Whilst having a bit of a clearup at home, I found a small bag of these widgety things and I have no idea what they are. (Obviously, I know what the fifty pence piece is. That's included just for scale. D'oh.)
The long cylindrical one I've shown from both sides to show how each end differs but altogether there are:
None of the pieces fit together in any kind of obvious way. So, for a chance to win the fifty pence piece as shown, what are these things supposed to be for?
I've been a Total War addict ever since Shogun Total War. Medieval Total War was the first one I really played end to end, although I only played and completed one campaign (as the Italians) before Rome Total War came out. The improvements were so great that Rome Total War was just astounding. I never went back to Medieval I after that, but I've kept playing at Rome for the past two years and have completed campaigns under a few of the different factions.
But now Medieval Total War II is out (or Medieval II Total War, as it seems to insist on being called), and I couldn't not buy it, could I?
The first thing is that it's by no means the same step forward as Rome was. The interface is broadly similar, and generally the main workings of the game are the same. If you know Rome well then you'll be able to pick up Medieval without too much trouble at all.
In fact, if you imagine mixing Rome and Medieval I together, that's pretty much what Medieval II is. i.e. the high tech engine of Rome with the setting, and religious aspects, of the first Medieval game. There are other improvements over Rome Total War, though, especially when it comes to the in-battle graphics. It really does need some powerful hardware to look really good (which reminds me I must upgrade my graphics card). So far I've only played it with most of the settings on 'low detail' but the buildins, trees, and troops are all stunning, as the screenshot below should show.
There are a few other differences too. Battles seem more realistic, and all of the figures are much more lifelike. They've been rendered with small differences, rather than being rows of clones, and they also fight individually too. Cavalry especially seems even more realistic than Rome's was, and that itself was a big step up from the moving breezeblock that was a legion of cataphracts in the original Medieval game.
So you do need to think a bit more carefully about how you use some of your troops. It's a bit more realistic, and not so much about working out what the internal rules of the game engine are.
On the strategy map level, the main addition is being able to build either castles or towns, but not both, in region. Each has different troop or trade generating buildings so you'll need a mix, and the logistics of moving troops around can get quite involved... It does add a new level, though, although I'm really waiting for the day when regions disappear from the game altogether and you can build whatever you want wherever you want. Maybe next version.
Diplomacy also seems a lot more complex. With the addition of religion things are always a bit more complicated as attacking a neighbouring Catholic state, for instance, may not be to the Pope's favour. However, it's come on a long way from the original Medieval, and there are also subtle differences from Rome too. The computer seems fairly willing to make alliances, and almost as willing to break them. Also, in Rome, you had the security that if you had a three way alliance and one party broke it then the other one would side with the aggrieved. That's not necessarily the case in Medieval II, and it may turn out that your friends friend is not your friend... If that makes sense.
The computer also seems to be cleverer about how to use its armies on the large map. If it's ready to attack and then it sees you massing forces ready to defend, it leaves. To tempt someone into a rash attack you have to do something quite sneaky and keep your reserve troops hidden somewhere.
The map area is very much the same as Rome, although slightly extended. As the number of agent types has grown to include princesses, merchants, diplomats, spies and priests, so you find yourself roaming into different areas for different reasons. Generally, this game seems a lot harder than any of the others, and a lot more realistic for it.
Oh, and early in the game it's worth attacking a really big castle just for the pleasure of sitting there and looking at it. (Then reload and do something sensible.) Seiges, much improved in Rome, are a step forward again here. They really do look amazing, and whats more work much more realistically. The rendered shot of a cityscape (below) should give you some idea.
So is it a step forward enough from Rome Total War? I think so, and although a number of the reviews I've read don't seem to credit it with being the improvement that it is. It's easy to see the greater detail in rendering as just the march of time and technology making things look more impressive, but the artificial intelligence just seems to be better all round, and the subtleties of the game have really been given more depth.
When an earthquake is about to occur, snakes will move out of their nests, even in the cold of winter. If the earthquake is a big one, the snakes will even smash into walls while trying to escape.
This sounds quite labour-intensive since it depends on someone sitting there watching the snakes to see what they do. And how do you tell the difference between a snake that's leaving its nest because of an earthquake and one that's just popping out for a snack?
I've just spent a week at the Landmark Trust property The Castle of Park, and a good week it is too. Being in Glenluce, near Stranraer it's quite a way to go from London but not as bad as you might think. Okay, it might have been easier if the flight back from Newcastle hadn't been cancelled but still...
The castle itself is very big and has numerous staircases which means you can go to one room and come back via a different route, which was a source of endless fun. It wasn't the warmest but with a big fire going it was fine after a couple of days.
Here's some pics and videos:
A shot of the castle as we turned up:
Inside the great hall:
The fireplace in the great hall:
The sitting room:
The main bedroom (which me managed to grab as Kerry got there too late - "you snooze you lose the best place to snooze", as they say:
Surely everyone sits by the fire in a deckchair?:
A side view of the castle. It's a kind of anti-tardis in that it actually seems bigger on the outside than the inside:
We went to Port Patrick. Here's what the view from the harbour looks like:
Port Patrick does have a nice little lighthouse, although I'm not sure how much practical use it is:
Another view of Port Patrick:
Whilst in Port Patrick, I saw God:
I also saw a man camping on a grassy hill, in December. He'd carefully positioned his tent to get the maximum benefit from the wind off the Atlantic:
Port Patrick also has a small ruined castle just along the coast. I preferred staying in ours:
Another castle view:
Old gateway meets new gate:
The coastline was quite impressive:
Some more rocky coastline:
Although anywhere that has this many broken umbrellas on the cliff faces surely can't be a good place to camp::
We went to the Mull of Galloway, which we worked out was the southernmost tip of Scotland. Someone else had already worked that out, we found, and put some signs up saying the same, but we still enjoyed it. Iain and I got the most south, having ventured down some steps to the foghorn. There weren't many people here, so I didn't put too much effort into parking:
It's quite impressive being able to see Ireland from the mull (as pictured in the distance), and you can also see the Isle of Mann in the other direction (not pictured):
There's a lighthouse on the mull:
And a helipad, for people who can't be bothered to drive:
Near Port William, some sand flats:
My own shadow on the sand flats. Being Scotland, and winter, the sun didn't get more than about 2 degrees above the horizon:
Everyone seemed to find the sand quite interesting:
The phD students found it especially fascinating:
We visited the remains of an ancient fort. Yes, it really was this interesting:
There were also standing stones around. Actually, there were a lot of stones around generally, but some of them had been propped up:
Another of the two standing stones:
The days were short and the sun low so it made for some good photos:
Druchtag Motte was another highlight. This information panel really built up the excitement levels:
And look what awaited us at the motte? A lump of grass-covered earth with two sticks and a rope:
The sunset on the way back was quite impressive:
Near the Castle of Park there's an aqueduct that looked quite impressive lit up on a foggy night:
Another shot of the Glenluce aqueduct:
Another small fishing town and another piece of quality entertainment. This time, a tiny motorbike apparently with no age limit:
I couldn't resist having a go on the motorbike either, especially on such a twisty circuit:
And my mum really got into it:
We did find a stone circle too:
A warming shot of the Castle of Park fire:
On the way back we went to Vindolanda, which is quite an extensive set of Roman ruins near Hadrian's Wall and not too far from Newcastle. However, the mocked up 'Roman life' scenes were the most entertaining:
Especially the Roman dog. Did they all have crooked faces in those days?
I think we exhausted all that the area around Stranraer had to offer in December.
The Telegraph Fantasy Football password for Wednesday 27th December is CHARLES. With games coming up on Saturday and Monday, John Terry injured, and so many players getting rotated there could be a lot of transferring to be done.
"We sold William Gallas and Robert Huth in the summer. We don't have enough cover so at this moment in time we are having problems," said boss Mourinho.
I don't think anyone is going to be feeling much sympathy with Mourinho claiming that Chelsea don't have enough good players.
The article in the Surrey Coment is quite entertaining, but the comments are where it's really at.
I was once saved from certain death when a pair of woods grasped me by the shoulders and flew me from the path of an oncoming car. Now these feathered heroes follow me everywhere and they often speak to me too.
Let's just relax here - they're just PIGEONS, bear that in mind. They're just fluffy little critters who are cute and tickle you with their whiskers ... ah no, that's kittens. Sorry.
Gas them like badgers!
Why not give them bicarbonate of soda in a sausage so they explode in mid air?
I hate them. Especially their toes!
I've been in enough meetings where a vendor or technical architect has insisted that their product can interoperate with any other system because their data transfer uses XML, and this excellent piece on The Daily WTF shows exactly what a pointless claim that often is.
A snake charmer who made a name for himself as Malaysia's Snake King has died after being bitten by a king cobra.
The world of snake charming's loss may be language's gain as I understand that Malaysia now has its own version of the phrase 'an accident waiting to happen'.