Thursday, October 27, 2005

Four O'Clock Games

The original Civilization was a four o'clock game.

When I was living by myself, I played games until one or two o'clock in the morning almost every night. For some reason, though, at almost exactly two a.m. I'd crash. I just couldn't stay up any longer (probably because that whole "work" thing was making me get up in the morning).

There were a few games that were so good, though, that I kept playing. I could make it until four a.m.--that was about my absolute limit.

Those were my four o'clock games--the games that were so totally fantastic that I just couldn't stop playing. I knew I needed sleep and I knew work was going to suck and I just didn't care. And I'd do this night after night until I finished the game.

It's a very small list, and it's very eccentric.
--Ultima IV
--Command and Conquer

Each game grabbed me for a different reason.

With Ultima IV, it was exploration. I still remember how blown away I was when I found the balloon or saw my first pirate ship.

With Command and Conquer, it was the music. Somehow the music created this incredible sense of urgency and gave the game a frantic kind of pace. I think it was the best use of music ever in a game up to that time. The game was fantastic, and I would have greatly enjoyed it anyway, but the music somehow put it totally over the top.

With Civilization, it was different. It wasn't one moment, or a single realization--it was a growing sense of awe that a computer could be used in such an incredible way, that anything called a "game" could be so rich and complex. I think it can certainly be argued that Civilization was the best designed game ever up . It wasn't an accident that none of us could stop playing.

Then came the sequels. I played Civ II for a long time. Not quite as fresh, but then it couldn't be. It was still great, even though it was a little familiar.

I don't know what happened with Civ III. I don't think I even played it for five hours. It seemed tired, or maybe I was just tired. Whatever it was, I just didn't feel anything compelling me to play.

I installed Civilization IV yesterday and played for about two hours. It doesn't feel stale or tired. The world is bright and beautiful, the interface is informational without being too intrusive, and there are enough new elements that it feels like a more complex game. I am tremendously impressed.

There are some problems. For starters, there are quite a few people with ATI cards who are having trouble running the game. It's not everyone--I have an ATI card and I'm running it with no problems--but it's not a small number, either.

There was also a packaging problem at Take 2's end. My tech tree poster, which is lovely, is in French. Oops. If you got one in French as well, and you don't speak French, then go here:

I would normally be more annoyed than I am about these problems, but developers have been all over message forums trying to troubleshoot the ATI problem. And they had a link up to get sent the English version of the tech tree within hours. No hoops to jump through, no license keys or any of that crap--just put in your address and get sent the English tech tree. So they've made every effort to address their issues immediately.

I'm looking forward to playing for several hours today. Civ and Shadows of the Colossus are going to take up all of my gaming time for the next several weeks. I'll have detailed impressions after I can get in another ten hours with the game--there's just too much there to be able to do anything but generalize after a few hours.

Oh, and there's one funny note. The tutorial (which also seems to have been rushed, since it ends extremely abruptly) features Sid Meier's head. That's right--Sid's head and part of his upper body are represented, cartoon-style, in a box on the screen. And Sid's voice is actually guiding you through the tutorial. Here's the funny part, though--even though Sid's body has ambient movements, his lips don't. They never move.

So cartoon Sid Meier is, in short, a ventriloquist.

Site Meter