Wednesday, 26 January, 2005

Take Two Announces Civilization IV

Slashdot reported today that Take Two Interactive has acquired the rights to the Civilization franchise and that they will be developing Civilization IV. According to their press release:

The fourth game in the PC strategy series that has sold over five million copies, Sid Meier's Civilization IV is a bold step forward for the franchise, with spectacular new 3D graphics and all-new single and multiplayer content. Civilization IV will also set a new standard for user-modification, allowing gamers to create their own add-ons using the standard Python and XML scripting languages.

I'm disappointed.

Civilization II was a great game, not because the graphics were so good or because it could be modified, but because of its depth. It was (and arguably still is) the standard by which all other turn-based resource management games are judged. The graphics are primitive by today's standards, true, but that doesn't detract much from the game play. Unlike first person shooters, puzzle games, and even real time strategy games to some extent, the graphics in a resource management game are incidental to the game play, not part of it. They just need to be clear, accurate, and reasonably attractive. Graphics are not gameplay! This insistence on turning a game like Civilization into the next Doom 3 in order to appeal to the FPS crowd is folly. I want gameplay, not eye candy!

I reviewed the game Alpha Centuari here several years ago, and a few months later mentioned that I had decided not to try Civilization III because that game appeared to be yet another re-hash of Civilization II with fancier graphics. Subsequent reviews by other gamers bear that out: the game is pretty, but the game play hasn't changed. What a huge waste of developer resources.

The last thing the Civilization franchise needs is another pretty game that has no substance. I play simulations because I'm interested in the simulation. I'm all for eye candy, but not at the expense of game play. Those two programmers who are slated to work on the 3D graphics engine should be re-tasked to work on the game AI. With reasonably bright AI helpers that get more intelligent as the civilization advances, players are freed to worry about higher level things. As I said before: I want to manage an empire, not single-handedly construct every building and direct every battle.

With better AI assistants (like a city manager that can actually do a credible job of managing a city, and automated units that can be given specific tasks like interconnecting cities with roads rather than mindlessly "optimizing" random pieces of real estate), the game could provide a broader simulation, including advanced trade, more opportunities to interact positively with other civilizations, more domestic concerns, and much less focus on war. But if the game is going to focus on war, then at least give me the ability to direct a campaign and leave the individual battles to AI helpers. The game could be so much better if resources were spent on gameplay rather than on flashy graphics and a scripting engine.

What makes a turn based strategy game immersive is the depth of the simulation, not the attractiveness of its graphics. Add more elements to the simulation, create graphics that allow me to monitor those elements, and concentrate on balancing the gameplay. That is the recipie for a successful resource management game. Leave the cutting edge 3D rendering to the games that can actually benefit from it.