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Posts Tagged ‘civilization’

Maybe I should pirate more?

Posted by Ad on August 4, 2012

So I grabbed a bunch of games during Steam’s Summer Sale. Games that were cheap enough for my atm meager funds, games that would work on mac. The problem is that this mac compatibility isn’t that great… and it surprises me that game devs don’t consider the obvious solution:

Don’t put graphics above gameplay!

Crusader Kings II looks like a pretty cool game from the screenshots. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work on my machines. One machine can’t run it at all because it has the wrong graphics card, and the other runs it at a ridiculous frame rate, not to mention screws up the colors. Sure, a purple sea (tho it still looks like water) might not be the best creative choice despite that might work for a more moody scenario, but if the frame rate is horrible, the game is unplayable. As the game is really just a bunch of screens with stats on them, plus a map with random troops on it, the graphics can be at a FreeCiv level. FreeCiv is hardly the epitome of graphics, but the game works.

Anyway, I find that SimCity 4 has a bit of the same frame rate problem as well, plus some bizarre and amusing texture issues, but it’s far from unplayable. The problem there is that Steam didn’t offer a mac version, but I found ways around that problem.

The thing is, these aren’t games that need all that much graphics. In fact, most games don’t need anything past what we were able to render a decade ago. A multiplayer FPS would need it to let players blend into the environment realistically, and any real-time game would need it to make sure players get to react as soon as something happens rather than suffer a second’s delay before they see what’s going on and having to work the interface for a few seconds before getting their troops/vehicle/dude/whatever to do what it’s supposed to do. Civ V doesn’t need the graphics it has, the gameplay doesn’t need those graphics. The Strategic View is unfortunately not the default view, nor are its symbols as easy to identify at a glance as the units in the standard view. CKII doesn’t need its 3d display and fancy window decor (and the decor would load faster if the 3d stuff wasn’t hogging the graphics processing). Many games of today are more for show than for gaming, and it’s shutting ppl out from getting to play them.

I wonder if it makes business sense. I mean, I get how it works for the marketing department; they get screenshots and videos and stuff that look good. It’s easier to market than game mechanics. “It looks great, lemme prove it with this non-interactive, print-friendly thing.” But with games like Civ and CK and SC and others, it’s the mechanics that are the game, the graphics are just packaging. They’re harder to market based on gameplay.

Not that I’d want the graphics reduced to the lowest common denominator, but a low-resource alternative graphics option would be nice to have, one that’s less picky about the graphics card and doesn’t require platform specific libraries or only runs on select graphics chipsets. Likewise, the option to not load all the resource-hogging stuff when you start the game (I may have mentioned this before). More graphics options would open up games to a variety of platforms, ultimately getting more players into the game.

Anyway, on a semi-related note…

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Thoughts on Civ V

Posted by Ad on November 12, 2011

Civilization V is annoying. I mean, I like this game, it maintains the flavor of Civ while innovating a lot of the gameplay. But there’s a lot that annoys me. But first, improvements.

You don’t need fragile little transports to move units across the sea anymore, tho why you can’t upgrade your old ships to ocean-faring ones at the same time bothers me, and I’d still like to see an explorer ship that can find new land and build some kind of colony, or at the very least make landfall and explore further.

The hex grid. So much cooler, and it makes distances a little more sensible. I’m still waiting on a spherical map. Realism. Coolness. An icosahedron subdivided into triangles, maybe?

No “stack of doom”. The new system isn’t without its problems, it doesn’t always recognize that I wanna switch places between two units… and what if I wanna rotate places between three units?

I want ability to just draw how I want my land to look like (tile improvements) and have the workers just work accordingly. I don’t trust the auto function, and working with them manually is annoying. Besides, idle workers could reduce maintenance on tile improvements. Someone, make this happen. Currently, I don’t know what to do with them once they’re done with all tiles until I discover Oil, Uranium or Aluminium in my territory. Fortifying them somewhere and then trying to find them amongst other units and details on the map is annoying.

I want more diplomatic options. I can’t threaten blockade or go to war, and I can’t threaten to attack the other player’s friends or allies. It’d be nice to have more spice in the single-player mode. Civ is a difficult game to play multiplayer, in that not everyone have that much time to spare, and games today tend not to be cheap, either. Not seeing who is friends with whom (especially with city states) from a single diplomatic window is annoying, I have to close two diplomacy views to get to a scren that provides _some_ of that information.

I want a more advanced culture system. Yes, it’s simplified to make it a more valuable and versatile game mechanic, but I’d like to see culture divided into multiple cultures, a military culture that every military unit, military structure, and military diplomatic option adds to. Likewise, science, industry, and whatever else works. In Civ 4 you could basically take over the world with culture, much like the USA seems to have been doing irl. Why not have a few stacks of policies that require a certain amount of a specific culture type to use, so that a militaristic civ gets bonuses for their military, while a scientific civ gets bonuses for that?

I want Animal Husbandry to be researched faster if there are animal resources in the Civ’s territory, likewise Mining if there are hills, naval research if there’s sea, metal research if there’s metal, etc.. Combine this with a spherical map (assuming axial tilt) and Calendar would be research sooner further from the equator.

But most of all, I want a game that loads faster. I don’t need every graphical detail, the game can’t possible need to load the main menu for a minute (and the legal notice before the menu may be necessary the first time you start the game but it just annoys ppl after that). Really, the game looks nice, plays ok, and does a lot of unnecessary stuff in between.

I want options to turn off all sound. I want options to turn off leader backgrounds… or leader screens at all. Having to start/load a game every time I change any video options (or worse, restart the whole game) is stupid. A lot of the game is stupid. I don’t mean gameplay things, I mean the program itself. A lot of it is stupid. And slow.

So what I really want is less waiting, more playing. And a Mac version that’s not watered-down. It doesn’t even do mods without screwing with files that any update would revert and who knows what else.

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Freedom in Space

Posted by Ad on November 24, 2010

There once was a boy that would visit his cousins and see them play an amazing-looking space flight dogfighting game. The boy and his cousins grew up. The boy,  now a man with a cool, proper beard, went online and got improved graphics and other assets for the now open-source game he saw his cousins play. And it’s awesome.

FreeSpace 2, for those of you wondering. I really enjoy how the story treats the player not as the savior of the universe and  the chosen one and all that stuff, but as just another pilot in a big epic story. It feels much more realistic, those briefings not asking me to kindly accept the quest of killing create x, but telling me my mission is to destroy all Shivan ships while following a certain attack plan. And sometimes the attack plan fails.

But it could be so much bigger. Epic…er. What if I wouldn’t know what missions await me upon replaying the game? What if the failure to defend a supply ship leads to a significantly different situation later on. Say there’s two missions involving supply ships to the construction of a new huge ship. Fail those missions, and the huge ship will not be fully equipped when going into battle. Maybe it won’t be called into the same battles it otherwise would have been. Say both missions go off without a hitch, both supply ships reach their destination. Then we have a ginormous badass ship impacting the story.

I’m still waiting for a game with a story so modular it’s unpredictable and with so many different story-changing parameters it’s practically always new. Take a game of Civ, for example. Make it a meta-game, with individual battles being the gameplay for us players while the computer runs the meta-game. We fight in different terrains against different forces. The game moves the story from battle to battle. Through these individual battles, escort missions, protection duties, recon missions, etc. we change the course of the game. Terrain, technology, units, things are different every time. Attack a city, defend a city, attack a resource, defend a resource, attack their units, defend ours…

Even without a modular meta-game you can still have branching storylines depending on the outcome of key missions. Maybe the FreeSpace mod community has got something like this. The game is open source, it’s possible they’ve made it possible. Which would be awesome.

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Doing it wrong

Posted by Ad on October 28, 2010

I saw a YouTube comment a while back, in which someone stated having grown up on the modern RPGs but felt the older ones (snes-era, according to the video commented on) were just… better. The graphics were 2d, no voice acting, low-resolution sprites, menu-driven combat in many of the games, static monster sprites in many of the games, etc.. So why are these games “better”?

I’ve been thinking of what makes for a good game, what about a game that makes it enjoyable. in board games, I’m pretty sure it’s the opportunity to screw things up for other players. Quarto, chinese checkers, rummy, even games as  simple as four/five-in-a-row have that. More advanced games like Illuminati is also about screwing things up for other players (tho often through threats diplomacy). One of the games that has seen the most play among our gaming group would be Blokus. For this very reason. Our Uno games tend to be competitive. Our adapted rules to other games make them more competitive. More opportunities to screw things up for other players.
So what about video games, esp. single-player RPG games? I had a short list in my head, a list of the most important features of a game, but have forgotten some of them. Oh well. Here’s what I do remember:

1. Controls. If the controls are sluggish, the game sucks. If thinking about a direction causes the character to spurt head-first in that direction, the game will be annoying. If the character won’t even move until you shove the stick as far as it goes, the game will be annoying. Some RPGs have a run button. Some don’t. And don’t get me started on menu-driven combat.

2. Exploration. Not applicable to all kinds of games, but my favorite part of a Civ game is when most of the map is blank and I can just head in whatever direction I want, see what’s there. Many RPGs have a huge world, whether or not you ever get to see a world map. Aquaria is a great example of games based around exploration. If new areas aren’t interesting enough, exploration isn’t a reward enough to keep ppl playing. if there are no new areas, your game is small, and it better have a good focus on other important elements… like investigating a mystery… Oh wait, that’s also a form of exploration.

3. Story. Yes, you kind’a need a story to justify the gameplay. No, you really don’t need much. Mario and Zelda are just going to rescue the damsel in distress by defeating the bad guy, right? That’s actually a pretty deep story for a game, it has TWO objectives (albeit accomplished at the same time the same way). Then there are stories that are long and/or thick, but still not very deep. And then there’s the worst kind, the ones that stop the game to tell a story you either already know or don’t really care about. I mean, at the start of Monkey Island 1, what would we need to know about Guybrush Threepwood besides that he wants to become a pirate?

4. Icons. A guy in a green tunic and a silly green hat? Red cap, mustache, red and blue clothing? Yellow/orange space armor with big shoulder thingies? A blue hedgehog with red boots? Classic video game heroes. As tech advanced, we got more complicated appearances for the characters, but this didn’t make them better. The good ones are iconic for their simplicity, they’re archetypes and their appearance somehow reflects this. More recent successful characters would have to include Master Chief. Why? Archetype with an easily identified appearance. Kratos? Sackboy? Whether or not the characters themselves are iconic, something in the game must be. The design of Portal and the archetype GLaDOS represents? The design of the world of BioSchock? The design of the world of Aquaria?

5. Mythology. Related to icons. By this I don’t mean a creation myth, gods and giants, and the source of life, magic, and everything. I just mean a set of rules that the world design abides by. Maybe numbers, shapes, colors, locations, maybe these things represent something, making things identified through their association with whatever is referenced in their design? If the bad guy has horns, and we all know it, other characters with horns will be perceived as bad guys, right? How about the color red, or black? How about a pitchfork? Goat legs? Silly tail? Red or black eyes? If we establish this as the face of evil, all these attributes will be associated with evil. Goatherders, farmers, and emo kids beware. How about pale skin, fangs, and cape? How about suit and tie? How about the blue water people, the brown mountain people, and the green forest people? All identified as iconic in the Zelda series, but the mythology goes deeper than that, as evidenced with a few characters in Twilight Princess, where mere colored dots under some characters’ eyes identify them as tied to one of these peoples/locations, depending on their color.

6. Freedom. Tied to controls and exploration. Sequence-breaking was one of the main features of the Metroid series, at least before being constrained to a 3d gameplay and/or a more story-driven gameplay. This freedom has been enjoyed by lots of gamers. Is it weird that a game which unintentionally includes abilities to skip entire sections of the game is so enjoyable because of such an oversight on the designers’ part? Maybe. I don’t care, I just like being able to go places. Linear exploration is like sitting in a bus, whereas freedom is having your own car. In keeping with that analogy, Aquaria had a car, and I want cars in more games. And stories that take cars into account, plz… or at least doesn’t get in the way.

7. Direction, parallel of freedom. As much fun as a sandbox game can be, without a clear story the freedom comes off as lazy game design. Huge world, somewhere something to do that moves the story forward, but no incentive to go there and not a lot of clues pointing that way either. Either make the story as free as the world, or don’t make the world so free. As much as invisible walls and seemingly arbitrary restrictions bother me, I’m more bothered by being far from my objectives because the game never told me where I was supposed to go. I would of course prefer to be able to go anywhere, and the story would adapt, give me the story of where I am, not of where I should be, plz.

8. What else… NO GRINDING! Okay so I played through game X last year, now I wanna play it again. I don’t want to have to run around area X for an hour, again, to level up so I can beat the boss. How about we do away with all this exp crap and just let ppl play on skill and knowledge? Battles back in the day were limited by tech, but they weren’t limited by loading times and long attack animations, so the grinding was a lot faster then. Still annoying when you play the old games, but nowhere near the wait it takes to grind in modern games.

That’s all I can think of atm, but I’m sure there’s more to it than this. I’ll probably revise this at some point, post a new version. These are my thoughts today. The main problem with newer games is that they’re still doing what the old games are doing, except prettier and slower. I don’t think Metroid: Other M’s story, or most modern games’ for that matter, is half as bad as some of the direction and tech behind it makes it look like. We’re years ahead of the snes, why are we still designing games as if they’re nothing but a graphical 3d upgrade of those games? With the interactive nature of video games, why are the stories still so linear?

Games like Civ and Illuminati end up as a modular story that’s based in the game mechanics. I don’t see why RPGs, shooters, and others couldn’t do the same. Anybody know anybody who does this?

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