This from the wonderful world of electronic games: Young Jon Shafer, the genius behind Civilization V has left Sid Meier and Firaxis. It kinda reminds you of Jeffrey Katzenberg leaving Disney. Watch out. Whatever happened, my money says that Shafer has depth and Firaxis has made a big mistake.
To give you some background, Sid Meier is the computer gaming genius who first brought to the world, Civilization. It is a game that demands a strategic balance between economy, war and culture and it is the phenomenon that once and for all neutralized that dreaded wifely phrase “Sorry dear, I’ve got a headache.” Now men had another option. They could conquer the world onscreen which turned out to be the best thing since, well, since sex.
Sid Meier’s game lowered the birth rate in the English speaking world and is now doing the same everywhere else. For years he and his team have been churning out newer, cleaner, more artzy versions of the basic game,. And like Channel it took number 5 to get it all together.
Which brings us to young Jon Shafer. Forget all of the nitpicky criticism you may have heard about Civilization V. This latest Shafer version of Sid Meier’s classic genre lives up to all the hype primarily because it solves one big problem and as an extra bonus, brings one very huge new dimension.
First, the problem.
I really shouldn’t call it a problem. This game series has always been strategically sound. In fact, it is so good that its climax is often a letdown. It’s like getting to the end of The Lord of the Rings, by the time you see the pages winding down a deep depression sets in. This story is almost over. And there is no way that its end can be as good as the journey.
In the case of Civilization, call it post-playing depression. The first few hundred times you play you have the patience to grind on to the bitter end. But in each of the successive generations of games there was always a tipping point from which you knew that you would eventually win. The suspense was gone and the work began as you had to do all of the patient little things to finish it off. After a thousand games, well, it got tedious. It was enough to drive you back into the arms of an Age of Empires game.
Civ 5 has dramatically changed all of that. There are still definitive moments. In the original games you found yourself anticipating the coming of the battleship and the power of the railroad. Then, they got smart and dumbed both of those advances down a bit. Now, you will find yourself keenly anticipating a fleet of bombers so you can attack those hard to get places, those impregnable fortress cities that are placed strategically. Places that conventional artillery and infantry cannot dislodge.
There are now economic and population mood limits to armies and nation building. An empire can get overstretched and see its economy unravel. Sound familiar. And because of the limits to armies there is great end game drama. The fevered chess match that appears in the early part of the game now endures to the last move
Boredom, tedium, work? All solved. This game now plays to the last move.
Second, the new dimension.
The unique playing abilities and advantages of the various nations take the addiction to another level. Remember when you started with Civ? Remember how you couldn’t wait to see what would happen on the next move? Well, now, you can’t wait to see what will happen with the next game, playing a new nation. I’ve played the English, French, Americans, Chinese and Germans to the end and started a few of the others to see how they work. Each has such differences that the whole game is changed.
Oh yes, Jon Shafer’s paper, scissors, rock concept from the old panzer games, works well. One has to plan a military campaign with Sun Tzu diligence. You must know yourself and the enemy and the terrain. And at the higher levels of the game you must even make sure you are perceived by the world as morally just in your wars, a principle that Sun Tzu argued thousands of years ago and that the United States has recently flouted at great expense.
So enjoy your Christmas and conquer the world, whatever nation you choose. And cheers to Sid Meier, and Jon Shafer. It is too bad it couldn’t have lasted longer but hey, everything must come to an end. (I am still waiting for a Civil War game that solves the personality – terrain problems.)
We don’t yet know what happened at Firaxis. My guess is that Jon Shafer didn’t get his share of the kingdom. And the stuffy board members or stock holders probably haven’t played enough of the game themselves to understand what this latest version has achieved. Take heart young Shafer. If you are a Jeffrey Katzenberg then we will all be richer in the end, especially you.
Meanwhile, for many Christmases’ to come it will be Channel Number 5 for the women and Civilization Number 5 for the men.