November 24, 2004: Time to pronounce the stillbirth of my intended Capitalism 2 page.
I very much enjoyed the original Capitalism game. I played about eight complete games with it, including a grueling game wherein I mastered and trounced it on the highest difficulty setting. In effect, I played my way all the way through what it had to offer. The reason I did not play more is that I had solved the game. The industries were a fixed mixture. The same strategy would work over and over again, and after trying several approaches, I found one that cracked the game wide open.
The bane of replayability for Capitalism was the lack of randomized elements. Too much was hard-coded. That made for a glorious first pass, but no way to extend the fun. After half a dozen games and solving the highest difficulty level, I had been there and done that.
While Capitalism 2 promised to improve on the original, and it did manage that, the innovations were not sufficient to address the game balance issues that ended my brief but passionate love affair with the original. Halfway through my first game of Cap2, I realized I had been there and done that before. The same strategy was working all over again, not quite as effectively, but nearly, and chalked the difference up to being rusty.
Either game is worth your while if you've not played before. I would recommend Capitalism 2 to new players. Not sure I can recommend it to fans of the original, though. It felt more like an expansion pack than a sequel.
What follows is the portion of a tutorial that I wrote before giving up on the idea of a page for this game.
Capitalism II is a "builder's game". As strategy games go, it plays like a combination of Civilization and Railroad Tycoon, with the game objective being to build a profitable corporation.
Your corporation is composed of "firms", individual business sites with specific functions. Firms include farms, factories, retail stores, raw materials (mines, lumber mills, oil wells, etc), advertising, and real estate. Each firm is simplified into a small model, over which you have a range of control. You purchase, organize, manage and direct your firms as the gameplay function.
The firms are not unlike the cities of Civilization or the planets of Master of Orion (other strategy games). Each firm is a "location" you control, which you try to build up over time with effective management. Unlike Civilization gameplay, though, there are no units to control, only "cities": your firms. You don't direct the trucks or personnel, so in that sense, there is no micromanagement. There is still a lot to manage, though, and a lot to learn and understand to be able to manage wisely.
The gameplay is not turn-based, however, but stop-and-go. Like Railroad Tycoon, you set the game speed, including the ability to pause for as long as you like. You make decisions, and if you've spent all your available money, you have to let the game run for a while, to let some profits roll in, before you can spend more. (There's more to it than that, but that's the basic idea). But unlike Railroad Tycoon, where you manage the transport of goods between AI controlled companies, with Capitalism II, YOU control the companies and the AI controls the transport.
Here's a look inside my first game of Capitalism II, at one of my firms. This one is a chicken farm, the first firm that I built.
In the top left is corporate information: Company Name, city location of this firm, then my name and position. The orange B is my company logo and color. To the right of the logo are two graphs showing the revenues and profits of this firm (hey, it's making good money!) On the top right is the control panel for cycling through firms, including a number of filters that let you do such things at look only at your farms, and that sort of thing: useful for navigating through the piles of information available to you.
In the second row, there are four large boxes, two of them showing the goods produced and sold by this farm.
The bottom half of the screen is the detailed area where your gameplay takes place. On the right is a 3x3 box structure (looks like a tic-tac-toe board) that represents the model of this firm. The orange highlighted box (Egg Sales) is the division currently being examined, with all of its particular information and options shown on the left.
The 3x3 model area is how you set up your firms. You decide what sort of division you want to organize (in this case, the examples include Livestock Raising, Livestock Processing, and Sales) and then you have to link the various divisions within the 3x3 box in such a way as to direct the flow of operations.
The basic function of each firm is to process goods in some capacity. This mainly involves three steps: purchase/produce raw materials, process these materials into a more refined product, sell the product. Farms produce livestock, process the livestock into food items, then sell the food items. Mines extract minerals and sell them. Retail Stores provide a convenient place for consumers to purchase finished products. Factories produce most of the finished products. In each case, the idea is produce or purchase something, then turn around and sell that to someone else at a profit.
When you set up divisions within your firm, they are limited by the tic-tac-toe model layout. Each division may only connect up with adjacent divisions, so that means the ones in the corners are the least versatile, while the center can connect to ANY or all of the others. This is not difficult to figure out, but it is vital to understand. When setting up your firms, you want to maximize utilization so that you don't waste any divisions. Each division costs money to run, so you only want ones that you really need. Effective firm "layout plans" are one of the keys to success in this game.
Now looking at the Egg Sales division of my farm, there is information about Price, product Quality, Brand name strength, Supply, and Demand. There are also three buttons: Internal Sale, Clients, and Clear. For all the complexity of the display, and all the information, those three buttons represent the only actions you can take in regard to the Egg Sales division. The Internal Sale button toggles whether or not this firm sells only to other firms in your corporation (internal sales) or will take any customers who wish to buy (AI corporate competitors). The Clients button is a quick link to information about those buying the Eggs. The Clear button is a way to liquidate (trash) the current inventory supply, which is rarely desirable but you get the option anyway.
And that's it. See? Not so bad. Egg sales, and you as player-CEO have only a couple of commands, which you won't need to utilize often. Mostly the business will run itself, IF you have set it up correctly. And that's the gameplay: you set up firms, you direct their initial operations, then you let them run themselves with only occasional need for further input from you as market conditions change (new competitors entering the market, customers drying up, changes in quality level, etc).
So what do the various firms do? And why did I select the arrangement in the 3x3 that I chose? OK. First of all, Chickens are one of four livestock types you can raise, and they produce two products: Eggs, and Frozen Chicken. There are four livestock divisions, three processing divisions, and two sales divisions in my farm. There must be a dedicated connection through a process, as each division can only do one thing at a time. So for example, if you tried to sell both the Chicken and the Egg from the same sales division, you'd run into a problem. The sales division would be selling chickens to some supermarkets, but then they would STOP doing that to go sell eggs... causing all of the supermarket customers to be cut off and the business arrangements with them to be scuttled. That's VERY BAD. You want to set up long term business relations, and any time a given division within a firm changes its operations, it has to start from scratch. ALL of the customers go away. That's very very bad.
So in order to sell both eggs and frozen chickens, I need at least one sales division dedicated to each line of products. I also need at least one processing division for each line of products, as you can't make both chickens and eggs in one division. So if you wanted a farm to produce both chickens and eggs, at the very least you need five divisions: one livestock division to raise the chickens, one to process eggs, one to sell eggs, one to process frozen chickens and another to sell them. That's five. That leaves you four boxes left to add more divisions to your farm to improve on its efficiency. If you organize more livestock divisions, there will be a larger supply of live chickens to be processed. If you organize more processing divisions, you will have a larger processing capacity. If you organize more sales divisions, you will be able to sell the finished products more quickly. Figuring out the most efficient combination of and linkage between the divisions is part of the gameplay.
I'll come back to more about running this chicken farm a little later. For now, I want to move on to one of my factories.
This is a leather goods factory producing three products: wallets, belts and briefcases. As you can see at the top, it's making a fortune!
Each manufactured product requires different raw materials. The wallets require only leather. The belts need leather and steel. The briefcases need leather and textiles. If you look at the purchase textiles division, they are connected only to the manufacture briefcases division. The purchase steel division is connected only to the manufacture belts division. The leather purchase division is linked to all three of the manufacturing divisions, so it has more demands placed on it. Each manufacturing division is linked to its own sales division. That's not the case in all of my factories, but the exceptions all involve multiple manufacturing divisions producing the same product, all linking to one sales division (much like my two chicken processing divisions both linked to one frozen chicken sales division on my farm).
This time the left side information is not showing any of the divisions. (No divisions are highlighted in orange). Instead, the info panel shows one of the three sales products. See the yellow highlight around the wallets on the product row? We're looking at information about wallet sales. The info panel says "Leather Wallet". There's a graph with three data options (P, R, Q). There's a market share pie chart (my company color is orange). There's an Internal Sale button, and a place to change the current price on this line of goods. In the lower part of the info panel, there is information about the "Overall Rating" of this product, which determines its attractiveness to potential customers. This is the other key aspect of the gameplay. There's organizing your firms, and then there is managing your product lines. When you are trying to generate sales, your product needs to have a higher Overall Rating than the competition, or the customers won't come your way. (There are a few exceptions, but I'll cover them later).
That Overall Rating information is crucial. You use that to determine your advertising approach (how you manage your brand names), to see your need for product quality improvement (via better raw materials, higher production technology, or improved employee training), and ultimately, to manage the prices you charge for your goods.
Now lets take a look inside another factory, and peek at a manufacturing division.
Camera Film is a product requiring three raw materials: Chemicals, Silver, and Plastic. (Chemicals are conveniently lumped into one category for this game). Three is the most any product requires, although a few items (cars, computers, etc) get around this by requiring semi-finished materials that themselves each require manufacturing and raw materials of their own. Here I've set up a film factory with four purchasing divisions (including one redundant plastics purchase), two manufacturing divisions, and two sales divisions. It's possible to arrange the divisions to eliminate the need for the redundant purchase division, but I'll leave that to you to figure out.
One of the manufacturing divisions is highlighted. Note that there are no control buttons or options -- there's nothing you can actually DO here with this division -- but there is vital information about the product quality. Quality (along with Brand and Price) is one of the aspects that goes into your Overall Rating for a product, which determines its attractiveness to customers. For each product, quality is determined by a combination of Raw Materials and Production Technology. The weighting of these varies for each product (and there are some 60ish total product lines). In this case, you can see that production tech accounts for 80% of the total item quality, while raw materials accounts for only 20%. This information is broken down into four lines. On top line is the total product quality. 38 out of possible 100, that's on the low side. This is cheap film, to put it bluntly, and I would need to improve my production tech significantly to improve on that. The second line shows production quality, with the "out of 80 possible" showing the importance of tech for this product. The third line shows raw material quality. The fourth line shows production technology. Production tech defaults to 30 for all product lines. Since I have 30, that means I have not researched any new tech in this product line as of yet. That total production quality is "out of 80", and 30% of 80 is 24. So 24 points of production quality are coming from my manufacturing technology. 14 (out of 20 possible) quality points are coming from raw material quality. 24+14=38, accounting for the total product quality. How to acquire better raw materials is part of the gameplay, as is improving on your production technology. Better quality products improve your Overall Ratings. If your product quality goes up, your price can also go up. That is, what you gain in quality you can afford to lose in terms of attractive pricing, meaning you can make more profit off of higher quality products.
Also shown in the info panel is the manufacturing unit itself. This includes the number of employees (those are not symbolic, but represent actual persons, actual individual employees), their experience level (more expertise means more output), and their utilization level. In this case, utilization at 100% means that even at full capacity, this unit cannot produce enough products to meet all of the demand for the product among the customers. That's good in the sense that there is full profit being earned from this division, but also bad in the sense that there could be more profit to be made if the division could produce more, or if another factory could be set up. Effectively working the ebb and flow of supply and demand is the essence of the game's strategy element.
Finally, the employees themselves are divided between blue and red shirts. That indicates training progress. Blue shirts have been trained on the current techniques, red shirts are still in need of training. When all the shirts turn blue for this unit, the unit will promote to next highest experience level (ranging from 1 to 9) and will be more productive. The training slider between the info panel and the firm layout (red and white thermometer) shows the current level of funding for employee training, set to about 50%. The more you spend on training, the faster the employees improve in efficiency. However, every time new technology is discovered (increase in production tech value for this line of goods), when that tech is applied to the manufacturing divisions, their efficiency suffers a setback (they are demoted to lower experience levels). So you have to balance training with research in such a way that you don't end up rendering your training wasted by continually setting the experience level back to minimum with too-frequent technology upgrades. More on that later. The more utilization a division gets, the faster its training takes hold. (The employees aren't learning much about how to improve at their jobs if they are sitting around doing nothing, waiting on orders for goods that aren't in demand).
Now let's have a look at one of my retail stores. Here's a convenience store:
Retail stores are the simplest firms. Each store can sell up to four products, as you need only one purchase division and one sales division for each product. That uses eight of the nine 3x3 tiles, leaving one for advertising (if you wish). It's possible to run fewer than four product lines and leave some of the divisions blank. You can add more later. It all depends on your plans. If you have a new factory coming online but it's waiting on wheat crops to be produced from your new wheat farm, so you can make bread to sell in your retail store, you can save a little money by waiting for the bread to start being produced before you set up the mechanisms in the retail store to be selling bread. (No use paying for empty shelf space for six months).
Now lets take a look at one of my products: eggs. Yes, these are the same eggs produced by my farm. Notice that eggs are highlighted in yellow on the product row. The info panel shows a wealth of information, starting with the profit graph. Then there's market share, and notice that I have stiff competition from Light Blue corporation. Yikes. Competition! Egads. Serious competition, too. They have almost half the market share, and if you look to the lower part of the display, you see my product Overall Rating on the left, and the "city average" on the right. "City average" refers to all the competition, which includes both AI corporations and "local competitors". The locals are a sort of default measuring stick. You have to beat the locals to get ANY of the market share, so depending on whether local competitors are set to "low" "medium" or "high" has a LOT to do with the total game difficulty. When the locals are set to high, it is very difficult to get into the market at all, much less take over. Profit margins are lower, quality needs are more urgent, and strong brand names may be needed just to GET IN on the sales, much less jack up your prices. At the higher difficulty levels, this game can be very challenging, but more on that later.
NOTE: That was all I managed to write. You can move on to Page 2 with the link below if you want to view the rest of the screenshots that I took. I apologize to those of you who would have wanted more from me on this game, but sometimes things do not work out as we planned.
| Internship - Page Two |
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