Thoughts on Civilization: Beyond Earth

Recently the complete edition of Civilization: Beyond Earth went on sale. I think I paid about $10-15 for it. I’d been waiting for this to happen for a couple of years, since I insist on buying the whole game rather than buying it in 3 transactions (I want all the DLC, i.e the whole game), and because you’ll have to do something really special to make me think about spending $60 for a game.

Humble Store Link.

I’ve just finished my first playthrough, and here are my thoughts. They’re not easy to sum up in just 200 characters.

Let me start by saying it’s good. You’d expect it to be – they’ve done like 15 Civilization games so far, so they should have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t. You’d expect anything under the Civilization banner these days to be super-polished and addictive. And it is, with the usual caveat that the AI isn’t particularly smart. But I’m willing to let that one slide since we don’t have general AI yet – it’s a complex game and building an AI for it is not going to be easy.

Weirdly, I found it both more and less complex than Civ V (the most recent one I’ve played, I have Civ 6 but have only put in maybe an hour so far). For instance, the diplomatic options seem very cut-down – you can’t e.g surround an enemy with a huge army and then demand a “gift”, or even have any customised dialogue – the options are limited to making trade agreements and setting a cooperation level (ranging from war to allied). That’s it. This seems to be a curious change for a Civ game, given that the diplomacy is such a big part of it. So it’s less complex, but at the same time there are a bunch of new mechanics that make it more complex, e.g orbital units, which I think are cool but didn’t strike me as particularly useful – I ignored them for most of the game.

I haven’t played Alpha Centauri in a couple of years, but I remember being really really impressed with it. I don’t think this is as good. And it’s not as good as Civ V, which might be the ultimate version of Civilization – it’s super-super-polished, faithful enough to the older games that I didn’t notice anything missing, and yet has enough new stuff that seemed to fit in well that I felt like it was more than just a rehash.

It pains me to say that any of these are better than the original, Civ 1, but objectively speaking I’d say that all of these probably are – I still play Civ 1 occasionally and compared with these games it feels kinda simple, and the graphics are antiquated. It is still hugely fun and massively addictive and it’s undoubtedly one of the most important games ever made, but if you’re new to Civ you probably want to start with Civ V.

Another pet-peeve I had with beyond earth is the technology / science system – I feel like the tech web idea (it’s a web rather than a tree) precludes a logical progression of science, because the dependencies for any given item aren’t particularly deep. So you could theoretically go to the end of a particular branch of the web by researching only 4 or 5 prerequisites, as opposed to the more conventional tech tree where railroads require steam engines, which require alloys, which requires steel, which requires metallurgy, which requires bronze, etc etc etc. Granted, the tech web is perhaps more realistic and reflects how you could change the focus of your research drastically and that research in computing is probably not going to impact biology very much, but I think the deeper tech tree with less choices at each branch is a better game mechanic.

The other problem I have with the tech tree/web in this game is that I felt like most of the technologies and unit names were just made up technobabble – I’m somebody who knows his sci-fi and futurism and I didn’t find myself saying “oh I know what that is”. And in a few cases I did know where something was, and was disappointed that the game didn’t really give me that. For example, there’s a mass driver. I said “ooooh cooool, mass driver!”. And then I got an improvement that gave my city better offensive capabilities, no mass driver graphic or animation to be seen, no weeapon I can target enemies with to throw meteors at them. In my book this should have been a devastating orbital unit, but nope. Note that this doesn’t apply to all of the technologies or units – some of them are logical hypothetical technologies and some of them do just what it says on the tin. But a lot of it is researching inverse phase polarity infusers, which give you a temporal gyreforge improvement that for some reason gives your city +3 production, or whatever. It’s been a while since I played Alpha Centauri, but I seem to recall that having a more logical tech tree, and the units/improvements you get from each tech make more sense with regard to what each technology is. But I might be wrong about that. Maybe it’s just that I’ve played regular Civilization more recently, and it has a very logical tech progression where you automatically know what everything is, as per my rail example above (which is just off the top of my head, but is probably fairly close to the actual progression).

I found several things in the UI unintuitive. For example I was about two-thirds of the way into the game before I figured out how to assign specialists, i.e where you assign a citizen as a scientist or engineer to get a science or production bonus. At first I assumed it didn’t have them, and then I figured out that you have to check the ‘show buildings’ checkbox, and certain buildings give you slots for specialists which you can click to assign. Another example of the unintuitive AI was that at a certain point I noticed that the colour of the aliens had changed. At first it was blue and then at a certain point I noticed it was orange. It was only when I destroyed a nest and the aliens changed from orange to red that I realised that they were getting more and more hostile. This despite me having all the advisors turned on, and it telling me every 3 turns that I can change my personality traits, and me screaming “yeah I’m happy with the ones I have, shut up!”.

Don’t take all these criticisms as me saying that the game isn’t great, though – it still has that addictive “one more turn” thing going on that you expect from a Civ game. But I don’t think it’s as good as Civ V or Alpha Centauri. If you’re looking for a purchasing recommendation, here’s mine: Buy Civilization V complete when it’s on sale ($80?!? seriously?), then buy Alpha Centauri on GOG (Listed at AU$8 at the time of writing including the expansion, a fair price), and then buy the complete edition of Beyond Earth when it’s on sale. If you can get the complete edition for $10-15 it’s worth it. If you don’t already own Civ V and Alpha Centauri then I’d recommend getting those first. I’m just going to assume you already own Civ 1. Which strangely doesn’t seem to be on GOG at the time of writing. Luckily, I own a boxed copy for the Amiga. </bragging>

Note that, of course, all these games support Linux. You might think that Alpha Centauri doesn’t, but loki games did a port back in the day. Apparently it can be difficult to get it running on modern systems, and that may or may not be true for the GOG version, but this installer works just fine on my xubuntu 16.04 laptop with my original Alpha Centauri CD. The only issue I have with Alpha Centauri is that it insists on running at 1024×768, which means it’s fairly small on my laptop screen, which won’t actually switch to that resolution. If you have a way to make it run at 1920×1080 (or 1680×1050), I’d love to hear it – the only info i could find was for the windows version. But it doesn’t make the game less awesome.

ARK: Survival Evolved – A Review

Apparently you have to own a game to review it on steam, and since I’ve been playing a friend’s copy of ARK via family sharing, my opinion is meaningless. The best part is that they let you spend time writing your review and then tell you that you can’t review the game when you press “post”. So here’s my review of ARK: Survival Evolved:

Hugely impressive and ambitious, but not finished. ARK has the potential to be a really excellent game, if all the bugs are ever ironed out. At first the bugs will just be annoyances, but once you’ve put some real time into this game they’ll come to rule your experience and you’ll find yourself increasingly frustrated.

Two particularly big ones are dinosaur AI and building structures. You’ll find your tame dinosaurs getting constantly stuck while they’re trying to follow you, to the point that you’ll have to turn around every minute or so to count how many dinosaurs are following you and go back and rescue stragglers. This isn’t such a big deal when you have 3 dinos following you a small distance, but it becomes incredibly tedious when you have 15 and you’re on an epic 20km journey. As for building structures, I hope you like grinding to collect resources, because you’ll spend 20 minutes collecting stuff to craft a piece of a structure, and then the game will refuse to place it where you want it, so you have to demolish something and go out to collect the necessary resources to rebuild in the esoteric order the game wants. Or the game will place it in the wrong place, or in the wrong direction, and you’ll be left with no choice but to demolish the structure and go out and collect more resources to rebuild.

If you search around a bit, you’ll find that both of these issues have been problems for YEARS, and that no fix seems to be forthoming. It seems that the devs are busy building DLC rather than finishing the game. See also the fiasco where the scorched earth DLC was released while the game was still in early access. Apparently the solution to that was to just remove the ‘early access’ tag, to hell with the bugs.

I’d really like to recommend ARK, there really is a fantastic game buried under all those bugs, and perhaps one day these issues will be addressed and I’ll re-visit this review, but as it stands this game is regrettably not worth the AAA price tag attached to it. If you can get it for less than $20 with all the DLC then I’d say it’s probably worth it.

Suck shit, valve!

Australian Courts open up a can of whoop-ass on Valve for their violation of Australian consumer protection laws

And all they had to do was refund my $2.49. They tried to tell me they were above the law. I told them they weren’t. Seems like the courts agree with me.

So in addition to not ever getting another cent from me, Valve got dragged through our courts and will now be fined. And they refunded my $2.49 plus fees (I did a chargeback).

It’s always nice when justice actually happens.


In today’s installment of “Awesome Open-Source Software”, I’m going to talk about Teeworlds.

A screenshot:

This game is a brilliantly playable, amazingly addictive, and hugely fun blend of a 2D platformer (a-la Mario) and a multiplayer FPS (a-la Quake3 or Unreal Tournament).

It’s not complicated: It’s multiplayer only, there are only 5 weapons, and the levels aren’t big or expansive – you won’t spend long looking for your enemy, you’ll spend more time lobbing grenades at him, and then running away frantically because you’re out of ammo and/or low on health.

That’s if you’re playing with only a few others. If there are lots of people in the game, it’ll just be frantic carnage, like any good deathmatch.

It takes its cues from “proper” deathmatch games – the old run-and-gun style: cover systems and regenerating health are for sissies; precision aiming is for people who don’t know about splash damage. Standing still is a VERY BAD IDEA. None of this “modern FPS” crap. This is evidenced most starkly in the fact that you can double-jump, and, perhaps coolest of all, you have a grapping hook, which you can use to climb and to swing yourself to/from places very quickly. If you play in a busy CTF server, you’ll see just how effective the grappling hook can be – these guys are SO FAST!

And it’s gorgeous and has a great atmosphere: cartoonish graphics and sounds. The sounds really do it for me: the cutesy scream your tee will make when he’s hit in the face with a grenade makes it fun to die, the maniacal yet cartoonish laugh your character will emit when your opponent cops a grenade to the face. It’s a really really fun atmosphere.

And I mean that: this is one of those games which is so much fun that you rarely feel like ragequitting, even when you’re losing badly: you will get killed mercilessly and repeatedly, but you’ll have a big smile on your face during the shootout, and when you die you’ll laugh.

And it’s quite well-balanced: none of the weapons are over-powerful or ridiculously weak. This is probably helped by the fact that the weapons have (very) limited ammo, even though running out of ammo sometimes annoys me slightly.


  • There aren’t enough teeworlds players in Australia, so I find myself playing on servers where I have a ping of 300 or more. This means you sometimes have a laggy experience.
  • You’ll come across killer bots sometimes. These bots are inhumanly good and can drain the fun out of being repeatedly stomped on, but the game has a voting system which allows you to vote on kicking players, so these bots are rarely a nuisance for long.
  • It has an ‘auto-switch weapons’ feature which switches when you pick up a new weapon, but it lacks a ‘weapon preference’ order a-la Unreal Tournament, and it does not switch weapons automatically when you run out of ammo. This is sometimes frustrating because you’re firing at your opponent but you only get an ‘out of ammo’ click, and while you’re trying to switch weapons your opponent kills you. But it’s one of those things you learn and it also serves to add tactics to the game – you’re always keeping an eye on how much ammo you have.

TL;DR: Teeworlds is a really really fun and addictive game which cleverly combines cutesy graphics and 2d-platformer gameplay with the frantic action of a golden-age FPS. It’s one of the better open-source games out there. Go and buy it now! ;)

[EDIT: now runs a Teeworlds Deathmatch server! :) ]

And Yet It Moves / Braid

No, this is not an Ad. Brokenrules are not paying me!

Everybody raves about Braid. It’s clever, with unique game mechanics, and very pretty.

But it’s too short – by the time you wrap your head around a concept, you’re not using that concept any more.

I’ve read reviews praising this, saying that there’s no repetition and not a single “wasted” puzzle.

But you know what? For all my complaints in the past about games being too repetitive, I can handle doing a couple of variations on the same puzzle if it means it’s going to take more than a couple of hours to get through the game.

Don’t get me wrong – Braid is a brilliant game, and the people who came up with those game mechanics are really clever, and the art style is very pretty… but it’s too short – it needs more levels or some different playmodes. It has near-zero replayability.

And Yet It Moves is a much, much better game – easily the most original and fun game I’ve played in years.

This game is fucking awesome in every respect – the game mechanic is deceptively simple – rotating the world, but it gets progressively more challenging and clever about how it uses it.

The game is a good length – it took me longer than Braid did. And it has different playmodes and an “epilogue” set of levels which you can play after you’ve finished the main game which will keep you interested. And achievements are always fun.

And it’s absolutely gorgeous. The “paper” art style is magnificent, and goes through enough variations to always be interesting.

And the music is fantastic – very distinctive and unusual. There’s one particular piece of music which usually plays in-game (usually when you’re jumping onto disappearing platforms) which is especially awesome.

Linux is supported. Steam for Linux is supported. I got it as part of one of the Humble Bundles. It’s going for $10 on Steam right now. You should buy it.

I’m trying to think back to the last time I loved a game this much. It was a long time ago – I’ve been bored with games for a long time. I think that probably the last time I was this impressed with a game was the first time I played Portal.

Here, watch the trailer:

Go and buy this game right now. You want it, you just don’t know it yet (or maybe now you do!). It’s cheap. And it’s a seriously awesome, awesome game.