This past couple of weeks, I have been playing my way through some of my old favorite PC games. I have been playing the original Thief and my personal favorite turn based strategy, Alpha Centauri. Once I got past my (very thick) nostalgia glasses, I found a few things that irked me.
Thief is a game loosely focused on stealth, but in reality, it's a game about messing with guards in a variety of ways. What I immediately noticed when I started playing this game was the wonky control scheme. For some reason, there are four different speeds in which to move forward. There are the standard run and walk, along with a slow modifier for each one. This may sound like a good idea for a sneaker at first, since you may want to sneak run past a guard as you are being chased by another, but in practice, you will accidentally press a movement key when trying to look around a corner. This makes any hope of getting into a smooth control groove aggravating. It was a great reminder that using industry standard control schemes tend to make for a more enjoyable experience.
The other game I've been playing a lot of is Alpha Centauri. Man, I love this game! It is a turn based strategy game in the same vein as the Civilization series. I should say it's in the series, since it has Sid Meier's name on the box, but I feel that the sci-fi theme in the game changes the flavor of the Civilization formula enough to make it unique. Either that, or I love sci-fi and get bored with running a normal society too easily. It's music fits the action onscreen very well. It seems to come into my consciousness just enough to remind me that I'm commanding a sect of humanity to survive. Commanding humanity beyond the stars is a great way to forget all of the petty issues I run into on an average day.
Having just gushed about Alpha Centauri, there is something that I've found that really started to bother me. I play it like it's a SimCity game. It is something that I noticed as I played up until the conflict period of the game, where you fight, negotiate or contain your opponents, and stopped playing after a few turns into it. Once this conflict stage began, I found myself either bored by the fighting or yearning for a somewhat... more engaging experience. That's not to say that the conflict stage in Alpha Centauri is boring, I just found myself not playing a single game to completion once I developed all I could at my main landing site. My soldiers seemed to me to be nothing more than tools, lacking any sense of personality or anything else to get attached to losing them en masse to take a single colony. Consequently, I would end up massing up a massive army only to feel apathy when I lose them in a series of battles with my opponent. I tire of the build, move and attack phases of the game, which is what the mid to late portion of this game center around. Watching the same fighting over and over again with no input on who wins the engagements becomes tedious, killing any desire to finish the game.
What could I do to make the fighting more engaging? I have been dwelling on this since I noticed that once the fighting starts, I stop playing. One method is to make the combat more exciting, with units crouching and shooting, turning and firing, covering when artillery strikes. That would make the units look like they are doing more, possibly engaging the eyes while the fight takes it's course. Another method I considered was to implement a Final Fantasy Tactics type of combat. When you engage another unit, you are given the option of joining the combat as a leader and directly engage the enemy on the field. This would make an already long game even longer, however.
Looking at these old games has given me time to consider the strengths and weaknesses of their designs. Even with the minor gripes on each game, I recommend giving each a play. Cheers!