Keyboard Geniuses is our weekly glance at a few intriguing, witty, or otherwise notable posts from the Gameological discussion threads. Comments have been excerpted and edited here for grammar, length, and/or clarity. You can follow the links to see the full threads.
Everybody Wants To Rule The World
This week, Alexander Chatziioannou delivered a review of Civilization VI. He pointed out that the game had taken strides to make total and utter domination a little more difficult in a way that livened up the game’s moment-to-moment decision making. Drinking_With_Skeletons thinks the game still has some ways to go before it finds that balance of empowerment and challenge, mostly because your AI competitors kind of suck:
My big issue is that, outside of religious expansion, the AI is pretty pathetic. I don’t particularly want an amazing Civ AI; I want to be able to win, after all. But it’s dim to the point of being boring. My most recent game as Scythia saw me on a continent without iron, forcing me to field an army comprised almost entirely of light cavalry (thanks to Scythia’s handy bonus in that department), which would have been an interesting tactical challenge if the AI could be bothered to put up anything resembling a fight.
Merlin The Tuna agreed and noted this is especially troublesome considering how many concepts Civ VI seems to pick up from multiplayer board games:
That, I think, is one of the fascinating things about Civ these days. It’s clearly drawing on modern board-game design. The city districts seem to be straight out of games like Suburbia or Between Two Cities, and the increasing systematic emphasis on early game decisions massively impacting your late-game choices reflects a lot of engine-builder games like 7 Wonders. Those elements were always a part of Civ, but they’ve really been emphasized of late.
And that’s all really interesting, but it rubs uncomfortably against Civ being a fundamentally singleplayer game and game AI being difficult to implement. I have no doubt that the rules would make for a totally engrossing multiplayer experience, and Civ games have been good about presenting multiplayer as an option. But the logistics and length of a game are so nuts that the “default” assumption has always been playing alone, despite it seeming to be a dramatically inferior option.
I don’t play these games “correctly.” I don’t play them for the challenge; I set the map to huge, the difficulty to whatever the lowest is, the enemy civilizations to a single AI, and then try to build the most impressive civilization ever. My main objective is to get all the wonders possible. I get really upset and sometimes restart if the AI beats me to one. I think of it as an advanced zen garden.
Kind Of A Big Deal
With its last gasp, Horrors Week gave us an article from Alexander Chatziioannou that brought the achievements of an overlooked ’80s gem to light. Project Firestart, he argued, was the first game to really put together the template for survival-horror that Alone In The Dark and Resident Evil would later standardize. For 1989, it’s an incredibly ambitious piece of design, but thanks to some extenuating circumstances, it’s become little more than an oddity. The biggest obstacle to the game becoming as prevalent as it should have been was the state of the Commodore 64 at the time of its release. By the end of Project Firestart’s lengthy production, the Commodore was on its deathbed, but just a few years prior, this seminal computer was at the forefront of a radical gaming era that produced loads of imaginative works from tiny teams and solo developers. Down in the comments, The_Misanthrope bemoaned how the Commodore 64 has been relatively overlooked in gaming history, which naturally sparked a great history lesson about early gaming PCs, starting with August Personage:
The C64 was pretty much the computer to have if you wanted to play computer games in the ’80s, with the possible exception being the Apple II series. I know I’ve seen a number of people say “Nintendo saved the video game industry after the Atari crash,” but that’s an odd statement considering how popular C64s, Apple IIs, Atari 400/800/ST/etc., and even Amigas were for gaming at the time. There seems to be this perception that after the Atari 2600 stopped selling, all gaming just halted except for arcades, which is patently untrue. I’d argue it was one of the best eras for game development, as it was still very new and no one had pre-conceived notions about what could and couldn’t be done. That led to some great games.
Dogstyle Afternoon (AKA Jeeshman) took this opportunity to stump for the importance of the Atari’s home computers:
The Atari series was very popular in the States for gaming because it had cartridge-based versions of every game in the arcade and the graphics were nearly indistinguishable in quality from the arcades’. There’s no question the C64 dominated sales from ’83 to ’86. By 1985, Atari was selling less than half the number of 800s as the C64 was selling, and game companies were focusing much more on C64s and Apples. It didn’t help that Atari 8-bit games were extremely easy to pirate. But for the first half of the ’80s, if somebody asked me what’s the computer to have if you wanted to play computer games, I would’ve answered the Atari 400/800.
In response to this, Alexander mentioned how the Atari library missed out on plenty of games that only came to the Commodore, and how the disparity only grew throughout the ’80s. It never bothered Dogstyle Afternoon much:
Like you said, as the decade progressed, many more titles were available on the C64. But I never ran into a title I wanted that I’d need a C64 to run. (By 1987 I was burnt out on gaming and took a 3-year break.) There were a couple Atari 8-bit games that I loved and weren’t made available for the C64, Tail Of Beta Lyrae first and foremost. It had possibly the best sound of any Atari game, the action was fast and furious, and after a while (like weeks after you started playing it!) it would introduce new stuff. New enemies would appear that hadn’t been there before, which blew my tiny little mind. Another Atari 8-bit exclusive that I played a ton of was Preppie!, which was a pretty imaginative Frogger clone. You play a guy wearing an Izod shirt (with the alligator on it) and your mission is to retrieve golf balls by dodging golf carts and greenkeepers. I’m surprised it was never ported to the C64, but the internet says it wasn’t.
Elsewhere, Baulderstone wondered how Electronic Arts, Project Firestart’s publisher, went from the company it was in the ’80s to the corporate monolith it is today:
It’s weird looking back on that era, as I remember Electronic Arts as a company that genuinely wanted to foster creativity. They had games like the Adventure Construction Set that let you make your own RPGs, complete with your own custom graphics. As a fan of the early Ultima games, I spent hours of my childhood playing with that. Seeing them eventually become the villain of the video game world was very sad for me.
Stepped Pyramids reckons this is just what happens when an actual profit-seeking company, even an artfully minded one, starts taking in creative types with little business experience:
EA’s infamy has a lot to do with the reasons it was so great at the time. They were one of the first companies to actually form with the specific intent of making a sustainable business out of selling games. At the time, most games were published by software and computer companies that didn’t really consider them a core part of their business. Even some companies that were, in practical terms, 100-percent game developers still made pretenses at also developing business software. Infocom developed a database package that flopped so hard it essentially killed the company.
So a lot of the bad blood with EA is that these small game developers were taken in by Trip Hawkins’ sales pitch, believed EA really did care about “electronic artists” like them, and were eventually blindsided and alienated by the business practices of a company that actually wanted to make a profit.
I say this as a huge fan of Origin’s games, but when you read all the interviews with the people from there talking about how terrible it was when EA took over, it boils down to Origin running out of money because nobody there knew how to run a business, EA buying them out, and Origin employees getting upset because EA didn’t just send them a dump truck of money and a card saying “Keep on truckin’, you sweet wonderful geniuses! Looking forward to seeing whatever games you release whenever!”
That’ll do it for this week, folks. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. We’ll see you all next week!