Boy, they weren’t kidding about Civilization IV’s minimum system requirements! - Macenstein

Boy, they weren’t kidding about Civilization IV’s minimum system requirements!

Posted by Lab Rat

A lot of people were surprised when they read Aspyr’s suggested minimum system requirements for their Mac port of Civilization IV. The Mac specs were actually more restrictive than the PC specs for the game, calling for at least a PowerPC G5 or Intel chipset running at 2GHz or higher, and a 128MB video card.

I had read (that unlike past versions of the game) Civ IV’s game engine was now completely 3D, so while I understood the game would likely tax a system somewhat more than previous versions, I figured this was perhaps just Aspyr covering itself in the event gamers experienced a couple dropped frames and slow downs as the game progressed and game maps grew larger. After all, only a handful of recent Macs meet these requirements.

Well, I am here to tell you, I was naïve, and Aspyr meant it.

I have been playing Civ III and Civ III Complete on a G4 tower with a 64 MB Radeon 8500 card for years. When I first read the minimum specs for Civ IV, just for fun I went out and bought an ATI 9700 graphics card for my old G4 tower. I knew the G4 was not supported, but it was a 1.2GHz machine with 1.75 GB of RAM, 300GB of hard drive space, and had always played Civilation III Complete just fine. I figured Civ IV would run, but be kind of pokey as the game wore on.

The first hint I had that this was not going to be a smooth game playing experience happened almost instantly. The opening screen which simply plays the 2K Games logo played at about 4 frames a second. This was very odd, as this is exactly the way Civilization III Complete starts, same animation, and that plays fine. These are stock pre-rendered QuickTime animations, nothing 3D or taxing. The opening Civ IV cinematics also played pretty much like a slideshow, maybe 4-6 frames a second. However, once I made it to the actual menu, I was able to click through the settings and start a new game. I was pleased to see my settler and warrior, and they looked good. The map zoomed (if you want to call it that) at a stuttered but playable rate. I was all set for a slightly sluggish but otherwise enjoyable game playing experience.

Then I tried to move my warrior.

Both monitors I had hooked up to the 9700 card went dark immediately. The computer did not crash (as far as I can tell) but I could not see my desktop, and therefore had to restart anyway.

OK, well, Aspyr said that system was not supported, so while I am disappointed I can’t play Civ IV on that machine, I am not totally surprised. Next, on to my Intel Mac Mini.

Yes, I know, this machine is not officially supported either, but I figured I would give it a try. It’s only 2 months old after all. I have the dual core 1.66GHz version with 1GB of RAM. While the mini does not meet the 2GHz minimum, it IS dual core, and is certainly closer to meeting them than a 1.2GHz G4. And as far as the graphics card goes, I am not really sure where the integrated Intel graphics chipset falls in the big scheme of things, but I was hoping it is not too far off older cards like the ATI 9600 and NVidia GeForce 5200. I know it is listed at 64MB, but since it shares system RAM, I hoped it could steal another 64MB if it needed it.

So, bravely I stuck in the Civ IV disc, and was immediately aware this was going to be a much better experience than on my G4 tower. The opening logos and cinematic played at what appeared to be full 30 frames per second, and the menu screens flew by. However I was surprised to see the actual game play was not all that faster than on the tower. Sure, the screen did not immediately go black (which was a big plus) but just panning around the map (and fans of the Civ franchise know the game starts with a pretty small map) was pretty clunky. The good news is the game’s performance did not get noticeably worse after 3 hours of gameplay (which flew by, by the way) although I was constantly aware that I was missing frames of troop animations and such, and the game certainly took a little longer each turn to load.

Now the good news.

If you happen to own a G5 Quad, you are set. I fired Civ IV up this morning on the quad here in the lab, and am pleased to say the game runs smoothly, and looks quite good. And it better! I would hate to think the only hardware capable to running this game is the highest-end computer Apple makes!

In mulling over my experience here, I am actually surprised Aspyr bothered to port a game like Civ IV to the Mac. While the Civ III fan base is strong in the Mac community, how many of those loyal fans were running it on a G5 quad? I have run Civ III on my original bondi blue iMac for crying out loud, and it didn’t play much slower than Civ IV on my Intel mini. Given how small the Mac market is as a whole, and given how small the percentage of Mac users play games, and given how small the percentage of Mac-owning-game-playing users own G5 Quads, there are probably about 300 people who can play Civilization IV at the intended speed. Obviously in a couple months there will be new Intel-based towers, and 2nd generation Intel minis, iMacs, and MacBooks which will better be able to handle the strain of Civ IV (I do not have an Intel iMac here to test the game on, so it may be playable on that system, although I am guessing still a bit sluggish. Let us know your experience if you have tested it).

I am not saying Aspyr has done anything wrong with Civ IV, in fact they are quite clear that you need the right hardware to play this game. However, I just would like to make anyone considering purchasing the game aware that they should take Aspyr’s system spec warnings to heart before buying. The Civilization franchise has long been popular among non-gamer gamers, meaning the games were more cerebral, and the 2D nature meant players did not need the latest Halo-capable 3D hardware to run them.

We will have a full review of Civilzation IV in a week or so, so check back then to see how it runs when the games get REALLY long.

[Comment Here]

One Response to “Boy, they weren’t kidding about Civilization IV’s minimum system requirements!”
  1. Jacob Head says:

    Wow, that surprises me too. I hope my iMac G5 Rev B will plays it well (i.e., virtually no lagging)


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