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Civilization 4 Review by "Yin26" (Part 2/3)


  • Civilization 4 Review by "Yin26" (Part 2/3)

    CivIV According to Soren

    Another rarely used method of reviewing a game is to judge it against the developer's stated goals. Perhaps this is hard in many cases because developer's goals aren't always there in anything more than marketing hype. Soren, however, wrote one of the best Afterwords I have read in a gaming manual, and I think his view of CivIV deserves some discussion. First, he acknowledges that “there are a thousand ways to make a great game about all of civilization – we only get to make one of them.” What does he think he made with CivIV, and what do I, Mr. Random Reviewer, think of the results?

    NOTE: The “dialogue” here is made up. I'm sure the real Soren would say things far more brilliantly.

    1. SOREN: Sticking with turn-based allows for “a series of overlapping mini-goals".

    YIN: Keeping Civ a T[urn] B[ased] S[trategy (TBS) game] is obvious enough, but I do believe that there are a number of interesting, overlapping mini-goals in CivIV (increasing my number of cities while not falling too far behind the tech race, for example), though these fall apart the longer the game wears on. Still, SCORE: [+1]

    2. SOREN: And people don't like too much micro-management.

    YIN: In reducing the number of cities required to play well in CivIV, you've gone a long, long way. Other things like having discontented citizens simply stop working instead of putting the city in revolt or in giving players production overflows are spot on. I do think, though, that it's still too hard to find/manage units and cities under the current U[ser] I[nterface] scheme. Also, workers do little more, in my view, than add needless micromanagement and drag to the game. If workers are interesting until the mid game, consider phasing them out in favor of a Public Works system once you discover the technology? Why not a hybrid approach if you want to keep workers to some extent? Finally, a conquest end game is still as tedious as ever. SCORE: [0]

    3. SOREN: Players in CivIII found the population requirement associated with creating a settler confusing, so now a settler simply holds population growth.

    YIN: Interesting decision here. I'd like a mod that does *both* these things, but I'm quite happy with the new system, I must say. SCORE: [+1]

    4. SOREN: Pollution in CivIII created a “whack-a-mole” cleanup requirement, so we added a comprehensive health system instead.

    YIN: Nice work on this, too. Same effect with less micro and more interesting decisions. However, you say yourself that “it did put a lot of workers out of a job, though.” Indeed, which argues further for taking workers out of the game! SCORE: [+1]

    5. SOREN: We found a way to limit I[nfinite] C[ity] S[prawl (ICS)] without needing mass amounts of corruption costs levied against the player.

    YIN: Of course, you now have city maintenance costs, which are pretty heavy-handed.

    SOREN: Sure, but we give you Golden Ages, city specialization tied to resources, and specialized citizens that also help create Great People.

    YIN: Golden Ages often come too late in the game to have a real impact, but the city specialization scheme tied to strategic placement of cities by resources is excellent. I think you could do more here (see the RECOMMENDATIONS section of the review), but I think your overall approach to killing ICS is surprisingly fun. Also, the Great People approach creates many of Sid's "interesting decisions": Many times, the creation of a Great Person at one of my specialized cities has offered me some wonderful short-term (and a few long-term) gains in important ways at critical times.

    Although I often wish more of them would come, I blame my own strategy more than anything else. Well done. However, please consider a harsher cap on the number of cities you can reasonably hold, because by the end game you can hold dozens and dozens of cities with no penalty (other than tedium). SCORE: [+1]

    6. SOREN: By the way, you can't build more than two national wonders in a city, so we aren't completely tossing out the idea of having a healthy number of cities you need to defend.

    YIN: Agreed. SCORE: [+1]

    7. SOREN: On your previous note, isn't the problem of worker tedium more about not having enough “interesting decisions” for them? Let's give them two moves a turn (saving a lot of micro) and letting them build more varied stuff, like windmills and watermills.

    YIN: Sorry on this one, Soren, but it's still plain old tedium, despite the very welcome addition of an added movement point. Added build options are crucial, of course, to other strategic concerns (Do I chop all my trees now for early growth or do I save some for lumber mills later when I really need the income?), and this is no small thing, but the worker system really needs to go away. About the ONLY thing going for the worker system is the need to protect your workers against attack, but this adds minute strategic value relative to the horrendous micro these units still require. By the late game, I have a dozen or more of these guys sitting idle or cluttering the map, slowing down performance.

    And please consider this: The tedium of this approach actually encourages me to put my workers on auto by the mid game, and the results are always mixed. They usually kill all my forests, spam roads everywhere, build things differently from what I would have wanted, and often make the turns go MUCH longer than needed otherwise by watching them run back and forth between Point A and Point B like they were doing wind sprints at a basketball try out. Finally, because cities eventually have nothing very useful to build at certain points (or perhaps there are times you actually want to STOP city growth), these workers become generators of free tile improvements. It's a no brainer to spam these guys like crazy.

    Eliminating them will, I believe, encourage players to think more carefully about how to place tile improvements (and these improvements should actually cost gold or nearby city production points!), all the while speeding up the C[entral] P[rocessing] U[unit (CPU)] performance and limiting map clutter. SCORE: [-1]

    8. SOREN: Well, Civics. You gotta give it to me on Civics.

    YIN: While I often wonder why all civs wouldn't want the same (or nearly the same) Civics choices ASAP (does slavery really help you later in the game when you have far more productive options?), I do see potential here. On the other hand, Communism creates more food? I understand that you might not be shooting to have CivIV in history classrooms around the world, but let's not ride history's coat tails, either, if you merely want some abstract device for raising and lowering bonuses. Use SimTalk or something, but not real historical names.

    Also, it seems like many of the civic choices lose any allure once you discover choices deeper down the tree, which seems to mean that all players (human and A[rtificial] I[ntelligence (AI)) will tend toward similar choices (or chose wrong paths foolishly). True, the fact that you can mix and match these to fit a certain strategy is a move in the right direction, but I think civics needs more work. Part of the problem, really, is that economies of scale begin to make most choices rather meaningless by the end game. SCORE: [0]

    9. SOREN: We introduced "or" gates into the tech tree, which "breathed new life" into it…agree?

    YIN: I'm flying by techs so darned quickly that I hardly get to live with them very long before they are obsolete let alone worry too much whether or not I have an "and" vs. an "or" gateway to getting something. If anything, maybe the "or" gate made the tech tree too easy to manipulate? Also, while it's a great thought to give the player "alternative histories" in a Civ game, allowing me to think that artillery is sufficient inspiration for flight, frankly, pushed CivIV too far away from anything historical toward a disengaged feeling of simply running toward some tech goal the easiest way possible. SCORE: [-1].

    10. SOREN: So on the religious front, Saladin should never be allowed to be Jewish?

    YIN: I think, again, religion in CivIV is devoid of its historical significance in the name of giving the player mechanisms to manipulate. Certainly how you manipulate religion profoundly affects the kinds of diplomatic relationships you can have, however, and this is fun and strategic as long as the AI is aggressive enough about it.

    Here's a brain teaser for you, though: If I get a -4 relationship hit with a Christian Civ just because my state religion is Muslim, how come my cities have Christians and Muslims in them but suffer no loss in production or rise in unhappiness? Or why can't I have earlier options for stopping the spread of a religion I don't want (even if the religions are carbon copies of each other in any event)? And for the “Gameplay Beats All” people out there, don't backed yourself into a design corner. Why not have good gameplay and a little historical accuracy, too? Just for kicks. Unless we want to call this thing SimCiv and be done with it?

    I'd personally LOVE to hear Spock open the game talking in Simlish! SCORE: [0]

    11. SOREN: Combat has “undergone the most radical change of all” with a single strength value, promotions and collateral damage to stop the Stack of Death".

    YIN: There is a difference between radical under-the-hood changes and radical changes in real-world gameplay terms. While the move toward a single strength value might seem radical on paper, combat doesn't feel all that different to me. Indeed, combat's overall lack of evolution in CivIV is, for me, one of its signal weaknesses. While it's true that the promotion system is a wonderful addition (I even called it “genius” on the forums!), it's still a matter of degree and not substance. Indeed, even here the degree might be a bit overboard as the number and type of promotions can quickly devolve into another micro chore (yes, there is an auto-promote button for this too, but that should tell you something). This is to say, it's simply high time that a Civ game go with stacked combat. Let's not mince words.

    In an Apolyton [Civilization Site] chat, you said yourself that Heroes of Might and Magic provided some inspiration for CivIV. If so, then why not let our stacks drop to a well-rendered and interactive combat zone that allows the player to choose the match ups? I recall many an HoMM game in which I would desperately attack a single gold dragon (or whatever the killer unit was) with all my first strike units hoping to kill it, which would give me reasonable hope of surviving the rest of the units in his stack. Perhaps on paper this is bad strategy…but it's compelling. It's fun. Most of all, it puts the player in control, and actually seeing the results play out on screen is simply far more engrossing that clicking the mouse and letting the computer crunch a bunch of numbers. Furthermore, this approach might lend itself to showcasing your great promotions scheme: Imagine actually seeing a flank move, for example, or a unit with Medic I healing nearby friends. Also, as long as units can heal for free, the idea of collateral damage as a stack killer is effectively neutered. Many, many times I have simply waited to let my units in a huge stack heal before pressing my attack again. Often there were fresh units also being sent as reinforcements as well. Given that there is no added cost for me to heal (even in enemy territory, which I find odd), sieges become too easy, and only the most careless player would abuse his stack against area splash units to such a degree that it decides that battle against the AI. Charging the player some g.p. for healing units, however, would really change this dynamic! SCORE: [-1]

    12. SOREN: You realize that the last several pages of my Afterword are about the many great people who helped with these ideas?

    YIN: Yes, that was very well written and inspiring. You seem to have a talent for listening to feedback, fostering synergy and producing good results. For your work and theirs, SCORE: [+1]


    I think it's safe to say that Soren clearly accomplished at least half of what he set out to do, and some of the things I think he missed could be easily (?) tweaked. Other issues are perhaps too close to the heart and might never be addressed in the way that I, personally, would like (but I'm a very small fish in a big Civ pond).

    Therefore, according to the guidelines Soren has given us for judging CivIV's success, I would say that there are some clear winners, some work yet to be done, and perhaps a some soul-searching left on the horizon. Not a bad result, I would say, considering the stakes were so high and the opportunity to do too little or too much must have lurked around Firaxis [Games] on a daily basis.

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      NOTE: The “dialogue” here is made up. I'm sure the real Soren would say things far more brilliantly.

      1. SOREN: Sticking with turn-based allows for “a series of overlapping mini-goals".

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