autonomous robots and resources. Living off the land is the only way to get anywhere (as it will be in real life), so much of the early game is a constant hunt for resources; more concrete, more metal, more water, etc…

I spy some concrete and metals behind my ‘murica rocket! Humble beginnings, really…

Through most of this, the early game feels a bit more like real-time strategy / 4X than city building. Unlike Cities Skylines or Simcity, you directly control key “hero” units like Explorers that survey planetary anomalies and cargo rovers that enable a crude point-to-point supply chain management (or desperate resupply to a fledgling satellite colony). The game quests (or “Mysteries” as the game calls them) also operate much more like a real-time strategy game than most city building game scenarios, much to my enjoyment.

Unleash the drones!
Kinda cute little robots!
Aforementioned “hero” units – An explorer, transport, and drone commander (controls drones, duh)

The game has quite a number of random events/quests that give a lot of depth to the game’s backstory. City building games rarely have such things, leaving most to the imagination, but Haemimont’s done something awesome here in creating a single player simulation strategy game that’s more than just a city builder with disasters.

Real time 4x right here
The game has a good sense of humor; and lets you indulge in the dark side
Like any good city builder, there’s a good set of survival metrics to take care of
In this game, running out of resources means death. That’s not surviving Mars.

The game also provides a great ambient atmosphere, thanks to a stellar soundtrack By George Strezov and series of entertaining “radio” options, with a great tie-in to Cities Skylines, which curiously had the Mars radio station (perhaps they’re set in the same Paradox universe?).

I also remember reading somewhere that “real” martian geography was somehow included in the game, but the actual maps appear to be a far smaller set of maps in rotation (less than 10 vs the 50,901 start locations available). Perhaps future expansions can provide more scenario-based maps, or at least a greater variety of terrains.

Minor quips in an otherwise spectacular package.

Also of note, the Green Planet expansion offers an entirely new next step in colony development with the addition of a terraforming dynamic that continues until the entire planet is a lush, Earth-like world.

One of the Green Planet loading screens

LOVED:

  • Near-future space theme has a tech tree and plausibility is more believable than most science fiction
  • Game is challenging, mostly in a good ways! Many Steam reviews complain about the difficulty of Surviving Mars. I recommend auto-save at short intervals (once per sol for me). One temporarily disrupted supply chain can quickly cripple a city lacking redundancy and drive an early stage martian colony into collapse. Many of the same people also describe the game as often “stressful”. That too can be apt, but this is a game that one attains mastery in with experience; and as that occurs, much of these issues can be avoided.
  • Scenarios add unique game dynamics that feel like minigames of their own; adding replayabilty.
  • Visuals are beautiful! See screenshots! After building a massive Martian city, I’d often poke around in Photo Mode for hours taking snapshots of the dynamic ecosystem that is a Martian colony. It also runs reasonably well at 4k resolution on my 5-year old GTX 970 (latter screenshots).

Screenshots

Spectacular stuff! I hope to see more of it!

References:

  • Gamespot review: https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/surviving-mars-review-building-the-final-frontier/1900-6416877/
  • Surviving Mars Soundtrack: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zlapZxOAog
  • Surviving Mars Announcement trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kG8b3rCI5rY
  • Surviving Mars Xbox release trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sovutsHwmj8