Mssv gets Civilized

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m dedicating Mssv to the strategy game series Civilization, in anticipation of Civilization V’s coming out in September. Civilization’s sheer depth and replayability has made it one of the most beloved strategy games in the world, and its longevity means that I’ve literally grown up with it.

Each game of Civilization 1 began in the same way – with you in control of a single Settler in 4000BC. Over the next 6000 years (which equates to hundreds of turns), you build cities, temples, marketplaces, barracks, roads, ships and armies, all the while researching technologies such as Bronzeworking, Mathematics, Physics, Gunpowder, Electricity and Fusion. In other words, you build a civilization – your civilization – and you can win a number of ways, by conquering the world, sending a spaceship to Alpha Centauri, controlling the United Nations, becoming incredibly rich, etc. Even now, the scope and ambition of Civilization is impressive, but at the time, it was breathtaking – a true strategy game that had no equal.

Civilization1BoxArt

We first bought a copy of Civilization when I was 9. As such, I’m pretty sure that my brother and I were not among the target audience, and we did all sorts of ridiculous things like building bunches of cities right on top of each other. Despite these fatal flaws in our strategy, Civilization was a real favourite of ours – I think it was the freedom of the game that was attractive, even though we’d inevitably get massacred by technologically superior Romans after a couple of thousands years. Most of the time we’d play it at home with horrible EGA graphics, but occasionally we’d get the treat of going into our dad’s computer lab at university and playing it on glorious 256 colour VGA graphics – sometimes on a massive 20″ screen!

Civilization was released back in the days when games publishers were happy to pack huge amounts of bumf into game boxes; you’d expect to see maps, stickers, trinkets and weighty manuals in any half-decent game. Civilization had a particularly dense manual full of detail and historical information which I loved reading, even though I didn’t entirely understand it. The manual, along with a tech-tree poster, was also used for copy protection: the game would ask you various historical and technological questions. We answered so many times that we memorised most of the answers, so I suppose it was somewhat educational (but more on that later).

The other oddity of Civilization 1 was the fact that you could rewrite the text in the intro movie. The intro movie (more accurately, an animation) described the formation of planet Earth from dust and rubble, the gradual cooling of the surface, the appearance of a stable biosphere, the rise of plants and animals, and the eventual evolution of humans. It was daunting stuff and really quite cool the first couple of times you saw it, but after a while you started memorising the words and irritably hammering the keyboard in order to skip the movie when the game engine had finally finished generating your random world. But by changing the text, you could have planet Earth turning into a molten ice cream, or something. Oh, the hilarious times we had!

Each release of Civilization has pinned itself into my memory, along with every surrounding detail of the time. Civilization 2 was released when I was 14, both OMC and OMD were on constant repeat on the radio, I properly discovered the internet, and I spent a large chunk of the summer solidly playing my favourite game. Good times.

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I was in my second year of university when Civilization 3 came out, and so had absolutely nothing stopping me from regularly playing until dawn, other than the fact that it basically killed my computer. Civ 4 followed in 2005, back when I was deep into making Perplex City at Mind Candy, and I didn’t have quite as much time to play it as the others, although on rainy afternoons I’ll be known to fire up a game at 3pm and finish it twelve hours later. The graphics might have improved, the game engine refined, the brilliance of Civ 2 and the frustrations of Civ 3 both moderated, but the addictive and joyful formula still remains.

And so Civilization 5 is here, almost twenty years after I first played the game, and I now have a computer setup that my 9 year old self would have boggled at. The only thing that might disappoint my younger self is the fact that it’s still pretty difficult to do multiplayer – maybe they’ll sort that out this time.

Anyway, in this series about Civilization, I’m going to be looking at addictiveness, ‘Democracy Games’, education, music, Alpha Centauri, and more. I might even fit in a quick (hah) game of Civ 4 and write up an after-action report. But first, I’m going to start with Civilization and Storytelling.

8 Replies to “Mssv gets Civilized”

  1. Civilization is great. Your post reminded me I haven’t played Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri in ages. I may have to unbury the game.

    I’ve been nostalgic this past week playing some old favourites from 1992. They may be cheesy and lame (especially the graphics) by today’s standards, but they’re still a lot of fun.

  2. I was in my second year of uni when Civ *2* came out.

    First and last time I played a computer game for sixteen hours straight. I stopped when I began to have auditory hallucinations from lack of sleep. In your face, Farmville. Salutary experience.

    > Civilization and Storytelling.

    looking forward to that.

  3. Excellent plan. I have a similar relationship with civ – it was the first real, commercial, non pirated pc game I owned. I’ll try ton write up some complementary thoughts.

    I hope you’ve been playing wildmana too (née fall from heaven, requires the BTS expansion) – I find it’s e most true expression of civ4, tkes it back close to the civ1 routes, despite switching to a rich fantasy genre.

    Taking wm and converting all the thematic elements to straight history would be very interesting…

    PS: in civ1 you occasionally strted with 2 settlers, on prince difficulty and above…

  4. Haven’t seem Wildmana but I’ll take a look!

    Will be interesting to see when Civilization comes out for Facebook – word is that Sid Meier himself is coding and designing it.

  5. I remember one of the spins on Civ1 wins we would take would be to try to cause complete global warming through systematic nuclear war.

    It would take a difficult few hundred years, but turning the Middle-East in ‘Earth’ mode to jungle was hugely satisfying.

    p.s. wasn’t there a Civnet browser version launched a little while ago. It used to be on twitter, but can’t find it any more…

  6. Yeah, that’s something I miss from the older Civs (and Alpha Centauri), the systematic conversion of desert into grasslands. I guess they felt it was encouraging too much micromanagement…

  7. Civilisation was the first game I ever owned too. It must have been a while after it first came out though, as we got it within a compilation box that also contained Lemmings and Frontier (which I think was a version of Elite?). It still came with a dense, copy-protection-containing manual though, and all three games fitted onto just two 3.5 inch floppy disks!

    We soon got pretty good at the game, especially on the lower levels, but never managed to win at the highest level (Emperor?), where the computer always seemed to ‘cheat’!

    I don’t think we ever got Civ 2 – the idea of the isometric grid didn’t appeal at all.

    Thanks to your blog post series, and whoever mentioned it on Twitter, I’ve just started replaying Civilisation Revolution on the iPhone. It’s pretty good – faithful to the original but with a few improvements like “armies”.

    I do miss the ability of Settlers to do any kind of terrain improvements though (in the original, they could build roads, forts, mines, irrigate, convert land types, and so on – it was great). I think I always liked the micromanagement more than the wars.

    My general tactic was to pursue peace and rapid technological development and city growth, and then to bomb opponents into oblivion in the end game with missiles and bombers.

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