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10:26am on Friday, 1st July, 2005:

Shiver Me Timbers


Sorry to keep harping on about Sid Meier's Pirates! (hyperlink changed to point to the Firaxis page because it's disappeared from the Atari site), but it's really bugging me.

The reason it's bugging me is that Firaxis are releasing Civilization IV later this year, and I have dread visions of their wrecking its gameplay by humbling it to a 3D graphics engine for purely marketing reasons (concerns expressed somewhat more rationally by Greg Costikyan).

The fact that Pirates!, which was released last year, has 3D graphics with so many quirks that it would talk to strangers at a bus stop doesn't fill me with confidence that Civ4 will be done right. It's not just the obvious things such as ships that sail right through one another (which happens all the time in its naval combat), but it's that even some of the set pieces are faulty.

Here I am accepting victory after an adversary struck his colours:

He was never going to win anyway, given that his sword is so flimsy I can put my fingers through the blade.

Here's another image from moments later in the sequence:

The surrendering captain is different because it was from when I captured a different ship, but it happens whatever ship strikes its colours. Look at the sword. How am I holding it? By its invisible handle? The rendering engine faithfully reproduces the shadow on the floor, and it's clear there, too, that I'm not actually holding the sword I'm holding.

I find this kind of thing very distracting. The point about 3D is its realism, and yes, of course, the whole piracy genre and the cartoon-style villains aren't realistic, but that's not the problem. 3D means you can accept what is represented in the 3D more readily than if some other format were used (eg. 2D or text). It's brittle, though, in that the moment there's a flaw in the 3D you really notice it — you suddenly become aware consciously of what was previously a transparent medium.

Mind you, there are other worries apart from the 3D. Here's a (reduced) screenshot from my visit to a Spanish Governor:

OK, so Americans always use "insure" whereas the British make a distinction between "insure" and "ensure", that's easy enough to accept. If I can grit my teeth for "Civilization" (it's "Civilisation" where I come from), I can cope with "insure" for "ensure".

I'm pretty sure that America has the same distinction between "its" and "it's" that Britain does, though. Text is so easy to check — doesn't anybody check it? What gaffes are we going to see in Civilization IV? They even report a speed of 1 knot as "1 knots". How hard is that to correct?!

I like Pirates!. I like the gameplay, the music, some of the touches (one of the ship names is "Dawn Treader", from the C. S. Lewis book)... I don't like the stupid Sims-like made-up language (if someone is French, have them speak French, not nonsensical words like "chewmay"). I don't think much of the random positioning (the lost city of the Olmecs was just a stone throw away from the lost city of the Aztecs/Incas, t00) and I especially don't like the way that all the crooks I have to hunt down are called {A-Z} {Chatterley, Connery, Farthingsworth, Faulkes, Shawshank}. I do, however, like the game overall.

It's going to be a worrying few months waiting to see what they've done with Civ4...

Referenced by Civ4 Early Thoughts.

Referenced by The Last Straw.

Referenced by Chatterley, Connery, Farthingsworth, Faulkes and Shawshank.

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Copyright © 2005 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).