If any one theme has dominated this list, it has been the theme of beauty.
For the most part, when I talk about beauty in games, I am talking about art or music. Games, like Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, found a way – even in the days of more primitive graphics – to come alive, both visually and musically. World of Warcraft, my #2 game, likewise, combines colorful, stylized graphics with a serene musical score.
In the Civilization series, especially Civ IV, well-chosen graphics and music are certainly a feature. However, the thing that makes the Civ series stand above the rest – and the reason that I keep coming back to play it again and again – is that the game itself is beautiful.
Make no mistake. The learning curve for Civ, a game in which you guide a civilization through history over the course of about 5-12 hours, is a steep one. You are almost certain to wash out early during your first two or three games. Civ requires you to balance a lot of needs – resources, technology, population, military, culture – and its easy for veteran players, much less newcomers, to become too neglectful of one or the other. But when you finally “get it” – when you finally understand the way the game is put together, and begin to develop your own strategies for playing it – you will experience something that is comparable the the feeling you get when you take in a breathtaking work of art.
The strategic depth in this game is incredible. I marveled once at the diversity and strength of the opinions that were posted in Civ-related forum on the subject of when and how one’s starting city should “build” its first settler. Pages upon pages of analysis have been generated about the best ways to play the opening turns of the game. Entire web sites are dedicated to the loyal community that plays this game regularly. It is not uncommon, on the Apolyton civilization podcast, for extensive discussions to be devoted to little more than the uses of one of the dozens of military units that are generated during the course of the game.
The secret to the appeal of Civ, I think, is this: perhaps better than any other product in its industry, Civ has a way of making you feel like you are playing your game. In shooters and role playing games, there is always a sense that you are playing out someone else’s game – you are a part of a story that someone else has created for you. But in the Civilization games – from the very beginning – I have always felt like it was my world, my nation, my leaders, and my style of play – that was determining the outcome of the game.
In years to come, people may soon forget Grand Theft Auto, even the Halo series. But, like its creator Sid Meier, Civ will always be remembered for the way it transcends conventional ideas of gaming, creating an experience unlike any other in…well…history.