Tony Leier


News ID: 335

The long-running city sim franchise is back.

BY TOM MCNAMARA If you are a strategy gamer, you're familiar with the two stereotypical types of players. There's the "zerg rush" guy who loves constant combat and aggression, and the "turtle" who's interested in creating a well-defended base with all the bells and whistles. The turtle guy, in the long run, is generally more interested in just building cool or cool-looking buildings and units than taking the war to his opponent. There's nothing wrong with that -- in fact, that's how I tend to do things myself. In a strategy game, I tend to be more interested in the content the game has to offer, instead of the challenge of fighting a human player. Caesar IV, like its predecessors, offers you both styles of play, but you can choose to largely ignore one or the other and let the game take care of most of that.

But Caesar IV is also moving into the new century, after an eight-year lapse and countless imitators, and this means giving the game a level of visual polish that lets you know immediately that you're dealing with the new hotness. Due in the September time frame, it's fully 3D now, with day and night cycles, tangible weather effects, high dynamic range lighting, bump mapping, specular lighting, procedural shadows, and doubtless other geegaws to please those with the latest hardware.

But Tilted Mill's Tony Leier, the lead designer, is quick to point out that scaling is important to them -- although it won't look as fancy with a GeForce 3 or some such, it should be perfectly playable. If you haven't updated your computer since the last game came out, you shouldn't have to hold up any banks before installing the game. With everything turned on, though, the game looks quite nice and performs fairly smoothly, even though it hasn't hit its alpha milestone yet. Like Firaxis, Tilted Mill starts prototyping the game early so they can polish and tweak the whole way through.

For example, they already have weather effects in the game; rain makes people move more slowly, but it can also put out fires. And according to where the city is located, the sun will have a proper arc through the sky. (And speaking of location, you'll have different resources available to you depending on what region of the world your city is in.)

And since it's been eight years since the last installment, the casual player may have forgotten how Caesar "thinks." Like SimCity, building a town is based on straightforward logic: Buildings need roads, people need water, cities need protection against fire and crime, and commerce and taxation create the funds to make everything happen. You'll start out with plebes, the "common folk" of Roman times who do generally unskilled labor. They'll be gathering your resources, but they need housing, sanitation and entertainment like everyone else. The last part requires specialists. In addition to theater and gladiator shows, the specialists will also cultivate luxury goods for the patricians, who do no labor but pay lots of taxes.

One of the core elements of the game is placing these people in good locations and keeping their ratios at a level that allows for long-term success. When you build a theater or hire a prefect, their area of influence is not a radius but is determined by the routes the person needs to take. For example, if there isn't a road linking village A to village B, then only village B will benefit from the hospital you place within it. Also, the employees of the hospitals, theaters and other services will need their own housing. So if you put too many patricians around a coliseum, it may be too far of a walk for the plebes who also want to see the events, and the coliseum might never be very popular.

Like Civilization IV, Caesar IV looks like one of those games with bunches of replayability and sheer content. You have "Career Mode," where you work your way up to being Caesar; scenario mode, where you play isolated missions; and a sandbox, my personal favorite. There are also more than 75 unique character types that will roam through a given city, and you can click on a person to get their opinion of what's going on. There's also the simple pleasure of roving over your city and looking at stuff, which Caesar IV is happy to indulge with a surprising level of detail. Since citizens have specific needs, you'll see them doing specific things, like going to the market, laboring in the fields, or practicing a monologue for a play.

Since us PC guys like city building sims, keep your eyes peeled in the coming months for another look at Caesar IV.

GAMES: Caesar IV
PEOPLE: Tony Leier