Civilization 5: Beyond Earth

Over the past couple of years I have accrued over 300 hours playing Civilization in its many instalments. As of a few weeks ago, Civilization 5: Beyond Earth was released. Much excite.

This post is going to quickly outline some initial features of the new game, in the same sort of geographical sense in which I’ve discussed the previous games. Obviously, this presents an interesting new angle to reading the map as we’re now based on a range of new alien worlds in which we must colonise to preserve our species.

This bridges on a very interesting type of geography that has been aiding planetary identification and space missions for half a century: Astro-Geography. It was actually a physical geographer who first theorised (and then proved) that Mars once had flowing water by identifying features cut into the geology that could only have been formed by water-based erosion.

In Beyond Earth there are, as you would expect, alien resources. These range in perplexity and uses throughout the game.

There is also a new type of obstacle aside from the native alien species. This is called Miasma, and is a toxic gas that gathers in certain areas making them impossible to use during the early stages of the game. Miasma is named after the classic ‘night-air theory’ which theorised that diseases and pollution were caused by pools of travelling gas. The research tree enables you to eventually be able to clear miasma from tiles, or to launch orbital satellites that can disperse it for a set amount of turns.

Miasma is generated by the game to cover random tiles, however it does tend to group in sections based on the planetary formation. For example, it tends to cover lowlands such as plains and marsh lands. It also favours xenomass, as this has the potential to spawn alien nests. Therefore, tailoring your civilization’s expansion to tiles that are free of the gas is a good tactic to employ until you’re able to combat it, but be wary of taking up too much land along mountainous areas as these only really have the benefit of heightened defence and not much else resource-based.

Another excellent example of resource development is the ability to build geothermal wells and other new types of energy reactors. This hinges on the Kardeshev theory of civilization progression, another theory originally based on human geography and population increase. Hoyt and Burgess initially postured that as a result of the human race being unable to sustain enough food for such steep population increase, we would begin to seek and invest in new technologies (i.e. interstellar travel).

The Kardeshev scale is a way of measuring a civilization’s technological advancement in 3 categories: Type I is able to utilise all natural energy resources on its home planet, type II can utilise both home planet energy and it’s immediate star, and type III can harness all natural energy from it’s galaxy. This makes the ability to harness natural resources on a whole new alien planet an interesting insight into your civilization, and one that is incredibly exciting to a geography nerd like myself, know that we probably won’t even make Type I in my life time.

Consequently the new types of reactor and energy sources are definitely a good early game strategy, and I advise unlocking engineering on the research tree as soon as possible. Harnessing geothermal’s may take a little longer as its located way over on the Ecology branch, but certainly worth it, especially as there are branches which incur improvements to your existing geothermal wells. In terms of physical geography, they appear close to mountainous or hilly regions, which indicate plate boundaries.

In addition, it features some technology currently available in this day and age, such as hydroponics and solar satellites. I found these quite nice to use, as it gives you some little roots back to earth, and implies that the green technologies we currently research and in invest will continue to be used and improved on in the future (these technologies in the exact same form though may be wishful thinking though).

In conclusion, I think it’s an excellent progression to Civ 5 and its expansions, and gives the player their own chance at deciding their civilizations future. The technology branch can be difficult to read but after a few games you get the hang of it. The technology is interesting, and the graphics mirror that. Basically, if you’ve ever enjoyed any space-based games such as Alpha Centurai, Sins of a Solar Empire, or Endless Space its well worth a try.

P.S Siege worms are dicks.

 

 

 

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Minecraft and Social Constructs

I’ve been meaning to discuss the idea and applications of social constructs of Minecraft for a while now. When the game comes up in conversation I’m very used to friends and colleagues not only telling me a bit about what they have achieved through Minecraft, but also that they find there are social constructs and a sense of community at play in addition. Kids reaaaally seem to like it.

This post will untangle the idea of social constructs within the game by looking at qualitative and social analysis from research groups that are aiming to define how and why participants regard the game as providing an affinity of space. It’ll also discuss some ideas about how traditional social constructs are now being translated through servers.

A basic theory within the idea of social constructs is that of affinity of space. This speculates that certain spaces, whether they are physical – for example within a city – or virtual, can offer certain traits. These range from the positive such as welcoming and nurturing of social connections, to exclusive and elitist.

There are a number of studies that have published strong evidence for Minecraft being a positive medium for affinity of space, and also in education, creativity and other desirable applications. The interesting aspect is why the game has advanced in virtual social constructs where others have not.

Certainly in MMO’s and RPG’s there will always be some kind of social order – after all we are still individual human beings controlling what happens in a virtual environment. In social orders participation is the first key, as there must be participation to develop a functioning social structure. Further aspects required include:

– Personal contribution

– The sharing of information

– Social support and guidance

– Discussion with other members

– Individual assignment and completion of tasks to fulfil larger planned goals

An excellent representation of social structures within Minecraft can be illustrated by Pellicone and Ahne (2014) who applied qualitative analysis on forum threads to generate visualisations of structures that may also be present within the game. An example is shown below in Figure 1.

Source: Pellicone and Ahne (2014)
Source: Pellicone and Ahne (2014)

Additional theories of online structures, most notably Butler (2000), argue that structures similar to figure 1 are applicable to larger volumes of games. He argues that the presence and usage of servers are most likely to have a defining role in this as they allow for greater levels of communication and delegation of resources, therefore resulting in more complex social structures.

This ties in neatly with the affinity of space theory, connoting that servers are constructive and encourage positive space and social interactions. Dedicated players are usually content in their constructs. Dave is happy to farm, Brian enjoys doing magic, Larry likes to build. No-one is sure where Colin went. They work together for a common cause, and usually because a social connection has been formed between them in the physical world.

However, in addition to the immediately visible contours of the affinity space, there also exists a broader community of people who identify as Minecraft players, with some further identifying with the elite level of producer found within the larger Minecraft meta-game (Maccallum-Stewart, 2013)

Minecraft unfortunately is not exempt from the way that a perceived gamer culture often results in unwelcoming attitudes towards those who fall outside of that culture (Pellicone and Ahne, 2014). The difficulty is identification of gamer culture norm’s in comparison with Minecraft norm’s. Norm’s in themselves are defined by the actions and interactions translated into the virtual environment, which provide a level of anonymity for players.

A critical aspect of the social structures within Minecraft is whether the game or indeed any social orders within it can overcome physical social inequalities (for example race, gender, income, upbringing) of players. This is pretty difficult thing to analyse on a scale that is representative of the whole Minecraft gaming community, but it’s certainly a focal point for social-based research in the future.

Assessment whether there is a connection between the overcoming of social inequalities and the production of positive space within Minecraft can certainly be inferred. The game features very few negative aspects that would impact the development and sustainability of social networks, which in turn lend to the continual production of affinity of space.

creeper

The Human Face of Big Data

I’m imminently about to start my PhD in Web Science, beginning with the MSc. I’m a big ball of nervousness, excitement and the feeling of actually having the energy to do research that I’ll be interested in. One of the bi-products of this however, is that far more people are asking me about my course.

Generally I give them a brief description of how the web has effected things, and will continue to effect things. Often, this confuses people.

I used to get this a lot with my degree in Geography too. People say things like ‘All I remember about geography is Oxbow lakes LOL, what do you actually study? Colouring?’.

This really grated me for a long time, because geography is the study of how everything relates to one another. By the time I had finished my degree, when someone asked what I studied in particular I simply used to repress an eye-twitch and shout ‘Everything! Geography is everything!’ and then skulk off to get a drink.

Consequently I’ve begun to explain things regarding my new MSc and PhD in a way you would justify learning a maths equation – by giving it a context in which it can be applied.

So here are some excellent examples of crossovers between Geography and Web science that I’m interested in researching further. The first one is human-based, the second one physical-based, and the third is a little bit about my other posts:

‘The Human face of Big Data’ is a term used to describe and explain the human nature behind data. It addresses the growing desire to understand what data can tell us about ourselves, and why we use it in the way that we do. It is commonly used in the study of Social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and how human usage can reveal insights in to real-life trends that make up who we collectively are: our cultures, our mindsets, who we favour or disfavour, and much more.

For instance, analysing billions of Tweets helped two researchers record new insights about public health issues and the way disease is spread. Further to this, they were able to tailor specific health warnings, targeting selected sites that the data indicated to them were the sites of choice most individuals would encounter. As a result of the increased connectivity of our culture, metrics and city structures, people were able to spread information regarding health warnings far faster via social media than they would have relying on previous methods (i.e. by watching the news, or by word of mouth).

Additionally the same analysis and smart application of data can be done with physical hazards as well: change out ‘disease’ for a ‘natural hazard’, for example an earthquake, and the same kind of responsiveness of social media can be recorded to similar effect.

The interesting development with using social media as data streams is that one can ask how and why a population may be affected by these notifications. How can the data be used in prediction systems and 3D modelling of communities. It also lends to the development of maps, virtual realities and other visualisations to adapt to different mediums and scholarly discourses.

Producing the most detailed and applicable results is another substantial task, as one is effectively waiting for a natural disaster to occur in order to collect the data. Once this happens the applications it may be used for are endless, and there are certainly other big data sets other than social media that may help to answer, or build on, the same hypotheses.

If you have read any of my other posts you will realise that there is also a pretty cool crossover between geography and the gaming industry. Again, big data is used in game development in order to analyse, assess and tailor games to target audiences.

However, the gaming industry is one of the leading developers of Geographical Virtual Environments (geoVE’s), usage of real geographic data in game play, new methodologies of recreating virtual city-scapes, combined with ever improving graphics.

Great examples of this can be seen nearly continuously over time as games evolve with softwares. Assassins Creed, Skyrim, Civilization, and Grand Theft Auto to name a few are leading not only in real reflective city-scapes, but also in the virtualization of mapping and other geographic data.

The modification of geoVE’s and VR’s (virtual realities) will be a key-stone in the future prediction of disaster management systems. They aim to do this via transforming the visualisation of a predicted event and tailoring responses to it.

By hosting geoVE’s using gaming platforms and online big data storage, a more accurate and intricate representation of city metrics, human nature and city infrastructure can be mapped out in a way never before achieved.

Certainly, having more information from multiple sources which are able to update instantaneously would be a viable and productive goal in real-time disaster management.

Hopefully this has given you more of an idea of the areas I will be studying, and some of the content that is to come on this blog. Keep Reading!

Featured image Copyright of ‘The Human Face of Big Data’ Rick Smolan 2012-13.

 

Counter-Strike and DOTA2

Have you ever wondered why professional gamers (Pro-gamers) are dominated by young males? Have you ever considered why they have little age difference, or difference in nationality?

This post compares pro-gamers using the examples of DOTA2 and Counter-Strike, and assesses in what ways they are similar, and how this may be explained using human geographical statistics. So let’s begin…

Counter-Strike is a first person shooter game first released in the year 2000, and was rapidly developed into a series of games with versions ranging from 1.0 to 1.6. Tournaments of Counter-Strike have been running for nearly 13 years, and offer competitive gamers the opportunity to win large sums of money. According to http://www.ongamers.com, the list of top ten pro-gamers of all time by prize money won are as follows:

  • 01. $858,872 – ‘f0rest‘ – Patrik Lindberg (Sweden), 26
  • 02. $798,506 – ‘cArn‘ – Patrik Sättermon (Sweden), 29
  • 03. $777,772 – ‘dsn‘ – Harley Orvall (Sweden), 28
  • 04. $631,251 – ‘NEO‘ – Filip Kubski (Poland), 27
  • 05. $626,251 – ‘TaZ‘ – Wiktor Wojtas (Poland), 28
  • 06. $609,106 – ‘RobbaN‘ – Robert Dahlström (Sweden), 29
  • 07. $597,092 – ‘Loord‘ – Mariusz Cybulski (Poland), 27
  • 08. $593,528 – ‘kuben‘ – Jakub Gurczyński (Poland), 26
  • 09. $531,921 – ‘zonic‘ – Danny Sørensen (Denmark), 28
  • 10. $508,571 – ‘walle‘ – Dennis Wallenberg (Sweden), 27

There are three immediate points we can recognise: all of these pro-gamers are male, all originate from Europe, and all are aged mid to late 20’s.

Similarly to Counter-Strike,  DOTA 2 (Defence of the Ancients) has had increasing availability of prize money and was also produced by Valve Corporation. The game is an online multiplayer battle arena, which was released in 2013 as the sequel to the original DOTA. According to http://www.gosugamers.com, the top ten pro-gamers of all time by prize money won are as follows:

  • 01. $280,600 – ‘Dendi’ – Danil Ishutin (Ukraine), 23
  • 02. $278,100 – ‘Puppey’ – Clement Ivanov (Estonia), 23
  • 03. $277,300 – ‘XBOCT’ – Alexandr Dashkevich (Ukraine), 25
  • 04. $266,490 – ‘LightOfHeaveN’ – Dmitriy Kupriyanov (Russia), 25
  • 05. $240,000 – ‘Ferrari’ – Luo Feichi (China), 23
  • 06. $231,500 – ‘Zhao’ – Chen Yao (China), 23
  • 07. $229,000 – ‘Faith’ – Zeng Hongda (China), 21
  • 08. $221,700 – ‘YYF’ – Jiang Cen (China), 26
  • 09. $216,000 – ‘ChuaN’ – Wong Hock Chuan (Malaysia), 21
  • 10. $204,000 – ‘ArtStyle’ – Ivan Antonov (Ukraine), 24

Once again all of the top 10 are male, but are on average younger than the top ten Counter-Strike players, aged early to mid 20’s. Additionally there are players from Russia, China and Malaysia, which challenge dominent European title holders.

Despite the addition of Chinese, Malaysian and Russian pro-gamers and a shift in age range, little is different between both games top 10. What makes these pro-gamers the best at their respective game then?

Do different nationalities think differently or have different traits? Why do only male players dominate the top 10 in each game? Why are they so closely similar ages?

The first part of these questions can be answered by the availability of the web, and percentage of population that use the internet in the countries of origin of the pro-gamers. The table below illustrates global statistics of internet usage and population statistics (2013).

internetstats

The table above shows that the number of individuals of the population who have access to the internet was 566,261,317 in 2013. This means that nearly 69% of the population has access to the internet.

It is reasonable to conclude then that the ease of access to the internet is not the singular defining characteristic of pro-gamers, as both North America and Australasia record similar and higher percentages of population usage.

Another theory that had weight throughout the early 21st century was that male pro-gamers became dominant due to the effects of gaming addictions. This would manifest itself in a way that allowed the individual to concentrate solely on the game they were playing for long periods of time.

It also speculated that males were able to concentrate on singular aspects for a longer duration than women, who were argued to be better at multi-tasking. Thus, a reasonable assumption for how male players thought differently, and were able to excel in that particular game.

In 2012 this theory was contested by a research paper by Han et al (2012) who used MRI scanning to monitor brain activity between Pro-gamers and persons with online gaming addictions (POGA’s). In this they discovered that there were considerable differences between the two groups: concluding that a gaming addiction did not differ wildly from any other type of addiction, whereas pro-gamers showed heightened levels of problem-solving regardless of gender.

Alongside this there are countless other studies, especially in psychology, that produce evidence for the balance of genders in problem solving. To put it simply, males are not scientifically proven to be better at games.

One of the bigger issues that may account for the gender divide in pro-gaming is the the difference in embodied work. Women are far less likely to be recognised in a competitive gaming environment, especially in games that are heavily dominated by male gamers, fans, marketing, and judging panels.

Certainly recent ethnographies of the female role in competitive gaming has highlighted the different expectations of female gamers based on Bryce and Rutter’s (2005) call to change the perceived roles within the community.

Taylor et al. (2009) summarise that the dominance of young male gamers is not a result of a specific set of traits held only by certain people, but as the perceptions and preconceptions maintained within a community that most commonly reads female participation in sexualised terms.

Heightened marginalisation of females in pro-gaming tends to focus around games with higher violence and objectification. As such, games like Counter-Strike and DOTA2 not only disparage women, but have a self-sustaining community whose perceptions are difficult to change.

Do you think this type of communal thinking can be changed surrounding DOTA2 and Counter-Strike? How do think it could be done? Why do you think marginalisation exists in the first place?

Minecraft and boobs.

Minecraft is a multiplayer sandbox video game based in a virtual world, which is modelled on the real world. Players are able to build and craft everyday items using blocks. The cubic geometry of Minecraft lends itself to the teaching of various academic subjects, and is immensely popular in the gaming world.

Minecraft also has a functioning ecology, with chemistry and physics aspects interwoven within the game that can be used to develop the scientific literacy of players. Not only does it function in many core aspects of the environment (though cubey), it represents an excellent case study in human geography via gender divides in a community.

One of the most common social representations of video games is the imbalance in the gender divide. Most people assume that a significant proportion of players are male. In 2012, 47% of the gaming community were actually female. The applications of minecraft in teaching and learning environments has been argued to have been a considerable boost to this figure in years to come.

Obviously the balance of genders in video games is a result of a plethora of positive advances in the gaming industry. However, getting all genders to understand the real-life application of games at a young age has proved to contribute to greater cognitive development at an early age, more respect for women in the gaming industry, a reduction in prejudices against female gamers, and an increase in the number of women taking further studies in a game-based course.

To understand why the gender divide came about in the first place one must understand one of the biggest factors associated with the gaming industry: the fact that one of the biggest drivers of the gender disparity is the dearth of women involved in making games. Once a designer has reached an age where they are able to develop or design games, quite often strong opinions on the industry have already been formed, and subsequently cannot be changed easily.

Unfortunately, this usually leads to games which only address a male perspectives and expectations. Often this is to the detriment of the female perspective and expectations, for example rarely having a strong female lead. Even less likely to have a female lead that is not basically naked.

Boobs. So many boobs.

Minecraft, is one of the building blocks for the balancing of equal opportunities for the next generation (see what I did there?). In situations where its used in learning environments, no previous assumptions or prejudices are discussed, and this creates a positive atmosphere to all kids, whether they have or haven’t been exposed to game-learning before.

Game analysts and educational staff for the first time have been able to predict figures of the likelihood that a person will experience or develop their gaming knowledge at a later date, after they have been introduced to learning through minecraft. This is only based on a handful of individual cases in the US at the moment, but certainly has the potential to expand in the teaching curriculum over the next few years.

Their preliminary results show these main points;

– The kids exposed to minecraft showed a reduction in gender stereotypes when exposed to gender specific testing.

– The kids exposed to minecraft were able to problem solve at a higher level to those who had not.

– The kids who were exposed to minecraft we statistically significantly more likely to continue gaming and problem solving in later life (thus more likely to bring more female game developers on to the scene).

Although there are many other learning-based games specifically targeted at children, minecraft is set apart from the pack as it is used by a range of age groups with no modifications dependent on age. As a result when kids develop a bond with a game that they enjoy as they are growing up, minecraft offers the ability for someone to keep playing without feeling that they have outgrown it.

Despite it’s cubey nature, minecraft has some pretty cool geographical crossovers, and also social prediction algorithms that further establish it as a medium for human expression in a virtual environment, rather than simply a game to pass the time. It is regarded as being engaging to all ages, genders, and across many levels of gaming expertise. More importantly, it can be all of these things at once. 

(This was actually a social experiment to see whether the use of ‘boobs’ in the title would generate more post views. We shall get back to this subject, and hopefully you’ll have more human geographical knowledge as a result).

What other aspects of minecraft do you think apply to geography, or vice versa? Do you think there are other social phenomena that occur in the minecraft world?

Civilization 5 – Perfect World 3 Walk Through

In a previous post I talked about the usefulness of geographical knowledge for strategies in some of the Civilization 5 mods. This included ‘Extended World Map’ and ‘Reforestation’, but mainly focused on ‘Perfect World’.

Perfect World is a mod based on map elevation data to create landforms, and a simplified model of geostrophic and monsoon wind patterns to generate climate. This post will be in a walk through style, and will show you the decisions that I made in the early stages of the game in order to apply geographical knowledge to my advantage.

Game set-up was set to random. (Unless you are like me, who selects random, then restarts several times to get a leader I actually want to play as). 

edited 1

 

Firstly, plonk your first city down. Next, take a look at the resources and terrain around you to get a better idea of what sort of climate you’re in. For this scenario I looked to the top red circle and saw incense, desert and an oasis. Already this implies a tropical climate. My initial guess is something akin to Africa. Left shows shallow seas which have higher chances of shallower resources such as crabs and pearls. 

Below, a citrus plantation leading down towards forest. This implies the further south is going to be generally wetter and more fertile, providing more plantation type resources. Finally the circle to the right indicates dunes with flat desert above. As the size of the desert above is fairly large already, I concluded that the dune was a singular boarding formation (as it is large and angled toward the sea, so formed by wind deposits) rather than a continuing feature East.

Right, North and South seem like good bets for exploration to find resources in the fastest way. South first, as the biosphere is more sustainable, and therefore more likely to hold a higher amount of resources in a smaller space.

edited 2

 

As predicted, the forest is pretty bulked up with resources. The red circles show where mountains occur, the circle to the left illustrates how mining resources tend to now tailor mountainous features, rather than at random which tended to happen in the original game. This area is very close to my first city however, and probably doesn’t warrant building another as my boarders will expand.

The second circle indicates another mountain feature. The forest only occurs on one part of the mountain alone, meaning that precipitation (brought upwards off of the water by orographic lifting) is only occurring on one side, and is blocked off from the other by the height of the elevation. As the side that is bare is the South West, it suggests that further south the fertile forest will give way to more savannah and wheat type resources, as the rains aren’t able to make it that far down due to the natural barrier. Time to look North.

edited 3

 

As predicted, there are some tasty shallow sea resources in the two smaller circles to the left.The large circle to the right is not only indicating a mountain region, but one that is obviously a different colour. This tells me that the geology of the area is different to the mountain we saw down South. The formations are much larger, darker, and ridged so they are most likely metamorphic and/or igneous rocks. This will cause a greater rain shadow South (rain that only falls on one side of the mountain). 

Mountains this large and ridged tend to span formations rather than singular features, so I’m betting that they continue further East. They could span further North, but I decided that that wasn’t as likely seen as below there is flat desert most likely caused by adiabatic compression (lost moisture and heated, creating arid conditions) on the leeward side of the mountains. Therefore, the most likely formation must be a barrier spanning the length of the desert bowl, clearly indicated by the build up of dunes at the base of the mountain.

Now I can see that the desert has been created via water deprivation, rather than wind patterns. Now I know that although the desert will be just as big, it’ll be flatter and more of plain, so won’t hold any mining or durable plantation type resources such as incense. 

Based on the information above, I’m going to scout North rather than East, as the rain shadow South means that North should be where the warm moist air, probably brought off of the sea to the left by prevailing winds will be trapped. 

edited 5

 

Boom. Finally, we have found the highest concentration of resources, shown in the larger circle. In this area there is a resource in every single land plot, spanning 6 in length and with others noticeably near by. Perfect for settling near and getting a head start on the resource race.

I’ve left the walk through here, because as useful as this kind of tactical knowledge is, it really only gives you a considerable edge in the first age when you need to optimise where your cities should be. Also, this becomes far easier once you have scouted out all, or at least most, of the map. In that case it becomes as simple as ‘I have eyes and I see gems. I am going to go to those shiny, shiny gems’. 

There are other tactical applications to using the geography of the map however. For example how to pick the best strategically placed and more defensible city or unit locations, or how to identify the places with the highest chance of having a Barbarian encampment. In the next post I’ll go into those a bit more. Maybe it’s time for killing some things, geography style.