Matt Reviews Civilization: Be Fruitful and Multiply!

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Hi, guys, welcome to Matt Chat #11. This week, we look at one of the best strategy games ever made, a game that launched a series that is still selling well today: Sid Meier's Civilization!

Civilization was released in 1991 for the MS-DOS platform. While it may look primitive compared to its sequels and spin-offs, it still offers some of the most addictive and fulfilling gameplay of any game, period. The goal is simple: guide humanity from its humblest beginnings to modern times.

You can play as a peace-loving civilization that just wants to get along, or a warlike race hellbent on world domination. Since the game is different each time you play, you can try out many different strategies and ideas--this is a game you can play over and over again and still have a great time.

Sid Meier, the creator of Civilization, got his start making flight simulators and military games. He decided to make a radical break from these genres in 1990 with Railroad Tycoon.

Railroad Tycoon is a business simulator, inspired perhaps by Will Wright's classic SimCity. It's a real-time game based on building up a successful railroad industry. The game was very well received and gave Sid the credibility he needed to try something really new.

It seems hard to believe today, but Sid had a hard time getting his company interested in his ideas for Civilization. Would a turn-based strategy game about the history of mankind attract a mainstream audience? Although it seems like a no-brainer today, it wasn't at all clear at the time that Civ would become a major best-seller.

Civilization is one of the most ambitious games ever made. It puts you in charge of a civilization that begins in pre-historic times and slowly evolves into the space-age. You begin with a tiny group of primitive people and progress by exploiting natural resources and rival civilizations. Along the way, you get to make all kinds of decisions, such as what to build in your cities, how to build an infrastructure, establish trade, and keep your citizens happy and productive. A big part of the game is building and maintaining a powerful army that can protect your cities from barbarians and attacks from your enemies.

Unlike SimCity, Dune II, and later games like Warcraft and Starcraft, Civilization is a turn-based strategy game. This means it works like a board game, with gameplay broken up into discrete rounds or "turns." During each turn, each civilization gets to move its units and choose paths for its cities. However, you can take as long as you like in each turn, which allows you to "micromanage," or make hundreds if not thousands of strategic decisions. Although it seems simple perhaps on the outset, Civ is definitely a thinking person's game that rewards patience and long-term planning.

What makes the game so addictive is the "one more turn" aspect of the gameplay. What happens is that there is always something new waiting around the corner. Each turn, your civilization makes progress towards a certain technology or insight, such as the alphabet or bronzeworking. When a civilization achieves one of these advances, new possibilities open up. For instance, if you master mapmaking, which requires knowing the alphabet and writing, you can make ships and explore other continents and islands. Each of the technologies unlocks more advanced technologies, so you can carefully tailor your gameplay.

For instance, if you're fairly well isolated from rival civilizations, you might want to focus more on building up your population and culture, whereas if you're in danger, you'll probably focus on building up a powerful military and defenses. The game provides plenty of advice for helping novices make intelligent decisions, but later on you'll want to experiment on your own. I should mention that the game comes with a huge manual--over 150 pages that are well worth reading! It's also used for copy protection. Although the game itself was easy to copy and give to your friends, they wouldn't get very far without the manual--which is a lot harder to copy than a floppy disk!

Meier himself credits the board game Risk for inspiring a lot of Civilization, which might explain why armies and combat are so important in the game. Even if you want to focus on peaceful activities, you'll still need armies to ward off attacks.

Still, Civilization seems more educational than Risk. Although Meier claims that there's nothing in Civilization that you couldn't learn in the children's section of a library, it's still fascinating to learn about how modern civilization evolved and the critical steps along the way.

It's also fascinating to think about how the development of a key technology like pottery or electricity had such huge impacts on our way of life. I also like how ideas like the alphabet, writing, and literacy are included as well; sometimes developing something like philosophy or democracy can prove far more powerful than a new weapon or industrial process. What Civ does best is help you explore those relationships by simulating civilization itself.

Civilization was an epic best-seller and established Sid Meier as a household name among computer game fans. It has become one of the most important franchises in PC gaming history. While the franchise has focused mostly on computer platforms, Civilization: Revolution is now available for the DS, PS3, and Xbox 360. All in all, it's a great series, and it's easy to see why its appeal has been so long lasting.

P.S. For more info about Civ, read Benj Edwards' fantastic History of Civilization at Gamasutra. It's packed with facts and features an interview with Sid.

Comments

Catatonic
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Joined: 05/20/2006
This was a real "keeps you

This was a real "keeps you up til 3:00 AM" kind of game!

Matt Barton
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Yeah, no kidding! I got so

Yeah, no kidding! I got so addicted to Civ IV that I brought it with me on my tablet PC to visit family over Christmas. Even though my tablet PC crashed about every half hour, I still couldn't stop playing.

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LarryLaffer (not verified)
No offence, Matt Chat, but

No offence, Matt Chat, but video is not for you. There are many people on youtube who do much nicer videos. Some have trained for it some just more talented. That IS my two cents. I would like to see you do more articles (and books) instead of wasting time with youtube.

Bill Loguidice
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Offence and offense
LarryLaffer wrote:

No offence, Matt Chat, but video is not for you. There are many people on youtube who do much nicer videos. Some have trained for it some just more talented. That IS my two cents. I would like to see you do more articles (and books) instead of wasting time with youtube.

Everybody's a critic! ;-) Actually, that's not true. Not everyone responds, good or bad. Even comments like the above are welcome--feedback is feedback. With that said, it's a bit presumptuous to assume that doing videos - or anything else for that matter - somehow takes away from any of our respective times doing books/articles/professional feature films. It's like saying that by my posting here, it somehow is taking me away from working on other projects. It really doesn't. It's important to keep in mind that we all have primary jobs that pay the bills, that allow us to make a living, and anything else we do, be it books, articles, feature films, etc., provide minor supplemental income at best. We do it because we WANT to do it and people are willing to pay us market rates to do it.

As for my opinions on Matt's videos, I think he does a great job and has improved dramatically since his first attempts. In short, he takes pride in everything he does and works at it, even something like this. For something he does in his spare time and on a regular basis, for FREE, it's actually a huge cut above what many others are able to come up with or at the very least BOTHER to come up with.

Keep it up, Matt, you've got nice momentum, though I'd love to see you get into console videogames - particularly classic ones - instead of playing in the computer domain all the time. Just my two cents, though. ;-)

Vintage Games book!
Xbox 360: billlog | Wii: 1345 2773 2048 1586 | PS3: ArmchairArcade
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Rowdy Rob
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Disagreements
LarryLaffer wrote:

No offence, Matt Chat, but video is not for you. There are many people on youtube who do much nicer videos. Some have trained for it some just more talented. That IS my two cents. I would like to see you do more articles (and books) instead of wasting time with youtube.

(Lurk mode: off)

Hello, Mr. Laffer. I, for one, have found "Matt Chat" to be very entertaining and informative on an adult level. It may not be a "Hollywood" production, but it is devoid of the usual "this M....F...'ing game sux!" commentary with death-metal soundtrack type video's I have seen on Youtube. I guess I'm too old to get a kick out of that kind of stuff.

There are MUCH, MUCH less polished videos on Youtube, as anyone can see. I'm always open to find cool videogame reviews and commentaries, but I haven't found much else that I regularly like, so if you have any recommendations, I am open to viewing them!

"Matt Chat" is a mature, informative and increasingly slick video presentation that gets me pumped up with every episode, either in a nostalgic sense or in an "I need to play that game (again!)" sense. And Matt is one of the cooler video hosts I've seen on videogame commentary. He has an easy personality, and his in-game commentary is intelligent and generously gives glory to the games in question. Other game commentary videos I've seen are often more about the "host" being outrageous and profane, attracting attention more to host than the games themselves.

I've seen some pretty cool videogame reviews on Youtube done by companies like IGN and such, but most of Youtube is "homebrew," which is what Matt Chat is. As such, I've become accustomed to overlooking technical deficiencies and homing in on the "meat" of the presentation. On the subject of classic videogame commentary, I haven't come across anything (yet) that matches Matt Chat.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion. You've just read mine. And I don't know what Matt thinks, but I never listen to someone who tells me basically to "hang it up" if I am in pursuit of something and believe I can do it. The more you try, the better you become. And "Matt Chat" is only a few months old! Too young to kill it off when 'the human adventure is just beginning!'

(Lurk mode: on)

qoj hpmoj o+ 6uo73q 3Jv 3svq jnoh 77V

Matt Barton
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Thanks for the feedback,

Thanks for the feedback, Larry (great name by the way; I hope you wear a leisure suit!) I agree with you on many levels. However, video is still a new realm for me (if you go back and look at Pool of Radiance you'll see what I mean). I'd like to give it more time before I give up on it. With every video I make, I try to innovate or try something new. For instance, this time I did formal research into the game and had extensive notes prepared. After doing that, I realized that I could plan the cuts around when I show clips from games or boxes, so now I can break my video segment into much smaller pieces and not have to redo the whole thing so many times. I am learning as I go here.

I do agree, though, that's it easier to get people interested in a free article than anything else (I find getting people interested in a book is ten times harder because it costs a lot and isn't free). When we did Armchair Arcade as issues, we often got articles or the whole issue promoted on Slashdot and a bunch of other prominent websites, and thousands upon thousands of people read the articles and many commented (sometimes over 50 comments on a single article!). We just haven't had anything remotely like that after we switched to blogs, something regrettable but ultimately necessary. There's only so much even people like us are willing to do for free, particularly when it starts feeling more like work than play. When Bill and I really put our heart into something, it's nice to see it get the attention it deserves, and a little money is nice. It just makes more sense to write feature articles for commercial publications like Gamasutra these days.

I consider the Youtube just a hobby at this point, though of course I'd love to see it go somewhere.

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Matt Barton
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Wow, this video just didn't

Wow, this video just didn't do well. I guess I'll take Bill's advice and try for a console game next time; who knows, maybe that will interest more people than these old computer games. I figured Civ would attract more attention because of all the sequels and even the DS game, but so it goes.

Does anyone know a website or anything where I can learn how to pronounce Japanese names? I don't want to bungle them up when I try to talk about console titles.

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Bill Loguidice
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Suggestions
Matt Barton wrote:

Wow, this video just didn't do well. I guess I'll take Bill's advice and try for a console game next time; who knows, maybe that will interest more people than these old computer games. I figured Civ would attract more attention because of all the sequels and even the DS game, but so it goes.

Does anyone know a website or anything where I can learn how to pronounce Japanese names? I don't want to bungle them up when I try to talk about console titles.

If I may make another recommendation, I say go for non-Japanese console games, pre-crash for your first few go-throughs. I think it will be rewarding both for you and your audience. While I'd personally prefer something like the ColecoVision or something terribly obscure and mostly terrible like the Arcadia 2001, I say stick with the Atari 2600 or Intellivision. For the former, the sky is pretty much the limit, but I'd say given your preferences, you might want to offer some historical perspective on "Adventure" and "Haunted House", and particularly what the former meant in terms of real-time dungeon crawling. In terms of the latter platform, the Intellivision, there are a ton of D&D games and similar RPGs that would be quite worthy of your attention (there are probably 7 good ones). Again, I recommend experimenting with reviewing two games at the same time to provide some compare and contrast type of stuff and to offer a broader perspective. Entirely up to you, of course, but those are my thoughts. Of course I'd really like to see you try and tackle purely action oriented games for a true break from the past, but that might be asking too much. In any case, good luck!

Vintage Games book!
Xbox 360: billlog | Wii: 1345 2773 2048 1586 | PS3: ArmchairArcade
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Matt Barton
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I was looking at Metroid for

I was looking at Metroid for my first console outing, simply because it's one of the few console games I've played all the way through and feel comfortable talking about off the cuff. I'd like to dig deeper, though, perhaps looking at something like Utopia. I guess I could always do something like Mario, Zelda, or Final Fantasy, though IMO those have all been done so many times, I'm really not sure what I could offer. I mean, those games already have plenty enough fanboys and don't need anyone to persuade people that they're great games. If it's something like M.U.L.E. or Lemmings, fewer people are aware of them and the ones that are REALLY appreciate seeing them covered. I think that's why I like the idea of doing more obscure console titles, though obviously I'd be up against a considerable amount of preliminary work. I also thought about some old arcade games like Donkey Kong. I'm not really interested in the technological side so much; I'd just get bored talking about why something like Pitfall was such a technological marvel. I'm more interested in the gameplay that anything else when it comes to games.

The older stuff has more charm to me, especially Pitfall. I guess I could look at Shenmue for the DC and perhaps something like Phantasy Star. I could definitely use some more tips on influential console games that haven't already been done to death. Bill, you know me as well as anyone, so I'd definitely look at any console games that you think I'd find pleasurable given my tastes and preferences.

I did consider Adventure, but again kept running into the "how do I talk about this for ten minutes" problem. It's going to be hard enough tackling Metroid; I thought it'd be easier because I could talk about the gameplay and the music.

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Bill Loguidice
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I think you're thinking too

I think you're thinking too "Armchair Arcade", too academic with this, which is part of the mass appeal problem. I think to really change things up, you should target something simple and understandable and really have fun with it. There's always next week to go back to something deep and insightful. And again, if you went with "Adventure" and for some reason couldn't fill 10 minutes (and I think you could simply by comparing it to equivalent computer RPGs from that exact time period, and what worked and didn't work), you can double it up with "Haunted House", which of course used the same engine.

The more I think about it, the more you should go with the Atari 2600, and pick two or three games to team up with. You mentioned Pitfall. How about Pitfall and Pitfall II? You also mentioned your inexperience. Well, why not approach it from the standpoint of someone pretty much new to those games (or other games)? That's a fresh perspective and you can give your honest opinions. That might generate some controversy, with a lot of people telling you why THEY love something that you either missed or dissed. Again, all kinds of ways you can go with this, but I think "more of the same" will get you more of the same response, which is fine, but I *know* that you'd like to see if you can garner more interest. Experimenting is the way to do it, again, even if it's only for one show.

Also, honestly, by only picking games you're familiar with - and only picking computer games for that matter - you're falling into the same old trap of familiarity. Challenge yourself here. It's a nice opportunity to finally become a bit more diverse in your videogame interests and to really challenge the audience in turn. Again, just my overly opinionated and always biased two cents. I could be wrong.

Vintage Games book!
Xbox 360: billlog | Wii: 1345 2773 2048 1586 | PS3: ArmchairArcade
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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