Boy, do I feel foolish! After all that angst and worry, it turns out that the problem was amazingly simple: I neglected to plug my video card in to the power supply. Now, in my defense, my installation guide specifically said that this model did not have a power connector, and so I never looked for it. I guess this provides another opportunity for everyone to mock me for always reading the manual. Anyways: I attached it, got through POST, reinstalled my drivers, and everything works great.
I tweaked with the settings a little bit to get them where I wanted. It looks like I can run the game perfectly at maximum settings, provided that I have a lower video resolution set. At my preferred resolution of 1280 x 1024, the stutters return to the videos. I still get hiccups during the World Wonder screens, but the rest of the game is gorgeous.
And it does make a difference. It fixes that bug with the Yield Display I'd complained about before. And it's cool to see the world come alive. I discovered the Scientific Method, and then watched in glee as oil began spurting from the desert soil. I skirmished with the Greeks and watched as our forces shot and swung at one another, falling as their numbers decreased. Good stuff. I still think that, given some more programming discipline, they could have achieved the same results with lower requirements; but I've never programmed a game at that scale, and could easily be wrong.
The game is going well. I'm leaping ahead in science, building a dominating lead in the industrial technologies. One of the most revolutionary changes in Civ IV is that, rather than each technology requiring one or two pre-requisites, you generally need to discover only one of several possible options to access it. For example, to research Writing, you need Priesthood OR Pottery OR Animal Husbandry. (Later techs tend to have more traditional prerequisits. For Artillery, you need Physics AND Steel AND Rifling.) This means it's possible to specialize and jump way ahead in the tech tree if you want, though this will require much longer waits between advances and possible problems if you're neglecting an area severely. Even though I'm on the verge of building Bombers I haven't bothered to discover Gunpowder yet, so I'm glad my war with Alexander is under control.
I think that particular conflict benefits from me playing at Warlord; I get the feeling he would have invaded by now otherwise. We were actually friends early on, but I was maneuvered into an opposing bloc and he cut me off. Relations deteriorated and there was some light fighting, but for the last few centuries things have been stable; he doesn't even demand technologies from me any more, he just masses his armies at the border and stares menacingly.
Resources, while introduced in Civ 3, are absolutely brilliant here. It's a great new incentive for tactics. I've discovered that I have access to a single Oil and a single Uranium supply, which are not necessary now but will be crucial in the endgame. Both, unfortunately, are on the very edge of my Greek border. This has forced me to make sure my nearby cities continue to exert strong culture, so that those borders don't slip over to the Greek side; it also means I've thought ahead to the possibility of one day needing to defend those resources. Not that I'll necessarily need them so much as I can't afford to allow Alexander to start building nuclear missiles. Like I said, it opens up some great strategic elements to gameplay. Oh, and unlike in Civ 3, resources don't need to actually be in your city radius or a colony; they just need to be in your territory and connected by a road.
This is just my first game, but so far I'm not impressed by the map. I've finally started sailing around (didn't found my first port city until around 1000 AD), and it looks like there are two landmasses on the whole planet: six civs on one continent (joined by a penninsula) and one civ on a large island. I vastly prefer the classic civ maps where there's a variety of lands, including some islands that support one or two cities. I took all the default map options for this game, my next one will probably be on a larger map and I'll see what difference that makes.
It's been fun to evaluate and change things as the game continues. For a long time I practiced Organized Religion, which makes it easier to build missionaries and helps you construct buildings more quickly (think of cathedrals in the Middle Ages). Now that we're moving towards the modern age, I'm thinking of switching over to Pacifism (think Tibettan Buddhism), which loses those abilities but is a lot cheaper and provides a "great people" bonus.
While I'm still loving my current game, I'm building a huge list of things I'm going to do differently the next time around, and will need to see if I can stick through this one to the end. High on the list is rethinking my city strategy; I put way too much improvement into my capital, which provided some great benefits (all my bonuses stack so it produces more of everything than the rest of my cities), but almost all of my Great People are born in Berlin and they're almost all Religious. Don't get me wrong, Moses was awesome, but I'm running out of good uses for them. In the next game I'll try and be more specialized - religion (just one this time!) in one city, science in another, etc. - so I can count on greater GP variety.
I also want to see YOU! If you pick up this game and wants to try some multiplayer action, either quick or epic, grab me. This isn't an official endorsement yet - I want to give myself a week first, so I can list all the caveats and stuff - but if you already have it, I'd love to play.