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Gaming Evolution
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Gaming Evolution
Gaming Evolution
Published By: Kalypso Media
Developed By: Gaming Minds
Genre: Economic Simulation
Players: 1
Rated: E (Everyone)
Release Date: Fall 2010
Screenshots: Link
Written By: Christian Higley

June 24, 2010 - Being pretty big on low-profile PC games and the small studios-that-could who make them, it's no surprise that I was sent to see Patrician IV: Conquest by Trade. Published by Kalypso Media and developed by Gaming Minds Studios, a small studio of only 15 people, Patrician IV puts you in the role of a Hanseatic merchant trader during the Middle Ages.

For those who may not be familiar with Medieval mercantile history, the Hanseatic League was an economic alliance of various cities and merchant guilds that dominated trade across northern Europe. Your goal in the game is to rise through the Hanseatic League, building your trading empire and solidifying your place at the top of the mercantile and political ladders. Along the way you'll make allies and enemies, fend off pirates and rivals, and decide if you want to play fair or destroy your competition through less friendly means, all while managing a careful balance of supply and demand in the open market.

During my time at the Kalypso Media booth, Patrician IV lead developer Daniel Dumont was on hand to give me a thorough walkthrough of an early build of the game. Above all else, the one major point Daniel made clear about Patrician IV is its intensive, realistic simulation of the economic realities of the era. In real time, the game is constantly processing information and using that information to inform what happens in the world. You empire doesn't exist in a bubble; like real life, the daily lives of your people affect the supply and demand of goods. Just as your workers and citizens produce goods for trade, so do they consume those very same items, and as they consume the items they produce, their demand for less available items increases.

As an example, Daniel demonstrated a town that produces a lot of beer. As he increased that town's beer production even further, demand in that town decreased for beer but increased for other items, such as fur. Consequently, another town that specializes in fur further increased its production, reducing demand for fur from their citizens but increasing demand for beer and other items. Therefore, both towns grow and develop in different ways, creating a domino effect as that same cycle continues to from one town to the next. As production increases, more jobs are created; the more jobs are created, the more money workers have; the more money workers have, the more goods they'll consume. Basically, like in the real world, innovation and competition in a fair market build a stronger, ever-growing economy for everyone involved.

Of course, if the whole game were just that simple there wouldn't be much point (and if the world were just that simple, we'd all be gainfully-employed billionaires). So, continuing with that same example, as your workers demand more goods that you don't produce, the price to buy those goods from other merchants increases. Daniel compared the mechanic to the modern day stock market: keeping a close eye on how the dominoes of supply/demand fall and investing accordingly, buying low and selling high.

Naturally, the market can also be manipulated. As mentioned, adjusting your production is one way. You can also cut off trade with other towns, tell your ship captains what they should and should not trade and leverage your reputation and political status.
Reputation is a form of currency as important as money and goods. Supply a town that doesn't have easy access to meat with meat and salt (for curing), sell it to them for a reasonable price, then they'll like you more. Having a higher reputation with a town grants you more influence and power within that town. So, say you have good reputation; this allows you to construct or buy more buildings (the engines that produce your goods) in that town, utilize its defenses to protect your interests and, if your reputation is good enough, even run for political office. Theoretically, you can leverage money and status to take control of entire towns and create a monopoly.

Also throwing a wrench into the ideally smooth economic development of northern Europe is the likelihood of foul play. Pirates prey on merchant convoys and merchants compete in deadly games of sabotage, hostile takeovers and violent raids. Rival merchants can even lay siege to your towns! Unfortunately, we didn't get to see all of this in this early build of the game. However, we were assured that all of this is part of the economic simulation, as well. For example, the more successful pirates are at plundering your stuff, the bigger their fleets get and the more aggressive they become.

At this point, you're probably feeling the complexity of managing an economy. I can personally recall trying to play similar games, ripping my hair out in frustration over their complex mechanics before giving up entirely. Fortunately, another aspect of the game that Daniel focused on is that magic word for today's hard-casual market -- say it with me: accessibility.

In the interest of a low barrier to entry, there is no lengthy, complex tutorial to kills the pacing of the game. Rather, when you reach a point where you need to utilize a new mechanic, the game will pop up and tell you what it does. In addition to little info-bubbles attached to every menu that you can read whenever you want, the game encourages you to learn as you play.

Additionally, the interface for buying and selling goods is very clean and simple. A slider indicates your investment one way or the other, while a 5-point marking system indicates how your movements of the slider affect demand. As you buy, sell and fiddle with supply/demand, you can see the price of the selected item change accordingly in real time.

Even what we got to see of ship combat looked fast, fun and easy to grasp. While fleets need to be built, maintained and maneuvered, combat in Patrician IV does not play out like an RTS. In somewhat contrast to the heavy aspects of simulation, ship combat plays more like it did in Sid Meirer's Pirates! You directly control one ship in a group, steering and firing with the mouse, in real time, while the AI handles your other ships (though you can take direct control of any one of your ships at any time). Naturally, you are somewhat at the mercy of the wind, but careful maneuvering and good aim -- in another word, skill -- ultimately decide victory (assuming you aren't wildly outnumbered or lacking cannons).

This demo of Patrician IV was early but promising. Many animations and graphics weren't yet implemented and Daniel assured me that the quirky combat is still heavily in development, but the core of the game -- the intensive simulation of the economy -- appears to be up and running as intended. Expect to see Patrician IV: Conquest by Trade on Games for Windows later this Fall.

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