Playing Sid Meier’s Civilization V on the Mac

Sid Meier is probably the most influential game designer to me and maybe even my generation. Among many other games I most enjoyed watching my father play Silent Service and Railroad Tycoon when I was a little child and of course playing the Pirates! and Civilization series for myself.

Since the 80’ies many years have passed and after deviating to the PC world for a short time I am quite happy with the recent development in games for the Mac. Most major game titles are coming to the Mac now. In the Sid Meier corner I already spent many hours on Civilization IV and Pirates!. Especially Pirates! brought back many memories and actually made me read the favorite books from my childhood again (The Hornblower Series by C. S. Forester, if you are wondering).

I enjoyed playing all versions of Civilization and while I am waiting for a remake of Sid Meier’s Colonization, the new version Civilization V comes in handy. It hast been introduced just recently and was advertised with a 30% discount on the Aspyr Website on Black Friday according to Macrumors. As it turned out, the discount was not valid for Civilization V, so I decided to buy it as a direct download within the Steam Application which is required to run the game anyway. For just 49,99 € the fun was mine for the taking.

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I suppose this is just a port of the Windows game and it comes with several bugs as one would expect. The game crashed the first 3 times I tried to launch it and even after that there were serious display errors during video playback. This bug is already recognized, but there is no patch yet. It still kept crashing in play for a few more times but it seems to run smoothly now.

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The game has rather high system requirements. The main issue is the video graphic card. I am using a 13 inch Macbook Pro and a Mac Mini at home, each with a NVIDIA GeForce 9400M. Officially this setup seems not to be supported but it works anyway. I am not sure how to improve in this perspective. The current Macbook Pros and Mac Minis do not seem to have real superior power in this matter. They are using the NVIDIA GeForce GT 320M chip in the highest configuration. They score higher in benchmarks but surely wouldn’t warrant the investment. Only the current iMacs and Mac Pros seem to have real graphic power. This seems obvious but does not fit into my setup.

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I like the gameplay and the new look of the game. I don’t really mind the change from square to hexagonal tiles. Also, I think city states are a nice alternation from already established nations.

The biggest change to it’s predecessor is found in the combat area. There is only 1 unit per tile allowed in Civilization V. This really makes it interesting and requires a more tactical approach to defeat the enemy.

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In my opinion, the complexity of the game has been reduced massively. This leads to an easier and faster gameplay but it also gets boring pretty fast. Still I think Civilization V is one of the best titles for the Mac if your are into strategy games.

AppleTV as a potent media center using Plex?

The new AppleTV is a nice piece of technology for just 119 €. I am fine with streaming video content and renting movies from the itunes store. It works just as expected. But when it comes to streaming more than just itunes content you are reaching the limits of its capabilities. You’d rather want the full package of the Plex Media Solution on your HDTV.

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How? As posted on awkwardtv.org it is actually quite easy to jailbreak the new AppleTV, enabling it to install various software and there is an experimental Plex Client available. It just plays back video so far, but you can stream music and photos via itunes anyway.

So, if you are interested in trying it out, you might consider looking into this guide from appletvhacks.net. Officially this is not supported in any way and you will loose your warranty by jailbreaking your AppleTV. So I can not encourage you to do so.

Until now, Plex says:

Will this run on AppleTV?

We believe that it is probably technically possible to get Plex to run on Apple TV hardware. The processor would be underpowered for most HD content, and it would probably perform very closely to the original XBox hardware (unless someone figured out how to utilize the onboard h.264 hardware). While it seems to be technically possible, this team has no plans to support Plex on Apple TV. We are big fans of both Apple and their technology, so we are not willing to engage in anything that Apple could consider “hacking” or encouraging people to hack. Our official recommendation is you want something like Apple TV, either buy an Apple TV, or spend the extra $200 and get a Mac Mini and be able to do both!

(Source: plexapp.com Nov 24 2010)

But there are lots of rumors that Apple will actually provide an official AppleTV SDK to allow developers to create native AppleTV applications similar to the iOS platform. This would certainly improve the odds for an official version of Plex for AppleTV as Plex just recently stated in its FAQs:

Will this run on AppleTV (2010)?

Maybe, but only if Apple offers an Official SDK for the New AppleTV.

(Source: plexapp.com Nov 24 2010)

So, there is hope for us yet. Until then you just have to keep using the Mac Mini as a Media Center. It will be needed after all because you still have to stream content from a Plex Media Server in any case.

By the way, there is a Plex App for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad in the itunes store. You can stream all your Plex Media Server content to your mobile device. It works just fine in your local WiFi network as well as over 3G (additional configuration is needed).

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As the recent update to iOS 4.2 for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad now supports AirPlay, you can stream the content from the Plex Media Server via the iOS App to the AppleTV.

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This is kind of strange, but it works fine. (Except for sometimes, when it just streams audio to the AppleTV)

Star Trek on the go… iCARS for iPad

It’s a shame that the good old days with Star Trek The Next Generation, Star Trek Deep Space Nine and Star Trek Voyager had to end in 2001 with the final episodes of Voyager. It was almost a decade ago and in my opinion the end of an era.

Although there have been more and maybe even better Sci-Fi TV Shows after that (and I am not including Star Trek Enterprise in this category), I still miss the Star Trek universe. Maybe there is a new beginning with the recent Star Trek movie, but I am not sure it will be to my liking.

As a fan I watched all episodes of all series several times on TV, VHS, DVD and in HD if available. I know them by heart and spent a small fortune on merchandise as a teenager but I never came around to redesign my apartment into a Star Trek home:

Anyway, I have the next best thing with me on my iPad everyday. It’s called iCARS Interface for iPad. It is an accurate LCARS (Library Computer Access/Retrieval System) interface simulator with lots of beeping buttons and visual effects.

So every time I get nostalgic I can take control of my imaginary spacecraft, may it be the USS Enterprise, USS Voyager oder even USS Defiant. One can even fire Mark VIII, Mark IX and Mark X photon torpedos since the latest update. It is still missing quantum torpedos, so there is room for improvements left. I hope to see more of it.

Here are some pictures from my latest engagement with the Borg.

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Simon Says… for iPad / iPhone

Just as much fun as I remember from my childhood… It just looked a little different. I still have it but it does not support Game Center… This free App is available for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad and of course incorporates Game Center. It has some advanced game modes where either colors or sounds are switching position after each round.

I guess I won’t be needing my old Pocket Simon anymore.

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(taken from http://www.handheldmuseum.com/MB/Simon.htm)

What any kitchen needs: a “Schneidbox”

If you are a neat freak such as myself, I have just the thing for your kitchen. It keeps your tables clean… it’s called “Schneidbox”. It comes with a stainless steel casing, plastic dishes and the cutting board of your desire (oak, bamboo or plastic). The prices vary between 100 and 140 €. It is definitely not the cheapest cutting board around, but it is made in Germany.

Check it out for yourself.