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June 1st, 2005 by Troy Goodfellow · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

There is a new mod for Civ 3 available at Gamespot. The “Rise and Rule Mod” – an unfortunate title which only brings to mind this mess – promises the moon.

200 techs
13 governments
100 Improvements
67 Great Wonders
36 Small Wonders
14 Specialist Citizen types
52 Resources
340 Units 

13 governments? 67 Great Wonders? 14 types of citizens? Does this make the game more fun?

Not really. Though the designers claim that the point is to provide all kinds of cost/benefit decisions for the player, the fact is that Civ is, at its heart, a simple game. Too many decisions to make gets in the way of the elegantly simple design. Of the 340 units, many of them are simple reskinning existing units so that some countries have custom spearmen or unique aircraft. Many of the Great Wonders have no expiration date or nullifying tech, so the bonuses just keep stacking. Instead of making the game more challenging or interesting, it becomes a math puzzle in which the player must run sums in his head and determine which gives him the best cumulative payoff. For those Civ players that like micromanagement, this might sound appealing. I’m largely indifferent.

In a similar vein is the Total Realism mod for Rome: Total War which I wrote about a couple of days ago. Dozens of new units and new cities in an effort to approximate some ultimate realism almost lose the appeal of the game. As attractive and stylish as the new units are (and as enthusiastic as I am to see the Pharaoh’s armies made true Ptolemaic forces for Egypt) the changes to the map and the recruitment process take a lot of effort to really enjoy. The game does play out more historically accurate; Rome is slowed down in its expansion, especially to the East. And this is the obvious goal of the mod. But it also slows the game down, meaning that you spend a lot more time on a single campaign.

Speaking of which, RTR takes out the Imperial Campaign altogether in favor of “provincial campaigns”. There isn’t a lot of difference in the design, except the elimination of the other Roman factions alters the endgame considerably. It is still recognizable as Rome: Total War, but is not the game that I love. It’s merely a game I like.

Both mods, I think, point to a common issue with user created mods. There is an emphasis on increased amounts of content or greater accuracy without a clear idea of how it affects the game in general. Now these are mods, so no one is forcing me to play them. I can uninstall them at any time if I choose. My favorite games are not broken and lots of people enjoy these mods. RTR has become pseudo-official judging by the number of people who play it.

But more is sometimes less. Most players, including myself, are astonished at the ambition at first. I like my games tighter, though. When you start adding bits here and there, the parts of the game that make it a game get a little unfocused. The desire to add more content is a natural outgrowth of the feedback loop of Internet game forums and user friendly modding tools. There are lots of talented people out there. Give them a digital lever and a place to stand and show their work and they can remake the world.

I am largely resistant to large scale mods of strategy games, though. I preferred the Improved Grand Campaign for Europa Universalis, but the mods of its sequel have a greater emphasis on historical events and fantasy outcomes than on actually improving the game.

My resistance is based primarily on a distrust of amateur historians or “wouldn’t it be cool if…” people making a game. Once you start messing around in the rule set, the months of beta testing and QA work that the original developers put into a game are lost. True, many of the larger mods have teams of players testing them out, but most seem to be the already converted and not the wisely skeptical.

In spite of my own wariness towards these larger mods, I do think that they are valuable. Lots of people enjoy them, and though it is my job to tell them if a game is bad or not, it is not my job to rail against them if they think I am wrong.

There is always hope that some of the talented people behind these mods will get a chance to work on their own original game sometime soon. And maybe some of them will learn the beauty of a smaller scale.


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