Saturday, February 21, 2009

Universal Europe:Woe to the Vanquished

What makes an accurate model?(game) In one sense this asks; what components makes a model deliver correct predictions/result? In another, perhaps more interesting one; what results are the correct ones? Furthermore; how do we know? Begging the first and last question for now, let us consider the model as a black box(no, not that kind). Stuff is put into the box, stuff comes out. We cannot see what goes on in there(I promise, though; no cat and no radioactive substances). Now, do we want the same stuff to come out no matter what we put in?

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No, that seems strange, surely, not to mention boring. As a player we want our actions to matter, as a predictor we want to be able to find out what would happen under several different starting conditions. On the other hand we don’t want it to vary to much; no matter how much trade and research focus my Civilization has in that game, discovering nuclear fission in 1000 AD with my seems.......not quite right. Restricting the scope in place or time, or involving predecided events outside the workings of the basic game engine that help restrict the outcomes to the accepable ones. A more elegant method is involving selfcorrecting, and plausible, functions in the model; one of the most common problems is in strategy games is one empire becoming so large and militarily strong it becomes irresitable; common methods to balance this are corruption costs for increased size, troops costing more above a certain level and making the artifical intelligence playing the other nations increasingly hostile as you rampage across the map.

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I would write more about it, but someone else already has(Unfortunatly in swedish, but if you can read it, I highly reccomend it). At the time this historian was not yet a member of the Swedish academy, where he is now the “constant secretery”. Since joining the academy he written the following, including the line(my translation) “Only the person who plays computer games is a serious user of computers”, which even I think is a bit harsh. Anyways; it is there revealed comments that not only has he plays and enjoys games since many years back but also(in the comments section) that he designed strategy games once upon a time and what I choose to interpret as a promise to do so again.

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The game he writes about in that first article is Europa Universalis. An award winning 4X game(series) by a swedish developer, Paradox. It deals with the rise of the modern world, with the focus on Europe(duh), beginning in 1492(or 1453 or 1415, depending on the version(spot the events at the different dates!)) .The level of detail in the game is unparralleld, involving hundreds of provinces, dozens of countries, the effects of the reformation and counterreformation; politics, religion and economics all simulated up until 1789(or 1815)*. The first and second games used scripted events to replicate major historical happenings(the Habsburg inheritence for instance), certain predetermined possible start dates and a set line of kings and queens with the historical dates of rule(with a few possible exceptions). Far more cleanly, the latest version makes all events, regents, inheritence and so on a part of the game engine. This makes for in some less historical gameplay(Charles V may never become king of Spain or Emperor) but in some ways more realistic(No Habsburg inheritence possible unless there has been a royal marriage between Spain and Austria). It also lets you start at any date during the time period with a historical starting position.

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All this would still not motivate mentioning the game here. Thankfully Paradox recently put out a new game called EU:Rome and its expansion Vae Victis. This deals with the the time from 280 to 27 BC and the rise of rome, although you can play . No tactical battles here, just the complex basic modell from the EU III game combined with character driven intrigue and politics inspired by another, earlier paradox game. There are troops, trade, war, colonization and more, mostly, to my eyes, quite adequatly depicted(with a few reservations).

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Lets linger awhile on the internal politics, something that strategy games has had trouble presenting in a realistic, immersive and entertaining way.Exactly how it works depends on your form of goverment. Here, if you have a republic, you elect a consul, apoint censors, praetor, army and navy questors as well as pontifex maximus. The election isn’t complete controlled by the player, although you can influence it by setting the right conditions; building up different factions(the military, civic, mercantile etc.), grooming candidates by appointing them to the right offices, letting them lead your armies to victory or setting them up too loose. As a last resort there is imprisonment or the ubiquitous assasination option.

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Hwta you don’t want is a populist victory which gives numerous penalties to your country, an immediate loss of stability, dangerous changes in the basic ideas governing your nation and more. Very much a boni outlook, which one quickly internalizes, swearing loudly over the damn populists and their shortsighted policies, that simply do not grasp the fundamental interests at stake. Characters are attracted to the popular faction if they don’t get too serve in office or if they feel slighted in some other way. Sometimes this even leads to land reform! Their loyalty to the republic, which can lead to a rebellion if it becomes too low, is also affected by being slighted, being removed from office, if their personal enemy happens to be consul or if they have legions who are loyal to them(temptation....). Try to remove them from their position, or prosecute them and they might just rebel if their loyalty is low enough. Isn’t there a famous example of this happening?

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What are the reservations mentioned then? Well some minor changes have been made, presumably for playability purposes; there is only one consul, he is elected for 2 years etc. The major problem is one that has plauged this game developer for a long time, but that seems to be getting worse. Paradox is a small company and thus cannot afford the extensiv prelaunch testing other companies practice, instead they release their game and patch it with upgrade files repeatedly afterwards(To be fair; they do this for free, quickly and usually add completely new features as well) based on the input from the community. This does however meen their games are released with minor defects and a certain lack of balance.

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When I say “the community”, I don’t mean the one with “them”, who live in “the neighbourhood” and find Kill Bill excessivly violent. No, I mean the loyal fans, active in the online forums for the games, who endlessly play, discuss and help improve the games. The games I’ve discussed earlier has them as well, but none have any quite as dedicated, innovative or, well lets call it what it is, fanatic as the ones for the Paradox games. They post after action reports detailing their exploit(, each one a history of a parallel world, some well written, some....differently written.

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I will post my final entry here on my Monday, tomorrow I rest,

Tegularius

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*Don’t worry, if you want to explore the time before EU there is the aforementioned Crusader Kings, if instead you want later eras there is Victoria, followed by Victoria Revolutions and then Hearts of Iron 1 and 2(Nr 3 is on its way), bringing you all the way to the 1950s.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Beklagar men om man har så dåliga kunskaper i engelska som du har så håll dig hellre till svenska. Du kan förstås förbättra din erbarmliga stavning avsevärt genom att använda t.ex. Words rättstavningsprogram.

Forsberg said...

Därtill har den här bloggen urartat till en nördansamlingsplats, alltjämt utan korrekturläsning och med förskräckliga stilbrott, och nu också med meningslöst dataspelstema. Bloggen gör latin till kuriosa.