A Closer Look At 4X Games: The “X” Is For Extreme Civilizations
I seriously doubt most people know what 4X games are, at least when they are referred to by that name. They’re generally known as “civilization building” games, a sub-genre of strategy games where the player builds a society and develops it from the ground up, dealing with other civilizations through trade, political talks, or abstract violence. Games in this genre started out with Sid Meier’s “Civilization” back in 1991, but the name of the genre was coined by game writer Alan Emrich. The “4X”s, a pun of the well-known porn term XXX, refered to the games’ four precepts which don’t start with the X at all; explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate.
Most players find the exploring and the expanding aspects as a significant part of these games, but the extermination aspect that most people know. There are other paths to victory such as; expanse of technology beyond any other civilization, or unifying the world under one rule, or even creating multiple governments that are unified together in a utopia-like peace.
One of the most well-known, modern games in this genre is “Rise of Nations,” which was released in 2003 by legendary developer, Brian Reynolds, who developed “Civilization” and “Alpha Centauri” alongside the Civ-master, Meier. Even a couple of the 4X concepts found their way into Will Wright’s latest opus, “Spore.”
4X games start very simply; in historical games, you typically begin your games when man has just figured out the concepts of culture and the necessity of putting a roof over someone’s head. You have to trade with other cultures, and develop your civilization through upgrades usually spurred by the exploration for resources and other advantages over your neighbors. In a space-based Civ games, humanity has grown to be a bit smarter and has mastered space flight, and the player needs to pull a Star Trek by colonizing other worlds, and meeting new alien races, for good or nil. Some beings start out hostile towards you, or with more of an inkling towards peace, which one can use to their advantages, by attacking them for their wealth and technologies from their humble nation.
The graphics of these games are generally not as impressive, as the emphasis has always been heavily placed on the gameplay. Combat is strategic, and methodical, giving the player more than enough time to consider their plan of action, whether it be through diplomacy or development, the player always has a good amount of options. It’s these options that are which is a major asset concerning the genre’s appeal and re-playability. The only real downside of the 4X games comes from their sheer length, as most average games last for several days to weeks. In other words, expect to settle in for a long haul and commitment when you decide to establish your own virtual civilization.