Civilization 5: Beyond Earth

Over the past couple of years I have accrued over 300 hours playing Civilization in its many instalments. As of a few weeks ago, Civilization 5: Beyond Earth was released. Much excite.

This post is going to quickly outline some initial features of the new game, in the same sort of geographical sense in which I’ve discussed the previous games. Obviously, this presents an interesting new angle to reading the map as we’re now based on a range of new alien worlds in which we must colonise to preserve our species.

This bridges on a very interesting type of geography that has been aiding planetary identification and space missions for half a century: Astro-Geography. It was actually a physical geographer who first theorised (and then proved) that Mars once had flowing water by identifying features cut into the geology that could only have been formed by water-based erosion.

In Beyond Earth there are, as you would expect, alien resources. These range in perplexity and uses throughout the game.

There is also a new type of obstacle aside from the native alien species. This is called Miasma, and is a toxic gas that gathers in certain areas making them impossible to use during the early stages of the game. Miasma is named after the classic ‘night-air theory’ which theorised that diseases and pollution were caused by pools of travelling gas. The research tree enables you to eventually be able to clear miasma from tiles, or to launch orbital satellites that can disperse it for a set amount of turns.

Miasma is generated by the game to cover random tiles, however it does tend to group in sections based on the planetary formation. For example, it tends to cover lowlands such as plains and marsh lands. It also favours xenomass, as this has the potential to spawn alien nests. Therefore, tailoring your civilization’s expansion to tiles that are free of the gas is a good tactic to employ until you’re able to combat it, but be wary of taking up too much land along mountainous areas as these only really have the benefit of heightened defence and not much else resource-based.

Another excellent example of resource development is the ability to build geothermal wells and other new types of energy reactors. This hinges on the Kardeshev theory of civilization progression, another theory originally based on human geography and population increase. Hoyt and Burgess initially postured that as a result of the human race being unable to sustain enough food for such steep population increase, we would begin to seek and invest in new technologies (i.e. interstellar travel).

The Kardeshev scale is a way of measuring a civilization’s technological advancement in 3 categories: Type I is able to utilise all natural energy resources on its home planet, type II can utilise both home planet energy and it’s immediate star, and type III can harness all natural energy from it’s galaxy. This makes the ability to harness natural resources on a whole new alien planet an interesting insight into your civilization, and one that is incredibly exciting to a geography nerd like myself, know that we probably won’t even make Type I in my life time.

Consequently the new types of reactor and energy sources are definitely a good early game strategy, and I advise unlocking engineering on the research tree as soon as possible. Harnessing geothermal’s may take a little longer as its located way over on the Ecology branch, but certainly worth it, especially as there are branches which incur improvements to your existing geothermal wells. In terms of physical geography, they appear close to mountainous or hilly regions, which indicate plate boundaries.

In addition, it features some technology currently available in this day and age, such as hydroponics and solar satellites. I found these quite nice to use, as it gives you some little roots back to earth, and implies that the green technologies we currently research and in invest will continue to be used and improved on in the future (these technologies in the exact same form though may be wishful thinking though).

In conclusion, I think it’s an excellent progression to Civ 5 and its expansions, and gives the player their own chance at deciding their civilizations future. The technology branch can be difficult to read but after a few games you get the hang of it. The technology is interesting, and the graphics mirror that. Basically, if you’ve ever enjoyed any space-based games such as Alpha Centurai, Sins of a Solar Empire, or Endless Space its well worth a try.

P.S Siege worms are dicks.




Civilization 5 – Perfect World 3 Walk Through

In a previous post I talked about the usefulness of geographical knowledge for strategies in some of the Civilization 5 mods. This included ‘Extended World Map’ and ‘Reforestation’, but mainly focused on ‘Perfect World’.

Perfect World is a mod based on map elevation data to create landforms, and a simplified model of geostrophic and monsoon wind patterns to generate climate. This post will be in a walk through style, and will show you the decisions that I made in the early stages of the game in order to apply geographical knowledge to my advantage.

Game set-up was set to random. (Unless you are like me, who selects random, then restarts several times to get a leader I actually want to play as). 

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Firstly, plonk your first city down. Next, take a look at the resources and terrain around you to get a better idea of what sort of climate you’re in. For this scenario I looked to the top red circle and saw incense, desert and an oasis. Already this implies a tropical climate. My initial guess is something akin to Africa. Left shows shallow seas which have higher chances of shallower resources such as crabs and pearls. 

Below, a citrus plantation leading down towards forest. This implies the further south is going to be generally wetter and more fertile, providing more plantation type resources. Finally the circle to the right indicates dunes with flat desert above. As the size of the desert above is fairly large already, I concluded that the dune was a singular boarding formation (as it is large and angled toward the sea, so formed by wind deposits) rather than a continuing feature East.

Right, North and South seem like good bets for exploration to find resources in the fastest way. South first, as the biosphere is more sustainable, and therefore more likely to hold a higher amount of resources in a smaller space.

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As predicted, the forest is pretty bulked up with resources. The red circles show where mountains occur, the circle to the left illustrates how mining resources tend to now tailor mountainous features, rather than at random which tended to happen in the original game. This area is very close to my first city however, and probably doesn’t warrant building another as my boarders will expand.

The second circle indicates another mountain feature. The forest only occurs on one part of the mountain alone, meaning that precipitation (brought upwards off of the water by orographic lifting) is only occurring on one side, and is blocked off from the other by the height of the elevation. As the side that is bare is the South West, it suggests that further south the fertile forest will give way to more savannah and wheat type resources, as the rains aren’t able to make it that far down due to the natural barrier. Time to look North.

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As predicted, there are some tasty shallow sea resources in the two smaller circles to the left.The large circle to the right is not only indicating a mountain region, but one that is obviously a different colour. This tells me that the geology of the area is different to the mountain we saw down South. The formations are much larger, darker, and ridged so they are most likely metamorphic and/or igneous rocks. This will cause a greater rain shadow South (rain that only falls on one side of the mountain). 

Mountains this large and ridged tend to span formations rather than singular features, so I’m betting that they continue further East. They could span further North, but I decided that that wasn’t as likely seen as below there is flat desert most likely caused by adiabatic compression (lost moisture and heated, creating arid conditions) on the leeward side of the mountains. Therefore, the most likely formation must be a barrier spanning the length of the desert bowl, clearly indicated by the build up of dunes at the base of the mountain.

Now I can see that the desert has been created via water deprivation, rather than wind patterns. Now I know that although the desert will be just as big, it’ll be flatter and more of plain, so won’t hold any mining or durable plantation type resources such as incense. 

Based on the information above, I’m going to scout North rather than East, as the rain shadow South means that North should be where the warm moist air, probably brought off of the sea to the left by prevailing winds will be trapped. 

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Boom. Finally, we have found the highest concentration of resources, shown in the larger circle. In this area there is a resource in every single land plot, spanning 6 in length and with others noticeably near by. Perfect for settling near and getting a head start on the resource race.

I’ve left the walk through here, because as useful as this kind of tactical knowledge is, it really only gives you a considerable edge in the first age when you need to optimise where your cities should be. Also, this becomes far easier once you have scouted out all, or at least most, of the map. In that case it becomes as simple as ‘I have eyes and I see gems. I am going to go to those shiny, shiny gems’. 

There are other tactical applications to using the geography of the map however. For example how to pick the best strategically placed and more defensible city or unit locations, or how to identify the places with the highest chance of having a Barbarian encampment. In the next post I’ll go into those a bit more. Maybe it’s time for killing some things, geography style. 


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.