Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
Digits & Dragons
  by Greg Allen
January 2006

The Empire of Meier

Compared to Hollywood, there aren't a lot of big names in the gaming industry. There are some, however, whose quality and quantity of work merit a place in gaming stardom. Sid Meier, with good reason, is one of these game celebrities. He has been responsible for dozens of excellent titles over twenty years and continues to create great games today.

Getting Civilized

My love of Sid's games began back on our sweet 386 with Civilization. For many of you, it was probably the same. Looking back, those early days were pretty rough. I remember spending agonizing minutes between turns while our sluggish computer worked through all of the computer's turns. And, sadly, many of my early civilizations would end in heartache after my enemies would nuke me till I glowed. I progressed, though, and pretty soon I was the higher branch on the tech tree, voyaging to Alpha Centauri and keeping peace through superior technology.


Civ is a series which has stood the test of time.

Civilization began the addiction that many Sid gamers have experienced. The "just one more turn" mentality has led to a lot of late nights for gamers who just wanted to get one more technology, build one more wonder, or conquer one more city. Unlike a lot of action and strategy games, there is no strict path to follow and nobody to hold your hand: where you take your civilization is up to you. This open-ended philosophy has been a cornerstone of all of Sid's successful games and is much of what makes Sid such a great designer.

Colonization: Not exactly a Revolution

Though it does come off at first as a Civilization clone, my favorite of all Meier games is the often-overlooked Colonization. Colonization came out a couple years after Civilization and adds a lot of new features to a familiar structure. Colonization takes the turn-based empire building format but adds a historical framework and a sense of purpose to your developments. The civilization-building, trade, and warfare are all there, but unlike Civ, you can't win purely through diplomacy; at some point you are going to have to cut the apron strings and put your motherland in its place.

While I'm sure there's a lot that is historically ludicrous in Colonization's world, my interest in early American history certainly began with this game. To aid in your colony's progress, you can recruit historical figures such as Pocahontas, Thomas Paine or Paul Revere. These figures and others in your Continental Congress kind of take the role of wonders in Civ; they give either permanent advantages or one-time bonuses. To this day, whenever I hear of John Paul Jones, I immediately think, "Oooh, free frigate!"

The music of Colonization really created an immersive, revolutionary atmosphere. There are a number of tunes for each situation: upbeat military songs for war time, Indian beats for meeting with the natives, and peppy revolutionary songs to get you in the mood to break free. Until the Final Fantasy series, no video game music was closer to my heart than the tunes of Colonization.

Resail the seas of Pirates!

Arrgh, admit it, you've always wanted to be a pirate. Maybe it started with Disneyland, maybe it started when an eye patch was all you could find for Halloween, but there is something in us that sees a pirate's life as romantic and exciting. Well, if you've wanted to be a pirate, Sid's given you the chance!

The original Pirates! was done by Sid Meier way back in '87, four years before the first Civilization was released. I was just a decade or so too young to get in on Pirates! when it was first released; but luckily, it has undergone a massive revision and was re-released under the same name last year for PC and Xbox.

Whether you are after action or strategy, dueling or dancing, there is something for everyone in this game. And the amazing thing is, each of the many components is done well. In typical Sid fashion, there are objectives and a story to this game but you are in no way rushed to complete it. It is up to you how long you want to take in following the storyline and what path you take in the mean time.


After plundering Santiago, my flotilla sets off in search of new adventures.

Not surprisingly, much of your time is spent seizing other ships and hauling off their booty. Ship battles take place in real time and you will have to take into account wind velocity, cannon firing distance, and crew morale as you attempt to sink or weaken an enemy ship. If plunder is your goal, you probably won't want to outright destroy your victim's ship; in this case, you can board their ship to duel with the captain.


Fighting for keeps: win the duel and your enemy's ship is yours!

While fun at first, I found that the duels get mundane fast. Until you fight some of the truly vile villains, all of your opponents are laughably easy. Just a few slashes of the rapier and they will be swimming with the fishes. Quick footwork isn't necessary only on raids, though. You will also have to be light on your feet while dancing with governors' daughters.

Why any governor would want his daughter dancing with a pirate is beyond me but quite a few seem to, and I kept quite busy gaining the ladies' favor. When you impress one of these dames on the ballroom floor, she will reward you with a unique item to aid you in your adventures or with a crucial piece of information. Following the lead of your partner through the dance steps can get frustrating when the music speeds up; I thought the gals were supposed to follow the guys! Like the duels, the ballroom dancing is pretty fun and original at first, but quickly turns into a pale Dance Dance Revolution imitation. Except without clear instructions. Or a workout.

The graphics, sound, and dialog all help to create a fairly immersive Caribbean adventure that I really enjoyed. I've sunk about twenty hours into this game and there are still a lot of family members to rescue, governors' daughters to woo, and booty to plunder. Argh!

Civlization IV and beyond

Despite the complaints often heard about a lack of creativity and new ideas in the gaming industry, sequels can be a blessed thing. Most of the popular games being developed rely on the base of gamers who have already played and loved earlier versions of the game. Many of Sid Meier's recent games have been sequels, including his most recent work, Civilization IV.

If you are anything like me, you are already WAY too familiar with the basics of civilization. Thankfully, Civ IV doesn't try to reinvent the wheel in the essentials of city growth, treaty navigating, and empire building. It does, however, bring some new features to the table with a fresh pseudo-3d world, religions, and more flexible forms of government.


An amazing graphics update isn't the only improvement in Civ IV!

I haven't had the hundreds of hours necessary to really sink my teeth into the latest installment of Civilization, but just the first couple hours were enough to make me realize this game could suck a lot of hours away. Which, after all, is the sign of a Sid Meier game, right?

Whether you want to play as Persians, pirates, or pilgrims, Sid is a master of creating immersive and challenging games. If you want to avoid the figurative (and literal) corridors that most games confine you to, pick up a Meier game and break free.


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