The Human You Have Reached, Doug Wilcox, Is Not In Service—Civ IV Is on the Way Here

It’s happening … The long-awaited Civilization IV is about to hit store shelves, and a special edition is available for pre-order now, probably shipping tomorrow.

Civilization IV is the latest in the wildly popular series of games from Sid Meier and Firaxis Games.

GameStop has the pre-order version with free 3-day shipping, using coupon code “CIV4.”

I have played untold hours of Alpha Centauri and Civlization III. Few game experiences are more enriching than nurturing a tiny colony into a massive, multicontinental empire—and what fun along the way! Research technology, explore, build wonders, wage war, handle diplomatic agreements, conduct espionage, or even build a spaceship to get to Alpha Centauri (my personally favorite victory condition). Civ IV promises completely reworked, smoother gameplay, a real 3D graphics engine, and a multiplayer mode that is actually playable. Civ IV also brings back “wonder movies,” which existed in Civ II and Alpha Centauri, but were not included in Civ III.

Read the detailed review at IGN, and wander over to the official Civ IV Web site. Best Buy has the system requirements, which aren’t excessive.

Once this game arrives, little is going to be able to drag me away from my keyboard. Hmmm. This will probably be a nationwide phenomenon. I don’t think it’s too late to invest in Maxwell House stock.

20 Replies to “The Human You Have Reached, Doug Wilcox, Is Not In Service—Civ IV Is on the Way Here”

  1. I still can’t confirm a ship date/release date for Civ IV. You’d think the offical Civ IV Web site would have it … It looks like the prerelease version is shipping either today or tomorrow, but I’ve seen shipping dates as late as Thursday. My own order at GameStop reads, “Processing.”

    Definitely take the time to watch the video review and interviews at IGN, if you are at all interested in purchasing this game.

  2. It shipped! Today, October 25, 2005, appears to be the preorder shipping date. Not sure when it will be on store shelves—probably tomorrow.

  3. Scheduled for delivery via UPS on Friday. Looks like the shipment to stores date was yesterday. Best Buy has the official in-store release as Thursday. Not bad!

    Time to start using up my accumulated vacation.

  4. My old life will end a day earlier than I expected. My Civ IV is OUT FOR DELIVERY already!

    “So, what do you want to do tonight, Brain?”

    “The same thing we do every night, Pinky, try to take over the world!”

  5. Well, it arrived! So far I like the streamlining, and new interface. It’s easier to play, but I think harder to play well.

    Amusingly, I received one of the copies that had the tech tree poster in French instead of English. The Civ IV Web site already had a link up to enter one’s name and address to get the correct poster.

    I’m not far enough into the game to give much of an opinion. It feels like a Civ game, and that’s really, really good, but I can’t tell yet how all the new features work.

  6. Technical Issues

    It looks like the mammoth release of Civ IV has created its own slew of support issues.

    The most obvious one, of course, was all the people who, like me, received the tech tree in French instead of English. There was is a link to the online form to get the correct one.

    More important might be the fact that the 2K Games Support Site seems to be blown out of the water.

    My videos (the opening video, including the 2K Games and Firaxis animated logos; so far everything I’ve seen in-game has been fine) play somewhat choppily. I had this problem with all the full-screen video in Far Cry, until I updated my nVidia video drivers; however, installing the latest drivers last night didn’t help Civ IV.

    I did have one lockup, which I suspect was sound driver related. I decreased my graphics settings to medium to try to speed up what seemed a bit sluggish, and never had another lockup, so I’m not sure about how big a problem this is.

    Other users have had problems with ATI graphics cards, although there are a couple of fixes on the Civ IV support site now for that. It’s odd that these weren’t detected in beta.

    My friend Phil noticed that running the Trillian chat client at the same time as launching Civ IV caused his game to report that the movies were not installed correctly.

  7. Well, I’ve played one game into the mid-20th-century (and I am not done), and I now feel like I “get it” enought to include a review of sorts. (For those unfamiliar with the genre, the term SMAC below refers to “Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri,” which came out about seven years ago.) I’m still absorbing the differences in where things are on the menus and in units and buildings (such as a coloseum) between Civ III and Civ IV. One of the things I couldn’t find until recently is the indicator for which units are stacked in the tile on which one is focused, and how to select a particular unit. (It was right in front of my face, but it wasn’t big and blinking …)

    Concerning stability, I haven’t had a single crash in single-player mode since the first one I described above. I did have some tooltips disappear at one point when I was playing with the preferences, but these reappeared when I restarted the next time. The one consistent problem I have is the sound being intermittent on movies. There’s also an error in the manual: There is supposed to be a Movies menu off of the Advanced menu, but it isn’t there. Also, my friend Phil found that running the Trillian chat software at the same time as the game caused it to report erroneously that the movies had not been installed properly.

    I will say, based on the reviews I’ve seen at Amazon, that Firaxis did far too little beta testing. They do have a good history of getting patches out quickly, but there is no excuse for some of the problems players have had. In addition, the 2k Games support site is completely useless, having no information of any kind about Civ IV, at least as of today. (Note, this is still true half a week after the release. Firaxis should have stuck with Atari.)

    My friend Phil and I tried the multiplayer game in simultaneous turn mode. It rocks! The biggest problems were creating a GameSpy account (the one I already had wouldn’t work for some reason) and trying to find the game he hosted. The list of games is nearly unusable; it keeps rewriting itself so quickly that it is nigh-unto-impossible to try to join a specific game. I also had several crash-to-the-desktop failures when playing with the multiplayer setup screens. Once in the multiplayer game, though, everything was completely smooth, with no crashes.

    Here are some of the big improvements over Civ III:

    Graphics: I must say the graphics are hard to get used to, because they are so busy. Now that I’ve played the game for a while, it’s becoming a little more easy to read the display and terrain. There is a great feature one can toggle to show resources in little floating circles, which makes reading the map easier, especially in comparison to the puzzle of finding the 5-pixel wide coal resource on a huge map in Civ III.

    Zooming in on the detailed images is really cool, especially with the animations in them. There are animated animals, windmills, mine cars, etc. Dynamically adjusting the zoom level with the mouse wheel is extremely beneficial over the course of a turn. I’m still trying to figure out what my “preferred” scope is.

    The “globe” view overtaxes my PC when at its maximum settings. Thankfully, one can “dumb down” the globe view without affecting the other graphics settings. The game “felt” sluggish, so I went to medium on the graphics complexity settings, but I have since reverted back to high. Then, after another night’s play, I waffled on the graphics again. Globe view gets set to Low, effects to Medium, and general settings to High. It seems to be much smoother now. On my system, which is good but not amazing, scrolling and zooming was slightly choppy, but not severely so, except toward the end of my current game when the globe view was crammed full of information. Everything else is wonderful.

    Sound: Zooming in reminded me of one of my favorite features. It’s not particularly useful, but it is extremely cool: When you zoom in on a city, the game provides the background soundscape that applies to what that city is doing at the time. It might be the sounds of traffic and industry, or (when engaged in War with a city protected by Infantry) the Marine song “From the Halls of Montezuma,” (which I found amusing because I was at war with the Aztecs at the time).

    Music: The game music is gorgeous. The theme music that accompanies each leader on the diplomacy screen is also excellent. I love to talk to Queen Isabella of Spain, just because I enjoy her theme, which is based on the Flamenco tune Malagueña. The opening music appears to be from a South African choir, something like what was heard in Disney’s abhorrent The Lion King.

    Espionage: The espionage in Civ III really stunk. Unless you had zillions of dollars in your treasury, it was a complete waste of time. I tended never to use it, except for a rare Examine City order, because I always spent most of my money on research, and couldn’t afford thousands of gold to execute a mission. The espionage model in Civ IV, though, is similar to SMAC, although a bit improved. Spies are invisible units that can destroy production queues, reveal other spies, or get information on a city. Surprisingly, I didn’t see options for Steal Tech or Use Propaganda.

    Diplomacy: I spent my last Civ III game wondering just why every Civ in the world hated me, other than the fact that I had declared war, once I was strong enough, on one Civ that had repeatedly broken treaties and invaded me. In Civ IV, hovering over each leader’s image in the diplomacy screen will show what pluses and minuses apply to the leader’s diplomatic stance. This is very helpful, especially as I felt my diplomatic game was pathetic in Civ III, and I hadn’t a clue about how to improve it. There are also many more options for diplomacy, and the displays have been reworked to show what deals are possible but not going to happen, which is a time-saver when haggling for technology or other deals. The diplomacy also seems more reasonable. The other Civs seemed to be more likely to offer fair resource trades instead of imbalanced ones: I wasn’t being asked to trade Fission and Space Flight technologies for Pottery!

    Information: The mouseover information is perhaps the biggest improvement to the game. I’m sure there were Civ players who memorized every combat or defense bonus that every unit got, but actually having them show up on the display or easily accessed is awesome.

    On the flip side, there are some obvious Civpedia links in some screens that ought to exist but don’t, and the icon-only Civpedia screens can be tricky to navigate at first. I’m still learning where some of the on-screen information is located, especially in the very-different city view.

    Religion: Those who are familiar with human history might have noticed that religion plays a rather important role in it. For the first time, religion (other than as a technology) is modeled into Civilization. There are seven religions, and none of them has an advantage over another one, but they affect how foreign Civs feel about you, how easily cities might be turned in cultural conversion, how quickly resistance to occupation subsides, and they also provide commerce and happiness. Missionaries can be created to spread religion to other cities. It’s about time! (Oddly, I’ve lost the ability to produce missionaries. There must be something in the tech tree I overlooked.)

    Combat: The unit promotions and ability-specific upgrades are great. Going to use that unit for city defense? Use a barracks and give him a 20% city defense upgrade at the start. Units gain other promotions via combat experience. Combat animations themselves are automatically zoomed to (although one can turn this off by preference), and are worth viewing. In high detail settings, each unit is represented, when at full strength, by three characters (three tanks, three longbowmen, etc.), and during battles as the whole unit takes damage, the individual characters are killed or destroyed. I found myself holding my breath as my riflemen attack cities defended by longbowman (which have a high city defense bonus, in addition to bonuses from city or cultural defense).

    Other Miscellaney: Wonder movies were something I looked forward to, but they are a bit underwhelming. The movies are virtually always lovely-but-similar CGI animations of the wonder being rendered and then built. They are interesting, but nothing like the rewarding and sometimes entertaining wonder movies of SMAC. A couple of them come close, though: The Statue of Liberty and Space Elevator are very cool.

    One of the biggest improvements in streamlining is optional camera following for friends and enemies. It allows one not to require the camera to follow every visible movement of every unit. If I send one of my units to a 14-move destination, as long as I don’t run into another unit along the way, I won’t have to watch the unit move until it gets to that destination. (In my last Civ III game, about 60% of my late-game turn time was spent watching my workers move around the map while they automatically cleared pollution.) The one necessary change from the default settings is to Show Enemy Movement, otherwise fighting a war becomes needlessly treacherous.

    Roads are another improvement. They took away the commerce bonus for roads, so they work the way one would expect: Use them to connect cities, transport resources, and facilitate movement, but it isn’t necessary to build them on every tile. Railroads greatly facilitate movement, but they no longer consume the unrealistic zero movement points.

    The high number of “should-have-been-fixed-in-beta” bugs and the worthless technical support are my only reservations about the game. Thankfully, my own installation works almost flawlessly.

    It takes some getting used to due to reorganization of information, but Civ IV is truly a masterpiece.

  8. My husband usually spends winter nights playing Empire Earth. This sounds like a similar type of game. Do you think he’d like it for Christmas? I figure by then they’ll have all the bugs out. (This philosophy is the same one I use for any new operating system. If it’s been out at least two years, everybody but me has it and they are about to come out with a better system, then I’m ready!)

    I prefer puzzle, Myst-like, games (though they seriously cut into my reading time and I try to avoid them!). But my husband likes “conquer/build the world” games. (You wouldn’t believe the amount of time he spent on Sym-Farm! Did you know the way to make $$ farming is to store a silo full of strawberries? Who knew? OK, it’s an old, old game…but their knowledge of farming, or their limited programming ability, made things like that pretty funny.

  9. SimFarm was one we tried, but just couldn’t get into. (I believe it was the least successful game in the SimCity line.) It did show me how little I knew about farming, but it wasn’t as fun as launching air strikes or pounding my opponents to oblivion with tanks.

    I think your husband would love Civ IV. There’s also Empire Earth II, which got very high ratings in PC Gamer, to consider. I have a demo of that one that I haven’t tried yet, but we consider Empire Earth to be one of the best RTS (real time stragegy) games ever written.

    Another good RTS game is Rise of Nations. It’s similar to Empire Earth in many respects, but has some nice twists, including a Risk-style campaign mode, where each battle is resolved on small map with special objectives. And we’re still playing StarCraft, even though it came out in 1998.

    The best Myst-type game I ever played was Rama, based on the novel by Arthur C. Clark. It included puzzles for smart people that fit the game world. One of them was doing arithmetic in base-8 and base-3, if I remember correctly. It’s still available used, although it won’t run on Windows XP.

  10. I finished my first Civ IV game last night!

    I had a terrible time with the game crashing (only last night), but I am pretty sure it was due to a new DVD burner I installed that had a 40-conductor IDE cable, instead of an 80-conductor one. Once I upgraded the cable, Civ IV was rock solid. (I had no other crashes in that game in the week or so since installing.)

    I played on the easiest difficulty level—Settler. The game lasted about 13 hours. I won via a Space Race victory—one of my favorite victory conditions.

    I had blown through the tech tree, and was putting 70% of my income to Culture, and 10% to Research, and still getting 485 gold per turn.

    I experimented with spies. They are really useful. I was using them for sabotaging production queues in rival cities, monitoring my rivals, and (even better) sabotaging improvements on tiles. There’s a limit to how many your Civ can have at one time, so one needs to be fairly judicious with their use. Spies can be transported by submarine, giving the ability to insert them completely invisibly into enemy or rival territory. Don’t want the Persians to have nukes? Just have a spy destroy their uranium mines.

    My only wartime experience was with the Aztecs, who declared war on me in the Middle Ages when I wouldn’t give in to their demands. I had riflemen and infantry; they had longbowmen. Although I lost a few units to their longbowmen when attacking their cities (archer units get a 100% city defense bonus), the Aztecs soon were reduced to memories and city names. (One of my favorite improved dialogs came up: Instead of, “We don’t need it! Raze the city!” the option to destroy a captured city now reads, “BURN, BABY, BURN!”) The Aztecs tried to negotiate for peace when they had one city left, but I wiped ’em out. (Hey, they started it.)

    I was Secretary General of the UN, and avoided for countless turns proposing that I become world president and win diplomatically. I didn’t want my empire-building to end, and was gearing up toward attacking some rivals, in an uncharacteristically militant slant.

    I was having a great time building projects and watching cities flip to my culture (especially after cranking up the Culture spending to 70%—several buildings, like theaters, produce culture points based on how much of the city’s income is devoted to culture), when I noticed that my biggest allied Civ was all-too-near to completing his spaceship. Forunately, I had some really productive cities, and the Space Elevator wonder (which speeds spaceship production by 50%).

    Anyone want the save game (post-victory)?

  11. Sheesh. The Official Tech Support section is now working at 2K Games. That is to say, Civ IV is actually available on the dropdown list of games. There is no new information, and the technical support links all go back to the Civ IV Web site, and the few bits of information that have been there a week.

    I wonder if phone support is any better.

  12. Problems I’ve Experienced with Civ IV:

    Thankfully, for the most part, my Civ IV has run pretty well. Here are the issues I’ve had:

    1. Graphics settings getting lost. I had to see this several times before I became convinced I was not hallucinating. The graphics settings often don’t seem to stick. Last night I fired up the game and everything was really, choppy. I looked at the graphics settings, and discovered instead of being set to High (detail), Medium (effects), and Low (globe detail), I was at High, High, and Medium. I switched to High, Medium, and Low, applied the settings, and went back into the Graphics menu, only to discover the settings had changed to High, High, Low. The second time things “stuck.”
    2. Options menus do not have rollovers. There is no rollover text for many of the menu options. This is especially difficult for things like the graphics menus, where the selections are not self-explanatory. (For example, dumbing down the first graphics menu removes the 2- or 3-component units from displays, so battles and visible units do not get the multiple units to indicate strength feature.)
    3. Choppy video playback. My video and sound drivers are up-to-the-minute, and my system meets or exceeds the recommended requirements. Still, most of the wonder movies and all of the full-screen video sound stutters.
    4. Instability/Crashes. I haven’t had too many crashes to the desktop, but they have occurred, usually after Civ IV shows an abnormally large amount of disk access/virtual memory swapping. I’ve even had Windows adjust my virtual memory allocation due to Civ IV’s erroneous consumption. When crashes do occur, the Windows Event Log shows several errors, but the human translations of the error codes have not been provided by the application (Civ IV).
    5. Unpreserved settings. Previous editions of Civ and SMAC have remembered settings chosen from the last setup of a game of a similar type. In other words, if I start another hot seat game, I wouldn’t have to check over every one of the game parameters to see if it was like the last game I played. Another solution to this would be the ability to save options sets (something Halo 2 should also allow).

    None of these problems has prevented me from enjoying the game—it’s still everything I hoped it would be—but the lack of polish is a bit disappointing.

  13. Finally! A patch is almost out! It was released to 2k Games for testing (not exactly a company whose testing inspires great confidence) on Monday, November 14, 2005.

    Even I am getting tired of my share of crashes-to-the-desktop, although I can trace almost all of them to memory-related issues. They don’t happen that often, but do tend to happen after an hour or so of play, and especially often with large maps.

    To those of you having problems, thanks for your patience. Our guys were working around the clock with your detailed feedback to produce this patch. For those of you having no problems, it’s only going to get better. =)

    At least they’re trying. However, the prevalence of these issues is still, in my opinion, evidence that more should have been done before the release date.

    Civ IV would be great on XBox 360 …

  14. Well, the patch (1.0.9) has been released, finally. Note that I had to run the in-game update to get the patch; it did not seem to be on the 2K Games Support site. My experience with the patch has been mixed.

    The first game I loaded kept showing me terrain only when it was supposed to be showing me a particular city and the “What do you want to build next?” dialog. Eventually, as I expected, Civ IV crashed to the desktop, but not before convincing Windows that my graphics card was only capable of displaying 4 colors. A reboot of the computer corrected these behaviors, and from there on the game played well.

    The scrolling does seem to be smoother, and I’m experimenting with the low-resolution textures. Note that options profiles have to be recreated after the patch, although this is a minor inconvenience.

    The opening videos finally play without stacatto sound, but now I get stacatto video. :: sigh :: If Far Cry runs so well on my system, Civ IV ought to!

    Once again there’s missing tooltips about what game options actually do. The needed links to CivPedia entries when a building or project is complete are still not there.

    And, I still haven’t received my English tech tree poster.

    And the CivIV Web site and the 2k Games Web site do not have the latest information about the patch.

    Overall, though, the game experience is improving.

    (Then again, Westwood would still be in business if they had stolen a few Blizzard developers to get their load times, pathing, networking, and AI under control. Firaxis/2K Games might take a lesson from the demise of Westwood—their games were amazingly fun to play, but they still ran like crap, even on hardware that would run a Corel application quickly.)

  15. I think I figured out where my crashes to the desktop and video crashes (where the graphics on the machine drop down to 4 colors until I reboot) were occurring. They appear to be happening, if I don’t reboot the computer before launching Civ IV, as a Project Movie is about to play.

    I enabled logging, put back the assets archive that I’d expanded as soon as that was given as a performance enhancement suggestion, and reapplied the 1.0.9 patch.

    I had two crashes in the saved game I loaded, both in exactly the same place. The first crash brought me to the desktop, and the second did as well, but added the “4-color mode” thing.

    I reloaded the same game after rebooting, and discovered that the event about to happen when the crash took place was a Project Movie.

    The logs don’t seem to say anything of value, but I’ve got them archived to send to 2K Games.

  16. Civ IV was released 46 days ago. The day mine arrived, I submitted my address to get the Tech Tree poster in English. It still hasn’t arrived.

    The 1.0.9 patch has improved the stability quite a bit, but I still have unexplained crashes, choppy video, and the near inability to run at-end-game with large maps without crashing.

    I tried to play online this weekend, and discovered that Norton AntiVirus 2005 worm protection had to be disabled (this was not true before the patch) in order to connect to games.

    I submitted technical details, including the Civ IV logs, of the crashes I am still having (they appear to be video-playback-related; see the previous comment above), including log files, to 2K Games a week ago. I have yet to receive even an acknowledgement my e-mail was received.

  17. I’m happy to report that the version 1.52 patch fixes just about all my problems.

    I still can’t watch the opening video, and sometimes big maps/endgames are slow, but I no longer have to reboot my computer before playing, and I have only gotten a crash to the desktop once.

  18. Wouldn’t it be better to WAIT to buy the game until the bugs are all out of it? I suppose that wouldn’t be a challenge.

  19. Normally I wouldn’t touch a game until it had gotten an excellent review in PC Gamer.

    Firaxis’ earlier releases have been reasonably unbuggy, though, so it was a brand I trusted.

    As for preordering the game because I just couldn’t wait … well, that’s something every Civ fan understands.

    “Just … one … more … turn …”

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