Emperor – Rise of the Middle Kingdom

Publisher:-  Sierra Entertainment
Developer:- BreakAway Games
Genre:- City-Building (Historic)
Release date:- September 2002
Windows Compatibility:- Win XP, Win ME, Win 2000, Win 98
Minimum Specs:- P2 400Mhz, 64MB RAM, 4MB VRAM, HD space 800+ MB
Recommended:- P3 above, 128MB (you never know when you might need it), 16MB VRAM (it’s not really needed, but most machines are far ahead of this requirement), 1 GB HD space (for save games, custom campaign maps etc).
Current availability:- Common.
Patched version latest:-  version 1.01. Minor fixes and tweaks, including anti-cheating score to discourage cheat codes victory. You can’t do much worse without it.
City-building games has never really got me an iota of interest before Caesar III  (in 1998) published by Sierra Entertainment as well. So, yes, when fellow avid gamers recommended the infamous Sim line of games e.g. SimTower, SimCity, SimLife etc, like a good sport, I’ll try it out but the type of games which can give me high blood pressure (at that time) after just 20 minutes is not bound to find favor in my repertoire. Maybe it coincided with the high action Doom II and its add-ons,or maybe C&C line of games by Westwood Studios which had more gaming impact but less grey matter engagement.
Whatever the cause, SimCity was a no-go. The tagline of ‘easy to learn,difficult to master’ is a phony tag. The only conceivable reason it can be difficult to master such games is likely to be a programmer’s code to bump up the difficulty level in-game to make life hell for the gamer without the gamer’s knowledge. Random events will happen in-game just to create that little bit of difficulty curve.
But when Caesar III broke into the gaming market in 1998, the city-building genre suddenly became a whole lot more fascinating. Ancient civilizations form the core of this gaming line and out of the blue, the Ancient Egypt became another title for city-building (in 2000). Then the ancient Greece was the focal point. And shortly after, the folks at Sierra granted BreakAway games a crack at the glorious Chinese civilization.
There’s the old adage: ‘If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it’. To that end, the developers of the golden chain of city-building titles published by Sierra have conformed their efforts to their award-winning strategy which have till today, yielded accolades and new fans are born by the minute. You can pick up any random title of the 4 ancient civilizations and play it straight off like a pro governer,sans the messy tutorials and stuff. The interface did not change and the neat, tidy structure of which it was built upon has been one of its endearing features. Of course there are minor changes from game to game, but building houses and providing basic amenties will not give headaches.
According to the developer notes, Emperor: ROTMK has been graphically upgraded. Every building and walker (your people) in the game has been imbued with even the minute of details to present a vivid atmosphere not present in previous titles. While this claim does not hold false, it’s the gameplay that matters most and Emperor does not disappoint.
Basic Gameplay:- You’re a governer of one of the ancient dynasties in China. Start off with the Xia dynasty, then the Shang, the Zhou, the Qin, the Han, then bypassing the Jin Dynasty and the turbulent 3 kingdoms, ffwd to the Sui dynasty, the Tang, then the Song and later Jin dynasty (the latter is the forerunner of the last China dynasty, the Qing). Best of all, like all series before this, you may jump to any dynasty you wish without completing an earlier one but I usually start from the first dynasty and proceed through the various epochs.
While one dynasty does not graphically improve as time passes by, the technology associated with the timeline matters. When army-building and economy are concerned, there are minor adjustments needed as one progresses from an earlier dynasty to another.
Build houses for people to settle in, then get a food supply chain going. Before that, make sure the houses are supplied with water and are regularly patrolled by engineers (to prevent buildings from catching fire or collapsing into a heap of rubble). It’s the same circle of love and city-building has never been any different.
My favourite housing layout is this – start by placing the market square first, then build a road around it – aim for no more than two sets of three houses on either side of the market square (meaning that either side of the market has six houses in two-tiers of equal layout). To raise the aesthetic level, you may want to upgrade the roads with decorations first, before it becomes difficult later on to fix this. Then, you could fill up the outer layers of the upgraded roads with temples, some more houses, medicine shops and so on. It would evolve to become a fully-developed working neighbourhood in short time. You could refer to the pictures below to get a brief idea on the layout. It has worked for me, after so many different experiments.
Agriculture:- The biggest change from the previous titles ought to be the agricultural aspect of the game. Farm houses may now have a maximum number of 3 crop fields instead of having to build a new farmhouse for every crop you wish to nurture for food. This is in line to the fact that crops are seasonal and to ensure that the precious workforce don’t go to waste. Irrigation channels can be dug to make sure that crops grow well in arid areas.
As your proud yet tiny settlement swells, people clamour for more vanities. They need hemp to make clothes and pay ancestral homage. So you build a hemp farm and a temple to provide for this need. Then they need ceramic goods. Later, they’ll want access to other facilities like a herbalist, music, acupuncturists and so on. Then in the Sui dynasty, the public will want tea and some religious influence from Taoism and Buddhism. Provide the people with as much as is able. This means less need to build up new ‘townships’ to feed the workforce, as well as to conserve land for later use. Land is very scarce in Emperor:ROTMK and proper city-planning is required.
Walkers (so-called because of their symbolic coverage by walking around the roads you’ve built) are the lifeblood of your city. The amount of mileage they cover will determine whether your services are adequate or not. Take them as graphical representations of the prosperity of your city as you cannot expect to see the common folk in your city.
Certain scenarios require you to oversee the building of a monument or parts of the Great Wall. Other scenarios also include annexation of another rival city or building up a ‘supply city’ for your dynasty’s capital.
Food Quality:– Another important factor in determining the advancement of the city’s general housing is the food quality associated with the status of the respective housing area.
Emperor:ROTMK has a unique food quality controller needed to bring the level of housing to a higher standard. The most basic of settlements demand less extravagant food. So, only one type is needed.
When the people feel that they have an upsurge in status, they ask for better quality food. So, in your mills (where food is stored), you’ll need a minimum of two different types of food (any kind). Later, you’ll consider importing some food types not readily available to you from associated trading cities. When food quality drops (if the required combination is not available), the houses demanding it will downsize,and the tenant moves out. Quite stupid if you think of it. But such is the game mechanics.
To raise the food quality, I ordinarily set the food stored in a nearby mill (which the market lady usually gets her wares from) to accommodate exactly four (4) types of different foods. So that means setting only ‘8’ quantity for the four foods of your choice. Another point is – salt and spices individually count as ‘two’ kinds of food and is ideal to import or extract for your people, which lessens the possibility of food quality declining.
Taxation:- Collecting tax has been omnipresent since the days of Caesar III. It is meant to bolster your city’s coffers/treasury but by no means exist as a solitary monetary contribution. Tax collection is now made more tricky with lumber being a pre-requisite. So you’ll need a working sawmill, and wood is delivered to the tax office before you can see money coming in.
Trade:- Emperor:ROTMK makes trading with other cities slightly more difficult than before. In Zeus and before, trade is already set up before hand and you need not do a thing to change that fact. In Emperor, most of the time, you’ll need to offer gifts to other cities before you may open trade with them. It does sound easy but what’s worse is that some gifts are not what they needed and their opinion of you may not be swayed in your favour just yet. So, their opinion of your city counts. Their opinion of you may be lowered when e.g. you do not meet their demands on time, or you attacked their city etc. Each time you sent a diplomatic mission to another city, it costs you 100 credits to do so, so don’t wait until you’re in your last 200 or so credits before deciding to take action about your trading activities. Start early.
Religion:- Whether it’s a good addition to this series or not, you decide. Now, with the religion tab, you can click on any ancestral hero and offer goods in your city as sacrificial tribute. Certain gods favour particular goods while others couldn’t care less as long as the sacrifice is made in their name. The sacrifice can be made in the usual 3 different sizes (L,M,S) and the size of the sacrifice will usually determine the god’s favour towards your city.
A sacrifice to a deity of your choice can only be made monthly and if certain gods find your devotion and benevolence so likeable that it’s hard to resist, they make a visit to your city and bestow minor temporary blessings. This include health boosters, crop blessings, and so on. On the other hand, if you neglected the gods so long that they find you a pain in the ass, they may create disasters like flood,or the usual earthquake. If you decide that it’s tolerable, then you can ignore this tab.
Palace:- Your palace has a menagerie (mini zoo) for wild, exotic animals native to China. Collect as many as you can for a boost in your final score. Animals can be traded or demanded. Nu Wa, the ancestral hero can capture animals of the current map for you.
Feng Shui:- I know. Talk about overdoing it. Actually, I don’t consider this additional feature that important since it does not affect gameplay that much. Anyway. Now, when you build any structure, the placing base is now covered in green (auspicious spot!) or yellow (not so auspicious!), depending on the terrain it was built on. I build as I see fit and ignored this placement most of the time and came to no harm. So, I considered this feature laughable. To be sure, kitschy.
Residential Wall:– A neat feature. Keeps noise pollution and social eyesores away from housing areas, so as to preserve the aesthetic beauty. Sometimes used as a roadblock for certain walkers – just right-click to set the parameters for those you would allow to pass.
Monument building:-  Not a great deal of difference from the previous titles. Build early,as the construction times can take many gameplay hours. And build a warehouse with the required construction materials nearby.You’ll need it.
Army and War:- I must say, successful defence of your city is a great reward in itself. Throughout the game, you can expect to get attacked more frequently than making allies, so rearm your city when resources permit. Build up your army with the barracks available. Provide them with enough wood and weapons made from a weaponsmith. I discovered that building a multi-type army is advantageous than just training a single type. You’ll have foot infantry, cavalry, siege weapon,crossbow and chariot troops at your disposal at certain dynastic periods. Best of all, you’re the Field Marshal when an enemy strikes your city, so all tactical decisions are entirely your own. So too,if you lead them to defeat.
New Year celebrations:-  When you first create a profile in-game, you’re also prompted to insert your zodiac animal. At first, I thought this feature damn hilarious. Then I saw why. When the zodiac comes full cycle to your animal sign, for that particular year during Chinese New Year, you can get any 1 of 4 blessings available to you, whether it be production bonuses; defensive aid; reduction in building costs;or a generous gift from the gods.
Criticisms:-While many gaming reviews gave it a slightly above average rating, I find little fault with it. The most glaring fault should be the stereotyping of the Chinese characters (walkers). They talk with a funny accent,and while trying to humor, are actually rather embarrassing to listen to especially when some fluffy nonsense are on the cards.
Food-vendor:- ‘If you want dragon-meat, you’ll have to go out and get it yourself!’ Enlighten me on this one. I never knew Chinese people consume dragon meat, much less knowing how to actually catch one if it exists.
Vacated tenant:- ‘Trying to find a place to live is like trying to squash a fly with all 5 fingers.’.
Market-vendor:- ‘I sell, I sell, you buy,you buy.’. Another stereotype. In written form, it sounds ok, but you just gotta listen to it being spoken.
Stability:- This game’s solid. Rarely crashes to the desktop and the patch has also fixed certain major bugs. Sometimes, when accessing the map screen, certain icons could not be clicked,but that can be reworked by saving the game, exiting and then reload the map.
Overall, a worthy successor to the city-building series by Sierra. Continued where Zeus and Poseidon left off and expanded in some areas,but otherwise,it’s the same game you’ve played all these years. It’s not boring, although it can get pretty tough in some missions. A good game.
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2 Responses to Emperor – Rise of the Middle Kingdom

  1. Dakota says:

    wth man?? yellow on white backgrounds? nice article but you hurt my eyes man, real bad.

    • Artur says:

      My bad, bro. I was meaning to change the layout when I migrated from Windows Live Spaces 2 or 3 years back. It should look ok now. Thanks for dropping by, man

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