Thursday, June 24, 2010

Video Game; Pharaoh

One of my all-time favorite games across all genres is Pharaoh; a city-building game set in Egypt.

Note: The screen-shots throughout this review are taken by myself.

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The wikipedia entry for this game starts thus; "Pharaoh is an isometric city-building game set in Ancient Egypt created by Impressions Games and published by Sierra Entertainment for Windows-based computers. It involves the construction and management of settlements and cities in ancient Egypt, and is the first such themed game in the City Building series.

"The game was released on October 31, 1999, and was later complemented with an expansion pack, Cleopatra: Queen of the Nile, developed by BreakAway Games the following year. Both the original game and expansion pack are commonly referred to, and may be purchased as one, under the title Pharaoh and Cleopatra."

This trailer is poor resolution, and doesn't show the beauty of the game, but here's the 'official' trailer anyway;

Caesar vs. Pharaoh

Pharaoh has the same game engine as Caesar III, also by Sierra Entertainment, and operates on the same principles, but has many improvements and exceptions. One major difference is that Pharaoh incorporates the construction of massive monuments.

I personally think Pharaoh is much more fun and enjoyable. I like the music, appearance and game-play better all around in Pharaoh; even better than Caesar IV and CivCity.

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The campaign takes you through the ages of Egypt in a mostly accurate way. Your family rises up through the ranks as you complete the various city-building scenarios. Once you make it past the first few missions (which are essentially tutorials) you begin to have a choice about which side of the Campaign you take; military-based scenarios or economic/cultural-based scenarios.

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All scenario objectives must be met before the next city in a campaign can be used and played. Each mission sets five targets for the city, each being a value on a rating scale. A higher target along the scale represents a higher difficulty level for the city.

There are five rating scales: population, representing simply the number of residents in the city; the culture rating, representing the population's access to city services; the monument rating, which represents monument completion; the prosperity rating, which represents the city's financial success; and the kingdom rating, representing the city's relations with the Pharaoh and other cities in the kingdom.

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Your People

All of the buildings except for Shrines, and Statues generate people, if only just to find employees. Most buildings generate an employer who walks down the road until it comes across a house with some unemployed citizens. These citizens then become employed at that venue. Most venues will then immediately generate a 'walker' who then roams the city.

The 'walkers' come in two types. Those with a destination, and those that wander. (The walkers are not playable, but where they go can be controlled by roads.)

Click to Enlarge - This Screenshot shows a Locusts Plague

Walkers with a destination are generated at one point of the city and take the most direct road to another one. The most common destination walker is the delivery man, who takes goods and products from a place to another.

Wandering walkers are generated by a building and roam around the city following the roads laid by the player. Usually the purpose of those characters is to have an effect over the houses and/or buildings they pass by. The player may prevent roam walkers from going by a certain road by using roadblocks (which do not stop walkers with a destination, nor remove the road itself).

A few characters can have negative effects over the city, such as thieves or diseased people. Some animals may attack the walkers as well.

Soldiers are the only characters that the player can control directly. A full formation is made up of sixteen troops and they come in Archers, Infantry and Chariots.

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The game is as fast-paced as you desire. You can adjust the speed to nine different levels, the highest of which looks like fast-forward, and the third-highest looks about like a 'normal pace' and the lower speeds looking like various speeds of slow motion.

  • Osiris, the god of the Nile.
  • Ra, the Sun god.
  • Ptah, the Craftsman god.
  • Seth, the god of War.
  • Bast, the feline-goddess of the Home.
Worship of the Gods through temples, shrines, festivals and the large and expensive Temple Complex will make the Gods pleased and therefor bestow upon you blessings, including aids in your monument construction. Displeasing them, however, brings plagues and other such unwanted issues.

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Got an itch to manage goods and create a smooth economy? You'll find that itch thoroughly scratched while playing Pharaoh. The further along in the campaign you are, the more trade cities open up. There is a long list of raw materials and output products including flax/linen, reeds/papyrus, clay/pottery, gems/jewelry, henna/paint and copper/weapons. On missions where the raw good is not available, sometimes it can be imported.

For example, you may not be able to build any barley farms on a certain mission. But there may be a trade city that sells barley. You may then import the barley to a storehouse, and then ship the barley to the brewery and create beer. Assuming one of the trade cities desires beer, you may then export it for a profit.

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One of the most fascinating and gratifying aspects of the game is housing. Your houses start out as a sign sticking the ground to let immigrants know they can settle there. They start out as huts, but given all of the requirements, they can evolve up to 'palatial estates.'

The first 'evolution' happens after they get water (from a well or water-bringer), the second after they receive food (from a bazaar). At various stages they require entertainment, religion, health care, pottery, beer, luxuries, and education.

After playing several missions you begin to become familiar with what stage requires what and simply glance at an area and know what you need to build to cause the homes to evolve. If you are not sure, you can right-click on a house to discover what it require.

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You can custom-create your own missions and select from a number of single-play missions outside the campaign. There are dozens of missions overall, each with unique win requirements as well as a unique combination of events. Lots of replay-ability.

Screenshot Gallery

To see all of my Pharaoh screenshots you can view my Pharaoh Screenshot Gallery.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Video Game; Majesty 2

Part Sim, part RPG, part RTS; Majesty 2

The game would be absolutely incredibly addictive if they had taken the time to include the standard option that most "Warcraft-Style" games include; Single-mission customization! Where you can customize your map choice, your opponents, the number of players, and so forth. As seen in Age of Empires, this single-mission customization option is what creates replay-ability.


Majesty 2 has a good sense of humor. The story-line made me laugh a lot, although it's a liner story-line and a fairly liner campaign, so there is no real replay value in it. I paid $10 for the game, which I think is a good price for what y

It's an interesting take on the real-time strategy and kingdom sim genres. Half of the game is like any empire-building game, or in this case; kingdom-building game, but with a twist on the real-time-strategy part when it came to quests. With full control over what to build and research on, the real-time-strategy part was left to your heroes. The only way to control your heroes to attack, defend or explore, was to offer bounties.

Some people have found that the bounty and hero system makes the game a drag. I, however, love this aspect, because you're essentially creating quests for your heroes. I would love to see this system implemented in new games to come, that hopefully come with more customization options.


Placing bounties on certain targets earns money for heroes, who then spend their hard-earned money on weapon or armor upgrades, and spells or potions. This will lead you to open more markets, research spells, weapons and armor, resulting in your heroes getting better at what they do and being able to complete more quests that you create for them.


Once you get past the first couple of missions, you gain the ability to build a tavern which allows you to put your heroes in parties up to four. I wish they had included this one or two missions sooner, since it's a very essential aspect of the game. It allows you to control your heroes in a second indirect way; by making sure the young and silly heroes (the low levels) have a higher level with them. (There are other bonuses as well, like having an elf in the party makes the entire party a bit faster.)


The game is good, but may require the expansions to really be a 'full' game. It's a good time-filler for a while between more epic games, if nothing else.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Music Transcription Reviews

What is Music Transcription?

Wikipedia says; "In music, transcription can mean notating a piece or a sound which was previously unnotated, as, for example, an improvised jazz solo."

You will also hear classical musicians speak of "transcribing" to mean adapting a piece of music written for one instrument to be played on another. Thus when John Williams plays Scarlatti sonatas (originally written for keyboard) on the guitar, these would be called "transcriptions."

Music Transcription is the process of creating music sheets either from music sheets in a different notation, or simply from music alone. A music transcriber is a unique individual who can do this with precision and hopefully a good taste for aesthetics (because music sheets can look cluttered when done unprofessionally.)

Can I Transcribe Music Myself?

If you're a musician and have experience with music sheets, you probably could. It's not an art to be taken lightly however, and may take months or even years to become good enough at it to satisfy.

The effort involved in transcribing music from recordings varies enormously depending on the complexity of the music, how good you ear is and how detailed you want your music transcription to be. If you merely want to write down the chords to a very simple song then if your ear is good you may be able to scribble them down in real time while the music is playing. At the other extreme if you are attempting a detailed transcription of complex music then it can take hours to transcribe a single minute of music.

Why Would I Need Music Transcription?

You probably already know why if you're on this page, but in case you don't... The most common reason is likely because you want to play a tune but you don't have the music sheets for it; you only have a recording.
You'll probably start by looking for the music sheets online. But if you can't find them, then what? And even if you do find the music online, often it will be a disappointment when compared to the version you've been listening to and enjoying. Good musical artists will usually make more out of a piece than the standard published "dots" will show, so you will have to listen to the recording to find out what they're doing. Good artists will embellish chords, add figures and riffs, good bass-line movement, voice leading, and so on.
Another reason may be that you have a special song of meaning to you; the lullaby your mother wrote and sang for you as a baby, or the one you sing to your child. Perhaps the song between you and your spouse. If you can sing it (or even hum it), then it can be transcribed.

Art by Raederle Phoenix of Phoenix's Muse Creations

Where do I find a Music Transcriber?

There are a handful of transcribers on the net, but I personally recommend Andy Pope. Having met him, I can vouch that he's a honest and fun person who pays close attention to detail. He's been in the business of music transcription (and been a musician) longer than I've been alive. His pitch is perfect and he transcribes without any transcription software.

Andy Pope's music transcription is a far cry from another person with some transcription software. It's like the difference between the kid punching in random things in Dreamweaver to create HTML code (that will be full of redundancy, errors and be impossible to edit) and an experienced web coder who sits down with a text box and simply writes the HTML from scratch with no excess code or broken tags.

"I've written hundreds of songs over the years for bands or just for fun, but never anything on the piano that called for a full sheet music transcription. When I recently wrote a song for a friend that I needed to transcribe to sheet music, I was at a total loss... That is until I came across Andy's website. Right from the start I knew he was someone I wanted to work with; professional, talented and fun to work with. He turned around my project in record time, and the results were flawless. I've never heard of anyone else who can do what Andy does as well and as fast, and with the level of enjoyment he clearly takes in helping you put your creativity to music. To me, when it comes to music transcription, there's only one name in the book, and it's Andy Pope. "

--Matthew McTighe, Guitarist, Singer-Songwriter

"I contacted Andy to transcribe a song that I want my friend to sing at my wedding in a few months. When I received the final product, I was blown away! The transcription was a perfect match to the actual song. Not only is Andy a truly gifted and amazing talent, but he is also warm, easygoing, and fun to work with. I give him five stars!"

--Shacunda Burton, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Bride-to-Be (7/17/09)

"Andy helped me turn punk rock into a playable piano tune. The wait time was very short, and he updated me every step of the way. He checked in with me in regards to personal preferences about the piece and after he had finished, he even went back and fine-tuned to make the song more easily accessible to my voice range. The result is just perfect! I love playing it. I highly recommend his work."

-- Maryellen Foley: Music Ed Major, Concentration in Piano, Moravian College

"Andy is a first rate transcriber. He works fast, provides excellent results and charges a reasonable fee. If you can only so much as whistle a tune, Andy can turn it into a sophisticated, deftly arranged and eminently playable piece of sheet music! Highly recommended indeed!"

-- Phil Hubbard: Associate Professor of Acting, University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

"I worked with Andy under a tight deadline to get the sheets ready for a new musical I was working on, Young Billy. Andy worked with my guitar lead sheets to produce piano/vocal parts for the first worshop of the show which was was only a couple of months from the time I first contacted him. Andy was easy to work with and turned the sheets around quickly. I greatly appreciate the work he did and would contact him again without hesitation."

-- Chuck Majewski: Singer-Songwriter, Author-Composer: "Young Billy"

"I hired Andy to transcribe a then unpublished song from a fairly new musical off of a recording I had, so I could use the piece for auditions. Not only did he get me the transcription at lightning-fast speed... But about a year later, when the official published version of the music came out... He had nailed the piece almost exactly as it appeared in print. Truly amazing!"

-- Marc Murai: Producer, Director, Performer

"I had long waited to play an unusual violin solo, having only an old recording. Mr. Pope was able to hear the recording and produce a vivid and professional piece of sheet music. I feel fortunate to have found Mr. Pope to transcribe this obscure piece of music. I'd have no hesitation considering Andy Pope to handle your job. His work is a very special craft, and he has mastered it."

-- Eric Azizia, High School Music Student and Musician

"Andy Pope is the personification of talent, integrity and ability all in one. Not only is Andy's transcription remarkably on point, but he approaches his work with others in the same diligent, careful manner that he gives his very own creations. It would be a mistake to pass up the opportunity to work with Andy, as he is the consummate professional in the realm of music transcription."

--Mitch Maguire, Singer-Songwriter; President, Artistic Sky Music

"I am very pleased with Andy's prompt responses and eagerness to get the job done. Communication is clear and frequent, and he gets the job done quickly! Definitely one of the best customer services I have ever had. I truly recommend Andy for any of your musical needs."

--Jonathan Tay, Singapore