Seven Cities of Gold Feature
Feature By Sandra Carlisle
Computer Gaming World Volume 4 Number 3 (June 1984)

Seven Cities of Gold
by Sandra Carlisle

NAME: Seven Cities of Gold
TYPE: Strategy
SYSTEM: Atari (C-64 coming)
AUTHOR: Ozark Softscape
PRICE: $40
PUBLISHER: Electronic Arts
Menlo Park, CA

The following article comes from a playtester of SEVEN CITIES OF GOLD. She combines a good overview of the game with insights to the game from Dan Bunten of Ozark Softscape. Due, in part, to the length of this article, Dan Bunten's regular column, DISPATCHES, will not appear in this issue.


The month is March. The year 1492. I am triumphantly standing before the Royal Palace. This time I have finally convinced the King of Spain to finance my expedition. The two thousand in gold has been used to purchase four ships, a full complement of sailors, 100 soldiers, food for 52 weeks, and 300 lots of goods for trading.

I pass the Outfitters Shop, but decide that for my first trip I had better go with my present equipment. Next, I see my flag ship-an impressive three-master. With a push of the joystick button I leave Spain and head west into the unknown. Anxiously, the weeks pass by, with still no land sign of land. Suddenly, the long awaited cry is heard from the crow's nest. Land Hal There it is .... China!

I eagerly give the command to anchor off the lush coast. With my men carrying as much food and goods as possible, I lead them ashore. A fanfare sounds as I receive credit for discovering the New World. [Well, perhaps this isn't China after all.) Avoiding the swamps, the expedition locates a native village. They are not hostile but curious, and in their excitement crowd too close. One of my men, out of fear, hurts one of the natives. To placate them, I offer a gift which they quickly take. I ask to trade, but am informed that I must speak to their chief. Carefully moving through the village, the chief is finally located. Giving him a gift, I again try to trade ...GOLD! They have gold! I quickly trade for a few pieces and head back to the ships. Having been given native bearers at the village, much more may now be carried.

We pause to look around. Excitedly, the word is passed to me that the natives have mentioned a gold mine located to the east of the village. Encouraged, we force march through the swamp and find the mine. Gathering all the gold we can carry, I again turn toward the ships.

After loading the gold and getting more goods, the expedition returns to the village. Now that I know my way around, I head directly for the chief. This time he is greedy, and will not trade until given four more gifts. I trade for the rest of the village's gold and leave. Since this is a small island with only the one village, I decide to set sail again.

Sailing north around the island I locate more land to the northwest. Heading that way, the lookout spots a native village, but I decide to continue sailing west off the coast. Is this another island, or is it a continent? I see two more villages, then the coastline suddenly dips to the south and eventually back to the east .... another island. There is yet one more island to the south of this one. A very small one with no villages.

It is now July. I stop to check my maps and to take a bearing. It shows me to be at latitude 20 degrees north, and in the middle of an island group. Somehow it looks familiar. (I check an atlas and recognize Cuba, Jamaica, and Hispaniola. Ah ha, now I know where I am!)

After sailing back to where the two villages were located close together on Cuba, I disembark and head for the chief. But, wait. ...these natives are hostile. I quickly drop a gift. Bought off, they eventually settle down. Now I can look for the chief. Finding him, I try to amaze him, but only manage to drive the others away. I trade for all of the gold available, and then go back to the ships for more goods. With only 81 goods left, I am hoping for the best.

Leaving the ships, I stop to think. While stopped, one of the natives mentions another gold mine to the south. More gold! I quickly head for it. Once there, I decide to leave it until after visiting the other village. Leaving the mine, I notice that an X marks the location of the mine on the map. Entering the village, I immediately amaze the natives to get them away from me. I rush through the gap formed and confront the chief. I try to amaze him but to no apparent effect. I attempt to trade with marvelous results. The chief is so impressed with me that he asks me to build a mission! On top of this he offers me anything in the village.

Leaving enough men behind to staff the mission, I take all of the gold and some of their food. I make certain, though, to leave enough food behind for my men. Returning to the gold mine, I mine all the gold available and return to the ships.

Deciding to go south to check the third village on this island, I move them overland at a moderate pace. Entering the village at this speed, my men accidentally kill several natives. Suddenly, my men have drawn their swords and the natives are on us like a swarm of angry hornets. Fighting desperately, we manage to defeat the village, and can take what we want. I take all of the gold and leave. After leaving, however, I realize that we need more food. We return to the village, ready for a battle but, to our surprise, the natives run away. As soon as I approach the chief, he informs us that we may take anything we like as tribute. I order some food collected and leave enough men to form a fort.

It is now November. In seven months I have learned how to survive in the New World through trading and fighting. I've also learned the wisdom of listening to the native bearers. A total of two gold mines have been discovered, a mission has been established and a fort built to hold down the locals. With new confidence, I set sail to further explore this New World.

All this and more happened to me the first time I sat down to play SEVEN CITIES OF GOLD(SCOG). No matter how many times I booted the game up to test it, I always found it exciting and compelling to play (usually ending up playing far longer than planned). There was always one more mountain to cross, one more river to explore, or one more gold mine to find. Unlike most games, there are no set solutions or predetermined goals. There is no puzzle to solve which, once solved, ends the game's mystery. Every time that I played the game was different. I have never, for example, found all of the gold mines. Also, for the determined searchers, the historical game contains a lost village on an uncharted island.

SCOG is a game full of adventure, treasures, and discovery. It has animation, excellent graphics, arcade-type action, strategy and challenge. The game is a believable simulation of the Spanish discovery and conquest of the New World. In it you are an explorer in the 16th Century with the goal being to travel west in search of fame and fortune. The depth and variety of SCOG rivals that of the better written text games. The game has the equivalent of 2,800 screens! The playfield from a 13 inch TV, if printed, would form a giant mural of approximately 12 by 19 feet. It is so vast, that it has been estimated that it would take over eight hours in order to transit every sector of land without stopping. In the game, I could sail my ships from Newfoundland to the Straights of Magellan and up the Pacific coast to Alaska. This map is not just one simple 5-10K load, but occupies approximately 65K of disk memory. However, not only is there the Historical world to rediscover, SCOG has a Random World option which enables it to create entirely NEW worlds to conquer.

SCOG comes in the usual Electronic Arts package with excellent documentation. The cover is a beautiful reproduction of a 16th Century painting showing the Spanish Conquistadors landing in the New World. The game begins with an wonderful opening sequence accompanied by a piece of period Spanish music called "La Bomba". Although the documentation is only ten pages long, it is complete and enjoyable to read. It contains numerous playing tips, historical notes and even a bibliography for those interested in further research. Designed to be a realtime adventure with the excitement of discovery and achievement, they deliberately made the instructions into guidelines rather than rules.

The sound in the game is definitely understated, but effective in conveying information. A short fanfare is, for example, played when a discovery is made. When your expedition is moving on land, you hear the sound of marching men. The speed of he men is directly proportional to the tempo of the sound. When you enter a village, you immediately hear drumbeats, the intensity of which notifies you of the natives level of hostility. And, in water, you hear the sound of waves rushing past your ship. In the shallows, this sound increases to warn you of the danger of grounding.

Historically, the major problem faced by the Spanish explorers was food supply. I found the same to be true for my expeditions. Once in the new world, the only additional food was in the native villages. The subtlety of this game really became apparent when I had to deal with the natives. There is no common language. How could I communicate with a totally alien culture. The many variables possible give the game its authenticity, its flavor and its challenge. I could slaughter and plunder, try trickery or treachery, or simply trade for my most pressing needs. If I desired, I could even try to convert the natives and establish missions. Success with any of the methods chosen will depend upon your dexterity in fighting or in your skill in negotiations. It will also depend upon the type of village with which you are dealing. And, no matter how many times you play the same map, none of the villages will ever be exactly the same.

The game has three distinct levels. The beginner is well advised to start at the Novice level, where you have a chance to survive long enough to get a feel for the game. At the next level, Journeyman, you have to contend with storms at sea, native ambushes, food spoilage, ship wrecks, or even with your ships disappearing under the command of mutinous officers and crew. At the highest level, Master, all of the above happens but with greater frequency. Also, at either level above novice, the native villages are not seen. They can only be located by stopping and looking for"signs".

There are three different sequences in the game, with different types of screens for each. The game begins in the European Sequence with you in Spain as a full sized animated character dressed as a Spanish Conquistador. Here you can outfit your expeditions, visit your home to view the map created on your journeys, visit the Royal Court for additional funds, higher titles, etc...., or visit the Pub to save the game. Every place you visit in Europe takes time off your "game clock". For example, you could spend three game months waiting for an audience with the King. Also, each ship you buy adds one month to your outfitting time.

Once you board your ship, you have entered the Expedition Sequence. The expedition, marked on the screen by a compass with a red arrow, may travel on land or on water. While in this sequence, the screen always shows the number of men remaining in the expedition, weeks of food, and the amount of goods and gold. You can, at any time, stop your expedition to check your maps. The game has two map sizes. The playfield in which you are currently traveling is reduced on the expedition map to show a much larger area (the game map you see in Europe is reduced several times again, allowing you to view the whole Western Hemisphere).

The last sequence appears when you enter a village. In the Village Sequence, the playfield seems to "blow-up" and suddenly you (again, as a full-sized animated character) are on the edge of a village with the natives (also full-sized characters) all around you. This also happens if you are ambushed by natives. In the Village Sequence, your single animated character represents you and all of your men, no matter how many your expedition contains.

Since this is a "real-time" simulation game, you will notice that time passes while you are exploring, food is being eaten, and your men mysteriously die. Time does not, however, pass while you are in a village, looking at maps, or in the transfer menus. If you march your men through swamps or mountains, additional men may die from injuries incurred while fighting.

When you are moving your expedition on land or in a village, you have three speeds from which to choose: Cautious, Moderate, or Reckless. Reckless means, as you might guess, acting without regard for safety or life. If you use this speed when traveling over land, particularly in swamps or mountains, it will increase the loss of your men. Reckless is the speed to use if you are fighting natives, but your men will have to rest frequently if you drive them too hard.

Moderate is the best speed for moving over land. You can move your men at this pace for long periods without wearing them down. Moderate in villages means "ready for action". Bump into several natives and your men will draw swords! On rivers, moderate speed is the same as reckless, but with no added attrition.

Having gained experience in the historical Americas, I felt ready to tackle the next feature of the game, the Random World Generator. This procedure takes about 15 minutes, but creates land masses with swamps, native villages, mountains, plains, forests, and rivers that have never been seen before. This sophisticated algorithm does not merely drop mountains, rivers, villages, etc. just anywhere on the land, but follows established geological rules of plate-techtonics and consults a cultural dissemination model for its work. You can even make copies of your random world and exchange them with your friends.

When a change is made from one sequence of the game to another, I was never left without a relevant message on the screen. There was never the usual Please Wait!, but pertinent information. All disk interaction was very fast, with the drive actually being noticed very seldom. The transfer menus all have appealing graphics designating the ships, the native villages, the expedition, the caches, the gold mines, the forts, and the missions. This made the menus not only informative at a glance, but enjoyable.

Excellent graphics give this game realism with easily recognized symbols for mountains, trees, swamps, and villages. The vegetation even changes colors as the seasons progress! The villages have different scenes depending upon their size-from the simple tepees of the small hunting tribes to the step-pyramids of the Aztec and Incan civilizations. In the historical world, most of the major rivers are represented, as are the Great Lakes, the Great Plains, the Grand Canyon, and the major mountain ranges. Gold mines (the term denotes any large treasure find) are even accurate in historical location. Topographic data depicting terrain, elevation, vegetation and rivers were particularly pleasing to view in the summary maps which show all of the territory explored. Just let the "demo" run and watch the complete map of the Western Hemisphere written to the screen....truely impressive!

Also, since SCOG is so believable as a historical and geographic simulation, it can be used quite easily as an educational tool. It doesn't teach, but rather allows the player (young or old) to learn while enjoying the game. My son had a great time reenacting the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Surprisingly, the amount of game time it took him to follow their path was very close to the actual historical time.

Seven Cities of Gold has such a varied offering that it is difficult to say just which aspects are best. Its mechanics run smoothly and add to the overall feeling of the game rather than act as the artificial actions found in some games.The color and variety of the graphics convey information in an eye pleasing manner. The total effect is the creation of a game which will continue to be enjoyed by the entire family for a very long time.


Seven Cities of Gold Designer's Notes
Designer's Notes by Dan Bunten
Computer Gaming World Volume 4 Number 5 (October 1984)

Insights From the Strategy Game Design Front

Dan Bunten
of Ozark Softscape

It's great to be appreciated by the people you respect. I have always felt that the readers of Computer Gaming World were especially attuned to quality in their games selection. Well, last issue you gave me and the rest of Ozark Softscape a real thrill by voting our games "M.U.L.E." and "Seven Cities of Gold" numbers one and two in the Reader Input Device (RID). The approval of our efforts by the best garners in the field means more to us than any number of rave reviews or awards given by magazine editors. Thanks. (Now, if only we could get to the top of the "best seller lists" as well!)

In the June '84 issue of CGW was a review of Seven Cities that described the play of the game very well. However, that article succeeded in prompting a number of "why did you.... ?" questions that I thought I would answer in this column. In some -ways the design of Seven Cities was more straight-forward than any game we have done recently. Not since"Cartels & Cutthroats" did we have a game idea that required research before we started working the game's play experience. In fact, Seven Cities generally followed the stages I described in my Real World Gaming column (CGW July '82 through March '83 2.4 to 3.4) the process of simulation game design in great detail. Rather than simply duplicate the approach covered in those issues, I would like to describe Seven Cities in terms of the development of the main ideas instead of the design phases.

To begin the preparation for Seven Cities by brother Bill and I read almost a dozen books and researched many more. Besides the chronicles of the New World explorers, we investigated many diverse fields that made up the background for the conquistadors. Information about such things as ship design, navigation, native American cultures and even geology was collected to "fill out" our picture of the Age of Exploration. For us this part of game design is the most fun. Bill and I are both avid readers and love learning new things. Research, therefore, is just a great excuse for spending weeks at a time reading interesting stuff. (I know most people wouldn't think reading history was a lot of fun but our mom toilet trained us early!)

The most striking aspect of the New World the explorers found was its size. An area many times the size of Europe was suddenly available for exploitation. Over 16 million square miles of land was sparsely settled by primitive natives. Our design had to first address the aspect of scale. We wanted to represent the New World with sufficient detail to give players a sense of awe at its enormity. In addition the terrain varied widely. We wanted to offer plains, mountains, 20 forests, swamps, rivers, lakes and a variety of ocean depths. We also thought it would be great to have special features like lush prairies, dark jungles, grand canyons, towering redwoods, and "lost cities". We determined that six different levels of native cultures were also needed (from small tribes of poor hunter/gathers to the cities of the Incas.)

Thus, once we decided to represent the area of the New World in a fair amount of detail, we knew we had found the crucial design constraints: l) store enough data to represent the world, 2) get the data back as needed without disrupting the flow of the game. We had to discover how to compress the data to fit on the smallest disk (Atari with 90K) and how to read the data without irritating pauses for loading. Through a combination of techniques we were able to store 102,400 map points with 25 types of terrain at each point. To allow continuous play while merging new map data from the disk, we modified the disk handlers on the Atari and C-64 to do simultaneous processing. (The Apple was fast enough not to need this feature). Thus, our first decision painted us into a corner. Our only way out was to use technologies we didn't have until we were forced to invent them. (I have talked to a number of other game designers and this is a common method for pushing the state of the art). You decide you are going to do something special then figure out how!)

To give a sense of what the explorers faced when they headed west into the unknown, we wanted to create worlds that had never been seen before. Jim Rushing wrote a random world generator that created continental masses that varied from island chains to large double continents with a connecting isthmus. The generator created mountains, river valleys and other terrain features according to geologic rules and then populated the land using a cultural dissemination model. Thus, with our "World Maker" you can't recognize major land features and head straight for the Aztecs in Mexico or the Incas in Peru. You have to search for the high cultures of the New World! In addition we made it possible that the Incas could be as advanced as the Japanese of that same era. If the land masses of the New World could be different than was historically the case, so could the technology level of its inhabitants. So, not only do you not know where the high civilizations are but you don't even know who they are!

The specification of the world was our first design decision but equally important was the element of native interaction. Historically, in their encounters with natives, the Spanish would use numerous tricks to amaze and intimidate the "savages". If food and gold was not provided willingly, the conquistadors would usually resort to violence. The combination of armor, steel weapons, horses, cannons and intricate tactics were enough to demoralize native defenders armed with wood and stone. Cortez with a couple of hundred men was able to run armies of several thousand from the battlefield. The conquest of both the Aztecs and the Incas was preceded by kidnapping the king and later killing him. But all encounters with the natives weren't violent. Occasionally, missionaries accompanying the expedition would convince the conquistador to use more humane methods. Gold was not nearly as valuable to native Americans as steel knives, woven cloth and even trinkets in some cases. Trading was always a possibility and with fair treatment the natives would often "convert" to Christianity and European ways. However, even the best intentions were often useless in the face of the language barrier. Many encounters between natives and Spaniards became violent because of miscues. Beyond language difficulties there were also cultural and moral differences. When Montezuma proudly showed Cortez the altars used in human sacrifice, Cortez was unable to contain his revulsion. On the other hand the natives (who bathed frequently) could not stand the smell of the Europeans.

We searched for a reasonably simple game mechanic that would provide at least the major historical options listed above. We stumbled on to it after seeing an arcade game a friend was working on. To simulate "body language" we used the pace of movement. The three paces used when moving on the map would relate to postures when dealing with natives."Cautious" would mean peaceful,"moderate" would imply a neutral stance and "reckless" would be overtly hostile. We decided to use a single conquistador character to represent the whole expedition with up to nine natives moving around him. Any time the conquistador is standing still the player can call for his options by pressing the joystick button. In this way we could provide the choices we wanted to have, namely: "offer a gift","amaze the natives" and ask to "trade". Each of these options would have different effects depending on the posture (pace) chosen, the location in the village and the type of natives you are confronting. For instance,"amaze the natives" will pacify a hostile tribe if you are not threatening them with your sword; but if you are, then mass destruction will result. Combinations of actions are also significant. If you approach the village chief peacefully and "amaze the natives" followed by "offer a gift" several times, the chief will be very grateful. In general we felt that the arcade aspect of the native interactions was the perfect way to add excitement to the game while still providing the variety of options and the subtlety we wanted.

The next point of the design dealt with providing enough commodities to give reasonable approximations of the "trade-offs" involved in forming and maintaining expeditions. At the same time, however, we wanted to keep the game very simple and playable. We settled on men, food, trade goods, gold and ships as the only"things" the player needed to worry with. Nonetheless, attempting to keep track of these five items provided enough pressure on the player. You can get a taste of the fear the explorers felt as their food was exhausted and the expedition died off. Or you can experience the frustration of returning from a profitable land excursion to find that your ships have fled because you were gone too long and didn't leave any men and food aboard.

The final design step was to turn Alan Watson, our artist/programmer, loose to come up with all the beautiful graphics he could squeeze into a nearly full program. His European landscape and the "postage stamp" pictures on the transfer menus were true masterpieces considering what memory he had to work with.

Again let me say thanks to those of you who have bought Seven Cities and promoted it so well. We are currently designing our next product and hope it will be as well received. Please contact me through CGW or Electronic Arts if you have any comments about game design or this column. I can always use more help!

Dan Bunten is the author of COMPUTER QUARTERBACK, CARTELS & CUTTHROATS, and CYTRON MASTERS all available from Strategic Simulations. He is the lead designer of the Ozark Softscape group that wrote M.U.L.E. and SEVEN CITIES OF GOLD both available from Electronic Arts.


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