"Civ3 is more balanced than MOO1."
You're joking, right?
No, I don't guess that you are. Well then, let's talk. Perhaps I can disabuse you of this notion.
Well, sure, I can talk. Plenty! As powerful as, say, the pre-Conquests Persians in Civ III are, they have nothing on the sheer power of the Psilons/Klackons/Humans over the Alkari/Mrrshans in MOO1. You've admitted that yourself. Nonetheless I will contest your argument on other points.
"One HUGE source of early-game randomness in MOO1 comes from artifact planets. There's a whole heck of a lot of difference between getting Hand Lasers, and Nuclear Engines or Deuterium Fuel Cells!"
Indeed. The biggest boon, without doubt, is to pull Controlled Dead Environment off an artifact world. You instantly gain not only access to half the hostile planets, but the leap in planetology dramatically reduces standard colony ship construction costs.
Actually, I don't think that's the best tech to get, nor is it either of the two techs I mentioned (although Range-5 or Speed-2 certainly is a very good thing to have, and they do SEEM like the best things to have). The best early tech to get, I think, is Industrial Tech 8, even if it doesn't seem sexy at first glance. Not only does having this reduce the cost of every factory by 20%, it also increases hull space on all ships and reduces the cost of Reserve Fuel Tanks, which both happen whenever you get a higher Construction tech level. Having Industrial Tech 8 is almost all by itself enough to construct Large-hulled colony ships with Reserve Fuel Tanks; the ability to do this greatly increases your expansion rate.
However, let's LOOK at Civ3 and compare. Does the best-case MOO1 lucky break at an artifacts planet actually give you any free planets? No. You still have to build up enough factories to build colony ships, and you still need range tech to cross small gaps in the star map. Compare to Civ3.
The biggest thing that helps early in a game of MOO1 is the ability to construct a Large-hulled colony ship with Reserve Fuel Tanks, IMO. My expeirence is that it's a very powerful strategy to aim for this ability ASAP. If you happen to get a high-level Planetology or Construction tech that allows this, or a perhaps a decent Propulsion tech (but Propulsion actually doesn't do much to help get your super colony ships), you greatly increase your growth rate.
What happens when you pull a settler out of a hut in 3500BC? That adds a full third or more to your growth curve. The effect of a single free settler outstrips the impact of the best-case rarity for MOO1. How often will you even have an artifacts planet close to you? Rarely. How often will it churn out the best-case tech for you? If you play for years and years, maybe a couple of times, ever. How often do you pull a settler out of a hut in Civ?
Civ pulls techs out of huts all the time. One is as likely to run into a hut a little bit later, and be able to pull a stronger tech (like Writing or Iron Working) as one is to pull a strong tech off an artifacts planet. There is even MORE randomnity to civ, though, with many huts scattered around, and each of them randomized to spew barbarians, free cities, free units, free tech, or free money. Maybe maps, maybe nothing. Figure one artifacts planet in range every four games, vs four to six huts in range every game. And you think MOO is more randomized than Civ3? Are you sure you've thought that position all the way through?
Oh, yes, I have.
Unless you are playing as an Expansionist (where it is a feature anyway), or on a huge map, it's unlikely you'll be able to get anything gamebreaking out of a hut at high difficulty levels. Sure, settlers greatly increase your growth curve. However, in a competition game, many people end up getting the same settlers anyway out of the pRNG; remember all the 3950BC free settlers in Epic 15, and all the free Yorks that appeared for the English players of Epic 31 (both human and AI)? And in Epic 37 it was practically raining free settlers and cities. Iron Working out of a hut isn't really much of a game breaker at all; for a second-row tech, it's cheap, and it's something the AI's LOVE to research.
Artifact planets are not quite as rare as you think they are -- my experience is that I can usually outscout the AI's even at Impossible. On a huge map, there's something like 3.7 artifact planets on average, so you're likely to hit about one every game. On a large map, the average is a bit more than 2, so you get about one a tad less often than every other game. Even in medium maps there's a significant chance you'll trip an artifact planet. It's not a certainty, but it's far from unlikely.
And the ability to create that Large-hulled colony ship with Reserve Fuel Tanks is huge. Getting a Computer, Force Field, or Weaponss tech will not help you much in the early expansion phase. However, there's a 50% chance you'll get a Planetology, Construction, or Propulsion Tech.
If you get a Construction tech (1/6 chance), there's a 75% chance it will be one of Reduced Industrial Waste 80%, Improved Industrial Tech 8, or Duralloy Armor, all of which will greatly enhance your growth curve. (The last of these isn't so much useful for the tech's direct effect as much as the ability to automatically produce the LHCSWRFT at Construction Level 10.)
If you get a Propulsion tech (1/6 chance), there's a 80% chance it will be one of Deuterium Fuel Cells (range 5), Nuclear Engines (speed 2), Irridium Fuel Cells (range 6), or Inertial Stabilizers (this isn't so useful early in the game, but it does give you level-10 tech status right away and it has AWESOME trade value).
Planetology tech (1/6 chance) isn't quite as great. Controlled Dead is the best as you say, but that's a 1-in-7 shot. Controlled Tundra, and Improved Eco Restoration (reduce pollution by a third) are also good to have though, and each is also a 1-in-7 shot. And Death Spores aren't too bad either, for the automatic level-10 status (certainly not for ability to use biowarfare!)
Then there's what can actually be done with the given advantage. In MOO1, can you translate a free tech into an ability to steamroll and completely wipe out your closest neighbor? No. You cannot send a couple of units on a fishing expedition to win the lottery. No warrior gambits, no archer gambits, no suicide curraghs for early contacts, no waltzing into cities with lucky dice rolls to defeat one or two defenders. In MOO, you need a sizeable fleet to dent a planet from orbit, so no easy razing, no luck-based shortcuts to wiping out a rival. You need to send entire planetary populations to win on the ground. No freebies for you in MOO.
No, blitzing certainly is a no-go at high levels in MOO1. However, tripping an artifact planet has a significant-but-nowhere-near-certain chance of giving you something very much like an instant granary in your capital in Civ 3 from your scouting warriors. That's HUGE in the expansion phase!
In MOO, you do your own research, and on higher difficulties it COSTS A LOT MORE. You pay way more than the AI does for techs, and anything you get in trade, you pay extra for, because they will only trade you techs that are worth less than you trade away for them. Compare to Civ, where even at the highest levels player can pay a fraction of what rivals do for techs by riding coattails, being the last or nearly last to the party and enjoying MASSIVE deflationary cost reductions.
That doesn't quite work out in practice, though. In Civ III, we experts smile at the prospect of a 2-for-1 deal, and positively bounce around at the thought of a 3-for-1 deal.
OK, so in MOO1 I just research the tech myself. Then, I can often trade it all at once to EVERYONE else, and often I can trade the techs that I get for the initial tech. Even when I'm far behind in tech, it's not rare to pull off something like a 12-techs-for-1 deal! Sure, in most cases, the techs that I will get are outdated things. But those outdated techs are often still useful, and more importantly each will add +1 tech level for miniaturization and price-lowering purposes (this is a big weakness of the MOO1 AI IMO). That adds up to a lot real quick. Also, there are certain techs (Inertial Stabilizers and Repulsor Beams, for instance) that CAN be traded for higher-level techs, and other techs (like Hyperspace Communications and the Oracle Interface) that are almost utterly useless to the AI (i.e. they're only useful for the techlevel and research-allowed values), so they can be traded freely.
And you can also just invade a planet and steal 5 techs at once; unlike the AI, the human can coordinate transports to FLOOD a planet with tons of troops, get them past the guarding bases and ships by sheer numbers, and snatch the factories and their precious techs. They're often top-notch technologies, too (taking techs by force does not have the restrictions that trading and espionage do). You can't do that in Civ III.
There's almost (almost) no such thing as a hole too deep to climb out of in Civ3. Try that on MOO and enjoy your exile when the victor ships your nonperforming rear end out of the galaxy on a freighter, if you're lucky enough to survive at all.
Well, yeah, except I've never seen a hole THAT deep in MOO1, even playing as a crappy race at Impossible! I've only been in such dramatic holes in Civ 3. I do admit to restarting if there is no habitable world within 3 parsecs of start, but most people do that anyway unless they want to challenge themselves. I also do fall far behind in tech at Impossible except when playing the Psilons, but unless things go really pear-shaped I do always have a good number of planets.
"Game Balance" and "Civ3" aren't quite oxymorons. Civ3 is a good game and it takes a lot of skill to perform well at it. But let's be frank here. It's not in the same class as MOO1. It's not even close.
I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree.
""Erratic" MOO1 AI's will declare war COMPLETELY at random, on a roll of the dice. Alan Emrich says in the Master of Magic strategy guide (where "Chaotic" AI's behave exactly the same way) that some people absolutely hate it, while others think it's realistic."
With all due respect to Alan, who wrote some of the best strategy guides ever published, he's correct on the fact but not the conclusion.
[you say a lot of correct things about how MOO1 pursues victory more directly than the Civ 3 AI's, and how Civ 3 is designed so that things stay even]
Well, this is all less true in Conquests than in PTW. The 0.75 multiplier for tech purchases seems to have disappeared, for instance. Charis in fact complains often about the greatly-increased prevalence of runaway AI's and runaway players in Conquests, although I haven't played much myself so I can't personally comment.
I happen to think the behavior of the AI's in Civ 3 is pretty good ... they're not nearly as Out To Get You like they are in so many other strategy games.
(sorry, I need to get somewhere soon ... I was wanting to say more, but maybe later ... I'll have to wrap this up faster -- I did want to write nearly a book here
There are no uber-techs in MOO. No loopholes for translating small advantages or small leads into decisive victory.
In MOO1 early in the game, getting a tech that speeds growth is huge.
Late in the game there ARE uber-techs. Black Hole Generators. (Always a Woo-Hoo! tech.) Combat Transporters. (So it's a core world guarded by 120 missile bases and 60 huge ships? I'll just teleport past them all. The Artifical Stupidity concerning attacking planets with ground forces doesn't help either.) Subspace Teleporters, if there aren't any Interdictors around. (Oops! Did I just insta-destroy your 120 missile bases?) The stream projectors and pulsars also can be great weapons against the AI.
Even mid-game, sometimes the AI just can't handle a human fleet with Repulsor Beams.
Ack, I'm really out of time here. I'll get back to this later this afternoon.
-- Dark Savant