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Civilization 4 is inferior to Civ 1

August 3rd, 2008 by Troy Goodfellow · 8 Comments · Design

Or at least that’s what Paul Barnett would have you believe:

It is important not to get carried away with the idea that players need huge lists of options, Barnett said. “People like the illusion of choice,” he explained. “They like a long menu at a restaurant despite the fact they will always order from the same three things.”

He used Sid Meier’s Civilization series as an example of a game suffering from a glut of options over the course of several entries.

“Designers are obsessed with adding in ideas,” he said. “Civilization 1 [was] strong as anything, and then progresses into cuckoo-land complexity before finally returning to its roots with Civilization] Revolution.”

His central point – that more options does not necessarily mean a better game – is a good one. I’m an evangelist for simple and elegant designs and love to rail against games that mistake options for depth, details for immersion.

But to call Civ 4 “cuckoo-land” is silly because all of the options are clearly laid out. Everything is explained, systems are transparent and you can easily get the hang of things without getting lost in the number of choices open to you. And the choices support the core idea of the game, not detract from it. Civ 4 isn’t some hydra headed monstrosity like, say, Supreme Ruler 2020, with no focus.


8 Comments so far ↓

  • Andrew

    I guess this is why they decided to go with a spare 20 different classes for the Warhammer MMO. (Down from 24!)

  • Soren Johnson

    I wonder if Paul has even played Civ4 (or Civ3, for that matter…) A well-known designer once said a similar thing about Civ4, and I asked him in person later to clarify, and he admitted that he had never actually played the game. Civ: Rev is simpler than Civ4, obviously, but it also has the advantage of not having a large number after it, which I am sure scares off a lot of people because they assume a certain level of complexity in a fourth iteration which just not there.

  • JonathanStrange

    Good point about the “numbers after the title”: people may be – probably are – inclined to think you’ve got to have played the earlier games to “get it”. Sort of like having to see the first two Lord of the Rings movie to understand the third. The succeeding games did become more complex BUT with adjustable player levels, you could easily move the game to your comfort zone. The succeeding Civs – even the Civ 4 expansions which did start to be a little daunting – are all excellent examples of how to “add stuff” without losing the early charm of Sid Meier’s design.

  • jason

    Um. No.

    Has this guy ever played the game?

    See Soren’s post above.

  • Darius K.

    While there may be more choices, I find Civ 4 to be simpler than 2 and 3, perhaps because the game does such a good job of making the consequences of my actions so clear.

  • Troy

    Civ 4 is certainly simpler than Civ 3 in many ways. It doesn’t keep you in “Historical Eras”, is more generous with resources, and gets rid of newbie confounding concepts like corruption/waste and settlers costing population (though the latter has returned in Civ Revolution.)

    I think one of the big problems with Barnett is that he is confusing number of options with complexity and complication – they are three very different concepts and throwing them all together just muddies his central point.

    You can have, after all, a very simple game that has lots of options and a very complicated game with very few options. Complexity has more to do with the relationship between variables than it has to do with masses of buttons to push or choices to make.

  • malcolmm

    I think Barnett makes some good points about Civ.

    The only problem I had with the original Civ was that it took far too long to play. Not everyone is willing to devote 15 or 20 hours to a single scenario, and you need to play several senarios to get good at the game = 100+ hours. So I always hoped that later Civs would remove (not automate) the unnecessary gameplay elements and speed up the rest, like unit movement. Instead more options were added that didn’t increase the strategy, just the complexity.

    I think Sid Meier said something about how if he had a choice between realism and fun to play, he would always choose fun to play. I think the later Civs have lost a lot of the fun to play beneath levels of detail that bog down the game.

    Having said that, I did enjoy Civ 4, mostly because of the greatly improved AI. But it still took far to long to play, the massive number of options overwhelmed and bored me. I played 2 or 3 games then shelved the game.

    I think I might like Civ Revolution, I wish it was available on the PC.

  • JonathanStrange

    I think the length of many Civ games can scare off people but I would argue that they can be as short or as long as the gamer wants them to be. It depends on your settings; choose a small world with fewer civs for quick games. Myself, I rarely play out all my games to the bitter end because, frankly, they do often become grinds: either the enemy is wearing you down or you’ve got the victory but it’s decades away.

    However, I don’t see that as a big drawback because in Civ, I’m finished when I feel I’m finished. It’s not “giving up,” it’s merely acknowledging that for me, it’s the initial exploration and setup – who’s out there? am I on a continent or island? do I have horses and iron? – that’s the biggest kick for me. So if by the sixteenth century I don’t feel like an extended slugging match with a slightly inferior rival? I declare game over and start another round. Otherwise I’d just play one or two Civ games a year instead of dozens. The open-ended nature of Civ sort of lends itself to ambiguous victories and defeats, although at times, there’s no arguing when your last city is captured.