Why Grand Strategy Games Take Seven Freaking Years To Learn How To Play


From about the second tutorial screen to Europa Universalis: Rome, a grand strategy game variant I bought when it was on sale and only just got around to now that I got the mothership game done one time. And depending on how wide a screen you’re looking at this on it might be hard to see what I’m pointing to, so you might want to click on the image until it’s big enough you can read the text easily.

A panel tries to explain the menu bar items. There's four items in a vertical list, and they're connected to the horizontally-arranged items by thin white lines, most of which intersect each other. And the lines don't end at the correct points on the menu bar. Three of them point to *other* menu bar items not matching what's described in text.
I’m sure the interface won’t be any harder to understand than the ancient Roman calendar, in which you might specify that today was, say, the 22nd of June by declaring it was the “tenth day to the kalends of July”, or how you’d say that the 12th was the “first day to the ides of June”, because the ides are the 13th in most months and the 15th in a couple of months. And sometimes they’d just throw in an extra month between the 24th and 25th of February because what the heck, why not, and I’m not even making that up.

And I am just awestruck by the multiple levels of failure involved with this screen. I would like to know how they overlooked a few ways to make this even better, such as:

  • Make the text dark grey on a slightly less dark grey background, possibly one with a lot of very dark grey cross-hatching.
  • When you pause or unpause the game, have it shriek.
  • Make the images less directly representative, like, instead of a pile of coins for the treasury and money use a pile of salt, represented by a bottle of soy sauce, which can be quite high in salt; or perhaps represent research with a plain footlong hot dog.
  • Set the screen to occasionally strobe, and in the midst of the strobing effect, have the computer grab some manner of blunt instrument and poke you in the ribs with it, then punch you.

So in summary, I would like to note that when one of the trilithons making up Stonehenge fell in 1797, a report in the Kentish Gazette placed blame for the fall on the burrowing of rabbits undermining the wonder. (Pages 39-40). Thank you.

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Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there.

13 thoughts on “Why Grand Strategy Games Take Seven Freaking Years To Learn How To Play”

        1. Well, I’ve made it a few game years into Europa Universalis: Rome and already I’ve got a civil war going. This might mean I’m doing it right. Hard to say.

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        2. You know, I didn’t think hacking people up for disagreeing was necessary. I mean, in Tropico my people always come out feeling very personally free and secure in that. But if they’re going to bring up armies and lead half of Italy in a campaign against me I’m going to have to take some strong measures.

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  1. Kerbal Space Program is another one. Cool game. Neat content. And playing it demands that you do solutions to rendezvous orbital mechanics in your head… (the game only emulates gravitation mathematically but that doesn’t reduce the trickiness… and I refuse to get the ‘cheat’ mod that does it all for you…)

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    1. And that is a game I have bought and downloaded, though not played! I never knew when I might have time to play it, but there was a ridiculously good sale on it and it seemed reasonable to me that the bits weren’t going to spoil or anything. I should give it a try sometime, I imagine.

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