The new version of SimCity makes a lot of really interesting design decisions, including one that has basically ruined the game. That is the developer Maxis’ choice to make the game require an Internet connection at all times. According to them, this choice was made so that they could offload a lot of the heavy calculations to their servers, and because this SimCity has a multiplayer focus, the first game in the series to do so. This choice has turned out to be devastating, as we go into the second weekend of the game’s lifecycle the servers still have not completely recovered from what has been the most disastrous launch probably in the history of the industry.

When SimCity launched at midnight, there had been no preload offered to those who preordered the game. So immediately people experienced server issues connecting to Origin and downloading the game, with some people being told straight up they couldn’t download yet. It turned out that didn’t even matter, really, because the SimCity servers were also getting hit so hard you couldn’t really play anyway. Unlike many online games, SimCity didn’t have queues for servers, instead you got a 20 minute timer, followed by a brief shot at connecting, before you were returned to the timer. It was terrible. And it went on for days.

Eventually more servers were opened and the waits disappeared… With a price. Several key features of the game, including the ability to speed up time, which is critical for making later stages of the game less tedious, were disabled. An unprecedented move, I believe. Since this has all happened, we’ve gotten apologies from EA and Maxis, and the promise of a free game next week to show just how sorry they are. Sure, the issues will be ironed out soon enough and SimCity will probably go on to live a happy life, but is the game under all this mess worth it?

I think so. You have to understand the design ideology here, because it’s a bit different from other SimCity games. Don’t go into this expecting to just make one all-encompassing city. That’s not what this game is about. Instead, it’s about regions, in which multiple cities, either all run by you or by you and your friends, work together. Groups of cities can pile all their resources into the local great work, a massive undertaking like an international airport, that benefits the entire region. City plots are overall pretty small, and many of them do not have the resources to support everything even if you did have the space. Some people really hate this, but I’m kind of about it. I think building a new city is a lot more fun than maintaining on, and I like that when I move onto my next project, my old city doesn’t go to waste, as I can rely on it to import supplies, services, or people.

It’s fun to lay roads, edit buildings, and just watch sims live and work in your city. SimCity has a lot going on in it, but it does a pretty great job letting you access all the information you need with various data overlays. Really, the biggest problem I’ve noticed right now is that traffic flow is a bit annoying. Sims always choose the most direct route to their destination, even if that means taking a dirt road instead of a high density street. Buses, cop cars, and firetrucks all seem to convoy up and go to the same place, instead of spreading out and covering the entire city – which I admit is pretty funny to watch. Hopefully this is just a bug and will be fixed soon enough.

It’s really easy to lose a lot of time to SimCity, you know, assuming you can actually play it. I believe it to be a really fun game, and certainly extremely accessible for people like myself, who haven’t spent any time with the franchise since the Super NES days. But that’s not the story of this game, not anymore. No, the story of SimCity is the clusterfuck that was its launch. And it was bad.

T3 51: Top 10 Fairy Tale Movies We Want to See

The ol’ switcheroo. We came into this, much like our boardgames episode, planning on talking about the absolute worst ideas for adapting fairy tales into movies. But after a little while, our ideas were either so obscure or so literal that they became rather appealing. Our proposed movies would never actually get made, but if they did, chances are we would want to see them.

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Retrospecticus: David Bowie, Part 1 – Dude Looks Like a Lady

Starting today and continuing for the next few weeks, I’ll be looking back at the entire recorded catalog of one of my favorite recording artists, David Bowie. Why? Well, because his new album comes out tomorrow and I hear it’s quite good. This project is going to take a while, so let’s get started. First up, the early years: from pop to psychedelic folk to glam rock.

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The Peaceful Times

Atoms for Peace – Amok

It’s been out for awhile, but we couldn’t let this one slip under the radar. Amok is the debut album from “supergroup” Atoms for Peace, aka Thom Yorke’s second solo album. I say this not only for the record’s striking resemblance to Yorke’s 2006 solo debut The Eraser but also it’s lack of humans. Yorke has said time and time again that if he had to choose he’d make music with a computer over real instruments. This ideology appears to be in effect as I have trouble making out what the other non-computer members of the band are doing. Every once in awhile you get that funky Flea bass line, but most of the time it sounds like the bad guy from Tron is doing most of the heavy lifting.

The members of Atmos for Peace are: Thom Yorke (vocals/guitar/keyboards/pretty much everything), Flea (bass), Nigel Godrich (Programming, meaning he’s really just the producer), studio musician Joey Waronker (drums), and Chili Pepper’s collaborator Mario Refosco (percussion). The album begins with “Before Your Very Eyes” one of the few examples on Amok of a whole band playing together. The results are a slightly funky, progressive jam complete with Yorke’s trademark ghostly vocals. This is followed by “Default” one of my favorites and a more appropriate representation of this album. Though “Where’s the band?” (Say it like Clara Peller) is my only question. I don’t hear anyone but synths, beat machines and Yorke. Do I have a problem with that? Yes and no.

The music doesn’t bother me on Amok, quite the contrary. My problem is that this was advertised as a collaboration when it really isn’t. That aside, Atoms for Peace is still a stark and atmospheric record that occupies a fascinatingly strange soundspace. Most importantly, it should appease both fans of Yorke’s solo music and fans of Radiohead. They probably wont fall head over heels for it, but they’ll appreciate it’s eerie beauty and creeping beats. I’m quite partial to “Judge, Jury and Executioner”, the track I could most imagine being a Radiohead song.

At times I feel like Amok is just Thom Yorke dickin’ around, but the more i listen the more it grows on me. There’s never a right way to approach Yorke’s music, you just have to dive right in and either sink or swim.

Favorite Tracks: “Default,” “Dropped,” “Judge, Jury and Executioner”

The Bots and the Bees

They Might Be Giants – Nanobots

A new They Might Be Giants album couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve recently rekindled my love for Malcolm in the Middle (of which TMBG were frequent musical contributors) and am considering seeing the two John’s this June. Before Nanobots, my timeline for TMBG ended at about 1998. I’d never had much interest in pursuing their later work and even less interest pursuing their children’s music. With Nanobots I figured worst case scenario it would be a mildly pleasing collection of poppy, satirical, history lessons. But big surprise, I really like this album.

On the surface, not much separates Nanobots from any previous TMBG record. The songs are short, plentiful and overflowing with wit and poppy melodies. Vocal duties are split evenly between John Linnell and John Flansburgh, both of whom hold their own. Personally, I’ve always been partial to John Flansburgh. Though Linnell’s songs have often been the big “hits”, Flansburgh’s vocals have a certain sensitivity that I’ve always found alluring. Flansburgh’s creeping “Black Ops” is one of my favorite songs on the record. That aside I love both of these guys and admire how well they still work together even after thirtysomething years.

The microscopic namesake of the album sums up the band’s approach quite nicely. Leave it to a group like TMBG to release an album with 25 songs that only clocks in at 44 minutes. About nine songs are under a minute and yet, they miraculously hold their own against the rest of the bunch. I listen to the 43 second “Sleep” or the 17 second “Nouns” and can’t get over the fact that TMBG has hooked me in such a minuscule amount of time. They often leave me wanting more but maybe it’s for the best. If those songs were longer maybe they wouldn’t be as special.

All in all it comes down to the melodies and Nanobots is full of memorable ones. It’s amazing to me that a band now on their 16th album could still sound just as enthusiastic and prolific as they did on their first. I doubt Nanobots will win over any new fans for this culty nerd duo, but it should appease their old fans and the nanobots hiding within.

Favorite Tracks: “Black Ops”, “Circular Karate Chop”, “You’re On Fire”

T3 50: Top Blog Memories of 2008

This is a weird, self-indulgent episode (like that’s a change of pace for us). Three weeks ago, this blog turned five years old. We’ve come a long way, from a copyright-infringing mess to something that’s kinda, sorta actually cool. This podcast has been on a similar journey, having been a labor of love for over a year and fifty episodes. So allow us to reflect on that first year of the blog, as we reminisce about the subjects we wrote about and the terrible decisions we made.

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C.A.W: A Space in Time

Ten Years After – A Space in Time (1971)

With the news of Alvin Lee’s passing I had to find a way to pay tribute. Normally we save classic album reviews for tuesdays but I just couldn’t wait. So here I present you with only the second ever “CAW” or “Classic Album Wednesday”. The album in question is renowned blues/rock band Ten Years After’s A Space in Time. Aside from being the band’s most popular album, A Space in Time was the group’s most diversely creative record. Ten Years After expanded upon their punchy blues sound with more acoustic numbers and more folk-oriented songs.

A Space in Time is best known for the hit single “I’d Love to Change the World”, a song you’ve probably heard on the radio or in trailers to Michael Moore movies. The song was a big leap conceptually for a group often seen as just a bluesy jam band. Lee, already established as a gifted ax-man, proves his worth as a songwriter through thought provoking lyrics and a sneaky delivery. Add a splash of psychedelia and A Space in Time makes for an exciting counterculture time capsule.

Brooding acoustic numbers aside, Ten Years After doesn’t ignore their blues/rock roots. “One of these Days” and “Baby Won’t You Let Me Rock ‘N’ Roll You” are Ten Day’s After doing what they do best. “Uncle Jam” is an unexpected showcase of the band showing off their abilities in the realm of jazz. Keyboardist Chick Churchill especially wows on that track with his demon-like speed. Not to count out the intensity of the group’s rhythm section in bassist Leo Lyons and drummer Ric Lee. Though everyone brings so much, it’s hard to deny that A Space in Time is Alvin Lee’s show. Though he’ll always be best remembered for his shredding, most notably during Ten Years After’s performance of “I’m Going Home” at Woodstock, A Space in Time reveals a man of many talents. Rest in Peace Alvin Lee, you’ve finally gone home.

Favorite Tracks: “Hard Monkeys”, “Here They Come”, “I’d Love to Change the World”