I wish I have time to play this...
update(20120404): Fidgit is now defunct; so I'll repost the entirety of the original post here. The copyright belongs to the owners and the writers, of course.
Early on in Dune Wars, a mod for Civilization IV based on Frank Herbert's sci-fi novels, I ran into one of those bugs that kills any interest I might have in a mod. After all, if the guys who made this mod let a bug this serious creep into the first few turns of a game, imagine how bad the bugs are going to be once I get further.
However, the case of the missing water ended up just cementing my resolve to dig into this fantastic mod, which is probably the closest thing to Brian Reynolds' Alpha Centauri I've played since Alpha Centauri. Becuase sure enough, that's no bug. It's a feature.
After the jump, solving the case of the missing water
Cities in Dune Wars require water instead of food. The terrain makes this clear. The map is relentlessly brown and rugged. Who would try to grow a civilization here?
Wait, hold on. What's that out in the open desert? It appears to be a light coating of brown sugar and cinnamon, like you'd find on top of a delicious moist helping of coffee cake. It's spice. It's the reason your here. Spice is the fuel that drives your economy. We'll get more into that later.
But first, you need cities. In vanilla Civilization IV, set as it is on worlds with plenty of drinking water, food is the resource cities need to grow. But here you need water. The early learning curve in Dune Wars is figuring out how best to get water for your cities.
You have three options at the start, and a fourth available in the late game. 1) Hilltops can build wind traps. 2) The terrain is dotted with weird bits of foliage that you can improve with dew collectors. 3) Sources of ground water support wells. Early on, you'll only get a small amount of water from any of these three sources. As you move along the tech tree, you can improve any of these three sources. Later, you'll be able to import water from the polar ice caps.
So as you're learning the game, you have to watch closely how much water you're producing. For instance, a city consumes two units of water for each point of size. My Fremen capital, Sietch Tabr, is size five and therefore drinks ten water every turn. My newly founded Fremen city Gara Kulon is size one, so it drinks two water every turn.
All water that isn't drunk goes into the city growth "bucket". When that bucket fills up, the city increases in size. Gara Kulon, for instance, is producing seven units of water, mainly because I've set up improved dew collectors on nearby sand verbena, which also add a point of happiness to my cities. Apparently the flowers are pretty enough to be considered a luxury good. Fair enough. I imagine you don't get a lot of flowers on Arrakis. A few sand verbenas on the dinner table work wonders to cheer the place up.
I've also built a deathstill in Gara Kulon, which is a unique Fremen structure. All factions in Dune Wars can build a water cache that saves some of the water when a city reaches its growth threshold (Civ players will recognize this as the equivalent of a granary). But the Fremen variation of a water cache, the deathstill, also adds a point of water to the city.
So Gara Kulon is generating seven water and drinking two water. That should mean five points of water go into the city growth bucket every turn. When the bucket fills, Gara Kulon will become a size two city. However, Gara Kulon is running a deficit every turn, because it's drinking eight water. And Dune Wars tells me why.
One of the cool things about this mod is that it includes a set of advanced tooltips and interface options. It's ideal for guys like me who love to consider the numbers and dig into what's going on. So when I hover my cursor over Gara Kulon's water usage, I see that the population is consuming two water -- fair enough -- and that six water are going to "nearby units".
What? What nearby units? The documentation is Dune Wars, which is quite good and nicely integrated into the Civilopedia, says nothing about units using water. After poking around a bit and running a few brief tests, I conclude it's obviously a bug. I figure I'll let the guys making the mod know about this bug, at which point I'll uninstall it and move on to something that works.
But they quickly explain to me that I should check the vicinity around my city for waterstealers. These are barbarian units with a special attribute called "water insect". It means that when the unit is within range of a city, it will drain two points of water from that city. And sure enough, just in range to the north, is the barbarian settlement of Jizran Chasm, host to three waterstealers.
Now that's a new twist! Barbarians that are effectively raiding a city and keeping it from growing. Very clever, Dune Wars. Here is a reason to be proactive against barbarians instead of just parking a defender is a city and waiting for them to come to me. Here are bandits doing some actual banditry instead of just serving as wandering experience points farms. Sure enough, here is no bug. Here is a feature so cool that it immediately cements my resolve to give this mod a long thorough look.
Like many ambitious mods, Dune Wars has been an ongoing project with various ups and downs, guided by various people with various levels of commitment. It's currently helmed by Iain Millar, who goes by the online name Deliverator. Millar, who works for a prominent website in the UK, got involved with the mod last year because it was something he wanted to play. He has since introduced a lot of the mechanics that make it feel uniquely Dune. Millar graciously shares credit with the mod's original creator keldath, interface artist koma13, and fellow designers David Allen and Ahriman, all of whom remain active in its ongoing design and testing. You can pick your way through a full history here to get a sense for how it's been a long-term collaborative development. Or just grab the mod here and try it with me.
Now that my Fremen have been sapped dry by marauding waterstealers, I've started over. It's time to play Emperor. Let's see how you filthy waterstealers, not to mention House Harkonnen, fare against the Sardaukar.
Tomorrow: Welcome to Dune, donut planet. I mean, desert planet.