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4X And Reflex

Alas, it has been two weekends since my last update.  For the most part, my 4X scratch inflicted by Stellaris when it proved incomplete have been getting itched.

Civilization In Space, Done Poorly By Those Who Invented It:

I spent almost the entire day Friday,  May 13th playing a single "quick" game of Civilization:Beyond Earth.  It did not finish, it simply dragged out to the point where I decided I had wasted enough time and so I would move on with my life.
The Civilization: Beyond Earth tech tree.  Two words: good luck.
Civilization: Beyond Earth is basically just Civilization V, but over-engineered.  It seems likely to me that the developers had a number of thoughts going through their heads and they decided to run with them for this game.  For example:
  • What if the barbarians were a significant threat throughout the entire game?  What if you could work with them instead of against them if you wanted to? - This is the basis of the design of the native aliens.  The answer is that they're kind of annoying when they outlast their welcome.
  • What if the cultural advantages of the different nations were instead available to anyone? - The unique units were moved to the affinity system, some other advantages were moved to wonders you can build.  (E.g. Japan's "Bushido" ability to have damaged units fight at full effectiveness is available to the first player to build the Markov Eclipse wonder.)  The answer is that these perks were more interesting when they were locked in at the start because they made those civilizations feel more unique.
  • What if the research tree spread out in all directions? - The tech tree in Beyond Earth resembles a spiderweb where each node of the strand unlocks the adjacent nodes, but each node also has three levels of research.   The answer is that it's a nigh unfathomable mess.
  • What if we included air power at the start of the game instead of needing to research it? -  The answer is that there was less variety between the combat at the beginning and end of the game, which makes things less interesting.
  • What if we included a meaningful satellite network layer mechanic? - I guess this question will have to wait until some other game, because this one did not quite manage to do that.
And so on.  "Over-engineered" is indeed my favorite way to describe Civilizations: Beyond Earth.  It seems they've managed to drag a number of interesting ideas off of the drawing board and into a finished AAA product, but I'm afraid these ideas have been largely a detriment.

To a great extent, I think that the cons of Civilization V are counterbalanced by the nostalgia of the sights and sounds of Earth's civilizations, so when Civilization: Beyond Earth left those behind it no longer had that going for it.

Fans of the series have already mostly gone back to Civilization V, and for good reason: it's all around a better experience.   There's been a lot of buzz about the next game in the series, here's hoping they've not over-engineered that as badly as they did Civilization: Beyond Earth.

Civilization In Space, Done Better By Someone Else:

As it happens, Galactic Civilization III went on an "anniversary sale," jumping off its point near the top of my Steam wishlist and straight into my library.  It has thus far has enjoyed 16 hours of play from me, and I am moderately satisfied with it, although I think may be doing myself a disservice to play it in "campaign" mode when it's so clearly balanced towards procedurally generated scenarios.
If you ever thought to yourself, "I like Civilizations V, but I wish it were streamlined with a redesigned, more-accessible GUI" then Galactic Civilizations III may be what you always wanted.
Lets face it, Galactic Civilizations is basically Civilization in space with mostly just changes to the dressing.  For example:
  • Your cities are now planets, with population counted in the billions, but improvements are put on map tiles with adjacency bonuses.  There's the same general breakdown of population production being divided into manufacturing, wealth, and research but with different math (planets do not expand into surrounding tiles).
  • Your explorer finding abandoned ruins is now a survey ship finding anomalies.  
  • The other nations you warred, agreed, or traded with are now other alien races with nearly identical kinds of relations to be had.  
  • Combat between your units is resolved pretty much identically to those in Civilization: you move one death stack atop another and only one survives.  However, since this is a space 4X game, you can design your own ships, and a system of rock paper scissors with beams, missiles, and lasers has been introduced (and copied almost verbatim by Stellaris).
  • Flipping other planets by overwhelming them with your culture is as doable here as it was in Civilization, where I'm pretty sure it was done first.
And so on.  However, that's alright because despite Galactic Civilizations III essentially being a clone with new dressing, it's a very slick implementation.  Some might even say it's the better game, because the micromanagement is cut down to great degree, you can expand your empire as much as you like without happiness/health holding you back, the tweaks to the game mechanics are genuine improvements, and the UI is very slick and effective.

As far as my personal tastes are concerned, I would rather play Galactic Civilizations III than Civilization: Beyond Earth but both games have disappointingly uninvolving combat.  Combat in Stellaris was actually more involving because of the real time aspect and the inclusion of a retreat button!  I think I must really want a new space 4X with combat as well done as Sword of the Stars, but that level of innovation is a tall order indeed.

Overwatch Overwhelms:

When I played the Overwatch open beta, it seems to me that I was doing quite well.  I was surprised because I figured my reflexes weren't as good now as when I was younger.
Well, now that the game is released, it seems a great deal more of the players were old veterans of Team Fortress 2, and I am regularly getting my digital ass handed to me.

I guess I have some skill, as I'm still winning more often than losing, but I wonder if this kind of tactile game is beyond my aging reflexes.

Anyway, Overwatch is a good, exciting game.  What I said about it before more or less holds up.

When Moore's Law Takes A Nap, This Happens:

Aside from that, not much has been going on over the past couple weeks.  When you spend 52.5 hours a week at work, lunch, or commuting, it really doesn't leave enough time for a gamer to be a gamer...
... but it did allow me to afford a shiny new laptop.   I am now enjoying a lovely Asus G752 that I have customized to run in Raid 0 on a pair of NVMe SSD sticks, which essentially puts me at hard drive access rates of about 4 times that of a good non-NVMe SSD.  Disk access is no longer a bottleneck.  What is?  Well,  the Intel i7-Q6700-HQ CPU scores rather high on current charts, and the M970 is still at least half as effective as its full-sized desktop brother, but these are both things you can do better with on a desktop.

If raw firepower is the goal, my money would have been better spent investing that into desktop components, but I am about to move to temporary accommodations which may not have room enough for one, and that is my primary motivation for buying a laptop: this is an investment in making sure I'll always have a sufficiently powerful computer to use, wherever I end up.  However, looked at another way, mobile devices seem to be taking over a lot of the PC's old ground, and so moving to a laptop feels right.

That said, a lot of my time last week was spent working out bugs in this laptop.
  • First was the porting to the NVMe drive, which went a lot easier than expected thanks to this article - I took more time flashing the bios, installing the NVMe, and creating backups in case anything went wrong than I did performing the actual migration, which went off without a hitch.
  • The second problem was the crackling and popping of the sound system, a well known issue with the G751.  I am still not sure I completely solved the problem, but I believe I at least greatly reduced the crackling by changing the minimum processor state in the power settings to 100% and installing the latest drivers.
  • The third problem had to do with my network performance.  I found out it had to do with silly meddling by Asus trying to create this network tunneling gamer enhancement called "Gamefirst."  Silly gimmick, does not work, it made playing Overwatch impossible by messing up the packet schedule.  Once I disabled it from msconfig, the problem disappeared completely.
New hardware, new bugs.  It seems it's forever a PC gamer's fate to do their own troubleshooting, but I am a fairly old hand at it now.  I just hope neither of these sticks of NVMe burn out completely on me any time soon, or this thing will just be an oversized paper weight.  Ram chips should be more stable than a spinning magnetic platter... right?

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