Kelv's Random Collection

A random collection of my contributions to the world.

Diary: Scenario Guide – Update 6

Posted by kelvSYC on 9-2-2017

It’s been about a month since I’ve updated you with the latest on rewriting the Catan Scenario and Variant Guide, so I’d just like to pop in a new update.  To be honest, this month has been a bit slow on the graphics front, but I’ve managed to complete all of the graphics for the Catan Geographies chapter for now.

The main difficulty with the Catan Geographies chapter is primarily the fact that not all hexes have their full complement of edges, which, in Revision 13, had to be worked through clearly labelling affected edges.  In the draft Revision 14 that I had used as the basis of the upcoming version, the edges that were excluded were made more prominent, along with changing the borders of all of the hexes to yellow to better model the actual hexes.  In 2017-1, the model for Revision 14 is retained, but the excluded edges are actually made less prominent, although some fudging will inevitably be done, due to waterway edges and the fact that Rickshaw Run also has its rickshaw route.

What was surprising was that the vast majority of Catan Geographies maps do use the Guide’s “sideways” orientation of hexes, and only a small number use the proper vertical orientation, which made things a bit easier.  In a break from consistently presenting all scenarios “sideways”, the Catan Geographies chapter presents all maps in whichever way considered “right side up”, which means that the creation of hex assets had to be re-created from the ground up for these scenarios.  (The Historical Scenarios chapter will also be presented with boards in their “original orientation”, although I’ve yet to decide if I will use my drawing program’s artboard feature to actually cut off hexes, unlike the Revision 13 maps, which I’ve endeavored to make whole any partial hexes.)

Speaking of hex orientation, after looking through the scenarios again, I’ve also decided to present “The World According to Catan” and “Westwards” in its proper orientation, since both of these scenarios rely on relating to a map with a known orientation.  I’ve seen the Legend of the Sea Robbers setups, and I’m quietly wondering if I have to do the same for those (specifically, the main island is always a portion of a giant landmass), but until they are released in English (and I get myself a copy), I’ll leave this up to decide later.

Again, the offer is still out there for proofreaders and editors.  Anyone wishing to volunteer can simply add their names to the comments section.

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Diary: Scenario Guide – Update 5

Posted by kelvSYC on 8-5-2017

I’ve actually not worked on the Scenario Guide in a while, and that was because of a hardware upgrade that has been in the works for some time, requiring me to migrate over a lot of my files, including that of the Scenario Guide.

There has been some progress on the art front, as a good chunk of the sections are now art complete, but the Catan Geographies series and the promotional scenarios (the two heaviest investments in art) are still not started.

In the meantime, I’ve made a selection of older revisions of the Guide available at the Guide’s main page, and also made a few changes (like not hosting the files on my blog anymore) to deter people from directly linking to the files.

Again, if you are interested in a pre-release version, let me know in the comments section.

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Diary: Scenario Guide – Update 4

Posted by kelvSYC on 7-22-2017

Another update as we get closer to finishing a new version of the Scenario Guide.  At this point, I’m at 330 pages of Guide, although the final length of Guide will probably be in the 350-360 page range, as I’ve still yet to handle most of the diagrams for Catan Geographies and anything requiring me to setup special artboards in my drawing program (which generally include “frameless” scenarios and scenarios that are better presented with hexes in the correct orientation).  Some of the scenarios are a bit more labor-intensive than others, admittedly; I typically do scenarios what have only one or two setups mid-week and save the labor-intensive ones for the weekend, when I can dedicate more time to them.  The good news is that a good chunk of the scenarios are in fact have their diagrams fully drawn.

Having said that, this is not to say that the diagrams are the last part of the Guide.  Because of a few other design decisions, I would need to find a new home for two very important parts of each scenario: additional building cost options as well as starting player supplies.  I have to admit that I have not done any significant work on that as of yet, since only a minority of scenarios actually have it at the moment.  (So far, I’ve done a draft of it for Explorers & Pirates, but I’m not too thrilled with its appearance so far.)

To date, here is the detailed progress on graphics so far, section by section:

  • The First Island: Frame art is done, but the problem is that there is still quite a bit of content to write, let alone diagram.
  • The Second Islands: No scenario graphics, though those are fairly simple in nature.  It might be interesting to do a special diagram for Peanut Island, but it might not make the Guide.
  • Seafarers: Cloth for Catan is the only one remaining, due to the fact that one setup requires special art.
  • C&K: May need some graphical explanation of rules.  The frame art is done, though.
  • T&B: The Rivers, The Caravans, T&B XXL, T&B Ultimate (5-6 player setups only) remaining.  Partly held up by whether I should fold up “The Great Caravan” into “The Caravans”, and the fact that nudging the base game frame pieces in place is labor intensive.
  • E&P: Scenario graphics are complete.  Rule graphics should be complete as well.
  • Das Buch: The Atoll, Catan-Express, The Great Race, World According to Catan, Westwards remaining.  The first two are technically frameless (but will be presented with frame for consistency, and partly as I expect most of my readers with have newer editions of the game), and the last two are better presented in the correct orientation.
  • Historical Scenarios: Haven’t started.
  • SD&E: Surprisingly all done here.
  • Catan Geographies: Haven’t started.
  • Catan Scenarios: Haven’t started, though only Oil Springs needs diagramming.
  • Promotional Scenarios: Haven’t started.  I dread having to do Vienna Meets Catan.
  • Miscellaneous Scenarios: Most of the scenarios are done.  Still need to do some art for the Durango hex, and I want to see if I have the time to do some special diagrams for CWC 2014/CD 2015 scenario.
  • Variants: Most variants don’t need diagrams…
  • Bonus Section: Don’t get me started…

Work on the Guide might be slowing down a bit over the next few weeks due to other priorities, but hopefully I should be able to release an alpha version fairly soon.  The Guide is looking for volunteers to copyedit the alpha version, so if you are interested, sign up by replying to the comment section below.

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Diary: Scenario Guide – Update 3

Posted by kelvSYC on 7-2-2017

Work on the Scenario Guide has slowed a bit, and it’s mostly on drawing diagrams, since it’s not trivial work.  Here’s what’s changing about diagrams in general:

  • In general, any scenario that requires a frame will have its frame included as part of the diagram.  No more double standards of why the hard-printed hexes on the 3rd edition frame are omitted while the hard-printed hexes on the 4th edition frame are included.  I haven’t decided on what to do for scenarios that don’t use a frame, since I haven’t worked on any of those yet.
  • All diagrams will have a maximum size of 12cm by 9cm as printed on the page.  As a side note, that means that almost every diagram will be shrunk from its original size.  The net benefit of this is that I should be able to neatly fit two diagrams on every page, unlike previous editions where I wasted a ton of space because a single setup took up 55% of one page and the next setup could not fit in the remaining 45%.
  • The exception to the above may be in things like Catan Geographies scenarios or the like, where there is no expectation that it can be reproduced using hexes or somesuch.  (Again, I haven’t started work on those.)

So far, I’ve gotten all of Explorers & Pirates completed, two scenarios in Seafarers, and about half of the setups in “T&B Ultimate”.  If you are wondering what that is, it’s a new scenario in the new edition of the Guide, which there are 37 diagrams – 18 for 3-4 player games and 19 for 5-6 player games.  You can download the full rules on the Catan website, but since the instructions there are geared towards having an international set, I’ve had to make some adjustments to accommodate the setups for an English language set.  This isn’t easy for the 18 non-introductory 5-6 player setups, partly because of the fact that while all of the frame pieces are labeled, they are labeled with numbers running in the wrong direction.  (If you assemble the frame properly, the numbers on the frame should run clockwise; in the instructions, they run counterclockwise.)  Because of this, and the fact that the board is a bit rotationally asymmetric (due to the fact that there are eight fishing grounds, two frame extensions with harbors, and the barbarian castle hex), it makes creating a concise diagram difficult.

Hopefully I will be able to post a preview chapter sooner rather than later.  The work to be done is still daunting, since carving out the space for diagrams alone (without actual diagrams) has made me realize that the final Guide will be more than 350 pages in length (without the Bonus Section)…

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Diary: Scenario Guide – Update 2

Posted by kelvSYC on 6-18-2017

It’s been quite a bit of work on the Scenario Guide.  Most of the text in the core scenarios (basically, everything that isn’t the bonus section) is outlined, but none of the setup diagrams are at this point.  Even then, it’s just over 200 pages in length, so I would imagine that the completed Guide should clock in at 300-350 pages.  (I blame one of the new scenarios in the Guide – you know, that new one with 37 diagrams – for making me do more and more diagrams.)

So here’s an update on what we have going on in the 2017-1 version of the Guide:

  • The section on “The First Island” is completely rewritten, with a whole new section on the game frame, and a write-up on certain key aspects of the base game rules.  This is actually quite a bit of work, going by how many pages of scratch paper I’ve used to do some trig calculations.  There are some portions that I have not yet rewritten from r13 (or my draft r14), such as the “fixed hexes” and such, but that’s relatively low on my priority list.
  • The section of the Guide on “First Islands of A Different Kind” is something I’m considering dropping, since it’s more of a spinoff showcase rather than something you can play with the core game components.  If anyone wants me to keep it, then I might consider re-adding it down the road.
  • Most sections of the Guide now have a sizeable writeup on the new equipment introduced in the specific scenario.  For example, the section on “Cloth for Catan” has a section on the original special hexes that were part of its original presentation, but was dropped when it was adapted for Seafarers.  Other things include a short section on the trade hexes in “Traders & Barbarians”, and so on.
  • Each section has a larger “section overview” which details equipment that is common to multiple scenarios.  For example, the Traders & Barbarians section overview contains the general rules for gold pieces.  In general, you’ll see a lot more cross-referencing in the new edition, which is a distinct change from r13 (where the rules were written so as to have individual scenarios be entirely self-contained).  The reason for this is the fact that scenario combinations were, for me, incredibly difficult for me to write up, and the fact that Explorers & Pirates is presented in a way that makes copying and pasting things not worth it.  (Right now, the longest writeup is for “Barbarian Attack”.  “Traders & Barbarians” had that title, but that was before I ultimately decided to separate out the base scenario from XL and Ultimate, since Ultimate plays nothing like the base “Traders & Barbarians” or even BA+TB.)
  • As a result, a lot of the “rules proper” sections are reduced by a great deal, and in most cases I can’t justify splitting the setup notes from the rules proper anymore…
  • Oh yeah, there are a lot of corrections to some of the sections in the Guide.  I don’t have an exact changelog, but one of the most egregious is “Transport Settlers”, in which the rules wouldn’t make any sense if you also considered the entries on it in the official FAQ.
  • I’ve also consolidated a few things – for example, “Atlantis” is presented in only one place in the Guide now.  I’ve also moved a few of the early “pre-Seafarers” stuff (“Seas for the Poor”, “Catan-Plus”) to the section on “The Second Islands” for a bit of a better flow.
  • More diagrams!  There are a few places in r13 where the wording wasn’t so hot, so a few rules diagrams would help.
  • I’ve decided to drop some of the inline images that I’ve used for resource costs and number tokens.  It’s not that I don’t like them, but it’s because my computer’s starting to strain from adding so much inline graphics.  (There is a reason r9 was split across multiple documents…)  If I ever revisit the live version, I’d definitely be using inline graphics for that.

There are a couple of things that I haven’t fully decided on in the Guide just yet:

  • Whether I should have actual photos of game components (for example, a comparison between traditional and Viking wood pieces), or other graphics that I did not come up with originally (for example, cropped images from Catan-News)
  • Whether I should have setup diagrams in the “correct” orientation (the Guide has long presented most setups on its side, so that the two-column setup layout would work without shrinking down the longest setup diagrams)
  • Whether the Bonus Section will return or not.  I have to double check if there will be new additions to the Bonus Section, or if I have to refine the criteria for inclusion of the Bonus Section at the moment.

Any input on some of the changes is definitely appreciated.  The 2017-1 version of the Guide is, so far, I’d say about 30% complete (the graphics take some time).  Again, I don’t expect that the final version of 2017-1 will be done before the release of Legend of the Sea Robber or the 2017 promotional scenarios.  There are still a number of places where my personal Catan collection has noticeable gaps, where I have to rely on second-hand sources for the information needed in the Guide.

While I am at it, I do have some special requests for the Guide.  Here are the Guide’s most requested things at this point:

  • Copy-editors.  I’m the first to admit that I don’t have consistent language in the write-ups, and a second set of eyes would be able to see things that can possibly be refactored.
  • A good templating engine.  This is more for the live version than anything, but may be useful down the road.  It is becoming more of an effort to compose the Guide, and I have been mulling over the live version’s backend more than anything.  Right now, most of the writing is there so that I can reuse most of what I write in the live version, where the benefit of things like hyperlinks can be useful.
  • In terms of me completing my collection: rare English versions of the German promotional maps, stuff that used to be on sale at the English Catan shop but not anymore, and a few other things.  (For one, I still don’t have a 4th or 5th edition Seafarers, as my Catan collection is 3rd edition vintage.  I do have a few German things, like frame piece extensions, but lack an actual German frame.)

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Diary: An Update on the Scenario Guide

Posted by kelvSYC on 5-28-2017

I’ve started on rebuilding a new version of the Catan Scenario Guide, once again.  I’d like to say “for real this time”, but this new version of the Scenario Guide is taking its time, partly because it will be completely rewritten from scratch.

Part of this is entirely practical: it has been years, and the last public version (Revision 13) was before Explorers & Pirates was released, and the last private version was before the current 5th edition was released, so there’s a lot of stuff that is going to be rewritten and reorganized either way.  There is also the rebranding and adding the chapter introductions that need to be done, but some of the most important changes are in fact to complete some of the things I had been working on for Revision 14.  (Yes, I had a partial changelog.)

Revision 14 would have been a considerable graphical overhaul of the Guide, to be introduced over time.  This was necessary for the following reasons:

  • It was hard to label edges, especially in the promotional scenarios where I had to determine hex by hex which edges were part of the board and which were not.
  • I had, up until that point, wanted to expand the first few chapters to include information on how the board game frame changed over time.  The hexes that you find in the finished Guide is the actual size that I was working with in my line drawing program, which made drawing frame pieces incredibly difficult.  In the upcoming version, I’ve actually created all of the graphics in a new, larger size, and shrunk them down to fit the printed page.
  • I wanted to redo the harbor graphics so that they matched the Seafarers “harbor keys” from the 3rd edition, rather than the “geometry block” motif that was taken from a fan’s homemade set posted on BoardGameGeek.

Unfortunately, because I made the decision to completely rewrite the Guide from scratch, it will be a while before it’s ready for release.  (I’m not intentionally delaying the Guide so that it will be released after the Seafarers 20th anniversary scenario, honest!)  This is compounded by the fact that my word processor died without a backup, meaning that I had to rewrite the entire Guide from scratch several times already.

But here is what I can tell you about the new version of the Guide, as I am outlining this:

  • Of course, I’ll try to keep up to date with everything officially released, but that’s a very hard ask since I’ll have to acquire some of the materials personally.  Some are easy to do that since you can buy them on Catan Shop, others not so much.
  • There will be a new section dedicated to Cities & Knights.
  • I’ve spun off the Catan Geographies promotional scenarios and the Catan Scenarios line to their own sections.
  • I’ve reorganized some scenarios that were particularly hard to categorize.  For example, “Greater Catan” was originally in the Seafarers section, then moved to SD&E, and now, I’m moving it back to Seafarers.  (If SD&E gets an English release, I’ll move it back, of course…)
  • For the most part, the scenario rewrites are primarily so that equipment dedicated to a particular scenario will be introduced in its own section in the Guide, as opposed to all at once near the beginning.  For example, the Council of Catan hex will only be introduced in the Explorers & Pirates section.  Some things will still need to be introduced more broadly to avoid repetition – for example, crews will be part of the Explorers & Pirates preamble since multiple scenarios make use of them.
  • All of the graphics will be redrawn.  The same colors will be reused for the most part, but there will be plenty of changes.  For example, number tokens will reflect the English language version of using a single consistent size of numbers with dots below them.  Land hexes will have a yellow border to differentiate them from edges where no roads can be built (for example, the mouth of the river pieces in “The Rivers”).

It is my hope that the rules are a bit more clear with less use of inline graphics, which hopefully gets us a Guide that is not significantly longer than Revision 13.  At this time, I’m still thinking of what to do for a Live version at the moment; for now, the Live version project will be on hold in order to try and finish the PDF version in a timely manner.

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Diary: Kelvin’s Third-Party Add-Ons

Posted by kelvSYC on 5-6-2017

It’s been a year or so since I’ve last made a blog post here, and, spurred on by the fact that people have been wanting another public release of the Catan Scenario and Variant Guide (no, I have not done any new releases since R13 – for the last few years, I’ve either been half-heartedly rewriting it, or haven’t been involved in the community at all).  I’m actually going to start reworking all of the graphics in the guide, and likely going to finally figure out how to incrementally post updates to the guide as it happens, as I lack the will to release entire volumes all at once (and I’ve been out of the community for so long that there are going to be many gaps in the guide anyways).

But enough about the Guide and my other projects.  This post is going to be about augmenting the games that I have in my collection.  I’ve moved around a lot, and in the few years that I’ve been neglecting this blog, I’ve moved twice, and my board game collection still fills up my spare bedroom.  Worse of all is that a good chunk of the game boxes I have has been damaged from storage or wear (some are moulded over), so I’ve been getting replacement containers for them.  (Thankfully, game components are largely intact.)  And generally, when I have to do that, I tend to take them out for a spin and get familiar with them.  (I still have the ultimate crime of not being able to play with a steady audience, though, so a lot of it is mock games and maybe some hobby programming.)

Now, most games, you can’t complain about the components a whole lot.  Having said that, I’ve had to augment some of my games with a bunch of parts that are either homemade or otherwise not included with the game.  For example, my Catan set uses the Viking pieces, and because Das Buch sum Spielen doesn’t come with equal parts for all players, I’ve had to augment some components with either cardboard or acrylic pieces so that all six player colours have roughly the same pieces.

Many of you fellow board gamers will have similar stories.  For example, I have friends who are hardcore Scrabble players who will use ProTiles (http://www.protiles.net) instead of the tiles that come with the game simply because the tiles that come with the game have the letters etched into the tile, allowing you to feel out what letter a tile could be when you draw them.  Others may replace packs of paper money with a poker chip set (customized poker chips, no less) so that they get a more tactile feel of the currency that they are manipulating.

For me, the games that I’d most likely to be augmenting (outside from print-and-play games, as I’ve burned through 10 printer cartridges printing out fan-made Dominion expansions) is the collection of Axis & Allies clones in my collection – but most specifically the two games from Guild of Blades Publishing Group that I have in my collection (1483 series and The War to End All Wars).  The problem with that is that they are horrible games both in terms of the quality of the gameplay (seriously, it’s not a good idea to have a massively multiplayer board game with a board that’s measured in feet, especially if the action is fairly localized) as well as the quality of its components (30 pieces of red construction paper, taped together, to form the board, which is not in color, and takes up four poster rolls – not to mention that all of its pieces are in thousands of pieces of labelled tiddlywinks, for which the labels are off-center and the graphics come straight out of the 1980s despite the game being released in the early 2000s), and they’re largely a huge money pit since it turns out that you don’t actually have enough pieces to play the game if you get it, and have to spring for the “additional army packs”, making those games even more overpriced than they are already.  (Seriously, I’ve been inclined to throw out the game and cut my losses.)

Now, I’m probably going to be posting more on this in the coming months (hopefully).  Everything from how I augment my Catan experience to the Swiss cheese that is anything Guild of Blades.  Let’s hope I can commit to updating this a bit more often…

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Kelvin’s Mega Civilization Tool

Posted by kelvSYC on 6-12-2016

Wow, it’s been two years since I’ve made any post here, and almost three since I’ve made anything related to games.  Well, the wait is over… sort of.  If you’re looking for a new version of the Catan Scenario and Variant Guide – nope.  That’s still a while off (for reasons I will get into later).

Today, I’m going to introduce a quick and dirty tool for Mega Civilization.  This tool merely keeps track of the Civilization Advances you have researched in the game, as well as the costs of purchasing any advances that you have not yet researched.  It also keeps a victory point count of all of your researched advances.

Note: costs do not reflect additional credits that are granted by Monument or Written Record, if researched.

This tool is provided as-is, and isn’t really licensed: it’s really too trivial of a coding project to do that.  Feel free to fork and improve the code as you wish.

The code is available at https://github.com/kelvSYC/mega-civilization-tool.  This is an SBT project, but SBT is really only needed to compile; “sbt assemble” will produce an executable jar that you can use.

(This code is basically there for me to get familiar with Scala and SBT – if you are a BGG user, you might want to go with Laz’s Mega Civilization Advances-Credits Active Game Aid and Score Sheet, which is more comprehensive and useful in gameplay.  That Excel workbook will properly consider your cards in hand and makes for a better aid in your purchasing decisions.)

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IFF Grammar

Posted by kelvSYC on 7-21-2014

Hot on the heels of the SimCity 2000 grammar, here’s a quick Generic IFF grammar.  This grammar is made so that anyone can extend it to create their own grammar for file formats based on IFF.  (It is possible to use it on RIFF and AIFF-based grammars as well, but I plan on having more specialized grammars for those.)

The IFF grammar defines a few simple data structures.

  • The Base IFF Chunk is the abstract base structure for all chunks, including builtin chunk types FORM, LIST, PROP, and CAT.  To create your own, simply subclass this one, override the “Type ID” by inserting a fixed value, and fill in the contents of the internal Chunk Data structure.
  • The FORM Chunk, CAT Chunk, LIST Chunk, and PROP Chunk are all abstract base structures for their specific builtin chunk types.  Subclass them and modify their chunk data where necessary.  However, do not delete the Form Type or Contents Type fields in the Chunk Data, as these are part of the standard.
  • The FORM/LIST/CAT structure matches only FORM, LIST, and CAT Chunks.  You may replace them if necessary with something more specific.
  • Since FORM Chunk contents may be any user defined chunk type or FORM/LIST/CAT, consider subclassing FORM Chunk Contents for your needs.
  • The Properties substructure of the PROP Chunk Data is meant to hold all and only user-defined chunks.

The intent of the generic IFF Grammar is that it should be able to parse in its entirety any generic IFF documents, with a specific focus on FORM, CAT, LIST, and PROP Chunks (all four of which are reserved).  It does not cover the reserved FOR1-FOR9, LIS1-LIS9, and CAT1-CAT9 chunks, nor any commonly found chunk data types.

Limitations:

  • This grammar does not check that FORM type IDs are not all lowercase letters and is not punctuation-free.
  • The structure references are better represented as a script so as to better do parsing for embedded structures and the like, but script support is still a bit iffy at the present type.
  • Be aware that some past versions do not handle structure inheritance properly, and may not respect overrides on fixed values or the deletion of members in a subclass.  If this is an issue, feel free to extend the Base IFF Chunk instead.
  • There is no support for the “four spaces” chunk type.

Changelist after the break.

Download the IFF Grammar here!

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SimCity 2000 Saved Cities

Posted by kelvSYC on 7-20-2014

Here’s a break from the constant madness that is ROM hacking: the SimCity 2000 Saved Game file format.

SimCity 2000 largely follows the Interchange File Format standard, with the notable exception of the requirement that chunks be aligned on two-byte boundaries.  Other notes:

  • Most of the data within the SimCity 2000 save file is compressed using a form of run-length encoding.  The RLE structures are mapped out, but I’ve not really implemented the script elements that will map them.  This is because scripting is buggy and is a huge performance hit on the build (it’s a prerelease build that fixes a few bugs from the last official build, as explained in an earlier post).  I’ve been told that the next release will fix this issue, but I don’t have even that build yet.
  • Synalyze It! can’t really parse decompressed data while the data is compressed.  The true meat-and-potatoes of the SimCity 2000 data is in fact compressed.
  • CNAM chunks may occur at the end of a file, but I have not seen any save that has that.
  • The string in the CNAM chunk appears to be “dirty Pascal string”.  Perhaps putting it as a C-string starting at the second byte might be better.

Hopefully I can get a generic IFF grammar going, as well as its cousin the RIFF, based on this.

Changelists after the break.

Download the SimCity 2000 Saved City Grammar here!

Read the rest of this entry »

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