Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Civ IV - American Badass: Day 1

Inspired by the often hilarious chronicle of one man's 20 day long game of Galactic Civilizations II, I got a hankerin' to fire up good ol' Civilization IV.

If you've never played a Civilization game before, you are truly missing out. The Civ games are some of my favorites, paragons of superb design by any standard. The basic gist is you start in 4000 BC with a budding band of nomads (by which I mean two guys, a settler and a warrior), and over the course of many centuries hopefully advance to a booming paragon of culture, military supremacy, and intellectual thought.

I've probably played hundreds of games of Civ IV, but usually I play on "Quick" or "Normal" speed, which allows you to finish a game in one or two sittings (takes a few hours). Never have I cranked the speed higher than this.

For the purposes of this experiment, I jacked the speed to "Marathon". I also chose the highest possible amount of landmass, which means that this game could take a few weeks to complete.

Naturally, I also chose the American civilization with FDR as my leader of choice. I'm pretty sure to do otherwise would flag me at the department of Homeland Security (the terror alert IS yellow, right)?


The Dawn of Man - 4000 BC

Look at me there, smiling at the bright future ahead. Not only does this picture make me look thin, it makes it look like I'm standing up under my own power.

In the early part of the game there ain't much to do except build that first city and start exploring a bit. So I quickly built good ol' Washington DC. Roads that go only in circles will be built later.

I also poked about the surrounding area and made sure to steal technology from any surrounding villages. I intend to populate that space, after all. Manifest Destiny, beotch.

It was when I saw how many turns it would take me to complete my next settler that I realized how ridiculously long this might take. "A few weeks" may be a gross underestimate. Usually it takes a few turns and I just bang on the enter key repeatedly until things get hoppin'.

It took something like 40 turns to build something.

I briefly pondered abandoning this ridiculous enterprise, but then I remembered FDR. He wouldn't have taken this lying down. (Sitting down maybe. Okay that's the last joke I'll make about that. Maybe.) He would've come to a "New Deal" with the people.

The New Deal - 2530 BC

By now, I'm sure you've guessed that I instituted "Slavery". Now that those shiftless, lazy workers were getting things moving, I went ahead and made a couple of scouts to start exploring this place.

For those of you looking at that year and wondering what I'm whining about, it should be noted that in Civ IV the early years go by in larger chunks: each game turn represents a decade or so as opposed to only one year later in the game. Make a note of it.

I had already met a couple of my neighbors who were kind enough to introduce themselves and not attack me. These included Mansa Musa from the Malinese Empire, good ol' Bismarck and his pointy hat from those plucky Germans (definitely a trustworthy sort), Hathshepsut from Egypt (I think the smoke coming out the back of my computer is from spell checker trying to cope with that), and Elizabeth from England. Good stuff.

Shortly after I introduced the "New Deal" to the American people, guess who decided to show their face.

Catherine and those commie bastards from Russia. Look at her there, winking at me. The hussy!! I'll be damned if I'm going to let some lousy red into MY house.

Problem is, at this point my military still consists of only one guy with a club.

So for the time being I don't declare war... yet. It makes my democratic... err... slaving blood boil just thinking about those Ruskies walking around, snug in their finery...

And Here Come the Wild Animals - 1930 BC

In preparation for impending war, I started reinforcing my club-based army with troops carrying bows and spears. That Commie Temptress will never know what hit her!

Unfortunately, my invasion was delayed by rampaging panthers. Eating my scouts. And my settlers.

I sent a fellow with a spear out to get revenge (and a warm coat!), and ended up getting ambushed by a pack of lions.

Okay, clearly I needed to start expanding a little more quickly here if I wanted to get these wild animals under control.

I went ahead and built Philadelphia, making it the fourth city in my budding empire. I made sure the city was heavily fortified with the finest pointy objects technology had to offer.

In the meantime, that luscious Catherine was after me again with an "Open Borders" proposal... Did I say luscious?! I meant heathen!! Good God, who knows what she could mean with such an offer! And why is she winking at me again?!

Clearly what I'm lacking is some kind of spiritual guidance, but I was in a bit of bind. If I remembered my history, the American Empire wouldn't actually place their trust in God until 1954.

But wait a minute... what did I give a damn about history? For Pete's sake Washington D.C. was my northernmost city and Philadelphia was southwest of Boston in the middle of the wilderness!

Spiritual Guidance - 760 BC

So I went ahead and built the Oracle.

Unfortunately that didn't tell me what to do about my rampaging panther problem. Instead it just doubled my production speed with marble.


It didn't seem to matter much though, because by the time I finished construction on the Oracle the wild animal attacks had stopped.

To be replaced by organized barbarian attacks.


Things looked very grim for Philly, but I fortuitously learned how to make swords. I sent as many swordsmen as I could to guard the place, and fought off the attacks. Philly would survive to lose another championship!

The entire time, Catherine the Red continued to proposition me, this time with an offer to trade "fish" for "wheat". Like I don't know what that means, lady!

A Major Edge - 60 AD

I continued to chug along, building Wilmington, Atlanta, and the great tropical city of Chicago.

By now I had met over a dozen different factions, which is about 6 more than I'm used to dealing with. I told the French, like the Commies, where they could stick their "Open Borders" and demanded tribute from the quivering cowards. All they did was get mad. Like they're doing anything with that food anyway.

In 60 AD, however, I came upon a major, major edge. By... uh... subduing a major terrorist threat (by which I mean destroying the last remaining nearby village), I discovered machinery.

That's something that puts me higher on the tech tree than anybody else and gives me the edge I was looking for. Time to start cranking out troops, and hopefully by the end of Day 2 those Commies will get what's coming to them.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Wii're Waiting

When I picked up a Wii a couple months ago I never bothered to do a "first impressions" type post. The reason for this was twofold: 1) there are already a million glowing, feverishly ecstatic "Wii First Impression" articles out there, and 2) it seemed sort of pointless when I only had one game.

And what a game! Wii Sports had me AND Julie hooked for awhile. We'd fire up that Wii and swing our Wiimotes around to Wii Tennis. I'd fire up the baseball and sock dingers. I'd stay far away from Wii Golf! Just like real life!

Then I discovered some tricks. For one thing, you really don't need to be standing up to play some of these games. You can sit there on the couch and casually flick your wrist playing Wii Tennis. In fact, playing this way actually makes you better because you can get unbelievable force on your shots by making quick jerky motions as opposed to "proper" sweeping motions.

Similar tricks apply for baseball. Instead of performing a full swing, you are guaranteed to hit 600 foot blasts out of the stadium on every swing if you give the controller a quick flick. Same thing for pitching: 93 mph every time.

That doesn't mean these games aren't still fun. And it actually is more entertaining to do a full swing. But you're handicapping yourself if you do that.

Keep in mind though, there's only so much mileage one can get out of Wii Sports before you start to wonder if you really just paid $250 for a one game console. I picked up Zelda for the Wii at the same time as the system, and I'm sure if any Nintendo fans out there read this they will kill me on sight... but I fail to see what the fuss is about.

First of all, the graphics on this game. I'm the first one to say over and over again that graphics shouldn't matter in a game. This is almost always true. But in the case of the Wii, when you can buy a pimped out Xbox 360 with full HD capability and everything for the same price, it is really tough not to feel serious inadequacy. I mean, Zelda looks like it could've been made at least 5 years ago.

None of this would matter if the game was fun. A lot of people seem to think it is. But for me it consisted of between 2-3 minutes of fun, followed by an hour or so of trying to figure out what the hell to do next. When you're in the forest temple and those damn monkeys are squawking at you for over 60 minutes, trust me, you're not thinking about how neat it is to swing the Wiimote and watch Link swing his sword. You just want the monkeys to shut up and the pain to end.

But don't worry, once you solve the madness of the maze and the puzzles, they will be quickly replaced with another!


I quickly traded Zelda for Madden 07. I really should have known better than to do this. I haven't enjoyed a Madden game since the 2002 version. But I figured messing with the controls on the Wii would provide some good fun.

Wrong. Most unnecessarily complex control scheme ever. There are some great ideas here: running the football is pretty cool and intuitive. Jerking one of your controllers left will make the running back spin or juke left, etc.

But defense. Not even Mike Martz would find this level of defense acceptable. The controls just can't seem to figure out what your intent is. When I try to tackle, the guy leaps to... deflect the pass?... well there goes the running back. Touchdown. When I rush on the line or spin out of a block... my guy dives?... well there goes the running back. Touchdown. Okay, this time I'm just going to sit back and try to deflect the pass, I know I can do that. Here comes the pass, my guy... tackles the wide receiver?... pass interference, ball on the one yard line.

It doesn't get much better from there. I tried out Super Paper Mario, which got decent reviews. Folks, this is a game suited for the DS, not a "next-gen" console.

I hate to say it, but the games that are coming out for the Wii just flat out suck right now. Look at this list of recent games with their Metacritic rating:

- Spider-Man 3: 56
- Bionicle Heroes: 49
- Heatseeker: 67

It goes on like this. There are only 10 games that are well reviewed enough to even garner ratings above 75:

1) Zelda
2) Super Paper Mario
3) WarioWare: Smooth Moves
4) Madden 07
5) Trauma Center: Second Opinion
6) Godfather
7) Rayman Raving Rabbits
8) Wii Sports
9) Elebits
10) Super Monkey Ball

Three of those games on the list I have played and didn't like one bit. Two of them are essentially DS games ported to the Wii. Three of them are mini-game compilations. If this is the best the system has to offer, my purchase is starting to look dubious.

Compare that with the Xbox 360 which boasts 83 games rated over 75. Folks, the Wii doesn't even have 83 titles available for purchase yet.

During the last console war, I managed to back the wrong horse by going with the XBox. I got some decent mileage out of the system (the Star Wars RPGs were awesome), but it is now pretty clear the PS2 was (and still is) the way to go. Since picking up a PS2 I've played at least 20 superb titles, and I've only had the console since November. A buddy even loaned me God of War 2 recently, and this thing looks and plays better than anything on the Wii I've seen. I'm talking about a PS2 title here, folks.

I'm still holding out hope. The Wii has a cool control scheme and the possibilities seem staggering. But they have not even come close to being realized yet, and all of the goodwill and market advantages Nintendo has managed to grab for themselves aren't going to mean a thing if they don't have the games. Every console war in the history of consoles has been decided by the games.

Nintendo has chosen to market "fun" ahead of "graphics". That's a worthy strategy, but they better come up with some more "fun" games and pronto. My idea of "fun" is not playing Wii Sports for a year.

Anyway, I could always sell the Wii now and get my money back for it easily enough. But I'm sure, like my Dad when he refused to admit backing Beta may have been a mistake, I'll go down with this ship, flailing my Wiimote all the way.

Note: Most of the links are to Penny Arcade, which is basically like the Oprah Winfrey of the video game crowd in that they have an army of slavish followers that will obey their every whim. That's not their fault though, and besides, their comics are funny.

Friday, May 04, 2007

For the Truly Dedicated

Next time I have one margarita too many, perhaps I will at least wind up with 0% Introductory APR.