Sunday, 6 March 2011

A tribute to... Evil Genius

If you have never played Evil Genius here is a quick summary:
  • It's a PC game that was released by Elixir in 2004.
  • Gamespot awarded it 7.3 / 10 and commented on its style over substance and frustrating gameplay.
  • You play the part of an evil genius hellbent on taking over the world. To do so you hire an army of minions, build a base full of facilities for them and send them out across the world to enact various deeds of cunning and malice. All the while the forces of justice try to stop you by infiltration, robbery or sending in the marines.
There are three things about the design of the game that I really love. The first is the fact that you don't control your minions directly. The design of your base and the ability to switch rooms on or off influences them but each one is following its own set of pre - determined instructions. This initially causes frustration when you are under attack and you want to get twenty armed men to a trouble spot but once you get your head around it you learn that the design of your base is everything. I think it would be too easy if you could do the classic 'shift click' on a group and move them to attack a group of enemy soldiers. What you have to do is design a robust security network and ensure that your people can quickly arm themselves and respond to attacks. It's a very different way of looking at things. I recently discovered that the best way to build and defend a base is not something I would ever have come up with - there are some examples of optimal designs on YouTube that exploit the limitations of the enemy AI fully.

The second is the range of room options and minion skills. You don't get a lot of space to build in and there are a vast amount of rooms to cram in. All perform a purpose - if you scrimp on R & R for your staff then they will quickly start deserting. I really like the way it all fits neatly together and that it's easy to chop and change rooms as your needs change. One example is that you will want to keep moving your strongroom where all your cash is stored further and further towards the back of the base so that it's less likely to come under attack. Achieving this is very simple - providing the rest of the base design allows for it. Your men don't have to be told what to 'become' - you simply decide how many scientists or guards you want and they train themselves, leaving you to macro manage the whole operation.

The third is the sense of humour. It's all very tongue in cheek, taking inspiration from Austin Powers ("henchman arbitrarily twiddling knobs) and poking fun at spy legends like James Bond (SMERSH has become SMASH). A minion sent to interrogate an unwelcome guest to your island might perform a Michael Jackson routine until the poor soul can't take it any more and gives up his or her secrets. And the audio clips that play every time you complete an Act of Infamy always make me smile - especially the commentator in India who can see a traffic jam ahead caused by a sacred cow and a traffic jam behind caused by, er, his elephant. Not a million miles from Arty Pie in the Simpsons and just as silly. I have read many novels where the blurb swears blind that they are laugh at loud funny and it's not the case. Ditto video games but this one is an exception.

Evil Genius is really well thought out and great fun to play.

Why volunteer?

I read an article on the Guardian website recently that discussed volunteering and how those who volunteer are somehow playing into the hands of David Cameron and his 'big society', even though we may not necessarily agree with the man or his policies. It's typical that I can find plenty of articles on said newspaper website that discuss volunteering except the one that I want so I am unable to reference it. My dissertation advisor would have a cow. This highlights the fact that we're still not nearly as clever as we think we are when it comes to searching data but that's another story.

So why volunteer? I can only speak from personal experience here. But I can hazard a guess that all those who do volunteer at the moment - be it in a charity shop on the high street, or coaching a youth sports team or anything equally applaudable - will be a bit miffed if Mr. Cameron starts taking credit for the way in which they invest their time. I too am a volunteer because I want to be, not because I am responding to the call of the Conservative government. My motivation is probably a little more mercenary than most; I know that being able to show a future employer that I can work on interesting projects outside of my day job is a good thing. My MSc certainly shows this and so does my volunteer work with the International Thai Foundation. Maybe 90 out of 100 people applying for the same job as me can't show this on their CV's which at least gets me on the interview list. Once you're at that stage it's a bit of a lottery (one or more of the panel might not like you) but create enough chances and one will go your way.

So credit where it's due please. It was my idea to volunteer, and my efforts that got me the right volunteering opportunity putting my skills to good use (and learning some new ones too). Nothing at all to do with the Prime Minister.