Ok, here is a puzzle for you to ponder on. What is the connection between a loaf of bread, a pig, and a lump of coal? Or have you heard the one about a load of old granite, a knight and a forest ranger? To complete the mix, how about putting 64.000 little people on the screen at the same time? The answers lie in a game that has reduced even the most cynical of software reviewers to a total state of open-eyed awe and the lack of steep through constant playing and playing and playing.
The Settlers is an awesome piece of programming that could only have been achieved by creative talent of the highest order. So often good exciting ideas are ruined through poor or rushed coding with no real thought given to the player. Many times the grandiose plans just haven't worked because the size of the program highlighted limitations in computer processing speed. Blue Byte over the last two years have lovingly crafted a masterpiece that has been well worth the wait. The user interface is a joy to behold, the graphics stunning, the manual, though hefty is refreshingly easy to read and the whole plan has been to enable, you to enjoy the game at any level you choose to play it at. Forget all the other 'God' games, Populous et al. The Settlers has broken new programming ground and will be the benchmark in years to come for any up and coming software writer.
The game creates a brand new world for you within which you develop a township that not only has to thrive and expand but must be able to defend itself from attack and ultimately go out and become the sole surviving community in the land. From a barren start, where all you have is miles and miles of mountains, valleys, deserts, fertile plains and lakes, you must choose the location most suited to your needs and plant your castle. The mountains provide a valuable source of mining riches like gold, iron and coal, the lakes give you fish to eat and offer an alternative mode of transport and the valleys offer protection from attack. You then witness each and every stage of development. From the grading of the ground, the wooden scaffolding of the buildings to the finished buildings.
The workers, your loyal population, run around with stacks of wood and stones in their arms, the baker kneads the dough and bakes the bread and the joiner saws up the wood. In fact there are over 20 professions at work in your town all linked by paths and served by carriers who transport the raw materials to be processed, refined and fabricated into workable items.
Much of the programming time was spent teaching the computer the basic facts of running an economic system. This involves control of production compared to supply and demand and the supervision of transport systems. For example, if a windmill is located next to a farmer, the program has to first find out if the windmill has the capacity to process the corn, otherwise it has to transport it to another place. Providing of course that there is a road to get it there.
It will handle the execution of your decisions and command your numerous settlers. The little men will cut down trees, build houses, work in the mines, construct weapons and tools, dispatch construction materials in the places where they are needed, defend their castles against enemy knights, and provide miners with food. The computer is doing everything that the player isn't, which is a remarkable job controlling not only the economic and military interests of the player's environment but also all the computer generated players and their environments as well, totalling some 64.000 little people at the same time without slowing down at all!!
Although the game is driven by an economic model of supply and demand, the real game lies in constructing a prosperous and well organised city that is self sufficient. Simple huh? It is better explained if you tackle the problems from the end of the game backwards! In order to conquer all the enemy castles (and win!) you will need many knights. To keep their morale up you will need gold, and for their weapons, iron and coal. These raw materials can be mined, providing you prospect in the right places by sending out geologists to take samples. Once your mines are built, you must keep your miners fed, and the raw materials must be melted in a foundry.
The food supply is provided by the fishermen and the farmers, but they need tools as do all the other workers. These are made by smithies. To build huts, houses, farms, and castles you need basic construction materials like wood provided by the lumberjacks and finished through sawmills and stone hacked out of granite through quarries and stonecutters.
The lumberjacks can only work if there are trees to cut down, and lets face it forests do not last forever do they, so appointing forest rangers to plant trees is a good idea. Similarly, farmers need to plant wheat fields and supply the mills, which in turn supply the baker with flour.
Attention to detail is astounding, there are ranks amongst the knights, second class corporals, lieutenants and captains, and the miners strike if they are not fed sufficiently and parade up and down the outside of their mine waving placards! The game can be played on a number of levels depending on your mood and ability, with over 50 missions to tackle with 10 additional training missions to get you going. One or two players against each other or the computer, and a demo mode where you can just sit and bo entertained while your computer generates its very own soap opera in front of your eyes. With so much to do life can get a mite confusing, so thankfully you can send yourself messages at set times for all manner of things and be recalled to the spot where you want to do something a bit later on.
Finally, the game world comes in a number of sizes depending on the memory of your computer, not only that, there are around 270 billion combinations of possible land type and opponents. This is accessed by a 16 digit code which when entered will always produce the same type of world. So at the end of the game if you had a great challenging epic, give the code to friend and let them try their luck in the same scenario.
This is just the tip of a the very large iceberg that is The Settlers, and only by getting yourself a copy can you fully experience the absolute splendour of this project. Flawless. A true masterpiece.
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