Civ News 2011

2011 greets us with some more news from Civilization. First, is that the Civilziation Facebook game, now called Civ World, is entering Closed Alpha today. If you’re interested in getting in on the Alpha, definitely check out the facebook page.

It will be really interesting to see how Civ World adpots the classic Civlization Turn-based strategy to the Facebook platform. I’m hoping, really hoping, that they don’t follow the formula of City of Wonder or City Ville, where you finish construction projects by having your friends click on them. Lord knows USSR would have won the Cold War if more of Stalin’s friends had signed up for Facebook. However, this seeems promising “in Civ World you will be joining your friends to form nations, which will compete with other player-nations to rule the world”. So at least we know that there’s actually competition. That’s a good sign.

You can also read more on Inside Social Games.

In other Civ-related news, Jon Shafer, lead designer for Civilization V, has left Firaxis. Gamasutra has an interview that’s worth a read.

Cheers,
Oliver

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Civilization V and Online Strategy Games

Civ V really emphasizes the importance of the OSG genre.

The Civlization series is classic, is one of the giants upon which the OSG genre stands, and Civilization V carries that mantle very well. It’s a very polished game that stays true to the feel of the series while introducing a few new elements and simplifying some others. I found it just as addictive as the original, and often found myself up far past my bed time thinking “one more turn, one more turn”.

In my opinion though, the game suffers from two major shortcomings that OSG’s address: an over-reliance on graphics, and a simplistic diplomacy system.

The graphics in Civilization V are good. Probably too good. For a strategy game… a game where the player is permanently fixed to a God-view, 3D graphics seem like overkill. My laptop is only two years old, and it barely manages to run Civ V on the lowest settings. In my opinion, the graphics in Civ III were fantastic, and the 3D aspect of Civ V that’s killing my computer does not add one single thing to the gameplay.

For a genre whose target audience is not necessarily the same as the FPS players who overclock their rigs to get the prettiest headshot, for a turn-based game where FPS is virtually meaningless, it seems like a very poor decision to alienate players who don’t have the latest hardware. What I really appreciate about the OSG genre is that it’s browser-based, and anyone can play it from whatever computer they have. How much more fluid would a multiplayer game of Civ V be if all the players could take their turns throughout the day, a few minutes at a time, instead of maybe twice a day before and after work?

Another shortcoming is the Diplomacy / Multiplayer system. In Civilization you’re either playing against AI, or human players. Since I didn’t have the time to set up a mutliplayer game, and as this was my first foray into the series since Civ III, I went with AI, and it was ridiculous.

I spent most of the game as a fairly peaceful civilization. Most of the AI civ’s seemed to be content after founding 3 cities, leaving me plenty of room to expand my empire without having to fire a shot. This worked pretty well, and I was happy enough to explore the world and balance my happiness, income, science, and culture. Eventually though I reached the modern era and frankly got bored. I saw that America had been getting aggressive, having conquered 2 City States and setting their sights on a third, so I decided to intervene.

Unfortunately, since Civ V makes it impossible to load my tanks onto any kind of transport ship, by the time I embarked them over to America they had conquered the next City State. I declared war, gave them an extra turn before I attacked just to be a good sport, then quickly liberated Dublin, Monacco, and turned to free Ragusa as well.

Out of the blue, Ghandi shows up and tells me he’s cancelling our pact of cooperation because of my Warmongering. Warmongering!? Washington had conquered 3 city states. Every city state in the world, save one, united against Washington and asked for my help, and so I stepped in to free them. Warmongering!?

Aside from that, the AI is incredibly difficult to trade with. When trading luxury goods, even 2 to 1 is not good enough for them. And why wouldn’t they want to form a defensive pact with the strongest military power on the planet? In the end the diplomacy came down to a few points: bribe them into cooperation or declare war.

Anyway, all of this makes me very thankful for the OSG genre. It’s far more rewarding to work with and against human players, and for me that’s really the highlight of any strategy game. Civilization definitely does a lot of things right: the ability to focus on trade, culture, or science instead of just military, watching your empire grow from making pots to stealth bombers, and exploring the world… It would be nice to see a game that properly combines all these aspects.

Cheers,
Oliver

Civilization V

Civilization V hit stores today. It’s veritably taken over Steam. I’m going to start playing and will let you know how it goes!

Cheers,
Oliver

Civilization V: Forthcoming

The release of Civilization V draws near, and a lot more info about the game is slowly becoming available. Last night I watched a live ustream preview, which was pretty cool. The event had the expect onslaught of annoying and silly viewer comments and occasional lag issues, but it was exciting that so many people logged in from all over the world to watch the preview. You can watch the recorded version here. There’s also a great article at Voodoo Extreme and another “400 Turns of Civilization V” at Kotaku.

I’m definitely going to have to think of something big to do when this game comes out. Thoughts?

Cheers,
Oliver

Gamasutra Articles

Gamasutra recently posted a few OSG related articles.

First and foremost is a new interview with the lead designer of Civilization V. They cover a range of topics, from the art style and music of the game, to the popularity of the genre itself. They use the same screen shots that have been available fors several months though.

Next is another article about EVE online and describing their single-shard approach to the MMO. The article again emphasizes the game’s strategy to solve technology shortcomings, in this case the inability to host too many players in a single game space, with design decisions.

Finally, there’s this article: “Zynga, Ngmoco and Evony debate whether mobile, social networking, and dedicated websites are the right moves — and each has its own answer to the question.” I think especially interesting is that Evony was included in the discussion, out of all the OSG companies that could have been chosen. I think that speaks volumes both to the current blindspot that the majority of American gamers still have to OSG’s, and the success of Evony’s risky martketing.

Cheers,
Oliver

Freeciv Review

Site reader turned contributor Ken Griffey shares his thoughts on Freeciv. This is definitely a game I wish I could spend more time with, and Ken has mainly good things to say. If anyone can’t wait another month for Civ 5, this may be the answer.

Freeciv Review
– by Ken Griffy

I absolutely love the Civilization series. I also absolutely love things that are free. So when I found out that not only can I get my fix for world domination AND pay nothing for it, I knew I would immediately have to cancel any and all plans I had going that week. FreeCiv is a 100% pro bono version of the classic Civ II, which basically means that it’s legal crack.

For free.

There’s a lot to like about FreeCiv; similar to it’s more expensive cousin, the designers give you loads of options in order to make your conquest of the world as personalized as possible. Want to have a quick game where rush tactics can net you a victory? You can do it, just make the map the size of my studio apartment. Want to play out your conquest on some kind of weird, donut-shaped planet? You can do it, along with determining the number of starting units, technologies, and much much more. Another option which I liked was the amount of countries you can choose to play as is actually far greater than in Civ 4, so if you feel the need to have the Mongolians fight against the Sudanese or if you decide to reenact that timeless struggle between the French and the Antarticans, you can totally do it. The only negative here is that unlike the rulers in Civ 4 which each have their own personalities and gameplay bonuses, the differences in nations are cosmetic only.

While customization is definitely a draw to fans of the Civilization series, the ultimate reason to boot up the game has, and always will be, the gameplay. I went into FreeCiv a little skeptical, just for the simple reason that I love me some Civ 4, and I didn’t think that it would be able to faithfully recreate the tactical and diplomatic aspects of the game that made it so addicting to me. I was totally wrong. While there may not be as many ways to win games (you win by either destroying all other nations, completing the Space Race, or simply lasting until the year 2000 AD with the highest score), as in the commercial version, the three that are available are still immensely challenging. The fans who made FreeCiv definitely put a lot of time and effort into making sure that there are several ways to reach the endgame, which means you don’t have to necessarily be a warrior nation to win. One of the great things I’ve always loved about the Civilization games is that it is entirely possible to be a peaceful nation and still come out on top. Do I ever play that way? Of course not, but it’s nice to know that players have that option.

Another big difference which I loved was the way turns are implemented in multiplayer. Instead of making it where each player waits his turn, everyone goes at the same time. Like in traditional turn based games, units have a certain number of action points, and when they are expended, the player waits until the global timer reaches zero for them to be replenished. It gives it a psuedo RTS feel, without taking away the need for careful planning. The best part is, it keeps games going at a good clip, so even if your opponent is away from his keyboard, it doesn’t bring the match down to a grinding halt. It forces you to think not only on the fly, but several turns ahead, and adds a certain sense of immediacy to rounds.

Diplomacy plays a huge role in the game, and it’s implemented well here. You can create alliances, call for cease fires, or go to war all with great ease in FreeCiv. It’s just as easy to supply allied nations with supplies as it is to demand tribute from that one ruler you just don’t like (I’m looking at you, Hammurabi). The ability to do so really makes the game feel organic, and it’s great fun to watch nations begin to form power blocs that you have to figure out how to overcome.

If I were to have any gripes with FreeCiv, it would be that the movement system is somewhat convoluted. Moving units around and having them perform key actions can be very trial and error. For example, when I wanted one of my worker units to mine a land tile for resources, there was no immediate display showing me the proper keystroke to press in order to get him to perform the desired action. I eventually had to go look at a wiki of all the available hotkeys in order to figure out what to press. Even when I did finally get the mining started, it seemed as if there was no discernible indicator as to how much progress was being made. I was left to just hope that the worker was performing his duties, and that he would be finished (hopefully) within the next few turns. The overall lack of visual cues readily available to the player can be a little frustrating, but it’s hard to fault the FreeCiv too much considering it didn’t have millions of dollars behind it’s development.

Overall, its amazing that they’ve not only been able to make a game that FEELS like a Civilization game, but plays like one too. Sure, it may not have the visual splendor or polish, and some of the more modern features may be missing, but you could do a lot worse, and be spending a whole lot more to play something that isn’t nearly as fun. Do yourself a favor and check out FreeCiv right now.

E3 Report

It’s hard to summarize E3… It was very shiney and a lot of fun. It seemed to mainly revolve around console gaming and checking in on the latest from Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony, but there was some OSG (or at least, OSG-related) news to be gleamed as well.

Perhaps the most exciting for me was all the updates on Civilization 5, which have nicely been collected on the recently updated Civilization5.com. Troy from Three Moves Ahead also got a chance to interview designer John Shafer.

I also got a chance to play Global Agenda, which is a great blend of FPS and OSG, and currently has a free trial available. It was pretty fun, and I really like what they’re doing with the blend of the two genres.

Speaking of FPS, I also talked to some people about Battle Empire, which is a service that is putting together gaming tournaments that pay the winners pretty big sums of cash. Currently they’re working with Counter Strike, but I’m hoping if it takes off we might see other genres as well.

Finally, way in the back, there was a table for Skies of Zephria, what seems to be a pretty cool 3D OSG. It’s still a long way from release, but I’m pretty excited about the direction it’s going.

Cheers,
Oliver