A thoughtful and personal exploration of games

Posts tagged “Civilization IV

Rage Quitting

There are few games that upset me so much that I’ll just up and quit. Very few.

I do my best to not be in the position to rage quit a game. The problem isn’t with the game in those situations, it resides in me. Recognizing that, however, doesn’t help anything when I’m just so angry.

The other day I was playing Civilization IV and I had built up a pretty decent cluster of cities on a landmass that had a natural bottleneck and the other side of that bottleneck housed the French (I honestly don’t recall which civilization I was). Anyway, if you ignore and rebuff enemy civs in the game for long enough, eventually they just randomly declare war on you. Well, the French did and AFTER building up this incredible mass of sacrificial lambs to throw against my well defended bottleneck city. I successfully fended them off for a while, but then the onslaught started and I really hated sitting there watching them wear down my defenders only for the damnable French to eventually win the fight. That was infuriating and I just went, “NO” and quit the game.

See, that’s why I like island games. Tragically this one didn’t work out for me.

When I’m in a foul mood I typically avoid games I know will irritate me further, like World of Warplanes/Tanks or DC Universe Online. Games where you’re going fine and then BAM you’re dead like in Awesomenauts or MechWarrior Online. I just have to hold off and avoid those situations that would exacerbate my bad mood.

I have to take care of me, you know? I absolutely hate getting mad at games and I resorted to cooling off while playing Tiny Death Star. Fantastic for cooling off and I highly recommend it.

Anyway, that’s all I have for today. Nothing too intensive. Just relax, enjoy, and don’t let the game get you down!

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. “Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.” – Gildor, The Fellowship of the Ring.

Gaming Inside of my Comfort Zone

I was going back and forth yesterday on Twitter with a friend of mine and the concept of playing outside of one’s comfort zone came up. That said, I want to talk about playing INSIDE the comfort zone first, so I’ll get to the outside part next time.

There are a lot of games out there. The ones I feel most comfortable playing are the ones I can pick up and just run with without a second thought. When I sat down to play Dragon Age: Origins, for example, it was like pulling on a new pair of shoes that looked and felt extremely similar to my last pair. I still needed to break them in, but I was already familiar with the process and it was pretty quick since I wound up doing a lot of walking in a very short period of time.

So there are games that are, in and of themselves, within the comfort zone. For me, it’s a space flight simulator, a turn-based strategy game, a Baldur’s Gate derivative. These are the kinds of games I grew up playing.

Well, what about the games that don’t fit inside the comfort zone automatically? I can still be in my comfort zone even then, given the right opportunities.

For example, I love playing self-sufficient characters. My favorite D&D character was a Psychic Warrior who, with proper power choices, I was able to fight effectively, defend myself against a myriad of potential harms, and heal myself. To this day, I still play that way where I can. My Captain in Lord of the Rings Online is one such character. When I played Star Wars: The Old Republic as the Smuggler, I chose to be the Scoundrel and went straight down the healing tree. I did the same thing as a Mercenary Bounty Hunter and a Commando Trooper.

If I don’t have just one character, I believe distinctly in the balanced party. While Dragons Age is wholly within my comfort zone, I maintained a solid party of a rogue (for lockpicking primarily), a mage (for healing), a warrior (for tanking), and anyone else (for DPS). Yes, that restricted my play a bit, but it made decisions really easy when I went to make party choices. In XCOM: Enemy Unknown, I always had the four types of soldiers represented and then the two extra soldier spots would be where that particular playthrough was different from earlier ones. I’ve had those two spare slots taken up by a heavy and a support and an assault and a support before and that allowed me some considerable latitude in play style.

In Civilization IV, I set up the environment if I can so that my civilization is totally contained and secure before spreading out and taking new lands. I focus on infrastructure so that I can develop a powerful military at the drop of a hat and a few turns. In Star Trek Online, I chose a ship type that can take a lot of damage, then I proceeded to make it deal a lot of damage and be able to handle every situation that could come up. A long time ago when I played the Yu-Gi-Oh! card game, I built a deck that was affectionately referred to as “Whatever you do, I stop and make you regret it” or something like that. Essentially it was a balanced deck that countered many things the other player could do and then could crack them on the knuckles for doing it.

For me, it’s all about the balanced approach. Mixed arms and combined tactics to provide a well rounded and quality experience. I suppose I’m the kind of guy who likes to dip into every style to ensure an approach that can respond to every issue that might arise. In some games it’s just the simple “just shoot them” strategy. In others it’s more nuanced. My particular comfort zone playstyle is a kind of go-with-the-flow thing and it totally works for me.

The real trick for me is finding that comfort zone in each new game I pick up. Sometimes I’m lucky, like with Borderlands 2 where I started playing the Mechromancer and was pleasantly surprised how it flowed with my playstyle. Other times I’m not so lucky, like with Neverwinter where I played a long time as a Cleric before realizing that the Guardian Fighter was where it’s at for me.

An odd little thing: the Mass Effect series started in, I think, 2007 (yup). When that game came out, I played it for a week straight and loved it. Truly loved it. Turns out, I’d played its predecessor, a little game from 1986 called Starflight. Now, it’s quite a stretch to go from Starflight to Mass Effect, but the ship shape was kind of similar, the ground vehicle was (aside from armaments) was remarkably similar, and the stories I developed for my Starflight crew in my head was rivaled neatly by the stories developed for the crew of the Normandy. Look it up. Starflight inspired Mass Effect. Mass Effect has essentially been in my comfort zone since I was 4 years old. How about that, huh? Oh, I beat ME2 and ME3 each in a week as well. I’m that kind of gamer, just can’t put a good game/book down.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with finding and playing inside your comfort zone. It allows you to kick back, relax, and just play.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. There are no quotes I could find quickly about the benefits of staying in your comfort zone because everyone’s trying to be all inspirational on the internet and encourage people to do stuff that’s new and “outside your comfort zone”. I maintain that you need to be aware of what your comfort zone is prior to stepping outside of it, hence why I started with this piece instead of the next one. If you know your comfort zone and you stray from it, you always know where it is for when you need to get back to it for whatever reason.

The Snap of the Rubber Band

This past week or so I’ve been frustrated by a single issue that keeps popping up time and again in places where I kind of expect a little problem, but not to this extent.

I’m speaking of rubber banding.

To clarify, I’m not talking of snapping your wrist with a rubber band or anything like that. I’m speaking of what happens when there’s a brief disconnect between your computer/client software and the server. Essentially, your computer keeps going and the server goes, “Wait, hang on…” and when there’s a reconnection, the server bounces (or snaps) your character or ship or whatever back to where it last had you on your computer. This is rubber banding (don’t let anyone tell you otherwise… it’s a network issue, not hardware or whatever).

So, knowing this isn’t a hardware issue (I can tell because my frame rate is perfectly fine), I looked into potential connection issues. On the one hand, I’m on a wireless network. On the other, after several routing tests, there’s no problem between my computer and the router (regardless of the number of devices handling it). So, where’s the problem? If it’s not local, what’s keeping me from playing Neverwinter, Star Trek Online, and Diablo III without incident?

I’m honestly not sure. I think it exists outside my home and has to do with my ISP’s agreements with other local port providers closer to the server locations.

As a result, I stopped playing Star Trek Online this week shortly after getting back into it. I stopped playing Neverwinter after a day or two of play. Last night, I rubber banded so frequently and badly (it resulted in a slowdown in loot dropping from a Treasure Pigmy and then it disconnected me as soon as the loot dropped) in Diablo III that I refuse to play that for a bit too.

I’m looking around and wondering how many of my games require internet connections to play (not just DRM net connections, I’m talking forces you to be constantly in contact with a server for playing) and I’m really disappointed in myself. A majority of the games on my computer require that constant connection. I played some Awesomenauts, some Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword, some XCOM Enemy Unknown.

Today, I feel fairly restless. I want to do what I want to do and I feel like I can’t without becoming inconvenienced. Ugh.

Here’s hoping my ISP sorts things out soon.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. The definition of rubberbanding on the Urban Dictionary site is spot on.

UPDATE: Here’s a thread on the STO forums that explains kind of what’s going on.

Gaming Diet

My gaming diet has been pretty sparse lately.

I’ve been really enjoying Civilization IV and just starting a custom game and playing as a random civilization. It’s quite a lot of fun and I highly recommend it. Typically I get bored around the time where I have to win though. The build up, the expansion, the struggling to make a civilization that can stand the test of time is where all the fun is for me. Sealing the deal, winning, is just unnecessary at that point.

The other day a buddy and I got in some Diablo 3 and that was a pleasant change of pace. I do enjoy playing my Wizard, but he’s a mite fragile. I kind of have to be in the mood to kite enemies around to play him.

I’ve also been playing the occasional couple of rounds of Mass Effect 3 multiplayer. I’m almost through with the Sentinel and I’m considering which Infiltrator I’d like to play.

I’m holding off on playing any Star Wars: The Old Republic until Rise of the Hutt Cartel drops (and even then I might hold off because it’s going to be CROWDED). SWTOR isn’t a game I just pick up and play because it’s a serious time investment… also my computer has the occasional issue with running it.

I’m also holding off on playing any Star Trek Online until the new expansion lets us play as Romulans in May. I’m very much looking forward to that. It’ll be crowded too, but STO is a game I’ve whupped pretty well and it’s easier for me to just pick it up than SWTOR.

Yesterday I knocked out Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge for my next Let’s Play. I’ll start posting them this Wednesday. I was surprised at how quick the game was considering how I hadn’t played it in a number of years and I couldn’t remember most of it.

Anyway, not much going on here, so, until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. “I’m a mighty pirate!” – Guybrush Threepwood

Discussion: When is a game completed?

A recent project of mine has been to list all of the games that I’ve played in my lifetime. No, not board games or card games, but computer and video games. When I started this project a few days ago, I began by listing the name of the game, the platform I played it on, and whether or not I finished the game or left it incomplete. Later I added the genre of the game in another column. Earlier today, I was asked if I had a count of how many of the games I had listed had actually been completed and also, what constituted a completed game? There are some games that just never have a solid ending (city-building games like SimCity or online games like World of Warcraft) and other games that have more fluid endings (like Civilization). When do I declare a game finished?

For the purposes of city-building games (SimCity, SimCity 2000, SimCity 3000, SimCity 4, Afterlife, Caesar, etc.) I declare the game to be “finished” when I have finally hit upon a self-sufficient city design and I’m happy with it. In the first three SimCity games I managed to achieve that. Self-sufficient is defined for my purposes as, well, I could technically walk away from the keyboard for a few minutes and not worry that the city will blow up in my absence. It’s got a positive revenue, I’ve built up my planned design, and there’s not much more improving I can do… yeah.

For the purposes of games like Civilization, Sins of a Solar Empire, Master of Orion, and similar strategy games with no tangible storyline, they are “finished” when I have completed a beginning to end playthrough once. That’s all it takes. When it comes to these games though, sometimes it takes several days. It could also be on the easiest difficulty, like in my case, I happen to enjoy playing Civilization IV on the easiest setting, but occasionally I crank up the difficulty a step or two. I never leave a game like this alone after beating it once.

For the purposes of online games (Dungeons & Dragons Online, Star Trek Online, Star Wars Galaxies, World of Warcraft, etc.) I say they are “finished” when I have taken at least one character to the maximum level available in the game. Therefore, Star Trek Online and Star Wars Galaxies are classified as finished whereas Dungeons & Dragons Online and World of Warcraft isn’t. Further, there’s nothing to say I can’t keep playing a game once I’ve classified it as “finished” on my list, it’s just a barometer for how far I’ve taken a particular game (especially MMOs). This is regardless of the storyline in the game.

Other games are definitely done if I feel I played the hell out of them like I did Super Smash Bros. Melee or Super Mario Kart. Or if I finished the storyline like in Final Fantasy VIII or IX (I remember finally finishing those in the same weekend after not playing them for 6-8 months or something like that… VIII on a Saturday and IX on a Sunday, bam, done). The Sims? Right, I labeled that one as finished because I got one Sim all the way up to the Chief of Police in my game once upon a time (way back in fall 2002) and since then that file has vanished into the ether between electrons. I do distinctly remember such a thing happening, which is why I classified it as “finished”.

Mind, this is my personal measurement of completion. I have a friend who believes that Diablo II: Lord of Destruction will not be truly beaten until he’s beaten it on the hardest difficulty setting. I called it a win when I got through Nightmare. Different strokes for different folks, I suppose.

Now, a fair portion of my list is classified as incomplete. This could refer to any number of reasons:

1) I didn’t like the game after trying it

2) I didn’t own the game and played it at a friends house

3) I no longer own the game

4) I can’t remember ever finishing it

5) Any permutation of the above

Oh, also, I’ve played some games on multiple platforms. Chrono Trigger hasn’t changed much (if at all) from its SNES roots to the Playstation port to the current DS version, so I marked that I’d finished the game (which I have, several times over) but that the platform is DS. Maybe later I’ll expand the platform box to allow for all the versions I’ve played of a single game, but I’ve only marked it once. For the record, I haven’t beaten Chrono Trigger on the DS yet, but I beat the Playstation version and I beat the SNES version on ZSNES (emulation) several times.

For Lunar, I played and beat it on SEGA CD at a friend’s house a long time ago, I got it for the Playstation and beat it (and subsequently lost my copy or loaned it to someone), and according to my GameSpot listing I have a copy of Lunar Legend somewhere (which I recall beating, but I can’t find it anywhere) and now I have the Lunar Harmony version for the PSP. The differences between Lunar: The Silver Star and Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete were incredible (harp to ocarina anyone?) so I counted them separately on my list. The differences between Lunar: SSSC and Lunar Legend were less so, but there was a drastic graphical change, so I marked that one too as a separate game. Lastly, there was also a huge change between the GBA Lunar Legend and the PSP Lunar: Silver Star Harmony, so that one was counted separately too. So… on my list of games played in my life, I’ve counted Chrono Trigger once (even though I’ve played it on four different platforms) and Lunar four times (because of the differences between the remakes). If any of that made any sense, I owe you a cookie or something.

I have this bad habit of playing a game almost all the way to the end, realizing that I missed something WAYYYYY back near the beginning, starting again and then getting a decent way in and stopping playing for about 6 months to a year. With Final Fantasy VIII, IX, XII, I eventually went back and beat them, but with games like Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, Legend of Dragoon, and Harbinger, I might never go back because they’re too old or something equally silly. I haven’t touched Legend of Dragoon in so long and I remember being so close to the ending, but because I don’t remember how to play, if I do pick it up again I’ll have to start a new game. Also, some games tempt me to pick them up again. I’ve been having this urge to play Chrono Cross again and, lately, Star Ocean: Till the End of Time.

I included some expansions as separate entries. In the case of Starcraft, Brood War was practically its own game. Likewise with the expansions to Wing Commander 2, and a few other games. Sometimes the contributions of an expansion weren’t ever significant enough to me, so I didn’t count it (Empire Earth, Age of Empires II, and a few others).

Oh, here’s my key for the genres of the games. This is mostly just for my own purposes, but I’d like to get the key put down somewhere.

AADV – Action Adventure (includes combination games that display elements of both Action and Adventure games) 22

ACT – Action (includes scrolling shooters, light gun games, third-person shooters and any sports games) (yes sports because I don’t really play any so they don’t get their own category) 49

ADV – Adventure (includes graphical adventures, text adventures, point-and-click games) 64

ARPG – Action Role-Playing Game (for hack-and-slash games) (any Diablo game or clone thereof and games similar to Marvel Ultimate Alliance) 28

EDU – Educational (mostly games I played as a kid) (Super Solvers Midnight Rescue! got a humorous response out of a friend last night) 6

FGT – Fighting (Mortal Kombat and similar games) 16

FPS – First-Person Shooter (Duh.) 19

FSIM – Flight Simulation (I played a lot of these growing up) 29

MMO – Massively Multiplayer Online (These too) 30

PLT – Platform (games where you jump from platform to platform) (I’m not especially good at these, but I haven’t quite learned my lessons yet) 20

PUZ – Puzzle (Yup.) 13

RACE – Racing (I’ve played a couple) 7

RPG – Role-Playing Game (My first real experience here can be summed up in one word: Starflight) 82

RTS – Real-Time Strategy (Remember when you didn’t know what this was? I do.) 30

SIM – Simulation (includes any city building simulation) 29

TBS – Turn-Based Strategy (this includes computer board games like Star Wars Monopoly) 47

TDS – Tower Defense Strategy (Addictive little games) 2

If there’s a combination of things, like in X-COM Apocalypse where you can pick real-time or turn-based, I’ve labeled it as TB/RTS or similarly for the other categories as needed to accurately define it for myself. For those, the breakdown goes like this: ACT/FPS 1, ACT/PLT 2, ACT/SIM 1, ADV/PLT 1, ADV/RPG 2, PLT/PUZ 2, PLT/SIM 1, PUZ/RPG 1, RTS/RPG 1, TB/RTS 3. 15

Mostly, this is to get things straight in my head. As of this writing, the list contains 508 separate entries detailing my experiences with PC (288), MAC (2), SEGA CD (2), Dreamcast (2), NES (8), SNES (7), ZSNES (22), GameCube (13), Wii (26), SEGA (4), SEGA Game Gear (2), Commodore 64 (1), Arcades (6), XBox (5), XBox 360 (22), Playstation (14), Playstation 2 (26), PSP (15), GameBoy Advance (17), DS (22), Atari 2600 (2) and the Nintendo 64 (2). This list includes 261 “finished” and 247 “incomplete” games. Mind, these aren’t hard and fast necessarily as I focus on my memories and remember which games were on one of the three desktops or three laptops I’ve owned in my life or if they were on the “not-long-for-our-home” Commodore 64. In fact, as I write this, I think I only ever played Might and Magic II on the C64. Guess I’ll change that later… PC -1, C64 +1.

I checked the math on each of my three metrics, they all add up to 508. Anyways, maybe sometime soon I’ll figure out a way to share this list. In the meantime, I need to get to bed.

Until next time, every game is an experience that you can count on!

– Elorfin

P.S. Experience is not a matter of having actually swum the Hellespont, or danced with the dervishes, or slept in a doss-house. It is a matter of sensibility and intuition, of seeing and hearing the significant things, of paying attention at the right moments, of understanding and coordinating. Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him. – Aldous Huxley

P.P.S. Every experience is a paradox in that it means to be absolute, and yet is relative; in that it somehow always goes beyond itself and yet never escapes itself. – T.S. Eliot

Recent absence

My apologies for not writing anything recently. I’ve been wrapped up in games and this kind of took a back seat.

I wish I could talk about what I’ve been playing a lot this past week or two, but I signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement, so I can’t give my impressions until later. In the meantime, I’ve been playing D&D Online and I’ve got a game of Civilization IV going with a friend of mine.

I’ve got an article idea bouncing around in my head regarding the player and their familiarity and sense of belonging in the game world. This is something very relevant today, especially in light of the vast numbers of multiplayer online games and the persistent worlds that many of them have. I find myself fascinated by games that have to do with existing mythologies or well developed environments. Examples of these are the Star Wars universe, Tolkien’s Middle Earth, the Forgotten Realms, and Greek Mythology/Homerian Epics. Like I said, it’s an idea, and I hope I can figure out how best to explain it soon.

In the meantime, I’ve managed to secure a ticket to the Distant Worlds Final Fantasy concert. If you’ve read my article about music in games and my article about immersion and the part where I discuss the role music plays, then you’d understand that I’m a huge fan of game music. I especially like it when it’s performed in concert halls and the like. I guess it’s a way of realizing that the music that I grew up with is now recognized as important. Can’t help but feel a bit proud that I got in on the ground floor.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. George Washington fought dragons. Spread it around!

Going on a Holiday

I’ll be out of town for the next week. Apologies for not writing much this month, but I’ve been busy playing games instead of writing about them.

I’m bringing along the old PSP with Final Fantasy Tactics, Lunar: Silver Star Harmony, and D&D Tactics. I’m also taking my laptop with Civ IV and Mass Effect 2 (and a few others).

I’m actually enjoying the replay of Mass Effect 2. There’s something about the atmosphere of the sequel that makes it superior to the original where I don’t doze off while playing. I’m serious, I’ve caught myself nodding off during replays of Knights of the Old Republic (1 and 2), Mass Effect, and Neverwinter Nights. Bioware makes an amazing story, but I have a hard time stomaching replays of their games. Well, then again, most Final Fantasy games are once-throughs for me (except VI, but I’ve caught myself nodding off once or twice replaying that one).

Anyways, don’t burn the house down while I’m gone and be sure to feed the fishes. Wait… where’d those fish come from?

Until next time, keep awake!

– Elorfin

Continuing Gameplay – Splinter Cell: Conviction, Civilization IV, and an introduction to D&D Online

As the title mentions, I’ve been playing Splinter Cell: Conviction, Civilization IV, and D&D Online in recent days. Allow me to tackle them one by one as I discuss my personal issues and adventures with these three very different games.

Splinter Cell: Conviction has some absolutely amazing co-op gameplay. It’s fluid and fast and if you’re in the same room with your fellow player, you’re set as you can talk about strategy and shout out things that need saying (“He’s coming up behind you!”, “Crap, I’ve been grabbed!”, “I hear a security camera beeping, where is it?”). An issue with this game (that you have to remain aware of at all times while playing) is the fact that the scenery is context sensitive. If you’re next to a door and a light switch, and all you want to do is flip the light switch, you’d better make sure that the switch is highlighted or else you have a good chance of opening that door. The space bar is the initial key for interacting with the environment, so that’s easy enough (like hopping over a box or jumping up a wall). The C key is for kicking down doors (it’s absolutely hilarious watching my friend accidentally try to kick down a door; the metal ones can’t be kicked down, so your foot just bounces off) and grabbing bad guys and the like (when grabbing enemies, you tap C to kill them or hold C to grab them; sometimes it interprets a tap as a hold). Oh, a problem that’s been cropping up is the confusion between the tilde key (~) and the Z key that my friend and I have been experiencing lately. I’m not sure how this happened, but the tilde is used to zoom in and out with your weapon and the Z key is for your sonar goggles (yay cool gadgets). I know these keys do completely different things and are on opposite ends of the same side of the keyboard, but the confusion is still there. It’s a curious development, but the problem is all on our end, not with the game. Yay PEBKAC?

Oh, in reading an article about the game, one of the developers was asked about the amount of talking the NPCs did during the game. The response was something to the effect of “You need it to know where the enemies are”. That makes a ton of sense since you don’t really get the sonar “I can find anyone unless it’s through concrete” goggles until about 5/8ths of the way through the game. In prior games, you had infrared goggles to help out with that, so yeah, I do rely on the talkative nature of the enemies to be the predator the game requires of me. Of course, in prior games you had nonlethal takedown methods and in this one… not so much (no complaints here).

The issues notwithstanding, the game (both single player and co-op) are incredibly fun and highly amusing. The single-player storyline is rather serious, but it has its moments. Further, when you achieve something particularly awesome (like, say, several five man kills without being detected or somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 stealth headshots) the game keeps track of cool things like this and gives you points with which to upgrade your equipment. Yay rewarding awesomeness. I’ve noticed an increase in confidence as I play the game. The more familiar I get with the game, the more daring and the better I become at tackling enemies and complex issues as they show up. I suppose you could note a correlation in an increase in aggression as well, but I don’t really go out of my way to do spectacular kills or anything. I use the Mark part of the Mark & Execute function to keep track of the four nearest bad guys so I don’t run afoul of them and that’s pretty much the extent of my pre-planning for a room. Just go slow and don’t be afraid to be patient (but also, don’t be afraid to get aggressive every now and again; it IS a game).

Moving on to Civilization IV. This game keeps my attention, until I get distracted by some other shiny game, but I keep coming back for my “solitaire”. With the introduction of Beyond the Sword into my gameplay, the game has developed some additional complexities (like espionage, pesky spies and poisoning my water supply!) and I’ve had to retool my usual strategy. I prefer playing as the Byzantine Empire (nevermind that my capitol is Constantinople, which is awesome) mostly because they are Spiritual (no anarchy when changing government civics or state religions) and Imperialistic (50% faster production of settlers means faster city spread!). In fact, having a Spiritual civ is synonymous in my group of friends with feeling lazy that game and just wanting to have an easy go of it. *laughs* My mentioning early on that the Spiritual civ’s are the best kind of means that Spiritual is something of a cheat. We don’t frown upon it, and if you want an easy time, no problem, but having the Spiritual civic definitely makes things easier because you’re not losing turns on production and research and you don’t really have to plan your civic changes.

My latest game of Civ IV: Beyond the Sword has me playing the Byzantine civilization, and I managed to secure a bottleneck while starting up, so I have a continent to myself. The real fight is stemming the spy issue. I keep investing in the buildings that crank up my espionage points per turn and I’m catching an enemy spy or two approximately every turn. It’s frustrating, but throughout the entire game, I’ve only had two incidents of water supply poisoning and they’re not that bad (just a few turns of lost food). Also, after a fashion, maintaining more than 20 cities becomes a real hassle (I’ve got 19 on my home continent, 4 on a large island, and three on a new continent and I’ve got plenty of space to grow).

I look forward to getting back to playing Beyond the Sword in multiplayer with a couple of my friends. We managed to figure out how to be allied from the beginning of the game, so we share research and line of sight, which really helps that early in the game.

On to D&D Online. I hopped on the other day with my level 8 fighter (aka, machine gunner) and I played with my friend’s dwarven dual-wielding fighter of the same level. We worked together for a bit and then another friend came on with his wizard and we had a blast. For the record, my machine gunner with my friend’s fighter are an awesome tag-team and having the wizard around just made things easier. Whenever we split up (or when I had to answer the phone) we wound up getting torn up by the enemies on the Three Barrel Cove map. It’s an odd thing, but usually I have a complaint or two about my playing experience in DDO, but lately I haven’t had any complaints at all. I really enjoyed hanging out with my friends the other day and I really can’t wait to do it again. With our level 13 group (where I play the cleric) I fully expect to have complaints, but that’s probably due to the fact that I’m just a healer with a couple of combat capabilities and we’re doing stuff that’s kind of hard (helps it’s a lot of stuff we just haven’t done yet and there’s this fear of the unknown that everyone comes preloaded with). I suppose with my fighter, I kind of expect to get the crap kicked out of me every now and again (he only does one or two things really well, but damn, he does them WELL) but with my cleric, I’m supposed to keep the party alive and when I fail to do that, I probably feel that I’m not doing my job, and thus, I get cranky. Ah well, I’ll figure it out eventually.

Anyways, I’ve located a video camera and I’m in the process of getting a memory card for it (had to order an adapter online because it’s such an old camera that they don’t make the memory sticks for this model any more). I’m going to try to figure out how to make and edit my own videos and figure out YouTube, so we’ll see if this goes somewhere. You might see some future articles done in video form one day. Who knows? Depends on how quickly I can master the “jump cut”. If I do any articles for this site, be assured I’ll embed the video here so you don’t have to go creeping around YouTube for them.

Until next time, keep on playing!

– Elorfin

P.S. Apologies for my delinquency in writing something, but the inspiration to write sometimes goes away. It happens, but I just needed to build up some material to write about. I think I should get back to the MMO analysis I started doing at the beginning, but we’ll see how I feel in the next week or two.

Sins of a Solar Empire and Civilization IV – Impression

This week I’ve been playing a lot of Sins of a Solar Empire and Civilization IV. More specifically, I’ve been giving the expansion Diplomacy (for Sins) a spin and I’ve been playing around with everything that came in my purchase of Civilization IV Complete (Beyond the Sword, Warlords, and Colonization). I got both of these on Monday (April 5th), so that’s pretty much where a fair chunk of my time has been disappearing and why I never got around to writing anything before now.

First, Sins of a Solar Empire. This game is a very pretty and versatile real-time strategy game where you choose to play as the Advent, the Vasari, or TEC. I prefer to play the TEC, but that’s how I roll (plus, I name all my capital ships after Wing Commander vessels). Anyways, there’s been two expansions to date that provide fundamental changes to the gameplay. Basic gameplay is rather simple: start with your planet, scout out other planets, colonize them, research new technology, build up an infrastructure, defend against pirates, and build a fleet or three to wipe everyone else out. The first expansion “Entrenchment” (which I frequently call Entrapment when I misspeak) introduced new technology and allowed the construction of powerful starbases that have the potential to wipe out entire fleets unaided. The latest expansion of “Diplomacy” added a new method of winning the game, more technology, and more options when relating with the other races/players in the game. For some reason though, the pirates are insanely difficult to beat now. Sometimes I just turn them off unless I have a good bottleneck… which leads me into the mechanics of this particular game that appeal to me.

Sins provides a very powerful method of feeding my desire to play with spaceships and blow stuff up. Seriously, the setting is amazing. Further, the game is very receptive to modifications by players (which I don’t make a habit of using, but I like having the option). Further still, the technology in the game noticeably improves the materials you use… for example, you can watch as your metal harvesting skyrockets when you research improvements in mining and your ships become obviously more durable when you improve their shields and armor. The real mechanic that I appreciate here is simply the function of the bottleneck. What I mean by this is a way of limiting the enemy’s approach to a narrow corridor so that I know exactly where they’re going and I can prepare for them. Essentially, it doesn’t make sense to turn every single planet you own into a fortress world because you’d run out of money trying to do that AND research AND colonize AND play the diplomacy game AND fend off pirates/other players. So, what you do is pay attention to the phase lanes and choose a point where you draw a line in the sand. I like to look for the one world where the enemy MUST hit in order to get to my backwaters. Unfortunately, not all playthroughs of Sins are created equal and in the last few days I’ve quit in disgust as my “fortress worlds” were either wiped out or ignored completely by issues with bottlenecking. There’s been a severe shortage of decent bottlenecks for me this week in Sins and the one time I got a great one going, the other side of the bottleneck was two systems: one with a pirate base and the other with another player. I was stuck behind the bottleneck with nowhere to go, but I was thinking this was cool… until the player got aggressive and punched through a part of my bottleneck. Long story short, I was winning the diplomatic way, when the game crashed and I got a minidump message in the background. Stardock, a few bugs left to work out, but I’ve got hope for you yet.

Civilization IV, on the other hand, is like my solitaire. It’s relaxing, it’s predictable, and I know where all the bottlenecks are in Europe. Further, this game is turn-based, so I rarely have to sweat out a fight, knowing my fleet will never arrive in time because in Civ IV, I can actually manage to get out of fights I might lose or get into fights I will most probably win. I’ve been playing Civ IV for the last 5 years or so (since I got it) and it’s been a lot of fun. Part of Civ IV Complete is the expansion Beyond the Sword. In this, there’s a scenario/mod/whatever called Final Frontier where the map is in space and you colonize solar systems and so forth. It’s really pretty awesome, but there was something nagging at me the entire time… NO BOTTLENECKS. I mean, seriously, pirates will come at you from EVERY direction, the other computer players will just wander around your cities doing whatever they want to (up to and including the building of star bases in my own backyard) and generally frustrating me. It’s hard to rely on the cultural spread of your cities to block out the enemies when they’ll just take the long way around and keep going. In regular Civ IV, at least there was, you know, WATER that got in the way of ground troops landing on Africa. Further, I gave Warlords a shot and there’s this neat scenario where you’re a team that lands on a planet and you’re trying to achieve some objectives. It really hinges on the whole Promotion system Civ IV has to keep your guys alive long enough to beat the scenario. It was pretty cool, but I lost after several hours of gameplay thanks to the number of enemies just getting absurd near the end. Oh, and for the record, Colonization is just crap to me. No offense to those who like it, but it’s nowhere near as colorful and expressive as regular Civilization IV. After a fashion, all this realism gets in the way of my entertainment.

So, yeah, bottlenecks are a must have in any good strategy game, be it real-time or turn-based. Further, I LIKE bright colors in my games because they make it easier to see things. Hey, that’s mostly why I didn’t like Sim City 4… too drab for my tastes in contrast to Sim City 3000’s bright color palette.

Well, there you go, a quick two-fer this week. I highly recommend both Sins of a Solar Empire and Civilization IV. They’re both LAN and Internet compatible (hell, Civ IV can be played hotseat or over email) and are way more fun with friends than without. Don’t get me wrong, they’re fun on their own, but honestly it’s nice to have someone to talk to and share little victories with (or to gloat at when you whip their butt). Both games are also very graphically pleasing and take a serious time investment (there’s nothing “quick” about strategy games).

Until next time, keep on keeping on.

– Elorfin

P.S. A little context for you all: I’ve been playing Civilization in one form or another for most of my life, I grew up with the original computer game, moved onto Civ II, then CivNet, Civ III, and now Civ IV is my favorite. Civ V is supposedly coming out soon, and I’m interested in it, but honestly, I’ve really enjoyed Leonard Nimoy telling me when I finish researching Literature that “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” Looking that up, the quote actually continues with, “that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.” Ah, Sir Francis Bacon… you’re so verbose.

No posting? Blasphemous!

That’s pretty much right… it’s downright shameful how I haven’t been posting here.

Mostly it’s because of family and personal reasons, so that’s completely excusable. Partly it’s also because I haven’t been playing many games lately. Well, some Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and some Civilization IV… and Tuesday and Wednesday nights it was Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 on the 360 with friends. Oh, and I’ve been playing some D&D Online this past week (mostly just Sunday while I was doing laundry and Monday right after waking up).

I’ve been reading the Star Wars Essential Atlas and it’s been giving me ideas for my Star Wars roleplaying game that I play with my D&D group. I suppose they’reĀ  not so much a D&D group any more so much as a Gaming group. *ponders*

Right, just posting to let people know I’m NOT dead and that I really haven’t forgotten about my project here. I’ve just gotten a little sidetracked is all.

After Easter, I hope to get back to reviewing at least one game a week (maybe one per two weeks or two in one week depending on how good or bad my experiences are with them). So, stay tuned!

Until next time, DFTBA!

– Elorfin

9Dragons – Impression

This is a little later than I would’ve liked, but I had an amazing time playing Civilization IV yesterday, so no worries. Here’s my impression of 9Dragons by Acclaim.

First of all, a few points of interest. I was required to move the camera via the right mouse button pretty much all the time. Whereas I frowned upon this in 2Moons, here it was more fluid and less of a burden. It could possibly be that I was having issues with 2Moons because I played that in the default windowed mode, or that 9Dragons runs at a lower resolution (that you can’t change… I don’t really mind that, but it would be NICE to have the option to change it). Either way, I had an easier time controlling the camera in 9Dragons.

Here’s a glimpse at the world of 9Dragons (great world map):

Big place, huh? Well, the locality I was in was mostly the training grounds for getting into the Wu Tang (the Tai Chi sword users). I started in Baiyun Village.

There’s more than one faction in the game: Wu Tang, Sacred Flower, League of Beggars, Shaolin, and a couple more that I can’t remember. Essentially it’s three “good” and three “bad” groups. You’ve got a wide variety of weapons from swords to axes to polearms to wheels (yes, wheels). I really appreciated the healing mechanic in this game. Everyone gets a self-heal where you meditate and you can regain your health and your chi (essentially mana).

Also, I really like how the names of the things you kill have different colors depending on your level. This next screen, I’m fighting a guy called “Timid Male Thief” (yes, there are “Timid Female Thief” and Aggressive and so forth) with his name in yellow which corresponds to him being slightly tougher than me, but it’s possible to kill him (and I did).

The skill training segment is particularly cool. In order to be able to use the skill you’ve just acquired at the skill trainer, you have to successfully train it up on a combat dummy. Here’s how it works: you talk to the trainer and buy a skill of your choosing. So, say you want “Basic Sword” and that’s what you shell out the coin for. Well, next you walk over to the combat dummies and (with your sword equipped) you double click the dummy and agree to start training. You get something like this:

Then you play a short mini-game where you have to left-click when the blue ball is in the red zone several times (there are three levels and each level requires 12 successes for a total of 36 successful clicks). I’ll show a “work in progress” on the next screenshot, but first I need to talk about something mildly annoying about the item system. It feels… I don’t know, kind of lacking. Here, let me show you:

Okay, the box on the right is your “bag” or inventory. I know you can get more bags, so space isn’t my issue. On the left is the character page and “paper doll” where you equip stuff. You can also access the bag via the character page and the bag will show up next to the paper doll on the right. If you left-click once on an item, you get a breakdown of what it does or is or whatever. If you right-click on it once, you equip/unequip the item (if that’s possible). It’s hard to explain, but I just feel that this equipment/item system is a little lacking. Like there’s nothing really special about it. The game’s primary focus is on learning and mastering the skills in the game and equipment/items feel a little tacked on to this. Looting is easy with frequent tapping on the spacebar (once per item nearby).

Those are really my only issues: the right click camera and the equipment/item system.

The things I love about this game are (to recap): meditation for healing and recharging (watch out though because you can get jumped when you do this), actually doing something to learn your skills (yay, mini-games!), obvious scaling of the enemies as you level (shown in their names over their heads), the disciple/master system (which I’d like to look into some more in the future), and the fact that the quests just pop out at you and are easy to find (and if there isn’t a quest for you to do, go level and one will show up, pretty much guaranteed).

I actually think I’ll leave 9Dragons installed for now so I can go back to it later and play around some more. I almost wish I could spend more time on it, but I’m still trying to nail down a play schedule for this project of mine and I’d like to give each game only a few days tops. I highly recommend giving 9Dragons a spin, if only to try out the nifty martial arts moves. I seem to recall that the magic or chi moves or whatever they’re called are particularly neat (I do remember having to do a lot of kiting as the caster though). In the meantime, moving on to the next game which will be ACE Online (another game I recall very clearly due to its relative uniqueness).

Until next time, Don’t Forget To Be Awesome!

– Elorfin