Tuesday, December 2, 2014

4X Games: Extremely Complex or Highly Imaginative?

4X - A strategy sub-genre that takes careful planning to map out

Gamers who are enthusiastic supporters of the more strategic video games immediately familiarize themselves with the structure of said games, mapping out strategies that fit to their liking and specifically deploying actions that they want to get done for their groups. 4X games are the true example of extensively complex video games, as in these are the kinds of games that make gamers think, and think, and then think some more before finally acting.

4X was a term coined by Alan Emrich in September 1993 which referred to the main 4 aspects that make up this genre. The 4 X's are eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate. These 4 aspects bind the genre together to form a thinking gamer's paradise, so to speak. We can credit Sid Meier in part for his introduction of the game Civilization, which is a core example of a 4X game. Deep, complex, and thought-provoking gameplay are all featured in 4X games, allowing one to compare these games' mechanics as the Calculus to the Pre-Algebra of Real-Time Strategy Games or Role Playing Games.

One main thing that gamers need to take into account when playing 4X games is that the information you acquire in these kinds of games is key. You have to know what you have in your inventory and you have to know what you are able to do. If you can't perform certain actions, such as deploying a unit of soldiers out to a certain part of the world, then you need to find a compromise and alleviate that problem.

Of course the presence of micromanagement has been a subject of debate when discussing 4X games. Should we really care about so many different kinds of variables even if they are otherwise minimal in the scope of other video game genres? Should we have an empire and have to worry about managing its economy? Should we be obligated to choose what kind of government of political body our empires will have? Are there too many restricting rules in 4X? Are there certain rules in 4X that we just don't need?

The combat of a 4X game is critical and vital in defining the atmosphere of it and it is up to the development team to figure out what theme this 4X game should take on. 4X games can take place in just about any time period. You want to go back in time? No problem. There are plenty of 4X games based in medieval times where castles are built up, knights ride on horses and arrows are shot from their bows. You want to spring ahead in the future? No problem. We can find 4X games where futuristic empires are formed in various parts of the galaxy, packed with flying saucers, technologically advanced laserguns and secret databases that require codes to break into.

If you just want to keep a 4X game in line with this day and age, then surely we can build it around today as well. It never hurts to keep it simple.

When units engage in 4X battles, combat can be affected by various things such as the empire's economy and other general resources. If there isn't enough to go around to make bows and arrows or swords, then the player has to change up his or her strategy and make do with what is available. Some 4X games give players the option of resolving battles automatically without having to experience a long struggle, which helps the gaming experience. What kind of combat do you want to have? An emphasis on infantry? Cavalry? Militia? Aerial units? Special miscellaneous forces?

So what about the 4 X's themselves? Why are they so important? What is my take on them? Well, some elements of 4X are actually well liked by me, to be honest. There are certain elements of 4X games that I can take from and apply them to my own custom game concepts. For example, I may just want to use 2 of the 4 X's and build my own game around those 2 elements. Perhaps I should make a hybrid of a 2X game and a normal Platformer game? Could I make that work? I would sure like to try.

Explore: To explore here is to send scouts or other regiments to go to various spots on a map. these folks search for new territories that may or may not appeal to you as the empire's ruler.

Expand: You have the option of expanding your territory as much as you want. By creating new settlements or by extending the influence of already existing settlements, you firmly establish what is yours in the world of the 4X game.

Exploit: To exploit is to collect and use resources in territories that you govern, and you improve the efficiency of that usage. Any resource that you can interact with can benefit you.

Exterminate: Attacking and eliminating rival players is probably the most fun you will have in this game. Depending on territorial rules, eliminating rivals may be the only way to guarantee yourself an expanded empire, or at least salvaging what little of an empire you have left.

These 4 X's work together and overlap each other to create the 4X experience. I do find it interesting how the use of diplomacy is featured in this kind of game because you actually get the chance to make peaceful resolutions with other players regarding territories or resources. Economics and research keep players in check as to how much freedom they have in positioning their empires and I do believe that is a good handicap in a sense.

I suppose my only concern about this genre would be this idea that all 4 X's need to be used together at all times. Is that necessary? Would a game suffer if it only had 2 of the above X's and then featured elements of another gaming genre? I don't think it would suffer depending on what the game is and how well it executes. I appreciate the fact that 4X games (in theory) are intricately designed to show off the diversity and flexibility of a player's options. Sometimes, however, I do think some parts of a 4X game can be too excessive, but then again we do discuss subjective parts when something like 4X games are involved. Almost anything can be brought to the table if you think about it.

So are 4X games extremely complex or just highly imaginative? I would have to say they are both.

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