This is why I haven’t gotten anything done lately.
Evony (which was named Civony until a few days ago) is a massive multiplayer online game you play in a browser. It’s a Flash program, and it’s impressive.
It’s a game where you build a city, manage resources, build an army, and conquer people trying to do the same things. (I’m told it’s similar to Age of Empires, even down to the style of the graphics, I never played AoE so I don’t know for sure.) At first look it seems like a game that would have had to come in a box a few years ago. Then you realize that for all the nice graphics, workers in fields, clouds coasting by over your glimmering city, the game doesn’t have any moving parts, it’s a game of menus with a very attractive user interface. Still, how it loads almost instantly with so much going on is surprising, it’s the most capable bit of Flash I’ve seen.
You play on three map scales and a lot of menus. The largest scale is a world map, a disguised grid made of cities and terrains which you can conquer and garrison to gain modifiers to your resource production. For example, if you conquer a grassland, you might gain +11% to your food production as long and it’s yours. The cities can be conquered too, some are NPC cities there for you to quest against, the rest are other players like you. The game has multiple servers, so it’s likely each has some player limit. The world map is 800×800, or 640000 plots, and there’s no mini map or non-random terrain features to give you any idea what’s going on. But when you start playing this isn’t a concern.
The middle scale shows the land just outside your city, where you collect resources. You set up farms, mills, quarries, and mines, collecting the game’s four units, food, wood, rock, and iron. The number of these collectors you can have is limited by the level of the town hall in your city, and the workforce available in your population. Improvement of the collectors to higher levels is capped with the town hall level, and each new collector level is exponentially expensive in resource cost and rewarding in resource production, so that one level 2 mill is better than two level 1 mills. You have the choice of what to build on your limited space, and the game includes a trading system, where every player buying and selling makes for an economy with a going rate for each resource. It seems that lumber is the most demanded resource in the game, so it commands a higher price, meaning leaning toward lumber production is a strong way to go. The game economy works well enough that as more players join the game, the prices fall with more suppliers, as it should. It meant getting into the game early and trading for gold worked out nicely.
The smallest scale is the city view, which occupies most of the player’s time. It’s like a very uninvolved SimCity. From your resources you make buildings to improve your city, placing each on a set grid inside a wall. Building housing increases your population, an academy allows you to research a vast tech tree of improvements that are interwoven with building requirements, barracks produce troops, and so on. Most of us have played similar to this before, but I like the thought and balance put into the design here, the execution. First, The limited space makes for choices. A player could build more housing to have a more populous and productive city, could build more barracks to produce troops more quickly. If a city is raided and not successfully defended, resources from the fields outside are stolen, but a storehouse building allows resources to be protected within the walls, meaning building more storehouses can result in a treasure city. As the game goes on it’s possible to have multiple cities, and to trade between them to put specialized cities into good use. Second, the city management tools create choices, you have a tax rate, levies and other tools to affect a city loyalty stat and other concerns. It’s possible to make decisions with short term gains and long term problems, or the positive opposite, and situations can arise to force the player into hard calls. Importantly, it’s just really fun to build little houses, and to see your nurtured city thrive.
New players get seven days of protection from attack, and are not able to attack or make more cities until after that time. As I played, my plan was to play the seven days, then get killed by someone huge and give it up. I’ll tell you how the game gets you hooked: they give you quests for trying out each building and game mechanic, and the quest rewards are nearly enough resources or items to complete the next level of that quest, so you continue. Each time you complete quest requirements, your quest menu gains a green checkmark, and you click to request the reward and feel like a winner.
Here’s the really gruesome flaw in the game: all buildings and research take real time to finish, meaning you have to wait. Like, all the time, all the time you have you can spend waiting. So a level 1 house takes maybe 1 minute to build, and you can sit there watching a timer go down. The game lets you skip any time under 5 minutes, so if you have the resources you can build lots of early game buildings in a hurry, but soon enough you have 6 minute waits. You can try doing something else during these waits, browse the internet, write a review, but it’s never enough time for you to take your mind off what you want to build next, you won’t get anything else done. Buildings are one at a time per city, and there isn’t a queue, so you can’t script the rest of your city plan and come back every few days. No queue means if your building is done in 50 minutes, you really ought to be by your computer in 50 minutes, unless you want people crazier than you to gain an edge. During the new player period the game gives you items to skip the build times, obfuscating the game’s painful secret.
Here are some other rough truths about the game. It’s made in China, and while the complete game title you always see is “Evony – Free Forever”, it’s pretty blatantly asking you for money. The game items that make building tolerable and give a host of other advantages can be purchased for game “cents”, which they provide for you to buy like Chuck E. Cheese tokens, turning real money into what looks like money but is always theirs. The Chinese origin makes for some funny bad English too, with lines like “Status of this hero is not spare” (Your hero is busy) written everywhere. Probably the worst game flaw, making it even more unplayable than the waiting, is that once you get a lot going on the game can slow down, take your CPU up to 90%+ and make you worry about your computer. This game is certainly not worth blowing out my laptop.
Opposite to what I expected, the expiration of the seven day protection made the game much more fun. I did get attacked and somewhat wiped out, but I was then able to build extra cities, and shuttling resources to start up a new colony renewed all the fun of playing on the first day. I joined an alliance, and we began defending each other, and targeting our enemies.
But finally, I realized there was no point. The game doesn’t want its players eliminated, so it’s impossible to conquer a player’s last city. The game battles have no graphic interface, you just read a report of what happened, and the battle mechanics are screwed up so that enough archers can win any fight without a scratch. With the building wait times getting up to 27 hours (!), four cities, and a dominant army of bowmen, there’s no reason to go on.
It’s been revealed that this game ripped off its graphics and descriptions from other games, includes new software that raises privacy issues, is crushing the internet with spam and dirty ads, and is basically run by thieves who play by no code. Also there’s a WoW sweatshop involved, which sounds like the best kind of sweatshop to me, better than sewing shoes all day, but I’m sure it’s somehow still evil. The point is, this is hilarious: