Monday, October 08, 2007

The Settlers - a history

Six parts of "The Settlers" have been produced (well, seven, as "The Next Generation", a remake of part two, has no number in its name). Since 1994, six different games (most of them with add-ons) have been published under this name - and at least some were also successful in other countries. And that says something.

If there's one kind of game we Germans can produce extremely well, it's games in which you build something up. Usually it's some kind of economy. "The Settlers" is one of the oldest, but still also one of the best game-series of that kind.

When it started in 1994, I got a demo of the first game on a floppy disk (that was before the CD triumphed over the floppy disk) in a game magazine. I installed it and I played it, but - as you could have considered the area I lived in a wilderness when it came to buying games - never bought or played the full game.

Things had changed considerably when the second part was released. I had access to the game then and played it for a long time - and I also played the add-on. My favourite tribe in the game were the Vikings - who, unfortunately, do not feature in the remake (but in the add-on to it).

Part three was something I saw with mixed emotions - the graphics became more cuddly and cartoon-like (which I rather liked), but the whole system of building paths between the various buildings of my industry was gone. I liked optimizing paths to make everything run smoothly. On the other hand, the Amazons starred for the first time (they would return in part four).

Part four still did not have any paths (they have, to a certain degree, returned with the last game, or so the demo tells me), but it was - and in my opinion and that of other fans still is - one of the best. There was a nice story about a dark god sending forward his servants to destroy earth (so nobody could build on it) and there were quite a few nice ideas (like sending in a pioneer who could claim a territory far from home).

Part five was great, as far as graphics are concerned (true 3D-engine), but rather bad when it came to the rest. Far too much emphasize was put on war - and in a build-up game, warfare is only a little part, if it features at all - and the whole principle of building houses close to the work places for all settlers (who lived inside their workplace before and now do so again), of building a place to eat close to the workplaces, too, and some other new things. That mixed it all up with real-time strategy - and a gamer interested in real-time strategy will hardly play a game like "The Settlers". The 'typical' player of "The Settlers" wants to settle and only use soldiers for rare occasions (if they use them at all).

And now - after the 3D-remake of part two last year - comes part six. Like all fans, I have hoped for them to go back to the roots, which - as both the demo I played and the article in my favourite games magazine tell me - has happened to a certain extend. The knights that were featured in the last game have stayed, but the whole warfare has been cut back a lot (only swordfighters as close combat units and bowmen as ranged fighters still exist). The knights actually are a good idea, so I don't mind them still being around.

The knights (6 different characters with different abilities, but you can only have one at a time) have to be promoted, so the city you have to build in this game can grow through new buildings and industries. That's a good idea. And they do a reconnaissance of the area and can start the building process of outposts which you need to claim new territories.

The territories are another new idea. Instead of building barracks (The Settlers II-IV) or just any type of building (The Settlers V) to enlarge your territory, as it was done before, the whole map has been split up into territories, each of which has borders and some resources (like deer, stone, iron, herbs, fish and so on). A territory is claimed by the knight going there and laying the foundations of an outpost. After the outpost has been build by a settler, the territory belongs to the player. (If the territory is already claimed, the player can attack the enemy's outpost and take it over - or, in case he's not at war with the other player, trade with the inhabitants and get the resources this way.) I like this idea, because it allows me to choose territories that are not connected, instead of having to enlarge my territory for ages before reaching the area I really need (because there's iron to be found or stone).

Nevertheless, the rest of the game has been changed considerably, too. In all the other games it worked like that: there were carriers who spent their days carrying stuff (resources, products, whatever) from one building to the next. For example wheat was harvested at the farm, then carried to the mill to be turned into flour, the flour was then carried to the bakery where it was turned into bread (with some water from the well added to it), then it was finally carried to a mine where the miner would eat it. The right way to build all of this up was to create a line of farm-mill-bakery-mine. That's completely different now. All resources are taken to the storehouse by the workers themselves. Workers from other work places (like baker, butcher and so on) come to the storehouse to pick up the resources and keep the products in their shop until they are bought by other settlers. Because of this, the way of building up a settlement has to be changed. There's no longer a production line, instead the craftsmen have their shops close to the storehouse while the farms and other places where resources are gathered are scattered around the area (wherever the resources can be found). This way, the workers bringing in the resources also pick up the necessary products they need in the same area and take them back to their work place. Sooner or later this means building a rather big medieval city with surrounding territory, especially as you can't build a new storehouse somewhere else. That system is new, but not bad.

I'm still wondering about buying the full game some time or not. Currently I'll go through the demo some more times.

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