Resolution, ratio, GoG, and Civ4 in 2024


Mar 26, 2024
Hi all! Totally new to Civilization and not much of a gamer or computer person, so I'm hoping y'all can help me sort out some confusion I'm having.

I downloaded Civ 4 Complete Edition from GoG. Upon launching the game I immediately noticed that the image was stretched, so I changed the resolution on my desktop but that didn't affect the game. Then I found the "graphics" section of the Options menu and began playing with resolutions. I had to look up the standard PC monitor ratio in the mid-2000s (4:3 if I understand correctly), then look at a list of "common resolutions" to find one the game offers. Weirdly, changing the resolution in the game resulted in lots of weird, even more stretchy effects, but the actual aspect ratio of the screen never changed - that is to say, it was always stretched to full screen. I noticed the "full screen" box, unchecked it, restarted, and now I can play Civ 4 at the correct ratio (I think) in a kind of small window, so I have to look at half my desktop on the sides while I'm playing and get distracted by the start menu/task bar etc. This is a "solution" that I find irritating but I'll live with it if I have to.

So much for 'vanilla'. Directly after this I launched Colonization just to see what I was dealing with there, and though it was widescreen I couldn't quite tell if it was stretched or not. I don't imagine the years between the original release and the final expansion saw them change the whole aspect ratio of the game, but most of the screen shots of Colonization I see online appear to be widescreen. Perhaps this is the result of people just being clueless and unobservant, like when you go to someone's house and are shocked to see their TV is totally whacked out and everyone looks squashed or stretched and circles are ovals and you think "how long have you been living like this??" Anyway, I played with various combinations of full screen, windowed, different resolutions of my desktop (which does affect the game when it's windowed), and different resolutions in the game, until I was dizzy and had lost all confidence I even knew what a circle was any more.

*I'd really like to play these games as they were designed, so if anyone has some advice on what the CORRECT resolution is, that'd be great.
*Also: can I display the game on my modern widescreen monitor in a way that 1 is (more or less) full screen, but 2 retains the proper aspect ratio?

As an aside (I know I'm risking muddling things here, sorry), as a brand new player should I be playing Colonization because it's the final, most perfected version of the game, or start with the original then work through the expansions? I don't really know what the structure of the game/expansions is since I haven't played before.

Thanks for your help.
I'd say it's optimized for 1024x768. At those dimensions, the various Advisor screens take up the whole screen. At higher resolutions, they sit in the center with the main screen (main map and HUD) visible along the sides, which is not too distracting, but really in no way helpful. If you want to stretch an image at that resolution as much as your display height allows and then add black bars along the sides, a tool named "Borderless Gaming" can accomplish that as described in this Steam Community thread. Makes the fonts and graphics look pixelated, unacceptably so imo:
Spoiler :



Setting the desktop and game resolution to 1024x768, as also suggested in that thread, might have a similar effect. I'm afraid of messing up my desktop icons if I try it. Well, you've probably already tried that; not going to look nicer than the above. Edit (a month later): Actually, it seems that just switching to 1024x768 via the the options menu under "Advanced" on the opening menu while in fullscreen mode does the job too, i.e. results in black bars on the side and magnification; maybe even with clearer fonts. Probably no need for Borderless Gaming then. Well, it doesn't hurt to have mentioned that tool - and the INI settings.

I use a 1920x1200 display – rather tall (8:5 vs. Civ4's 8:6) and small by today's standards, having had old games in mind a bit when I bought it. Here's how I normally play, in a maximized window:
Spoiler :

bts 1920x1120-windowed.jpg

Could also run it in fullscreen, which doesn't look much different, but I like doing other things while playing. A maximized window is normally slightly distorted because the available resolutions don't account for the window decorations and task bar. I avoid that by setting custom dimensions in My Games\Beyond the Sword\CivilizationIV.ini (ScreenWidth = 1920 and ScreenHeight = 1120). So, on the main screen, all the extra space is used for the main map, which shows more tiles than it would at a smaller resolution. The Advisor screens look the same as at 1024x768, i.e. don't use the extra space at all. I don't see the aspect ratio as a major problem – the default dimensions of the game's world map are 21:13, which is close to 8:5, so, for the main map, such a slightly wider ratio should actually be suitable. Higher resolutions overall do cause problems, and what you write about people's televisions ... I do get that feeling sometimes when people with 4k displays post screenshots. Font sizes don't scale up at all. The resource bubbles/balloons become larger than the tiles that they point to. The whole HUD, especially the mini map, starts looking needlessly small compared with the main map, same for the Advisor screens. The camera angle can also get awkward as zooming in farther automatically results in a flatter angle. On the plus side, seeing more tiles at once on the main map is nice; when playing on my old 1024x768 notebook, the small main map bothers me.

The widely-used user interface mods (BUG and its cousins) don't fully address those problems, presumably because displays were still far smaller than today when those mods were written (their development largely stopped in 2010). BUG does enlarge two Advisor screens – the Domestic Advisor and the Tech Advisor –, increases the dimensions of some icons and adds a field-of-view slider that allows zooming at a fixed camera angle. My own fork of BUG (named Taurus; edit: attaching a screenshot from that as well – with some enhancements disabled, slightly larger fonts and less saturated terrain textures) also shrinks the resource balloons. Font sizes can be increased relatively easily by editing some local files. Some of the (few) mods that have been developed into the 2020s, e.g. Realism Invictus, Caveman2Cosmos, make more far-reaching adjustments for large displays. Those mods certainly aren't in the spirit of playing Civ 4 as it was designed, but the BUG-type mods could be a consideration as all their changes can be toggled off individually through an extensive menu. But, then, depending on just how large your display is, playing in fullscreen mode at your native resolution may work fairly well without further adjustments.

There's also the possibility you've already described: Playing in a non-maximized window with something non-distracting in the background and possibly some external tool like Borderless Gaming to remove decorations. The resolution could then also be some middle ground between 1024x768 and the desktop resolution.

Colonization is not an expansion, it's a remake of the 1994 original using the graphical and logical game engine of Civ 4. The game rules don't have a great deal in common with Civ 4. The final version of Civ 4 is the BtS expansion (version 3.19, should already be patched with the GoG edition), which includes the Warlords expansion except for the Warlords scenarios. The expansions were not designed by Soren Johnson, though, who created the base game. So, in the interest of experiencing the game as originally envisioned, a case could be made for starting with just the base game (final update 1.74, should also already be applied), which also has a tutorial (inaccessible when using one of the expansions). The expansions make some AI improvements and balance changes that longtime players wouldn't want to do without, and most mods require BtS, but the major gameplay additions made by the expansions don't have a great rap and don't exactly fill glaring holes in the base game.


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Atsab, just a minor clarification of f1rpo's post: To use BUG you need to be using the BTS (Beyond The Sword) expansion. BUG is an acronym for BTS Unmodified Gameplay, since it only makes changes in the UI, all of which improve the UI greatly, but no changes in how the game is played.

Also, FWI, I have the game set at 1980 x 1080 full screen, with the my monitor set at 1080p (Televison), which is one of my monitor's native settings. Everything looks fine in the game with no weird stretching and no font troubles.
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