Civilization VI: Gathering Storm - title

It's refreshing to see a video game (of all things) take seriously the second greatest existential threat to civilization (after nuclear weapon stockpiles), while governments (particularly here in the United States) fail to even acknowledge that it's real. I was honestly a little bit surprised to see anthropogenic climate change be the focus of an entire expansion to Firaxis' Sid Meier's Civilization VI. Firaxis has been playing very "politically correct" with the game in its past two iterations. Civ IV, if you remember, included slavery as a mechanic that allowed players to kill population in exchange for a production boost, and it included leaders like Joseph Stalin and Mao Zadong. Civilization III allowed collateral damage from city sieges that would kill population, destroy infrastructure, and potentially reduce wonders of the world to mere ruins. Civilization II allowed democratic congresses to overrule the choices of the player. And Civilization: Colonization actually required you to draft citizens from your cities into soldiers to fight wars.

Politically sensitive concepts like slavery, and characters like Joseph Stalin, have been in Civ games before,
but Civ V and VI have played things very safe and controversy-free with most of their content.

Civilization V and VI have dialed back from such concepts and leaders, as well as other "politically sensitive" topics in favor of diversity, inclusiveness, and a more rose-tinted vision of human history that tries to pretend that things like slavery, colonialism, opium wars, and the Holocaust didn't happen. I get it. They're going for a more optimistic vision of humanity that celebrates our achievements while overlooking the incalculable amount of [often unnecessary] suffering that came at the expense of many of those achievements.

So to see Anthropogenic Global Warming not only be included -- but to be the headline feature -- is surprising. I mean, I don't think it's a politically or culturally sensitive topic, nor should it be to anyone else if we lived in a rational world. It's the reality that we live in -- plain and simple. Nevertheless, it's a brave and important gesture from 2k and Firaxis. Anthropogenic climate change is certainly the second greatest threat to human civilization after our frightful stockpile of nuclear weapons -- or maybe an asteroid impact, but that is exceedingly unlikely to happen. It's an issue that needs to be a part of the cultural conversation, and it is perhaps the biggest price that we (as a civilization) are going to pay for the hubris of our unsustainable growth. It's a problem that every nation in the world needs to face, and solving that problem should be part of any game that attempts to simulate or systematize modern politics.

Anthropogenic climate change is one of the most serious problems threatening real-life civilization.

That is why I'm rather disappointed that the actual implementation of global warming in Civilization VI: Gathering Storm is a bit lackluster and un-apocalyptic.

The greatest existential threat to civilization is civilization

Climate change in Civilization VI: Gathering Storm just doesn't seem to be quite as devastating [globally] as it is in real life. Basically, raising the global temperature will have three effects.

  • Increases the frequency of weather-related disasters,
  • Melts polar ice caps,
  • Floods certain coastal tiles.
Many disasters are trivially managed by leaving a builder or two (with 1 charge) to repair pillaged tiles.

The melting of the polar ice is actually a benefit, as it provides easier routes for naval units if canals aren't available or useable. The other two will cause problems for every player, but I've found them fairly easy to manage (at least on the Emperor difficulty that I usually play on). Disasters will typically pillage tile improvements and districts, but a severe disaster may also outright remove improvements, and may even kill points of population.



Sid Meier's Civilization

I recently wrote a post describing some unique abilities that I'd like to see for some of the common civilizations that are likely to appear in the eventual Sid Meier's Civilization VI. Most of the concepts were very vague, or they were based on the mechanics and features of Civ V, since we don't have any idea what the eventual feature set of Civ VI will be. So in this post, I'd like to expand upon that previous post by talking about some of the features and mechanics that I would like to see implemented in Civilization VI.

Most of these features age going to involve more complicated and advanced political and empire management mechanics. Civ V made a fundamental change to the structure of the series by introducing tactical combat on a hex-based grid. So it makes sense that unit movement and combat was the focus of that game, and the vanilla game played more like a tactical war board game played out over a larger scale. Empire management and simulation features were mostly absent or simplified. The expansions, then, focused more on the empire management mechanics that were absent from the vanilla game. Gods & Kings brought back a full religion mechanic and enhanced city state mechanics. And Brave New World added trade routes, ideologies, and completely rewrote the cultural victory condition.

So since Civ V already went down the "warfare first, empire-management second" design philosophy, I hope that Civ VI goes in the opposite direction. I hope that it puts more of its focus on being an "Empire Building Game" rather than a "Tactical War Game".

This post was featured in PolyCast episode 244: "Not just a lame clip show XVII". I encourage readers to listen in on the great feedback that was provided, and to contribute to the discussion.



Total War: Attila - game title

A few months ago, I posted an article outlining some suggestion for unique civilization themes and abilities for a possible Sid Meier's Civilization VI game. In it, I proposed a unique characteristic for the Huns or Mongolians: that they be a true nomadic empire. The idea was that they would have traveling cities that allowed them to move their empire with their army and essentially occupy any unclaimed territory or territory vacated by defeated rivals. Well, the Creative Assembly had already beaten me (and Firaxis) to the punch with Total War: Attila (and apparently Firaxis is embracing the idea with Beyond Earth's first expansion). Total War: Attila has a feature almost identical to what I had conceived for the Huns and Mongolians in Civilization. I'm a fan of the Total War series as is, so I was going to play this game for sure. Of course, Creative Assembly running with an idea that I had independently conceived of only made me more curious to play the game.

Attila acts as sort of a sequel to Rome II. While that game was all about building up the Roman empire (or whichever empire you happened to select), Attila is all about tearing down those empires. But this is a fully stand-alone game (like Napoleon Total War was to Empire Total War), and does not require Rome II in any way.

Learning how to be a horde

The Prologue campaign in this game is brutal! It's like a Demon's Souls tutorial that is designed to kick your ass. I restarted it once before realizing that it was designed for the player to fail in order to teach the new migration feature.

This prologue acts as a tutorial for the new features and mechanics of the game, but it doesn't do a particularly good job of teaching these mechanics. It also doesn't go into much detail of the established features of the franchise (other than telling you that a feature exists, then making you click on the button to do it), so new players might find themselves completely turned off by the fact that they are having their asses handed to them and aren't being taught much about how the game actually works, or - more importantly - why they are failing so hard. Perhaps having two separate tutorial campaigns would have been advisable: one to teach basic Total War concepts of empire and army management; and a second tutorial campaign for experienced Total War players that just teaches the migration features.

The brutal tutorial concludes with the challenging, climactic, historical battle of Adrianople,
in which your Visigoths must hold off Emperor Valens' superior army until your cavalry arrives.

Playing as migratory hordes minimizes city management, but you do still have to develop infrastructure for your nomadic armies. Rebuilding conquered cities and defending your borders, however, is not an issue - which was always the most tedious part of the game anyway. You don't need defensive armies in your territory and are free to focus all your efforts on your eventual goal. This change works well with the requirement that all armies must be attached to generals, and is a big step up from Rome II. There were large chunks of Rome II's campaign in which I felt like I couldn't do anything because I had to camp out my armies in cities in order to replenish and improve public order. Since I was at the army cap, the campaign would stagnate because I couldn't build new armies in order to watch over my newly-conquered settlements while also pressing forward with my primary armies...

Interstellar - poster
Interstellar is a rare hard sci-fi movie.

There has been a sad dearth of hard science fiction movies in recent memory. While comic book and alien invasion movies and the like have been proliferating (and some of them have been very good), there haven't been as many movies that have been willing to take science fiction subject matter seriously. The only mainstream releases that I can think of off the top of my head are District Nine, Inception, and Gravity, neither of which really wowed me. District Nine was alright, but I felt that its racism allegory fell flat since the aliens themselves considered the majority of their species to be mindless automatons. Inception was a fun ride, but nowhere near as clever or complicated as people made it out to be. And Gravity wasn't really "science fiction"; more like just "space drama" disaster porn.

That leaves the indie movie Moon and the surprisingly good Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as the only really good examples of high-brow science fiction that I can think of - and maybe Edge of Tomorrow can count as "medium-brow".

That's why I've been very excited about Christopher Nolan's new movie, Interstellar. It had all the trappings of a modern-day 2001: A Space Odyssey, which (confusing psychedelic ending aside - read the book!) is one of the best hard science fiction movies ever made. Interstellar definitely lived up to this expectation, but it's a much gloomier and more depressing epic than Arthur Clark and Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece.

The space travel plot is, in fact, almost identical to 2001. A crew must travel in hypersleep in an experimental spacecraft to investigate an anomaly around Saturn (the original 2001 book placed the monolith in orbit around Saturn, but it was changed to Jupiter for the film). The sleeping crew is even overseen by intelligent robots. The rising action has conspiratorial undertones, and the climax dives deep into metaphysical fringe science.

Interstellar - Saturn approach 2001: a Space Odyssey - Jupiter approach
Interstellar [LEFT] is very similar to Arthur Clark and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: a Space Odyssey [RIGHT]
in its detail-oriented depiction of space travel.

A lot of the science in the first half of the movie is solid, and it's actually integral to the narrative and drama between the characters. The second half takes a lot more creative license for the sake of plot. There are significant issues with relativity with regard to a black hole, metaphysical stuff about a "ghost", and some ham-fisted mumbo jumbo about the power of love transcending time and space. But despite some silly science, there's a very real possibility that audiences might leave the theater with a better understanding and appreciation of relativity.

So Interstellar definitely earns its comparisons to 2001...

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Grid Clock provided by trowaSoft.

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