I was on the phone with my dad a couple weekends ago and he asked if I was playing Civilization 5.  He’d heard that Dan was playing it and was surprised that it was still around and Dan and I were still playing it.  I told him I was playing it and reminded him that it was he who indirectly got us stuck on the series.

Back in the old days of the early 1990s, no one gave a second thought to sharing computer software with each other.  Most people didn’t know about the public Internet or BBSes so, for the most part, there was no onerous digital restriction management (DRM) to keep people from sharing software.  Some games had codes that you had to type in which were found in the manual, but manuals could be photocopied – after all, there were no authentication servers to connect to.  I’ve spoken about this before, but those early “wild west” days lay the seeds for my software purchases over the last decade.  A friend lent me 3.5” disks of Sim City 2000.  I played that sucker everywhere.  I’d take it wherever there would be computers and install it there to play until my parents said it was time to go.  To this day, I’ve bought all the mainline Sim City products and expansion packs.  So, who’s to say that today’s illicit software users aren’t building up affinities for software brands they’ll be loyal to when they have the cash.

Back in those days we had finally gotten a Windows 3.1 computer after begging for a year or two.  It was setup on a desk in the back room that was adjacent to the dining room, my parents’ future bedroom, and a door to the backyard.  It’s funny, because I think that back then video games weren’t as addictive or something.  We’d play a game for a few hours, but we also spent tons of time playing outside or playing with our action figure toys or Legos.  In fact, I think I spent nearly as much time doing the Windows and Works tutorials as I did playing games on that first system.  (Man, those were the days of great tutorials)  One day our dad brings home a bunch of floppies of software he’d gotten from a friend at work.  One set of floppies contained about 300 shareware games including a crazy pacman clone we loved that had sharks in one level.  The other one had Civilization.

Stalin in Civilization
Stalin in Civilization
At the time I was around 10, which would make Dan around 7 and Dave 5.  So a lot of the time, Dan and I would sit around the computer and play a game together while Dave would be off doing “little kid stuff”.  So Dan and I explored making a city and building city walls and warriors (phalanx at the time, I think) and archers.  I think that we really liked Civ 1.  I remember playing it a fair amount.  But I remember playing Sim City and Sim City 2000 more often.  That was pretty much all we had on our computer at first.  Civilization was the first game we played where you couldn’t really take turns playing together.  Unlike Mario or Pacman where you could be expected to die in a reasonable amount of time, with Civilization, games went on for hours.  So Dan and I started the tradition of playing Civilization together by having me farm off cities to him.  I’d start with the capital and then make a settler.  Dan would then get to control all production from that city.  So, if he wanted to have even more cities to play with, he had to make more settlers.  There wasn’t an anti-city sprawl in effect in Civilization, so there was no danger in building up too many cities.  And we had a good time.  It was a lot of fun building the throne room as well.  We would often mix and match styles.
Civilization – just seeing this brings a HUGE wave of nostalgia over me. It's incredible.
Eventually our dad gave into our begging and bought a CD-ROM and sound card kit.  This came with King’s Quest 6 which we spent countless hours on.  My dad would even sneak to CompUSA to read the strategy guide when he was stuck (no Game FAQs back then).  While we were at the store (Incredible Universe, I think) to get the kit, I noticed another CD-ROM kit that came with Civilization 2.  I didn’t even know a sequel had been released!  I didn’t have the allowance money to get it so I conned convinced my brother (or brothers) to get the game.  I don’t remember who the game officially belonged to, but my brain tells me it was David.  It doesn’t matter, because by this time we were all old enough to play together.

We would gather three chairs around the computer and play together, using the strategy I devised with Dan when we played Civilization 1.  We played so long and so often that we had nicknames for many of the units.  One that I remember was calling diplomats “dippies” as in “Make sure you send a dippy over to the Americans.”  Civilization 2 was perfect for us at that time in our lives.  The crazy motion-capture video advisers, including an Elvis in nearly every period dress, was the right brand of hilarious for our teen and pre-teen minds. I think of all the games we owned at the time, we spent the most time playing Civ 2.

Of course, back then, CD-ROMs were very slow, so most games would load all their data on the hard drive.  This led to Civilization 2 being, along with Command and Conquer: Red Alert, one of the first games I ever hacked.  In fact, at the time I had never heard of open source, so these were the first real hacks I’d ever done.  While looking through the file system, I came across a folder containing dozens of sound files.  I clicked on them and realized they were the sounds that were triggered whenever a building was built.  Interestingly, Civilization 2 remains the most multimedia-intensive Civ game in the series.  I think it was required at the time – with multimedia being the key buzzword at the time – so they went overboard.  Never again did we have video advisers or gratuitous audio in a Civilization game.  Well, my brothers and I used to love to play with the various .wav file editors on Windows.  We’d record our voices and speed them up and combine them with regular speed and all kinds of insanity.  So I tucked the proper files away and recorded a bunch of new ones.  I know I did at least a few of them, but the one that Dan and I always talk about is when I changed the sound for building aqueducts from  the sound of running water to “Aqueduct ….quack quack!”.  After completing my hacks, I invited my brothers to play without letting them know what I’d done.  It was sheer joy when they heard the new sounds.  For me, that is.  My memory tells me that at least one of them was mad because they thought I’d irrevocably changed the game.  The other may have been annoyed at hearing it because I had scheduled for a bunch of cities to finish their aqueducts at the same time.  (speaking of memory, yeesh!  Looking for Civ 2 screenshots shows that I remembered the game looking a lot better than it actually did!  Although, I remembered how civ 1 looked correctly.  I guess that makes sense as it was the most primitive and it’s harder to remember the gradual improvements)

Civilization II
Civilization II

Civilization 2 included the concept of pollution and I remember my least favorite aspect of Civ 2 to be creating dozens of workers to deal with all the pollution.  And that was without even resorting to using nukes.  Civ 2 was, as I mentioned in a Civ 4 post, a mess.  Well, it was a ton of fun for me to play as a kid.  But after I’d grown and played Civ 3, I realized what a janky mess Civilization 2 had been.  For one, cities would often grow to humongous sizes.  I’m pretty sure I made it past the 20s and into the 30s at times.  I also think that every game I played ended with me researching tons of future tech – getting as far as Future Tech 20 while finishing off my space ship.  I never even attempted a domination victory.

Civilization III
Civilization III

Civilization 3 was a departure in my experience of the Civilization series.  The game came out while I was at university.  I didn’t know it was out until I came home for the summer and my brothers had somehow obtained a bootleg version.  It was a very weird time for us.  I’m not sure how we expected the world to work, but I guess it just hadn’t been brought to our attention that if we played bootleg games, the developers wouldn’t have any money to develop new games.  It’s not like I didn’t know about economics.  Ever since middle school, I’d enjoyed reading my dad’s college econ textbook.  But it was just some weird moment in American society.  We’d always shared games with each other.  We were burning CDs for each other.  MP3s were free.  The Internet made it so easy.  It wasn’t until a few years later that we realized the error of our ways.  Now, no one I know downloads a game illicitly.  Back then EVERYONE did – [almost] literally.

We were much older now and we did not play together.  I think that’s why I have the dimmest memories of Civilization 3.  For a lot of the next paragraph, I had to look up the game on Wikipedia to remind myself of the changes between the games to make sure I got the details right.  Even if it would have been easy to hack any files like with Civ 2, it would have been pointless without my brothers around to enjoy it.  I also played Civilization 3 a lot less.  Unlike my childhood when my allowance was too paltry to afford games and my adolescence when I was more interested in spending my money going out with girls and friends, I had tons of games to play.

Civilization 3 was the first streamlining I’d seen in the game.  Gone was the need for the diplomat to establish trade ties with other civilizations.  Pollution was a lot less of an issue.  For the first time, they clamped on sprawling empires.  If you built too many, your economics would collapse.  And if they were too far apart, the same could occur.  I remember being a little annoyed – after all, look at the Roman Empire which spanned all of Europe and parts of Asia.  But I realized it made for a much better game.  (And they’ve continued to try and find the right balance as the series has progressed)

They finally got rid of the senate’s override of war if the government was a republic or democray.  Civilization had always put a Western/US-centric spin on the government types.  That included, in Civ 2, the fantasy that democracies and republics did not start wars, they only responded to them.  I’m pretty sure I’ve written about emergent gameplay and the silliness it can cause in MMOs (if not, ask me about it if you meet me IRL), but this resulted in the same kind of silliness.  Basically, you’d go for the wonder that would allow you to change government types without spending time in revolution.  Then, if you needed a fight, you’d switch to communism or feudalism, fight for a few turns and then switch back to democracy.  Because, after all, democracy was the best form of government.  At least, for the way we played, democracy seemed to be the only government choice that made sense.

They also added the idea of culture and culture flipping.  As someone that loved to play for the space race, this was always an awesome side game to play – get so much culture I could take over the opponent’s cities without going to war.  It was always a lot of fun to do.

Other than a bit of playing during my summer internships at P&G to keep myself busy after work, I didn’t play too much Civilization 3.  But, soon after graduation, marriage, and starting my new job Civilization 4 was released.  It was, as I recently mentioned, the catalyst for the first computer I built in 2005.  Having mended my ways since college, I purchased the game.  (And subsequent expansion packs)   I was once again addicted and you can read my various Civ 4 posts on this blog so I’m not going to spend too much time with that.

Madrid's in Trouble – Luckily for me, I'm the Japanese!

I was able to go back to playing Civilization with my brothers.  But so far it hasn’t been as fun as it could have been.  On the plus side, we could now play over the Internet and have our own civilizations to control.  On the negative side, Civ games take forever.  I don’t think I’ve ever finished a Civ game with either of my brothers.  We’ve played by email and we’ve played live and we’ve never been able to finish a game.  And that’s annoying.  By contrast, during the first summer after my freshman year in college, we played scores of Warcraft III and Star Wars: Galactic Empire games over the course of a few months.

Tank in Civ 4

Now, almost 20 years later we have Civilization 5.  What a journey it’s been.  Only the Sim City franchise has received as much devotion from me in as many years.  In many ways, Civ 5 is the biggest streamlining the series has ever had.  I feel conflicted.  For the first time in the series, I truly understand nearly all aspects of the game.  (Civ 4 was close – but I bought a strategy guide to help me)  Gone are spies.  Gone is religion.  Gone is setting the tax rate.  Corporations are no more.  I guess it’s always hard to give up features.  But it’s the sign of a good company when they can actually reverse bloat.

Default view of my new civilization
Default view of my new civilization

Looking back over my blog, I discovered an early post talking about how my interests ebb and flow.  It explains that, with my personality, despite the fact that I finished 6 Civilization V games in one week, it might be months before I play it again.  I’ve really, really enjoyed discovering the innovations in Civilization V, but truth be told, I probably wouldn’t have played so much in one week without the addition of Steam achievements.  I mentioned back in September that this was a good thing because it got me to play differently than I might have otherwise done so.  But going to the Grand Canyon has taken away the inertia.  I haven’t felt once since getting back that I needed to play Civilization V.  Is that a failing of the game to hold my attention or is that the fault of my busy life and multitude of hobbies?  Maybe a little of both?  In a way, my life has swung back to that of my childhood in that I have lots I’d rather do than play video games.  Back then I had swimming, the backyard, playing toys with my brothers, and riding bike.  Now I have time with the wife, this blog, my webcomic, and photography.

Civilization V - Darius I of the Persians and advanced ships
You can see my great ship and the city-state I took over. Notice it's an Earth map.

So, while I haven’t touched my favorite game of 2010 in the past couple weeks, I did in fact really enjoy playing it.  I like the fact that cities have their own defenses now so that I can use my early-game units to explore the map or do early kills.  Also, in the past I tended to forget about my city-fortified units, so I’d inevitably lose cities because they had a warrior protecting them that I’d forgotten to upgrade.  Now, until the times times of airplanes, the actual unit you have there is less important (although their HP does affect things) My absolute favorite feature is the fact that archery units are now bombard units and can fire from further back.  Not only does it lead to more realistic gameplay, but also to great strategy.  Combined with the inability to stack units, the game has really become strategic.  Before the strategy was easy – gather as many units as you can, pile them up in a stack next to the city you want to attack and then wail away until you get rid of all their units.  Now, you have to decide how to align up your units around their target.  And you can bombard away with boats and archers, but none of them can take over cities so you need to have some melee units around.  Another problem I’ve come up against is needing to get units past each other because they need to be able to end up on an unoccupied spot at the end of their turn.  This also requires strategy in the middle of a war.

Civilization V - my game as the Roman Civilization
My starting position as the Romans

The AI has improved a lot.  Back when I started, it was atrocious.  It has improved with each iteration and greater computing power and has to do a lot less cheating to keep itself competitive.  I also like that you can’t trade tech anymore.  At first I missed it because sometimes I would temporarily fall behind in science in my games and trading tech was a way to not fall too far behind.  But most of the time it just served to antagonize the AI because they wanted tech that I wouldn’t give them for fear they’d have an army as good as mine.  Now, the ability to catch up scientifically has been replaced with research pacts.

There really isn’t much I dislike about Civilization V.  As I said above, I miss a bit of the micromanaging, but a lot of times that stuff could end up getting so tedious it would take away from the game.  I would have liked to have seen an evolution of religions/corporations rather than their removal, but perhaps that can come back in some future DLC.  It can also be annoying that a source of natural resources isn’t infinite anymore – you can’t build infinite horse archers when you have horses.  While this is somewhat more realistic, I feel like the limits are way too low for the number of resources available.  Anyway, these are all just niggles.  There isn’t anything I can think of to complain seriously about.

Just as with the Tetris review, this was another blog post where Dan and I both blogged on the same topic without any prior discussion about what direction each of us would take.  His take is here.

I’m looking forward to see how multiplayer has evolved and I’d like to finally finish a game vs Dan.

9 responses to “Civilized”

  1. I’m pretty sure I actually did buy Civ III, but we allowed you to copy it and use a crack to play it on your computer. In fact, I even re-ordered a Civ 3 disc from the company because you scratched up the disc I lent you and it no longer ran normally in my computer.

    The combat mechanics are definitely more interesting in this game, but I find myself disappointed with the other simplifications.

  2. Man.. that was a long review. A nice historical view on the series though.

  3. You reviewed all of the CIV games except one: Civ 5 for the Playstation 3. A vastly different and streamlined game from the original, with game play usually finished in a couple of hours… and the most inane and annoying sidekicks and advisers since Jar Jar Binks.

    • There was no Civ 5 for PS3. There was Civilization Revolutions, but I don’t think he ever played that.

  4. It’s A Binary World 2.0 » Civilized Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. After all I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again very soon!