Archive for April, 2007
I’ve recently been playing Civilization 4, and I think, after all these years of playing games, that I’m finally figuring out exactly what strategy really is. And this realization has made me want to drive a taxi.
There’s a pattern to figuring out the strategy of a game. Take baseball, for instance– at first, the strategy is simple. The goal is to get more points than the other team, and you get points by going around the bases, so hit the ball as hard as you can, and then run as fast as you can. If you get tagged out, you’re out, so try not to get tagged out.
But then, deeper patterns and more strategies begin to appear. Sometimes, you shouldn’t hit the ball as hard as you can– sometimes you don’t want to hit it at all, or sometimes you only want to hit it a little bit. And you shouldn’t always run as fast as you can– sometimes, to keep from being tagged out, you run backwards, or you don’t run, or you wait and then you do run. The goal hasn’t changed– you still want to earn more points then the other team. But sometimes, you’ll do very strange things to accomplish that goal.
Civilization (and to a certain extent, all videogames) works the same way. It’s a “turn-based” strategy game, which makes it like a board game– you get as much time as you want to make your choices in your turn. You play as a civilization in a strangely alternate version of history– the Romans or the Persians, or even the Chinese, Russians, or Americans, and you build up your “civ” by founding cities and using them to grow and create resources– buildings, military units, and world wonders. When you first start playing the game, you generally try to build everything in every city, and on the lowest difficulties, that works– every city gets a Library (which increases your scientific research output), and every city gets a Forge (which increases that city’s production).
But on the higher difficulties, you don’t have enough resources to build everything in every city– you have to start picking and choosing. One city focuses on production, so you surround it with workshops and build a Forge and put Engineers there. Another city is your population center, so you build farms and a Granary there. A third is your research city, so you build a Library and a University and, later, an Academy. Sometimes, the citizens in your city will ask you to build something different, and you start to go against the grain– they want a Forge, but you’re focusing on research, so you don’t do what you would normally do.
And at the highest levels of the game, you can do some crazy things to fight your way to victory– found a new city, and instead of building anything worthwhile, you put a Colosseum in there to spread your borders and push other civs away from you. In a research city, you can starve people to put more researchers to work. In a production city, you can actually kill your population to get the work done faster. In every other instance, you want your population to grow. But in that case, lowering your population, something that goes seemingly against your goals, is the best option to get what you want.
And I haven’t even said anything to you about diplomacy– all this time, you’re trading and chatting and getting involved with the other civs in the game. Treat them right and they’ll love you, treat them wrong and they’ll hate you. Or (and as you might have figured out by now, this is my favorite part), treat everyone right but one nation, and you can get everyone in the world to march armies against your enemies.
So today, I was asked by my work to deliver a package across town, and they gave me taxi fare to get it done. I jumped in the taxi, rode to the middle of the Loop, and jumped out to deliver the package (on the 40th floor– I’d love to work in a skyscraper, but I don’t know if I’d ever get used to my ears popping as I rode the elevator every day). As I headed home, I stepped out of the building (this is around 4pm or so) to find a whole line of cabs waiting for me.
I don’t know if you’ve ever lived in a big city, but downtown, you’ll often see “taxi stands” like this. Hotels use them a lot– taxi drivers, instead of driving around for a fare, will come and sit in these specially marked areas downtown, waiting for a fare to come to them. I stepped up to the curb, the first taxi in the line came to pick me up, and then all the taxis in the line moved forward, ready to pick up the next person, and so on.
It’s an interesting strategy. If I was a taxi driver, the first thing I’d do is just go out looking for fares. The more fares, the better, right? I’d just drive around until I saw someone waving for me, I’d pick them up and take them where they had to go, and then I’d start all over again.
But after a while, I’d realize that picking people up in certain neighborhoods made me more money. I might be able to do $5-$7 rides around the Loop, but if I went up to Evanston in the morning, I could get people commuting all the way downtown– that’s a nice $30 that I, if I knew the roads well, could pick up in about 20 minutes. And inside every cab, there’s a listing of a standard fee structure for every trip from O’Hare– it’s like thirty bucks a person! So if I ran out to O’Hare, grabbed four people, and got back into downtown in about 30 minutes, I could make a lot of money– much more than I would just driving around the populated areas downtown.
Or, I could sit in one of these stands. I was just going a little way today, but I’d guess people coming from an office building at 4pm are probably heading pretty far out of the city. So it’s actually worth more money for these guys just to sit there (and lots of them were reading the paper with their engines off) and get a big fare then to be out looking for small ones.
So that’s why I want to try driving a taxi. Of course I’d also want to do it just to see the city and know the streets– I told a guy today the address I was going to, and he knew exactly the name of the building I was looking for. I’m jealous of that kind of instant recall.
But I also want to do it to know the tricks of the trade, and the strategy behind driving people around town for money. Where are the good fares at what times? How do you interact with other cabbies– what kind of diplomacy do you employ to make sure you get your fares and they get theirs? In what situations can you actually sit and make more money than you would while driving? And when do you build a Forge, and when do you build a Library?
No, wait. That’s the videogame. I’m sure real life is completely different.
Sorry I haven’t written anything here in a while, but I think you know why: Brit and Kev broke up. I’ve been sulking around for a few months or so, unable to put words to paper (or in this case, screen) because of my grief.
Ok, I’m just kidding, that’s not it. The real reason is that I haven’t seen the value lately. Since August, I’ve been writing for pay (as I’ve always wanted to), and writing here for free just seems so… last year. There’s no value to it. Why spend time putting down words here when I can put down the same number of words somewhere else and get paid for it?
But lately I’ve realized that’s not quite true. There is value in this site. But it’s just not to me.
Lots of people have asked me to write things here. Friends and family all over the country have said they liked reading my stuff and were disappointed when it slowed down. And now, even people I don’t know have found this place and sent me a note asking why I don’t update it any more. None of the sites I’ve ever worked on have been about me, really– this site is mine, but it was about jokes and stuff, not my actual life. So I guess the value is in sharing what I’m doing and what I’m up to with other people.
Frankly, I’m kind of surprised anyone cares (don’t worry– not that many people care, so you’re still in an exclusive minority). So for you, dear readers, I’ll do what I can to post news here when I do something interesting. I guess it’s the least I can do for being terrible at keeping in touch with everyone I’ve ever known. For you, I’ll try.
And, in a feeble attempt to make the wait worth it, I recently uncovered this. It’s a short film some friends of mine put together like years ago. I held the mic (or adjusted the sound levels, or plugged things in, or did something with sound– I can’t remember) during the outside parts. And if you watch fast, you can even see me, right in the beginning when all the merchandise shows up. Yup, I’m the big weird looking dude who gets covered up by a mug.
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