Lonely Games Are (Kinda) Less Fun

I’ve resumed playing Galactic Civilizations II (GalCiv II), which I haven’t played since the olden days when the mornings were light and the afternoons long.

Back in that long, long ago, I played on less-than-normal enemy intelligence and experimented with extending my reach through cultural influence and economic power. I read no manuals. I read no strategy guides. I micromanaged no economy.

Why bother? The enemies were dumber than a box of rocks. Just play like it’s Civ 4, and be done.

Returning to it, I (unsurprisingly) find myself wanting more challenge. I fired up an easy game and did a quick military conquest, my first. Not boring… exactly. But, erm.

Then I realized that despite it being a downloaded game, there’s a manual in the directory. And tutorials (in screencast style) within the game. Add an enticing strategy guide, and I’m really learning to play. I’m, like, messing with taxes and stuff.

Now that I’m actually learning the basics, I want to play against someone! Greg is, of course, my first pick for a lamb to slaughter—I mean, jovial and fun opponent. Then, I’m thinking Devin, a minor deity in the original StarCraft. (Does real-time strategy translate well to turn-based strategy? Actions per minute don’t really matter in turn-based, but the underlying strategies are certainly similar.)

But, but… there’s no multiplayer. Not even “take turns at the same computer” multiplayer. (I read an entire novel once in a hot-seat game of Civ 4 with Greg.) Wikiscratch tells me:

A major focus of Galactic Civilizations II is the artificial intelligence of its opponents, due in part to the deliberate omission of multiplayer in favor of the single player experience. The game’s maximum skill level (“intelligent”) is two levels above “normal”.

So… I totally get that, especially from a development standpoint. (Greg scoffed at this, but small company making a game and needing to get it out the door? Can’t have everything. Besides, I think—and my experiences so far with Magicka are painfully bearing this out—multiplayer is still hard to implement well.) Having only played on the early difficulties, I can’t speak much to the quality of the AI yet, but I’m looking forward to working my way up.

That said, the game’s totally lonely. Not only is there no multiplayer, but there’s probably no way I can convince Greg to keep me company when I play. One, he’s not as interested as I am at co-piloting games, and two, it’s a damn turn-based strategy/4X game. There’s very little to see.

(Side note: I’m currently co-piloting Deus Ex: Human Revolution, though, and that mess is so beautiful and fun to watch, especially when Greg gets fidgety with sneaking and does stupid stuff.)

What saves GalCiv II is that I can lose myself in it for hours. I’ll start a game, and look up a bit later to find it’s been 3-5 hours since I last took a break. That’s a (not “the”) hallmark of a good game to me.