Posts Tagged ‘electronic arts’

Game 366/1001 according to the list

Genre: Strategy
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 1998
Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts

Trust me, it’s a wonder we got this out there. Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri is, in brief, Civilization… in space! What it does, though, aside from changing the graphics, technologies, units and texts to be more futuristic, is to modify the gameplay ever so subtly to make it a different game. Not just game mechanics – height of land played a role for the first time in the resources you could collect – but more so in the way the game was layed out, with a larger emphasis on a story (up from none) and its own consistent world that doesn’t (vaguely) try to mimic ours. Rather than having known civilizations with minor or no differences, you have seven factions of the original landing party, each with their own goals, objectives and strengths.

Even more so, it’s addictive, and Peter’s main session was a long one stretching up to 1AM at night. I didn’t need to… I had those sections years before when I was younger, and still remembered the game far too well for that.

Our Thoughts

Are you sure you don’t want to play a bit longer? Just because I had a bit of a marathon gaming session last night does not mean that my hand has melted onto the mouse.

I do have to admit that there are few games which can keep me occupied for such a long sitting… it wasn’t until I needed the bathroom until the truth of how long I had been playing truly hit me. Had I not mentioned it was 1AM and I was getting tired, then you’d still be playing now. I don’t think so… but I probably would have gone on for another hour or so. I believe the last game I played as the sun rose was GTA: San Andreas. To be fair that only happened because we were flying to Toronto later that day and I was too excited to sleep. As it so often happens. Still, it shows how well this game fits into the Civilization lineage – it too is a game that makes you forget time and keeps you thinking “Just one more turn… one more can’t hurt…”

In the interest of full disclosure the only Sid Meier’s game I have played were SimGolf and Civilisation IV. Neither of these saw me lose time in such an unusual fashion as Alpha Centauri. This prompts me to ask what is so special about this game when so many games have been released since which have built on the classic 4X formula. To be fair, other games in the series (part four never was my favourite) have a similar effect on most people. Part of this is possibly the easy gratification – there’s many small ‘wins’ in there, with each (often initially short) turn giving you or leading you to something small, combining to larger ‘victories’. A new tech is always a few turns away, your cities gain more improvements, your scouts discover more of the world and you beat more enemies.

It stands out a bit because they were able to interweave a rather interesting narrative yarn whilst you kick ten bells out of religious zealots. That’s probably the most interesting part of the game – it has a story, something I don’t think I’ve ever really seen in other 4X games (although I obviously haven’t played them all). One of your goals is to bring this story to its end, interacting with the planet and leading to becoming one with it… in a way I won’t spoil here. The other main goal is to achieve dominance over the seven factions as they attempt to extort money out of you the moment you show any sign of power. (You only need to complete one main goal. A third option is to be elected supreme leader of the planet). 

The variations between factions are interesting as instead of being united by nationality you are grouped by ideology. Yeah, this makes for each faction playing a bit differently, from starting technology to further abilities; setting each up for its own success story.

Those who are fans of the game will probably try each one out but for beginners it is fun to see which ideology suits your gameplay most. At first I started out playing as the peacekeepers but I found them a tad sanctimonious. Then I started a game as the Green faction (known as Gaia’s Stepdaughters) and that’s the one I stuck with. Those of you who are more war-mongering will probably prefer to play as the Spartans or possibly the Believers. The latter of the two had a portrait which game me the creeps.

At least their goals are not as creepy as the Hive – who want to make a literal hive, a dense network of overcrowded cities,slums and other such desperation. *coughBorgcough* The fact they made him Chinese may border on racist… without the cybernetics. But yeah, the origin was obvious. Making it interesting the scientist is Russian… and we don’t even need to explain the Spartans. Either way though, it is their individual strengths and weaknesses which does warrant multiple plays, especially since different maps will end up with the deployment of different tactics. Especially when you make it an ocean world populated with plenty of native nasties.

The native nasties are interesting too. In this game, we don’t have the Civilization barbarians – random weak units that wander around and attack you. Here you have mind worms, who grow in power as you do. Mindless, they are spawned from the fungus that covers the planet, and can be aggressive – unless your units have stronger willpower, in which case they can convert the mind worms to do your bidding and they are strong if they fight for you, whether they’re converted or you bred them. Same go for their aquatic equivalents known as ‘Isles of the Sea’ which are even more difficult to defeat unless you are properly armed. Later in the game you also get a flying version, based on a similar principle, called Locusts of Chiron. They sound scary. They can be.

The game’s atmosphere is interesting. Somewhat different, certainly, from other games, which is there in just about every aspect of the game. The tech tree is very much sci fi, the interface is change, all of that, but it’s almost made alien. The best example here is in the sound used, in particular the music. The music gave me the creeps, I had to play with the sound off. Obviously I turned it back on for the wonders’ movies and the story progression.

I really did enjoy the passages used in the game; they almost felt as if they were taken from contemporary texts rather than years in the future. I guess it makes sense as ideologies may evolve but some never really change. There’s some that are more out there, but it’s recognisable, helped by the texts mostly being taken from the seven faction leaders in the game – they are a part of it through the technologies they’ve helped discover… or actively dislike. They are used for technologies, the first time you build a city improvement and all the wonders that you can build (although that’s not what they’re called here).

The mystery is still kept, even as you progress – for example, what’s the source of the alien artefacts you can find around, that will give you a random technology when you connect them to one of your network nodes? So many questions are raised with many answers left wanting such as the thing which started it all… who killed Captain Garland (later answered in the official novels).

To be honest the only things which have come to date this game are the quality of sound and graphics. In terms of gameplay and how in-depth the mythology is… well I would not resent them re-making it with these elements completely intact. We are yet to play many titles from the Civilisation series but it will take something rather extraordinary to outdo it in my opinion. And in the end, the gameplay is what makes these games addictive. And really… what more could you want from a game?

Final Thoughts

And there we are, then. Addictive, with great gameplay. We played the game without the expansion – not yet owning it – but that’s something I hope to change soon. I’ve gotten Peter addicted to the game as well, as you can tell, and we’ll certainly be replaying it in the near future. There’s no way we couldn’t. So if you see us online again at 1AM, not responsive, saying we’ll go to bed after this turn… we promise… really… Then you’ll know why.


Game 45: Archon

Posted: April 10, 2011 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , , , ,

Game 49/1001 according to the list

Genre: Fighting/Strategy
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1983
Developer: Free Fall Associates

Take chess. Add an extra row to the board, with a few more pieces. Change the looks of them, to divide them visually and give them seperate abilities.  Have pieces battle each other instead of automatically capturing others.  And put in some more strategic options, like having the strength of your characters depend on the colour of the tile they’re on (which, of course, changes). You then have Archon, a strategic fighting game of sorts that might seem like chess-plus, but is actually harder to pin down than that.

Our Thoughts

Here we are for one of the older games for a while, which (to be honest) took us some time to get used to. Fighting and strategy don’t sound like two genres easy to combine, but when you get Battle Chess like I thought it worked when I first played it, you get something more interesting. (Yeah, I started off playing Battle Chess badly). Yes, this is a far more complex game than Battle Chess. When we read up on the desciption I envisaged a game version of the holographic chess from Star Wars. Instead what you have is a game that is chess because of the use of black and white squares, various pieces and the fact that it is turn based. But that’s where the similarity with chess ends, really. When you try to capture a piece, you instead get dropped into a battle interface where you fight the other piece. Your ‘king’ (wizard or sorceress) can use spells to revive pieces, send elementals after your opponents, exchange pieces or other useful things. Then there’s the pieces themselves, which (with their crude looks) represent fantasy creatures like unicorns, basilisks, manticores and golems. Considering the limited number of pixels used they were able to successfully make the pieces look like what they are meant to (the banshee looked perfect). The only one that doesn’t is the unicorn which looked more like a frog. It also raised the question of why a unicorn would be a projectile piece… but that’s a discussion for people in the fanfiction world. This is a 1983 game… obviously the graphics are quite different from the games we’ve played recently, while this game also goes for some more differentiation that other games (like Pac Man) don’t really need as much. When you switch to that mindset, the graphics work and get distinct and interesting enough.

When we look past those ‘known’ issues, the main issue I had were with the controls – it may sound small, but having to press the fire button and then aim to fire is different to what we’re used to, where pressing the fire button just fires. Something I really liked was that there were subtle differences between how different pieces could be played. During the battles you had the knights/goblins which were the melee combatants, the shapeshifter mimiced whatever piece it opposed, certain pieces who attacked with projectiles were slower than others… and so on.

This doesn’t even mention to the strategic elements of the game.  Since the injuries you sustain in battle remain with each piece until the end of the game you need to remember which ones are injured and how much. Also the squares themselves change colour at random interval, the meaning of this being that certain colours granted certain bias. For example if a battle took place on a light square the white pieces would find themselves with an advantage in battle. This means that you need to think before you move as an ill-placed battle can see the loss of a very strong piece. Although your spellcaster can heal your pieces occasionally, which can help them for a little while. You get a real crash course in this from playing single player against the AI which, I have to admit, made it seem very intelligent for a 1983 computer game. The AI has one setting – very hard – and leaves you no chances. I got flattened in my first game and did a bit better on the second, but still lost by quite a margin.

Final Thoughts

The comparisons with chess are misplaced, really. The board layout may suggest such, and there might be some superficial similarities, but when you really look at it, they’re little more than superficially similar, and trying to compare them is futile.

Archon is a lovely strategy game where your fighting reflexes count for quite a bit too, and the two elements combine really well to create a fun game that’s worth playing if you prefer some more action while still having to focus on the strategy, setting up who fights who and how to best get there.