A thoughtful and personal exploration of games

Posts tagged “SimCity 4

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


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.