Uneditable
By Dwip July 8, 2008, 4:05 pm Comments (4) RSS Feed for this post

In that continued saga of looking at the possibility of editing for various games, let us take a brief glimpse at Civilization IV’s editor.

A very brief glance, since, so far as I can tell, the editor that has been provided with the game may as well not actually exist. It turns out that, for something like half of the editing I do, which is random civs in specific spots on a specific map, it turns out that the easiest, most efficient way to make any changes I have is to open the file in Notepad and edit a bunch of random things that look like this:

BeginPlot
x=19,y=49
BonusType=BONUS_GOLD
FeatureType=FEATURE_FOREST, FeatureVariety=0
TerrainType=TERRAIN_PLAINS
PlotType=1
EndPlot

Deriving the proper X and Y coordinates from loading up the map in the editor and looking. Since there’s no way to figure out the coordinates from inside the editor, what this essentially means is picking a place you know the X, Y coordinates of (starting locations are good for this), and then tile counting until you get the right spot. By way of the penalties for missing, let me note to you that it is indeed entirely possible to have copper in the ocean, although I have no idea what good this does you.

This whole process comes about from the fact that to get to the editor, you have to, get this, start up an in-process game, then go to the menu and go to the editor. It’s even better if you use the load button to load up a different map. It loads great – as a savegame, so you can PLAY it. The lack of sense here is astounding, but if you get past it, there’s actually a reasonable map editor, if not so much a scenario editor, in there. Works great if you’re creating something with a specific set of civs in a specific set of spots.

And if you’re like me, doing something with a set of random civs in a set of specific spots? You hack files to make terrain changes. Or else every time you use the editor, you get to wipe out and recreate by hand, all your start locations, all your civs, all your teams, all that.

Oh, and every time you want to check if your changes worked? Close the game, restart it, let it load, start a new game, go to the editor, and check. Takes about 5 minutes. You COULD just quit to the main menu and save about half that time, but then your changes only have about a 50/50 chance of being reflected.

Now, supposing you want to do some modding, and I actually do. Well, I hope you like hacking up XML files, because oooh boy are there a lot of XML files to hack up to do just about anything. And, as these things go, they’re mostly pretty well laid out XML files that are, as these things go, a joy to work with.

It’s just that, and this should sound familiar to most of you, if you don’t know what you’re looking at, it’s pretty well impossible to get anything done. And documentation for all of this is by and large nonexistant, inconsistent, and/or fragmentary. This should sound pretty familiar to some, but man, it’s BAD. Oblivion, BFV, BF2? Wikis, and pretty good ones, plus forum support. Civ? Couple main forums, and…it’s not good, so far as I can find.

This isn’t helped by the near obligatory hacking of Python files for half the things you might want to add, like, oh, I don’t know, techs, let’s say. Religions. Little things of that nature. Great if you know Python, not so great if you don’t. Again, there’s a lot of playing Dude, Where’s My Docs? to get anything done. And speaking of Python, if you know it, you can write all sorts of crazy cool map scripts for random maps. If you know it. If you can figure out WTF these people are talking about. I can’t, so no random maps out of me. Makes me long for the days of Age of Kings, where at least they gave you documentation for the complex scripting language.

In short, awesomely editable game. Looks pretty fun to do, even, and as a long-time modder of Civ games, I’m pretty aware of the gratification you can get. But I’m pretty sure I won’t be doing much for this one, because they’ve made it so damn impenetrable.

Which is a whole other rant. From the days of Civ 2, where I started, the game has gotten progressively better as a game. As an editing environment, we’re actually worse off in a lot of ways than we were when Fantastic Worlds was released in 1997. Ten years later, in 2007, we JUST now got workable random events back.

But hey, at least outside of unit graphics you can still get by with Notepad and Paintshop Pro 4, which is pretty much what I was using to edit Civ 2, so that’s a plus. The XML also makes it really hard to fatally crash, which is also handy. It could be a great editing environment, if I could ever figure out what the hell to do.


Computer Games - Civilization Series Comments (4) RSS Feed for this post
Comments on Uneditable
avatar Comment by Samson #1
July 9, 2008 at 1:55 pm

Yikes. I never really thought to look at the editing capabilities of Civ 4 after having played the game for about a week and finding the usual. It’s Civ, with better graphics and sound and some new toys. The same old Civ I mastered within days of acquiring it.

WTF kind of morons do they have running the editor division ( if there is such a thing ) when they think people should learn XML and Python in order to do any serious modding? Well ok, aside from them both being universally standard, come on… PYTHON? If they’d at least used Lua you’d stand a fighting chance of leeching help from some of the WoW fanatics who know Lua left and right because WoW uses it in everything.

I continue to get a chuckle at how much praise the Oblivion CS has been getting from you lately, given what we both know about its annoyances and bugs and how crash-happy it gets in certain situations. If the Oblivion CS is the best we have to use, God help us all :)

avatar Comment by Dwip #2
July 9, 2008 at 2:08 pm

Well. Civ 4 with Beyond the Sword really is the best this game has ever been. But then, I’m a ridiculous Civ fanatic, so.

The Python/XML stuff actually makes a fair bit of sense, insofar as everyone and their dog is going down that route now, or so it seems. And as I said, as XML goes, this stuff is so spiffy shiny it GLOWS. Wait’ll I get around to posting some bad XML.

It’s just that there’s no real editor to speak of. There’s so much you get done quickly with some simple software to do it, but man, not in this incarnation. No way.

Again, when you consider how basically good the editing environments for Civ 2 and 3 were (3 more than 2, but 2 had more features), it’s a little puzzling.

And yeah, for the current generation of games, it looks about like the Oblivion CS is the best thing in town. Which is a little sad.

Unlimited Adventures forever!

avatar Comment by Samson #3
July 9, 2008 at 9:48 pm

Well. One thing going for Civ4 is that if the datafiles are all stored as XML and the scripting is all done via Python, anyone with any amount of Python+XML skills in Windows programming could write a GUI app for it.

Unfortunately we don’t get that option with Oblivion. I’m pretty sure Bethesda would have a cow if someone tried to build a new CS around what the community already knows about the ESP file format.

avatar Comment by Dwip #4
July 9, 2008 at 10:51 pm

I wonder, considering some of the tools out there already. One thing I’ll say for Beth (and for Firaxis, for that matter), is that they really do want you to mod their games. I suspect that the main thing with it is that most of the time, the CS is good enough, so the return on investment for a new one would be pretty low.

Civ, now. But it doesn’t look like anyone cares to. And I’m sure as hell not going to. Although I HAVE written some XML conversion stuff for other purposes (in VBA, no less – dear god the pain), which I will likely talk about anon.