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Subject: PC Strategic Games FAQ

This article was archived around: 12 Nov 2001 10:57:14 GMT

All FAQs in Directory: games/strategic
All FAQs posted in: comp.sys.ibm.pc.games.strategic
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Archive-name: games/strategic/pc Posting-Frequency: Every 15 days. URL: http://www.whitefang.com/pcst/
PC Strategic Games FAQ ---------------------- Version 0.7 Last Modified on: Fri Dec 10 10:18:22 PST 1999 The master copy of this FAQ is currently kept at http://www.whitefang.com/pcst/ The webpage has a more spiffy version of the FAQ in html. This FAQ is also posted to comp.sys.ibm.pc.games.strategic (c.s.i.p.g.s), , comp.answers , news.answers. Please do not mirror this FAQ without prior permission. Due to the high volume of readers I'm worried that old versions of the FAQ are left to grow stale, consequently receive email based on fixed errors/omissions. Copyright --------- I, Thamer Al-Herbish reserve a collective copyright on this FAQ. Individual contributions made to this FAQ are the intellectual property of the contributor. I am responsible for the validity of all information found in this FAQ. This FAQ may contain errors, or inaccurate material. Use it at your own risk. Although an effort is made to keep all the material presented here accurate, the contributors and maintainer of this FAQ will not be held responsible for any damage -- direct or indirect -- which may result from inaccuracies. You may redistribute this document as long as you keep it in its current form, without any modifications. Introduction ------------ The FAQ answers questions about contemporary strategic games for the PC. Most of the issues covered relate to commercial strategic games that run under DOS or Win32. Since the FAQ is posted to comp.sys.ibm.games.strategic, issues that are only relevant to other operating systems or machines are not covered. The term PC and DOS/Win32 is used interchangeably with my apologies. It makes it easier for the layman to understand, and the audience of this FAQ is large enough to warrant this generalization. However, the reader will find plenty of general information that pertains to any game that falls under the strategy genre, and not necessarily for the PC. "And I not sing, lest, haply, Scotch reviews, Should dub me scribbler, and denounce my muse?" -- George Gordon Byron Additions and Contributions --------------------------- If you find anything you can add, have some corrections for me or would like a question answered, please send email to: PC Strategy FAQ <pcst@whitefang.com> Do not send mail to my personal email address! (Use the one mentioned above instead). This is one way of filtering mails, and I anticipate quite a few. Please help me keep things organized. Remember to include whether or not you want your email address reproduced on the FAQ (if you're contributing). Also remember that you may want to post your question to Usenet, instead of sending it to me. If you get a response which is not found on this FAQ, and you feel is relevant, mail me both copies and I'll attempt to include it. If I quote you directly, or paraphrase you I will place mention of your name and (with your consent) your email address. If not, your name will appear in the list of contributors nonetheless. Caveat ------ This FAQ will not include game specific information. Most games require a FAQ on their own. Furthermore, the games mentioned do not reflect what I recommend, neither am I affiliated with their developers nor their publishers. I'm simply using them to state precedent. To find game specific FAQs you could visit http://www.gamefaqs.com/ Table of Contents ----------------- 1) General Questions: 1.1) What is a strategy game? 1.2) Where can I find game reviews? 1.3) Where can I find demos of games? 1.4) How are games priced? 1.5) Where can I offer/buy used games? 1.6) What is an AI? 1.7) Why isn't [insert game name here] being discussed? 2) Genre Questions: 2.1) What are strategy games classified by? 2.2) What is a turn based strategy (TB) game? 2.3) What is a real time strategy (RTS) game? 2.4) What is a squad based game? 2.5) What is a war game? 2.6) What is a resource management game? 2.7) What is a first person strategy game? 2.8) What is a 4X game? 3) Game Assessment Questions. 3.1) What is game balance? 3.2) What is open endedness? 3.3) How do I determine a game's longevity (hours of play)? 4) Tactics Questions: 4.1) What weaknesses do most AIs have? 4.2) It's too hard, what now? 5) Running Old DOS Games: 5.1) How do I get an old DOS game to run in windows without crashing or asking for more memory? 5.2) How do I slow down an old DOS game so it runs normally on a modern computer? 5.3) What is a VESA driver and why does this old game want one? 6) List of Contributors 1) General Questions: --------------------- 1.1) What is a strategy game? ----------------------------- From WordNet 1.6: "strategy n 1: an elabrate and systematic plan of action [ syn: scheme ]" The oldest strategy games are, possibly, Chess, Checkers, and Chinese Go. In order to successfully play the game the player must formulate a strategy to out smart his opponent. Arguably certain card games like Spades fall into this category as well. However, this FAQ deals with more hard core strategy games. The advent of computer games fueled many genres, including those with strategic elements. From the early turn based war games on the Commodore 64, to the adrenaline rushing real time strategy games that we've seen emerge on the PC. Additionally, what may seem strategic to one person may not to another. Examples are games like Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines (Pyro Studios), where some gamers labeled it as a glorified puzzle game, rather than a strategy game. Or even Quake (ID Software) could be perceived by some to have strategic elements. Both these games fall into a grey area, and are not the focus of this FAQ. Instead games like Command And Conquer (Westwood Studios) X-Com: Apocalypse (Micropose) Settlers (Bluebyte) tend to be covered with less ambiguity in this genre. If the player's main focus is to make use of strategic elements, the game being played is considered a strategy game. As the astute reader can tell, the previous statement is relative to the player's perception. As such, this FAQ will make use of popular opinion when determining if a game falls into this pigeon hole. 1.2) Where can I find game reviews? ----------------------------------- A good place to start is Yahoo!'s listing of computer game reviews at: http://dir.yahoo.com/Recreation/Games/Computer_Games/Reviews/ However, you can also go by a local bookstore and buy magazines that review computer games, although many also have sites on the Internet. If you want to request a review on c.s.i.p.g.s. please check Dejanews http://www.dejanews.com/ first, reviews may have already been made. Generally you look real stupid requesting reviews that were just posted a week ago. If people reply with the same kind of reviews that were posted a week ago, you and the group of people start to look real dum. I know it's a cruel world. 1.3) Where can I find demos of games? ------------------------------------- Most of the sites that do game reviews will post links to their demos. However, you are better off going directly to the gaming publishers web site and checking for the availability of demos. You may also receive demos on CDs packaged with magazines. The only problem with this is you may have an old version of the demo that exhibits bugs. A good idea is to double check the publisher's web site for any updates. Publishers are real nice about updating their demos with patches. Don't accept demos from unknown, or unofficial sources. It's just dangerous to run untrusted code. For the most part, computer game publishers aren't out to do you in :-) 1.4) How are games priced? -------------------------- The following is based on my experience, and uses American dollars for monetary value. New games start in between $30-50, they later go down to $20-30, and finally $5-15 when they hit the bargain bin. This excludes any "specials" you may see. However, keep in mind, as any consumer should, a lot of "specials" that claim to give a game free when you buy two, will over price the other two. Most gamers will wait for a game to grow old and buy it cheap if it doesn't meet their standards. This conforms with the strategy employed by game publishers. They'll make it expensive at first, and slowly lower the prices. That's a way for them to gauge how well the game is. If it's a great game chances are people will shell out money from the day it hits the store, if it's not people will wait and pay less. Unfortunately recent practices have shown publishers releasing games at their beta stage, actively placing updates (patches) for download and then releasing a brand new package a year later as a sequel or "Special Edition". The new edition usually has all the bug fixes and conforms to the standards most gamers want. Sometimes they're even nice enough to offer a rebate. Sad, but true. Ronny Cook <ronny@iguana.mhs.oz.au> mentions the price ranges in Australia as: "[New releases are] around A$60-90, then drop to A$50 or so around six months later, then to around A$10-$30 in "bargain bins". Richard Lloyd <Lloyd@bury-rd.demon.co.uk> states that the pricing in the UK is as follows: New games cost 30-40 UK pounds. Sometimes as low as 20-25 pounds if you are lucky. Budget games cost in between 5-15 pounds with 10-12 being most common. Very old games can be found for as low as 2.5-3 pounds. Additionally games sold at budget price are usually classics, and not flops. 1.5) Where can I offer/buy used games? -------------------------------------- Although this FAQ does not cover any guidelines for c.s.i.p.g.s you are better off posting on comp.sys.ibm.pc.games.marketplace It contains a lot of "for sale" posts along with "wanted" posts. Game sellers also advertise their prices on that NG. 1.6) What is an AI? ------------------- AI stands for "Artificial Intelligence". Gamers use it to refer to whatever mechanism controls a non-human player, namely when playing against the computer. However, it is questionable just how much intelligence is exhibited by game AIs. Usually an AI is something that is artificially created and can learn. If the game AI can't learn, it's not much of an AI. 1.7) Why isn't [insert game name here] being discussed? ------------------------------------------------------- Most likely people have already discussed it and moved on. Most game publishers will run their own message boards so you could still find discussion there. Also some games don't make a dent in the newsgroup for whatever reason: either they weren't really strategy games, or they were just plain bad, or they just didn't have enough appeal. Either way don't post "why isn't this game being discussed" just make a post discussing it. 2) Genre Questions: ------------------- 2.1) What are strategy games classified by? ------------------------------------------- Players have used different terms to label different games. They are listed below. Turn based. Real time. Squad based. War gaming. Resource management First person strategy. 4X game However, these are not exclusive. Many games will make use of more than one sub-genre in hopes of increasing the game's appeal. 2.2) What is a turn based strategy (TB) game? --------------------------------------------- A good example of an old turn based game is Monopoly (Warner Brothers). Each player executes an action or a series of actions on a turn by turn basis. A contemporary example would be Allied General (Asylum Entertainment) . 2.3) What is a real time strategy (RTS) game? --------------------------------------------- A sub-genre that started with Dune II (Westwood Studios), Warcraft (Blizzard Entertainment), and Command And Conquer (Westwood Studios), and possibly some earlier games. Instead of playing by turns, the game progresses in "Real-Time" hence the action never stops. The goal is to keep the player on his toes, and challenge his strategic prowess. When playing a turn based game, players have the opportunity to sit back and formulate a plan, in contrast a real-time game does not give the player that luxury. However, some RTS games have included the option of slowing down the game's speed, or even pausing it while still being able to interact with it. The term "click fest" has been used extensively by TB advocates to argue that RTS games are a waste of time. In the same manner RTS fans feel that TB games are for "wimps". Draw your own conclusions. 2.4) What is a squad based game? -------------------------------- When the player is concentrating on a handful of units which are represented, usually, as human beings capable of jumping, crouching, taking aim, and using numerous weapons with various augmentations, the game is considered to be squad based. The strategy involved is not to only position the units optimally, but also to equip them according to their task. One of the oldest squad based strategy games was Laser Squad (Target), released on platforms like the C64, Amiga, and the ZX spectrum. More contemporary games include Jagged Alliance (Sir-Tech), X-Com: Apocalypse (Mythos Games), and SWAT 2 (Vosemite Entertainment). 2.5) What is a war game? ------------------------ Although arguably many strategy games are war games, this term is usually used to reference the more hard core elements of war gaming. As such, games that simulate historical or abstract battles fall into this category. Quite a few war games are based on board games, thus they are usually turn based. A contemporary example would be The Great Battles of Caesar (Erudite Software Inc.). You may want to subscribe to: comp.sys.ibm.pc.games.war-historical as it also contains discussion of war games, but focuses on historical ones. 2.6) What is a resource management game? ---------------------------------------- Resource management entails doing just that, managing "resources" and usually trying to design an optimal resource production "world". Early examples include SimCity (Maxis), which is arguably more of a simulation. Later games included resource management as an added feature; such as some of the games mentioned above. However, more hard core resource management games have appeared, such as Settlers (Bluebyte), and Knights and Merchants (JoyMania). 2.7) What is a first person strategy game? ------------------------------------------ A strategy game where the player is in control of a single "person" and is seeing the world from his perspective. Andrew Stingel <andy@gonegold.com> mentions previous efforts in a post to c.s.i.p.g.s. "It's . . . been attempted in titles such us Uprising (3DO) , Battlezone (Activision) and Urban Assault (Microsoft). I imagine other titles such as Rainbow 6 (Redstorm) could be labeled first-person strategy also. These games tend to be seen more as action games by this group, though I recall Battlezone was discussed quite extensively when it was first released." "Turn-based, first person games are a little rarer, only Incubation (Bluebyte) comes to mind." 2.8) What is a 4X Game? ----------------------- Although many of the aforementioned games may fall into the 4X category, it is usually reserved for games like Sid Meier's Civilization (Microprose) , Master of Orion (Microprose), and 7 Kingdoms (Imagic Games). The term 4X stands for, eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate. Whoever it was who coined the term unfortunately left the word out "research," a mechanism a lot of 4X games use. Generally speaking, the player takes control of a said "faction" while controlling units under it that would are used to eXplore the game's world, eXpand across it by building "bases", and eXploit the word via building improvements on different terrain types. Finally, when faced with an adversary the most likely outcome is for one or the other to eXterminate his opposition. The player may, of course, make treaties with the opposing factions etc. (The terms used above would accurately describe Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri (Firaxis)). During this milieu, the player must research better technology, build base improvements, and micromanage the individual bases. A common flaw of 4X games is its ability to quickly become overwhelming from its micromanaging. After the 10th base expect to spend a lot of time taking care of small details. 3) Game Assessment Questions. ----------------------------- 3.1) What is game balance? -------------------------- When a game is to easy to beat, or too difficult to play it is said to have bad game balance. This can manifest in numerous ways: The interface is crippled: You can barely get anything done because the controls are too clumsy to get the hang of. Or the micromanagement is impossible because the interface does not let you look at the "big picture" and as such you cannot figure out what to do. Lack of challenge: It's just way too easy. In some cases you know a trick to beat the AI in any situation. Or the AI is so stupid you can always beat it. Other possibilities include features which lack any relevance to the game; Weapons are dead cheap, there's really no need to worry about your funds. Cheating AI: Carsten <cenglem@gwdg.de> mentions that "Tireme" units in Civilization move like "Sails" for the AI. This gives the AI an unfair advantage, since "Sails" can travel farther and better. This is most likely done to compensate for the AIs inability to out smart the player. This can be a major turn off for serious gamers. In some cases a game does not need to be balanced in one respect as much as it does the other. Unfortunately some classic games lacked balance. They were most likely rushed. 3.2) What is open endedness? ---------------------------- The game play is non-linear. You are free to pursue whatever course you wish to. Classic open ended games are Pirates! (Microprose), or Elite (Ian Bell). Not many games pull off open endedness and still retain desirable affects. This is caused by the difficulty in obtaining game balance in an open ended game. Mathematically speaking, there are too many variables to balance. Usually games that don't pull it off well still draw a small group of fans. For the most part, open endedness is a major thrill for escapism seekers. 3.3) How do I determine a game's longevity (hours of play)? ----------------------------------------------------------- This is, of course, directly proportional to your learning curve, and your tolerance of what may seem to other players as nothing more than a number of minor flaws. If you are fastidious, like me, most games will not last long, but the classic open ended games will last forever. A classic mistake made by game developers, is the exclusion of a game editor, or randomly generated scenarios. Recently many games have taken the path of setting up a number of "missions" or "scenarios". Usually in the range of 10 to 20 in one game (though more is not unheard of). After playing all missions the game starts to lose its appeal. If a game editor is provided (sometimes called a scenario or map editor), players can devise new challenges and trade them with other players. This increases the game's longevity exponentially. If the game has multiplayer support it usually lives long as well. Players who have completed the "solo missions" will be able to play against each other, preferably in predesigned or random scenarios. Linear games die quickly without the aforementioned features, as opposed to open ended games. A good example is Pirates! (Micropose), that still retains a strong player base (people still play the game on C64 emulators). Finally, but definitely not the least important, is the game's pace. Some games are just too dang slow. After hours of play you don't seem to be getting anywhere, nor are you rewarded for your time. The game has to have enough endearing features to pique your interest. This is sometimes done by adding lots of fancy graphics and sound. Some players do appreciate this, while at other times would rather have more gaming features for added playabibility. 4) Tactics Questions: --------------------- 4.1) What weaknesses do most AIs have? -------------------------------------- This all varies on how well the AI was programmed. But here are the most frequently found weaknesses: Usually AIs employ a threshold area. For example, how close your units can get before your opponent takes action. Finding this threshold area is done by trial and error. When you do find it, it can help tremendously. You can corner enemy units without them attempting to break out untill you have amassed a decent force. You may find that there is no threshold area on some actions taken by the AI: He will keep repairing his units, wasting his resources. Get a unit, and keep damaging it near destruction. They almost exclusively have a static strategy, which means a high degree of predictability. In certain squad based games you can simply "camp" and wait for the AI to come your way. You then proceed to pick his units off as they run straight at you, guns blazing. 4.2) It's too hard, what now? ----------------------------- Saved games are your friend. Granted that the following tip is frowned upon by serious gamers, it is a silver bullet. Every time you advance in the game, save. Keep reloading whenever you lose anything valuable, or don't perform to perfection. This kills some of the thrills you can get out of losing in the game and winning your way back. However, it is stipulated that the reader is seriously bogged down and just wants to get through the game. 5) Running Old Dos Games: ------------------------- 5.1) How do I get an old DOS game to run in windows without crashing or asking for more memory? ---------------------------------------------------------------- You should always run DOS games under DOS unless the manual says otherwise; however, you still wind up with programs needing extended memory, more conventional memory etc. The people at http://www.computerhope.com/ have a page with a complete guide to setting up DOS so that your games can run with more memory, be it expanded or conventional at: http://www.computerhope.com/ac.htm It may look lengthy to read but it walks you through an entire setup and explains everything very well a long the way (better than I could in a FAQ). 5.2) How do I slow down an old DOS game so it runs normally on a modern computer? ---------------------------------------------------------------- There are utilities that will make a DOS program run slower. You probably should use these utilities if you are running prehistoric games. Moslo http://www.hpaa.com/moslo/ Bremze http://ansis.folklora.lv/bremze/ At-Slow [ Couldn't find location. Please send in the URL if you have it. ] 5.3) What is a VESA driver and why does this old game want one? --------------------------------------------------------------- VESA is a video standard. It basically defines a way for the game to talk to the video card. Most video card vendors should have information on getting a DOS VESA driver for their card. Some newer cards have a VESA driver in the hardware and do not require an external software driver. Find out what card you have, go to the vendors webpage and download the driver if you need it. 6) List of Contributors ----------------------- Thamer Al-Herbish <shadows@whitefang.com> Ronny Cook <ronny@iguana.mhs.oz.au> Richard Lloyd <Lloyd@bury-rd.demon.co.uk> Andrew Stingel <andy@gonegold.com> Carsten <cengelm@gwdg.de>