<< Portico: Turn based is not the same as smarter

5/23/2006

Turn based is not the same as smarter

Bruce Geryk gets the Matrix Games newsletter, and I don't. If I did, I probably would have written what he did, but it would have had more insulting words in it and a vague reference to Thermopylae.

I wrote a defense of the RTS a while ago, so you can compare our notes and see that we are in agreement on this. But check out Bruce's post first. As prone to old-fogeyism as I am sometimes, I'm not so vain as to think that my games are better than somebody else's games, or that they are testimony to my superior intellect.

24 Comments:

Anonymous oldciver said...

Bruce is a jerk. Hes been going on against grognard arrogance for years, in some kinda pseudo deconstructionist way. It boring already.

First, I assume the folks at Matrix arent classifying Paradox games with RTS. Played in SP, as they usually are, they are make your own turn games, and I think the best of both worlds. Theyre strategy games in RT, but not "RTS" as the genre is normally understood.

RTS games can be fun. I enjoy Starcraft and Age of Kings. But they are inherently less of an intellectual activity than strategy games (the generic term I prefer for TBS and pausible Paradox style games) Thinking fast is a nice skill, but in my scale of values a lesser one than thinking deeply. (now it may be in ROL, say, you do have to think deeply - I havent played every RTS) What Bruce objects to, I think, is to ANY statement of values in regards to games. A game is just fun, and not something more. When I started playing board wargames we considered the games just an aspect of our interest in history. You get that in the computer wargames community, and to some extent in the TBS community - and also very much in the Paradox community. You dont as a rule find it in the RTS community.

Matrix, afaict, has done more to keep the wargames genre alive than Geryk has.

Im also not quite sure I get Geryks complaint that many TBS are sequels. Most popular RTS are sequels. Its when a game like Civ4 reignites interest in the genre that we are like to get more TB games. And Paradox style games, and Total War style games.

5/24/2006 01:41:00 PM  
Anonymous oldciver said...

"The SAT, the GMAT, the bar exam - all of these are timed tests. "

interestingly enough, the antitesting movement criticizes timed tests, on the grounds that real world situations arent like that.


"You don't have infinite wargame time to plan out your moves."

Does anyone really spend 5 or 6 hours on a turn when playing a TB game? I dont. You take, say, 10 or 15 minutes. Instead of seconds. Whether this amount of time is realistic depends on the situation being modeled.

"Lastly, "false arrogance." Anyone who brags about his "mental vigor" and then in the same sentence announces his pride in using it to play wargames is like someone who goes out in public in a wookie suit and brags about how good he is at making costumes. If you're such a self-declared genius, and you're wasting your time playing wargames instead of winning the Nobel Prize, you're not impressing anybody except the guy whom you managed to beat at whatever wargame you decided to devote your genius to."


This is the crux of it. To Bruce, there is NO superiority based on leisure pursuits. You could spend your leisure scratching your behind, or appreciating opera - hes cool if you listen to opera, but you dare assert that you are in ANY way better cause you listen to opera. (He wont quite say theres nothing superior about opera to butt scratching, but its implied). Only what you do on the job makes you superior - a very American, very capitalist POV. Once upon a time there was a culture that said how you spent your leisure DID matter to your justification as a person.


"Playing a game (of any sort) does not make you smart, or not lazy. Personal and professional achievement, and fulfilled ambitions make you smart and not lazy."

im sorry, but how smart you are is what makes you smart. How successul you are is what makes you successful. Plenty of smart people are not successful.

"One of the smartest MD/PhD physicians I know plays only Warcraft 3 and Diablo. His reason? He does enough thinking at his job during the day - when he wants to relax with a game, he'd rather just click on things and blow them up. Maybe all of these smarty-men gamers can show how smart they are by beating him at a turn-based wargame. I bet that would put him in his place."

Im sure there are successful MD/Phds who scratch their butts in their time off, and never listen to opera. Opera is still a better use of time than butt scratching - and that a brilliant person, in our culture, chooses to spend their time in meaningless pursuits, when there are so many higher ones, is a sign of the problems of our culture.

Again, Bruce has been goint on about this for years. Go to google groups and google for "bruce Geryk grognards pacabel"

5/24/2006 01:59:00 PM  
Blogger Troy Goodfellow said...

I'm well aware of Bruce's history with this subject. It's a note he hits a lot, but people keep repeating the counter case so on he'll go.

I don't think he would agree that picking your butt is equal to listening to opera (unless you have something in your butt that really needs taken out) but drawing a line between better or worse in the strategy game arena based on how the turns are settled is a pretty silly exercise, I hope you'll agree.

Bruce also accepts that there are values in games - good and bad. Do we need anything else?

I agree that the Paradox games are best not considered RTS; I've written elsewhere that the very term RTS is too broad to be useful if applied literally.

But few turn-based strategy games let me "think" in any serious manner; only the best do that. That is a characteristic of the game and has little to do with the fact that it is turn-based. A game like Crown of Glory will make me think I could be spending my time on something more enjoyable, but that's about it.

I will agree that the RTS community may not be as interested in old-timey history as long time wargamers, but they are probably also less interested in sports than someone who plays Madden. I find military history endlessly fascinating, but one of the first things I've learned as a teacher is that something isn't interesting just because I say it is. I'm not smarter than my students because I know the order of battle for Pharsalus and Gettysburg. It's what I do with this knowledge.

Matrix is great. They've published some really interesting wargames. But they've published a lot of crap, too. One of my major gripes with wargamers is that they will accept almost anything so long as it is a wargame. Crown of Glory is a klugey mess, but it gets a pass. Salvo (from Shrapnel) is a disaster in a million little ways, but a lot of wargamers are happy just to have a game about boats.

The wargaming community I love so much spends more time complaining about other gamers than it does complaining about bad games.

5/24/2006 03:10:00 PM  
Anonymous oldciver said...

"I will agree that the RTS community may not be as interested in old-timey history as long time wargamers, but they are probably also less interested in sports than someone who plays Madden. I find military history endlessly fascinating, but one of the first things I've learned as a teacher is that something isn't interesting just because I say it is. "

Im not saying TBS=Wargames. Ive played and enjoyed Sid Meiers Gettysburg. And learned some serious stuff from it, as well. And Ive learned some very interesting things NOT about military history from the Paradox games, and even from Civ.

Ive never played Crown of Glory and cant speak to it.

I cant for the life of me think what one learns from the standard Westwood/Blizzard RTS. The standard attack is all you learn is to click fast. Bruces quibble is that you learn to make some relatively shallow strategic decisions VERY fast. Well I suppose he's right about that. I dont think this changes the larger point about RTS.

And as for wargamers, from what ive seen on usenet for example, theyre quite willing to attack a wargame they think is not good.

5/24/2006 04:59:00 PM  
Blogger Troy Goodfellow said...

Usenet was a different time and place. Hell, they attacked everything. But with wargames on the decline in the marketplace, I get a sense from many wargamers that we should be happy with what we get and not give anyone a reason to make fewer.

I think you misunderstand Bruce's point about RTS if you think that he thinks you can learn anything from them. His point is that RTS games require a different kind of intelligence and do require some thought, not that they are learning experiences.

I'm not sure you learn that much from any game, to be frank, or at least anything of importance. But what did I learn from Civ? That the phalanx is a good defensive unit, even against battleships? GalCiv? HoMM? MOO? The exact same amount of stuff I've learned from Starcraft, Rise of Nations and Cossacks. Zip.

5/24/2006 05:05:00 PM  
Anonymous oldciver said...

"I'm not so vain as to think that my games are better than somebody else's games"

I guess my question is, can one ever say Game X is better than Game Y, based on A. The content (game x is about the rise of humanity to transcendence, and Game Y is about killer ogres) or about the KIND of skills it develops (game X develops strategic thinking, and Game Y develops fast clicking) or is it ONLY possible to rank games based on their technical achievement (game Y introduces some new ideas in killing ogres, and has neat graphics, while Game x is the same old same old)

I think it IS possible to rank games, like ANY cultural product, on what they do to us as human beings, what they teach, and what they develop, and not just on how well they do what they set out to do. Because I think cultural products have intrinsic cultural value, and are NOT just ways to kill time and relax after a hard day curing cancer, as Bruce seems to think they are.

5/24/2006 05:05:00 PM  
Blogger Troy Goodfellow said...

Oh, and you could probably address your complaint to Bruce directly on his blog, though the 1up registration is a hassle.

5/24/2006 05:06:00 PM  
Anonymous oldciver said...

"But what did I learn from Civ? That the phalanx is a good defensive unit, even against battleships? "

Civ is not a wargame. There are three essential lessons of civ2. 1. The character of a civilization is determined NOT by any inherent charecteristics, but primarily by its starting position, and the accidents which follow. The same lesson as in Diamonds "Guns, Germs, and Steel" but in game form. 2. That there are iron laws of history that, given the nature of reason, and the competition among states, FORCE progress, and not just technical progress but intellectual and social progress, and these lead inexorably to late democratic industrial capitalism (IE the same lesson as Fukuyamas "End of History", but in game form) 3. That history is not linear, but dialectic - things are generated by their apparent opposites (you need polytheism to get monotheism, and monoetheism to get to secularism - you need monarchy to get to Republic - you need polluting industry to get to environmentalism, etc. Hegel, IOW.

Now Brian Reynolds made it all to subtle for most people to get. Also the ingenuity of the community made forms other than late Democracy appear like winning strategies, so lesson 2 is often missed. And Civ3 gave up on lesson 1, which was often misunderstood anyway.

Thats I suppose why Brian was much more explicit with the philosophy in SMAC. So much as so as to heavy handed and a turnoff, IMHO.

But Civ2 certainly wasnt about pikemen killing battleships. It was one of the deepest games ever made, and had deeper and more important lessons about history than any grognard war game, or than the Paradox series.

5/24/2006 05:14:00 PM  
Blogger Troy Goodfellow said...

"I think it IS possible to rank games, like ANY cultural product, on what they do to us as human beings, what they teach, and what they develop, and not just on how well they do what they set out to do. Because I think cultural products have intrinsic cultural value, and are NOT just ways to kill time and relax after a hard day curing cancer, as Bruce seems to think they are."

I'm not disagreeing with any of this, but you are operating under the false assumption that TBS are superior for this than RTS.

We can judge games, and we do. People sometimes pay me to do that. I recently reviewed a game (turn based even) that has a clear social message it is trying to teach. That is an important part of my review. But there is nothing about TB games that make them better learning tools because they move in turns.

SimCity, a RT game, is the most popular teaching game in America's schools. Europa Universalis taught me some facts but nothing really useful beyond that. I didn't make me a better citizen, and the circles I hang out in are full of people who can blurt out random historical facts. No game really captures the broad historical sweep of causes and effects.

A good game can spark an interest in history, though. And Age of Empires is the single most cited game. More people know what a trebuchet is thanks to that, but it was the spark. Games are mostly sparks.

5/24/2006 05:17:00 PM  
Anonymous oldciver said...

"Oh, and you could probably address your complaint to Bruce directly on his blog, though the 1up registration is a hassle"

nah, ive debated with him on usenet in the past, and i didnt find him a pleasant discussion partner. The antielitist chip on his shoulder is too big.

But if you feel ive said too much here, Ill be happy to stop.

5/24/2006 05:19:00 PM  
Blogger Troy Goodfellow said...

In Civ, history IS linear. There is progress, inexorable progress. And there are steps you need to take to get there. There is no dialectic because there are superior and inferior forms of government. Polytheism is a prerequisite of Monotheism in Civ2, not a dialectic.

There is no iron law of progress.

Civ2 did not teach Guns, Germs and Steel because resources were so minimally important. You can make the case for Civ 3, but not Civ 2.

5/24/2006 05:21:00 PM  
Blogger Troy Goodfellow said...

"But if you feel ive said too much here, Ill be happy to stop."

Not at all. Please post your opinions. I'm not one to stifle debate just because you're wrong. ;)

5/24/2006 05:22:00 PM  
Anonymous oldciver said...

" Civ, history IS linear. There is progress, inexorable progress. And there are steps you need to take to get there. There is no dialectic because there are superior and inferior forms of government. Polytheism is a prerequisite of Monotheism in Civ2, not a dialectic."


im talking historical terms, not game terms.

The steps mean you need to sometimes move in the OPPOSITE direction to get to something. You need to build cathedrals to get to a civ that can create darwinism. So religion is not the "opposite" of secular science, but the thesis that makes way for the antithesis. Similarly you need feudalism to get to capitalism, and capitalism to get to socialism. You need industry to get to environmentalism. Thats what Marx and Hegel are ultimately about, understanding that Y, which appears to deny X, is the dialectical fruit of X and of X's own contradictions.

"There is no iron law of progress."

Maybe not. Hegel AND Brian Reynolds could certainly be wrong. But thats what Brian is TRYING to teach us.

"Civ2 did not teach Guns, Germs and Steel because resources were so minimally important. You can make the case for Civ 3, but not Civ 2. "

"Resources" are very important in Civ2. Starting point matters very much. But resources in Civ2 are mainly expressed as type of terrain (grasslands vs deserts, etc) not as handled in Civ3. But the essential lesson of GGS is NOT about the details of resources, but the irrelevance of race. Civ3, with its unique characteristics, was a denial of that. Take a look at the debate on unique charecteristics in Civ3 on Apolyton, from back when Civ3 was in design.

5/24/2006 05:34:00 PM  
Blogger Troy Goodfellow said...

I'm not convinced that Reynolds is trying to teach us progress. That's just the effect of the game design. And if so, that's a pretty poor lesson since it is wrong.

The lessons of gaming are generally hidden, and are often subtle and not especially accurate. That conflict is more efficient than cooperation, that there are inherent differences between cultures (I remember that Apolyton debate well...), that powers will balance instead of bandwagon, that technology follows a straight path...this is true of almost all strategy games, both TB and RT.

I won't deny that games teach something, but I doubt that many of the lessons are those intended by designers; almost all will quickly disavow any educational purpose.

5/24/2006 05:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Clark said...

Personally, scratching my butt gives me a great sense of accomplishment.

If you are deriving you sense of accomplishment or worth from a computer game, I just feel really sorry for you.

5/24/2006 08:54:00 PM  
Anonymous oldciver said...

"I'm not convinced that Reynolds is trying to teach us progress. That's just the effect of the game design."

Lots of games have advances with tech trees. Civ2 has a marvelously Hegelian one, with tech advances arising from their apparent opposites. I cant see this as an accident, esp as Reynolds was a college phil major.

"And if so, that's a pretty poor lesson since it is wrong."

Look, you dont have to agree with Hegel. Ive already said that. I dont agree with Wagner on marriage, but I can see that The Ring Cycle is more serious than say, the King and I.


"The lessons of gaming are generally hidden, and are often subtle and not especially accurate. That conflict is more efficient than cooperation"

There are all kinds of non-computer games that encourage cooperation. Perhaps not enough computer games though. Im all for more of that. I dont see what it has to do with my point though.

"that there are inherent differences between cultures (I remember that Apolyton debate well...)"

If you do, you will recall that the argument against culture specific traits was made by those who argued FOR the seriousness of Civ2, and against the "its just a game" school of thought.

"that powers will balance instead of bandwagon"

My sense is that in most strat games theres way to little balancing, and thus world conquest looks far too easy. Cause of the piss poor AI. Sometimes it goes to extreme the other way, though.

"that technology follows a straight path"

Im not sure what you mean by a straight path. In civ2 and some other strat games there are multiple paths that work. Do you mean that a given tech X should not always require Y and Z as prereqs - thats interesting, but might be hard to implement. Or are you suggesting that technology frequently reverses, and techs are lost? Thats pretty rare for a society above a certain size (again see Guns Germs and Steel) There IS a cunning or reason in history, that makes it very hard to reverse direction.

"...this is true of almost all strategy games, both TB and RT."


Some wrong lessons may afflict both RT and TB. But I still find TB (and Parodox style RT) a more amenable setting for any kind of serious exploration of those issues than RTS.

5/26/2006 01:00:00 PM  
Anonymous oldciver said...

"If you are deriving you sense of accomplishment or worth from a computer game, I just feel really sorry for you. "

do you say this because

A. You think it wrong to get any sense of accomplishment or selfworth from consumption of ANY cultural product, including novels, operas etc? I understand that POV, but think its limiting. While Im too far from the ethos of an 18th c aristocrat to think that appreciating the finest things in life is all there is to life, i think the ability to appreciate cultural products, the more refined the better CAN be PART of ones accomplishment and selfworth

or is it

2. Computer games can not stand with other cultural products - like novels, operas, films, etc. That attitude I think is not fully justified, and tends to hold games back.

5/26/2006 01:04:00 PM  
Anonymous oldciver said...

to recap

I said you can learn something more from a TBS game like Civ, than you can from an RTS (citybuilders and Paradox style games not considered RTS for this purpose.

You asked what you can learn from Civ, that a phalanx beats a BB. I explained that Civ2 teaches, in a very nuanced and elegant way, a Hegelian view of the driving forces of history, as well as a Jared Diamond type view of geographical determinism.

Youve basically said its the WRONG lesson. Its wrong.

Which I think only reinforces my point.

TOAW was accused of being WRONG about certain weapons stats, IIRC. Now i wasnt part of that debate, and I dont know. But I DO know that it was the kind of game where you could ask such questions. You try to do that with Age of Kings, say, and it gets silly - the whole structure of the game (you build a building in the time it takes a man to walk a few miles) makes that kind of analysis silly.

Now I dont know of any "RTS" games where you could argue that they wrongly assert the truth of a 19th c philosopher, cause I dont know any that get that deep.

Now I must caveat that by saying I havent played RON. Again, I admired BRs design for Sid Meiers Gettysburg, and if anyone can prove me wrong about what RT can do, I think it would be Brian.

But Bruces whole approach suggests Im wrong to even look for that.

5/26/2006 01:17:00 PM  
Anonymous oldciver said...

lets go back to what the matrix guy originally said

" However, as time has gone on the size of the turn based market has fallen considerably. I postulate the reason for this decline is because strategy games reward hard work. Strategy games are difficult, that is what makes them fun. It is fun to overcome adversity by use of your noggin. As time went on a variety of other 'strategy' genres have been crowned king of sales. In the mid 90s the RTS genre took flight. RTSs were pretty lazy about rewarding intelligence and more about rewarding ability to micromanage."

Now lets parse it:

"However, as time has gone on the size of the turn based market has fallen considerably."

Im not sure about this. Depending on the dates you use, its probably more the case that the rest of the market simply grew faster. Now TB may have declined in size from its peak in, say the late 90s, but that was also a strong time for classic RTS. if hes talking about the pre-RTS era, than hes talking before many of the biggest hit TBS games - hes harking back to the wargames hayday, which is completely another issue.

"I postulate the reason for this decline is because strategy games reward hard work. Strategy games are difficult, that is what makes them fun."

Beer and pretzels wargames, and many TBS games, are not that hard. Its the hardcore grognard wargames that are really hard work.

"It is fun to overcome adversity by use of your noggin."

I would agree.

"As time went on a variety of other 'strategy' genres have been crowned king of sales. In the mid 90s the RTS genre took flight. RTSs were pretty lazy about rewarding intelligence and more about rewarding ability to micromanage."

Its not clear what "pretty lazy" means in this context. Even GRANTING Bruces point about "thinking fast" I think its hard to disagree that MOST RTS placed a lesser (BUT NOT ZERO) premium on intelligence than at least MOST hardcore wargames did.

Now Bruce doesnt take issue with the dates or the data. He goes for the "multiple intelligence" thing, which is partly true, but weak.

But mainly he says "who cares" Yeah, if weve gone from a nation of ignorant peasants who happen to play Chess and reason out difficult solutions to Kroger designed wargames, to a nation of MD/PHDs who play FPS to relax he has a point. Not as good a point as he thinks, but a point.

But I rather doubt thats the case. I rather doubt most wargames players were ever peasants, and I doubt most FPS players are MD-Phds. I think most gamers today are no more advanced in the REST of their lives than game players in the old days were, and while its not at the top of MY List of Concerns, I find it hard to fault someone else for bemoaning the decline in intelligence of games.

Bruce has way to big a chip on shoulder toward the wargame community. Maybe he should go review some other kind of games instead.

5/26/2006 01:31:00 PM  
Blogger Troy Goodfellow said...

I'm still not convinced that Civ is about Hegel, since it seems to be that it's still more about "later is better" than a dialectic; more Darwin than Hegel, if you will. Would that make Age of Empires Hegelian since you have to research Polytheism to get Monotheism there, too? What about the execrable Destiny - almost the same tech tree as Civ. Where does a game's quality fit into this learning model?

Even if we can distinguish between smart games (say, for the sake of argument, Birth of America) and dumb games (say, Dungeon Siege), I don't think that tells us anything about TBS vs RPG in the uber-smart/dumb debate. If I put dumb TB games like Nuclear War up against a well-built NWN mod, the whole "one is better paradigm" falls apart.

There are still lots of "smart" games out there, I suppose. If you want a smart RTS, take a look at Act of War. Better than any other RTS it avoids the trap of more expensive units always being the most appropriate for every situation. The campaign has some oil crisis backstory, but it's the tactical learning and problem solving that it excels at.

I wonder if we don't impose the lessons we learn on the game; if we only learn what we expect to learn? So I see determinism in a one way tech tree, you see Hegelianism. I see the fact that AI opponents gang up on the human as evidence of a balance of power bias (in the name of game balance), you see the fact that they suck at it as evidence that I'm an idiot.

Bruce is reacting to the canard that TBS are inherently intellectually superior, and I don't see how that can be contested when I can point to enough dumb games from every genre to realize that the form a game takes doesn't a priori make it better.

It is worth noting that the most frequently used games in education curricula are both real time - SimCity and Age of Empires.

I'm a skeptic about the educational nature of games, not because it is impossible, but because it is hard to gauge what - if anything - is being learned. To go back to Civ, if all I get from the game is that I need monarchy to get to republic, does that mean the game has failed as a teaching tool? I mean, it's vaguely historically true, but doesn't meet the Hegelian philosophy model that you are convinced is in there some where.

This is why I think that most education in gaming is silent; the best edutainment games ever taught their material subtly (Carmen Sandiego and Oregon Trail).

Two or three of my best students just happen to play Europa Universalis. (The rest of my best students had never heard of it, and don't seem to suffer. They love The Sims and WC3 though.)The things the EUers learned from the game are simple stuff. Some geography and a rough chronology. Causes of imperialism? Nope. Origins of the Reformation? Nope. Why Japan closed? Nope. If they learn any history at all, it is through the events, which read as a virtual textbook and are immaterial to the game qua game; you can make a choice based purely on the effects it has without reading the words.

(My phalanx example from Civ was entirely facetious, BTW, but I guess you missed the joke since you are taking this all very seriously.)

5/26/2006 02:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Clark said...

"A. You think it wrong to get any sense of accomplishment or selfworth from consumption of ANY cultural product, including novels, operas etc?"

When you go home at night, it matters not a whiff whether you watch American Idol, download goat porn or mentally masturbate over a Twilight Struggle map. In the end, you are simply doing something to please yourself, not enriching the world.

BTW, the only thing I "learned" from EU was that Russia could have easily conquer all of Europe and the Mideast if only all the other Europeans nations had been run by the AI in the 1500's Oh, that and Navarre.

5/26/2006 03:40:00 PM  
Anonymous oldciver said...

"I'm still not convinced that Civ is about Hegel, since it seems to be that it's still more about "later is better" than a dialectic; more Darwin than Hegel, if you will."


my understanding is that at the societal level, the cunning of reason in history has a lot to do with competition among states, so is not so far from Darwin. I must admit that while ive read some hegel, Im getting alot of it via Fukayama, and could be wrong.

" Would that make Age of Empires Hegelian since you have to research Polytheism to get Monotheism there, too?"

Well that particular linkage is just cause AOE copied Civ, IIUC. And theres plenty more like that in Civ - ive gone over that at Poly, and dont care to rehearse it here. Overall I find the tech tree in AOE a "dumbed down" version of the Civ2 tree, which loses much of the subtlety. Oh, and the pace at which you click on upgrades, makes it harder, at least during the game, to reflect on what is going on socially. And the tech effects are so odd (I get monotheism, so my priest can walk faster? Or convert buildings or whatever?) as to make them seem less like real social changes, and more like, well, typical RTS techs with Civish names attached.

" What about the execrable Destiny - almost the same tech tree as Civ. Where does a game's quality fit into this learning model?"

Ive never even heard of Destiny. But anyone can copy anything. Ive read classic comics illustrated versions of great novels - so what?

"Even if we can distinguish between smart games (say, for the sake of argument, Birth of America) and dumb games (say, Dungeon Siege), I don't think that tells us anything about TBS vs RPG in the uber-smart/dumb debate. If I put dumb TB games like Nuclear War up against a well-built NWN mod, the whole "one is better paradigm" falls apart."

Oh, once you go to RPGs youre in a totally different category. I for one, was impressed by Planescape Torment, though I didnt enjoy it as much as some did. (And that was partly that i disagreed with what i percieved as its "message", as you seem to disagree with some TBS games message - but I DID appreciate that it HAD a message,and was trying to be MORE than "just a game") My comments were directed more withing the strategy genre.


"There are still lots of "smart" games out there, I suppose. If you want a smart RTS, take a look at Act of War. Better than any other RTS it avoids the trap of more expensive units always being the most appropriate for every situation. The campaign has some oil crisis backstory, but it's the tactical learning and problem solving that it excels at."

I must admit that not having played every RTS game puts me at a disadvantage. Kohan is said to be different, and RON as well. But I think the Matrix guy was thinking Ensemble/Blizzard/Westwood, and was probably not far off for them.


"I wonder if we don't impose the lessons we learn on the game; if we only learn what we expect to learn? So I see determinism in a one way tech tree, you see Hegelianism. I see the fact that AI opponents gang up on the human as evidence of a balance of power bias (in the name of game balance), you see the fact that they suck at it as evidence that I'm an idiot."

Im open to your views on balance of power. Certainly it was implemented badly in Civ2 (its 1750 and suddenly EVERYONE turns on me) Ideally Number 1 should be ganged up on by numbers 2 and 3 and maybe 4, but should be able to ally with numbers 5 and 6 and 7, esp where they are threatened by 2 and 3. Again, I think the reason this hasnt worked is poor AI - but yeah, its also probably game balance. But on the Civ2 is Hegelian thing, I think Im right - go to poly and look for the column "Civ2s Hegelian Tech Tree".

"Bruce is reacting to the canard that TBS are inherently intellectually superior, and I don't see how that can be contested when I can point to enough dumb games from every genre to realize that the form a game takes doesn't a priori make it better."

Theres bad classical music. There are good, even challenging pop songs. I classical music afficianado, seeing decline in classical music, could be forgiven for focusing on mainstream of both genres, though. Thats what Matric was doing - saying that TBS is declining, and thats broadly connected with dumbing down. NOT that every TBS game is good.



"It is worth noting that the most frequently used games in education curricula are both real time - SimCity and Age of Empires."

Simcity is genuinely worth it - and is not "RTS" by my definition, as weve said about a million times now. AOE - afaict thats cause teachers dont seem to understand the way a games GAMEPLAY can teach, and focus on the trivia, and the flavor.


"I'm a skeptic about the educational nature of games, not because it is impossible, but because it is hard to gauge what - if anything - is being learned. To go back to Civ, if all I get from the game is that I need monarchy to get to republic, does that mean the game has failed as a teaching tool? I mean, it's vaguely historically true, but doesn't meet the Hegelian philosophy model that you are convinced is in there some where."

By itself it doesnt. Thats only one aspect of the Hegelianism. You can still learn a great deal about history without getting (or accepting) my Hegel argument - the Guns Germs and Steel argument is even stronger, I think. There are plenty of others - the clever way the game makes you choose commie if you have a large, but poor empire - the way trade enables early democracy - the way late game innovations overcome the early problems with demo - etc.


"This is why I think that most education in gaming is silent; the best edutainment games ever taught their material subtly (Carmen Sandiego and Oregon Trail)."

Carmen taught trivia.

"Two or three of my best students just happen to play Europa Universalis. (The rest of my best students had never heard of it, and don't seem to suffer. They love The Sims and WC3 though.)The things the EUers learned from the game are simple stuff. Some geography and a rough chronology. Causes of imperialism? Nope. Origins of the Reformation? Nope. Why Japan closed? Nope. If they learn any history at all, it is through the events, which read as a virtual textbook and are immaterial to the game qua game; you can make a choice based purely on the effects it has without reading the words."


then they are not getting what they could be out of EU. Its not WHEN the reformation occcurred - hell i cant remember, was it 1520, or 1521, or 1522 - despite playing the game several times and seeing the event fire - its the IMPLICATIONS of the reformation for the state - do i go protestant and gain wealth, but at the cost of ruining my diplomatic aligment? How do I tradeoff the need to be in tune with my population, and so avoid revolts, and the need to implement diplomatic strategies? Do I want to ally with HRE, or with their enemies? How does that interact with the rest of my domestic strategy? Ive played EU2, and repeatedly had Aha moments, where ive admired how well it reflected real dilemmas of the period.

Of course you dont get causes of the Reformation. The game begins in 1419 - the causes of the reformation are too early, and too deep to be modeled in the game.

Causes of imperialism - I think you do get that, albeit very simplified - to get resources for competition in Europe. (the simplicity of the economic model of course is a problem, which one hopes will be rectified in EU3)

And thats DESPITE plenty of things "wrong" with it. I find it really gets you very deep into the kinds of strategic dilemmas that were important to the period.


"(My phalanx example from Civ was entirely facetious, BTW, but I guess you missed the joke since you are taking this all very seriously"

I have seen references to that about a million times - it was too familiar to be funny, and so I missed that you were actually trying to be funny.

5/26/2006 05:02:00 PM  
Anonymous oldciver said...

"When you go home at night, it matters not a whiff whether you watch American Idol, download goat porn or mentally masturbate over a Twilight Struggle map. In the end, you are simply doing something to please yourself, not enriching the world."

what does enriching the world mean to you? Does writing a great novel enrich the world? Even if no one reads it?

5/26/2006 05:04:00 PM  
Anonymous oldciver said...

"I wonder if we don't impose the lessons we learn on the game"

I dont think its imposing, but how we "listen". If you listen to Wagner, and are listening for leitmotifs, etc, you can pick up things hes telling you with the MUSIC. If youve decided that Wagner is just like any old opera, than you will get the story from the libretto, and the music will be pretty entertainment for you. But you wont get what hes trying to do, cause you arent listening for it.

A good wargame, say, isnt educational cause it has a list of weapons stats attached, or cause it has an accurate map. Its educational (within its narrow field of military history) cause of whats in the GAMEPLAY. The effect of flanking, formations, morale, concentration of force, etc. Now if youre ignorant of the period, you wont connect these with the historical reality and will see them only as game mechanics. And if the model is too beer and pretzely, it may be harder to see the connection.

Now take EU2. Its NOT a grognard model of the period, and has many limitations left over from the old boardgame. But it still has plenty of resonence IN THE GAMEPLAY with the period - but you have to have the ear for it, and be willing to overlook some anomalies.

5/26/2006 05:13:00 PM  

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