Video Game: Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom

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 more often than not are unfriendly. 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 As time progresses through the campaign, technologies (and resources) become outdated and are replaced with different technology, such as iron smelting replacing bronze smelting, bronze and iron each being used by different industries.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 inevitably, 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. They also lack basic common sense when delivering resources to places that need them, resulting in instances like, say, one tax office gets 4 loads of paper while another sits empty, or a bronzeware maker having 4 loads of clay with no bronze while another bronzeware maker next to it has 4 loads of bronze and no clay.
  • 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. Carved Jade is still practical, but it isn't as profitable as it first appears.
  • 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. They kill the prey game your hunters are tracking, they actively seek out and attack walkers that get too close to them, and in pursuing them will tend to be drawn to the city limits when they'll go on a rampage.
  • Blade on a Stick: Most combat walkers, including heroes, utilize assorted varieties of spears and polearms. Doubles as Shown Their Work; the ji and the dagger axe were common weapons in ancient Chinese armies.
  • 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.
    • For the heroes, Xi Wang Mu and Su Wu Kong. Xi Wang Mu reduces monument construction time by variably increasing the amount of workers that can be at the monument at a time, allowing them to do more work before they leave, and/or causing them to work quicker. When monuments take years to complete, the speed boost is appreciated. So Wu Kong meanwhile makes emissaries to other cities free and they travel faster, invaluable if you need to speed up communications for whatever reason.,
  • 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 where they aren't even on the map, until the last few missions where they reappear, now named... Mongolian Empire? Oh Crap!.
  • Competitive Balance: Each type of troop you have access to has different stats.
    • Infantry are Mighty Glacier combined with Close Range Combatant and Zerg Rush: they have the best armor and decent hit points, a good melee attack, and train in groups of sixteen to provide numerical superiority.
    • Crossbowmen are Long-Range Fighter: They attack from range with powerful missile attacks, but have the lowest HP and are terrible in melee combat.
    • Calvary are Jack-of-All-Stats Master of All: They move fast, have strong attacks, and decent HP and armor, which makes them all-around the most versatile troops.
    • Chariots are Lightning Bruiser combined with Elite Army: They have strong attacks, the highest HP, their armor is almost as good as infantry, and they move almost as fast as calvary. However, you can only have four to a fort, making it difficult to get large numbers of them.
    • Catapults are Glass Cannon: Their missile attack is the most powerful attack in the game, strong enough to kill most enemies in one shot, and they have very long range too. But they have low HP and armor, no melee attack, and move very slowly, making them easy to kill.
    • Sentries are Stone Wall: They have the highest armor of all, but weak attacks and slow movement speed. However, they're more intended to defend the city from outlaws than fight invading armies, so they don't need to be offensive powerhouses.
    • As an overall, the game tends to nudge you to either a Zerg Rush or Elite Army composition. At the max 12 forts full of units, it's very unlikely you'll see any of them gain experience unless you use them for multiple sieges. With one or two forts of infantry, they tend to gain experience much faster.
  • 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 luck 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: Played with back and forth.
    • Soldiers instantly respond to orders, and will depart to conquer a city instantly regardless of their actual location relative to the city limits. However, they still have to actually walk to the city exit before the army icon on the map will begin to move, and you can watch that icon move across the map over the next few months as they head to the enemy city.
    • Messengers have this or not depending on the type of message. If you're demanding something of a rival, the rival will instantly be notified as seen by their city 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.
    • Cities that send demands to you will not acknowledge you sent them what they asked for until a month or two after the fact, but they acknowledge you responded on time even if they only gave you a month to do so initially.
  • 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.
  • 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 nothing to do with Confucius or his teachings; in fact, The Art of War advocates the usage of spies and espionage in warfare, as well as the use of deception and trickery in general, which traditional Confucians disagreed with since they found such tactics dishonest.
  • 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.
    • Hand in hand with the below instances of Protagonist-Centered Morality, your allied cities really shouldn't be addressing your character as rudely as they do, when in many of the campaigns you're a city administrator personally serving the Emperor. For that matter, why is the capital city of the empire so angry that you asked for military aid; isn't the whole point of the current mission to establish a forward camp near enemy territory to deploy troops from?
    • In the last two missions, the Mongolian Empire is treated like any other rival city. This means a few gifts of silk and tea can get them to like you and they'll become your ally.
  • 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 the game includes winks and nudges about it's more famous uses, including the hemp farm ambient noises including coughing, and the farmers at the hemp farm can be seen smoking. The merchants from the market squares also provide these quotes:
    "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!"
  • 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 city is hopelessly in dept, outlaws roam the streets killing indiscriminately, people are leaving the city, and in two months the Xiongnu arrive to attack and you don't have an army. Oh good, the year production tallies are in and you met your quota, 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.
  • Kick the Dog: Whenever a foreign city sends an emissary to your city, you have the option to allow them in, turn them away, or execute them. This has no practical purpose but to piss off your rivals, but you can do it.
  • Might Makes Right: A large army and an invasion will swiftly bring enemy cities under your control. If they rebel, you can earn favor with the city and wait (possibly years) for them to return to the fold peacefully, or you can send your army down to get them back in line the hard way. It's also possible, though rare, for a neutral rival to willingly become your vassal if they have a high opinion of you and you command a superior military arm.
  • Narrator: The mission briefings and summarizations have one, which changes between campaigns.
  • Numerical Hard: Higher difficulty levels don't actually change the mission objectives at all, and basic gameplay remains identical. All that difficulty affects is how many workers are employed for each level of wages (on higher difficulties, Normal wages employ fewer people), and building costs (more expensive on higher difficulties). The result, the difference between Normal and Very Hard is that you run out of money faster and have a smaller workforce to put to task.
  • Panthera Awesome: Tigers rival bears as the worst animal type to encounter; they move fast, kill game animals your hunters are tracking, seek out and kill walkers that come near them, and tend to wander near the city limits while pursuing them.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: It usually isn't too difficult to spot spies in your city. Hint — it's the random herbalist/water carrier/taoist priest wandering through your industrial sector, or walking halfway across the map to reach your trading posts. Subverted if they disguise themselves as inspectors, which are omnipresent in cities and thus rarely look out of place.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: Inverted on you when it comes to dealing with enemy cities; no matter what the issue is, when something goes sour, you are always the one at fault.
    • AI cities will often laugh in your face if you demand something of them, even if it's something they produce in surplus and you have previously sent them dozens of units of goods they need. Conversely, when the AI demands something of you, they will be outraged if you don't comply, even if there's no reasonable way for you to get what they want in time. For instance, they'll demand crops that are out of season, or commodities you simply can't produce, and expect you to pay up with as little as two months of notice.
    • 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 send your army, but they're too weak of be of use, so your ally is still annoyed with you. Of course, if you're getting attacked and request military aid from an ally many months in advance (perhaps because you don't have an army of your own, which is possible on numerous maps), they're liable to take their sweet time responding, will just refuse, or will send you one infantry unit.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: The trade caravans.
  • 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.
  • Shaggy Dog Story: Naturally, given the game somewhat keeps to historical events. It doesn't matter how big and grand you build Chang-an and how big the army defending it is, it is going to be sacked, and of course the Great Wall won't keep out the Mongols, sorry for the real-life hours you spent building it last mission. And every campaign ends with the current dynasty falling apart no matter how good a job of running it you were doing.
  • 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 and often refer to real historical cities and figures with accuracy.
    • All of the Heroes are important figures in the real life equivalent religions, if not deities then saints or monks. The exception is Sun Tzu having nothing to do with Confucianism, though there's some Gameplay and Story Integration there as described above under that trope's entry.
    • 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 Cruelty Potential: Pandas appear on numerous maps. They can fight, but only do so to defend themselves, otherwise they're docile and will plop down in the middle of your crops to munch some bamboo as your farmers work around them. You can't even hunt them for game meat like other animals. But you still have full ability to hunt them down and kill them.
  • 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.
  • What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway?: Guan Yin, the Mother of Mercy; the name should be a hint. All of her abilities and benefits are in the name of city beautification and health, such as reducing the construction cost of gardens and parks, acting as a water carrier, improving city health, and lowering the cost to bribe enemy armies. And only the latter is of any real use, and if you're in a mission where you're at risk of being invaded then you should be building your own army to defend the city anyway.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Any time you get tired of a rival city, even if they've been very pleasant to you and a loyal trade partner for years, you can conquer them. You have an alliance with them? Break it off and launch an invasion a moment after.

Alternative Title(s):

Emperor Rise Of The Middle Kingdom