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Playing The Game, The Real Thing


  • Playing The Game, The Real Thing

    Civilization:CtP Preview

    by Markos Giannopoulos

    I) Introduction

    Introduction? You really need one? OK, here goes:

    Is this the Civ3 we've been asking for? Does it suck or is great? Is it a revolution, an evolution or just civ2 with 16bit graphics? Does it keep the Civ1/2 feeling or lawyers and televangelists destroy the great genre?

    Opening screen

    Single player choices, options screen

    It is my humble opinion that all civers were happy when we heard about a new civ game from Activision. It was summer of 98, Microprose was playing with our nerves delaying MGE, and we thanked God for the creation of CTP. But exactly 2 minutes later, people start wondering how the new game would be, what Activision was going to make with the best game ever, and what the hell was a lawyer and cleric doing in Civ?

    Time passed, we've learned a lot about the game and it's features, but without a Sid Meier or a Brian Reynolds to count on, criticism and scepticism came easy. There were many previews but they didn't go so much in depth and crucial details were missing to complete the puzzle.

    Now, on the exact day of the release, after weeks of playing the game, we hope to give you the real experience of Civilization: Call to Power.

    Liked the intro?

    II) Opening the box, Installation

    Actually, the box in our case was just a simple box used for mail services, but the contents were the same: the CD, the manual(an early version of it) and a big poster with the advances. The manual(will be about 200 pages in the final thing) covers pretty much everything. It would be good though if there were more details on some things, like the calculation of damages in combat or the profits from trade inside your civ, as well as some instruction on modifying the game files. The poster shows the advances, the units, the city improvements, etc, much like the civ2 one, but it's two sided not one sided. Which means that you can't hang it on the wall and see everything ...

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    Opening screen

    The installation is as any windows installation - easy. Two important notes on the setup process. One, the setup program will check your hardware for the minimum requirements(Pentium 133 with 32MB of RAM), and will give you a warning if you have something lower. It will let you install it, but the game will be slow. And two, the installation program will ask you if it should install the movies on your hard disk or not. Movies on the cd means 300MB on your hard disk, while the opposite will mean an extra 300MB occupied by C:CTP. Also, the game specifically notifies you that it will require you to have an at least 80MB virtual memory file, so check your settings and the free space of your hard disk.

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    Single player choices, options screen

    Once you've passed all this stuff, you just wait to copy all the files to the disk, and there comes a nice idea: instead of watching in game screenshots and units walking in front of your face(guess on which game I'm referring), you see some of the original hand drawn sketches the art team made while designing units and city buildings. Great idea, but lets start a game...

    III) Starting, setting up a game

    When you start the game, after the excellent video introduction (which we have already seen in a smaller size some time ago), you see the main game screen. The options are: single player, multiplayer, credits and quit.

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    Civ selection windows, game creation screen in the background

    Clicking on single player will present you with new choices: new game, load game, options(from which you change settings about the gameplay, sounds, graphics, etc.) and tutorial. The tutorial is nice, I didn't actually use it, and you shouldn't more than a couple times. It will be useful of course to lots of people. As no maps or scenarios are included in the game yet there were no "start scenario" or "start on a premade map" options. A note is needed: the map editor with some pre-made maps will be available a couple of days after the release from the official Activision site. The scenario editor will follow after than accompanied with scenarios.

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    What you see when you start a game

    You'll find that the options when you create a new game are pretty much the same with Civ2, with some differences though. The civilization choices are now 42. Activision made some interesting choices: Arabs, Babylonians(there are Persians though) and Aztecs are missing, some controversial choices are in(Jamaicans, Cubans, Nicaraguans). But also some good ones too(Mayan, Native American, Phoenician). The map size has four levels, from 24x48 to 70x140. There is no "custom size" button, but you can edit the choices from a text file. The difficulty levels are the same as civ2, but this doesn't mean that the difficulty is the same(we'll get into it later).

    Moving on the other side of the new game screen, you have the choice on the world shape: earth (east/west edges connected) and doughnut (east/west and north/south edges connected). The rules choices have been cut down two: pollution (the effects of pollution on the environment) and bloodlust (kill everyone to win) can be turned on or off. You can't select your computer opponents as in civ2, and eliminated civs are not restarted, so there is no "don't restart eliminated players" option. The numbers of civilizations that can be in a game has increased to eight(from civ1/2's seven) and finally you have the options on the type of map. You game gives you six settings(each with eleven levels) on the map type, allowing numerous possibilities.

    Ok, everything set, let's click "Launch"!

    IV) First changes you notice from CIV1/2 interface

    What you see is the usual black undiscovered space and your settler in the middle. You will notice that around the settler, the space that city will cover if built is marked. This help a lot in finding a good place to build your cities. Another change you'll discover soon is that settlers are now used only to build cities, as land improvement is done with a new system.

    In the top part of the screen, you will see nothing. No menu ala civ2. Everything is at the bottom.

    The bottom part of the screen, like in AOE and SMAC, is the interface of the game. The map thumbnail on the left side works as you can imagine. Next to it, you can see your population, the year, how many public works(PW) credits and gold you have, and the zoom buttons. Zoom buttons are useful but it seems that graphics are a bit distorted when you use them.

    Next to all these, are the tabs. In the tabs you will find almost everything you will need in the game. From the image we have on this page you can take an idea of how many things you can do from the tabs.

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    All the tabs presented in one image

    What is not done from the tabs, can be done from the various screens. Clicking on the "screens" button on the right, shows a menu with the various screens: Civ(same settings you can do with the Civ tab, but with more information plus the screen where you can change you government), City (a list of your cities with details on gold, science output, etc), Unit(listing of your units and the choice on the level of alert your units are at), Science(change what you research, see which advances you have and other civs don't, and the opposite), Diplomacy (communication with other civs, information on what treaties you have signed and when they expire, their attitude to you and others, which cities have the most pollution, and more), trade (thank God (or Activision), there is an "advisor" which suggests exactly what you should do, what kind of routes you should create, etc), Library (civilopedia renamed), Ranking (powergraph, best cities, etc) and finally Options (load/save, graphics, sound options, etc).

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    City and Unit screens. Especially the city screen is a very helpful tool

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    The Science screen. You wont use it a lot, but it's good for seeing which advances other civs don't have (and what you can get from them)

    On the left side of the screen, you will be seeing small boxes with icons appearing on the beginning of each turn. These are game messages: new units, cities without build orders, cities rioting, messages from other civs, etc. This is a big improvement since messages don't pop up on you, and can just be ignored.

    You might notice that I haven't mentioned any keyboard shortcuts. Keyboard shortcuts helped a lot in civ2, giving the player the chance to avoid searching in menus. They still exist in CTP, and they can even be changed from the options menu, but I've found myself using only "n" for next turn. I'm doing everything else with the mouse.

    In general, the interface has lots of other small changes which speed up the game and reduce micromanagment. There are things that could be improved, and I'll discuss both of these issues on the next section.

    V) Micromanagement, land improvement

    Three were the things that caused micromanagment in civ2: the first was that you could only give one build order in a city. This is solved as you can create build queues, from the city tab or the city screen. Furthermore, from the city screen you can also save and load queues. Also, one can assign single build orders or queues to multiple cities from the city screen (which by the way allows for different sorting of the cities according to name, size, gold output, etc). Something missing is the ability to insert orders in the middle of a queue, everything is put at the end. Not very important, but it might be irritating when you try to create a big queue. I would also like to be able to give "max orders" to multiple cities, like to tell all of my cities to maximize production or gold output.

    The second was giving move orders to units as the "go to" algorithm didn't work well. In CTP, you can still use the arrows to move a unit, but I found myself using the mouse to do it. You have two choices: the first (and default) is first left click to select a unit, second left click to define where you want it to go. Before the second click a line appears showing you the path and the number of turns it is required to get there. The second choice is left click to select, right click to define destination. Generally, this works quite well, but I'm missing a "go to city X" command or the ability to set waypoints.

    The third cause of micromanagment was the use of settlers to improve the land. This has totally changed. You set a portion of the production to go into what is called "Public Works". When you have enough PW credits you can place a tile improvement (road, farm, mine, etc) on a tile. This system is certainly an improvement over civ2, especially in the latter part of the game. I don't know if there could be a way to have an automated procedure though, as it would be nice to just forget about it.

    Speaking of tile improvements, there are changes on that too. There are now three levels of farms, roads (roads, railroads and maglevs), mines and sea improvements (like fisheries). As you make scientific advances you will be able to place more advanced tile improvements. Important changes from civ2 are that even with maglevs you don't have zero movement cost, and that you can place mines on grassland and plains, combining them with farms on the same tile (of course you wont get the same production you would get from a mountain). Beyond these, there are tile improvements for undersea and space orbit cities. And of course, you can have undersea tunnels.

    My only problem in the tile improvement system, is that when you can built the third level tile improvements (hydroponic farms for example), the two previous levels are still there, and since the space of the tab allows only two levels to be shown, you have to use the scroll bar all the time. This could be solved if the better levels were the first choices are or if you just couldn't build a road once you are able to build a railroad(and I don't see why you would still want to build a road). Anyway, let's move on.

    VI) Combat (conventional/unconventional)

    With the risk of repeating myself, there have been lots of changes in the combat part of the game. Beyond the heavily discussed new unconventional units there are also significant changes in the conventional combat.

    First of all, stacks. You can create stacks of up to 9 units which then can move and battle together. CTP introduces a quite interesting system for stack combat. Let me explain. Some of the units (like archers or cannons) have a ranged attack ability. This means that these units can hit other units from a distance. During combat between stacks, units are divided in rows, and those with ranged attack are put in the second("back") row and hit first. The whole system is simple but explaining how exactly it works is not the subject of this section. You can find more about it on a page of Part I. Generally, stacked combat brings a new element in strategies, since you must decide what kind of units should be in your stacks in each case.

    As said before, stacks can be consisted by up to 9 units. This limit extends to the number of units on a square and in a city. This means that you can not have 20 units in a city defending it. However, cities give a 40% benefit to the defence of units inside them. This makes defending a city easier, especially if it is combined with city walls and a terrain advantage from hills or mountains.

    A way to soften the defense of cities is bombarding. Cannons, artillery and other ground, sea and air units can bombard a city without any fear for taking a damage. It is like smac, but the range is only only one tile, which means that you must have your cannons next to the units or city you want to attack(and some other units to defend them). Also, again unlike smac, bombarding can totally destroy a unit. An interesting change is that ground units with bombarding ability can know attack sea units from a sea shore.

    Finally, a nice change in conventional combat is the ability of submarines and bombers to carry nukes. The advanced form of the submarine, the stealth sub can carry four nukes!

    Beyond the conventional units there are the unconventional ones. It turns out that you might never need to use them or you might base whole strategies on them. What is interesting about them is that you can't base your whole game on one or two of these units. For example, the slaver lasts until the building of the emancipation wonder or the discovery of some modern age advance, clerics and televangelists can be built only under the theocracy government, and you can't have such a government if you have to many cities, etc.

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    The Spy can incite a revolt in cities at a dependable cost. The revolting city won't join your civ as in civ2 but it will form its own.

    Other than that, you can do all sorts of things with unconventional units without causing war: Convert cities to your religion and sell indulgences (clerics), temporarily stop the production of a city (lawyer), receive half the production of a city(corporate branch), infect a city with a virus which can also spread to other cities (infector), assassinate someone important (ecoterrorist), and lots of other stuff like that. If you think all these units seem too powerful, the "makeweight" is that all actions cost money and almost all have 50-75% chance of success.

    In general, I find the unconventional units to give the player the chance to create new attack strategies and find out defense mechanisms for AI unconventional attacks. I don't remember ever saying "God, this is ridiculous", but then again, my objections to them were never many.

    Closing the reference to combat, a change and a new idea. The change is that you can't bribe units or cities anymore. You can incite a revolt in a city using the spy, but if successful it will create it's own civilization, it wont join yours. The new idea is that some of the units can be built only under a specific government. For example the fascist, a strong and cheap military unit, can only be build under, surprise surprise, Fascism. The interesting is that if you change your government, these units will be automatically disbanded. Nice idea don't you think?

    VII) Civ managing: govs/global settings/happiness

    There are some nice ideas in governments too. CTP has a total of 11 governments. Beyond the advantages or disadvantages each government has in production, gold and science, a new factor is empire size limit. Each government has a specific limit in how many cities you can have. Over that limit, you will start to have serious unhappiness problems. This means that you will have to be careful on how much you expand (either by building cities or conquering them) if you haven't discovered a more advanced type of government. So, for small empires you have Tyranny (replaces Despotism as the government you start with) and Monarchy. For medium sized empires the options are Theocracy, Communism, Republic, Democracy and Fascism. Finally, for large empires you get to choose between Corporate Republic, Ecotopia, Virtual Democracy and Technocracy.

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    The various forms of the city tab. An interesting aspect of CTP is that you can see exactly how big a happiness or a pollution problem is.

    The government type is not the only thing that affects your civilization globally. Civ1/2 had the distribution between taxes, science and luxuries. CTP has work hours, wages and rations. Work hours affect production (more hours=more production), wages affect the money that goes to science and your treasury (smaller wages=more money available for other things) and rations affect your civ's growth (smaller rations means more food to be stored for the growth of your cities). All factors affect happiness. For example, smaller wages means less happiness. Since any changes take effect immediately, you have more flexibility on where your efforts are targeted without the need to change your government.

    Speaking of happiness, it is also affected by other things. Overcrowding (too many people) which can be solved with city improvements like the aqueduct, war discontent (when you are at war of course) which might be smaller or less depending on your government, conquest distress in enemy cities that you capture(but this goes away as time passes) and finally pollution.

    What happens in case of unhappiness? Well, if you're not careful cities will riot, and if you're totally messing things up the cities will revolt and create their own civilization. You will normally not have revolts often, but there at least two cases when you might be surprised. The first is if your capitol is captured, which causes major unhappiness in all cities until you build a new capitol somewhere else. The second is if you build the AI Entity wonder which eliminates unhappiness but there is a very small possibility that the AI Entity, which makes all your citizens content, will revolt and form a new nation with several cities of your empire. I built it once, and it did revolt! How's that for being unlucky?

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    A cavalry in a space orbit city? If you don't disband it for 400 years, yes ...

    VIII) Diplomacy

    Anyway, I know a reason why we are all a bit unlucky. And that's diplomacy. Activision made several small steps forward and big backwards.

    The steps forward are the new choices. You can now demand from another civ to attack someone else, to stop trading with someone else, to stop pirating your trade routes, to stop trespassing in your territory and to reduce pollution. Especially for that one, if you want to be more gentle, you can do a an "eco pact", a treaty with which the two sides agree to reduce pollution. As for what you can exchange, it's the same, maps and advances. With advances, you now get a list of what you have and he hasn't, and the opposite. I'm sure that's something lots of people have asked for.

    Another good change is that AI-controlled civs with "peaceful" or "agreeable" personalities act exactly this way. You can make alliances with them without fear that they will betray you, nor will they do so if you become too powerful. Instead, if they are weak, they will be sending you presents (their maps, gold, etc).

    What's the backwards step? There is no negotiation. For example, you have crashed an enemy and he asks for peace. You reject. Does he asks for mercy giving you money and advances? No. He will be more submissive though, but it's not the same.

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    In CTP you know exactly when pollution will cause a major disaster. Since you won't be the only civ causing this, you'll have to find peaceful or military ways to reduce their pollution ...

    Finally, there two changes which I'm not sure if it is for better or worse. The first is that normal peace treaties last for 10 turns. After that, it turns to a cease-fire. This is good because you can go to war more easily by waiting a couple turns and without thinking about your reputation, but the bad thing is that so can the AI, and you have to keep an eye on when the peace treaty ends. The second is that alliances can only be broken by one of the civs attacking the other, and not through diplomacy as in civ1/2. I think that others will like this and others not.

    IX) Trade

    However, if CTP looses something in diplomacy, the new trade system really rocks. Trade is now based on the actual resources of the map. If a city has a tobacco resource in it's city radius and a worker of the city is working on that specific tile then it can trade tobacco with other cities of the same civilization or export it.

    When you send a specific resource from various cities to one, you get a profit from the trade routes and you can sell it to other countries at a bigger price. You can set a price of a resource or you can leave it blank. Other civs will come to you with offers to some of your resources in order to concentrate more of these resources and be able to re-sell it at a bigger price.

    So, in a map with lots of resources trade becomes important, and so does pirating trade routes. Trade routes are shown on the map and any military unit can pirate one destroying it and earning some money for its civ. I can now imagine scenarios based on trade and pirating.

    But I think it's time to move on to other things beyond actual features of the game.

    X) Multiplayer

    Everyone knows that making a turn based strategy game with good multiplayer is something quite difficult. These kind of games need lots of time. To tell you the hard truth, I didn't get to play much of multiplayer CTP, but the situation is somewhat what Civ2:MGE is, in the sense that each player plays on his turn but he can also do other things like giving build orders while others play, but certainly faster due to the changes which reduce micromanagment. A good idea is that you can have one on one games, which means no waiting for the AI. Another good thing is that you can start (and end) at a specific age, saving time for playing in the Ancient age. Also, I'm sure there will be multiplayer scenarios which will allow really fast games.

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    Choose your ActivLink server ...

    Other than that, CTP supports Internet, TCP/IP on LAN and IPX. Hotseat and a Play By E-Mail will be added with a free downloadable patch. For the most used option, Internet, CTP has an integrated matchmaking system. Certainly the best feature about multiplayer, you're presented with a list of Activision's servers around the world, showing how many people are on each server and what's your speed with it. On each server, there can be several lobbies where you arrange games and chat with other players.

    There are some other small but important in some cases features. For example, you can exclude any unit, wonder or city improvement from the game. This way, if you don't want a game with slaves or ecorangers, you can. Also, you can start with more than one settlers and as many as gold as you like.

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    Blah blah, multiplayer, blah blah ...

    Furthermore two players can start with different number of settlers and gold in order to create a handicap between a "deity" and "chieftain"! Finally, beyond the typical infinite and limited time per turn options, there is "carryover"(time you don't use is carried over to the next turns) and "speed cities"(the time you have is analogous to the number of your cities).

    So, I don't want to pass some final judgments here, but I think we have some good chances of having decent multiplayer games.

    XI) Graphics/sound

    And what about graphics and sound, the "garniture of games"? You can see the graphics in the screenshots. The dream of every civer who hates 256 colors. And lots of animation. Walking, fighting and dying units, resources even trade routes have animations. Personally, I have turned off resources and trade routes though. They made the map too "alive".

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    The save/load window can also show the powergraph, the map and the civs of the game

    As for the sound part, first of all the songs are great, to the effect that I've listened to it without playing the game. But then again I have also like civ2's songs, especially some of the ones on MGE. Songs that lots of people didn't like, so you might not be able to trust me on that one. But the big change is that now units speak! Yeah, I know this is almost unethical for a die-hard tbs player, but you might get used to it. Or you can turn it off.

    As for the wonder movies, they are very good, and all of them computer generated. This will make you miss civ2's "real" videos, but still some of the movies are simply great. Something really nice is that in a couple of the movies, you can see the units as they appear in the game. For example in the Ramayana movie, the archer is exactly the same as in the game!

    XII) AI/difficulty

    But that's all nonsense in front of the real questions: how smart and how difficult is the AI, and how fun is the game anyway?

    For start, the AI can now have several personalities: Slaver, Religious, Militant, Aggressive, Peaceful and Agreeable. The improvement is that each personality now uses actually different strategies and act as they should. As said before, a peaceful civ with which you have a peace treaty is very unlikely to attack you. You must really make him angry. Or a Religious AI will get Theocracy as fast as possible and start sending you clerics.

    As for smartness, it seems smarter. Or at least, less stupid. A weak civ won't attack you for no reason. Or the AI wont brake a treaty unless it has some good chance of getting something quickly. Other "smart" actions of the AI is that if possible he builds his cities on hills to get the extra defense advantage, or that he finds your trade routes and pirates them (and then he demands that you stop pirating his ).

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    The result of the ozone layer destruction

    As for difficulty, it appears to be more difficult. I'm a civ2 deity player, winning most of the time, and I had to start from Chieftain. This was because civ2's strategies must be re-worked or totally changed to fit in CTP. I'm now finishing a Prince game and it turned out to be an easy win. The higher levels are certainly more challenging. Even if this is not enough for you, difficulty levels can be tweaked. But this is something for the next paragraph.

    XIII) Scenario/map creation/customisation

    So, what's into for the civ creator? Well, for one the map and scenario editors are not ready yet, and will not be in the final thing. The map editor at least is very close though, both will be available as free downloadable patches.

    Activision has spoken about a scripting language for scenarios but it remains to be seen along with the scenario editor. Also, Activision plans to have a section on the official C:CTP site for map and scenario editing.

    Other than that, there is a lot of stuff in text and common graphic format (tga). Starting from the number of simultaneous civs in a game (up to 32!!), to the names and the cities of the civilizations, to the colors that are used by each civ, to how many turns the ages last, to units and advances, even some of the AI behavior can be tweaked from a text file.

    A big question remains the editing of unit, city and terrain graphics. They are all in their own formats. However, Activision is working on a way around this. The good thing is that they seem to understand how important this is. Beyond that, almost every other graphic you might want to modify is in tga format, editable with any graphic program.

    The manual isn't saying anything about the modification possibilities, and a lot might fall into the hands of the fans. There are a lot things to look into and experiment with, and we will probably have to do discover things by ourselves. Activision has promised that tips for scenario and map editing will be posted on the official site though.

    XIV) Conclusion/vs SMAC?

    Finally, the time to make a conclusion! The game is excellent. Is that enough? No? Ok...

    A thing I've liked, beyond everything else I mentioned in the previous paragraphs, is that you if you're in a winning position the game is not won for sure, but you might have some surprises. For example, in a game on a small map, some time in 1700's I was winning the game, nothing could stop me, when I reached the 30 cities limit of Republic. I would have problems if I captured more cities and I hadn't discovered a more advanced government. Or something like that could happen with pollution. In my last game I tried to avoid a disaster but at the end I didn't. The ozone layer was destroyed, and I lost 20 cities(!) because of the raise of the sea level! I was still in a "nothing could make me lose" position though. In another case I might not be.

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    I won!

    A bad thing? Well, the pace of the game is a little slow in the first half of the game. This also depends on the size of the map, but things get more "wild" somewhere in the middle to the end of the Renaissance age. Since you change the number of years each turn takes in each part of the game, it might be interesting to see a mod with the 500 turns ending at 2000, giving more time to the first ages.

    So, CTP is a great game for a civer like me (and probably you). But how does it compare with SMAC? Well, it's hard to say, and a lot depend on personal liking. CTP is based on earth, with real history for the bigger part, while SMAC is 100% science fiction. Some people will say that CTP rocks because of the graphics, other people don't care about it. Some other people think that CTP sucks because of the lawyer unit.

    However, a couple of things are more certain. SMAC has a better diplomacy part, a real 3-D map, custom units, has a real story based on the conflict of seven different ideologies and keeps the civ2 gameplay. CTP brings news ideas in conventional and unconventional combat, a realistic trade system, allows 32 civs, retains the civ feeling of "re-writing history" and reduces micromanagment...

    My opinion? It seems that I will be playing both for the next two years

    See you on the battlefield (earth or alien)!

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        Imagine this: it's 9 in the morning and the door bell rings. "What the $#%@" you think as you open the door to see that your beta copy of C:CTP is finally here!

        Anyway, Day One Impressions:

        Well, I didn't have the time to play it much, and I'm not going to start writing my part of the preview right here, but generally I would like to say that the game looks wonderful. Stack combat seems to be the most important thing in the first stages.

        March 14, 2011, 07:54
      • First Impressions Of Modification
        by MarkG
        Welcome to Apolyton's CTP modification file!

        The documentation below has been compiled by Markos, to help you get "the most" out of your CTP-based creations.

        Up to 32 civilizations in a game

        It turned out to be a piece of cake. Userprofile.txt stores various game settings, like the resolution or the gameplay and sound options. And, of course, the number of civilizations that can be in one game! The very first line is "NumPlayers=8"! There are also two more settings, "DefaultCivIndex=16" and "CivIndex=16", which obviously have something to do...
        March 13, 2011, 15:50
      • Playing The Game, The Real Thing
        by MarkG

        Civilization:CtP Preview

        by Markos Giannopoulos

        I) Introduction

        Introduction? You really need one? OK, here goes:

        Is this the Civ3 we've been asking for? Does it suck or is great? Is it a revolution, an evolution or just civ2 with 16bit graphics? Does it keep the Civ1/2 feeling or lawyers and televangelists destroy the great genre?

        March 13, 2011, 05:39
      • Manual Info
        by BureauBert
        Continuing our effort to bring you as much as info on C:CTP we can, we present some of the most interesting parts of the manual....
        March 10, 2011, 16:46
      • Working...