A thoughtful and personal exploration of games

Posts tagged “Sins of a Solar Empire

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


Discussion: Video Game Remakes and Re-releases

I was listening to some video game music on YouTube this morning and I happened to glance down at the comments. There were a couple of people saying how awesome it would be if there was to be a remake of the game to which the music belonged. A few commented that any remake would not be as faithful as we would hope. Mind, that’s just my interpretation of YouTube comments… they’re typically not so verbose or well worded (not to mention improper spelling and grammar).

I’ve been around almost as long as the video game industry. I’ve been playing games for most of my life. Some of the games I grew up on have built up a rather impressive catalog (Civilization just hit its fifth iteration, X-COM is seeing a reboot as a first person shooter without the hyphen, Sim City spawned the incredibly successful Sims series, etc). For the purposes of this discussion, sequels aren’t remakes or reboots, they’re just the logical (sometimes illogical) evolution of a game.

There has been a clamor for remakes and re-releases these days by my generation. We want to see our old games brought back to the fore and given the attention they deserve now in this age of the internet where we can discuss them openly instead of getting a bunch of blank stares from gamers half our age. I’ll get into the age issue later, but for now, let’s take a look at some remakes and re-releases.

In my opinion (and since this is my little site, everything here is my opinion), one of the best remakes/ports has to be the continuing of Lunar: The Silver Star since 1992. I wrote about it earlier here, so I won’t go into too much detail. The original game came out in 1992 on Sega CD (well, the Japanese version; the North American version was 1993), the first remake was Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete for the Sega Saturn in 1996-7, and later released on the Playstation in 1998-9. Further, there was a Game Boy Advance remake in 2002 called Lunar Legend and lastly the Playstation Portable remake in 2009-10 named Lunar: Silver Star Harmony. Each of these remakes showed improvements in the graphics and/or voice acting (especially in the PSP release) and introduced new or different gameplay elements (or in one case, changing the main character’s hobby from playing a harp to playing an ocarina and rewriting the game to reflect that).

In the case of other games (this whole paragraph is now off the top of my head), I own a copy of Final Fantasy III for the Nintendo DS which is a graphical update from the original. I’m not sure about the gameplay or anything else (except to reflect the touch screen and dual screen nature of the console, which I consider an assumed update). Also, there was a release of Final Fantasy I and II for the PSP, Final Fantasy VI for the GBA, Final Fantasy IV, V, and VI on the Playstation, Chrono Trigger for the Playstation (that added animated cutscenes) and later the Nintendo DS (that has additional gameplay). Even more modern games like Disgaea has been rereleased on the PSP and the DS with appropriate gameplay adjustments and the whole Ace Attorney series originally came out on the GBA and was re-released on the DS. Final Fantasy Tactics got an amazing revisit when it was remade for the PSP 10 years after its original Playstation release and it added cell-shaded cutscenes, voice acting, a rewrite of the script to eliminate some of the mistranslated speech, and multiplayer gameplay.

Also, there has been a resurgence of re-releases courtesy of digital download services like Steam and Impulse. I’ve got full access to X-COM UFO Defense on Steam (which experienced a re-release or two) and Master of Orion II on Impulse. These are both mid-1990’s games that I spent a lot of time playing (and if you look at my Steam profile for X-COM, I still do). With access to old games, I’ve noticed something about myself… I’m BETTER at them now than I used to be. Not just through repetition of gameplay (because I stopped playing them when Windows decided to not let me run them ordinarily), but through the fact that I’m a much more experienced gamer today. I was playing Master of Orion II recently and discovered that the easy difficulty setting was too easy, which was odd because it used to be fine for me. I cranked up the difficulty to average and it was STILL too easy. I think I’m going to kick it up to hard next and see what happens.

For someone like me who grew up with these older games, a remake is a mixed bag. Part of the experience of these older games was dealing with the copy protection and the low resolution, DOS command lines and the early generations of sound cards that could only generate 8-bit music (eventually better). However, I would love to see my old games revisited and updated… better graphics, better music, glitches fixed, gameplay streamlined, but I don’t want any significant changes. Often when there’s a remake, the fear is that the developer will change the fundamental aspects of the game. This is partly unfounded as I’ve never seen a remake that drastically changed the way the game played, but I have seen sequels that are nothing like the original (Master of Orion 3 was a disaster).

This leads me to my perspective: I want to see faithful remakes of the games I grew up playing. I want to see graphical, musical, effects upgrades across the board, but I want the gameplay to essentially remain the same. Sure, some of the fan-made projects for X-COM has made playing the game more interesting and convenient (like a map randomizer to mix things up a bit or a mechanism for the game to remember what equipment was on which team members). I feel that these re-releases on Steam and Impulse could be the beginning of something incredible if companies would tackle such things. Admittedly, most companies are more interested in making new or derivative games instead of revisiting older ones for overhauls. Plus, in the case of some games like X-COM Interceptor, the source code has apparently vanished and any fixes or remakes are just not in the cards. Honestly, remakes/re-releases of games like Lunar, Final Fantasy, and Chrono Trigger are thrilling for me and I jump on them when I can. I love having a portable copy of Chrono Trigger and Lunar and Final Fantasy Tactics. I’d love to see a PSP version of X-COM UFO Defense one day, but seeing as they’ve already started pulling away from the UMD hardware (from what I’ve noticed), I doubt I’m going to get my wish.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. There’s something in it that makes us look upon the things we treasured way back when through our rose colored lenses and value the old over the new. Remakes are a kind of compromise and even today, remakes are often derided as worse than the original. A prime example of this is a forum thread I was reading last night regarding Lunar: Silver Star Harmony on the PSP. In it, some posters commented that it was easier than the original, that it was somehow less than the original. This kind of thinking is dangerous for those of us who would love to see our old favorites revisited in the future. I wonder if these people ever considered that because they played the original, they were somehow better at later versions of the same game. I’ve played Lunar in nearly every iteration and to me, it’s the same game every time. Of course, I don’t have the luxury of being able to play the original Sega CD version next to the newer PSP version. This issue occurs with movies too (anyone notice the whole “I hate the new Star Wars trilogy” thing mostly coming from those people who grew up with the original?). The older we get and the more advanced we become with regards to education and technology, the more critical and demanding we become of our forms of entertainment. Why can’t it be like the good old days? Because those days are long gone, but if you open your mind just a bit, you might find that your favorite story has inspired a slew of others just like it… Master of Orion was the original game that inspired the coining of the term 4X (Explore, Expand, Exploit, and Exterminate) with regards to video game genres and has since inspired games like Sins of a Solar Empire, Galactic Civilizations and many more. Wolfenstein 3D inspired every first person shooter we have today, from Unreal Tournament to Medal of Honor. It’s good to go back to the beginning to see where it all started and awesome if you experienced it as it happened, but take a look outside every now and again and try something new. I promise, you won’t be disappointed (unless you want to be, in which case, that’s your problem).

I suppose my new point is this: don’t rely on the remakes and re-releases, but if they do come along, vote with your money and let the companies know that their effort in revisiting their older games is a welcome diversion. In the mean time, let developers pay tribute to older games by making new ones and vote with your money on those too. Feel free to compare the old and the new, but understand that if that old game were made today, it would be completely different due to the reduced limitations on technology. Apparently Silent Hill was much scarier back when there was a ton of fog (which was implemented since the hardware was limited in what it could show) and now today you can see all the way to the horizon and things aren’t so scary any more. Be understanding.

Until next time, keep on playing the classics you love and give the descendants a chance to become new classics!

– Elorfin

P.S. “Nostalgia, as always, had wiped away bad memories and magnified the good ones.” from Living to Tell the Tale, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

P.P.S. Yes, I want a remake/re-release of Terranigma. I think out of the three Quintet/Enix titles (Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, Terranigma) the last one is the best and deserves a DS release at the very least.


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.