If you consider yourself any kind of strategy connoisseur then Sid Meier's splendid Civilization series will need no introduction at all (yes it will, that's why we pay you - even if it is in loose change, bits of fluff and peanuts - Ed).
Er, okay, well for those of you who haven't encountered the genius of Civ before, the original 2D tile-based PC game took the strategy world by storm when it was released back in 1991. Although its looks were perhaps primitive by today's imposing graphical standards, they nevertheless concealed a game of deep strategy and fierce cunning as you guided your people through nearly three thousand years of human history, from the early dawn of mankind to his first colonisation of the stars.
With such a broad canvas no other game struck quite such a chord with strategy fans and game players in general and Civ and its many branching sequels garnered many awards with the epic Civ II, frequently nominated as one of the best games of all time.
Well now almost 14 years after the original game, a fourth instalment is under construction at creator Sid Meier's Firaxis games and we managed to catch a word with Barry Caudill, senior producer on the title, to catch up on all the latest news and learn how Civ IV could be the one to capture strategy fans' hearts all over again.
Here's what we discovered:
What's would you say is your guiding design principle for Civ IV this time around?
Barry Caudill: I would say it is accessibility. We are trying to make this the most accessible version of Civ ever. We are doing this by including tons of tool tips and popup help. We are also working on a really top notch tutorial for new players. In addition, we are trying to eliminate micro-management for its own sake in the form of chasing pollution or managing corruption in individual cities. Accessibility will even extend to the mod community as they will have a level of control that was previously impossible in other Civ titles.
This is the fourth major iteration of a massively successful franchise - what new ideas and concepts and innovations are you introducing to keep the series fresh?
Barry Caudill: First and foremost, the move to a living 3D world will provide a totally new perspective on gameplay. Players will be able to actually see the vast majority of what they need to know right in the world. If you need to know which enemy city has the Pyramids (or any other wonder), just look. If you want to know whether you built a barracks or a temple in a city, it will be visible in the world. Also, we have a new and totally redesigned Civics and religion system, unit experience and promotions, and many many more things.
Balancing the game must be a huge challenge. Are there any major balancing issues from Civ III you want to address?
Barry Caudill: Culture has been revamped from Civ III. We thought it was a great idea that didn't get the treatment it deserved. In addition, we have also eliminated static eras and revamped the tech tree to make people feel more in control of what they want to research and when. Civilization III had a very advanced AI but many people felt that it "cheated" a bit too much. For many reasons, the AI has to have some bonuses to keep it competitive, especially at higher levels, but Soren Johnson (lead designer/programmer on Civ IV) has taken the criticism to heart and will be spending most of our remaining development time making sure this game has the best Civ AI ever.
You've promised a brand new 3D graphics engine - how has development on that been going? What kind of look and feel have you gone for this time around?
Barry Caudill: It's gone very well. We are using the Gamebryo engine as we did for Pirates. That means we can build off an established engine and we get to build onto tools we developed for Pirates. It makes it faster and easier to develop more of the cool stuff since we don't have to worry about the basics any more.
The look is what I would call a stylized realism although the art guys probably have a better term for it. J One of our main goals is to make sure you have all the information you need to manage your Civ right from the main map. To help with that, we've allowed players to pull all the way back into a globe view so they can see things like resources or the spread of religion. We are also allowing players to zoom in pretty close so they can see how detailed the world really is. Ultimately, players will probably find their own zoom comfort level somewhere in between but it's nice to have such a broad range available.
Civ's isometric viewpoint has been around for a while now. Do you plan to update it or ditch it altogether?
Barry Caudill: Because it's 3D, we don't have to make that choice - it's going to be up to the player. You can use the standard view, which is looking more head-on than the old isometric 2D view or you can go to the Civ 2 and 3 style view at the touch of a key. You can also switch to the Civ 1 top-down view.
Hardcore Civ players always seem to find the gameworld too small. What kind of scale are you going for in Civ IV?
Barry Caudill: The move to 3D doesn't come without a cost. It was easier to make really huge maps in 2D. The largest maps in Civ IV will be a bit smaller than their Civ 3 counterparts but there is a lot more going on with all the animations and all the available information. One thing we will be introducing to help is the idea of game speeds. Players will be able to play a normal game, of course, and this will have a pacing similar to previous games. They will also be able to choose quick or epic game speeds in which the game will be scaled to be either quicker or much longer than a standard game.
What kind of civilisations and their unique abilities can we look forward to in Civ IV? Will it be a mix of old favourites and new races?
Barry Caudill: We are using leader personalities rather than attaching special abilities to the Civilization. That means that playing against the French would be quite different depending on whether Napoleon or Louis XIV was in charge. These leaders will have bonuses and personalities that will help to keep games fresh and interesting. Each civilization will still have unique units like the Roman Praetorian or the Mongol Keshik.
We will have a mix of many of the standard civilizations from previous versions of Civ as well as some that were previously held for expansions and a couple that are totally new for us. Of course we have to have stalwarts like England, France, Germany, Spain, Rome, and Russia. We will also have powers like Arabia, China, and Japan and ancient Civs like the Aztecs. Mali is present for what I believe to be the first time in any commercial release of Civilization as well. In all there will be 18 Civs in the shipped version of the game.
Likewise will you be revising the tech tree, city improvements and Wonders structures?
Barry Caudill: All aspects of the game have been thoroughly analyzed and we have made every effort to simplify or expand anywhere we felt it was necessary. The tech tree has been completely rewritten and reworked. There are no longer set eras that you have to complete before moving on and you no longer have to have all of the connecting techs in order to research something. Now, you can research anything you have a connection with.
City improvements and other buildings have seen a similar reworking. We have taken some of the less useful buildings out and added some new ones. There will be 28 wonders in the game as well as some minor wonders. All of the major wonders will have an in game movie that goes along with them.
Will you introducing any kind of scenario or mission based structure or will Civ IV be the complete "take mankind from his early beginnings to the space age" experience?
Barry Caudill: Civ is mostly an epic "Test of Time" kind of game and we will certainly be bringing that out as much as possible. We also feel that the game will be very open for scenarios and mods and we will probably be including at least a couple examples in the shipped version. Look for more scenarios and mods once the fans get their hands on the mod tools.
Diplomacy or warfare, guns or butter? Will we see the usual multiple paths to victory?
Barry Caudill: Multiple paths to victory are a mainstay of the Civilization series. We have the usual domination, space race, conquest, and diplomatic victories. We have also taken a hard look at the cultural victory and feel it is much more balanced and attainable now. In addition, we are adding a new Alliance victory that you can share with a partner.
Civ's combat system - while effective - is looking increasingly dated. Do you feel the pressure to move to a more RTS-style combat system with greater visual feedback?
Barry Caudill: The move to 3D already gives us more opportunity to provide visual feedback. The combat system has been revamped in many ways - some of which are probably derived from our love of all strategy games whether they are turn-based or real-time. Units no longer have separate attack and defense values; instead they have a single power rating. There are also natural counters for some units like you would find in an RTS. Pikemen are better against mounted units, Axemen are better against melee units, etc. Units now gain experience when they are victorious and that experience leads to promotions. Promotions are a way of making each unit special by providing them with special abilities like being able to heal faster, flanking, or getting bonuses in forest and jungle.
Similarly, the turn-based gameplay has its roots in an earlier gaming age. Will Civ IV break away from turn-based gameplay, or do you think the series has to retain this constraint to function properly?
Barry Caudill: If it wasn't turn-based, it wouldn't be Civ...
What are you aiming for with Civ's political structure?
Barry Caudill: Governments have also been completely revamped for Civ IV. You no longer have a simple set of common governments from which to choose. Instead, we have provided 25 civics choices spread across five classes to let you custom build the best government for your situation. For example, you could have a bureaucratic vassal tribal government with a free religious system and a free-market economy.
Will Civ IV be targeted at traditional hardcore Civ fans, or are you trying to give it a new mass appeal?
Barry Caudill: The simple answer is yes. We certainly wouldn't want to lose the hardcore fans so the game should be as deep and engrossing as ever. On the other hand, I think our new dedication to accessibility should help to bring in people that may never have played Civ before.
How closely is Sid Meier involved in the design of the game and which other key members of the Civ team are on board?
Barry Caudill: Sid is the Creative Director here at Firaxis, so he is always involved in various ways whether it be simply through providing guidance, general oversight, being the subject of "focus testing", or taking full control as he did for Pirates. For Civ, he is taking a more hands-off approach because Soren has already proven he knows how to update and improve upon Civ since he did that with Jeff Briggs on Civ III.
Many of the 38 internal developers on the project were also on Civ III or one of the expansions. I have been on every Civ title since Civ II: Multiplayer Gold, so I may be the next most experienced Civ developer after Sid and Jeff Briggs (our Founder and CEO).
Could you fill us in on your plans for multiplayer in Civ IV? It's always been one of the great holy grails of the series...
Barry Caudill: You bet! This game was designed to be multiplayer from the ground up and we have been playing MP games for a year and a half already. Players will be able to compete in traditional turn-based or simultaneous move games either on a network or via the Internet. We will be using Gamespy for Internet matchmaking. Other options include Hot Seat, Play by Email, and a persistent turn server we call Pitboss.
Co-op will work in a similar fashion to what you would expect from an RTS like Age of Kings or Warcraft 3. Players on the same team will share line of site, the benefits of wonders, research (they can even research the same thing to try to get it faster), unit trading, and share territory. All of these additions deliver a plethora of new strategic and tactical options to the players.
Do you think cooperative online play could work? For example, several individuals working together with different roles in the same civilization?
Barry Caudill: It has been tried in the form of what they call "Democracy games" at fan forums like Civ Fanatics and Apolyton. That works in their format but it seems rather unwieldy and decidedly not fun for some of the people in a real-time multiplayer situation. We are providing team play, however, and that should open up a lot of opportunities for creative players to specialize in various ways. Players on the same team share line of sight, research, resources, etc. so the one closest to the line may concentrate on military while the one behind the lines can work on the infrastructure.
You seem to have placed a lot of emphasis on players' ability to create new scenarios for the game - how will that work? Will you need a lot of technical knowledge to be able to create Civ scenarios?
Barry Caudill: This will be the most moddable version of Civ ever. At the most basic level, you can open the World Builder interface at any time and change the map or add things to the game through a simple point and click interface. Also, anyone should be able to edit the XML data files (especially with a good XML editor) to add new units or Civs or technologies. People having a higher comfort level with programming will be able to add scripted events and such to their mod or scenario. People with lots of programming experience will be able to compile their own dll's based off the game and AI SDK we will be providing. Even people with no interest or desire in making mods will be able to reap the benefits of the people who do, so there should be some level of enjoyment from this all around. Community building is very high on the Civ IV priority list.
Civ has traditionally been rooted as a PC title - is it the kind of game which could never make it onto a console - even a next-gen one?
Barry Caudill: Taking Civ to console is certainly an interesting idea. We have no plans to do that currently, but it's something to think about for sure...
Now that technology has moved on can you ever see a full version of Civ making it to a handheld?
Barry Caudill: I believe there are several "smaller" versions of Civ in the works already. I know of one for the N-Gage and some regular cell-phone versions as well. I think the power of the PSP and the touch control of the DS could easily make them places where Civ could thrive.