Make your own country

September 9th, 2009 Comments Off

After quite some time without updates, here comes new stuff. This time I’m going to review a bunch of “country simulator” games. All of these are free to play through your browser.

In NationStates, you take charge of an entire country as it’s benevolent (or psychotic) dictator for life. The core of the gameplay revolves around addressing randomly-generated “issues” (up to two daily). Each faces the “government” of your country with a particular social or economic problem such as an increase of youth crime or some social minority demanding their civil rights.

Save from dismissing an issue (which has no effect on your nation) you can adopt one of several proposed positions, usually very extremist but also frequently very humorous. In addition to resolving the issue, which usually has a positive influence on the state, each option frequently has likewise a negative (and exaggerated) effect, which reveals itself only after the policy has been implemented.

Each nation’s style of government is rated on a three-dimensional scale: Civil Rights, Economy and Political Freedoms. The most prominent effect of implementing issue resolutions is that they move the the nation around in these dimensions. As a result, the country falls at any time into one of 27 Government Categories such as “Corrupt Dictatorship”, “Left-wing Utopia” or “Capitalist Paradise”.

Your nation does not live alone in the world. On top of extensive meta-gaming on the official forums, nations may voluntarily join the World Assembly (a United Nations equivalent) and vote on global resolutions, which, if implemented, affect all member countries. On the other hand, there is no way to affect other nations directly (e.g. through trade or war), which is a smart choice, because it elliminates the problem of power players griefing on others.

Overall rating: 4.5/5 – A higher rating would be in order if you could influence your country’s economy in more ways, or interact with other nations, but NationStates remains a fun and gratifying game nonetheless.

Next come Cyber Nations, where things get serious. Serious as in numbers come to play in large quantities. Again you are apppointed leader of an entire country, but this time you can influence your nation’s economy to a far greater extent.

The primary driving force for the economy is infrastructure and most of the nation’s income (powered in turn by adjustable taxes) should be reinvested into it. “Infra” (in the game’s jargon) influences the size of the working population (and workers pay taxes!) but they also need to live somewhere, thus land must be purchased gradually so that your subjects stay happy with the population density. Finally, some of the country’s inhabitants may be drafted into the military, which in fact serves also as the police force, keeping people content and in order.

On top of that, for every one thousand working citizens you may purchase an “Improvement”, that is a building which bestows a certain bonus upon your nation; for example, factories decreases infrastructure cost, banks increase population income and stadiums increase general happiness. Beyond improvements, there are national wonders, which can be thought of as extremely expensive improvements which also confer better bonuses.

Interaction with other nations is not trivial either, taking place in three main aspects:

  • Trade – each nation produces two (randomized when a nation is created) indigenous resources (such as coal, rubber , lead or wheat). A country may also trade with up to 5 others, exchanging for their two resources. Those produced locally and those brought from abroad are collectively called “connected resources” (thus, you can have up to 12 of these). Certain combinations of base resources may even grant access to bonus ones (e.g. “Fast food” requires that cattle, sugar, spices, and pigs are connected) which, unsurprisingly, give further bonuses to the entire country.
  • Foreign Aid – basically, one nation offers a gift to another, either money, technology or military assistance.
  • War – if you have soldiers and military equipment, you can invade other countries. Don’t ask me for advice on this one, though – I prefer to stay quiet and develop my ecenomy in peace.

Overall rating: 4/5 – Good interaction with economy, interesting trade concepts (though it penalizes countries which “rolled” unremarkable native resources). Encourages powergaming (which some may dislike), but nowhere near the extent of Travian or Ogame, where you should practically attend your game 24/7. Cyber Nations is a challenging and interesting game, but nowhere near as playful as NationStates.

Last in this pack comes eRepublik, a somewhat different entry. Here, you start your career as an unremarkable citizen in a country of your choosing and whether you rise to a position of power depends entirely on your gameplay.

After picking a country and region to live in, you should probably start by getting yourself a job. With a meager salary for start, but that’s due to your likewise meager manufaturing skills (these improve over time as you work hard). Once you have a stable source of income, you should remember to keep a stock of food so that your character does not go about his business hungry. Finally, you may (and probably should) enlist in the military and train every day. This improves your combat strength.

One of the most important indicators of your character it’s his “wellness”, an equivalent of “hit points”. Wellness maxes out at 100 and is expended on work, training (1pt each) and combat (10pts). It increases when you consume your proverbial daily bread (1-5pts depending on food quality) or get yourself healed in a local hospital (10-50pts, depending on hospital quality; only if you have fought that day).

Countries may invade each other, creating opportunities for citizens to put their military training to good use and advance in ranks. After a region is conquered, it is possible to incite a resistance war and, if you regain control of the region, even become a “Resistance hero”.

All your daily activities give experience points to your characters. These in turn drive your progression through levels. On higher levels new features become available and your citizen may:

  • become a General Manager of a company of his own (earning much greater profits),
  • fight as a professional soldier (or mercenary),
  • start his own newspaper,
  • vote in national elections,
  • join a political party,
  • run for party presidency or create a party of his own,
  • run for Congress membership,
  • run for the President’s office.

As you can see, nations in eRepublic are ruled by miniature democratic-type goverments. The President, the “face of the nation”, may sign alliance treaties with other countries, declare wars and trading embargoes, among others. The Congress, in turn, may pass laws regarding economic aspects of the country, such as taxes (import and VAT), minimum wage, can issue money or impeach the President. Frequent (monthly) elections keep the pace of politics interesting.

Overall score: 3.5/5 – You could certainly ask for more features, but it should be noted that the game is still in development and has great potential. Much of the metagaming has to take place outside the game itself, there could be more aspects of the economy simulated, but eRepublik remains an item to keep tabs on.

Site moved to WordPress

June 7th, 2008 Comments Off

Welcome again!

After a long hiatus, the site’s been hit with a major update. The old DokuWiki software has been replaced with WordPress, which:

  • is dedicated for blogs (unlike DokuWiki, which excels at documentation and only has blogging capabilities implemented as a plugin),
  • is faster than DokuWiki, because it uses MySQL as the data backend, not flat files stored on the web server,
  • has many themes to play with,
  • has all the features I need to make my old tools work (such as the Exec-PHP plugin that enables the Button Maker and WP-Syntax, which allows me to post snippets of code).

The URL scheme will now be based on /wp and the old /w addresses will redirect here.

I have also converted all the few posts from DokuWiki (WordPress even allows to set a past publish date).

Enjoy!

They shall not pass

February 3rd, 2008 Comments Off

Some of you might be familiar with the term “Tower Defense”. It is a game genre that has, to my knowledge, been “invented” by Blizzard in the great game “Warcraft III”, popularized by countless maps created by both the company and Warcraft players, and eventually converted into a desktop-friendly format of flash games that can be played right in your browser.

The basic concept is a follows: the player is faced with an army of enemy units (commonly called “creeps”) that storm his position in groups called “waves”. These creeps appear at regular intervals at one or more designated areas and struggle to pass through the player’s positions and reach a certain point behind his defenses – if they succeed, the player is penalized with a loss of “lives” and/or some monetary units. The player can prevent that by building defensive towers (hence the genre’s name) of various kind – some have greater attack range, some deal more damage, others fire more rapidly, some attack only flying/only ground critters and yet others possess special abilities such as freezing (and thus slowing down) the creeps. Finally, some do not attack at all and only enhance surrounding towers. The creeps on the other hand also differ – some being faster, others immune to certain elemental effects.

One thing that all creeps have in common is that they completely ignore the towers’ presence and their only focus is to reach the desired destination. They traditionally follow a long and windy path designed by the map’s authors and the player is free to build his towers on the sideways of the road, but not directly in their path. For each killed creep the player is rewarded with resources that can be spent on building new towers and upgrading existing ones since, as expected, each wave is more resilient than the previous.

One of the most successful versions of TD seems to be one called “Desktop Tower Defense“. It follows the traditions of the genre with one significant exception – the creeps are as free  to roam the map as the player allows them to, for the “board” is initially empty, the critters enter it on one side and try to reach the other, and the player must create a maze using the towers themselves. Creativity is greatly rewarded here and smart placement of towers (so that they attack the creeps on each pass) is they key to success.

The following towers are available (some more advanced ones only in higher difficulty levels):

  • Pellet – a basic tower that can be upgraded into a sniper tower. Ultimately only useful for maze-building (it’s cheap) while the actual beating is better left to more powerful towers.
  • Squirt – basic assault tower that has a high rate of fire and whose damage upgrades well on higher levels. As demonstrated on a YouTube video, two of these (only one for most of the time) are enough to beat the game on its easiest level.
  • Dart – a missile launcher. Attacks only ground enemies, but deals “splash damage” (i.e. damages all units in a small area around the impact) and quite a lot of it. Also has an enormous range.
  • Swarm – anti-air tower. Fires swarms (D’oh!) of rockets.
  • Frost – freezes creeps, slowing them down.
  • Bash – shakes the earth around it; has a chance of briefly stunning any passing critters.
  • Ink – sprays ink that damages enemies that walk over it.
  • Snap – single shot tower that damages all creeps around it.
  • Boost – increases damage caused by adjacent towers yet doesn’t attack by itself.

Sounds interesting? I hope so. Despite deadly machines of war being constructed, the game contains no violent graphics and qualifies for consumption regardless of age. The creeps are simple colorful blobs that roam the screen, die with cheerful sound, :-) towers look like hand-drawn on a piece of paper (and even make a scribbling noise when built). Addiction for long hours to come guaranteed. Just make sure your teacher/boss doesn’t spot you wasting time and creeps. ;-) And if you find yourself stuck on some level, just browse YouTube on this topic – a lot to learn from.

Button Maker

July 23rd, 2007 Comments Off

There haven’t been any updates to this site for a while, but this little tool of mine probably warrants an entry.

Ever wanted to make one of these small web buttons that appear on web pages and promote other links (like the ones on the bottom of this site’s sidebar)? Well, after some googling about you might stumble upon a generator by Adam Kalsey. Since I couldn’t find any source code for it, I wondered if it’s a lot of effort to make one of my own.

Within two evenings, I did and the end result is available here (also on the navigation menu just below the site logo). It only supports basic textual buttons (or, as some call them, stickers or badges). You can however adjust the text, colors, borders and the like. It utilizes the free silkscreen font, so basically you may use the buttons generated by it for any purpose.

The generator’s source code follows (a simple GET query interpreter):

<?php
header('Content-type: image/png');
 
function get_color($img, $color) {
    if ($color[0] == '#')
        $color = substr($color,1,6);
    if (strlen($color) == 3)
        $color = $color[0].$color[0].$color[1].$color[1].$color[2].$color[2];
    $R = hexdec(substr($color,0,2));
    $G = hexdec(substr($color,2,2));
    $B = hexdec(substr($color,4,2));
    return imagecolorallocate($img,$R,$G,$B);
}
 
$gWidth = 80;
$gHeight = 15;
 
$btn = imagecreate($gWidth,$gHeight);
 
$outerBorder = get_color($btn, $_GET['outerBorder']);
imagefilledrectangle($btn, 0, 0, $gWidth, $gHeight-1, $outerBorder);
 
$innerBorder = get_color($btn, $_GET['innerBorder']);
imagefilledrectangle($btn, 1, 1, $gWidth-2, $gHeight-2, $innerBorder);
 
$leftBg = get_color($btn, $_GET['leftBg']);
imagefilledrectangle($btn, 2, 2, $_GET['leftWidth'], $gHeight-3, $leftBg);
 
$leftColor = get_color($btn, $_GET['leftColor']);
imagettftext($btn, 6, 0, 1+$_GET['leftOffset'], 10, $leftColor, '/button/slkscr.ttf', $_GET['leftText']);
 
$rightBg = get_color($btn, $_GET['rightBg']);
imagefilledrectangle($btn, 2+$_GET['leftWidth'], 2, $gWidth-3, $gHeight-3, $rightBg);
 
$rightColor = get_color($btn, $_GET['rightColor']);
imagettftext($btn, 6, 0, 1+$_GET['leftWidth']+$_GET['rightOffset'], 10, $rightColor, '/button/slkscr.ttf', $_GET['rightText']);
 
imagepng($btn);
?>

Have fun! =)

KoL silliness

March 17th, 2007 Comments Off

Hello again. This time I’d like to tell you a bit about the “silliest” (yet most addictive) MMORPG I’ve ever had the chance to play, called the Kingdom of Loathing (or “KoL” for short).

An adventurer is You!Much of the game (whose motto is “An Adventurer is You!“) revolves around the player wandering the vast game world, killing strangely-named and -looking creatures (such as “ghuols“, “bean bats” or “Knob goblins” among hundreds of others), gaining meat (which happens to be the game’s official currency) and finding all sorts of useless and not-so-useless items. One notable feature is the graphics of the game, which are very crude, black&white, hand-drawn stick figure-style .GIF files. They nevertheless add greatly to KoL’s mood.

A slab of meatMeat is dropped by monsters (naturally) and is used to pay for things in the Kingdom.

An adventure“Adventures” are the equivalent of “turns” in other browser games. You gain a certain amount of them each day (which may be increased with special items) and also by eating foodstuff and drinking alcoholic beverages

Some generic foodA fancy drinkFood and drinks are an important part of the game. Player characters may gain dedicated skills that allow them to cook advanced meals and mix refined drinks, where “advanced” usually means that they give more adventures and better stat bonuses upon consumption. 8-)

KoL players take different approaches to the game. Some play for the good laugh gained from exploring the world’s amusing locations, some do it for the social part (players may dwell on game-related forums, wikis and chats, may form clans etc.), some may be in for speed Ascensions (Ascension is a way to “beat” the game and start it over, albeit with some bonuses retained). Upon taking an online test, I have been classified as a “power player”, that is someone who specialises in knowlegde of game mechanics and ways to improve their characters to godlike powers:

A Power Player is You!

I suppose I could elaborate for hours, so I’ll just note that you can read more about this fantastic game on Wikipedia’s article or just dive in and see for yourself. See you on the roads of Loathing! :-D

Bottom note: In the game I go by the name “Misza” (#1825343) and am the leader of the “Cabal on wheeeeels!” clan (formed to unite Wikipedians alike).

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