From: Secret Underground Lair
@ Ubik: you are probably correct that I'm being a bit alarmist, and probably also correct about the inevitable evolution of graphics.
Not being a hardware fanboy, I'm not sure about the disparity in rate of development of hardware-software in this matter, but, I'm _guessing_ that in a year, maybe 3(?) we may have machines that can allow for games that combine the best of both worlds? Imagine being able to play Civ 4 on maps that are comparable to War in the Pacific, and include details comparble to War in the Pacific!?! Just imagine that for a second . . . the opportunity to actually be in the driver seat in actually 'designing' a civilization to stand the test of time, but with the geographic, and military detail of a game like WiTP! Right now the main thing blocking that (if I am correct) is the inability of the machines to process so much information in a timely manner, well that and the sheer work of putting together the unit/weapon/technology/pilot/commander/etc. databases . . . but then I suspect if the potential were there in terms of hardware and moddability, the fans would make it happen . . .
For example, I am in fact a great fan of the Civ series. I know Eric and Eric are also, and I have heard that a few of you guys on here are also fans. Lets face it, it is a colossus in the PC gaming industry overall, and has arguably done a great deal to promote, expand, and progress strategy gaming considered largely.
On the one hand, Civ4, and in particular the BTS expansion are absolutely stunning works of art/culture. Absolutely amazing achievements.
But on the other, the lack of anything like realistic scaling, the cartoonish way in which one portrays the same "leader" plucked from one historical period for any given society but who then somehow miraculously survives as the "God" force behind that societies evolution for thousands of years . . . warrior units who can cover the same geographic area s "Mech Infantry," . . . "Libraries" that take thousands of years to "build" . . . population growth rates determined by availability of "food," etc., etc. the game is absolutely chock full of unrealisms and suspensions of disbelief that in other genres (e.g., Forge or War in the Pacific) are avoided like the plague. Not to say ANY strategy game can ever be fully 'realistic' but I would guess we could agree realism is a kind of 'sliding scale,' and that a game like WiTP or FoF is 'more' realistic than a game like 'Civ,' or by extension (and presumption, since I'm going just by reviews) the same relative comparison could be made between CoGEE and E:TW.
Maybe I'm off-base, and I'd love if anyone who actually knows what they're talking about will chime in (hint, hint Eric, and Eric . . .) but I get the impression that building a game like COGEE, which exhibits such a high-degree of success at striving for 'realism,' in the sense of the term I just laid out, is a HIGHLY difficult creative task. You make a change to reduce unrealism here (in-game Factor A), you produce unrealism there (in-game Factor B). You achieve a solution that balances the level of realism in factors A & B and you produce an exploitable difficulty in that the AI as it stands cannot cope. You fix the AI so that it can 'understand' the balance of A & B and you introduce a bug. You change the code so that the bug is no more and you introduce a new Factor C that is unrealistic . . . and on and on, I imagine the weeks and months of design work must proceed in the quest to achieve this form of art. And that is to say nothing of the GSUE, the graphics, the music, the order of battle, the historicity, or for that matter the overarching conceptual design.
The solution it seems for game makers like Empire TW is simply to make something that looks 'really kewl' but plays like crap, i.e., it is virtually impossible to lose if you are an above-average 12 year old. While Civ4 is definitely not a piece of crap, it too is fairly predictable, and 'pays for' the advanced GSUE with an unrealistically simplified, unscaled, and frankly unfun map/unit/combat system . . . so it took me 500 years to build a "Pikeman" unit and that "unit" gets utterly wiped out in ONE combat, and not only that but virtually EVERY combat results in the utter destruction of one of the combatants, an actual outcome that is fairly rare in world history. Yes I've heard the explanations . . . the unit is an 'abstraction' of the military of the society, and its utter destruction represents the disintegration of that portion of the militaries ability to operate as a coherent and effective combat force, blah, blah. But I just do not buy such explanations. There are too many other elements in Civ (for example) where these "units" are treated as exactly that, some military formation of finite dimensions and characteristics which exists in space and time, and which CEASES to exist in space and time when it dies (e.g., the "promotion" system in Civ, and the unit statistics themselves all lend themselves to interpreting them as _actual_ Divisions, Corps, or Armies, and not as abstractions).
I have diverged into details here in order to make this point: even though technology may well eventually make it possible to have a game that combines (I) the strategic design elegance of an FoF or a COGEE, or the incredible detail and historical accuracy of a WiTP, or the ingenious combat dynamics of a TOAWIII, or for that matter the sheer reality of an Harpoon, with (II) the cinema-like beguilement of a Civ, or an Empire TW, or a Half Life, etc., this is NO GUARANTEE that the market forces, and the marketer motivations to embark on such a pioneering combination will necessarily emerge in a timely fashion following the onset of such a technological stage. Instead, we may continue to see true strategy games living on as a neglected and under-attended 'niche' market without sufficient market share to embark on such a high-cost and high-risk venture, and meanwhile the 'mainstream' game makers, the 'big guys' with the bankrolls to potentially fund such projects utterly unmotivated to do so for the very same reasons.
IMHO, an acceptance of the status quo and the ongoing trends in computer game consumer patterns is akin to 'defeatism.' We as strategy gamers MUST be proactive if we want to feel confident that we will for the rest of our lives have great games to play. We must discourage screwball early releases like Ageod's WWI, which arguably might 'kill a golden child in the crib.' There is clearly a brilliant basic design with lots of thoughtfulness and truly pioneering elements in WWI; it was just released before it was all put together. While it is true that the game has sold, and will probably continue to sell, this cannot be better for sales and for the fan base, and for the expansion of the fanbase into the 'mainstream' consumer segment as if the game had been released in as complete and finishe a form as COGEE. Am I say WWI is crap and COGEE is great? No, that is not the point. They are different games, and both have instrinsic flaws, and provide different gaming experiences that cannot be addressed in whole by the other. Like reading Shakespeare and Quixote and Hemmingway each has its merits, and each has its blindspots. The point is that with a fragile niche market, a game that gets punished for being innovative and groundbreaking like WWI is NOT, not, NOT a good thing for our hobby. A game like COGEE that gets picked at for minor trivia when the overall product is truly exceptional is also not a good thing for our hobby. IMO, people defending a trainwreck like Empire TW at the expense of a game or in preference to a game like COGEE is also not a salutary thing for true strategy gaming.
Maybe I'm being a dogmatist here, and I certainly don't want to squelch individual freedom of thought and expression. But as a social scientist, I know that something like a "buzz" in a fan community is not simply a metaphor. In an age where we can come on here and exchange in a dialogue across time and geographic boundaries, and in which prospective customers are reading right now, I think what we say can have dramatic impacts in the world, and in particular in teh computer gaming communit(ies).