DonAithnen (donaithnen) wrote,

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Fixed Computer and Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri

So a thing that happened last week was finally getting my computer fixed!

Actually it happened near the end of the week before, but i spent quite a lot of time reinstalling stuff before considering it to be really usable. Which got spread out over almost a week because life kept getting in the way. (And i'd still like to get a new hard drive or two so i can transfer everything off of the other two old drives before they go kaput as well.)

But in any case this weekend i felt that things were stable enough for it to be worth installing and playing some games again. I've watched about five or six hours of Let's Play type videos for Civilization: Beyond Earth, and by this point i was feeling a strong compulsion to play an Alpha Centauri type game.

So i went ahead and installed the copy of Alpha Centauri i bought from GOG way back when they first put it up for sale :)

It took me a little while to figure out how to run Alpha Centauri in windowed mode (DrDx is my new best friend =) and then a little longer to figure out how the factions worked. Definitely one of the improvements of later games is telling you exactly what bonuses your faction gives you. (Though apparently Civ5 fell down on this a little.)

So i went and checked some FAQs for specifics before deciding to play as Zakharov, the Russian Academician. I decided to play as a Citizen for my first game (the lowest difficulty) because i really wanted to see as many Wonder movies as possible, seeing as that's one of the big selling points of SMAC.

So i started a game, did a little exploring, and then had to reset because i had forgotten that "blind research" is an option in SMAC, and it starts out on by default =P

So i started my second game, and despite playing as University on the easiest setting, i got beat to Secrets of the Mind because i'd totally forgotten that tech existed and was something you ought to rush for =P

I really don't remember anything about this tech tree aside from a couple tech names. I did try to look up the pre-reqs for some of the better Wonders, but i think i really need to find a good chart if i'm going to make any kind of intelligent choices.

Needless to say, despite some poor teching choices the game isn't really much of a challenge at this level. Deirdre beat me to one early Wonder (the Empath Guild?) and later Santiago beat me to some kind of defense thing, but i've monopolized all the rest of the Wonders so far.

Everyone was pretty easy going diplomatically and willing to be friends when we first met. Eventually Yang got pissed at me and declared war. (Which was a bit sudden, given that until then it was Sister Miriam who kept phoning me up with angry demands.) On the plus side that made Pravin Lal extra happy with me since he was also fighting Yang at the time. And after some initial concerns because the "odds" message that pops up before fights isn't very clear i went on to clean Yang's clock. Then since i was already good friends with Lal because of that i agreed to help him against Santiago, and for some bizarre reason Deirdre jumped in on Santiago's side. However after having to march through the wilderness to get to her bases i rolled her up just as easily as Yang, taking the one Wonder she beat me to in the process. (Though of course i still didn't get to see the Wonder movie.)

So some general commentary on the game.

Even after seizing about 8-10 bases from Yang and Santiago i'm still at "only" about 20 bases. Given the amount of unused space within my territory and unclaimed space outside my territory i could easily have double that, and probably quite a bit more if i was being really "competitive."

I've always tended towards a "smaller" number of large cities in relatively prime spots, which is one of the reasons i found Civ5 rather frustrating at times. I suspect that the elite players might appreciate it if there was some _good_ reason not to pack cities cheek to jowl, but when Firaxis' attempts to fix it prevented my from placing what seemed like a perfectly reasoanble number of cities it certainly pissed me off, and probably some number of other moderate level players as well.

If i do decide to pack more cities in i need to look at the Governors a bit more. I think it might have been GalCiv that i recall as being the first game that would let you save a build queue and apply it to multiple cities, but SMAC does have a queue, and perhaps there's some way to save/load it that i'm not remembering.

Figuring out the best way to terraform is tough. There are three levels of moisture that affect farming, three levels of rockiness that affect mining, a large amount of variation in terrain height that affects solar collectors. And in addition to the basic farms/mines/solar collectors there are also forests and fungus, and later on thermal boreholes, soil enrichment, and a number of improvements that affect neighboring tiles. Figuring out the best way to utilize the terrain around any particular base can be tricky, and there are some disagreements about what the best general strategy is.

I've got to say that the most annoying thing about terraforming is trying to find spots to dig thermal boreholes. They can't be too close to other thermal boreholes and they have to be on fairly level ground. I haven't checked a FAQ yet, but i think that means that all 8 surrounding tiles have to be within the same 1000' range as the tile you want to terraform. You can raise or lower terrain to create a relatively level area but it takes a fair amount of time, and the amount that you change the terrain by with each action doesn't seem exact. Not to mention when it pops up the error saying the land isn't level enough for a borehole it doesn't give you any indication which of the surrounding tiles is causing the problem, and it gets tedious checking by hand after awhile.

When i first played SMAC i remember being a little daunted by the unit construction, but it seems pretty simple now. What is a little frustrating is handling upgrades and obsolete units. All the obsolete units get shuffled to the "front" of the line, and if you scroll back and find one you want to get rid of when you delete it the cursor jumps back to the end of the line. Which makes cleaning out several obsolete units in a row a bit of a chore. (Perhaps i ought to turn off automatic designing of units, though i worry that if i do that i won't have the already-prototyped new units anymore.)

However i've got to say that the ability to instantly upgrade all units of a type, even if they're out in the field and about to enter combat, sure is convenient! (Even if it's not exactly cheap =) Each turn is an entire year of game time, so maybe it's some excuse to what otherwise seems massively unrealistic, but even so i sure wouldn't want to be the guy who thinks he's about to face off against a jeep only for it to morph into an armored tank!

It's a little frustrating that there's not any kind of activity log after each turn. The screen will bounce all over the map as AI units move around and events happen, but it's quick enough that it's hard to register where everything is and exactly what happened.

Oh, and i still haven't picked any social policies (or whatever they're called in SMAC.) I remember being able to pick them to modify your starting attributes and i've seen notes on some techs about "enables the such and such to be picked," but the tutorial didn't mention how it works and i keep forgetting to dig through the menus and find the option.

So all in all the game is definitely still playable (otherwise Avalyn wouldn't have woken up at 3:30am sunday morning to find me still playing =) albeit with a few clunky UI issues. The Wonder movies are still awesome, and also often still weird.

When i finish this game i'm thinking of starting a new one as a One City Challenge, maybe a difficulty level or two higher. I've never actually used supply crawlers in this game, and that seems like it might be a fun thing to try. (Though i'm not sure if there's any way to expand or keep your borders if you play that way, other than declaring war on and destroying anyone who tries to settle near an area you're interested in.)
Tags: video games

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