||[Mar. 15th, 2013|06:14 am]
When I get a chance to play some games, I go for the strategy games as of late. My buddy introduced me to Settlers of Catan. It's a quest to be the dominant civilization, and the first player to 10 points wins. You accumulate points over the turns via building settlements and cities, plus bonus points for things like having the longest road, or the most knights played. Each turn you collect resources to build your empire, and often you have to make your way by bartering with the other players, which makes for the intrigue. I have played Catan a handful of times, and I haven't won yet, but I've come close. We don't have our own copy of the board game, but I'm planning on buying one. Right now it's a popular game, so the price wavers around 40 bucks, which is a bit steep, but hopefully they'll start running more sales on it. 25 bucks would be the right price.
In video games, I've also sought out the strategy genre. I loooove Civilization V. This game is much like Risk, but with nation management. Like Settlers of Catan, you have to build up resources and occasionally barter with the other nations. My favorite nations to play with are the United States, France, and currently gaining ground among my favs, the Persians. Each nation has special perks that help in different ways. For example, US has a bonus tied into buying land, called "Manifest Destiny." With this perk, you get much cheaper prices for tile acquisition, thus making your territory expand quickly. They also have a unique flying unit, the B-17, which has a bonus damage vs. cities. Their unique infantry, the Minuteman, ignores terrain penalties, making it a more dynamic foot soldier. The cool thing is that if you build your unique units, as the game progresses, you not only can upgrade your units to the next standard, but you also keep the unique bonuses they held.
I installed an emulator for the SNES on my tower, and I picked up an old favorite called Romance of the Three Kingdoms III. It's a strategy game set in ancient China, and it takes its namesake after the famous historical account of the era. The goal is to unify China under your chosen ruler. I love playing as Cao Cao, who also happens to be one of the main people from the story. This game takes forever to play, easily the longest of the games I've played. I think it took me half a month to unify the country the first time I played it on the emulator. There are also city and province management features with this game, so like Civ V, it's not all about dominating your enemies on the battlefield. One of the tricks I use to speed up the game is to play with multiple players. I choose the maximum number of players, eight, and when the game begins, I slowly merge the different rulers together under one guy (usually Cao Cao). It's kind of amusing when you get warriors like Lu Bu under Cao's regime, because in the story, Lu Bu was executed by Cao Cao. If you play historical mode, however, the game takes into account the actual events, so less alliances and merging is possible. That's why I always go for fictional mode, so it removes the restrictions and writes a fresh narrative every time.
I'm thinking of purchasing Anno 2070 for the PC. It's a city-building game, but it's set in the future. In their scenario, the Earth has fallen into the global warming nightmare, and most of the land has become water-logged. So instead of big land masses, there's an archipelago, a few little islands here and there. The game got good reviews, plus I'm jonesing for a different city-builder game, but I have to double-check to see if my tower's specs are good enough to run this game.
Of the various city-builders that I've played, my current favorite is Tropico 4. It's basically Sim City: Banana Republic. You play as a 3rd world Carribean dictator, and the game runs a narrative via missions you have to complete on your way to world domination. Each mission puts you on a different island, and each objective highlights a set of win conditions based off of a few of the many features you have at your disposal. So as you're playing the missions, you're actually learning how to play the game better, which is a neat setup. Comparatively, there really wasn't any guidance or narrative with Sim City 4, so it's refreshing to have a strategy game not only teach you how to play, but entertain you with the story as the missions unfold.
Speaking of Sim City, the latest sequel, 5, is a total disaster. I figured it would stink, since Maxis isn't its own company anymore; Electronic Arts bought them, and they have become one of the major scourges in the video game industry. Most EA games these days are riddled with bugs and poor programming in general. SC5 is no different. Not only does SC5 have terrible AI (Sims don't actually follow a home-work-home pattern; they go to the nearest job and return to the nearest house), but there are bugs galore. Also, Digital Rights Management (DRM) that EA put into the game requires a constant internet connection. Naturally, their servers were incapable of handling the online load, and for days, nobody could log-on and play. Thankfully, I avoided that hot garbage.
To anyone who's looking for city-building, try Tropico 4, or just stick with the last Sim City version, Sim City 4. The modding community has a ton of cool stuff built for SC4, and it's far less buggy. The only problem you might incur with SC4 is getting it to play on a computer with a multi-core processor. The game will freeze or crash-to-desktop every so often on modern machines, so you have to tweak the settings to get the game to play for longer than a few minutes without the critical failures. This is actually a common problem on a lot of older games; some as recent as Fallout 3 have the same issue. In each case, you have to tweak the config files to get the games to stop failing with annoying frequency. If SC4 was never your favorite, then try Tropico 4.
On the topic of used games and piracy, I'm really tired of the industry bemoaning both of them. Sales have been climbing steadily, even with the advent of illegal downloads. It's a case of internal pressure, and greed, as I see it. AAA titles can cost quite a bit these days, and if a game flops, it can break a company. With this added risk, the companies would like more insurance against it, so they want to cut out any possible source of income loss. In terms of piracy, I am neither for nor against it, however the instance of pirating intellectual property hasn't destroyed any industry, no matter how much companies whine about it. Oftentimes, it seems like the companies lament piracy, and from their perch, it may seem like they're losing money hand over fist, but the fact is that they're inside the bird cage, and they don't see the room properly.
Game companies simply cannot expect to eliminate all income loss. It's a pipe dream. Every industry experiences income loss; they are no exception. In their world, it would be ideal if there was no way to copy the games. They also want to eliminate the ability to rent games by making each copy of a game with a unique code that would be tied to one's account. I have some bad news for you, game companies. You'll kill your whole freaking industry if you achieve both. Fewer people will be willing to buy a game they can't try. Even more people will be unwilling to pay full price for the games you make. Per-capita incomes have flatlined since the early 2000s. More people than ever before are living from paycheck to paycheck. People simply cannot afford to go out and get several games a year at the 60-70 dollar price point. Plus, even with beefed-up DRM, people will still find a way to crack and pirate the games. Put a better security out, and a better criminal will come along and circumvent your system, it's that simple. So stop with the fist-waving and stick with what you do best, which is making games for a tidy profit.
If game companies have to scale back budgets, then so be it. Nobody needs an A-list actor or actress voicing a character's dialog. Nobody needs eye-popping lifelike graphics. Nobody needs your giant freaking hairy budgets with the monkey-on-back pressure that comes with them. People do need entertainment, however. There's just a ceiling to everything, and if entertainment in general is hitting the ceiling in terms of sales and revenue, then it's not the end of the world. Focus on quality, more than anything else. We're all very very tired of clusterfucks like Aliens: Colonial Marines.