Gates' game of empire building

May 25, 1998|By Lonnie Brown | Lonnie Brown,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Computer game magazines have been heaping praise the past few months on a game in which players attempt to build successful empires to span the ages.

There's nothing unusual about that. Dozens of such titles exist, beginning with the classic "Civilization," which is so popular that its title is usually preceded by the name of its creator, Sid Meier, as a token of reverence.

The latest craze is "Age of Empires," more notable for the company that produced it - Microsoft - than for anyone involved in its production.

Some, including those in the U.S. Justice Department, might argue that if any computer company knows everything about empire building, it is Microsoft. At last count, Bill Gates' holdings in the company came to about $50 billion, give or take a billion, depending on the current stock price.

And those who are successful in "Age of Empires" may notice a link between their success and that of Microsoft: well-ordered growth.

"Age of Empires" covers several eras, beginning with the age of clubs and spears (Stone Age) and progressing through the ages of tool, Bronze and Iron, using a dozen different civilizations.

Early on, the big distraction will be carnivores roaming about in search of their next meal. Eventually, other villagers show up, followed by their armies.

The game is played on a map but contains nicely done animated graphics that show villagers, armies and animals roaming the lands.

To acquaint players with how the game works, a tutorial game is included, allowing the player to begin with a few workers to build a city using food, wood, rock and gold.

Wood comes in handy for buildings and, if the site is near water, docks. Wooden boats can bring in food and transport troops. Ports also attract enemy ships.

The game can be played against computer-controlled opponents over local-area networks or the Internet.

Up to eight can play at a time, and players also can play cooperatively, allowing one to control the troops, for instance, while the other controls building and food production.

A second version, extending the game beyond the Iron Age, is in the works.

For information: www.micro-soft.com/games/empires/.

MechWarrior collection

"MechWarrior 2: The Titanium Trilogy" is Activision's collection of its three top-selling games built around fully mechanized fighting robots. The games included in the set are the original "MechWarrior 2" and the sequels, "Ghost Bear's Legacy" and "Mercenaries."

New, however, is a 16-bit version of the programs for the support of 3-D video cards. It improves frame rates and graphic details.

Carrying an estimated street price of $35 to $40, the trilogy has a rebate of $25 for purchases made before Nov. 30 for owners of "MechWarrior 2" or "Mercenaries." The original games must be returned with the rebate offer.

The trilogy contains more than 170 enhanced missions and more than 40 BattleMech machines capable of being equipped as the player desires.

For information: www.activision.com.

Hexen mission pack

Activision also has released an add-on mission pack for "Hexen II." "The Hexen II Mission Pack: Portal of Praevus" (Windows 95; about $30) has 15 missions taking place in Tibet.

The game disk supports the four original character classes and adds a fifth. Players can assume the role of Demoness, who brings several new weapons to the game.

Lonnie Brown can be reached by e-mail at LonnieB00ol.com.

Pub Date: 5/25/98

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