Posts Tagged‘history’

Day 26: Pompeii.

Our curtains did little to soften the morning sunlight though that barely mattered, the streets of Rome shading us from the worst of it. The early morning air was already heavy with heat, the sun’s unrelenting heat apparent the second you stepped into the light. We were up early in order to get to Pompeii at a reasonable hour, our first train set to depart not long before 9AM. It was also a pre-booked trip so missing this train would ruin any further plans we’d have for the day so our breakfast and walk to Roma Termini were brisk.


However upon arrival we found our train didn’t have a gate number mere minutes before it was due to arrive. Thankfully by the time we’d tracked someone down to ask about where it might be the platform popped up and we made our way over to the carriage. We were seated and waiting but we saw no signs of our friends. Slowly the minutes ticked by, the original departure time long since passed, and still we saw no sign of them. Thankfully the train was delayed and not too long afterwards they showed up. Apparently they had boarded another train to Naples and realized their mistake not too long after but had ventured through the dining cart to grab some breakfast before taking their seats.

Travelling to Pompeii was mostly uneventful save for the rather stark glance into Italy’s poorer suburbs that follow the train lines. I did not know that Italy had shanty towns, nor did I expect to see as many as I did on the train trip over. It appears that all of Italy isn’t as prosperous as its capitals, or even big city centers, would have tourists like us believe. No place is immune from poverty, of course, however the amount that I saw on our train journeys in and out of Rome is far beyond anything I’ve seen in Europe up until this point. I really must investigate as to why that is when I get the time.

The most grand thing about arriving in Pompeii is not the attraction itself but the large volcano of Mount Vesuvius that looms over the surrounding region. One of our friends informed us that it is classified as the most dangerous volcano in existence, due wholly to the fact that some 3 million people lie within its potential destruction path. Right now it appears like any peaceful mountain although there are the telltale signs that it’s summit is much more than it would appear to be on first glance.

Pompeii itself is an amazing snapshot of a city that thrived during the early first centuries AD. Whilst it is ruins, meaning it’s not a particularly picturesque place to visit, it is rich in history and information about the lives of the citizens who lived here thousands of years ago. Some of the larger areas, like the arena and amphitheater, are incredible examples of what the main attractions of cities would have been back in the day. It was also very interesting to see the breadth of the classes of citizens who lived there, from those just scraping to get by to the elite who had vast gardens and houses that would be large even by today’s standards.

Going in the height of summer did make the trip far more exhausting than it might have been otherwise, the unrelenting heat only abating slightly in the shade and a hair more so in the breeze. Thankfully the old aqueduct systems have been re-purposed for drinking water distribution, ensuring that you will at least not die of thirst on your adventures. We all managed to get away without sunburn, although I think numerous layers of dust rather than the sun screen might’ve been responsible for that.

Our trip back was a great way to wind down from the day, save for a small incident with a drunk on the regional metro (which my wife handled admirably). We had dinner at a place that came recommended to our friends by their hotel staff and I managed to convince both of them to share a glass of wine with me. I lucked out choosing a nice local Chianti that was incredibly smooth, very unlike the heavy reds we’re used to getting back at home.

Tomorrow, for our last day together, we make for Vatican City. Whilst we might all miss out on the awe that the more religious among us might gain from visiting such a holy sight I know there will be more than enough for someone like me to get out of it. Should we find more time after our visit we’ll probably see what else Rome has to offer as you really can’t go far here without tripping over something historic. My only hope is that the walking is a little easier this time around as Pompeii’s long ruined streets were not easy on the feet.

Evoland: A Nostalgic Trip Down Memory Lane.

It really is quite staggering to see how far games have come since I first started playing them nearly 3 decades ago. Even more surprising is how each style of game still has a place in the market today, even those that forego all modern trimmings in favour of recreating those early experiences. Last year saw a bevy of such titles cross my path and I was really quite surprised just how enjoyable revisiting that period of gaming could be. When I first read about Evoland it seemed like an intriguing idea as it would take you through the history of adventure games whilst also telling its own story.

Evoland Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Evoland starts out as a classic Legend of Zelda clone, all the way down to the pixely graphics and limited colour pallette. However as you move around and start finding chests of loot you’re not greeted by additional items to help you on your journey. No instead you will typically get an upgrade to your game experience like the addition of music, better colours and, my personal favourite, extra dimensions. These all build upon each other so as you progress through Evoland it becomes an ever increasingly varied game, one that aptly captures the essence of nearly all adventure games that have come before it.

Considering that Evoland’s primary goal is to take you through the history of adventure games the art style varies wildly from flat, 2D pixel art right up to full 3D environments that are reminiscent of titles like The Longest Journey. The pixelart is quite good, especially after a couple pallette upgrades, but the 3D feels incredibly rudimentary by comparison. It’s somewhat in line with the rest of the game as nothing about Evoland is terribly complicated so it all kind  of fits together, at least enough to carry the overall thrust of the game forward.

Evoland Screenshot Wallpaper Humble Beginnings

In the beginning Evoland is your run of the mill, top down 2D adventure game complete with enemies that run around randomly and you equipped with only a sword with which to dispatch them. It plays exactly like the old Zelda games as well as you’re left to run around the environment looking for the next puzzle that’s blocking your progression. You can also, if you’re so inclined, explore even further to find all the collectibles that are scattered around the map although there’s little reason to do so outside of wanting to complete all the achievements.

The more you play Evoland the complex and nuanced it becomes, something you’ll be acutely aware of because it’ll tell you every time you unlock another game mechanic with an alert plastered across the bottom of the screen. Some of them have obvious and immediate impacts on the way the game plays, like the introduction of a world map which introduces random turn based combat encounters ala Final Fantasy, and others are more subtle like the “Something happened somewhere” alert that indicates you triggered an off screen event.

Evoland Screenshot Wallpaper Turn Based Combat

Initially the introduction of new elements is quite fun as it’s like a whole new game has been opened up for you. However due to the rudimentary nature of Evoland’s many different aspects they quickly start to descend into tedium. The random turn based encounters are probably the best example of this as you can’t walk for more than 10 seconds without one of them occurring. After a while these don’t take too long to resolve but the lack of variety in these encounters means that after the 3rd or 4th fight you’ve seen all the enemies Evoland has to offer and you’re essentially just grinding away XP and glis (a nod to Final Fantasy’s Gil system) which only has a limited amount of utility.

Indeed whilst Evoland is a cohesive game on the surface the actual mechanics of it aren’t exactly uniform across every new iteration. Most dungeons have been designed with a specific idea in mind and whilst some of the abilities will transfer across (like the upgraded combo sword attack) most of them won’t. So whilst one dungeon might give you a health orb rather than the 3 hearts system you’ll likely find that once you go anywhere else the health system du jour is back again. They also all seem to have separate internal values as well as half health in the turn based combat system doesn’t seem to translate to 1.5 hearts in the dungeon system.

Evoland Screenshot Wallpaper Diabloesque Dungeon Crawling

Realistically Evoland is more like 4 distinct games that are loosely tied together by common elements. Viewed like this I’m more inclined to overlook the faults of them not completely interacting with each other. Indeed since the overall thrust of the game is more to take you through the evolution of adventure games rather than provide an in depth experience in each successive iteration of them I’d be missing the point if I judged it on the merits of the individual section’s gameplay. I guess what I’m getting at is if you’re looking for a solid gameplay experience you’re likely to come up short with Evoland, but that’s not the reason you’d play it.

There is some semblance of a story which really only sees development during the last couple sections. It might have been because I named my characters Dudeface, Butts and  Mouman respectively but I didn’t feel any attachment to them nor any real drive to move the story forward apart from the desire to see which game mechanic would be unlocked next. The final boss battle was pretty cool though with the combination of music and larger than life boss aptly capturing the essence of those same encounters in games of yore.

Evoland Screenshot Wallpaper Final Boss

Evoland serves as a great history book, detailing the many transitions that adventure games have undergone during the years. As a game it’s nothing spectacular but the essence of each era of adventure games is captured within each upgrade of the Evoland’s mechanics. There’s a very specific audience in mind for Evoland and it’s for people like me who grew up on all the titles that inspired it. So if you find yourself pining for the golden age of gaming or you’d just like take a trip down memory lane then Evoland is the game for you.

Rating: 7.5/10

Evoland is available on PC right now for $9.99. Total game time was approximately 2 hours with ~83% completion and 34% of the achievements unlocked.

2 Years and 2 Days On: A Look Back at The Refined Geek.

I’ve never been one for making a big fuss about milestones on this blog, apart from that one time when I hit 100 posts (now well over 450) and unleashed Geon into the world. Indeed as the title of this post suggests I even managed to let the 2 year milestone slip by for 2 days before realising that I had been at this blogging thing for quite a while, nearly double the time of any job I’ve held in the past 6 years. So since I don’t have anything else interesting to post about today (more on that later) I thought I’d take some time to reflect on what this blog was, where it is and where I think this thing is going in the near future.

As anyone who’s made the journey into the archives section of this blog will tell you I initially started blogging as a knee jerk reaction to being roped into the No Clean Feed movement here in Australia. In all honesty I’ve never really been that much of a writer nor anyone who you would consider as a public face for something. Still my ego is large enough to support that idea so when my long time friend Hannah asked me to be the media representative for the Canberran branch I didn’t hesitate to say no. What followed was a brief stint in the public eye with me doing a couple radio interviews and doing a speech in the middle of Canberra. Thinking that this would lead onto bigger and better things I thought it would be time to get my online personality into shape and started this blog to chronicle my thoughts and misadventures whilst fighting against the Australian Internet Filter.

The name was something I thought up with a night of googling through dozens of possibilities before I found one that didn’t have any meaningful search results for the title. I always had the theme of something debonair but also wanted to keep true to my geeky/nerdy roots and “The Refined Geek” seemed to fit the bill. Funnily enough not too long after starting this blog and buying the domain name did I come across Refined Geek, another Australian based blogger who shares some of my passions but who’s writings are worlds away from what I write here. I still drop by there from time to time as he’s quite a good writer, preferring to post less often with much more well formed posts than my usual one post a day scatter gun approach.

I can’t remember exactly when it happened but I do remember making the commitment to writing at least one post a day sometime back in the beginning of 2009. Mostly it was because I felt this blog was languishing in the dark recesses of the Internet, garnering only one view a day for the first 3 months or so. After integrating my blog with Twitter and Facebook that increased traffic ten fold but my presence outside my social circle was still quite minimal. Still as I developed a large backlog of posts on varying subjects the traffic started to climb, peaking at about 20 visits a day by the end of 2009. 2010 however really has been this blog’s year with 80~100 people visiting this blog per day looking for all sorts of weird and wonderful things. I’m still surprised to see some of my old articles popping up in the stats, it always brings a smile to my face.

Initially I started out with the idea that this would be my professional presence on the web, demonstrating my professionalism and expertise on certain subjects. However, as most amateur bloggers find, the stories that do well are often those that come with a personal aspect to them and I always found those the easiest to write. Over time I let go of the idea that people would come here like they do for the other big blogs, instead preferring to just write about what I’m passionate about and seeing where the chips fall. Most recently this has taken the form of not trying to force out a post every day (although my OCD keeps bugging me to) instead hoping that I can just let the topics come to me and write when the moment strikes. Most recently I took to blogging my exploits through the USA which was an interesting diversion away from the usual game/tech/space focus that I usually take. I think that was the final nail in the “this isn’t my personal blog” idea’s coffin (all the other nails were put in a long time ago, however) and I’ve wholeheartedly resigned myself to not thinking about The Refined Geek in that way again.

As for the future of this blog? I’m not really sure where I want to go with it. Spending an hour or two here every day writing a post is still feels like part of my morning routine so there’s no doubt that I’ll be continuing to post here for the foreseeable future. However there have been many times when I’ve considered moving it to a better domain (I happen to own, which would be very suitable), revamping the site with a new theme or even starting anew with a better focus but with all my other exploits at the moment I can’t see many of them happening soon. So for those long term readers of mine can rest easy in the fact that I’m not going to start changing things now that I’ve hit the terrible twos but with change coming my way in the real world soon I can see this blog shifting in unison as it has done so over the past 2 years. Whether that’s anything I’ve just predicted is anyone’s guess, but I’m not one to be comfortable with the status quo.

I mean really, when was the last time you saw me write about finance? 😉