Category Archives: 1996

#97: Civilization II

Format: PC Genre: Turn-Based Strategy Released: 1996 Developer: MicroProse

One of the great difficulties in writing this blog has been picking just one game to represent its respective series. This is especially tricky if ‘the best’, ‘the one which we played the most’ and ‘the original’ are actually all different games in the series. Argh!

I faced this problem before, when trying to decide which Resident Evil game to write about, and I’m having the same debate with myself about which Civilization game to cover. The thing is I… is love too strong a word? No, it’s not. I love the Civilization games. The late, great Sid Meier (N.B. at time of writing, not actually dead) created something very special when he came up with the idea of Civilization (it either came to him after he got a bang on the head while fixing a toilet or stole the idea from a board game, can’t remember which).

Sid Meier. My hero... Sigh.

I think I’ve played six different Civilization games over the years, and I’m not even counting the various add-on packs and downloadable content. Collectively I’ve probably spent more time playing Civ (get with it Grandad, that’s what we kids call Civilization) games than any others. Deciding which one to cover for this blog has not been easy and, again similar to Resident Evil, I put the decision off as long as I could. With only four slots left on the blog my hand has been forced and, after careful consideration, I’ve decided to write about the one I probably played the most and returned to the most often – Civilization II.

By the way, despite being English and becoming increasingly annoyed by how American spellings are creeping into general use in the UK (it must be my age), I’ll be using the US spelling of ‘civilization’ rather than the actually-correct-as-we-invented-the-language civilisation, as that’s the spelling the games use. When I was a kid and had the first Civ game on the Amiga I made a big thing about spelling it ‘Civilisation‘ not ‘Civilization‘ on the labels of the copy disks I made. I was, as has been established in several other posts, a strange child.*

The premise of Civilization is that you control a nation/civilization for 6000 years of history. It is a massive, sprawling game in which you start with the founding of a small city state, often not even having invented the wheel, and can end up with a continent-spanning empire, putting people on the moon and nuking your neighbours.

I got the first Civ game for my Amiga 1200 sometime in 1993. Despite the simple visuals the 12/13-year-old me was instantly hooked. The game’s genius lies in how it starts off relatively simply and gradually becomes complex as you play it. Initially you just have to choose the location of your city, and then decide what unit or building to make. Easy.

The first Civilization. Looks like the German's are doing well.

After a couple of hours’ play you might have adopted a monarchy, hit the middle ages and have six or seven cities. Suddenly there’s a lot more to worry about. What’s your tax rate? What technology are you going to research? Do you change political systems? You’ve just met the Russians, should you attack them or try to build an alliance with them? Hang on, the people in one of your cities have started to riot! Do you send in the troops or build a temple to try and make them happy?

Five or six hours later you’d have become a republic and have a dozen or more cities. Your civilization has grown but now you’re in the middle of a nasty war with the French which you seem to be losing despite your new musketeer unit. By the eighth hour you’ve defeated the French, turned Communist, cured cancer but lost the space race against the aggressive and technologically advanced Zulu Empire.

Still, unlike the real world, if it all goes wrong you can start again and try to get it right. Before you know it you’ll be shouting at your pixelated army “Repel the Mongols you cowards” and renaming the recently conquered Berlin after youself. Ianstown does have a ring to it…

Early in the game. Looks lonely for the English.

One game could last days, and the sheer complexity of Civilization meant that each time you played it the experience would be slightly different. Wiped out by an invading Aztec army in 1457? Simply start again and try to get it right.

1996’s Civilization II took all that was great about the original and added so much more. Graphically the game was obviously vastly better, with an isometric viewpoint and a much more intuitive interface. The world map became larger, with lots more civilizations to play as (ever wondered who would win in a fight, the Vikings or the Egyptians? You can see in Civ II). The military side of the game is also much better. In the original Civ you occasionally had tanks beaten by archers and other slightly ridiculous things like that. Now units have ‘firepower’ and ‘hit’ points. Y’know, just like in real life!

One nice touch was the videos of advisers telling you what to do. The help they gave was minimal, pretty much asking you to concentrate on whatever area they represented (military advisor asking for more military units, economics advisor asking for more banks or market places), but for a game that in many ways was so serious, it was good to have some amusing (well, amusing the first couple of times you saw them) bits. I especially liked the Elvis guy, and the way the advisers’ costumes changed through the ages. When your Civilization was in a state of anarchy they even argued:

One innovation that Civ II introduced, and that all subsequent Civ games have had, is having different ‘scenarios’ – WWII, Fantasy Kingdoms, etc. Civ II also allowed you to create game scenarios and soon there were hundreds of fan-made ones online. My favourite was a steampunk one where you could control the Anglo-French Empire and take on the ‘Evil Society’ led by Fu Manchu. There was even a War of the Worlds-esque Martian Invasion half way through the game.

The Civilization series is the crack-cocaine of games, with a ‘just one more go’ aspect that I’m sure has led to all sorts of missed appointments/late homework/failed relationships. This is despite some pretty slow loading times. Civ II wasn’t so bad, but the original Civilization? Towards the end of the game, when your Empire would be pretty big, you would sometimes have to wait nearly 10 minutes between turns.

The games are especially appealing to people like me with a God/Napoleon complex. If only humans had always had this game, I really feel it would have saved our race a lot of bother. All those dictators and mad men who have caused so much misery because of their lust for power… If only they could have played Civ II, they would have just sat in their bedrooms, living out their power-crazed fantasies virtually.

Half the fun was creating an entire alternate history for the world. Remember the great Greek Empire across 19th Century Europe?

I sometimes worry that without this game I would end up seizing power and MAKING EVERYONE PAY. Ahem. Don’t worry though, even if this does happen I’m a pretty good ruler, conquering the world as a communist before creating a worldwide democracy. Doesn’t sound too bad does it? See my Syndicate post for more evidence of my disturbing dictator tendencies.

I got a good 8 or 9 years of play out of Civilization II. Not many games you could say that about. I bought Civilization III but it seemed overly complex to me, and I returned to the simple elegance of II. It wasn’t until I got Civilization IV in 2006 that I felt ready to leave it behind. I’ve not played Civ V, though my brother has and he’s not impressed, so I’ll probably stick with IV for now.

If you treat the series as one game then I would say it’s the best game ever. Really. It’s addictive, has incredible depth, and has taught me all sorts about history and ancient civilizations (I first learnt about what happened to the Aztecs, the Manhattan Project and Ironclads from Civilization). It also manages to realistically reflect real-world politics. For example, in Civ IV I often found myself starting wars because I wanted access to oil a rival had in its territory. They should play it in schools! Though it might lead kids to think Cardiff had pyramids…

Taken from Moby Games (http://www.mobygames.com/)

To finish, here’s a description of a particular game of Civ II I played years ago, taken from an old blog of mine. Enjoy!

I dug Civ II out the other day on a whim. I decided to be the Japanese and play on the ‘real’ world map (as opposed to a world the computer randomly makes up). I didn’t do very well. I made some elementary mistakes which meant that I fell well behind in technology compared to other civilisations (especially the Greeks curse them). I ended up having a pointless war with the Chinese which gave me a bad reputation with the rest of the world, then accidentally angered the Greeks who conquered half of my territory with frightening ease. I gave up when it became obvious that I was on the brink of becoming a 4th rate power in the world, appeasing the massive Greek Empire and their Chinese lapdogs. I refuse to live in a world like that!

I named one of the Japanese cities on the Asian mainland after Lewis (Lewisville?). It was one of the first to fall against the Greeks. I blame him and his cowardly city on my eventual defeat. I will make him suffer for your betrayal.

ALL HAIL IAN!!!

Hmmm, writing that reminds me of this bit from Red Dwarf…

Ian

*[Lewis puts on his copy-editor hat and attends the lecturn.] Actually, ‘-ize’ endings have been in use in British English since the 16th century, and are derived from Greek (whereas ‘-ise’ comes from French), so they’re not merely an ‘Americanism’. Also, the OED usually lists ‘-ize’ endings first, although it takes great pains to point out that ‘-ise’ is an “equally correct, alternative spelling”. Having said all that, I still prefer ‘-ise’ endings, even though I spend all day at work changing them to ‘-ize’.

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Filed under 1996, MicroProse, PC, Turn-Based Strategy

#65: Tomb Raider

Format: Playstation Genre: Platform/Third Person Shooter Released: 1996 Developer: Core Design

I’ve just finished playing Tomb Raider: Underworld, so now seems like a good time to look back on the first Tomb Raider game – arguably the best one in the series, possibly only surpassed by the tenth anniversary remake.

The tragic curse of the Tomb Raider games is that the more they try to introduce innovations, the further they get from the magic that made the first game so brilliant, yet at the same time the developers are constantly criticised for not being innovative enough. The second title in the series saw the introduction of vehicles – sections that were throwaway at best – and if we fast forward to the Tomb Raider: Legend reboot, Lara has evolved into some sort of homicidal maniac, gunning down wave after wave of bad guys like a female version of The Punisher. Thankfully, they’ve redressed the balance a bit with Underworld, which focuses more on puzzles than gunplay, but it’ll be interesting to see where the series goes next.

Looking back, the one thing that stands out in my memory when I think about the first game is the all-pervasive feeling of loneliness – something that gradually became lost as the series started introducing more and more bad guys to butcher. The first game managed to capture a feeling that you really were exploring a long-lost ruin or a never-before-explored jungle valley, and on the rare occasions when the native wildlife did spring out and attack, it was a genuine surprise after what seemed like hours spent on your own. The unexpected emergence of a fully grown T-rex has to count as one of gaming’s all-time greatest moments – it was so genuinely unexpected I almost fell off my chair.

The sense of scale was something else that really stood out – along with Mario 64, Tomb Raider was one of the first games to really use 3D environments to their fullest. I remember the feeling of emerging into one of the game’s regularly interspersed ‘wow rooms’ – gigantic caverns with intricate pathways and stunning visuals. Clambering up an enormous underground sphinx was a particular highlight, as was the unexpected delight of finding a pair of submachine guns on top of its head.

Last, but definitely not least, I have to mention the fantastic music. Music’s emerged as a bit of a theme for the last few posts (e.g. see XIII), and a big part of the Tomb Raider experience is the billow of scene-setting orchestral music that wafts from the speakers as you stumble across one of the aforementioned ‘wow rooms’. The absence of music for much of the game really adds to the feeling of isolation, so when it kicks in as you emerge into a long-forgotten pyramid it really packs a punch. There are very few pieces of memorable game music, but the Tomb Raider theme is right up there with the Super Mario Bros. music and the theme tune from Halo in terms of sticking in your head like a wad of musical brain gum.

On the downside I seem to remember that some levels used to drive me utterly mad, and the spacing of save points wasn’t exactly forgiving… often I’d be caught hurling abuse at the seemingly inept Lara for stumbling off a platform like some sort of drunk, then I’d immediately feel guilty for sending her to her death as soon as I heard that wince-inducing scream and crack of broken bones as her prone body connected with the cavern floor below. Still, no matter how many times this cycle was repeated, I’d always end up coming back for more… And it was worth finishing the game to see that giant monkey-thing with no legs at the end – I still have no idea what all that was about.

Lewis

(Screenshots from http://www.mobygames.com)

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Filed under 1996, Core Design, Platform, Playstation, Third Person Shooter

#52: Wipeout 2097

Format: Playstation Genre: Racing Released: 1996 Developer: Psygnosis

This is a kind of an embarrassing thing to admit now, but when I first played Wipeout 2097 it seemed one of the most achingly cool things I had ever seen. But I bet many of you felt the same way when you first played it back in the heady days of 1996/97.

The original Wipeout game was a landmark release for the Playstation. It was the first non-Japanese game for the console. It was amazingly popular, going to number 1 in all format charts. Most importantly though, it was a game that was not for children. It was squarely aimed at an older, fashionable, ‘buying the latest Chemical Brothers album and clubbing at weekends’ audience. Wipeout was developed with that kind of person in mind. It was even promoted in nightclubs! Imagine!

Nowadays of course we’re used to video games aiming for such markets, but back then, along with Playstation’s whole marketing strategy, it felt like a breath of fresh idea and that video games were finally growing up. Wipeout 2097 stuck to the same formula. Of course in hindsight some of those ads and games now look painfully adolescent and end up looking faintly childish, but hey, in 1996 I was an adolescent and easily impressed.

In 1996 we were enjoying the height of Britpop, TFI Friday was allowing us to pretend we were hanging out in a showbiz pub with Danny Baker, we had a young, fashionable, handsome man called Tony Blair who was almost certainly going to be Prime Minister next year and the Playstation had established itself firmly as part of UK youth and popular culture, with Wipeout 2097 as the jewel in its trendy crown. If you wanted an image to symbolise the 90s, it would be a pre-election victory Tony Blair playing 2097 against Ginger Spice in her Union Jack dress, while Chris Evans and Liam Gallagher look on, downing pints.

The cars ran on blue future power.

It had a soundtrack featuring artists like Orbital, The Prodigy, Daft Punk, The Chemical Brothers and many more. You could even pop the game CD into a normal player and just listen to the music. Gosh it was cool.

The game itself was pretty fun too. 2097 was a definite improvement on the first game. The cars handled so much better and there was a weight to the weapons and cars which didn’t really exist in the first one. The courses were crazier and graphics much more impressive. And you could actually destroy other racers. Hah!

Although 2097 was also available on the Sega Saturn and PC it was seen firmly as a Playstation game. Indeed 2097, along with many other games, showed the graphical limitations of the Saturn and helped to seal its tragic, but deserved, fate.

Even though I’m no longer a teenager, not so easily impressed and can recognise cynical marketing campaigns when I see them, there is still part of me that thinks you can’t get any more cooler than the beginning of a race in Wipeout 2097, Firestarter pounding on the sound track and the robot voice counting down the start ‘3… 2… 1… GO’.

Ian

A Wipeout 2097 t-shirt. No, I didn't own it. Even I wasn't that taken in by the marketing.

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Filed under 1996, Playstation, Psygnosis, Racing

#7: Tekken 2

Format: Playstation Genre: Fighting Released: 1996 Developer: Namco
  
It’s 2000. Late May. Can’t be sure but I kind of remember it being a Tuesday. It’s lunch time. I’m in the second year of university, in the middle of my summer exams. I have an exam in an hour, I’m not doing last minute revision, not going through my notes, not preparing myself for the exam in any way. Instead I’m sitting on the floor playing Tekken 2 with my house mates. Why? Good question.
Tekken 2. Takes you back doesn't it?

Tekken 2. Takes you back doesn't it?

I’m not even that big a fan of beat ’em ups. I’m just not very good. I try my best but… Everyone else seems to fall into two camps – they either know all the moves and pull them off with supernatural ease, invaribly smacking me silly with 76 hit combos, or they have no idea what they are doing and cheerfully mash the buttons (known in gaming circles as the ‘Girl Method’), again smacking me silly through sheer enthusiasm.

Unfortunately I’m always stuck in the middle. I simply don’t have the patience to learn the moves yet I feel it would some how be cheating to just mash away. I straddle these two methods and sadly fall in the chasm between. In other words I lose. A lot.

Tekken 2 was one of the few beat ’em ups that I really tried to get to grips with (the other being Marvel Vs Capcom, sure either myself or Lew will blog about that another time). I decided to spend a lot of time learning the moves of Marshall Law, who seemed to me the sort of character a serious player would choose, like Ryu in Street Fighter II. I always picked Dhalsim or Blanka with SFII – the easy ones. Anyway, I spent a lot of time trying to master Marshall. I really tired to learn the moves and remember combos, as dull as that was.

Law mid fight. You can tell this isn't me playing as he's winning here.

Law mid fight. You can tell this isn't me playing as he's winning here.

It was a complete waste of time. I still lost. That Tuesday all those years ago I distinctly remember being roundly beaten by my friend Amy a button masher of the old school. She didn’t try to be good, she just tried to have fun. Amy too had an exam in an hour. Difference is she revised rather spend her time attempting to master a game she was never going to be good at. As I walked to the exam I realised what a stupid amount of time I had wasted. I could of been revising or at least playing. Properly playing, not turning a game into a chore.

So yeah, after Tekken 2 I never really bothered to play a beat ’em up in a ‘serious’ way again. I accepted that I would never be particularly good, and to just enjoy them for what they were. I gave up on Marshall. From then on I just picked Yoshimitsu. He had a big sword. He looked like fun.

And in the interest of fun let me finish with the supposed plot of Tekken 2. Yep, there was one. This is taken from wikipedia so it could be a fantastic practical joke. Who knew it was all about smuggled endangered species?

‘Two years have passed since the King of the Iron Fist Tournament. On a stormy night, a lone figure fights his way up a rocky cliff until he reaches the top.

The Mishima Zaibatsu, under the leadership of Kazuya Mishima, has become even more corrupt and powerful than ever before, as well as becoming involved in many illegal operations. These include kidnapping, extortion, smuggling of endangered species for illegal experiments, and blackmail. Unknown to everyone, Kazuya is being backed up by a mysterious force known as Devil, who inhabits Kazuya’s body and serves as his only counsel.

Kazuya’s activities have made enemies for him from all corners of the world, one of which is Jun Kazama, an animal rights fundamentalist. Kazuya’s biggest problem, however, is when news reaches his ears that his father, Heihachi Mishima (whom he defeated two years ago in the first King of the Iron Fist Tournament) is alive and plotting revenge against him. In an attempt to rid himself of Heihachi and his enemies once and for all, Kazuya announces the King of the Iron Fist Tournament 2, with a cash prize one thousand times the first (one trillion dollars).

Jun Kazama eventually comes face to face with Kazuya, but rather than arresting him, she finds herself drawn to him (due to Devil’s powers). She later ends up pregnant, with Kazuya being the father. In the confusion, she departs from the tournament.

In the final round, Heihachi confronts Kazuya, and they battle once again. Heihachi wins the first round, prompting Devil to take over Kazuya’s body and unleash his full power. This results with Kazuya becoming a Devil-like creature. Despite his advantages, Devil is still defeated by Heihachi, and flees the unconscious body of Kazuya.

After the tournament, Devil attempts to inhabit the body of Jun’s unborn son, but Jun manages to fight him off. Heihachi, meanwhile, takes Kazuya’s body to a volcano, and drops him in. Heihachi then escapes on a helicopter as the volcano erupts behind him, having finally taken his revenge and regained his company’.

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Filed under 1996, Fighting, Multiplayer, Namco, Playstation