27 March 2013

#2LR Too Late Reviews -- Civilization Retrospective(?), Civ V - Gods and Kings

Finally, we made it to roughly the last stop on the Civilization train for the time being.  After a total of seven separate games (and reviews), from Civilization 1 through 5 as well as Colonization and Alpha Centauri, we come to the end of the path as of 2013.  The "Gods and Kings" expansion came out in 2012, and I managed to snag a copy of the game at the end of December.  I've played it through a few times, and I do have a few conclusions about the additions that the programmers made to the game.

Firstly, make no mistake... there's more complexity to the Gods and Kings (hereafter G&K) expansion.  The first point is that the naval battles are completely redesigned.  Previously, all boats were effectively siege weapons.  This time around, the boats were classed into two differing categories, siege and melee.  The melee boats actually have to go up to another boat in order to attack, while the siege boats can still target away to their hearts' content.

The positives about this is that there is now a "pirate" promotion for the melee boats, which also will allow them to go up to ports and take a portion of gold based on the strength of attack.  You can also get them naval promotions (melee promotions), while the siege boats have the typical "land/sea" promotion track as before.  Additionally, there is now such a thing as a Great Admiral, which will add a percentage to attack just like the Great General does on land.  Of course, the negative is that your caravels are not as rangy and can't attack as far.

They also revised the land siege units.  Previously, archers would end up merging into the melee track by going "crossbowman - rifleman", and the only siege units afterward would be cannons and artillery.  Now there are such things as gatling guns and machine guns, which carry a shorter range of one square but make up for it with equal attack and defense numbers, allowing you to go up to another unit without worrying that they would end up toast as a result.

Of course, the biggest change is that religion is back on, boys!  You can earn faith points via buildings like the shrine, temple, and the revised Stonehenge.  You can earn faith points via small city civs -- Vatican City, Jerusalem, and Wittenburg will add to your faith points just like the cultural cities added to your culture.  And now, you can even earn them via natural wonders, like Ayers Rock or Mount Sinai.  Once you get a bit of religion, you can choose a small bonus initially.  After the small initial bonus, if you keep earning religion points, you may have the opportunity to create a new religion which affords additional bonuses, and then following that you can add a last set of bonuses to your religion.  The "Faith" path also covers bonuses to religion, and the Great Prophet will act as either your religion starter, a shrine builder, or a super missionary.

To be truthful, there are a few annoying aspects of the religion track, especially when the computer sends in the missionaries to you... you have to either budget enough faith aside to counteract them, or literally go to war to expel them.  You can also try to go to war to extinguish religion, though sometimes that doesn't work completely.  But the designers did a very good job implementing something that will not win a game all by itself but will give you another aspect to a winning plan as well as a casus belli for conflict.

The G&K expansion will take some getting used to; as before, caravels are NOT the ships they used to be and getting used to the new naval conflict setup is not the easiest.  However, I really believe that the complexity the programmers added to the game make the game even more enjoyable than it was, which is the really important part.  The only major downside is that the AI is still pretty limited, though I suppose that is understandable for the challenges that the programmers rolled out in trying to climb the complexity tree.

As stated before, this is not the last expansion that the programmers will complete.  As time and money permit, I will place a review for the new expansion once I receive it.

20 March 2013

#2LR Too Late Reviews - Civilization Retrospective Gala - Civ V, Part 1 - Vanilla

After going through Too Late Reviews of six separate Civilization games, spanning the early 90s through the mid 00s, we finally make it to "present day".  There is only so many different ways to organize a tech tree, to set up a balanced set of units, and put forward an AI to manipulate all of the rules... but Civilization V still managed to switch up the gameplay in very interesting ways and methods.

I want to give a few short words to the design first.  Civ I was top-down, and reminded me almost of a chessboard.  Your units... your pieces, in actuality, were squares with a printed picture on top.  Colonization introduced units that actually looked like units, even if the graphics had to take a shortcut -- fish and corn managed to be the same shape, amazingly enough.  When Civ II came out, they redesigned the board itself to give you a more isometric view... they're still squares, but you're seeing them from the side.  As the series went on, from Alpha Centauri through Civ III and Civ IV, there were no real fundamental changes but each successive game brought better and better graphics.  Civ V is no exception; when there's more pixels, more videocard and more RAM to work with, you've got to update the game.  They did a terrific job of animating the battles and rendering a pretty realistic world, from the mountains to the oceans and all the special tiles in the middle.  (My favorites -- the oasis, which seems to reflect and looks pretty awesome, and the seagulls that hover over the fishery squares).  Civ V's biggest change is the hexagonal grid, however.  Cities in this game also expand out to three hexagons distant, supporting far larger cities than in previous games.

That pales though to the other rule change that I feel does an amazing job of making the series more strategic.  Firstly, the designers streamlined the units present in the game.  Instead of the odd mix present in the previous game, you now have a more coherent set of units.  There are siege units, slow moving and extremely susceptible to cavalry yet able to take down a city.  Siege units can fire two or even three squares distant, giving front-line troops a headache as they advance.  You have front-line fighters, not really weak to anything but not strong enough to take out a city unless massed (and sacrificed).  You have the aforementioned mounted units, which are very good at hit-and-run tactics against both the front-line fighters and the siege equipment.  And now there are also, for lack of a better term, horse-killers.  These units such as spearmen, pikemen, lancers, and anti-tank guns, receive bonuses to strength against mounted units (horsemen, knights, cavalry, tanks), and having them in your army will neutralize the threat that horsemen pose, though they're not quite as strong as the front-line fighters.

Second and more important, there is no more stacking of units.  No more can you attack someone with five artillery and three riflemen defense, and in the next square over are five more artillery with three additional riflemen.  If you have a ton of units, you have to figure out the best path to attack a city and also figure out if you're going to sacrifice or if you're going to try to evacuate injured units.  In Civ V, each unit has ten hit points and can even regenerate hit points via level-up, via fortification, and can even gain a "medic" promotion to help other units heal.  You can evacuate these units all the way to one hit point, and figuring out when (or whether) to evacuate or to stand your ground is important.  Terrain makes a major difference... foot units have two moves and horses typically four, which allows mounted troops to attack over hills that the soldiers may not have climbed yet.  Hills will help a siege unit shoot their maximum two squares, but if you're stuck behind a hill most units can't shoot over.  And units are FAR more expensive than in previous games, reflecting how precious and difficult it is to raise a standing army.

In this game, there are great merchants, scientists, engineers, artists, and generals.  The first four can be spent all at once -- merchants for a lump sum of gold, scientists discover a tech, engineers complete a project, and artists can "culture bomb", add more territory to your country immediately.  Conversely, they can be used to build their "special building", which provides bonuses beyond a typical square or even a resource square, which bonuses extend throughout the game and can be stacked with the city's buildings to become greater (a merchant's custom house can generate extra coins that can be enhanced by a market, bank, etc.)  A single great person can initiate a golden age as well, during which increased gold and production last for a few turns.  The generals are slightly different... if they travel with your army, they give a strength bonus, and they can be turned into a "super fort" that will damage the enemy just by the enemy stopping next to it.

There are also now "city-states" in the game.  These city-states are in essence single-city civilizations that can be either negotiated with and partnered with for possible bonuses, or taken over for more territory.  They can enter wars either for or against you, and can even conquer additional cities.  They are unable to build new cities and they are ineligible from "winning" the game, however, unlike the other civilizations in the game. These small civilizations are the key to winning diplomatically, as if you get a supermajority of these city-states to vote for you in the United Nations, you can complete the game... this also doubles as the economic win, as buying off this many city-states takes quite a bit of gold.  City-states will also give you quests to complete to earn more favor, rather than just having to spend out cash.

Each civilization has one special skill to start the game as well as a total of two replacements for either buildings or units that provides an advantage to that civilization compared to other civilizations.  For instance, the English longbowman has the ability to shoot three squares distant, compared to all other nations' crossbowmen, who only shoot two squares distant.

Resources still exist in this game, making battles for iron, horses, or coal possible (and sometimes unavoidable).  However, with the inclusion of the city-states, it's possible to take these resources without having to build up your military to insane levels.

Culture can now be earned and advantages are given for more culture in the form of small bonuses.  The bonus screen also doubles as the "government" screen, and while not all the bonuses can be earned in one game, they last for the duration of the game.  Culture also expands borders, though there is no longer city flips due to culture.

As you can see, there are quite a few changes from Civ IV to Civ V.  I love what Civ V became, as it feels more streamlined, it feels more strategic, and I honestly think that I am challenged more when I play it.  I'm not just fighting the other civs, but really studying the terrain, figuring out the best way to defend.  I'm trying to figure out what my end game is while still in BC times, seeing what the land and the other civilizations will offer me for a way forward.  I honestly feel that all the complexity that Civ IV introduced was swept away by Civ V, giving me a cleaner interface and a more thoughtful game overall.

With all that said, I notice that the AI for this game is not exactly the best.  On other Civ games, I was playing regularly chieftain/prince level, with prince level being the level where all Civs are equal (no bonuses given to either player or computer).  I have been playing Civ V at King level, which means that the other Civs get bonuses in order to equalize the playing field enough to keep it a challenge to me.  There are more than a few curious decisions that the AI makes, including not pressing very clear advantages when they have them.  I have not run into too many "screw the human" scenarios similar to the one described in the Civ IV writeup, but I also have lost games by two or three turns when I had clear advantages too.

If you enjoy turn-base games, this one is definitely worth giving a try.  I installed all of my old Civ games in order to complete the Civilization Retrospective, and I can definitely say that I enjoy Civ V well beyond the old games, and right now I don't have any inclinations of replaying the older games because I quite like the strategy and rules of Civ V that much more.  This game gets a 3.5 out of 4 for me, and stay tuned for the writeup of the first expansion pack "Gods and Kings" shortly.

Note: I learned, while writing this blog post, that Civ V came out with a second expansion pack, "Brave New World".  No clue when I plan to get it, though I am now interested in it and will write a review for that as well if I do get it.

17 March 2013

#2LR Too Late Reviews - Wreck-It Ralph

I think that Generation X has finally reached its Forrest Gump stage.  It's not as if this has been immediate, nor can I really say that it happened specifically with Wreck-it Ralph, but I wonder if my parents felt the same way when watching Forrest Gump that I kind of did with Wreck-it Ralph.

As a first disclaimer, I have not seen all of Forrest Gump completely, but I have seen bits and pieces of the movie.  As a second disclaimer, consider the below Spoiler Space for those who have not seen Wreck-it Ralph.

The movie of Wreck-it Ralph begins where a lot of Generation X's most favorite childhood moments reside... in a video-game arcade.  I can remember the joy I had when my parents would drop me and my sister off to our local roller-skating rink that had the eight or nine arcade games along the side... we'd skate ourselves 'til tired, go over and play the video games, grab a pop, skate some more, and as this happened every Friday it was the best way to start a weekend.  We even had our own roller skates so that we wouldn't have to put our feet into skates someone else's yucky feet were in.

Oh, where was I?  Yeah, talking about a movie.  See, Wreck-it Ralph was an "actual" video game in this arcade in the 80s.  However, behind the scenes (Toy Story-like), the video games come to life, and Ralph is sick and tired of always having to wreck it.  So he does a very 90s-like thing about it, which is to go to the support group to not talk about Fight Club.  Zangief is there, as well as Blinky, and a few other villains to tell him that it's not Ralph's fault he's like this, he's just programmed this way.

Ralph semi-accepts it, but then he goes back to his video game to find out that his game's protagonist Felix and all the Weeble-like residents of the building he tries to wreck are throwing an anniversary party.  It's the thirty-year anniversary of their console game (thirty years!  Dang you mean movie for reminding me about the fact that thirty years is in MY rear-view mirror too!), and Ralph was NOT invited.  As Ralph ends up accidentally doing what he does best, one of the Weeble residents starts giving him an earful.  See, this particular Weeble doubles as the Louie DePalma Memorial Jerkwad, and tells Ralph that he'll never win a medal like Felix.

So, Ralph goes out to prove him wrong.  He first gets into a first-person shooter console, but instead of shooting zombies much like "House of the Dead", you shoot bugs instead.  Better yet, this was the mid-00s, where angst was king, so they gave the female protagonist of the video game a cliche-d super-depressing back story.  Ralph goes in, is completely ineffectual in helping the player, and sees the game wind itself down.  Instead of "going back to the start point", he finds out that there's a medal in the top floor and is determined to win it, so he just goes to get it.  In the top floor are a bunch of not-activated enemies, a Dennis Haysbert voice-over general with the victory message, and the medal he so desperately wants.  Instead of having to pump dozen(s) of quarters into the machine like the rest of us had to, he just grabs the medal.

Unfortunately, he botches the escape though.  Just as Felix works out that Ralph went into the FPS game, he shoots right out of it in an escape-pod type thing with a bug in tow, and ends up crash-landing into "Sugar Rush", a racer game that's dripping with soy sauce ('cause it's so clearly based on Japanese, with character designs, palettes, etc.)  It was supposed to be one of those racer games that came out a dime a dozen from the late 90s through the early 00s, but it also managed to include a "mini-game" (which, as I can recall, didn't really get going until a bit later than that, though I also recall that they were present in games such as Crono Trigger and Final Fantasy VII, which were late 90s, and here I go again down memory lane... darn this movie!)  Anyway, Ralph finds a little girl who may as well be feral, who can't seem to get into the racing game.

At this point, Felix fleshes out the risks for all of this.  See, there was a Q-Bert early on in the show, who was very literally out of work, as his arcade game wasn't present anymore.  Since Ralph left, now the "Wreck-It Ralph" console is messed up too, and the owner of the arcade will get rid of non-working games. So, if Ralph doesn't make it back, the whole game and the characters in it will be homeless.  Felix also tells of another game where the main character was jealous of another game taking his place, and he ended up hopping into a different game and fouling it up.  This caused both the main character's game and the new game he hopped into to be scrapped.

As time (and more plot details) go by for Ralph, we find out the bug he kept with him has major repercussions on the game he's in.  We also find out that the little girl is a "bug" who can't actually leave her game like Ralph could leave his, so she's in trouble 'cause the bug can replicate.  And then we find out exactly what has caused this little girl to be feral, and who is behind those reasons.  While this is spoiler space, it was a very delicious progression and I don't want to ruin it.

Spoiler Space over.

Which brings me back to the Forrest Gump discussion.  I am in my mid-30s now, and watching this movie makes me nostalgic for my childhood.  The biggest difference between Wreck-it Ralph's brand of nostalgia and Forrest Gump's nostalgia is that Ralph's nostalgia is one of place and character, while Gump's nostalgia is one of events and movements.  I grew up with many of the characters from Ralph, with the added benefit that I even watched some of the characters grow and change... how many different "Street Fighter" games have come out, and the characters have gone from 8-bit to 16-bit to... well, so many steps now, they're as close to 3-D as they can get without you wearing the glasses.  They're photorealistic.

Gump nostalgia, however, is one of events and movements... there's Vietnam, there's Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon.  There's the anti-war movement, the hippies, and ping-pong diplomacy.  There's Watergate.  There's the Run Across America thing.  And there's the theme of connections lost and regained between Gump and Jenny.  Zemeckis crams in as much of the Baby Boomers' shared 60s and 70s experiences in the film, and everyone found a little piece of themselves in the film.

For us Generation X people?  What are we going to point to, Iran-Contra?  Reagan invading Grenada?  The first Iraq War, that "officially" lasted six months and was paid attention to for roughly a month and a half, around Super Bowl time?  You know, you'd have to multiply that short "Desert Storm" by 70 in order to get to the time it took George W. Bush to go into Iraq, "liberate" it, and turn it back over to the Iraqis.

So, as we established, there's a major lack of events going on for us Generation Xers and/or Millennials.  (I'm on the borderline between the two, as I note...).  On the other hand, I'm almost kind of happy that is the case, and that Wreck-It Ralph ends up being one of the movies that sorta kinda in-some-way defines our generation.  In some ways, this is symbolized by the two massive video-game nerds who stake out the "Sugar Rush" machine with a roll of quarters apiece.  See, those events in the 60s and 70s brought together so many people, but also alienated quite a few people too.  Vietnam was a place that more than a few veterans came back from completely changed, and came back to a nation who was intensely unhappy.  The hippy movement did a darned good job of "pissing off the squares".  Watergate broke the trust of an entire nation, who up until that time had never seen illegality used in such a crass manner.

After all, during Forrest Gump itself, Forrest ended up walking across America.  This is important, because Forrest started walking for his own darned reasons.  He attracted followers... who walked for their own darned reasons.  And they never did meet in the middle... no one really started running for Forrest's reasons, which were his disappointment over losing Jenny.  Going back through the rest of those events, it seems that while people were united, it was a unity that could be accomplished even though the people involved did not have to connect with each other.  One hippy could be in the counterculture because he didn't want to go to Vietnam, and the next could be there because he already went to Vietnam, and the next could be there because he or she wanted the drugs, and the next could be there because he or she wanted the sex, and the next could be there because it seemed like the best way to piss off Dad.

Those two videogame nerds, while they could have had different reasons for wanting to play the game, have to come together in order to play the game.  For the next two minutes, or five minutes, or three hours (however long the quarters last!) they're driving around the tracks of "Sugar Rush", intent on beating the other racers and each other.  Through the video game, they've become friends and want to spend time together because of who the other person is, not because the other person happens to share one viewpoint out of dozens with them.

It feels almost as if while video games have alienated some people (not all Xer's / Millennials would identify with Wreck-It Ralph because not all played and enjoyed video games, after all) that the people that would identify with this movie connect in more than just the superficial.  All you needed in order to participate in the Watergate scandal was a television or a newspaper subscription.  On the other hand, Xers and Millennials pretty much were able to choose their own experiences, ranging from video games to 80s/90s television to movies (Star Wars! / Star Trek!) to music to high school and every other niche that wasn't covered.  Whatever you were interested in, if you found like-minded people also interested you were more likely than not to connect with them more deeply than the general events that the Baby Boomers shared as a complete group.

I certainly couldn't go as far as to say that this movie is as culturally significant as Forrest Gump because of the fragmentation of the Xers/Millennials not having as many shared cultural touchstones as the Baby Boomers had.  I can at least say though that Wreck-It Ralph fills one of the many nostalgia niches for the kids of the 80s and 90s, and I do believe that the nostalgia does not hurt the overall movie.

Even on what little watching I did of Forrest Gump, I found it tedious yet exclusionary... the movie almost seemed targeted to an audience that lived through the milestones that it bumped as it ran past.  I do not know if Wreck-It Ralph has the same sort of exclusionary vibe to other generations, but I do know that my children were absolutely enthralled in it, and I loved sharing stories of the video games I played when I was younger to them.  It also seemed that they were interested in those stories... and as I think about the difference between the two movies, I come to this conclusion.  It's so much more interesting to a ten-year-old to tell him or her about video games of the past rather than to have to describe exactly why Martin Luther King Jr. was shot, or why the United States was fighting a war in Vietnam, or even why hippies did what they did.  Ultimately, the Baby Boomers' shared history was one that they didn't exactly ask for.  While Xers/Millennials do have our own moments that resonate when we start telling our children our first-hand history accounts (9/11), it's so much different to be able to show them this movie and describe the fun that we had as children, feeding quarters into a machine and meeting like-minded people at the arcade.

All of this and no analysis about the characters!  I will save that topic for another day, depending on my rewatching it and seeing if there's enough to tease another blog post from this.  Suffice it to say that this movie is so very tied into the nostalgia that it profits off of, and fans of the video game genre would absolutely think rather highly of this game for all the reasons listed above.  If you're not a fan of video games... that's okay, there's still good characters embroiled in a terrific plot that has a good payoff, and there's even an "intermission" where some video game dude explains all the injokes that is actually kind of interesting.  All you have to do is pause the movie, wait five seconds, and the intermission is off and running.

My final rating would be 3.8 on my four-point scale.  I would absolutely watch this again, and I was fully prepared to do so shortly after watching it the first time.  With all the talk of nostalgia and characters, I would say that the best part about this movie is that it feels like an amazing ride, just like the Indiana Jones movies of old.  My only complaint would be that the Louie DePalma Weeble never learned that Ralph was as integral to his existence as Felix is.  There's a few too many people in this world that don't understand this concept, that we're interconnected to everyone including people we may not "like".  Even if only one person learned from the Weeble, it would have been a greater success.

11 March 2013

#2LR Too Late Review - Escaflowne, episodes 1-5

There's so much to go through, I could legitimately write a week's worth of posts (and at this rate, I just might).  There's all of what I posted yesterday to go through which could be teased out to about five blog posts, especially since Civ V ended up almost playing as two separate games depending on if you have the expansion pack.  But tonight, I figured I'd go with the anime that we're currently screening, vintage 90s anime Escaflowne

As with most of my other reviews, consider the below Spoiler Space.

Escaflowne, oddly enough, starts as a high school coming-of-age anime.  Hitomi Kanzaki is (from what I can see) a first-year high school student and budding track star on the girls' track team, and seriously crushing on one of the upperclassmen from the boys' track team.  However, when she starts her race, she pulls into the lead only to collapse from a bizarre vision.   The first episode then completes the strange transition from high school drama into a high-fantasy and steampunk hybrid taking place on Gaia, a planet where one can see the "mystic moon" (Earth) in the sky, along with the regular Moon.

Within this world are people who know how to get her back, but of course before they can do that, the small city-state they live in is attacked by another group of people who raided the Romulans for their cloak technology, as well as having flamethrowers and other weird shooty things.  Hitomi and the king of this city-state, young Vaan, escape in Vaan's mecha robot to another country.

In the next country they pick up some allies, including the somewhat pompous knight Allen Schezar, though the ranks of the allies are thinned out somewhat by the same enemy mecha robots (from the nation of "Zaibach").  Through some fancy flying by their airship and a daring rescue plan, they prevent Vaan and his special mecha from falling into enemy hands.  They escape, flying the airship into the sunset.

(Spoiler space over)

Fittingly enough, episode 5 could have ended a sort of miniseries, as the airship flies away and the enemy base is unable to scramble units to chase after our heroes.  Having a conclusion to this story arc gave me a good opportunity to blog about the series up until this point.  Of course, it was also about an hour and a half, pretty much movie-sized if you strip out theme songs and recaps too, so it should give the viewer a good idea of where the proceedings will go.

This was a series that I watched quite a few years ago, back when I attended university and was a member of the anime viewing club there.  At the time, I recall that I was not a huge fan of the show, and to some extent I can understand why I was not at the time.  While watching, I can see a bit of why I was not a fan at the time; for instance, you can't quite classify this show as "high fantasy" because of the mechas, but you can't call it steampunk because the outfits and the methods of fighting (pure swordplay) scream high fantasy.  At one point during Episode 4, the defenders that were fortifying against a mecha attack were preparing.... catapults.  Not even trebuchets, not cannons, but catapults.  (And ballistas, for what it's worth).  So, there's massive amounts of technology inside the robots, but not an ounce of it outside the robots.  I'm sure that there will be an explanation, such as that the robots were old technology left there by others, but that doesn't quite explain Zaibach's cloaking mechanisms or new robots... those are purely out of left field and far beyond even today's technology.

The other issue I pointed to fifteen years ago was that I was not a fan of the protagonist, or the king, or the knight, or... well, really anyone.  However, I suppose that this was the young me that didn't feel like thinking through a show and not giving it a chance.  Hitomi, Vaan, Allen... they are all irritating and annoying in their own way, but the more jaded reviewer I've become now realizes that their foibles and annoyances actually make them more human than if they were perfect.  Watching this show again makes me feel that the protagonists are more real, that they have personalities and feelings and concerns, and draws me in more as a viewer.

As well, another high point is the that the writers of the show do a decent job of injecting enough comedy to keep you on your toes.  Since the humor is not frequent, each punchline gains more impact because there's not another one for a little while.  In this regard, they set Hitomi up with a good foil, the cat-girl Merle, who snips at her and puts in her own digs.  Hitomi, when she's aware enough, gives as good as she gets though.

It should be noted that there are quite a few hallmarks of the male-targeted cliches in this show, including the sword-fighting as well as the giant mechas.  While they managed to sneak in a female protagonist and they seem to be setting up a "Jacob-or-Edward"-style subplot of who gets to date Hitomi, the writers have also managed to make her enough of a girly-girl that she's not going to kick ass and take names.  For each time she's making a nine-foot leap to run to Vaan's side to warn him of danger, she faints after a premonition.  I almost wish they had her pick up a sword and really bust out some of the stereotypes, but alas, this show did not want to bust too many of the cliches apart (immediately, at least).

This time around, especially having seen more series, I've been more interested to see where the plot goes.  Of course, I am a bit put out by the fact that I know some of the twists yet to come, but I have completely forgotten the ending... so, bonus!  I actually have VHS tapes of this one, and they're dubbed too, so I can't really give a good opinion of the voice acting nor the music.  To be truthful, there is some painful dialogue in the English version, though I'm not sure if the same painful dialogue (or bad delivery) is present in the subtitled version.

So, I have enjoyed the first movie-length portion of Escaflowne, and that has guaranteed me to keep watching through the second movie-length portion (episodes 6-10).  Stay tuned for further reviews!

10 March 2013

#2LR Civilization Retrospective Gala - Civilization IV

Hello again to everybody!  It's week one of the new Chicago experience, and while moving I finally found my copy of Civilization IV.  I wanted to find my copy of Civ IV before giving a full review because Civ IV was the hardest nut for me to crack.

As you can tell from my previous reviews, I have played all of the Civilization games through the years (though I have skipped a couple of the expansion packs), and I have been a fan for ages.  When Civ IV came out, I was still busy playing Civ III and content to either let the price come down or wait for the bundled expansion that inevitably comes out with the game.  Considering how much of a change Civ III was over Civ II, I still felt like I was on the cutting edge even if I wasn't strictly there still.

I bought Civ IV after the expansion pack came out, and I installed it immediately.  When I started a game of Civ IV, I noticed that the gameplay was different almost immediately.  There were health meters in the city now, there were government types that were completely unknown from the "despotism-monarchy-republic-democracy" forms from the previous game as well, and there's religion.  The military was different as well, as Civ IV returned to the Civ II model of siege units (catapults/trebuchets/cannons) having to try to enter the city and outright dying from trying to attack the inhabitants.

Of all of the concepts, I was a fan of the health meters.  In the previous Civ games, you absolutely had to have the aqueduct in order to grow your city past a certain size.  This time around, the "health meter" can tell you if your city is either healthy or unhealthy.  The health meter is based on either providing different types of foods to your citizens, or having buildings promoting health such as the aqueduct.  But, you can still grow your city if it's unhealthy, it'll just take longer.

The government type selection screen was pulled from the archives of Alpha Centauri.  For me, this is a good thing yet a bad thing, because the designers of Civ IV missed a crucial step.  The Alpha Centauri government types all had a box showing the benefits and pitfalls of governmental change which allowed you to figure out roughly what would happen to your country depending on the government.  However, there was no real impact summary going on with your governmental changes in Civ IV, and you have to try to keep your details straight.  Additionally, there's not really an "overall" effect happening with your government changes, there's very specific effects with some of the selections -- such as cities of a certain religion being able to complete buildings quicker, or build units with enhancements, and you have to keep all the specific effects straight.  Lastly, especially with the religion-based government types, it was difficult to figure out if all of your cities would qualify unless you made note of it prior to going into the screen.

Which brings me into the discussion of religion.  In this game, religion is tied directly to technology -- the first Civ to discover a certain technology gets to "found" the religion related to the technology, such as Monotheism for Judaism or Code of Laws for Christianity.  This means that you have to be extremely quick discovering out of the gate in order to obtain founder status for any religion.  Founding a religion gives you the ability to send missionaries out to convert other cities, and having all cities as one religion gives benefits in the beginning.  (Collecting religions in the end also gives you benefits).

All of those are not killers, but I think that the last change really dampened my enthusiasm for the game.  This game subscribes to the "stack of soldiers" formula that all previous Civ games subscribed to, but changing the siege capabilities from the previous game really changes the impact of the game.  This means that the defensive units get an amazing advantage, they can stay within their hidey-holes and not have to come out to try to get rid of the mass of siege units outside their city.  Additionally, siege units literally die when they fail to win an attack.  This makes the decision to go forward militarily very difficult at best, especially since a city with two units can easily withstand a stack of six units.

One of my least favorite Civ games happened on Civ IV, and I think that this was the reason that I stopped playing Civ IV.  As a prologue, I don't like losing, which I hope is understandable.  While playing, I got to the 'close-to-end' of a Civ IV game where I was in a solid and absolute second-place position.  At the same time, first-place was already in the process of building their spaceship.  I was faced with a couple of different options:

1. Defeat first-place militarily
2. Kill one of the smaller civs nearby in order to establish a beachhead
3. Ally with one or more of the smaller civs against the larger civ.

With the way that the siege engines work in Civ IV, number 2 is not an option.  You can burn your whole military taking out a less technologically-advanced country, which leaves you no chance for keeping your pieces intact to defeat a larger foe.  Much to my absolute amazement and surprise, number 3 was not an option either.  This issue made me maddest, because when I'm on the edge of winning a Civ game all the computer players hate my guts and try to attack my lands on the slightest provocation, yet not one nation would stand with me to prevent first place from winning.

So, number 1 was the only option.  I'd land a set of six or even seven units, and I would be lucky to keep three of those units by the next turn.  I understand that it was really close to the end of the game, and that I probably just ran out of turns to be able to influence the end of a game, but I felt rather annoyed that there wasn't even the ghost of a chance for me to be able to change the ending of the game.

I suppose that this story illustrates my failure within the specific game, but I honestly feel that the military option in Civ IV was so bad that it was utterly useless.  At the very least, there's really not a whole lot of strategy you can do past making sure that swords are used for city assault and axes used for killing units (as they have innate strengths in those situations), and other than that you're just throwing units at a city and hoping for the random number god to answer your prayers.  (I've also been burned a few too many times when the percentages were 75%-25%, though mostly because bad beats are far more memorable than hitting luck on the river).

So, for the first time in the series, I was willing to loan out a Civ game even if it meant that I would not be able to play the game while it was lent out.  Through the years of 2006 to 2010, I barely played Civ games whatsoever, though I still played Colonization and Alpha Centauri occasionally.  It did allow me to get caught up on other games, such as the excellent Dark Cloud series, as well as Final Fantasy updates (10, 12), Dragon Age, and Kingdom Hearts.

From what I gather online, this will be one of the few negative reviews of Civ IV.  I would like to think that the developers knew that there were a few issues with Civ IV, because Civ V attended to quite a few of the issues of complexity (government / religion) as well as military strategics.

I have a few shows and movies to go through in the next little while, including Bucket List, Wreck-it Ralph, and Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, as well as the conclusion of the Civilization Retrospective Gala, so please stay tuned to this space for more articles and content in the future!