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Do you still think GalCiv 1 is fun even with GalCiv II out?
758 votes
1- Yes
2- No

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by Citizen Sirian - 11/15/2005 4:16:50 AM


I listened to Poweruser.TV podcast #14. Good stuff! (That thing with the passport chips... That was interesting! I will keep an eye on that topic. I hope they put that through the ringer before implementation!)

Of course, the chief reason I tuned in was to hear your review of Civ4. (Don't know if Soren is tuning in, but I did.) I'm glad you have been enjoying the game.

I don't know what's up with the clock failing on you. Although I first got the idea for the clock from playing Age of Wonders:Shadow Magic with friends, I don't actually use the clock when I play Civ4. (I don't want to be reminded to stop. But it seemed like it would help some users, and nothing wrong with learning from somebody else's good idea when it's something that obvious!) I laughed when you said you would have stopped sooner -- like at 5 or 6 AM instead of when your kids woke up. Ha! Like an hour or two would really make much difference? (Other than not getting caught, of course!) You were going to grab a quick power nap with that hour?

When you stayed up all night, did you ever actually think, "One more turn?" I know that's the buzz, but for me (whether it's Master of Orion, Civ, or GalCiv) it's never one more. I never think, "One more." It's always, "A couple more." (Hey, I'm honest about it! That counts for something, right?) "A couple more turns, until I found that new city." "A couple more turns, until I learn that tech. Build that wonder (or unique trade good!) Fight that battle. Secure that alliance. Start that war. Upgrade that starbase. Etc." Just a couple more... turns? Yeah right. Hours, more likely.

"The sausage factory"... Great analogy!

Regarding playing the Merchant Manipulator, the Godfather, I have some feedback. In Civ1 and Civ2, the AIs would automatically gang up on the human at high difficulty. In MOO1 they would automatically dislike the most powerful civ, but it was possible to make friends if two blocs formed in opposition, as "enemy of my enemy" was a stronger diplomatic factor. (I think this has been the best overall model, to date). In Civ3, the AIs were completely mercenary and could be bought for a song. In GalCiv1, they abide by the moral alignment strongly, but can be bought if you can assemble the price, which you can almost always do if you play your hand right, even if it costs you a fortune per turn over 99 turns. (At least when I played, that's how I remember it.)

In the Civ4 community, I'm known for saying two things. "Diplomacy is the overarching issue of single player." ...and... "If there is only one right choice, you are not looking at a strategy game." These two points intersect at the question of bribing AIs to do your bidding.

The Merchant Manipulator is a tough design dilemma. It's one of the biggest issues a designer can face. All of the options that have been tried before, which I listed above, come with problems, snags. Civ1 and Civ2's problems arise out of the inevitability factor. There's nothing you can do about the conspiracy against you except to whip the whole lot of them. That's only possible because those AIs put in a rather weak performance, though. Stronger AI takes that off the table. Civ3 has that stronger AI, but it bends over backward not to gang up on the player (at least not to do so inevitably) and thus leaves itself open to manipulation by any rival who takes initiative. (That's always the human, if he plays his cards right). MOO1 and later GalCiv found the right track, I believe: for the AIs to have their own agenda, their own relations. In MOO1, there are racial hatreds and affinities to stir the pot and cause tension, while in GalCiv there is morality to do it. Then if you ally with one side in this conflict, you alienate the other, and a real strategy game is there for the playing.

The mercenary element can muck things up, though. Here's where Civ3 did some things right. The Civ3 AIs do not stay bought. They are bought on the cheap, but then they tire of war and want peace, and you can only keep them locked in to doing your bidding if you also stay in the war with them, which puts some limits on your options. Some, but not enough, of course. Here is one of the last games of Civ3 that I played in, revealing the extreme vulnerability of the AI to manipulation: Link

The AI in Civ3 is strong, but it picks on strong rivals, ignoring the weak, so at high difficulty, the player can keep his head down and pit the AIs one against the other, and sneak by like the Tortoise to the Hare. Fun stuff, but how many games can you play with that same formula before the concept grows old? For me, it was about fifteen months. I played Civ3 from Nov 01 to Jan 03 and I was done. Then it was a brief and tragic encounter with MOO3, then a healthy love affair with GalCiv. Then I started working on Civ4.

GalCiv1 avoids the pitfall of AIs selling their soul on the cheap, which is very exciting at first. It is certainly more challenging to bribe them successfully. The rewards are higher, though. Alliances are permanent. Bribes (of the right shape and size) never fail. (I don't want to spill all the beans on the details, though they may be around the forum somewhere anyway -- and they may have changed a bit since I last played). Suffice to say, the real strategy lies not so much in what to do as in whom to befriend. If you choose unwisely, you can have a heck of a time trying to recover. My peak experience with GalCiv1 was just such a game: Link

The high-priced bribery has a dead end, though. The only way to get the player to pay such a bribe is to offer a commensurate reward. Otherwise it is just a ripoff, which the player will try until he figures it out, then stop throwing away his money. If the payoff is huge, then it is a game-maker and becomes the Only Right Choice, from the standpoint of which strategy works the best.

I got six gloriously entertaining months out of GalCiv1, an enormous amount of fun that can only be described as "more than my money's worth". The Merchant Manipulator element is what ended the affair. I ran out of replayable gameplay. The Godfather role is a road of limited length. It is plenty long enough for the average customer, of course, but in this day and age of the internet, the increased communication between players causes strategies to be revealed more quickly. The road shortens for many because they hitch a ride on the experiences of others. (If I shorten it for anybody with this post, I apologize!) The next level of design is one with longer legs.

Civ1 and Civ2, at upper levels, offer only the one diplomatic layout over and over again: Player vs the World. Civ3 has the only right answer of bribing the Hares to nap beside the road while the player crawls past them. GalCiv offers the Game Winning Bribe, and it comes very early in the game, followed by a long period of mop-up.

Everything comes at a cost. I can appreciate your disappointment in not being able to pull the strings on the AIs at will. This is a legitimate complaint! Still, it is a price we paid deliberately. The Merchant Manipulator is a game balance nightmare of the first degree. It overshadows everything else. If the price is cheap, there's no risk and no legitimate situations in which you cannot afford to pay. If the price is high but the payoff unreliable, the whole game turns on a single dice roll (and who wants to play a game for hours on end to have it all come down to one lottery ticket? Players want their choices to matter!) If the price is high and the payoff not worth it, nobody pays. If the price is high and worthwhile, it's the only right choice to pay. In the end, this becomes a puzzle, not a strategic dilemma. Many gamers have seen the puzzle before, in another game, which shortens the road even further.

Civ4 does not remove all possibility of bribery, but it does impose limits from on high. The reasoning behind this arises from all the games that have gone before, Civ and otherwise, who have faced this question: their design selections, and the results obtained. We decided to try something new. Maybe in a couple of years, somebody will be adding Civ4 to the list of approaches that they find lacking in some major way, and will devise yet another possibility to try, but that remains to be seen.

On first glance, I wondered at the wisdom behind handing the keys to Civ to a different designer for each iteration, but having been inside the sausage factory myself now, I think I understand. Although some things are lost by switching gears, every designer has his Achilles Heel. The change in leadership and vision for each game ensures that the big picture flaws of the previous iteration will get a fresh look and won't be repeated. It's a tradeoff and a risk, but the possibilities for innovation are stronger.

Soren would have said half of this in three sentences, but I lack his talent for brevity. If you stayed with me all the way through, then I owe you a beer if ever we should meet in person. Cheers!

- Sirian

#1  by Citizen Walldorf2000 - 11/16/2005 2:33:30 AM

Hi Sirian,

nice to hear from your after such a long time and nice to hear that you had a good time.

But you are right, brevity was never your biggest talent

You should give GC another try. The mods from Icho do make a big difference.
[Message Edited]

#2  by Avatar Frogboy - 11/20/2005 12:10:44 AM

Great post!

Hope to see you on too!

                       Posted via Stardock Central
#3  by Citizen Sirian - 11/20/2005 12:41:01 AM

Oh yeah, the new site. Duh!

I'm too much a creature of habit, sometimes.

- Sirian

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