Looking Back... Civilization IV

We pull up a pew with developer Firaxis and talk deep, dark diplomacy

Civilisation, to quote Gremlins 2: The New Batch, is, I think, what everyone wants and what very few have. The niceties. The fine points: diplomacy, compassion, standards, manners, tradition... That's what we're reaching toward. Oh, we may stumble along the way, but civilisation, yes. The Geneva Convention, chamber music, Susan Sontag. Everything our society has worked so hard to accomplish over the centuries, that's what we aspire to: we want to be civilized. Are our readers civilised? No, clearly not. Fun, but in no sense civilised. Not like Soren Johnson (lead designer) and Barry Caudill (senior producer) - the godfathers of all things Civ. Not at all...


Johnson: I think it's two things that come together. First off it's a great topic, everyone wants to be king, everyone wants to rule the world. The other thing that makes it work is the turn-based gameplay that came about way back in 1991 - it's something that really hooks people into these multiple goals they're trying to accomplish over many, many turns. People feel like there's always something more to achieve: 'I gotta get that next tech', 'I gotta finish the Pyramids', 'I gotta found that next city'. So I think it's a match between great subject matter and really good gameplay mechanics. Either one on its own would be good, but I think them coming together is what makes Civilization special.

Caudill: It's a really tough tightrope to walk when you're on something like Civ IV - if you continue to cater only to the hardcore guys you're only going to cater to an ever-shrinking circle of people. You need to find a way to bring in new people otherwise your franchise will die. So there's this great big tightrope we're on - 'lets make this accessible, but let's also add this feature that the hardcore guys want'. We also did stuff like adding difficulty levels that were lower than anything we've ever had for previous games. It's always a constant back and forth - 'is that too complex?' or 'is that too simple?'. Eventually we all agree though, and pull it off.

Johnson: Religion was the one really obvious, interesting topic from history that we had never dealt directly with. It was clear to everyone that was the most likely place where we could make some good progress gameplay-wise, but we'd never done it before because it was an area of potential controversy and people getting upset and everyone hating us. We were pretty conservative though. Religions are pretty much flavours. Fundamentally there is no difference between Islam, Christianity and Hinduism - from a pure gameplay point of view they're functionally identical. The interesting part comes from how it actually plays out in the game - religions getting founded, spreading through the world and their effect on diplomatic relations. It took a lot of time to get the right version - that was one of the systems out of 5 or 6 different versions we tried before we hit the right one.


Caudill: One of the big differences in the earlier versions was that the player was a little bit detached from religion in the game. There was a hidden algorithm going on in the background that would determine how religion was spreading through the world, spreading along rivers or trade routes between civilizations that had diplomatic relations. You would see your religion naturally spreading throughout your cities, and you could do a few things to affect it, but it was only a secondary effect. It sounded good on paper, but fundamentally when you're playing Civ all the games systems work because the player is in control.

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