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8:28am on Monday, 14th November, 2005:

The Last Straw


While attempting to save a Civ4 game last night, Windows announced that it had to expand virtual memory (yet again). Fifteen minutes of thrashing hard drive later, this happened:

That's it. I'm sick of this. I'm sick of waiting 5 minutes for it to move the camera from one part of the map to another; I'm sick of quitting the game and finding it's still using 250K of memory; I'm sick of stuttering sound effects; I'm sick of crashes that mean I have to replay what I already played just to get back to where I was. I'm also sick about the fact that on an Earth map I own all of Africa, Australia, North and South America and the Middle East and much of Southern Europe, and I'm still looking at another 20 or 30 turns before I'll officially win.

If they'd kept with a 2D map, none of this would have happened. We'd have all been outrageously happy, because we could have played the game. Instead, this ill-advised switch to 3D has the game's lead designer (Soren Johnson) bemoaning, "man, consoles are starting to look awfully tempting right about now...". Yes, and if you did put the game on a console then your crappy graphics would look even crappier.

All this would not have been a problem if they'd only stayed with the 2D solution that worked for Civs 1-3. The interface has taken over the gameplay, though. Before it launched, I was merely worried about the distraction that bad 3D might bring; Greg Costikyan was closer to the mark, worrying about the gameplay aspects it would affect. I certainly wasn't prepared for the full horror that was released.

This also makes something of a mockery of all those reviews of Civilization IV that are appearing in the press. At the time of writing, Civilization Fanatics' Center has 17 reviews of the game, all universally positive. I simply cannot believe that all these reviewers played the game all the way through. If they'd spent more than a few hours at it, then 2 out of 3 would have hit some kind of hardware problem — the memory leak if not the video card issues. Reviewers for computer games magazines often have high-spec hardware and would have missed the memory issue, but they'd have been bitten by the graphics one; reviewers for newspapers could be expected to have relatively low-spec machines, so their video cards wouldn't have been asked to do all the DirectX 9.0c stuff that's playing merry hell with the top-end cards, but they would have still ground to a halt after a while once it began demanding more and more memory from the VM system.

So how come none of the reviewers have mentioned hardware problems? Some possible answers:

I always knew reviews were generally biased, but I was still naïve enough to hope that the reviewers might actually have played the game. Not any more.

Yet I still keep wanting to know, where's the damned patch?

Referenced by Game Over.

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