Saturday, December 16, 2006

Bookworm Adventures

This is not the typical game I usually include in this column but, being an educator at heart, I couldn't help being intrigued by its concept. What a great example of a game that people would find immersive but with a twist that you have a better chance for success if you build your vocabulary! What would be even better would be if teachers could use the game engine but supply the words that result in the highest hit level to overcome the game's villains that are attempting to destroy the Great Library. The game could also serve as a foundation for versions about particular historical periods or topics with accompanying reading assignments. The most powerful words would be those from the reading assignment.

Indystar E Technology Marc Saltzman:
In case you've never played "Bookworm," the core game play in "Bookworm Adventures Deluxe" involves a 4-by-4 grid of randomly placed letters and it's your job to create words out of them. Unlike PopCap's "Bonnie's Bookstore," the letters you click to make a word do not need to be adjacent to one another. The longer the word or the higher the letter value (think "Scrabble"), the more points you'll earn.

Our hapless hero is a tiny green worm named Lex (short for Lexicon, perhaps?), and in the main Adventure mode he is magically zapped into books to confront a threat to the Great Library. The tale spans 30 chapters in all, each with a different theme as our little bookworm traverses a huge map to confront enemies of all shapes and sizes.

Confused about how a word game mixes in fighting bad guys? Here's how it works:

While you create words with letters from the middle of the screen, Lex faces off against foes at the top, be they ancient Roman soldiers, mystical Sirens or sea serpents onboard a ship or even angry ewes.

Depending on the word you create, Lex charges his enemy and inflicts damage. The enemy then takes a turn and retaliates. If your word is just so-so, such as P-E-A-R-S, then you may only take away one heart (symbolizing health level) from above the enemy's head. But if it's a good one, such as Q-U-A-I-N-T or U-N-A-L-T-E-R-E-D, then expect to finish the monster off by taking away two-and-a-half or three hearts of a total of five. This game offers more than 150 different enemies, each with a unique look, fighting style and short description.
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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Apocalypto provides visceral insight into early American cultures

Like many history buffs, I went to see Mel Gibson's latest offering, Apocalypto, this weekend. I had read a mixed lot of reviews and, although there seemed to be no consenus, I thought it worthwhile to see a film depicting a civilization rarely if ever the centerpiece of a Hollywood production.

I found the film quite visually interesting. The costumes and makeup reflected the unique designs I have seen in museum exhibits of central American art at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, the Dallas Museum of Art, and the University of Utah Museum of Fine Art in Salt Lake City. I found the set detail in the scenes of the Mayan city with its smoking pyramids and streets seething with people utterly fascinating. It really brought the civilization to life just as the gritty scenes of Roman streets and temples did in the HBO miniseries, "Rome".

My primary regret was that the plot for the film was a basic chase and the villains in the film were rather two-dimensional. Every civilization has its good aspects as well as its bad and to allow the practice of human sacrifice to overshadow some of the Maya's phenomenal accomplishments in mathematics, astronomy, and engineering was a disservice to their culture and to history. As for the violence, I found it graphic but no more so than the arena violence in "Gladiator" or the battle scenes in "Troy". The ancient world was a violent place. I think the outcry about the film's violence is just posturing by the politically correct who must find fault with the film not because of its actual cinematic shortcomings but because of the publicly acclaimed "dark nature" of its director.

From a historical perspective, Mr. Gibson chose to interject European intervention several centuries too early. I don't know if this was the result of trying to find some dramatic way to end the chase or to draw a social parallel but it did not accomplish either of these goals.

I think the film would have had far more impact if it had depicted the decline of the Maya from a catastophic drought, as historical evidence indicates, and used their desperation as the reason for their frenzy of human sacrifice. It would have provided the opportunity to introduce at least some empathy for their own situation as well as illustrated the futility of their extreme actions.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Great Invasions The Dark Ages

Great Invasions The Dark Ages 350-1066 AD

Great Invasions is based on pure historical facts designed in collaboration with historians and includes 150 historical events and over 3700 key figures of this period. Manage the finances, diplomatic, religious and military needs of a nation.

Apart from managing the conflicts between borders, you must control population migrations, heresies and confront the fall of kingdoms and empires facing barbarian attacks. Manage up to 10 populations simultaneously, selecting them via a bidding system with over 80 difference nations.

Multiplayer mode supporting up to 4 players via LAN or Internet.

Live the greatest moments of the times! This historically accurate recreation allows you to encounter over 150 nations / tribes.

More than 30 religions and heresies, as well as thousands of historical characters drawn from the pages of world's richest historical sources.

Great Invasions is an extremely elaborate real-time strategy game covering over 700 years of history.

Put your leadership and visionary skills to the test and drive your population to the dawn of the Middle Ages!

Great Invasions puts you in command of one or more of Europe's nations between 375 and 1066.

You decide their path? and their fate!

Scheduled for January 2007 release.