Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Great Game Throw Down: Simulation/Strategy

I'm a bit behind the others on this one, as I just returned from my honeymoon a couple of days ago.

Imagine my surprise that in my absence both The Philosophy of Time Travel AND LastBestAngryMan got their lists so horribly, horribly wrong, particularly their egregious choices for worst game. I'd almost think they were doing it just to spite me, if I didn't respect their integrity so much.

Yeah, probably spite.

5 - The Sims

Anyone who doesn't have this on their list has either never played the game or is lying. It's that simple.

What looks, on the surface, to be the absolute dumbest idea for a video game ever is actually one of the greatest. That's Will Wright for you.

The object of the game... well, okay there is no object really... but you control the lives of some "Sims" through their daily routine... kind of like real life, except not... including making sure they get to work on time, decorating the house, cooking meals, etc.

Yeah, there really is no way to make this game sound particularly fun. You just have to play it. This is the one game that I've ever seen my wife (that felt kind of weird to type) get completely addicted to the way I've gotten hooked on many other games in the past. She got completely caught up in trying to get her Sim all the way down the legal career track that she almost forgot about her real legal career. It was awesome.

While she enjoyed helping her Sims succeed, I mostly enjoyed tormenting them. One of my favorite tactics was to somehow lure a Sim into a room, then pause the game, sell the door, and replace it with a wall so they would be trapped. Sometimes I'd put a picture of a clown in there with them or a mirror or something to make it extra creepy. Most cruel would be putting a phone inside because the increasingly hungry Sim would repeatedly call for pizza over and over again.

I realize this is starting to sound pretty sick, so I'll just stop now. Anyway, it's a great game and one you can play pretty much anyway you want.

4 - Armageddon Empires

Look, I've mentioned this game a couple of times already, and if you haven't been persuaded to try it by now you probably won't just because I mention it again. But this is a game that is starting to pick up more and more acclaim, and thanks to a recent mention in Penny Arcade I suspect it will get even more success than it already has. It really is a stunning achievement for a development team that small... heck, it would be a stunning achievement for a large dev team.

Seriously, with a free demo version available you have absolutely nothing to lose. Except hours and hours of free time.

3 - Starcraft

One of the things that made this category tricky was that we lumped these two genres together after repeated arguments about where certain games should go. Starcraft is the only RTS (Real Time Strategy) game on this list, even though that's one of my favorite genres. In my opinion it's the best in that bunch and therefore worthy of a spot. It has three very different but amazingly balanced races, plus a terrific single player campaign that is a ton of fun.

But with RTS games, multiplayer is where it's at, and one of the things that made this game so great was the free play over the internet via a service called "Battle.net". This was pretty revolutionary for its time, and meant that you could find a game anytime you wanted. It also meant that you could perform all kinds of immature, jerk internet moves that have become all the rage now.

For example, one of my favorite things to do in this game was get in a 3 way free for all, but secretly one of the 3 would be a friend (often my buddy Ed down the hall in my college dorm). Either Ed or I would create a "secret alliance" with the hapless third person, moving our armies into his base for "protection". Then, we'd cancel the alliance and launch an all out assault against the fellow whose defenses had already been breached. You'd think this would get old after the 100th time you do it, but it really doesn't.

2 - Civilization IV

Easily the best series on this list, every single one of the Civ games is great. But this is a series that has gotten better with every single version, and Civ IV is the latest and greatest. I've played this game way, way too many times and every time has been a blast. There are few things more satisfying than starting with a single settler at the beginning of the game and building a mighty empire from there. This is one game that makes you say to yourself "just one more turn" over and over and over again until the sun is coming up and your eyes are bleeding.

1 - Dwarf Fortress

To spite me, my compatriots put this as their worst game ever. So now is where I win the argument for once and for all.

Yes, the graphics take some getting used to. Yes, the user interface takes some getting used to. But the gameplay is so good, so deep, so completely unparalleled by anything else out there, at times you can't even believe what you are seeing.

Let me give you an example by way of a story.

During the building of my second fortress in the game, I had survived my first winter and with the first batch of immigrants I had about a dozen or so dwarves. At this point I was attacked by a horde of goblins, and I was woefully under prepared for the assault. The goblins went marauding through my petty defenses, slaughtering dwarves in their wake.

But then one brave dog came to the defense of one of my crafting dwarves. The dog was perfectly positioned in a chokepoint of the fortress and started killing the goblins one by one. Eventually it had killed all but one or two goblins before falling to the ground, bleeding to death. This drove the dog's owner (the aforementioned crafting dwarf) into a grief fueled frenzy, and he killed the remaining goblins with his bare hands, sustaining a horrible wound of his own in the process.

The assault being over, there were only a few dwarves remaining. The dog died, and the crafting dwarf who killed the last couple of goblins was hauled off to bed by the survivors. There he stayed for many weeks, and I assumed that he would likely die of his wounds.

Unbelievably, he survived. When he came to, though, he was mad with grief, and he immediately killed a fellow dwarf who was bringing him water. He then went on a kill crazy rampage. Checking his profile, it appeared that the horrors of war had broken him, and I watched sadly as he killed every last survivor of the goblin invasion before drowning himself.

The last dwarf he killed was an engraver who commemorated the terrible goblin invasion by making an engraving of a dog fighting a goblin in the dining room wall.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg of the kind of stories this game is capable of producing.

Worst Ever - Master of Orion 3

This is the only game I have ever purchased that I took back to the store the next day.

Imagine Microsoft Excel came in a box that said "Master of Orion 3" on it and you've got this game.

Excel, you have found your long lost brother.

What's so unbelievably horrible about it is how crippling disappointing it is. The first two games are absolute classics of the genre. This one should have been bundled with Office. It's "Spreadsheets in Space".

And Microsoft Excel has more competitive AI than this game. The enemies are so colossally stupid that even though you often have no clue what you're doing, you'll still win. Meanwhile Excel can find all kinds of ways to trick you. People who think the Dwarf Fortress interface is complicated have obviously never played this game.


Andy said...

I think Rune and Dwarf Fortress are distant cousins in the game world.

I, of course, prefer Rune because you smash the dwarves and their fortress to bits with a big hammer!!!

None of us said Oregon Trail...

LastBestAngryMan said...

Wait, wait, wait...your defense of Dwarf Fortress is based on an iteration of the game you played and, quite plainly, lost horribly? And that someone could be so driven to grief over the loss of a dog that he would kill all his friends and family?

If I wanted overwrought stories about dwarf-dog love I'd go read some bad fanfiction. Sheesh.

White Kobe said...

What about the original Leisure Suit Larry??


Andy said...

Amen, LBAM.

I've heard 1,000 stories from Mr. Kerfuffle about "how cool it is when you lose" at DF, but never any victory tails. If that were the case, you figure he'd like games where he gets his ass kicked more like Half Life...

Mr. Kobe, see the LastBestAngryMan Adventure list. LL is there.