Dropbox doesn’t like me any more

I’ve been hosting my Civilization V mod files in my public Dropbox folder for months now, and just recently created a guide to installing Civilization II on more modern systems and thought that there shouldn’t be a problem hosting those requisite files in the same folder.

Wrong.

Apparently Dropbox will disable all shared links on free accounts if the downloads go over 20 GB in a single day. On the one hand, I’m incredibly frustrated ALL of my download links no longer work. On the other hand…WOW! People downloaded my stuff that often? I guess posting that Civ II guide to reddit really pushed things over the edge.

I’ve migrated all my files over to a new cloud provider (Mega), so all download links should be working again.

Installing Civilization II on 64-bit systems

UPDATE 7/24/16 — It turns out that these files were pretty popular. Dropbox disabled my download links for too much traffic, so I’ve updated all the links to a new cloud provider (MEGA). They should all be working now.

ORIGINAL POST 7/19/16 — I was very disappointed recently when I wanted to play some Civilization II and found that it wouldn’t install on my modern system. Apparently the game is completely incompatible with 64-bit systems, which is a shame because it’s such a classic. And, I didn’t want to go through the hassle of installing virtual machines. After a lot of digging, I found two separate methods to get it to work natively on 64-bit Windows 10 due to fixes created by enterprising fans.

A couple of notes before I get started. First, all credit goes to the following users on the civfanatics.com forums: Cedric GreenedeevesMastermindX, and starlifter. Second, this guide assumes you already have a Civilization II CD.


Method 1 | Step-by-step

Step 1
Download the following files:

MGE_upgrade (required)
64bit_patcher (required)
Civ2_NoCD.exe (optional)

Step 2
Load your disk into your disk drive. You’ll find nothing autoplays and setup.exe will refuse to run. That’s alright. Copy the entire CIV2 from the disk to your desired install location.

Step 3
Extract all the MGE_upgrade files into your CIV2 folder. Replace all conflicting files.
– These files upgrade the vanilla Civ II to the Multiplayer Gold Edition, which after a bit more work will be able to run on 64-bit systems. Plus, multiplayer!

Step 4
Run the 64bit_patcher after selecting your CIV2 folder location.

Step 5 (optional)
Download the Civ2_NoCD.exe and drop it into your CIV2 folder.
– This is an optional step. At this point, the game will run perfectly fine with the CD, but if you don’t want to use your CD you’ll need the crack. Unfortunately the sound doesn’t seem to work with the crack, but the game itself runs fine.
– An alternative to this would be to create a disk image (.iso file) of your Civ 2 CD and then loading it into a virtual disk drive (Daemon Tools, for example) whenever you want to play. This has the added benefit of saving wear and tear on your disk and that the .iso file is easy to transfer if you switch computers.

Method 1 | Known Issues

1. When starting the game you may be presented with a black screen and a spinning circle. Simply click your mouse and the menu should show up. Alternatively you can alt-tab to the main menu screen, then alt-tab to the black box on the far left of your alt-tab menu, and then click.

2. Hitting “enter” when founding a city doesn’t confirm the city name for some reason…you’ll have to click through the city-founding screen.

3. On an AI turn sometimes the game will hang up for a minute…just wait, it will resume.

4. MGE computer players are remarkably hostile. Expect to have near-constant wars.


Method 2 | Step-by-step

Step 1
Download the following files:

MGE_upgrade (required)
MGE_1.3_patch (required)
civ2_patch_project (required)

Step 2 
Load your disk into your disk drive. You’ll find nothing autoplays and setup.exe will refuse to run. That’s alright. Copy the entire CIV2 from the disk to your desired install location.

Step 3
Extract all the MGE_upgrade files into your CIV2 folder. Replace all conflicting files. So far essentially identical to Method 1.

Step 4
Install the MGE_1.3_patch.

Step 5
Extract civ2_patch_project into your CIV2 folder. Launch civ2patch.exe.
– The first time this runs a configuration file (civ2patch.ini) will be created. You can consult the included readme for how to edit the config file to customize the patch features. You’ll run the game from this file instead of the standard civ2.exe file, so I recommend you create a shortcut.
– A NoCD fix with working sound is included in this patch.

Method 2 | Known Issues

1. Some anti-virus software will really, really dislike it when you try to run civ2patch.exe; the reason is that the .exe launches civ2.exe and then loads the civ2patch.dll into the memory. You may have to create an exception for your anti-virus software in order to run the patch.

2. Hitting “enter” when founding a city doesn’t confirm the city name for some reason…you’ll have to click through the city-founding screen.

For troubleshooting the patcher, the author deeves is active in this civfanatics thread.


Which One?

Which one is the right one for you basically comes down to how comfortable you are creating anti-virus exceptions. Method 2 is superior as more fixes are included (including the NoCD patch and a fix for MGE’s overly hostile AI). But if fiddling around with anti-virus settings alarms you, Method 1 is the way to go.


Recommended Game Settings

Once you’re in the game, here are my recommendations for the game and graphic options (accessible from within a game by selecting the “Game” menu):

Game Options
– enable “Always wait at end of turn.” Otherwise you’re turn will end as soon as you have no active units.
– enable “Fast piece slide.” This will significantly speed up the game. You can speed it up further by toggling the “Show enemy moves” and “No pause after enemy moves” options, but those create nearly instantaneous enemy turns so you might not be able to see what happened.

Graphic Options
– disable “Animated Heralds”, “High Council”, and “Wonder Movies” as these have a tendency to glitch out or appear as black boxes.

The Battle for Middle Earth, in limbo

The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth series – while certainly a mouthful – were fantastic strategy games set in Tolkien’s Middle Earth. The first one (released in 2004) shook up strategy game conventions by eschewing standard base-building mechanics and focusing the map around permanent base “foundations” which could be built upon by any player. You could choose to build resource buildings or military buildings, but you only had a limited number of foundations, so you had to carefully balance your building choices. BFME also was one of the first games to utilize a Risk-style campaign map with persistent units. Each unit you built, if it survived, would be part of your army in the next battle, along with its experience and upgrades, so by the time you reached the final battles of the campaign you would have an army filled with elite troops – if you were careful.

The game also allowed you to build well-known heroes, like Aragorn, Gandalf, and Eomer. Each of these heroes could use special abilities to turn the tide of the battle in spectacular ways. What was even more fun was that you could play as either good (Gondor or Rohan) or evil (Mordor or Isengard), and each side had unique units and playstyles. For instance, the good factions have bases with walls, while the evil factions have none. The evil factions can pump out vast hordes of troops quickly, while good troops take a while to train but are more powerful. The campaign includes some of the most famous missions from the franchise (Helm’s Deep, Minas Tirith, and more), but most of the battles are skirmishes without the scripting of the “story” missions, which allows for plenty of freedom.

BFME was followed up by its sequel in 2006, Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth II and an expansion for the sequel, called Rise of the Witch King. The sequel did not continue the same building mechanics of the first game, but went back to a more traditional approach, with free-form bases and the ability to build defensive structures around your fortress, as players of traditional RTS games are intimately familiar with. The expansion also allowed you to build your own hero, with a unique name and custom abilities.

Wanting to play the first game recently, I scrounged around for my disks (it came on four CDs), only to realize I couldn’t find them all. A quick search of online game stores found nothing as well, despite my thought that – as an older game – it should be available for fairly cheap.

It turns out that the series is no longer being manufactured or sold, as the licensing rights expired in 2010. If you want to purchase the first one now, you can buy a used copy for $25 on Amazon, which is pretty high for a twelve-year-old game. For the sequel, you’ll be set about $145 for a new copy, or $40 for a used one. If you already own the game, though, like I do, I found an alternative!

Some enterprising fans have created a patched version of the game available for a free download and which works on Windows 7/8/10. I couldn’t get the second game to work, for some unknowable reason; it works for other people just fine. You will have to download a digital disk drive like Daemon Tools Lite as well. You’re able to play singleplayer and online.

It’s not as good as EA pulling a trick out of its hat and somehow reacquiring the rights so they could release a remastered edition, but it certainly scratches the itch. It’s always nice to see fans keep something alive which would otherwise be lost to the sands of time and licensing disputes.

The African Kingdoms’ Campaigns

I’m steadily working my way through the campaigns from Age of Empires II: HD Edition’s latest expansion, The African Kingdoms. Despite Age of Empires being one of the (very) few games I play multiplayer regularly, I still enjoy the campaigns thoroughly…especially seeing how creative the scenario designers can get with an aging engine and scenario editor. I’ve completed three out of four so far…the Portuguese, Berber, and Ethiopian campaigns. Mali is the only one left to go.

The Portuguese campaign thoroughly impressed me all the way through, really highlighting excellent scenario design. Several of the scenarios had two ways to win, either through building a wonder and turtling or by conquering the enemy forces outright. It also utilizes the Feitoria, a unique building which generates all four resources, allowing scenarios where you’re holed up on an island surrounded by enemies and can still survive. If you haven’t played it, I’d highly recommend it.

The Berber campaign wasn’t quite as good, but it still had some standout scenarios – particularly the fourth one, where you have to guide an army through the Pyrenees with cliff passes where the cold temperatures steadily kill your men unless you get through them quickly.

Unfortunately, four of the five Ethiopian scenarios have major bugs – they don’t prevent you from completing them, but key mechanics are messed up or don’t work at all. It’s a shame, because there are some very cool scenarios. The third one is one of the hardest ones I’ve played…or it would be if the mechanics worked correctly. You have a limited amount of time to build a base and fortify a long mountain pass against a massive army – all the while under constant raids and with very limited resources. If the enemy army reaches the end of the pass, you’re supposed to lose. I wasn’t able to stop them, but I didn’t lose…instead after they reached the end of the pass they just stopped and waited until I built a massive army of my own and killed them all, winning the scenario.

All in all, though, these scenarios are far better designed than those in The Forgotten, the previous expansion, and they feature far more detailed and extensive maps than those in the original game. They’re certainly a good way to familiarize yourself with each of the new civilizations.

Free DoWII: Retribution DLC incoming

Well, this is unexpected. I’m not sure if you’ve played The Last Stand mode in Dawn of War II: Retribution, but it’s quite entertaining. You play one of seven heroes representing the Space Marines, Imperial Guard, Tyranids, Orks, Eldar, Tau, or Chaos against progressively harder waves of enemies in essentially a “survival” mode. You can play on your own, but it’s really designed to be played with a few others cooperatively. It’s worth checking out if you haven’t tried it.

Anyways, to celebrate Retribution’s fifth anniversary, the upcoming Necron Overlord hero will be available to download for free from March 10-14, after which it will go on sale for $9.99. The Steam page has this to say about the hero:

Bringing a fresh playstyle to the battlefield, the Necron Overlord can be played as long-raged fast firing “battlecruiser” or as area-of-effect melee expert. A full complement of wargear supports either style of play.

This looks promising, and definitely a good reason to revisit the game. Dawn of War II is one of my all-time favorite franchises, so I’m always happy to see more of it!

Minecraft’s Anarchy

RockPaperShotgun has a fascinating look at what they call Minecraft’s “most obscene server”, where they tag-along with one of the server’s regulars.

Fair warning – there is some remarkably offensive content in screenshots or descriptions throughout the article.

What I find most interesting is the constant evolution of the server and its landscape. Players build bases, attempting to hide them away as secretly as possible to avoid the rampant slaughter and destruction which almost everything is met with; other players ferret out those bases and destroy them, leaving ruins behind. Apparently the landscape is littered with abandoned ruins to discover and hellish landscapes with nothing but stone spires and towers of lava to break the rocky plains (spawn has 1500 blocks of pure stone and dirt in every direction – no trees, grass, or materials – making it virtually impossible for new players to survive). Hacking and cheating is rampant as well – all part of the chaos.

I’d hate to ever be part of a “community” as toxic as this one, but it is certainly fascinating to see what emerges from sandbox games.

Rethinking achievements, part II

I had pretty strong feelings about Age of Empires II: HD Edition’s achievements requiring you to win 1000 games with each civilization. They were strongly negative feelings, as I considered them wasteful at best and abusive to compulsive players at worst. Fortunately, the developers listened and removed those achievements, but there are still achievements requiring you to win 100 times with each civilization…and that number keeps growing as they keep releasing new expansions (don’t get me wrong, I love that they’re still releasing expansions for the game!). As of the time of this writing, the minimum number of games you need to win in order to get every achievement stands at 2,700, which while significantly less than the 23,000 it used to be is still absurdly high.

Playing 100 (or 1000) games with every civilization remains an arbitrary and menial task which quickly becomes more about the slog than about the experience. Achievements should be about exploring what the game has to offer, not about repeating the same thing over and over again until you’re not even playing the game – you’re just following the same formula of clicks in order to speed through until you get the achievement, and then on to the next civilization!

I decided to try my hand at completing all the achievements in several games, and I burned out pretty quickly. I was able to successfully complete Half-Life 2 and Half-Life 2: Episode One, but then threw my hands up in frustration at Portal and Half-Life 2: Episode 2. My experience with each of these games highlights some particular aspect of achievements, whether helpful or not.

hl2 hl21 I did not have fun with chasing Half-Life 2’s achievements. Most of them were fairly straightforward, which was fine – and a few were even fun. For instance, there’s an achievement for playing through Ravenholm using only the gravity gun. That’s an example of a well-integrated and fun achievement. The challenge of using only the environment around you forces you to approach each encounter differently than you would have before. However, where I stopped having fun was with the Lambda Locator achievement, which tasks you with finding every single hidden cache throughout the entire game. The frustrating thing is that a single tweak would have fixed this achievement.

The problem is that the achievement requires you to find all of these hidden caches in a single, continuous game. This means that you cannot progress until you’ve explored every single nook and cranny for fear that if you move on and miss a cache, you will need to restart the game and go through the entire story again…without missing any caches the second time. This took all the fun out of playing, because it meant that it was no longer about playing the way you want to play, but about clearing all enemies and then running around in circles making sure you didn’t miss anything before you move on. The only tweak they needed to make was to make the progression carry over through any number of games. This would allow you to play through as you like, and then load up particular chapters to explore more thoroughly and find the caches you missed. I’ll admit, I found a guide with all the cache locations and used that to get this achievement, because I wasn’t having fun.

Half-Life 2: Episode One was tremendously fun as there were no timesink achievements – they were all progression or challenge achievements. My favorite was The One Free Bullet, which allowed you to fire a single bullet, but the rest of the game had to be completed using the gravity gun, crowbar, grenades, or rockets.

Portal made me tear my hair out in frustration, not because the achievements are poorly designed, but because I realized I’m just not good enough at the game to get them all. There’s a single achievement I wasn’t able to get, because my reflexes aren’t fast enough to complete the challenge maps in the required time frame. I could practice to become good enough and complete the achievement, but I realized the satisfaction of attaining that last goal wasn’t going to make up for the amount of time I would have to spend and the frustration I would endure narrowly failing time and time again. For someone who enjoys that kind of challenge, it may be a rewarding experience, but not for me.

portal

Half-Life 2: Episode 2 is where I gave up entirely. The achievement in question is Get Some Grub, which requires you to find and squish 333, er, grubs in a particular chapter of the game. Like Lambda Locator, this has to be completed in a single game (once again, changing this single thing would have fixed the main problem with this achievement). I tried using a guide, but after realizing that I still missed a few (some of them are rather well hidden) I decided it wasn’t worth it. Playing was rapidly becoming tedious and without reward, and I didn’t want to ruin the game for myself as it’s one I enjoy.

My experience here led to a couple of thoughts. First, if you’re going to try and complete all the achievements in a game, it might be worth reviewing the achievements beforehand and planning out how you’re going to get them. Second, it it’s ruining your enjoyment of the game, stop – it’s not worth it. Third, it reaffirmed my opinion that developers can either enhance their customers’ playing experience through well-designed achievements, or can ruin any further enjoyment of the game and prevent customers from coming back through poorly designed achievements.

Finally, I encourage you to play first and foremost for the pure enjoyment of experiencing a game. Achievements should be simply a bonus, and if they don’t enhance your experience or enjoyment, they’re really not worth getting.

Cities: Skylines – Snowfall

Cities: Skylines has just come out with a second expansion, titled Snowfall. I rather liked Cities: Skylines, so any news of more of it makes my ears perk up.

The expansion adds a few things:

  • New “winter” themed maps blanketed with snow
  • Heating systems – as it gets colder, your citizens require warmth to keep them happ
  • Plow depots to keep traffic running smoothly through the snow
  • Better public transport management, plus the addition of trams!

It’s priced at $12.99, which does seem high for the amount of content offered here. Reactions from fans are mixed about it, but the consensus seems to be either get it on sale or buy it to support the developers. Or it might be worth getting just because of the puns on the store page.

Playing Again: Half-Life 2

November 16, 2004 – I’d waited months for this day, barely able to contain my excitement. Half-Life 2 was coming out, and I carefully husbanded my lawn-mowing money to buy it on release. I took the discs home and immediately started installing them, along with this strange program called Steam. After it finished installing, I sat there in crushed disappointment as it told me it required a large patch download in order to play. That’s not a big deal now when I can download the entire game in just minutes, but then my parents still had a 56k dial-up modem.

I wasn’t able to start the game until the next day, after letting the patch download overnight.

But when I started to play, it was a glorious experience. That may seem hyperbolic, but it’s not. My dad, sister, and I huddled around the computer watching and playing together as we marveled at the graphics and incredible physics. I actually cared about what happened to the characters – this was the first time I realized just what video games were capable of, both in telling stories with emotional weight and in technical achievements. What drew me in to the story the most, though, was this idea that I was part of the story; unlike with movies or books, I was an active agent, moving the plot along at my own pace.

It’s been years since I played Half-Life 2, so I decided recently to give it another go, this time with the added goal of completing every achievement (I succeeded!). I’m happy to report that the game holds up extraordinarily well almost 12 years later.

First, though, the Source engine is showing its age – later Valve games have incorporated upgrades that are lacking in Half-Life 2. There isn’t much detail compared to more recent games, textures are blurry, and there are problems with lighting and shadows. All of that is true, but it really isn’t fair to criticize the game for that…it was made in 2004, and it looks like it was, but that doesn’t take away from how fun it is to play. And besides, if you’re really concerned about the graphics, you can always download one of the free community mods (Half-Life 2: Update for example) which make it look prettier.

With that out of the way, on to my thoughts on the gameplay. I think the reason Half-Life 2 was (and still is) so successful is because the gameplay constantly evolves as you progress forward. As soon as you become comfortable, you’re presented with something which changes how you can approach each situation. After playing the beginning – which feels like a fairly standard shooter – you’re given the airboat and giant arenas to play around with. After a while of that, they give you a machine gun on the airboat, changing up how you use it. Then you’re given the gravity gun, and immediately thrust into Ravenholm, a haunting and creepy environment filled with saw blades, barrels, and other things you can throw at enemies. Then comes the dune buggy and ant-lions, and some of my favorite sections of the game. Traveling down Highway 17, dodging ant-lions as you ferret out Combine strongholds on the coast, showcases some of the best that Half-Life 2 has to offer.

But the game isn’t done throwing new things at you. After fighting the ant-lions, you’re given a tool which makes them your allies, and you use them to assault Nova Prospekt, a claustrophobic prison where you’re given access to automated turrets and have to stand your ground against waves of Combine soldiers. Once you’ve escaped Nova Prospekt, you’re thrown into a full-blown rebellion and given command of a squad of resistance fighters. And then finally, at the end of the game, all of your weapons are taken away except for a super-powered gravity gun, and you get to experience what it’s like to throw men around like rag dolls as you rampage through the Citadel.

Not all of these are executed perfectly – the squad command sections in particular hilariously showcase the shortcomings of the AI, with companions constantly getting in your way, running out to die from snipers or grenades, and generally acting like morons. Some of the pacing, particularly at the beginning of the game as you run through sewer after sewer and later as you crawl through Nova Prospekt, is tedious and repetitive. But it’s worth playing through those sections to see what comes next, because there’s always something new around the corner.

Half-Life 2 still does a far better job than most recent games in shifting the game’s paradigm constantly, and that evolving gameplay makes it successful – and fun to play over a decade later. If it’s been a while since you played it, it’s worth it to revisit it. If you’ve never played it before, it won’t wow you with its looks, but you’ll experience a classic with some of the best gameplay around – and widely considered one of the best games ever made.

Half-Life 2

Released: November 16, 2004 | Developer: Valve Software

Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox 360, PS3 | On Steam