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PC Strategic Games FAQ


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Archive-name: games/strategic/pc
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URL: http://www.whitefang.com/pcst/

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                 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> 


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Last Update March 27 2014 @ 02:11 PM