22 April 2011

Civilization V: Leaders

Remember me?
So Civ V obviously looks much better than its predecessors, because we all know a game's quality is directly dependent on your CPU/GPU temperatures nowadays. To be honest, I don't really mind- it does look pretty. You might mind if your system can't handle it, if so, well, sucks to be you. What can I say.

I wouldn't mind either, though, if instead of spending all that time and effort on the OMG SO PRETTAY graphics they just made the game less buggy and more polished mechanics, balance and AI-wise. I mean, when I say I don't mind the CivV graphics, that's not to say I didn't mind the CivIV graphics either. I didn't mind CivIII. I didn't mind CivII, and even the original Civ still looks charming to me at times. I mean, look at it!

Revolutionary faux-Cyrillic font rendering technology.

Of course, it's not like you can just take your artists, tell them to code AI, and magically get much better AI. That said, graphics are prioritized for many modern games and they shouldn't be, especially at this point (that is, as opposed to, say, 1997 when 3D looked godawful and detracted from the playing experience).

One thing I don't get is, I'm not sure if we can still have multiple leaders per civ. I mean, I really like liked how in CivIV you could pick Russia, and then pick from a few leaders with very different traits, while keeping the same unique units and so on. It added to the replay value.

With CivV, I think the traits are far more fundamental than in CivIV, and much more unique. You no longer get things like generic coin yield bonuses or more great persons. The Iroquois consider every forest tile a road, both for purposes of movement AND trade routes. Did I mention that each road tile costs 1 gold per turn in maintenance now? The Aztecs get culture from killing units. The Russians get double yield from certain Siberian-themed strategic resources. American units get +1 sight range, and buying land is much cheaper. These affect the mechanics in a very deep manner, and you can imagine how effective the traits are in enforcing a certain play style for each civ. I think they're fairly well designed, and in the end together with the unique units and buildings you get a game where the English really do play a lot like English. It does wonders for adding character to your game, and differentiating Medium-strength aggressive AI opponent #7 as a unique and interesting actor in the game world. And this does not require hard-coded behavior biases for the AI either- you find yourself playing in a thematically appropriate way, too, simply because you get the most bonuses that way.

What really irks me about the new leaders, though, is the voice acting. Well, that, and the lack of options for diplomacy but more on that later. It may sound like a trivial thing, but if you speak any language besides English, the leader speeches immediately become painful.

If you are exclusively an anglophone, good for you! CivV's voice acting won't trouble you one bit. In fact, the Americans and English have very good voicing, I think. Otherwise, bad news, buddy. Some examples:

The Russian Czarina sounds like some drunk airhead you bumped into while bar hopping in Moscow. Well, actually, she doesn't, she speaks with an accent too horrible for words and I have no clue where it's from. She misuses pronouns in a way 4 year old Russian toddlers wouldn't. The intonation is so off it's downright creepy.

Caesar appears to have taken a bump too many on his head, and forgotten the basic grammar of his own language. Hell, he misuses simple words in a way that any Latin 101 student learns not to do in his first month.

The Ottoman emperor sounds decades younger than he looks, and the voice actor is so hammy that he makes the worst Turkish acting in history (and believe me, there's some BAD Turkish movies out there) look Oscar-worthy. The weird accent and the creepy word choice actually makes me feel like he's hitting on me half the time. Ugh.

Some, like Egypt, Persia and so on, they've just cut corners on and had them speak Arabic. Thing is, there already IS an Arabian civ, which speaks, funnily enough, Arabic.

Pretty much any leader that doesn't speak English, sounds wrong for some reason or other. Just look up the videos on Youtube and read the comments. How hard can it be to find some native speakers to do these? It's not like there's a lot of work to do, it's only a bunch of lines. And I don't expect you to go find a perfect Aztec speaker but geez, at least find someone who actually speaks German to voice Bismarck maybe?

It bothers me so much that I simply try to defeat offending Civs as soon as possible so that I don't have to suffer their diplomacy requests. And you know there's a problem when it's gotten to that point.

And while we are on the topic, what's with the technology quotes? And who is the guy who's reading these, anyway? Is he doing VA work to pay for his lung cancer treatment from smoking a pack every day since middle school? It's just downright discouraging to hear the guy make an introduction, obviously supposed to be passionate and such, in the voice of your grandpa on his deathbed.

As for the quotes themselves, they just don't make sense. I've never been a fan of Spock's beep beep beep business myself, but I appreciate that most fans are. However, the CivIV quotes were at least loosely relevant. Now? It's freaking surreal!

Don't explain the joke fable!

I got news for you, 2k Games: That Aesop fable? It's not about archery. It's about social rivalry, and dealing with it prudently. And whatever translation that was taken from, I swear to God it must have been the most stupid Aesop fable in existence. What the hell does that even mean? Feathers aren't a rare resource. Eagle feathers aren't particularly good for arrow making. It's not like it would matter if the dude didn't have an eagle feather- any feather would work just as well. You don't even need a feather, just anything that's vaguely fin-shaped. Come on now, this isn't difficult! Five millenia of writing, and you couldn't find one interesting thing said about archery? Give me a break.

Civilization V: 1 unit per tile

Now this is another big, huge, oh-my-god-how-did-I-ever-live-without-it thing. No more stacking units. A military unit can no longer finish a turn on the same tile as another military unit. The same goes for civilian units.

This is a huge change, and one of the most discussed one for the Civ series. Previously, with stacking, you would get something called the Stacks of Death. 50 tanks, moving together, enjoy your defeat screen. It was silly, it made choke points irrelevant, and it encouraged massing units. More precisely, you were usually better off picking a unit or three, and building lots of those. This unfortunately meant that there were hundreds of units on the map, and all had to be assigned orders, making turns become half-hour long headaches.

There were also issues like city defenders- imagine a stack of 5 spearmen guarding a city on a hill. They are fortified, so that's a +25% combat bonus. Wall, +50%. There's a hill, +25%. We've doubled the combat value of our units, and there are lots of other improvements like Wall that give combat bonuses. This is probably one reason you got silliness like spearmen beating tank regiments. (To be sure tanks in Civ4 get combat bonuses against low tech units like spearmen, and ignore the wall, but you get the idea)

Of course, there were counters, like artillery units. It wasn't really something you could exploit for gameplay advantage, it just made large wars tedious. Still, when one of your main strategies for combat involves "suicide catapults", it just feels weird. Obviously this much-abstracted game series is not about literal realism in mechanics, but Civ has always aspired to maintain at least some semblance of verisimilitude. I mean, come on. Suicide catapults? Uh, what?

First result for a "suicide catapult" image search. BTW, freakingnews.com, FUCK your watermark. And that's a ballista, not a catapult!

You couldn't just not do it either. The AI always did anyway and if you didn't play its game, you'd be steamrolled pretty easily after a point.

Without stacking, we automatically get a bunch of wonderful shifts in the Civ playing experience. It makes far more sense to have less units, so micromanaging them is much less of a headache. Together with units like archers, which attack from a tile away, you end up fighting with formations: Defensive units in a line guarding the ranged units, which bombard the enemy, while cavalry on the flanks is ready to surround the enemy's column. Suddenly choke points are viable: Find the right 1 tile gap in a mountain range and you can hold of overwhelming numbers with a small group of units.

Granted, there are also downsides. One is pathfinding issues. The AI has no idea how to deal with the 1UPT, and will not protect their ranged units, or support their melee units. You can simply place 3-5 units at some chokepoints and have AIs send army upon army (they can really have crazy production output at higher levels). Because it can't path properly for some reason, after everybody is done with their opening turns can literally take half an hour to finish. Yes, I mean just the part where you are waiting for the AI to move. Half an hour.

Granted, the patch improved the wait times somewhat, but I don't know. I still don't like needing less time than the AI to move my shit.

The other problem is also about pathfinding, but for civilian units. It's really a special case of the first one, but I don't understand why they wouldn't allow workers to stack. It would make automated worker forces much smoother, and it's not like stacking workers confers any advantage. At best there's the trick where 5 workers finish a mine in 1 turn, but you can just disable that (I don't think it's even possible in Civ5 if you removed 1UPT with a mod). I guess it's a bit riskier, since you can capture a stack of the workers, but honestly, who cares? When has capturing workers en-masse ever been a serious strategy? It's just one of those things where it's obvious that to do it the way they did is more effort, and it's off that they didn't notice the easier, better way. I'm just baffled as to why they went with this.

Civilization V: Hex-grid

Witchcraft and sorcery!

Unlike just about every other game before, Civ V is now played on a hex grid, not square. 

Yup. Sit down for a moment and let the ramifications sink in.

Actually, the change is wonderful. Perhaps most significantly, it eliminates that silliness where if you have a troop moving straight north into an unexplored plain, it's always more efficient to zig-zag rather than go straight. That's actually part of a larger problem: The distances get all screwed up in square grids. Going back to the movement thing I just mentioned, in a square grid it takes 1 movement point to go diagonally and one to move horizontally or vertically. However, the latter move covers 1 square, whereas the former move covers √12+12 =1.41 squares. Moving diagonally, you end up moving almost 3 squares for the price of 2. Same happens for things like ranged attacks (bombardment and airplanes in Civ IV and before) and city radii. A hex grid neatly fixes a lot of these issues.

Of course, there are still opportunities for strange micromanagement gains from funky movement patterns. Let's take a typical situation: You just started the game and are exploring with your warrior unit. It has 2 movement points, but moving over difficult terrain like forest and hills costs double. However, if you have moved 1 tile, and have only 1 point left, you will still be able to move to the tile which would normally take 2 points to reach.

The pale blue outline shows tiles I can reach in this turn. The unit moves 2 tiles per turn, excepting hills, forests and river crossings. Either path takes me to the same hex, and uncovers the red areas. However the blue path will also uncover the blue area for me, and can be done in this turn.

It's not really a big deal in the grand scheme of things, I don't even know (or care) if the AI takes advantage of this. But it's just... weird. Fairly easy to solve, too. Why not just remember the move so that next turn the unit starts with 1 point spent? Eh, maybe it's hard for the AI to understand that way or something. Like I said, though, this probably doesn't even matter if you don't have OCD.

Second big benefit of hexes is aesthetics. Maybe it's because there's now 3 possible angles as opposed to 2, or maybe it's because you can't make a right angle with hexes, but the terrain looks much more organic and natural. Civs, for a long time, had been doing all sorts of clever tricks with tile graphics to make them look less square-y but what the hexes can do is just miles ahead. Plus, I'm sure the artists are glad for all the work they've been saved.

Hexes work so well for this game, I don't even know why they didn't just use them from the beginning with CivI. It's not like it makes things more complicated pathfinding-wise, there were lots of games from that era, and before, that used hexes successfully. Maybe it was an ill-conceived attempt to differentiate CivI from its competitors or something... But in any case, I'm glad we've left that behind now.

Civilization V: Five-fold more civilized

Right. So basically, if you don’t know what a Civ game is about you are not the target audience for this post, and probably not the audience for the game. Sorry, can’t be arsed to explain how it works here now.

With that out of the way, I’m also gonna go ahead and assume you’ve some idea what Civ V is about. So, uh... You know, this is actually just my way of getting away with not writing a proper introduction. Yeah.

This is gonna be a very long rant. It will be in parts.That's all the warning you'll get.

10 April 2011


So, I guess I'll make this my first ever blog post. I've been thinking about blogging for a while, but never got around to starting. Might as well start now.

Don't expect much, much order that is. I'll just write on whatever. Expect much ranting though. I like to ramble. Hope you're okay with it. I'll see if I can get a half-decent labeling scheme going.

For instance, in the next post I might rant about Civilization V. In this post, I'll beat a bleached skeleton of a dead horse and whine about a rather irritating internet meme: First.