Twilight Of The Arnor Released 27 Days Ago!

By Kieron Gillen on May 26th, 2008 at 10:48 pm.

Sexy boxes
At RPS we’re determined to bring you the hottest PC news within at least 28 days of it breaking (Except when we accidentally repost a story from three months back due to ultro-thickness. And the time we came within a mouseclick of posting a story that was a year old, due to them only making announcements to do with the 40K MMO a year apart. The basts). So it gives us great pleasure to be among the last to inform you Stardock have released their second and final expansion for their splendid Galactic Civilizations II. 27 days ago. Yes.

A good old rant about what makes it interesting beneath the cut, clearly.

Okay, we’ve talked about the game before, when I did our Beta impressions way back in December of 2006, those halcyon days when more than half of RPS’ Gaming PCs had internet connections. And actually the main point is shown there – for me, at least, the main thing that’s added is an extra helping of charisma. That each of the major races have their own unique tech-tree is a challenge in terms of strategy and all that… but the secret, quiet appeal for me is in terms of charm and storytelling. The GalCiv universe has been critiqued for being a little uninspired – but by integrating the personality and history of the race into the tech tree it creates a unique storytelling environment, and sells those cultural experiences brilliantly.

(This goes off on an aside but… well, people often get hung up on when games are going to have stories as good as other media. Which is an interesting question, and I completely understand it… but I think we should ask why stories which we’d turn our noses up in any other medium become oddly compelling when placed in a game. There’s something going on there, and we seem unwilling to pursue it. But, as I said, I digress.)

To choose an example, the quick-breeding Torians. They’re a slave Race subjugated to the Drengin – who you’ll remember from my Beta Impressions I linked to earlier in the post, and if you didn’t click through, here’s another link. I feel for your mouse-wheel – who only are recently freed and trying to get on with being a space-faring race. Except they weren’t a space-faring race to begin with. They were a bit rubbish and stuck on a planet having lots of crazy sex with one another in a ET-meets-Bonobo monkey kind of way. So when you start, while you’ve got a large mine-structure industrial thing to build, you can’t make any other kind of factory. You have to make do with this old-tech before you work out how to start thinking like a Space-Racer. It’s an experience unique to the Torians, and the other races have their own stories buried in their technical progress.

Which makes me think of one of the standard comments I make about Civilization – in that it believes in the idea of an inevitable march of history. That, in a real way, all nations stories are the same and it couldn’t be any other way. This is expressed solely through the tech-tree. Meanwhile, Twilight of the Arnor tells twelve sci-fi stories through the method Civ uses to close down historical dissenters. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone use the tech-tree for a similar purpose, and I suspect it may end up being added to my narrative-techniques-that-only-work-in-games toolbox.

There’s lots more in the game, of course, but that’s the big thing that caught my eye.

I also love that it’s called Galactic Civilizations II: Twilight of the Arnor. It’s kind of an Ur-PC Game name. You can tell by its title that it’s not the sort that’s even slightly ashamed what it is. It’s the sort of PC game that’s dressed up in leathers, has grown a big moustache and dancing chest-bared on a float in a PC-game parade, before going home to have sex with a similarly moustachioed leather-clad PC game (Like Armageddon Empires: Cults of the Wasteland). I love it for it, and I think it’s neat as hell.

And, really, I wrote this post because it’s a month and I think that’s enough time for people to have stories to tell about it and they need a forum to do so. Anyone else digging it? With or without ill-advised metaphors?

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28 Comments »

  1. Okami says:

    Which is an interesting question, and I completely understand it… but I think we should ask why stories which we’d turn our noses up in any other medium become oddly compelling when placed in a game.

    This may just be one of the most interesting questions about gaming that I’ve heard in quite some time. Like all good and important questions, it really seems incredibly obvious when it is finally asked and one wonders why it has never been asked before.

  2. restricted3 says:

    Whoa, didn’t notice that you hadn’t put any news about it.

    Probably because I was playing it ;)

  3. Mo says:

    You realize RPS didn’t exist in “December of 2006″, right? ;)

  4. Ben Hazell says:

    It’s OK guys – we’re not here for the news.

  5. malkav11 says:

    That’s okay. I just got my July issue of (the American) PC Gamer, proudly trumpeting all over the cover that it had exclusive beta coverage from Age of Conan. Y’know, the game that launched last week.

    Also, it’s May. Gotta love print timelines.

  6. Snofeld says:

    My last game I won with an Ascension victory. Five crystals appear randomly on the map, and you can build stations on them. You get one ascension point per station per turn, once you reach 1000 you win the game.

    I had four early on and was wondering why none of the other races got the fifth. Turns out everyone knows if a player’s trying to ascend, and how long until they win. For the entire game all five opposing races were pissed at me. Which for the Korx, a trading race, is a very bad thing. There was uneasy tension that only led to outright war as the turn of ascension loomed. Heck, even the Torians declared war on me, which is the GalCiv equivelent of being invaded by Gandhi in Civ 4. The tension was incredible, holding on to my last crystal for the last few turns.

    So as it turns out grabbing the crystals isn’t a terribly good idea unless you’re strong enough to survive the combined assaults of the whole galaxy.

  7. grumpy says:

    What’s so weird about being invaded by Gandhi in Civ4? Happens regularly to me… :/

  8. Snofeld says:

    It’s not that it’s uncommon, it’s just…it’s Gandhi! The Ur-pacifist! And he’s declared war on you!

  9. Erlam says:

    “Which is an interesting question, and I completely understand it… but I think we should ask why stories which we’d turn our noses up in any other medium become oddly compelling when placed in a game.”

    Perhaps because you’re controlling it, in a way? When you read a story, it happens, and you view it through anothers telling.

    In a game, it happens not just to you, but of you. The game isn’t storytelling, you are.

  10. Darius K. says:

    Twilight of the Arnor tells twelve sci-fi stories through the method Civ uses to close down historical dissenters.

    This reminds me a lot of Alpha Centauri, too. Even though the tech tree was technically the same between all factions, there were definite thematic branches to the tree that fit with each faction, much more so than in Civ.

  11. subedii says:

    With regards to gaming stories and why we find them interesting, I think Chris Avellone said it best so I’m just going to quote him:

    Gamespot: “What would you say to someone who told you that games have universally terrible stories?”

    Chris Avellone: “I’d say game stories can be a little formulaic at times and a little unpolished, but then I would point up at the sky and say, “Holy s***, look at that!” And when they do, I would punch them in the gut, and while they were gasping for breath, I would lean down and go, “You are wrong. There are several games with compelling stories, stories that achieve greater strength because it’s a story you can interact with. Thus, the experience is even more personal than reading a novel, where you are basically watching the characters go about their adventures without any participation from you except flicking your eyes across the page.” At this point, the person would be about to get up, so I would kick them in the shins and then run.”

  12. Thomas Lawrence says:

    The game is great, if a little bugged and imbalanced at the moment. Stardock have a great reputation for post-release support, though, so I’m sure they’ll get round to fixing that up. (At least, as soon as they’re done with The Political Machine)

  13. Down Rodeo says:

    It’s funny, I’d just gone and re-read this. Really amazing article. Come the time that I get a PC upgrade I’ll buy it.

    Actually, the hell with that! I should be able to run it at the moment… not too strenuous requirements-wise, is it?

  14. Noc says:

    On the Stories in Gaming thing . . . I don’t think it’s so much the interactivity so much as the illusion of participation. Even if you don’t have any real control over the outcome, your participation adds weight to the events. A good parallel, I think, is the sort of ritualized reenactments you see a lot in religion: everything’s symbolic and entirely divorced from from the events the rituals are endeavoring to represent, but it’s difficult to deny the effect the ritual participation has on religion’s staying power.

    Umm . . . I haven’t played the game. It sounds spiffy.

  15. Ryan says:

    Some funny comments. What’s with the news release?

    lessons in brevitylessons in brevity

  16. Freelancepolice says:

    Excellent game!

    My game is ongoing, in fact I shan’t finish it for another few weeks. If there is any problem with twilight, it’s that there’s too much vastness!

    I am playing on ai setting – dribble

  17. Feet says:

    The problem I have with GalCiv is I find there’s no real easily accessible feedback into how well I am doing, just generally or compared to the other races. Like, if I spam colony ships and expand as fast as possible to other planets I have no idea what that will cost me. In Civ4 over expansion = empty purse, and that’s represented by a big -30 gold per turn (or whatever) next to my total income on the main interface. I just find that information in GalCiv is harder to come by and understand.

    Also no MP. Which is a damned shame.

  18. cliffski says:

    I love this game. They should do an expansion that ONLY concentrates on adding uber l33tness to the ship battle section, which is frankly a bit pants considering how cool the ship design is. Bolting a decent graphics engine on that, and giving you some tactical control would be l33t.

  19. Duoae says:

    Which is an interesting question, and I completely understand it… but I think we should ask why stories which we’d turn our noses up in any other medium become oddly compelling when placed in a game.

    This may just be one of the most interesting questions about gaming that I’ve heard in quite some time. Like all good and important questions, it really seems incredibly obvious when it is finally asked and one wonders why it has never been asked before.

    Of course it’s been asked before… and the simple answer is: What do we have that’s better?

    Seriously, the reason why we don’t accept the flotsam and jetsam of any ‘thing’ in general is because something better exists and as a result comparison is inevitably drawn to said superior ‘thing’. There are currently relatively few games on the current platforms (that’s one reason for a unified console future or full backwards compatibility) that are hailed as having good plot lines (i think it’s a better descriptor than story)…

    As gaming gets more mainstream and adult oriented (not in that way) then we’ll see some stories and storytelling techniques evolve along side it – just as they did with film and literature. Of course, there’ll still be the crappy popcorn flicks (and worse) but there will be more of the great as well.

    [edit] I hate the blockquote code on this commenting system :/
    On a related note (to the article) there was one ‘blog/article’ that made me buy the game by Tom Francis (i think):

    http://www.computerandvideogames.com/article.php?id=161570&site=pcg&skip=yes

  20. Dinger says:

    The teleological notion of history has always been my problem with the Civilization series. A library before a University? Huh? And a museum?
    And why can’t I get a Lysenkoism wonder?
    Things don’t necessarily get better.

    Stories in games? Heck, most of the stories in movies and television are trite, hackneyed and decidedly stale. Sometimes good acting or direction makes them engaging. Most novels sold today have crappy stories, and even worse writing. Some of them have elements that make them appeal to people.
    For that matter, most popular music sucks too.

  21. Kieron Gillen says:

    It pleased me that several people have linked to Tom’s brilliant piece.

    KG

  22. Ginger Yellow says:

    I’d second Darius’s comment about SMAC. That’s one of the few games where I’ve had completely different games playing as different factions. It wasn’t so much the tech tree as the narrative and the economic/unit benefits, which effectively forced you to roleplay. A Hive faction develops and plays completely differently to a Gaian one. Damn I loved that game.

  23. El Stevo says:

    Games don’t need great stories because story games are almost always like action films. It’s the action – what you do – that’s important. The story can just serve as a framework, providing the motivation and context for the action.

  24. Grandstone says:

    Better yet, the player’s action ought to be the story. I don’t think we’re looking for game developers to write “The Dead”; we’re looking for them to find mature ways to let players do as they will, with greater freedom (and the attendant greater consequences for their actions). It seems unambitious (no offense meant) to just let the story be in the background.

    I’m not sure I’m articulating what I mean. Sorry if this is incoherent.

  25. zima says:

    @Down Rodeo – my AthlonXP 1700 , 768MB, Radeon 8500 (yes, dx 8.1) seems to handle it rather nicely…at least when checking quickly how it runs (details below)

    And I agree, great article by Tom Francis…paired with sensible approach to copy protection it convinced me to buy Galciv2 even though I wasn’t really in that sort of games…

    It currently waits on the shelf for its time…but I have a question to all of you that play the game:
    I realise that in sandbox mode it’s preferable to have latest expansion for all the additional features/fixes…but I’d like to start with the story driven campaign of initial game release, then go to story driven game of expanions. So my question: do improvements from latest expansion take effect when playing story driven campaign in previous releases?

  26. Freelancepolice says:

    I don’t think so, they’re all separate loaders it appears

  27. Dean says:

    I covered a bit of why stories in games can be more compelling than in other media in the first of a few pieces I’m writing on “Games for people that don’t play games”
    http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/loved/entry/games_for_people/

    I focus on Photopia in the piece, but it’s mostly about how by giving the illusion of choice, game stories can hit harder than in film or such:

    “We all know that feeling in horror films you get, as your mind starts screaming at the character “Oh for christ’s sake! Don’t go back into the house! Are you mental?!”. But we can’t control the star of the film, so they do, and end up getting trapped or killed and we cringe at their idiocy. In survival horror games, you’re the idiot.”

  28. YogSo says:

    I must say this: that Tom Francis’ piece is the best S-F short story I’ve read in a while. And I really mean it. It has it all: humor, drama, suspense, loads and loads of epicness and even a final revelation. Truly great, thanks for the link.

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