We took a Trafalgar tour with my parents to the UK and Ireland. This post will describe how a Trafalgar tour works and what I thought they did well, and what could be improved. Read the rest of this entry »
We went to the UK and Ireland with my parents this September. We started and ended in London and took in Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England. It was a good trip and we saw a lot of the countries. We also had excellent weather: We had a couple foggy days and got rained on once. But that is great for the UK in September.
Our tour started in London. London was probably my favorite city because it has an impressive density of attractions and sites and is easy to get around. You can see Westminster Abbey, Westminster palace, Big Ben and the London Eye from one spot.
If you walk for five minutes you pass 10 Downing street, the Horse Guards, several war memorials and arrive at Trafalgar square. The National Gallery is right there, and you are another five minutes from Buckingham Palace and the Royal Society or the British museum. Plus, there are lots of old buildings and historical markers.
Our tour included a driving tour of the city and the tour guide could barley keep up describing the sites that we passed on the bus. On this tour we got to see some of the more famous modern buildings, the Tower of London, and the Tower bridge.
The museums have some impressive artifacts. We especially liked the Rosetta stone and the clock display in the British museum and both Leonardo da Vince’s notebook and Mozart’s ‘Summary of works’ in the British Library. The British Museum as a huge collection of artifacts from other countries. It is really amazing the amount of stuff they took and haven’t given back.
The single site that I was most eager to see was Stonehenge, and I was not disappointed. In fact it was a bit cooler than I anticipated. They have made changes to the site within the past year to move the parking away from the site and make it more peaceful. Between that and the large radius ring that people are allowed into, you could get away from the crowds and noise and enjoy the site.
At Bath we saw the reconstructed Roman baths. The neatest thing here were the “curses”. If you were robbed or wronged by someone (especially if you didn’t know who did it), you could write your complaint on a lead sheet and throw it into the water to ask the gods to punish them.
In Cardiff, we took a tour of Cardiff castle. We ended up touring the portion that were renovated in the early 1800s by the local coal baron. The baron (John Stewart) had good taste, the decorations were lavish and everything was still in good shape. Some highlights were the children’s room with fairy tales painted on the walls, the smoking room with game tables, and the dining room where the table was setup to allow live grape vines to be brought in so that diners could have fresh grapes off the vine for dessert.
We spent a few days in Ireland before we arrived in Dublin, mostly looking at scenery. We had a nice history tour in Waterford, drove around the Ring of Kerry, took a cruise on the Beara peninsula, and kissed the Blarney stone. The highlight of this period was visiting a demonstration farm where they showed life for an Irish farmer before the potato famine. We got to see peat, their poitin still, and the houses. We ate a traditional meal of lamb stew and brown bread and tried Poitín.
In Dublin we saw the Guinness brewery with the tour (very overcrowded) and happened into an Octoberfest. We saw Trinity college with the Book of Kels and the long room that was used for some library scenes in Harry Potter. We went to Kilmainham Gaol and the Little Museum of Dublin where we learned a bunch of Ireland’s history. There was a great quote at the prison: “If the prison does not underbid the slum in human misery, the slum will empty and the prison will fill.” We did a couple of geo-caches and I went to a “Musical Pub Crawl” which was a mix of music and Irish musical history lesson.
Back in England we went to Liverpool. The tour took us to a bunch of Beatles stuff, but there were also a lot of cool buildings. The best was the modern (1970s) Gothic style Anglican cathedral made of red sandstone.
It took a full day of travel to get up to Edinburgh in Scotland. On the way we took a nice boat ride on Windermere lake. In Edinburgh was toured the castle, walked up Scott Monument for views of the city, and toured the Royal Yacht Britannia. The Yacht was used by the Queen for vacations and had a cool room of gifts the Queen received on her travels. It was also interesting to see the vast differences in the bedrooms of the Queen, officers and crewmen.
In Edinburgh we had our most interesting meal of the trip at “Amber” by the castle. They had an extensive (350) Scottish whiskey selection and we both tried one. We learned that the smokey Scottish whiskey gets the smokey flavor from using peat to heat the mash. We also tried Haggis; it could be mistaken for ground beef or mild ground lamb. For dessert we had a whiskey whipped cream with raspberry.
On the way back south to London we stopped at York and saw a chunk of Hadrian’s wall. The part that we saw was small, but it was still neat to see something nearly 2000 years old. At York we toured the old town and saw the impressive cathedral. The next day we stopped at Stratford-upon-Avon to see Shakespeare’s birthplace and Warwick castle. At the castle we saw them fire the world’s largest trebuchet. The last stop before London was in Oxford. We saw the deposit library on campus, the Bodleian, and toured one of the colleges (Brasnose).
Back in London we took in the London Eye, Tate Modern, the Victoria and Albert museum and the Natural History museum. The Tate has a lot of art that we liked and the Natural History museum is housed in an impressive building with a cool main hall. We also walked around Hyde park and checked out Harrod’s department store.
On our last day in London we went out to the Greenwich Observatory where the prime meridian is located. We toured the museum there and saw the telescopes used to make transit observations. We stood with one foot in each hemisphere and found the spot about 100 meters away where GPS registers zero. They are off because GPS uses an oblate earth model, so the only place where the GPS meridian and the original meridian line up are at the equator and poles.
We traveled back to the Tower of London on a Thames river boat and walked around the tower. They are doing a WW I commemoration right now where the Tower moat is filled with one red poppy for each service member who died in the war.
My touch table conversion of Le Havre is complete. I am sure there are a few more bugs out there, and there might even be some enhancements I decide to add, but we have played several games and it is working well. We have particularly enjoyed the single player game. With one player, the game becomes an optimization puzzle since other players can’t disrupt your plans.
Unfortunately the owners of Le Havre (lookout-games), aren’t willing to give me permission to distribute the game. I had hoped that they would since there is already a free Java version available online. But it sounds like they may have given an exclusive electronic license to someone else.
Read on for a comparison of this project to some of our other games and a bit of a postmortem.
With a total of 120 hours of work, I am happy to say that Le Havre is playable. There is still a lot of testing, bug fixing, and polish to do; but I’ve played through a full game.
Main progress this week:
- All the building actions for the normal and special buildings
- End game
I am still expecting another 40 hours or so of work on this game. I’d like to have quite a few more sound effects and player prompts and some better animation for resources being paid/received. And once beta testing starts, I’ll have usability improvements to make too.
I have put another 40 hours of work into the touch table conversion of Le Havre, so it is time for an update. In the first week, I did a lot of work with the graphics and layout of the game to make sure that the game would fit onto one screen. In the second week, I have been making the game play.
Here are the progress highlights:
- Created graphics for player areas, offers, supply tiles and added animation of buildings and resources.
- Incorporated the timeline engine and added save/load and undo to the engine.
- Built the main menu: players can join, choose their color, pick options and start the game.
- Player area replication code.
- Added the “take offer”, “end turn”, “end round”, “buy building”, “repay loan” moves.
- Added the scoreboard and scoring logic (except end game bonuses).
- Created “feed workers” and “pay interest” dialogs.
The big things left to do are: all the buildings, end game. I feel like I am about half done with this project. We will see how accurate that estimate is. When estimating for a client, I always double my gut feel (and that is usually still too short). So I probably have another 3-5 weeks of work to go.
I’ve spent about 40 hours working on Le Havre. About half of that time has been spent planning screen layouts and designing graphics for the buildings and ships. Bill came up with the idea to draw all the buildings (even the ones built by the players) in the center area. This keeps the player areas very small and leaves almost all of the screen space for the “town”.
Even with that idea, the space is still quite tight. I’ve had to create a different view of the buildings and ships for each “mode” that they are going to be displayed in to limit their size.
My main accomplishment this week has been coming up with a screen layout that will be able to display everything that the players need to see, and a design of the ships and buildings that will fit into that layout. I am now fairly confident that it will be possible to play this game on the touch table.
Here is the basic layout: Read the rest of this entry »
I have started writing a new touch table game based on the board game Le Havre. Le Harve meets a lot of the criteria that I have for converting a board game. It has a long setup time and a lot of pieces are moved around during the game. It doesn’t have any hidden information and has remained popular with our gaming group for several years. It has a single player mode and plays up to five people.
There are two issues with Le Harve that might make it difficult. One is the amount of stuff that needs to be displayed on the screen: During the game, players build quite a few buildings and ships and all of those need to be on the screen. But it is also possible that they wont built anything, so the “building proposal” area also needs to be able to hold all the buildings. The other issue is that there are quite a few buildings that have special rules. In the base game, I count 18 buildings that will need some special code.
I don’t expect to be able to get rights to sell this game. Le Havre is very popular (currently #11) and the amount of money that we could offer wouldn’t be significant to the creator of the board game. However, there is a Java implementation available online already, so I hope to be able to give away the game.
To get a feel for the time involved in making a board game conversion, I am going to make a blog post for every 40 hours that I spend on the game. I’ll describe what I’ve done during that week and the current state of the game.
We attended the Conclave of Gamers convention in Denver this past weekend. We brought our touch table and were joined by our friend Doug from TouchTableGames.com who brought his newly built touch table. We ran all the games on both tables and had a lot of fun. We got to play all of our games including Power Grid, Fire Platoon and several rounds of Hansa Teutonica.
While this convention was considerably smaller than PAX or GenCon, it was also a lot more relaxed and the attendees were willing to spend more time at our tables. We got to meet with a couple local game developers who may be interested in having Dark Infinity write a touch table version of their games.
The convention was held at a hotel just a few miles from our house, so we were able to take both tables over in our car. Setup and tear down was very quick. Overall it was a great convention and we are looking forward to doing it again next year.
In February I was contacted by Mercury, a company that I worked for five years ago, about helping them with a project. The contract would last three months and offered good pay. They caught me at a good time and I agreed to take the job, starting right after we got back from PAX East.
Beyond saying that not a government contract and involved writing a distributed message processing system in Java, I don’t really have anything interesting to say about the job itself. Except for the commute, it was better than many jobs that I have had.
I was surprised by how easily I switched back into the work routine. It made me notice some of the things that are “hard” about being retired. Not that I am complaining about being retired – it is truly a luxury. Read the rest of this entry »
We attended PAX again this year to demonstrate our games at the Mesa Mundi booth. We had a great time playing our games with the attendees and demonstrating Fire Platoon. The Mesa Mundi booth was larger this year and we had a bigger space and a much larger table.
We were on a 60″ table using the new SensaTouch IR sensor and modular wooden table frame. It did mean that we were standing all weekend, but it was actually easier than sitting and leaving over to touch the coffee-table sized screen we were on last year.
From the time the hall opened at 10, till it closed at 6, we were always busy playing games. We mostly played Pair Soup because it is super easy and cooperative. People could walk up and join a game any time. By the end of the weekend we had played 160 games of Pair Soup. That adds up to about 13 hours! We were really glad to have the new tile sets.
There was an overhead walkway above us, and many people stopped at our booth saying that they had seen the game from above and had to try it out. We also played quite a bit of Fas’Jack, Dungeon Raiders, Got It and Yacht with people who stuck around for a second or third game.
We played several games of Fire Platoon and people seemed to enjoy it. People didn’t have trouble learning the game and controls and the tablets worked well. The WiFi was much better than last year, but it was still hard for some people to connect to the game.
The other quadrants of the booth were occupied by d20 Pro; a system for running a role playing game, another game table running a fast paced competitive game called WhackIt, and a demo of the modular table system.
There are lots more pictures of PAX and a few of Boston in my gallery.