Dawn of Man
Dawn of Man, herein DoM, was released before Ancient Cities, herein AC, providing a good practice run for the AC developers ( @Uncasual ) . AC can learn from the failures and successes of DoM. It is my goal to discuss a few of them here. Note: I am a prehistoric novelist with 15 years of research into the Neolithic period and professionally a software developer (20 years experience).
The three most critical pros and cons
Historicity – How accurate is the game to the period?
DoM strays heavily from accuracy in both minor and major ways. Normally, games are not held to high historical standards, but when the basis of your game is a depiction of prehistoric life, at least major elements should be mostly accurate. Some of the more blaring prehistoric inaccuracies I noticed were, but not limited to:
- Wrong skin color. A mix of all skin colors seem to exist, from pale to dark. This may seem “PC” but is actually very incorrect. Light skinned people simply didn’t exist in the Paleolithic through early Neolithic. (Reality: People were very dark skinned until the mid Neolithic)
[Whitehawk Woman - Brighton Museum]
- Pottery is the initiating technical achievement of the Mesolithic period (Reality: Mesolithic pottery did exist but was by no means a major association with the period)
- Clothing is entirely wrong (See special section below)
- Flint Adze used for the mining of flint. (Reality: hard stone tools would have been used) Seemingly no watercraft (Reality: Boats were used in all periods of the game, to varying complexities from a simple log to a complex boat)
- Cow domestication depicted during the Copper Age. (Reality: This occurs during the Neolithic)
- Pottery (oddly) depicted in the Mesolithic was too large and complex for the Mesolithic.
- Bread and cereal production learned during the Mesolithic. (Reality: Both were known in the Mesolithic, but didn’t become a major aspect of life until the Neolithic.
- Paleolithic (upper, I suspect) has a sling (not sure of the evidence for this) but no Atlatl?
Clothing (A special topic, given my specific knowledge of this topic)
The clothing is not very accurate. I am understand that the ESRB rating prevents accurate clothing, but there ways to be accurate and compliant. The clothing suffers from the same bland Flintstones look other such games have had. Everyone wears a simple leather tunic of one color or another. I do believe the Paleolithic leather winter clothing is very good and they seem to have done that correctly, but only that. Though you see these simple leather garments, which resemble modern clothing, in books and many prehistoric depictions, it just isn’t accurate and is an outdated and mistaken way of looking at prehistoric clothing (read any modern book or peer reviewed article on the subject).
Instead of a simple tunic, why not have:
- Dresses (leather, textile [a skirt with a cloth wrap around the upper body])
- Skirts (cover breasts with hair or lots of necklaces for ESRB, but remaining authentic)
- String Skirts
- Leggings (we found these on Otzi the Iceman)
- Loincloth (the most important garment ever invented by humanity is omitted. This is the primary basic item nearly everyone in prehistory wore. You can cover the breasts with hair or lots of necklaces for ESRB modesty, or even wear lather or textile shirts in the cooler months.
Art. Clothing in DoM is blank, without artwork. This is entirely inaccurate as prehistoric people decorated their clothing quite extensively.
[I cannot state enough how important this is:]The characters are missing body paint, feathers and jewelry. These were staples of prehistory and should be found all over each character. They require a few simple 3D meshes and some textures, but are otherwise static and easy to make objects (I’ve made them before).
The program itself runs quite smoothly and the user interface is very simple, but sufficient. The feedback mechanisms, such as charts and indicators , are easy to access and very intuitive. AC needs to have a similarly simple interface to encourage game play.
I was very please to find that many of the commands could be performed by the keyboard. Carpel tunnel syndrome is very common these days and mouse-intensive programs deter many players.
I am also very pleased to find women being treated equally in the game. I think the ability to change this in some form of cultural setting would make senses as egalitarianism was likely rather varied.
The game play is very linear. There is a simple tech path to follow and nearly no customization of your culture. This is one of the three Achilles heels of the game. Being able to chose matriarchy or patriarchy, war like or passive, and other such variables would bring so much life to the game, but these rich details are simple omitted leaving a very linear and boring product.
The first major issue was the AI for the people. Workers stop working or stare at you blankly. If a group is selected to perform a task, they often appear to ignore the request without reason. Generally, the AI is very good about tribal self sustainment, which was at least well written.
A major frustration early in the game is understanding how to control your tribe. The hot keys seem to not work and selecting tribe members isn’t easy. A “select all” function may exist, but I have yet to find it. As a result, it becomes easy to lose a member of the tribe and hard to keep track of what people are doing. Easy selection tools are a must for AC, given how aggravating they are in DoM.
One big issue which is encountered pretty quickly is the lack of life to the characters. Users quickly lose interest not because of limited content, but because the content feels static. The people have babies but we don’t see them pregnant. The characters have names, but they don’t respond to each other. The world feels a little lifeless. Here are some changes which would help this issue in AC:
- More sounds from characters (laughter, emotes, screams, crying, etc)
- See life changes, such as a pregnant stomach or a limping from wound
- Have an apparent leader figure (perhaps an elder)
RITUALS – Having characters simply pray a little to the wooden alter you make isn’t enough. We should have funerals for the dead, marriages, and people praying and dancing for “the spirits” in the fields, each morning, before and after events. This would make the characters feel alive. There should also be a priest or priestess at some point.
- The ability to wed characters. Select two and have them become a family with children.
- A history of the tribe with a family tree. This helps build an interest in each character with the player.
The world is rather larger, but does not have a mini map (that I can find). This makes losing your tribe and spending quite a lot of time hunting for it both likely and annoying.
Animals are numerous in type and quantity, but there are a number of major gaps in the fauna. Birds, shellfish, amphibians, and small game (e.g. rabbits) are omitted , but were a major source of food. In fact, in many tribal societies, these smaller animals can make up a major portion of the “hunted” food.
The land may be just a little too hilly . It becomes difficult to navigate some of the very rough land. More logs, streams, rocks, tress and less hills would help.
Modding does not seem to exist in any apparent way. Those mods which do exist seem to be from the developers. Worse, the data files are all packaged using mechanisms which make extracting their contents difficult. A strong modding community adds years of life to a game and is perhaps the greatest addition a developer can make to their program.
The game plays pretty smoothly on higher end test systems, and so far it has handled lower end systems (that are above the minimum requirements). Texture rendering and loading do are seamless, lag has not been present on the medium or higher end systems. The lower end system (a Microsoft Surface Pro) ran the game quite well on Medium graphics mode, though the character animations were a tiny bit choppy. One minor gripe was the lack of ouch screen support.
High End Configuration:
I7 Quad Core
twin nVidia GTX770 SLI Cards
Mid Level Configuration:
I7 Quad Core
Single nVidia GTX770 Card
Low Level Configuration:
i5 Mobile, single core.
Intell HD Graphics 620
The game is enjoyable for a few hours or days, but soon loses interest due to lack of modding, lifeless characters and a very linear progression. The historical problems are significant enough to be potentially problematic for archaeologists and prehistoric enthusiasts, but I don’t think most lay people would notice. A lot of potential was wasted providing a somewhat fun and short lived game where a very fun and long term game could have been made. Hopefully, AC will fill this gap.