Category Archives: Other PC Games

Return of the Shang Rush

There is a correlation between some of my past jobs and certain video games.  For a long stretch of time there was usually a video game, or a series of video games over time, that whatever team I was on would play at the office after hours.

Games like NetTrek or Marathon or Diablo or Warcraft II or StarCraft took their turns at various companies as the game to play after hours.

That all ended late in the last decade when HR reached a point of ascendancy in Silicon Valley in companies above a certain size and decreed that people enjoying themselves on company property was bad unless they were doing so in company organized and controlled events.

Before that we were able to find support against IT for our after hours fun.  After that IT was cleared to keep our machines free from anything not specifically mandated by them.  And so ended after hours bonding.  Now we just talk about video games that we play ourselves.  Nobody sticks around late to hang out any more, we all just go home.  Life in enterprise software, where everything is super serious.

There is probably a correlation between the wind down of games after hours or work and finding time at home to blog about games.

The funny thing is how certain games were popular at one company but not another.  In 1998 I moved to a new company.  The previous one had been very much Warcraft II and early Total Annihilation.  The new company was just getting into StarCraft.  The timing was just about perfect, as I was in for the early learning curve of StarCraft, which had just been released.

StarCraft supplanted the previous dev team champion, Age of Empires.  There were still some people who played it, but the new game supplanted the old pretty firmly.

(Side note: As somebody who has played the same MMOs for years at a stretch, it now seems odd that such games had such a short shelf life and how keen we could be to move on to new ones.)

Some people on the team missed the game while others found the balance of the game to be off and much preferred the fine edge balance of the StarCraft races.  The Rise of Rome expansion for Age of Empires came along, but it wasn’t enough to get the game back in play.

Then of course Age of Empires II – The Age of Kings came along and eclipsed the game completely with its improved controls and balance of civilizations that gave each one their special niche.  There was no looking back at that point.

Somewhere along the line I grabbed a copy of Age of Empires just to try it out, but it never really stuck with me.  Ensemble Studios even rolled back some of the UI and control changes that came with Age of Kings to try and improve the game, but it remained in the shadow of its successor.  People have kept playing and modding and expanding Age of Kings while Age of Empires has languished.

I’ve been playing Age of Kings off and on ever since it came out.  The game still (mostly) ran through the last decade until it got an HD upgrade/revamp a few years back that brought it into the age of higher resolution monitors.

Soon though, almost 20 years since it launched, we will all have a chance to take another look at Age of Empires.  One of the tidbits to come out of E3 was news of an Age of Empires: Definitive Edition, featuring 4K graphics, remastered sound track, and improved game play.

Age of Empires

Microsoft has spruced up the long neglected Age of Empires site so you can sort of get a handle on what they are doing.  Information is sparse and the site seems pretty slow, but you can see they have something planned.   I don’t know who is actually doing the work.  The site proudly talks about somebody on the “About Us” page, but Ensemble Studios that did the original game has been gone for eight years, while Hidden Path Entertainment did the Age of Kings HD update and they aren’t mentioned anywhere.

Also, I am pretty sure this statement from the “About Us” page is laughably wrong:

Considered by many as the top selling PC game of all time

If you’re one of the alleged “many,” maybe you had better check that chart again.

Anyway, I’ll hold out for more information before I make an actual purchase decision, but I am leaning towards picking this up when it goes live.  We’ll see if the Shang rush is still a thing.

Atlantic Fleet

Back in January I took my refund from the Hero’s Song debacle and picked up a couple of games off of Steam with the money.  Refunded money is like found money and should be spent immediately.  I grabbed Orwell, Death Ray Manta, and Atlantic Fleet, something I even documented on a Friday bullet points post. (I had forgotten about that until I went to make a tag for Atlantic Fleet and found I already had one.”

I let Atlantic Fleet sit for a bit, finally picking it up to play last month.

Atlantic Fleet by Killerfish Games is a tactical turn-based naval combat simulation that focuses on the war between Britain and Germany in WWII.  You can replay the surface and submarine encounters that characterized the Battle of the Atlantic before the US Navy showed up.

For a game that is $9.99 it has a lot to recommend it.

The models of the ships and aircraft are good.  The game runs well, being both stable and resource efficient.

The mechanics of the game are reasonably simple once you grasp them.  For complexity, the game lies somewhere between the first person whimsy of World of Warships and the grognard impenetrability of Storm Eagle’s Jutland series.

There is a tutorial that guides you through playing the game.  It doesn’t exactly hold you by the hand and guide you… it throws up a text box that requires you to both read and comprehend what it is telling you, so you need to take a minute rather than just jumping in… but there isn’t a lot to learn so once you get the basics things fall into place.

Once there you can pick one of the pre-set scenarios or start a campaign.  I prefer the scenarios, which cover a range of historical engagements.  I gravitated to the pursuit of the Admiral Graff Spee, an encounter that my grandfather deemed important, making me memorize the names of the British cruisers involved. (Achilles, Ajax, and Exeter.)

Of course, all is not perfection.

I found the basic AI to be a bit simple.  It does what it needs to do and at least doesn’t lock on and hit with every shot.  But it doesn’t seem quite up to the task of dealing with even a dolt like myself.  I have played the Graff Spee scenario a number of times, playing each side, and I have never lost outright.  My first run, when I was just learning and made many mistakes, I managed to sink the Graff Spee with desperate torpedo run, though I lost two cruisers, with a third damaged, in the process.

Later, when I figured things out a bit, I could zero out the Graff Spee without loss and then re-run the scenario and kill all three British cruisers and sail away barely touched, like Captain Langsdorff’s dream.

The Bismark scenarios likewise led to some different historical endings.  I managed to sink both the Bismark and the Prinz Eugen with HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales.

Bismark, turrets wrecked, going down by the stern

I appreciate that you can use your skill to change historical events.  HMS Hood doesn’t always have to explode… though I made that happen.

HMS Hood goes up just like it did in 1940

It was more a matter of my being able to change events, sometimes drastically, by just watching how the AI works rather than because I posses some special skill at naval combat. (Which I most certainly do not.)  You can engage the “hard” level AI and “elite” AI gunnery, but that quickly becomes pretty viscous.  AI is always a dicey issue because you want a game to be accessible (i.e. shouldn’t dunk new players mercilessly) but if it is too easy then things become tedious quickly.

This isn’t a huge fault, and given the game price the AI is pretty good, but it did strike me initially.  And the default AI fights on to the bitter end.  I had the Hood firing away at me still when its rear turrets were swamped by sea water washing over the rear decks.

Under the waves, submarine combat is just okay.  You get to lurk and go to periscope depth and unleash your deadly fish.

Avoiding detection

But this is not a submarine simulator, and the submarine aspect feels very simplistic if you have ever played one.

The submarine scenarios emphasize this.  They tend to start with the sub in position.  You launch your torpedoes then dive and evade.  If you aimed true and hit your target, you win.  If you missed you likely lose.

HMS Glorious takes three torpedoes

Meanwhile anti-submarine warfare feels very simple and haphazard… which makes it pretty realistic for the time.  You get a sonar contact with an estimated bearing and range, and then you either pop away at periscopes with you guns or you drop depth charges.  Both tend to feel like throwing stones in the ocean which, again, is probably realistic.  The most exciting moment in ASW for me so far was having the HMS Queen Elizabeth fire her 15″ guns at my periscope.

Then there is the aircraft component which I found unsatisfying.  I am not sure what I would suggest as an alternative, but even in a simple simulation like Atlantic Fleet the aircraft feel tacked on.  The aircraft models are nice though.  I will give them that.

But perhaps the most unsatisfying part of the game for me is how turns are managed.  I don’t mind turn-based combat.  Not everything has to be real time and one likes a respite now and again to assess the situation.  But how turns are structured, and how that structure influences the game irks me a bit.

Let us say you have a scenario with two friendly ships and two enemy, which I will designate F1 and F2 for friendlies and H1 and H2 for the hostiles.  This is how a turn plays out:

You give F1 its movement order, then F1 moves.  After that you select F1’s firing option, then F1 fires.  Following that you do the same thing for F2, each moving and firing in their own turn.  Then H1 moves then fires, followed by H2, which moves then fires.

A little clunky, but not the end of the world.

However, in order to fit this all together, the firing phase is rather simple.  You designate your target then select which of the weapon systems on the ship you care to use.  For a battleship, as an example, you can use main armament with armor piercing rounds, main armament with high explosive rounds, secondary armament with AP rounds, secondary armament with HE rounds, torpedoes, or a star shell to light up targets for night combat.

So you can fire your main guns, or your secondary guns, or torpedoes, or an illumination shell.  They are all mutually exclusive.  Furthermore, your guns get to fire every turn, there being no reload time differential between main and secondary armament.  Effectively a battleships 15″ guns fire just as fast as a wee destroyers 4″ guns or a cruisers 8″ guns.

Torpedoes do get locked out until they reload, so you cannot launch a spread of those every turn.  That would be completely unbalancing.  But when it comes to the choice between primary and secondary guns, you wouldn’t ever fire the secondaries unless the mains were knocked out.

Ideally, I would have preferred to have a simultaneous scheme where you give movement and firing orders for all weapons systems and then the turn resolves, accounting for timers for things like guns with differing rates of fire.  That would have been a better solution.

However, that is asking a lot for ten bucks.

And for that price the game delivers some pretty good value.  In addition to the historical scenarios, you have a wartime strategic simulation campaign, where you place your ships and fight battles as they come up, along with a “build your own navy” campaign where you have to earn ships as you go along.  The former is pretty amazing and intense, the latter is a bit silly, but all told you can fight a lot of battles.  I like the historical scenarios, which are quick battles, and the ability to create your own line ups for such encounters.  I’ve been battling the Tirpitz against various Royal Navy battleships.

So, to sum up, Atlantic Fleet might not be the naval combat simulator you want, but it is likely the one you need.  If you have a naval combat itch to scratch, this will do it for you at a reasonable price.  Well worth the time and money.

Meanwhile Killerfish Games has a Pacific Fleet version of the game in the works according to their site and just launched a new title called Cold Waters.

Now available

Cold Waters is a simulation of the naval actions in Tom Clancy’s book Red Storm Rising. Those actions were based off of a scenarios played with the table top game Harpoon which was later turned into a series of computer games which included the events from the book, making this new game a re-imagining of a conversion of an homage or something.  I am not sure.

But it is $39.99, so I will be interested to see what the reviews say about it.  That is past the point of impulse purchase price for me.

The Challenge of Train Valley

I brought up Train Valley as one of the titles I bought during the Steam Winter Sale.  It wasn’t quite what I expected it to be… but you never know what a game really is until you start playing it.  I am not sure exactly what I expected, something more free-form or open world, like a Minecraft rail mod, or maybe a more hands on Ticket to Ride.

trainvalley

Train Valley is not either of those.  Still, it looked to be a fun little game so I played on to see what it offered.  It seemed simple enough, you just build tracks between stations and then send trains back and forth.

Simple track layout

Simple track layout

Each level starts with a couple of stations and more get added as the level goes along.  Trains then appear at each station and you click on them to start them off and then make sure they arrive at their destination.  Piece of cake.

You play through various scenarios, which are akin to levels, as you need to succeed on one in order to advance to the next.  The scenarios are divided into various geographical areas, starting with small European countries, then the United States, then Russia/USSR, then Japan, and finally Germany.  Germany is actually a DLC addition, but I bought the whole Train Valley package, including all the DLC which included Germany and the soundtrack.

The first set of scenarios

The first set of scenarios

There is a postage stamp theme to the scenarios and they each have some bonus goals, called “Advanced Objectives” associated with them.  For each goal you manage you get a cancellation stamp on the level.  I would guess that there is a range of about 20 standard goals which get re-used in different combos throughout the scenarios.

Bonus goals for the Tokyo scenario

Bonus goals for the Tokyo scenario

Those goals do not actually enter into your ability to successfully complete a scenario.  They just add up for achievements and provide a bit of extra challenge.  The final round in each region doesn’t even have extra goals.  In fact, you can do all sorts of things wrong… crash trains, send them to the wrong station, lay out your track badly… and still complete a round.

The gating item in each scenario is money, something I didn’t fully grasp until I was into the series of US levels. (And yes, I am using “levels,” “rounds,” and “scenarios” interchangeably, deal.)  There I actually started running out of money, at which point you are declared “bankrupt” and the round ends.

Laying track costs money.  Removing structures that may be in the way of where you want your track to go costs money.  And then there is a tax on your rails that you pay at intervals which takes money out of your budget.  So there is a constant drain on your cash.

To earn money you have to get trains to their destination.  The sooner they roll out and the sooner the arrive, the more money you get.  You can even call for “extra” trains.  (One of the standard bonus objectives is to have 5-10 additional trains run during the level.)

Levels start out with just one train and a station or three, but then things heat up and soon you have trains waiting to go and more stations to hook up and you have to consider how to lay things out so that a train from any given station can get to any other station.  And if a train waits in the station too long, it will eventually just go, rolling out onto the rail line and mucking up whatever you might be trying to do.

I think I got this one laid out okay

I think I got this one laid out okay

You can see on the level in the screen shot above that there is a tunnel.  That is an added complication that rolls a train at you every so often.  More complications.  And when trains crash, that costs money too.  There is a loss for the train, the need to clear away the damage, and the building of new track.

I started going bankrupt occasionally on the US levels until I started paying closer attention to my budget.  It wasn’t until the Russia/USSR levels that this became critical.  At the “Iron Curtain” level the initial stations are far enough apart that you have to thread exactly the right path or go bankrupt immediately.  Again, more attention to budget and pathing required.

Still, I made it through that and into the Japan levels, which were the original end game.  Here is where I started having to take a few swings at the ball in order to finish a level.  The Sapporo level took me more than a few tries as it is a tight layout and throws trains at you from off map… fast trains… fairly often.  Still, I managed it.  I didn’t get any of the bonus objectives, but I made it without going bankrupt.

Then I arrived in Tokyo, the penultimate of the Japanese levels.  The trains are long and fast and show up at a rapid pace once the level started moving, you end up with a lot of stations, space on the ground is tight, and to get the layout you need you have to destroy some expensive buildings.

Starting off in Tokyo

Starting off in Tokyo

You end up with a fairly generous starting bank account, but having that first train show up wanting to get between two difficult stations can strain your budget almost immediately.  In the screen shot above I am blowing almost half my initial capital for the first stretch of rail, and I still have four stations unconnected.

I tend to start off okay… if I get a good first train or two I can often add a couple of extras just for a bit more cash… but eventually I hit a point where things begin to spin out of control.

Things begin to go badly

Things begin to go badly

In that screen shot the train in the upper right is going to leave the station, ready or not, two trains have collided at the green station, I haven’t finished repairing after the collision at the purple station, the red station isn’t even hooked up yet, and every station has a train ready to go.  And, as I noted, the trains are long, the freight trains are fast, and the passenger trains are faster.  I forget to set one switch correctly on the tracks and it is like an air traffic controller mistake and everything is going to end in disaster.  I go bankrupt… or quit when I know that is headed my way… every time.  I’ve had the rails full of stopped trains, another train threatening to go in a couple seconds, the game paused, and no solution in sight more than a few times.

But I persist.  Somebody even put together a page of rail layouts that seem to work… I searched for that after a lot of runs at Tokyo… which I am not miles away from on this level, but you need to earn cash to tear down buildings to get it just right, and even then it is a near run thing.  This is the twitch reaction level for the game so far.  I not only need to get the rails laid right, but I need to keep the switches set and the trains going in the right direction… and forget about the bonus objectives.

I haven’t even seen ze German layouts yet.  Not bad for a $3.39 investment.  I have gotten my money’s worth in play time out of it, and I still sit down every night and take a few runs at Tokyo.  I’ve just got to make fewer mistakes to best it.

Steam Winter Sale 2016 Results

Another Steam Winter Sale has come and gone.  I think it was “Winter” this year, and not “Holiday,” as it has occasionally been in past years.  I didn’t take a screen shot of the banner.  Whatever, you know what I mean.

The usual array of things happened.  There was opening day pricing comedy.  There was an event in which to participate, in this case the first ever Steam awards.  There were cards to earn by voting and by reviewing queues and badges to craft when you collected enough cards.  And, of course, stuff was on sale, with price marked down anywhere from a milquetoast 10% (looking at you Civilization VI) to a riveting 75% and beyond.

I will take those topics in order.

Pricing comedy this year, as every year, happened just as the sale launched.  This year’s twist was things appearing in the wrong pricing category as opposed to the usual absurdly low or even negative pricing that has happened in past sales.  That was all fixed pretty quickly, but not quickly enough to keep me from getting a couple of amusing screen shots back when the sale launched.

The event, The Steam Awards, was an attempt at…something.  The categories were presented before the sale and people were asked to nominate titles for them.  Then the top nominees were presented, one a day… except for the last day of voting when we got three… for people to vote on.  For each vote you got an event card.

The problem with the whole thing is that, in allowing community nominations and voting, I am not sure they can replay this as an event again next year… unless they radically change the categories.  Fans of certain games will persist in being fans and will nominate and vote for the same thing every year if you let them.  Anyway, the winners were:

  • Villain Most in Need of a Hug – Portal 2
  • I Thought This Game Was Cool Before It Won an Award – Euro Truck Simulator 2
  • Test of Time –  The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  • Just 5 More Minutes – Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
  • Whoooaaaaaaa, dude! – Grand Theft Auto V
  • Game Within a Game – Grand Theft Auto V
  • I’m Not Crying, There’s Something in My Eye – The Walking Dead
  • Best Use of a Farm Animal – Goat Simulator
  • Boom Boom – Doom
  • Love/Hate Relationship – Dark Souls III
  • Sit Back and Relax – Euro Truck Simulator 2
  • Better With Friends – Left 4 Dead 2

You can see descriptions of the categories and the other titles nominated at the official Steam award page.  As you can see, there are some dupes in winners and some titles a that are a bit long in the tooth.  You expect that for the Test of Time category, but maybe not for so many picks.  I would have to say that the most fitting winner is probably Goat Simulator, while the biggest travesty is that a Civilization title didn’t win the Just 5 More Minutes category.  But then, I don’t play CS:GO.

On the card front, I collect many cards, voting and running my two queues every day.  I actually managed to craft one badge but that was it.  Going through the queues I did add a couple of more titles to my wish list, so op success for Steam on that, though I am note sure they needed to send me an email about every single item on my wish list that was on sale.

Then, finally, there were games on sale… and unlike the last couple of events, I did actually buy a few items this time around.  Here is what I picked up:

Dirt3 Complete Edition  – $2.99

dirt3completeedition

Probably the best value of the sale for me.  An older title, it looks good and plays well on my system.  While it clearly believes you should have a game pad to play, I managed to make to with the keyboard controls.  In casual mode you can do the tour and steer while the game limits your speed to what will keep you on the track, so you can pretend you’re instantly good at the game… just don’t turn off some of those helpers or you’ll find out how bad you really are.

You get to drive lots of different cars, including retro models (70s, 80s, and 90s) like my old friend the Lancia Delta.  I like the rally courses a lot.  Not too keen on the gymkhana drifting and tricks aspect that are a mandatory part of the tour mode.

It also has a decent replay mode that lets you watch your race again from various angles and will allow you to upload the video to YouTube directly should you so desire.  I have yet to so desire.

Atari Vault – $7.99

atarivault

And impulse buy.  I actually have an old copy of the Atari classics that probably dates from 2000 or so that still sort-of works when I have a burning desire to play Adventure or remind myself just how bad some of the Atari 2600 games really were.  But I figured I wouldn’t be amiss getting an updated version.

Train Valley – $3.39

trainvalley

Purchased on something of a whim, this did not turn out to be quite what I expected.  There was a promise of sandbox play and I had dreams of large rail empires… I mean, look at all that track I have laid in Minecraft.  But the game itself seems limited to one screen of area on which you are allowed to play, so your layouts cannot get too sprawling.  Meanwhile, the sandbox mode is more in the vein of a developers sandbox in which to experiment as opposed to what you might think of as a sandbox in the MMO world.

Simple track layout

Simple track layout

Still, it is a fun little game in its own right and I spent a few hours playing it so far… and as I made it through various challenges I did manage to get more than my fair share of head-on rail collisions.

Prison Architect – $7.49

prisonarch

I did not buy this for myself but for my daughter who, upon learning of the Steam sale, put a few titles up on her wish list and then came over and mentioned this to me.  So I bought her this, and she actually played the hell out of it over the holiday break from school.  It looks pretty good and is one of those systemic process models where feeback loops (positive or negative) quickly make themselves apparent.  So I watched over her shoulder as she built cells, suppressed riots, and tried to figure out why the inmates inexplicably refused to the dining hall.  This has been on my wishlist and I might pick it up for myself the next time it goes on sale.

Stardew Valley – $9.99

stardewvalley

Another one for my daughter, whose wish list is limited by the fact that she has an iMac.  I was actually a bit surprised to find this title was available for MacOS.  I’ve heard lots of good things about it and it made the Steam Top 100 for 2016, a list based on sales revenue, which isn’t bad for a game with a $15 base price.  My daughter started playing it and got into it right away, though she was still feeling the draw of Prison Architect, so went back to that.  But she enthused enough about it that I bought a copy for myself before the end of the sale.  I have yet to launch it, but it is now in my library.

So that was it for the Steam sale.  I was going to buy Doom, which was 75% off, then totally forgot to on the last day and found it full price when I looked back to do it.  Probably for the best.

I did actually buy a few things this time around, but didn’t splurge.  I tried to keep it to just a few items so that I would play them rather than simply collect them.

Starting Stellaris

A bunch of people are talking about Civilization VI, which launched this past Friday.  The reviews seem to be very good and the usual gamut of launch day issues do not seem to have hit this release.  It is almost like Sid Meier’s team learned something along the way with all these Civ and Civ-like releases.  Maybe leaving the Mac OS version for later helped.

Anyway, with so much talk about Civilization VI I took it as a sign that I should… go buy Stellaris.

See, it says Stellaris right there

See, it says Stellaris right there

It was on sale… half the price of Civilization VI… and had been on my Steam wishlist since before it launched.  Still, I was a bit hesitant to buy it.  The problem is that it comes from Paradox Development.

Which is not to say that there is anything wrong with Paradox Development or that they are bad people like the senior management of EA or anything.  They are, in fact, my favorite development studio when it comes to creating games that make me feel like a drooling simpleton.  I must own almost half their catalog of games, purchased over the years, and yet my combined total play time for all of those titles is still probably less than my play time with Civilization V.  Fortunately I think I have purchased most of them as part of Steam sales at this point, but still.

Paradox games are deep… as in fall in, founder, and quickly drown levels of deep.  There are always lots of moving parts that influence each other that you have to keep track of so that the initial experience for all of their games seems to be getting totally lost in a morass of details thrown at you in rapid succession that quickly leads to overload, exiting the game, and rarely, if ever, returning to it.

And while I hate to point fingers at the tutorials, because tutorials for complex systems difficult to do at the best of times, they do often come off in the same way that a lot of technical documentation can.  Which is to say, it was created by somebody who already knew how to do what they were trying to tell you to do, so the effort tends to have gaps because some level of knowledge is assumed.  Things like navigating the UI, or even where a UI element is or how one is supposed to interact with it can go missing.  And even when that is there in sufficient detail, tutorials can often devolve into lessons in “what” and not “how.”

As an example, I work on a development environment for creating speech applications.  The documentation for the IDE is hundreds of pages long and goes into detail on every aspect of the product.  If you memorized it completely, you would know the function of every menu item, check box, tag, and attribute, but you still wouldn’t know how to build a speech app.  Nobody wants to put more documentation on the schedule, so when a dev wants to know how to do something we write it up… or build a sample app… and save that away in case the question comes up again.

I have had problems with both of those things with Paradox games, learning all the details (information overload) and fitting all that information into a bigger picture (why do I want to do that and what does it really affect?)

And I ran right into that again with Stellaris.  The game runs on the Clauswitz Engine, which underpinned Europa Universalis III and all their games since, so Stellaris has a similar vibe to it.  And, like other titles on the engine, it is not turned based but runs… I hate to say “real time,” but things move forward continuously unless the game is paused.

The Stellaris tutorial reminds me very much of our documentation, in that it is very active in telling you what things are, but doesn’t do very much to build the bigger picture, and in a game of galactic empires, the big picture and how things fit into it is literally everything.  Meanwhile, stuff it happening… unless you pause, at which point nothing is happening.

After a couple of unsatisfying runs I decided to turn off the trivia tutorial, which at times was less helpful than Clippy, who at least wanted to help me accomplish tasks, and just try to learn bits and pieces of the game.  The tutorial voice said I would be sorry as I hit “NO TUTORIAL,” but it was wrong.

Off you go!

Off you go!

Here I put out my plea for the makers of complex strategy games to include a push-over AI mode/setting.

Last Friday’s post about Civilization VI included a list of my favorite games from the series, with Civilization II at it usual top place on the list.  One of the reasons it is there, that I played so many hours of it, that I could play it at its hardest setting, was because I was able to learn the mechanics of the game at the easiest setting in a real game where the AI wouldn’t trouble me so much.  Investing time experimenting with cities at chieftain level let me win at deity level.

Getting there one step at a time

Getting there one step at a time

Stellaris, like many strategy games, eschews the idea of easy.  Their difficulty settings are “Normal,” “Difficult,” and “Insane.”  If you wanted easy you wouldn’t buy games from Paradox I guess.  Still, I managed to tinker with some of the other settings to take a bit of pressure off so I could play to learn.

Somewhere on Saturday afternoon things started to click a little more.  I played a couple of games where I focused mostly on learning space related things along with resources and at least trying to speed up tech research.  Of course, that focus ignore planetary economies, which eventually hamstrung me on each game, but I got one aspect settled.  Sunday I played with tech, and over the week I started tinkering with planetary populations.  With each step I folded in a little more knowledge.

And so I reached the point where I actually felt like I was playing the game rather than struggling with it. (Something that might have gone a bit more quickly if I had found their wiki with its Beginner’s Guide earlier.)  And, now there, I am beginning to appreciate how good the game is.  I expect I will spend quite a bit more time playing it.

Of course, one of the things I like about it is the ability to create your own factions.  While I am not a huge fan of mods, I do like the ability to personalize things.  So, of course, I created a familiar faction.

Vying with a neighbor on the galactic map

Vying with a neighbor on the galactic map

In something that hearkens back to the old days of Civ II, the naming schemes for civilizations are all in text files.  In Civ II I got tired of my sprawling empires running out of names, so I found the text file where they were stored and added more.  Then I started making up my own empires.  It looks like I will be able to do the same with Stellaris.  Or maybe I will grab some of the fine mods available in the Steam Workshop.

Can I mix the Lovecraft with the cats mod?

Can I mix the Lovecraft with the cats mod?

All of which doesn’t mean I am not going to buy Civilization VI.  I just have Stellaris to keep me occupied until the time is ripe.  And since I have gotten past the initial steep learning curve and am enjoying the game quite a bit now, that purchase might be pushed off further than I thought.  Space is fun.

The start of another space empire

The start of another space empire

TL;DR version: Deep. Not as hard to get into as some Paradox games, but still takes effort.  Space made it more approachable for me.  Looks cool, plays great.  Instead of “just one more turn” it is “just let me get that next tech” or “my fleet upgrade is almost done” or “my science ship needs to explore another anomaly” and suddenly you’re up way past your bed time.

[Also, while the Steam sale ended, it is still on sale for the moment at the Paradox store, and since you have to activate it on Steam, you end up in the same place.]

Civilization VI Launches

Today is the official launch day for Civilization VI, though I understand if you pre-ordered on Steam you got access last night, the next chapter in Sid Meier’s now quarter century long attempt to make the perfect 4X strategy game.

Come and get your 4X

Come and get your 4X

The whole thing began with the launch of Civilization back in September 1991.

I do not remember exactly when I bought my copy of the first Civilization… early 1992 I think… but since then I have purchased most of the series on the earliest possible date I could get my hands on a copy.

However, I do not have a copy of Civ VI in my hot little hands today.  I don’t know if it is aging or ennui, but I am not impatient to pick up a copy just yet.  Certainly, some of it is experience.  Civilization games tend to be a hot mess on day one.  Early versions usually needed the next generation of processors to show up in order to make them playable, while later releases you were probably not going to be able to play reliably until the first patch landed.  Back in October 2010, I was complaining about how Civilization V was crashing on my machine day one.

So I am not buying a copy today.

I will buy a copy at some point though.  I will just let things settle down a bit first, watch reactions to the game, maybe wait for that first patch.  And we all know it will be marked down a bit for the Steam Holiday Sale anyway.  I will probably get it then.  I certainly have to get it before the first expansion.  If it is anything live Civilization V, each expansion will change the game so much it will be like a new game.

Meanwhile, here is the usual stack rank of Civ titles ordered by how much time I spent with them, which is generally a sign of which ones I liked best.

  1. Civilization II
  2. Civilization V
  3. Civilization
  4. Alpha Centauri
  5. Civilization III
  6. Civilization IV
  7. Beyond Earth

I’d play some more Civ II except I lost the damn CD again.

I see there is already a look at Civ VI over at Nomadic Gamers.