Jan 31, 2011

Civilization V

I’ve blogged about the Civilization game series before, but that was in the context of the games, including the Alpha Centauri series, as simulations of the historical processes. This is about Civilization V, the most recent version of the series to hit the stores.

The picture up above the title shows the screen of a late stage game. This is how it looks after a little over 1,000 turns of play. The game, for the Roman player, has reached the future era and he is currently at war with Russia. The second screen shot, above the opening paragraph, shows the city of Rome. The third shot is one of the future units, the Giant Death Robot. This is not typical of the Civ series. This is the first time a futuristic unit has been introduced into the series.
More typical are units such as the mechanized infantry unit shown to the right.

I’ve been playing Civ games since I got an iMac back in 1999. I started with Civilization II, and have stuck with the series through its various sequels and expansion packs. This is the first one that I’ve thought was bad enough to merit a disrecommendation.

Before I go on to the negatives, let me give a few positive comments.

  1. The graphics are good.
  2. The new unit, the robot, is fun, though it comes late in the game.

Things like using hexes instead of squares for the map leave me indifferent.

The bad things:

  1. It takes forever to build units. This makes it hard in the early game play to spawn settlers to build cities. The more cities the faster your research, the higher your tech level, and the more advanced your military and your economy. The AIs, your computer opponents, are able to spawn cities much faster than in previous versions.
  2. No unit stacking. Some people don’t find unit stacking realistic. It’s not, and WW II armies, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, did not attack on narrow fronts. Neither did ancient units, though the smaller armies operated on necessarily smaller fields. The disadvantage of not having stacks is that each unit must be moved individually. This makes for slower game play.
  3. No world builder. Okay, call me a wuss. I like to give myself an advantage over the AI, so I like to give myself extra gold at the start of the game, and maybe even some extra settlers. What you have is a debug panel that you get to through minor modifications of one of the .ini files. You can make some modifications, such as giving yourself a gold mine, but other modifications, such as the create unit function, are buggy at best.
  4. Video card requirements. I bought my current iMac in April 2009. It has the Radeon HD2400 video card in it. The game requires the HD2600, which is of the same vintage as the 2400. The game works fine until the future era and the future tech is researched. At that point the game will begin crashing with every turn, and save files will become corrupt. Now granted the game can’t be programmed to work on a 1980s era machine, but still some of us use machines that are not upgradeable, and the compatibility could have, and should have been tested on machines with different cards. They had a large QA staff and community, and this was not found and fixed before release? The inability to proceed once you’ve reached the future era makes the whole effort of a 1,000 turns of game play utterly useless.
  5. The use of Steam. This is an online game playing site. Using Steam for downloads, including game patches and mods, makes for better DRM (Digital Rights Management), which benefits the company, which as an ardent capitalist pig I have no problem with, at least in the abstract, but it makes for lousy game play and takes hours to download.

I’m afraid that I can’t recommend spending your money on the game. Don’t even bother looking for pirated versions. In this case it would be worth what you paid for it. Wait for patches, and maybe they’ll fix some of the problems, or maybe they’ll make a version VI and it will be somewhat decent. In the meantime, I’ve got links to Civilization IV and its expansion packs up there. Buy those, and have fun.

Update January 9, 2012—I had this on my Christmas list, but didn’t get it. I know, poor baby. The digital download version went on sale at Amazon after Christmas, so I bought a copy. The download through Amazon is about 2 Gbytes, and takes a while, but it’s not through. You then have to download Steam, and install it, and then finish the download. That takes a while. You get the Civ 5 SDK (Software Developer Kit), but the Mac version is broken, and you simply get a message that the software can’t be run on your platform. So after you install Steam and finish the download you’re good to go.

The only problem is that the game basically sucks. Technology takes a long time to develop. The Great People (artist, scientist, engineer, merchant, and general) are basically useless. Only the scientist, who can discover new tech, and the engineer who can hurry buildings serve a real purpose. In previous Civ games your best strategy was to build as many workers and as many settlers as possible in the early game so that you could acquire technology quickly and build stronger units than your opponents. That goes out the door with this version. Excess population leads to unhappiness, which makes your army less effective. If your units exceed the resources required to support them, they become less effective. Both of these are to my mind ridiculous. The only way out is to modify the XML files that set unhappiness penalites.

Civ IV was Python based, which is an open language, and one which is available for the Mac and Windows, so it was possible to make modding tools that worked on both the Mac and Windows. With Civ V though they got into bed with Microsoft and got raped, as always happens when people bed down with the corporate Prince of Darkness. The tools require that you download a Visual Basic shell, which means they’re Windows only. So you can’t use native tools on the Mac version of the game. You should, in theory, be able to do the modding on a Windows machine, and then play the game on a Mac, but you can’t. The Mac game crashes when it tries to open files from the PC game.

You can download both the Mac and the Windows version, and you can play the game in Windows emulation. The game will not run on all Windows emulators though. Sun’s Virtual Box software is difficult to set up, but is free. Unfortunately even the latest version won’t run Civ V. There are two other emulation packages, Fusion, and Parallels. I don’t have a copy of Parallels, but I do have one of Fusion, and the program will run fine under Fusion. It should be noted though that there is a performance penalty due to the emulation, and due to the added layer of complexity brought by Steam,

Wait for Civ VI, or stick with IV.

End Update