Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom (2002), also known as simply Emperor, is the sixth game of the City Building Series published by Sierra, this time set in Ancient China and developed by Breakaway Games. Contrary to a lot of other city builders, this one has a heavy focus on infrastructure — very rarely is your goal just to build up a large population, you have to maintain it by keeping your people supplied with food, resources and luxury. Indeed, the industrial sector is the more complex part of the game, keeping up with the supply and demand needed to produce the items you need to build up your city, expand it, and making exports.You also have to deal with your neighboring cities and kingdoms, who are more often than not friendly. You can trade with them, send them gifts, maybe get some in return if they like you, and eventually form an alliance — or you can rally an army and march on their city to conquer them and make them your vassal. Either way, it's gonna take a lot of work.The single-player campaign spans millennia of Chinese history as the player acts as various historical figures, some addressed by name, others are just a flunky to The Emperor of the time building his city for him. As time progresses through the campaign, technologies (and resources) become outdated and are replaced with different technology, such as iron smelting replacing bronze smelting, bronze and iron each being used by different industries. Objectives often demand the player produce a set amount of a commodity within a year, get a certain population level, or conquer neighboring cities. You also get to build famous monuments, from stock temple complexes and palaces to Su Song's clock tower, the Grand Canal, and inevitable, the Great Wall of China.
This game presents examples of the following tropes:
Alternate History: Inconsistencies of the dates aside, as far as the game is concerned the Jin Dynasty thwarted the Mongol invasion and defeated Genghis Khan.
Always Chaotic Evil: Those northern barbarian tribes at the Nomad Camps (later the Xiongnu Empire and eventually the Mongolian Empire) are always against you. The game even addresses them as Goddamn Bats, a nuisance for northern settlements that will pester many dynasties throughout the centuries. In many missions where everyone else is an ally or vassal, they'll likely be the lone city against you.
Artificial Stupidity: The walkers that carry and fetch goods are completely incompetent. They're liable to go across the map to gather a resource they can get from a warehouse just two tiles away from their spawn building, and will sit outside a full warehouse and complain it has no room when there's an empty warehouse right next to it.
Awesome, but Impractical: Carved Jade fetches the highest price of any commodity at 230 strings for 100 units, but Jade always has to be imported, and at 90 strings a unit that cuts the profits of Carved Jade to a more modest 140 strings. Not to mention you need someone to supply you Jade and someone to sell the carvings to.
Boring Yet Practical: That said, the entirety of the Zhou campaign has you with two trade partners in every city, Anyang and Qufu. One sells Jade, the other buys Carved Jade, so for the whole campaign you're given a simple way to make a decent amount of cash with little investment in space or workers.
Guan Yu is arguably the most useful hero of them all, able to bless forts to instantly fill their supply of Wood and Weapons to full, and blessing warehouses and mills full of Bean Curd. Build a dozen warehouses, get Guan Yu to visit, and send him down the path blessing them one by one to get hundreds of units of free food. The fort blessing is not to be overlooked either, since so many maps require you to import weapons or steel to forge weapons and either resource is very expensive.
Sun Tzu instantly captures any spy he meets, and even if you don't know they're around you will be spied on a lot in later missions. Get him into the city and just have him patrol the roads between the residential and industrial districts, and watch the capture notices pour in.
Xi Wang Mu. Jade costs 90 strings of cash to import? Xi Wang Mu can bless a jade carver's studio and fill it with jade. Repeat what you did for Guan Yu with a line of studios and you're literally creating money from thin air.
Silk. In almost every mission at least one other city needs it, oftentimes more than one, so get those farms planted and start weaving, because silk trade is highly profitable and gifts of it are great ways to butter up an enemy. The Han campaign pretty much centers on this, the Silk Road to trade it to the far east is established and colonies made to facilitate easier trade along it, and the first briefing states plainly that bribing the Xiongnu with silks will help you to stay on their good side.
Bag of Spilling: Unlike earlier games in the series and continuing the trend introduced by Zeus, any city you've already built will remain exactly as you left it if you wind up coming back to it during the campaign.
Bears Are Bad News: Gobi Bears rank up with Tigers as one of the worst wildlife types, actively seeking out walkers they see and chasing them to kill them, inevitably being drawn to the city limits in doing so.
Boring Yet Practical: A pair of salt mines can produce enough salt to keep the entire city supplied, and seasonings of salt count as an additional food supply for purposes of food quality.
Chekhov's Gunman: Those Nomad Camps in the north? Just another city, in fact they quickly become hard to negotiate with, not that there's much to make trade worth it. They're eventually a minor nuisance, best to forget about them and just build up an army in case they attack. Fast forward to the last campaign — Mongolian Empire? Oh Crap.
The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: When a rival attacks your city, they spawn at a set point and begin a rampage until you fend them off. Reloading and building walls near where they came in before will just have them spawn somewhere else. Occasionally you can also get attacked without the customary advance warning.
The Computer Shall Taunt You: Unless you're their best friend, AI city rulers will always sneer down at you, demanding things of you with the warning they're so mighty they could just march into the city and take them by force, so you might as well save yourself the trouble and just submit to them — at which point they'll snicker you caved "like an obedient dog". And if you don't send it off by the deadline, they'll say that a "yak-brained fool" like you is lucky they're patient enough to wait a bit longer, but don't press your lucky further.
Curb-Stomp Battle: You're allowed up to 12 forts on most maps. Each fort holds, depending on the type of troop, 16, 8 or 4 soldiers. On most maps, six forts would be more than enough to steamroll any enemy city you attack.
Critical Existence Failure: Buildings will operate at peak capacity regardless of their state of repair, then collapse into rubble or burst into flames instantly.
Donut Mess with a Cop: The flavor text for the watchtower mentions your patrolling watchmen fortifying themselves with hot tea and sweet pastries before going on patrol.
Easy Communication: Soldiers instantly respond to orders, and will depart to conquer a city instantly regardless of their actual location relative to the city limits. Played with for messengers — they take a couple seconds to spawn and have to walk to the city entrance before they head off, but from there it depends on what message they carry. If you're demanding something of a rival, the rival will instantly be notified as seen by their history, but if you're giving them a gift or sending a trade request, you can watch the messenger move towards the city on the world map. Send one of either message at the same time and usually, despite this variance, the city will respond to both at the same time, when the gift messenger arrives. As well, cities that send demands to you will not acknowledge you sent them what they asked for until a month or two after the fact.
Enemy Mine: There are several ways to get on good terms with rivals, including sending them gifts and meeting their demands on time. You can also do it by attacking other rivals, and if you attack enough cities, you're liable to get the cities you aren't attacking to a point where they'll happily become your ally.
Fake Difficulty: Some maps are difficult purely by not letting you build a particular type of building, like clay pits and kilns, or smelters, or hemp farms. This in turn forces you to import the resource year-round, or keep your housing evolution at the bare minimum. When you're sent off to the desert and can't building logging sheds to give your tax collectors what they need to do their jobs, you have to import Wood or watch your coffers wither, and then you need something to export because Wood isn't exactly cheap. This is sometimes given a Hand Wave that the environment is unsuitable to that type of commodity, sometimes not. And if your mission objective is to get a menagerie of animals, you might need five or even eight types, and there's only two in your city map. Guess where the others have to come from — time to suck up to the neighbors, better hope they don't send you a species you already have.
Unless your objectives state you need so much of the population living in a certain level of housing evolution, or you're in a huge city needing a military and elite housing sector, it's best not to let your people move above Spacious Dwellings. Why? Unemployment rises surprisingly high, exponentially so since a comparatively small industry and agricultural workforce can sustain quite a large city. How do you get rid of unemployment? Well, you could destroy blocks of housing regularly and hit Undo make masses of people move out, though of course that's a short-term solution. For the long term, you can lower wages (which will create unrest), build city walls (which do not employ many people), or expand your industry and agricultural segments. This in turn will cause you to quickly run out of warehouse room as you produce far more than you consume, and if you don't have trading partners to sell your surplus goods to they'll just keep piling higher and higher.
Fortunately, large-scale sacrifices every month allow you to at least curb your excess materials, as well as earn favor from the heroes.
Gameplay and Story Integration: Paper/Iron Smelting/Lacuqerware/etc has been discovered! Time to integrate it into your city because the old stuff just won't do anymore.
Wondering why Sun Tzu is the only Confucian hero during the Qin campaign? Because in real life the Qin outlawed the study of Confucianism, burning his books and killing their scholars. Sun Tzu only got to stick around because for purposes of gameplay your noble housing needs access to Confucian worship, and he's only treated as a Confucian hero for gameplay purposes, in real life Sun Tzu had pretty much nothing to do with Confucius or his teachings.
Gameplay and Story Segregation: No mineral deposits for smelters means no raw materials for weapon crafting, but your hunters and sentries, guardsmen and woodsmen seem to find metal for their bows, crossbows, spears and axes just fine. And even if you don't have stone quarries a lot of your buildings, including city walls, obviously use carved stone. Falls under Acceptable Breaks from Reality — if you actually needed Stone to build every building that looked like it was built of stone, the game would be nigh unplayable.
Generation Xerox: Some mission briefings mention your character for the mission is the descendant of your character in the previous mission several decades or centuries ago, and you're being called upon now to see if you have the same gift for city planning as your ancestor did.
Getting Crap Past the Radar: Hemp cloth is one of the core resources of any city, which is historically accurate, the Chinese along with a lot of other civilizations used hemp for clothing. But what do the market sellers say of it?
"Those folks are the hemp farm are a bit odd. But if they keep me well-supplied, how can I complain?" (during a seige) "I better hide before my business goes up in smoke!"
And what's more, the ambient noises for the farms include people coughing, and the farms themselves show a farmer smoking something, you can't tell what but you can guess.
Hollywood Spelling: Some city and people names are spelled phonetically instead of how they ought to be spelled. Somewhat justifiable since they're all in Ancient Chinese, and a lot of such names probably can be translated into direct English in different ways.
Instant-Win Condition: The Xiongnu are attacking, the walls are broken and your troops lie dead, the city has fallen! Oh, it's the new year and your production tallies are in, mission complete! Averted if you actually get conquered — you cannot win any mission if you're another city's vassal, even if you meet the requirements.
Interface Spoiler: The menu shows coverage sections for entertainment and religion facilities long before you get access to them, and clicking on a house will tell you what they need to evolve, which may be a resource or building you don't have yet.
My Rules Are Not Your Rules: The AI cities do not function under normal human ideas of ethics or fair trade. You can send them warehouses full of resources they need, but dare to demand something they produce in surplus and prepare to be laughed at. They in turn will demand things of you with often only a few months warning, and will be outraged when you don't give it to them, even if there is no reasonable way to get it in time (they'll demand resources you flat can't produce, or crops that aren't in season, for example).
Any demands for troops will likely come with a month or two of advance notice, but even if you send your forces immediately they may not arrive in time, and how dare your soldiers be late when they were so sorely needed! Sometimes you can also refuse to send forces, perhaps because you don't have any to send, and your ally will succeed in whatever they needed the troops for without them, no thanks to you of course. In summary, whenever it comes to interacting with rival cities, no matter what the issue is, it is always your fault.
Narrator: The mission briefings and summarizations have one, which changes between campaigns.
Settling the Frontier: Some mission briefings even state explicitly the city you're building is a colony to explore the countryside outside the current imperial border.
Shown Their Work: It's obvious that as much as a historian will facepalm at the game's events, the developers did at least some research. For example, the Qin Dynasty ruler is referred to as Shi Huangdi, not Qin Shi Huang — it was only after the Qin Dynasty that the name was shortened and prefixed "Qin", when other rulers named Shi Huangdi sprang up. And there's also the above mentioned fact of Sun Tzu being the only Confucian hero because the actual teachings of Confucius were outlawed under the Qin.
The first few times you're assigned to build the Great Wall of China, you instead build it up as a wooden frame surrounding a rammed earth wall, which the wooden frame removed eventually. However, many sections of the original Great Wall were built out of rammed earth and wood, some sections used stone but others did not. Later dynasties would rebuild sections of the wall into the stone version we're familiar with, and the game does mention that you are building on the site of the old dirt walls that have fallen into dunes over time.
Notably, the game depicts Zhengzhou as one of the capitals of the Shang Dynasty two years before actual Chinese archaeologists declared it to have been so.
Technology Marches On: In their due time, paper will replace wood as writing material, iron will replace bronze and then be replaced by steel, lacquerware will replace bronzeware, and horsemen will replace chariots.
Token Good Teammate: In a sense, you're this to the Qin Dynasty. The briefing for the first Han Dynasty mission mentions you are the same character as in the Qin campaign, and while the Qin were corrupt and oppressive, your performance as a city administrator was honorable and efficient, which is why the new rulers have kept you around.
Too Dumb to Live: AI cities never learn that if you've got a standing army as large as the game allows, maybe they shouldn't make unreasonable demands of you, or refuse and insult you when you demand something of them. They will do the latter even if your army just returned from conquering them and making them your vassal. As mentioned above, your rivals will demand resources of you with the warning if you don't comply they'll just march into your city and take them by force. It's almost always a hollow threat, but you the player are full rights to actually do it.
Video Game Time: The developers tried to line up new technology and the rise and fall of cities with the historical dates...but play a mission long enough and you'll be building, say, the Terracotta Army of Qin, a decade after their dynasty fell in real life.
War for Fun and Profit: Attacking enemy cities is actually economically helpful — it'll get you a new trading partner, the initial attack will yield spoils of a variable type of commodity, often a lot of it too, and you now have yearly tributes of whatever commodity you want.