Civilization 5 – Mods and Virtual Geography

Civilization, Sid Meyer’s first born son birthed on a hill with rainbow and gods present, has become one of the most renowned and highest grossing turn based strategy games of the past decade. Civilization 5 especially has elapsed all of its predecessors in terms of popularity, expansions, mods and profits.

Naturally, there are a plethora of mods available for the game. In fact, more than 1500 on Steam alone. These range in usefulness and practicality. For example, after a couple of hours the novelty of being able to play as races of Middle Earth, Avatar, or Westeros wears pretty thin. You are after all, running around and doing the same old clicky thing.

However, what makes some of the Civ 5 mods interesting, is their ability to change a game by modifying the game mechanics to suit both the map development, layout, and the geographical area. Using the same example of the popular books/TV mods, the detailing in the respective maps not only replicate their originals, but are geographically tweaked to represent physical geography more so than the original set of  Civ 5 maps.

By this I mean, where you see different biomes or geographical features on the map, they are designed to reflect the natural formation based on the earth environment. Marshlands must be adjacent to bodies of water, grasslands transition to shrubbery and eventually forest etc. This is simple environmental formation, which is lending to the development of thinking geographically when playing a tactical strategy game.

Obviously, the original untampered Civ 5 represents geography exceptionally well. The subsequent expansions, such as Gods and Kings, or Brave New World certainly build on this very effectively. But this is where the finer detailed mods come in – those including ‘Perfect World’, ‘Reforestation’, and the ‘Enahanced World Map’ saga.

A great example of this can be seen when playing in the ‘Perfect World’ mod. It uses map elevation to create landforms, then uses a simplified model of geostrophic and monsoon wind patterns to generate climate. In simple terms the map represents real meteorological patterns, real geographical formations, and tailors the chance of resources to occur more often in areas where that resource is found in the natural world.

So, geographical knowledge can be applied to much greater affect than simply ‘there is a large body of water here, therefore I can infer there will be some sort of water-type resource such as pearls or fish in that area’.

Instead, using this mod, combined with a working knowledge of geography one can infer much greater detail, and consequently utilise the map in a much more tactical way. Civ 5 takes this to the level that few other games can dream of.

For example, in desert biomes, knowing the algorithms behind dune formation, and being able to recognise the difference between dune type allows the player to realise that ‘this type of dune is formed as a result of high winds and the availability of particles, so it wont boarder a coast any time soon. I should probably utilise my units by only sending scouts into that area, and leaving settlers for more sustainable biomes’.

Or one may recognise ‘the path of this river is meandering, meaning that it’s in middle to lower stages of its course. There wont be mountains nearby, and the availability of farming luxuries, such as cotton and dyes, are statistically higher’. The new map takes into account the correct probability of where a resource should be, rather than randomly attributing them throughout the map.

In the next few posts Ill go into more detail regarding how I personally have applied geographical knowledge during games of Civ 5, and how that has worked out for me. This will include discussing the merits of other mods also, and the general differences between them and the original game.

Eventually Ill look at some other virtual geography in other games, and why its becoming more available in game design.

Looks like its time to put my shades back on and play some Civ.

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