Tag Archives: Civilization Series

Fiddling with FreeCiv

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I was digging around for possible things to play for a bit earlier this month, and one path I went down for a few days was FreeCiv.

FreeCiv simple start screen

I was actually thinking about getting out Civilzation II yet again… I have the disk on my bookshelf, so I know I can get it running again… but then I thought about FreeCiv, which is an open source project and no doubt up to date and compatible with 64-bit operating systems and large screen monitors and all of the usual pitfalls that come with trying to play older titles.

FreeCiv has been around for more than 25 years at this point, having started off as a way to make a version of the original Civilization that supported network multiplayer gaming.  Big stuff back in 1996.

The Civilization II came and that got looped into the project and then Civilization III and then other ideas were melded into the project and… well, more than 25 years down the road this is an engine that does a crazy amount of things.

Just starting the game gives you a first glimpse into the options available.

Starting a game…

And that doesn’t even get into the breadth of network play options captured in a single entry on that list.

You have to read the manual that comes in the install package, or go to the wiki, to start getting a handle on what the options mean.

Also, given the time this project has been alive, it is probably no surprise that there are also a myriad of nation options to choose from, each with a long list of city names and possible leaders.

50 in the core choices, 555 in the extended

So you make your choices… you can play traditional Civ style, with top down squares, Civ II style with the 2.5D isometric view with squares so popular in the 80s and 90s, or you can have Civ III hexes and boarders with Civ II rules in an interesting mix, or one of the other options… I favor that Civ II Civ III mix currently… and you end up in a game that looks like the start of any Civilization game really, which is what one should expect.

You’ve probably seen a situation like this before

As I noted, it is up to date in a lot of way and can, for example, expand to use all the real estate that my 34″ monitor has to offer.  It plays like the early Civ titles for the most part.  They key commands are mostly the same.  And it looks decent enough, with its own home grown tile set and units that are different from the original games but similar enough to not take too much guess work to figure out.

How it plays though… well, you have to get used to it.  Any open source project will end up with the “good enough” issue or compromises in UI to be able to support things as widely as possible.  You can play on Linux as well, which means the UI has to stay at a somewhat primitive level of development when it comes to giving feedback to the user.

The first stumble for me is getting used to shift-enter to end a turn, rather than having to mouse around to find the end turn button on the left side info bar.  But you get over that pretty quickly.

The UI though, the flip side of it being happy to use up all my screen real estate is that it outputs the information you need in tiny text in windows and tabs that appear at the lower edge of the window, which is easy glance past on a large screen monitor.

Little tabs showing up at the bottom of the screen

Now, before you point it out, those text tabs look pretty substantial in that screen shot, but only because I made the game window a manageable size (~1500 x 1100) rather than the full native size of my monitor (3440 x 1440) just to keep the screen shot from being enormous and completely illegible when scaled down to 600 pixels wide to fit into the column width of the blog.

Nothing like finding that somebody has started attacking you because you missed the Diplomacy alert in blue (it should be flashing red) or realizing you’re not researching anything because you missed the Research alert showing up (should be double flashing red), but then you see if pop up and it is just telling you that it finished something in your queue with the same quite level of assertion.

My immediate solution has been to play at a much smaller resolution in order to not miss so many notifications.

But most of the annoyance is just figuring out how to read some of the windows.  The research screen is interesting and convenient because it allowed you to queue up your research goals… but then reading what is in the actual queue isn’t exactly clear to me.  And there are several windows where you can do things in the wrong order and the games just lets you and moves on because you didn’t, in effect, say “please” to get what you wanted.

Basically, it is the confluence of a very deep game with a lot of features, a mid level “good enough” UI, and having grown used to the Civ series putting up a modal alert that you can’t ignore or move forward past without at least acknowledging the event in question.

The UI thing is pretty much an object lesson in how much UI design impacts playability and why it is an important aspect of any game.  Here we have a title that is rich and deep in features but which often left me stumbling around trying to figure out things that have been simple in similar commercial titles.

None of which is insurmountable.  But it definitely feels like a game you don’t play casually.  It is more a game you need to invest in, one that becomes a hobby or a regular group activity with friends.

Which, again, isn’t a bad thing.  And it is hard to argue with the price.

Waiting for Civilization

Last week my focus was a huge game of Civilization V.

Early in the week I started a few games on the largest map size (going with the Lakes option, so lots of land warfare) with a dozen competing civilizations and the usual complement of city states until I got a situation that looked good.  The first time out I was wedged in a corner between the Huns and the Mongols, which did not bode well.  The next time I was the Huns, but I managed to get into a war of annihilation with three other civs very early in the game, and while I managed to get to peace while still holding on to my capital, I was set back so badly that any rematch was going to go badly for me.

The third time out I drew the Germans which helped me build up my military quickly and avoid getting penned in early.  The Germans have a somewhat imbalanced attribute that allows them to recruit barbarians to their side a certain percentage of the time when they defeat a barbarian camp.

Loading... still loading...

Loading… still loading…

I actively went after barbarian camps, which allowed my city production to stay focused on buildings and wonders.  You don’t get the best units that way, but you get a lot of them.  My barbarian strategy actually ended up yielding too many units and some points, though I was able to gift them to city states in return for influence.  The Germans also pay less for land unit maintenance, so that helped with the budget.

I ended up playing all the way into Sunday evening in sessions of an hour or more.  In the end it was down to five civs, all of whom feared my military might and all but one of which, the Carthaginians, who were my game-long ally, I was chipping away at, declaring war, taking a city, getting another city as part of a peace settlement, and then turning to the next in line.

However, my enthusiasm for conquest was starting to wain, so I decided at around turn 1,100 to just go for the cultural victory and end it about 30 turns later.  I saved before I started, so I could go back and continue the military victory… or the political victory… or the religious victory.  All were still viable.  But I was tired of waiting.

I was tired of waiting because, in the last 500 or so turns, that was what I was doing most of the time; waiting.  I would make my moves, update production, tweak some improvements, then end my turn only to wait and wait while the computer handled each of the other civilizations, the city states, and finally the barbarians.  Then the game would come back to me.

It is a truism of the Civilization series that each version is launched at a time when they really need the next generation of CPUs to run them effectively.  I remember getting a new computer and seeing the time it took to play a game of Civ II drop dramatically.  I recall writing a note to Firaxis about the slow performance of Civ IV back when it launched, at a time when I had a pretty high end machine in terms of processing power.  Their response was quite snotty in my opinion and could be summed up as  “play smaller campaigns if performance matters to you, there is nothing wrong with our game.”

So I am left wondering when we will reach the point where average CPUs will be up to the task of speedy turns in Civ V and where the bottlenecks really lay.  The game appears to at least be multi-core aware.  Looking at Task Manager, at least four of the eight cores in my CPU look like they are in use, though none of them are capped out or even showing usage beyond 50%.  So the game doesn’t seem CPU bound.  RAM appears to be available, so it isn’t like the game is paging out constantly… or it shouldn’t be in any case.  And while there appears to be some issue with I/O… the game takes me four long minutes from launch before I can resume a game already in progress… and four minutes might not seem like much time, but try sitting in front of your screen waiting, clicking to skip through any video possible, and listening to the required speech about your civ and its leader, then it is the “watched pot” scenario… I cannot imagine that they are doing much of that for each turn.

So when will we be set on this front?

I hope that the next Civ V expansion, Brave New World, will include performance improvements like those that came with the Gods & Kings expansion…  yes, performance was even worse at launch… because CPUs not only are not getting faster in the ways they used to back in the day, but the CPU doesn’t seem to be the limiting factor at the moment.  A long campaign like last week’s, where the last third of the game was mostly me waiting on the computer, puts me off the game.

But it does make me want to dig out my Civ II disk, which is still lost somewhere in my office.  The game isn’t as sophisticated as Civ V, though there is some appeal to its sometimes crude simplicity.

A simpler time...

A simpler time…

But the game itself runs like a dream, the AI zips along, and most of any match is spent doing rather than waiting.  There are many reasons I always go back to that game, and speed is certainly one.  Yes, you can get mired into epic stalemates, but at least the turns move quickly.

Running Civilization II on Windows 7 64-bit

When last we left my quest to play Civilization II on my Windows 7 64-bit system, I seemed to be pretty much out of luck.

The original version of the game was a 16-bit executable and simply would not run on Windows 7 64-bit.  No way, no how.

So I started to look around for a newer version of the game.  Eventually, over at Amazon.com, I came across a vendor in the Amazon Marketplace that was selling a copy of the later Civilization II Muliplayer Gold Edition for just $15.  It seemed like a deal to me, and when it showed up a couple of days later, it appeared to be the full package.

Box, manual, disc, and chart

That box is actually considerably bigger than what games ship in today.  And I haven’t seen a game manual that comprehensive in a decade at least.

Anway, that was the version I needed, as I had read over at Civilization Fanatics that somebody had created a patch for that version that would allow the game to run on 64-bit.  There is actually a thread in their forum with the patch.

At first I was not even sure I would need the patch.

The game installed, launched, and ran for a bit.  It wasn’t until I started my first city that the game terminated.  So I went and grabbed the patch, applied it, and gave it another go.

And, hey presto, I had a running game!

Exploring the World

Now to play a few games to decide where Civ II really belongs on my top Civilization games list.  The poll taken in the last post on the subject seemed to indicate that Civ II was pretty well regarded.  With 136 votes in, this was the list:

My own first impressions, having been away from the game for a couple of years, is how light and easy and uncluttered it is.  Relative to the later versions of the game, there is a simplicity to it.  That and how much I like that it was designed to run in a window, a popular design choice back in the mid 90s, so that it sized correctly to my monitor, which has about 4x the area that my monitor did back when the game first shipped.

Barbarian Uprising!

I pretty much fell right back into playing the game.  I started at the Warlord level for my warm up, which meant that I pretty much dominated from the start, even with the barbarians set to “raging hordes.”

Who's happy? I'm happy!

So now I have another retro gaming option on my system.

Meanwhile, if you are interested in a little Civilization retrospective about the original game, Tim and Jon at Van Console Time Murdering Hemlocks have a show up about the original Civilization.  Step back 20 years and hear how Civilization grabbed so many of us.

Civ II – Found the Disc, Can’t Use the Disc

After some searching tonight I found at least one of my copies of Civilization II.  It was hiding in a generic white disc sleeve on a shelf with some music CDs.

Civilization - 16-bit Era Disc

Unfortunately, this disk is from the stone age.  Look at it.  “IBM/Compatibles” is printed on it.  How long has it been since it was IBM and Compatibles?

Sure, Windows 95 was out when this game launched… barely… so this disc had to install on Windows 3.1.

All of the executables on it are 16-bit.

And, as I found out after an hour or so of screwing around and trying to fool it into believing it was installed, the 64-bit version of Windows 7 is not at all down with 16-bit.  I couldn’t find anything official on the Microsoft support site that definitively said, “No 16-bit,” but I found plenty of unofficial things that said it wasn’t going to happen.

Not that I am totally surprised.  I was doing WinLogo certification for the company I was working for in 1997, and even then you had to get a special exemption to have 16-bit executables… including the installer… on your disc.  That was a long time ago.

Anyway, no Civ II for me right now.  I’ll have to go find a more recently rolled version of it.

In the mean time, since there was some discussion over the best version of Civilization, I will put up a poll.

Justify your pick in the comments, if you feel the need.


They’re Dogs… And They’re Playing at Being Cultured…


Erm, Civilization World.

But it says “CivWorld” on the splash screen.

It is a Facebook game, it will be in "beta" forever

The Civilization series re-envisioned as a Facebook game.

It is enough to make you think that… just maybe… Facebook isn’t going to be a “serious” game platform ever.

Whatever that means.

Okay, fine.  I knew I was going to have to build houses for my population.  And of course, farms had to go along with it.  Sound familiar so far?

Houses and farms and... oh, stop please...

I suppose that I should be thankful that I did not have to click on farms to harvest.  There is a button in the corner that takes care of that for you.

But when I found that advancing my scientific knowledge involved solving a maze that wouldn’t stump a 3 year old, I was bemused.

And when increasing the culture of my society required me to re-arrange tiles to make the painting of dogs playing poker, I was annoyed.

A friend in need... would put a bullet in this game

And when establishing trade involved yet another little puzzle, I was about done.

Yeah Sid, and the camel you rode in on!

What an awful game.

It has all the drudgery of FarmVille with some mini-games thrown in.  But unlike The Agency: Covert Ops, which had a couple of fun mini-game, these are crap.

I hate to think that somewhere, someone who was involved in creating any of the Civilization games thought this game was a good idea.  Because if feels like somebody just said, “What is the shortest route we can take to crap out some Facebook game with ‘Civilization’ in the title?”

I heard a wise game dev once say that the first two hours of a game of Civilization can be the best gaming experience you are likely to have.

With CivWorld, the first 10 minutes were the most uninspiring gaming experience I have had in a long time.

It is crap.

And it makes me wonder if it the medium and not the artist that is causing it.

Does Zynga make crap games because they are Zynga, or do they make crap games because they insist on running them on Facebook?

46 Minutes of Civilization V

Civilization II is probably the single player game I have spent the most time playing since I first purchased a computer.

And that is saying something, given the hours I spent, when I have many excess hour to spend, playing games like Wizardry or Ultima III back in the day.

Apple II+ and Wizardry

I played the original game Civilization and was hooked by its game play, so when Civilization II came out I was right there, day one.

Civ II was great, a huge improvement over its predecessor… so much so that I never considered and going back an playing the original game.

This is in contrast to Civilization III and Civilization IV, both of which eventually sent me back to Civ II.

There is a whole post in why I prefer Civ II.  But for the moment I’ll leave it with the simple fact that I can still play the game on my current PC, more than 14 years after it originally shipped.  It runs great and, in a move that seems genius in hindsight, it plays in a standard, re-sizable window so it even takes advantage of the fact that my monitor has gone from 800×600 to 1600×1200 in the intervening time.  There are a few games I could mention that I wish did the same.

But back at launch the game was a beast.

The Civilization franchise has never bought into the Blizzard philosophy of low system requirements.

I don’t think I was able to play the game at its full potential until I picked up a 400MHz Pentium II years later.  But by the time I had a Pentium IV, it ran smooth and fast.  But it was a long time getting there.

And was Civ II stable at launch?  Well, let’s just say that the auto-save feature was there for a good reason.  Resuming games after a crash was a common occurrence.

So when I was tempted into buying Civilization V based somewhat on SynCaine’s posts about it, I was pretty sure the game was going to live up to the Civilization tradition of being a complete beast on day on.

I bought it via Steam, as much as I dislike Valve’s service.  I’ve been screwed by Valve and their requirement that you must have an internet connection to play a single player game in the past. (Yes, that was a long time ago, but I can hold a grudge like no other when I’m in the mood.)

But since Civ V seems to be tied to the service no matter how you buy it, there didn’t seem much point in going another route.

And while I wasn’t happy about it, I certainly wasn’t expecting Steam to mock my misery.

How long have you managed to play?

Five days with the game and I’ve been able to play for 46 minutes.

And a good portion of those minutes were spent waiting while the game sat hung, driving all four cores of my Intel Core 2 Q6600 processor beyond 50% capacity.  I had to bring up Task Manager just to see if the game still had a pulse.

I was not able to play at all for the first day.

It wasn’t until I turned off the intro movie, got into the options and turned down every possible setting to its absolute minimum, picked the default minimum game (changing any game setting is like hitting the fail button), and shut down every possible process on my system that I was able to hit my peak and get 46 turns into a game before it hung.

And I consider myself lucky to have gotten that far.  Most times I just see this at launch.

And there is no recovery, no launching the game again.  It is straight to the Start menu to reboot the system after any failure.  I’ve tried.  There is no hope without a reboot.

Okay, my system is aging, and not so gracefully.  It isn’t at its most stable of late.  But this is ridiculous.

I should have the horsepower to run the game.  My quad 2.4 GHz CPU should be up to the task, being beyond the recommended system requirements, which specify a quad 1.8GHz or better.  Woe to those who have only a single or dual core system.

And running with everything off, including virus protection, but the OS and Steam the game doesn’t appear to be trying to claim memory beyond the 2GB I have installed.

But it fails every time.  Sooner or later, the carpet is yanked out from under me… and usually it is sooner.

Steam seems to have a patch for the game every night that fixes one crash or another.  I’ll give Steam that, the patching happens fast.  But each such patch only leads to disappointment as the game ab ends in the black rectangle where the intro movie should be running. (Couldn’t they put up a logo or something if you’ve turned the intro movie off?)

And all of this wouldn’t annoy me so much if the game didn’t appear to have promise, if it didn’t seem to have erased some of the sins of its two predecessors, if it didn’t feel like perhaps, maybe, it was getting back to the feel that made Civ II such a great game while keeping the bits of III and IV that actually improved the series.

I’d really like to play it and see if that was true.

But I can’t it seems, not yet.

I run Steam each evening in hopes that a new patch will make the game behave.

I wander through game sites looking for suggestions on how to tame the game.

But so far I’ve only managed 46 minutes.  Barely enough for a EuroGamer review.

I guess I’ll have to go back to Civ II if I want a Civilization fix while I wait for Civ V’s day to come.

It should play really well in about 5 years.  History repeats itself.