Computer games provide an interactive way to learn about world history. For example, one can study the samurai and shogun of Japan, experience the adventurous life of a Spanish conquistador, and see Europe develop from the Dark Ages to the Industrial Age. Two award-winning historical simulation series are Civilization and Age of Empires. Although these games share common attributes, they also have significant differences. In terms of world layout, campaign options, and game play, Civilization encompasses a big picture approach; whereas Age of Empires focuses on an up-close and personal experience.
To begin with, Age of Empires is a pre-made world that is smaller in scale than Civilization, with a zoomed-in view that is closer to the ground. This perspective allows for more colorful detail and realistic scenery including waterfalls, cliffs, and herds of animals. The player starts out in a settlement at a pre-chosen location and then needs to find resources (food, wood, stone, and gold) in the environment. A certain site might have a limited supply of one type of resource, challenging the player to adjust to this shortage. In addition, since the landscape includes various types of terrain such as forest, desert, and snow, players must adapt to the local geography.
Civilization, on the other hand, shows a satellite view of the world. Looking down from such a far distance makes the player feel more like a passive observer than an active participant. The player may be placed in a randomly generated spot on the map or in a topographical layout based on a real-world location of historical interest. The terrain does not display all of the picturesque detail that Age of Empires does. In Civilization, forests are simply green-colored areas, rivers are blue lines, and resources are graphical icons overlaid on the map. At the start of the game, there are no developments of any kind; the player has to gather resources and build a city from scratch. Cities can be built almost anywhere, but some areas are preferable due to the availability of resources.
Regarding campaign options, Age of Empires offers a variety of missions or quests with specific objectives to complete. Most campaigns feature elaborate stories based on the lives of famous historical characters. For instance, Age of Empires II has a William Wallace campaign, where along a span of 10+ levels the goal is to defeat the British hold on the Scottish lands. Other campaigns in the series include Joan of Arc, Genghis Khan, El Cid, Attila the Hun, Montezuma, and many more. Although the actual events may not have happened exactly as portrayed in the game scenarios, one can still gain a good understanding of different times and places in history.
Conversely, Civilization has no campaign mode; it is mainly an open world conquering game, and players do not interact with any historical figures. Civilization puts the player in charge of a nation with near complete control over its growth, production, and commerce. The player has to construct irrigation systems, roads, and mines, as well as build up resources, military defenses, and trade routes. Once settled, players must work on strengthening their civilization to face formidable barbarians and competing civilizations in order to survive. Along with the building, resource, and combat elements, there are multiple layers of strategy in economics, politics, and diplomacy. Dealing with all of these complex factors can be mind-boggling for the player.
As for game play, Age of Empires is an action-packed, real-time strategy (RTS) game. Players control their villagers and military units (cavalry, artillery, and infantry) by selecting them and then ordering them to do certain tasks. Besides resource collection and building a town, the game play in Age of Empires is a race between two factions to build the largest and most well-supplied army in order to defeat the other. The game becomes an intense fight to the death once an army attacks, which can happen suddenly and unexpectedly. The battle scenes are realistic and fast-paced, with the player feeling like an integral part of the action.
In contrast, Civilization is a slow-paced, turn-based strategy (TBS) game. Since it spans a greater time period and covers a much wider area than Age of Empires, the game play takes a long time and can easily become boring. Players take turns with other civilizations to either compete or become allies to collect resources, explore, and attack mutual enemies. Each turn allows a player to move units on the map, build or improve cities, and initiate negotiations. Even the warfare in Civilization consists of moving one unit at a time onto another square on the grid. Once a battle commences, it progresses gradually, turn by turn, until the program decides who wins. Consequently, Civilization players will not feel as personally involved as they do in Age of Empires.
Basically, Age of Empires and Civilization are two interactive simulation games that can be used for learning historical concepts from the Stone Age to the Space Age. Although both games are classified in the genre of strategy, their styles are very different. Civilization has expansive maps with no campaigns and can take days or months to finish, while Age of Empires has close-up maps and exciting campaigns that can be completed in a few hours. The world layout, campaign options, and game play in Age of Empires are not only educational but also more engaging than Civilization, truly making the past come alive.
NOTE: This was a compare-contrast essay that I wrote for my English 101 class.