Coded blue.

Tuesday 6 November 2001

Screenshot Freeciv

Pic of the day: The distinctive hi-res graphics of Freeciv. Because civilizations want to be free ... (And yes, those are Norwegian flags. Because Norwegians want to be free too, you know. In a manner of speaking.)


Consider me impressed. No, that's not strong enough. Awed. Blown away? OK, that's perhaps over the top. But humbled, intellectually and ethically. I have eventually found a working version of Freeciv for Windows. Like, wow.

I visited the Freeciv site months ago, and noticed that it looked like a good Civ2 clone for UNIX (and indeed a whole slew of *ix variants). But the Windows versions required uber-geeky acts of desperation, like running a Windows emulator under a UNIX emulator under Windows. There was one version said to run in native Win9x, but it was unavailable at the time. I think this might explain the correlation between Windows usage and abusive language which they somewhat snottily hinted at ... Anyway, nothing to see here. Move on.


Then this weekend I read the Civ3 threads (did I mention it is still 3 weeks till Civ3 is released in Norway? And is not allowed to export it? Do these people put the games in crates and set them adrift in the Gulf stream? Heh.) Anyway, since all I could do was read about the game of my fad, I did, and there on Slashdot was a throwaway musing about whether Freeciv would be upgraded to include the new features. Out of idle curiosity, I went over to and took a look. No, there is no freeciv3 that I could see. But the Windows version of Freeciv was up! I downloaded it. And wow.

Yes, it is only a game. And it doesn't have sound. And the movement is slow and jerky even on a pretty fast machine. But it is definitely worth more than I paid for it. Oh yes. (Particularly since it was free!!! and took only ca 18 minutes to download on a dial-up modem.) And the flexibility of the beast just made me crane my neck. Where to start?

First off, it runs on operating systems that most of us did not know existed. I think I saw Amiga in there too ... anyway, if you run UNIX at home or have a boring job, this is the obvious choice. Second, it is inherently multiplayer. There is no single player game – the equivalent is to run 1 human client and a suitable number of AI players. (You just give a command to tell the server how many players there will be total. Any positions not filled by humans is then filled with AI. Or you can create each of them with name. Or you can play without opposition, if you want a stress-free way to learn the ropes. Don't acquire bad habits though, the AI is not to be kidded with.) There is a heap of nationalities to choose from, including many not found in Civ2, such as Israel and Singapore! My Vikings sported a small but recognizable Norwegian flag, where Civ only has a randomly assigned color.

Speaking of Norwegian flags ... the program auto-detected Norwegian as language setting on my Windows, I suppose, because from the word go the text was in Norwegian. And evidently written by a native Norwegian, using contemporary language with a subtly humorist slant. This was one of the details that made me blink in stunned surprise. I have never ever had that happen before. A very few games have allowed me to select Norwegian text, though usually Swedish is the closest I come, and I prefer English over that. But auto-detecting my language settings? Wow! How come no one has thought of that before?

There is a heap of settings that you can display and change in the server program. Sadly, the server program is text based, and runs in a DOS box, where most of it scrolls away before I get to read it. Too bad since the most basic information is first. I solved this by starting the server with "civserver >fil", then typing "show" and finally "quit" in blind faith. Now I have the standard setting in a file named "fil", for my studying convenience. Though it is also all found in a set of editable ruleset files. You can have several folders of alternative rulesets, downloaded or homemade. OK, this part still seems to await a graphical user interface. But there is certainly a lot to fiddle with in there. What about upping the number of civilizations to 30? And any number of these can be humans over a LAN, or over the Net if your machine is so enabled. (More likely to work on certain UNIX machines, I suppose.) You can also set the map generator to create one island / continent for each player of equal size. Stuff like that. Lots of stuff like that. Very advanced for a free game. Either these people have too much time on their hand, or they are ethically superior by a staggering magnitude.

Basic documentation is included on how to install (actually it just unpacks to a folder of its own creation) and how to start (you start it by running the two programs, the server and the client). There are also a simple primer. More advanced documentation is found on the web site.

The graphics are similar enough to Civilization that you will rarely wonder what this thing does. They are different enough that I doubt there will be any lawsuit on that account at least. I understand that no code was stolen or reverse engineered either. Whether they could be sued for "look & feel" is more uncertain. But it would be kind of unfair, I think. This is clearly a labor of love. Mad passionate love, I'd say.

Whether it can prolong my Civ fad beyond its natural life span is another matter. The time draws to a close, and the next fad is queuing up. But that is for another day, if any.

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