Saturday, October 25, 2014

Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth - 10/20 hours

Ten hours in less than one day, spent on a game that is, technically, broken. That was not unexpected. I think, fundamentally, I simply can't say "no" to a 4X game. Of the turn-based 4X games in my library, only Fallen Enchantress and Space Empires IV have less than 30 sunk into them, and even then, the reason for that is that I own strictly superior sequels to both. Discounting those two and Beyond Earth, the average for the rest of my games is 100 hours (there are a couple of outliers - Space Empires V, at 37 hours, and Civilization V, at 345 hours).

Obviously, I love the genre, but why?

If I had a mutant ability, it would probably my resistance to boredom. If I had a superhero weakness, it would be my inability to multitask (my comic-book adventures would . . . not be popular). These types of games require the player to sort through a lot of information and to make a myriad of small decisions, but the turn-based structure divides time into easily manageable units. It's an abstraction that means you can have the sensation of having to do a hundred things at once, but the reality is that "at once" can actually mean "over the course of several minutes."

I find it a bottomless well that I can fill with my attention. Over the course of hours, my colony will grow, from a humble group of Franco-Iberian artists, put on a spaceship for some reason, into a world-conquering force of fanatical human purity, driving levitating tanks and artillery over the world's oceans to bring the peace of the sword to those who would condemn the ambition of my regime.

And it's the foreknowledge of the epic sweep of history, along with the memory of the care and planning that went to build it up, combined with the low investment of playing just one more turn, that makes these sort of games addictive. I've never tried drugs, but I can't imagine there is any chemical substance more enthralling than a really compelling 4X game. When I'm playing, nothing else matters. I've skipped meals, skirted dangerously close to neglecting my job duties (I've got about 20 minutes worth of paperwork I have to do each night, and there are times when I've finished it during the last half hour of my shift), and stayed up way too late to play these games.

So, I'm really the last person to say whether a particular 4X game is good or bad. I can say that I wound up getting 6 hours of sleep today, due to overplaying Civilization: Beyond Earth and that is a game where the individual terrain tiles are smeared due to my underpowered graphics card. At a certain point, you just stop noticing . . . well, anything. Sub-par graphics, fatigue, the world itself. None of it compares to the feeling of striding an alien world like a living god, knowing that you command unstoppable armies of high-tech hovertanks, and that it was all due to your planning and design. And, of course, if you just play for a little while longer, your victory will be complete.

I may have a problem here.

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