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The Slacker's Guide - Freeciv

by Chris Barylick
September 9th, 2005

Friendly Efforts Toward Global Domination

It began innocently enough, like anything else. At the beginning of my junior year in college, I moved in with a new roommate, who pointed the game out to me, mentioned that he'd been playing for a while, then went on about his course work. Granted, this was the same person who would later attempt to turn his skin orange by overdosing on beta carotene supplements, so caution might have been well advised.

Still, the past is the past and for two months of my junior year, I was lost in the infamous "Civilization II Trance," a state of being where any free time and all active thought is focused on kingdoms, expansion, new technologies, alliances to be forged, alliances to be broken and what units to develop next with the hope of taking over the world.

Sit down with any of the games in the series and you'll see why nothing less than a complete addiction might come about. For strategy and diplomacy fans, these games offered a perfect blend of planning, tactics, foresight, action and sheer creativity brought about by an intricate understanding of the goals at hand from the development team at the Atari-absorbed MicroProse. Couple this with a cutting edge AI and a level of programming that was intricate enough to understand what the player might do once they'd walked away from the game for several hours, only to return with multiple new ideas to act out within their campaign and you could see why the series sold in the millions.

A good thing never dies and with the help of the open source community, neither does the Civilization series (albeit the third installment can still be purchased from MacSoft for $39.99 and requires only Mac OS 8.6 or higher, a 300 MHz G3 processor, a 1024 x 768 resolution and minimal RAM to function).

Freeciv, an open source project focused on bringing the earlier versions of the Civilization series to the Mac, Windows and Linux operating systems, currently offers a variant similar to Civilization I and II for free under the General Public License. The game, which can be downloaded via the mighty SourceForge.net servers, currently runs on Mac OS X 10.4 or higher (provided support for X11 applications has been installed). The game, which runs as one would expect it to (minus a small additional load time for the X11 system to boot up for Mac OS X, then launch the Freeciv client), features everything that made the original series amazing with extensive support, bug reporting and fixes coming from the Freeciv project community. Additional bugs and errors can either be reported via the web or e-mailed along with errors being quickly addressed in the next version.


The open source Freeciv in action

Despite being an X11 application (something I'd never worked with before), installation and setup took only minutes. X11, which brings thousands of X Window-written applications over to Mac OS X to work within the system, can be installed by inserting the Mac OS X 10.4 install disk and either choosing to install this from the custom install menu or heading into the install disk's "Optional Installations" folder and working from there. Once X11 has been installed, Freeciv can be cleanly launched with zero configuration and the player can either start their own server to create a single player game or head online for multiplayer gameplay. The program, a 14.8 MB download with a 33.4 MB hard drive footprint, is currently freeware with readily available source code available for distribution over the Internet.


Easily check your status in the world as well as current events with Freeciv's consolidated play screen.

Years may pass, but the classics never die on the Internet. After three hours of relearning the game only to discover that more advanced nations had invaded to blow my spear-wielding natives away with muskets, only one thing remained to be done; start again, research my technologies more efficiently and be able to outgun anything I encounter in as short an amount of time as possible. This is Civilization, an exercise in pain, humility, intelligence, ego and thought. And at the end of your campaign's 20+ hours of gameplay, it might just be worth it.

World of Warcraft, iChat and The Law of Averages:

As I've mentioned before, Hell decided to freeze over and I've been seeing someone who can arguably be considered geekier than me (the largely Linux-based server farm in her basement helping to seal this argument). With a level 59 character on one server as well as several other characters in the works and plans to modify her Roomba's motherboard the nanosecond its warranty expires, she's put any doubts of this to rest.

And when she regains her eyesight, perhaps she'll even continue to date me.

Where World of Warcraft is concerned, she's as avid a player as one could ask for, someone who takes as much as she can from the game's social elements, organizing parties to complete the game's more difficult segments both within and outside her guild. And it's this which has essentially led to weeknights of World of Warcraft dating, wherein the two of us will sit at home with the full knowledge that it's impossible to get together due to time constraints, log onto iChat and begin an evening of gaming.

To pull this off, simply log on, make sure the other person has been added to your buddy list, have a microphone at hand, the internal one on a PowerBook, iBook, iMac G4, iMac G5 or an eMac will do, but an external one such as an iSight can be positioned anywhere on the desk and might be more receptive.

In my case, Logitech's external USB microphone has worked out quite nicely and sits about a foot away, perched upon an HP scanner. Once the microphone is in place, open an audio chat (broadband cable or DSL access from both ends is highly recommended), make with the gabbing, then open World of Warcraft from both ends, log in and begin gaming with full voice chat (this technique is also feasible with the current version of Skype and Gizmo, but iChat's voice chat feature, especially under Tiger, has been the most consistent client so far).

And there you have it, one of the simplest and fun dates that can be imagined. From here, both parties can discuss the game, matters at hand or just gab. It's a date; an activity both parties enjoy, with none of the pressure that comes with the adolescent and post-adolescent horror that's generally associated with anything along these lines.

Munch on the food of your choice, wear whatever you want, talk about whatever's on your mind and it works out, provided you remember to keep the other party from being maimed by something 10 levels higher than them as well as resurrect their bodies in a timely and romantic manner. This method also works perfectly for dungeons and instances within the game, both parties sharing advice, experience, advising on tactics and coordinating larger groups.

It shouldn't be this easy and it shouldn't be this fun, especially on a random weeknight when there isn't a chance that either of you could drive out to see each other. In truth, it feels like cheating, as if you've taken the $35-$70 experience that is the average American date and swapped it out with something better for the price of, oh, nothing.

But it's there and with a few minutes of configuration and testing through iChat and World of Warcraft, ready to be taken advantage of. Keep in mind that the usual rules of engagement still apply; roses are nice and forgotten birthdays will lead to generally unspeakable horrors, but in a pinch, this can't be beaten.

You can stop laughing any time now.

That wraps it up for this week. As always, if you've seen anything new or cool in the Mac universe, let me know.

Chris Barylick covers games for The Mac Observer, and has written for Inside Mac Games, MacGamer, UPI, the Washington Post, and other publications.

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