Tag Archives: In Praise Of

In Praise Of: Civilization – Call To Power

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A funny thing happened to the Civilization licence in the late 90’s. It started with Sid Meier and Brian Reynolds – designers of Civilizations I and II respectively — upping sticks and leaving a waning Microprose along with several other key staff members to form Firaxis Games in 1996. While Firaxis had the talent, though, what they didn’t take with them were the rights to the Civilization name, which remained firmly in Microprose’s clutches – not that Microprose could do a whole lot with it, seeing as their premier strategy game developers had just left the company. Enter a pre-CoD and WoW Activision, who nevertheless signalled their future bastardry by seeing that there was perhaps some money to be made by capitalising on the Civilization name and acquiring the rights to market PC games called “Civilization” from board game manufacturer Avalon Hill, who had been making a moderately-successful board game with the same name for decades.  Avalon Hill and Activision’s next step was to claim that they had sole rights to the Civilization name and sue Microprose for copyright infringement. Microprose were more than a little annoyed by this since they’d already licensed the Civilization name from Avalon Hill back in 1991 before releasing the first game in the series, and so they countersued. Judging by the results this did not go well for Avalon Hill, who had to settle out-of-court and acknowledge that it was Microprose, not Avalon Hill, who had the right to make computer games called Civilization. It didn’t go so badly for Activision, though, who came out of the whole sorry business with a licence from Microprose to publish their in-development historical 4X title under the name Civilization: Call To Power.

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In Praise Of: Halo.

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A little over a year ago I wrote a two-part history of Bungie Software. It took in their early games – Pathways into Darkness, Marathon and Myth — which were nearly all superb in one way or another, and then abruptly stopped with only the barest mention of the series that’s eclipsed all Bungie’s other achievements: Halo. There were several very good reasons for this, first and foremost of which is that Halo is Microsoft’s flagship game series and it’s already had countless column inches written about it. There’d be little if anything new that I could add to the discussion, even if that discussion is one so corrupted by PR and marketing that it’s now reaching the point of parody, and so that was where that particular pair of posts ended.

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In Praise Of: Flashback.

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The trailer for the Flashback remake was released yesterday. It is one of the most awful game trailers I’ve ever seen, not only because it looks so dreadfully boring with its plasticky 2.5D visuals, snap cuts of explosions and its inexplicable side-scrolling hoverbike section, but also because it couldn’t be less true to the spirit of the original game if it tried.  Flashback is an admittedly flawed game but it’s one that I revere nevertheless, and so I went back and dug out this half-written piece from a couple of months ago to try to explain why.

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In Praise Of: Another World.

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I vacillated shamefully over writing this post. It’s my blog, and I can do whatever the hell I want, but Another World is one of those games that’s already quite well-respected by the gaming establishment and has had plenty of words written about its storytelling and depiction of an alien world. I prefer to cover the less well-known stuff on here and was doubtful I could say anything useful about it that hadn’t been said already.

On the other hand, I really like Another World. Seriously. It made a hell of an impression on me as a kid, to the point where I stole the box art twenty years later to make one of the header images for the site. In my opinion while there have been games that have been superficially similar – including the also-excellent Flashback made by Another World’s publisher, Delphine Software — there’s never been another game quite like it.  It’s not quite an adventure game, not quite a platformer, not quite a puzzler; the cliché here would be to say it combined elements of all three but I think instead that Another World is its own thing entirely, and just happens to resemble that particular genre mishmash because it’s the best way of describing it given the way games subsequently evolved. Another World is, for lack of a better term, unique – and truly unique games are very rare, and totally worth discussing further.

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In Praise Of: Civilization’s City View.

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I found myself cranking through yet another game of Civilization V the other day and a thought crystallised in my brain that’s been niggling me ever since I started playing it back in 2010: for a game that is based so much around cities and the civilizations built from them, a city in Civ V is a staggeringly two-dimensional entity. Open up the city screen for your capital and all you’ll see is a big list of numbers, symbols and building names. Open up the city screen for your newest colony and you’ll see exactly the same thing; the numbers might be smaller and the lists shorter, but there’s nothing to really differentiate the two as entities apart from the name. Cities in Civ V exist purely as resource gathering and production nodes, and while this is certainly how they are supposed to function mechanically I feel that the game loses something for not having them feel like places.

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In Praise Of: Covert Action.

Unusually for most of the old titles I talk about, Covert Action isn’t actually a very good game. It’s yet another relic from the age where Microprose was essentially cranking out collections of minigames with a loosely-connecting theme. In Covert Action’s case the theme is spying, so you do stuff like planting bugs, tailing cars, infiltrating hideouts, breaking codes etc., but while this is not the worst idea for a game that’s ever been had there’s just one small catch: unusually for a Microprose game – and for something carrying the Sid Meier name – nearly every single one of the minigames sucks.

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In Praise Of: Terror From The Deep.

For a series that purportedly spans twenty years, the XCOM games actually have a relatively short and chequered history. Before Firaxis came along to do their very respectable reboot of the franchise the last game to carry the XCOM name – the execrable Enforcer – had been released in 2001. Before Enforcer was the similarly-terrible Interceptor, but neither of these were really XCOM games as they’re popularly understood; Enforcer was a third person shooter while Interceptor plumped for a bizarre and awful space combat environment. You have to go all the way back to 1997 to find an XCOM game with tiny men running around on a tactical battlescape map, and so the “true” XCOM games consist of the original trilogy: UFO, Terror From The Deep, and Apocalypse.  Everyone knows about UFO, since that’s the game that got the high-profile remake last year. Apocalypse was… interesting, and probably a post for another day. What I’m here to talk about today, though, is Terror From The Deep, a game with a reputation it doesn’t really deserve since it was far, far better than it had any right to be, especially when you consider its origins.

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