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Civilization’s new design lead on combat evolved

Monday, 13 September 2010 08:08 GMT By Keza Macdonald

civilizationv2

God only knows how many otherwise productive hours of people’s lives the Civilization series has stolen over its 20-year history. That turn-based structure is a work of time-sapping genius. Civilization V is out at the end of the month, and VG247 spent an afternoon with the game and its ambitious, ideas-filled new lead designer, Jon Shafer, to see how subtle changes to a classic formula are steering the series gently in a new direction.

Shafer started out in the fan community – he didn’t become a developer until five-and-a-half years ago – and those years of experience playing Civilization have galvanized him with plenty of ideas about what to change.

“As a fan of anything, there are always things that you think you would do a little differently – or a lot differently. It wasn’t hard for me going into Civ V because I already had these ideas about what I wanted to do,” he says.

“Soren Johnson [lead designer on Civilizations III and IV] used to play a lot of Civ when he was younger, and he had his own ideas for what he wanted to try in Civ IV too. It’s a cycle of bringing in new people to try out new things and keep the series fresh.”

So what’s new? It only takes a few seconds to see one major change; Civilization’s maps have always been constructed from square tiles, but Civilization V has made the move to hexes, giving the world a more organic feel. Mountain ranges curve, peninsulas extend in less jagged formations, bow-shaped bays and sweeping beaches now show the limits of the world rather than straight lines separating land from sea.

“If you see things like 90 degree angles on the coastline, it reminds you that this is a game board, not a real world,” says Shafer, explaining the aesthetic reasons for moving to a hex-based system. “But looking at something like this, it’s much easier to think ‘I’m playing in a world,’ rather than a computer game where I’m looking at a bunch of tiles. The thing about Civ is not just that it’s a great strategy game; it’s fun and addictive, but that it’s got that idea of being in history. Some people only play for that. They don’t even care about the strategy.”

There’s a practical application, too; it’s easier to tell how things are laid out spatially. There are no longer any diagonally-opposite mountain tiles that can’t be travelled between. The UI is also clearer, hiding rarely-used unit options like Delete in a small submenu whilst making other options more prominent, and peppering the right of the screen with little notifications to help players keep track of what’s happened and what’s about to happen.

The Advisors from Civilization Revolution make a reappearance, popping up with a friendly reminder to end your turn if you’ve been staring expectantly at a newly-built city for the better part of five minutes without clicking the button.

Hexes also create a suitable playing field for Civilization V’s new combat system, which, as Jon explains, has veered towards a more traditional RTS approach, with a wider and more tactically differentiated range of units.

“The change to the combat is probably the biggest change that has been made to the Civilization series as a whole,” Shafer reckons. “It was the first thing that we changed when we started. In previous games you’d just build as many units as you could, put ‘em all in one big stack on a single square and send that out towards the other players’ stacks, and generally, whoever had more won. So there wasn’t a whole lot to it.”

In Civilization V, only one unit can occupy a hex, and positioning defenses tactically around a city is crucial to its safety. As an illustration, Jon makes a declaration of war against a neighbouring empire that appears to be taking up the production of uranium. Using naval units to clear the coast, he lands infantry to steal the uranium whilst bombarding the tanks and helicopters protecting it with distant artillery units and anti-air guns – and then, somewhat ironically, he nukes the capital city, a move that doesn’t earn him any brownie points with any of the other world leaders.

Diplomacy has also been developed. Politicking now occurs not just between empire leaders, but between empires and neutral city states, another new feature for Civilization V. City states start popping up after the Medieval era, and though you can’t conquer them, you can persuade them to ally with you, granting you tech bonuses, new units or cultural advantages.

Culture city states will tend to want you to impress them with a monument, where maritime city states might want a road to expand their trade system. Militaristic city states might just want a lot of money, or ask you to attack another city state for them. Competing for the allegiance of these non-player characters, as it were, adds texture and diplomatic depth to the multiplayer game.

“I wanted to bring a sense of what was going on in 19th Century politics into the game,” explains Jon, who specialised in the period in his history degree. “It’s the idea of there being smaller powers that aren’t trying to ‘win’; they’re there to grease the wheels of diplomacy between major powers, or have them fight over them.”

There’s a lot new for Civilization V – the hex maps and changes to the combat system in particular change things substantially for long-term fans. But it’s still good old life-stealing, just-one-more-turn Civ at its core. It still covers the same timespan of 4000BC to 2050AD, and it still revolves around exploring the tech tree, inching your civilisation slowly towards cultural and technological breakthroughs, turn by turn.

“It’s the kind of game where you can change things quite a bit without necessarily changing the game,” says Jon. “You can keep iterating and doing new things without the series ever getting stale. It gets harder each time, of course – the graphics get better, and the UI gets better, but there are always different things you can do with the gameplay.”

While Soren Johnson and Shafer both believe that there can be as many Civilization games as there are designers, as long as it’s got turns, tiles and six millennia of history to play with, Civ will always be Civ. “It’s the idea of looking down on your empire from a birds-eye view, where you’re not a king or a god, but an embodiment of the spirit of the nation… Civ isn’t a game about history, but it’s a game that uses history as a framework.”

Civilization’s enduring and flexible nature have always made it suitable for adaptation – but is it still selling to the same people, that same core of mildly obsessive-compulsive PC gamers that lost their teenage evenings to the series?

“It’s definitely expanding still,” says Shafer of the series’s audience. “I feel that the basic premise of Civilization – to build a civilisation that will stand the test of time – is a theme that works really well, and that can be shaped in different ways, whether it’s the PC line or Civilization Revolution on consoles or Civilization Network on Facebook, even. It can be moulded into those different forms and bring in a lot of new people.”

Civilization V is out September 24 in the UK and September 21 in the States.

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3 Comments

  1. DSB

    Jon Shafer is twenty-fucking-four, and five years ago he was just another Civ III modder. Now the guy is the lead designer, the head honcho, the grand mufti on Civ V.

    Personally I think he’s grabbed onto exactly the right things. I often played Civ IV wishing I could do more advanced stuff with my armies.

    I really hope his passion for the series is gonna lead to an awesome game.

    I’m going all Bismarck, all the way.

    #1 5 years ago
  2. OlderGamer

    I have a lot of very big concerns.

    The hex thing sounds nice but if the games increase in length, then no thnx. the idea of smaller nations that aren’t “in the game” but can influence the games outcome? Not too sure about that.

    I don’t know I have a lot of other questions too.

    And to be honest, I never used any mods beyond the ones that gave me more nations and leaders.

    I always used to think that Civ 4 was the best civ could ever get. But then I played Civ Rev for the consoles. So many things they got right in that game. Like the shorter games. No workers to manage. No worry about barbarians or enemy armies wrecking your improvements. Admitedily it was civ Lite, but I liked it. I am worried that the new civ is a step in the wrong direction.

    This game needs a demo, and it is getting one so I will wait till then.

    #2 5 years ago
  3. DSB

    Coincidentally, Civ Rev is the only Civ game in almost two decades to have Sid Meier at the helm.

    I’m always skeptical when people try to change a winning formula, but ultimately the thing that makes me put Civ IV down after every binge is the simplicity. It’s very accessible and easy to understand, but it’s also very restricted for the same reason.

    Till proven otherwise, I have faith in the kid. Preordered this afternoon :P

    #3 5 years ago

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    PlayStation 4′s newly-added suspend/resume feature works with Bloodborne as you’d expect, but only while offline. PlayStation 4 received the long-awaited suspend/resume feature today as part of firmware 2.50, and people are starting to test it out with various games. Bloodborne does work with the feature, but only if you play offline. Playing online is arguably […]

  • This is what Crossy Road looks like in first-person

    Crossy Road is fun and addictive. But in first-person, it’s mostly frightening. YouTube user Andy Front Films likes Crossy Road so much he decided to show off what it would look like in first-person. If crossing roads quickly and watching around for cars and trains, all of this as the camera chases you felt intense […]

  • Take a small behind-the-scenes peek at Mass Effect 4

    BioWare cinematic director Ken Thain has given us a very slim look behind the scenes at some motion capture work from the upcoming Mass Effect game. The upcoming Mass Effect game, whether it ends up being called Mass Effect 4 or not, will most definitely incorporate some form of motion capture work. How do we […]

  • Borderlands: The Handsome Collection – 8GB day one patch on PS4, 16GB on Xbox One

    Day one patches for Borderlands: The Handsome Collection are pretty hefty. Both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of Borderlands: The Handsome Collection require players to download lots of gigabytes to make the experience as smooth as possible. The PlayStation 4 version has an 8.31GB day one patch. The Xbox One version however has […]

  • Get a PlayStation 4 with Bloodborne and The Last of Us for $435

    If you’ve been waiting for the perfect game to get to buy a PlayStation 4, there’s no better time than the present. Amazon is offering a good PlayStation 4 bundle at the moment. For $434.99, you get a PlayStation 4 console, The Last of Us, and Bloodborne. The Last of Us is of course the […]

  • Upcoming Battlefield Hardline patch to nerf the K10, buff battle rifles

    Battlefield Hardline’s first patch will focus on weapon balance and a few changes have been proposed. Battlefield Hardline lead multiplayer designer Thaddeus Sasser posted a few of the balance changes that the team is considering for the next patch. K10: reduce bullet damage to 33 Saiga and PTR: reduce recoil to bring more in line […]

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 and a new Resident Evil game coming this year, according to research firm

    According to digital games analyst SuperData, a new Resident Evil game is due this fall and that this year’s Call of Duty is Black Ops 3. In its latest report on digital console games, research and analytics firm SuperData revealed that a new Resident Evil is coming this fall. “We anticipate this month’s downturn to […]

  • Bloodborne: you can add gestures to your messages

    As players get deeper into Bloodborne, they keep uncovering so many of its little new additions, including this one. Bloodborne, like all of the Souls games before it, allows players to leave messages for other players. These messages could be used to point players towards impending doom, treasure, or just be sarcastic and witty. What […]

  • PlayStation 4 firmware update 2.50 is now live

    PlayStation 4 firmware update version 2.50 has started rolling out. Reports are coming in saying that Yukimura, PlayStation 4′s firmware 2.50 has been made available to download. The update is clocking in at just 245mb, so get downloading. 2.50 brings with it many new additions, including the suspend/resume feature, backup and restore, accessibility options and […]

  • Harley Quinn DLC for Batman: Arkham Knight is a prequel

    Batman: Arkham Knight’s Harley Quinn pre-order DLC is set before the events of the main game, according to Amazon’s description. Today we learned a few details about the pre-order DLC for Batman: Arkham Knight, namely the Harley Quinn one. According to the description on Amazon, the DLC takes place in the lead-up to the events […]

  • Bloodborne Vicar Amelia summon mystery solved

    Bloodborne players unable to summon near Vicar Amelia: here’s your solution. Bloodborne’s secrets are unfolding by the hour as clever players piece together From Software’s cunning design. Yesterday we reported problems summoning in the Cathedral Ward, before the Vicar Amelia boss fight. It turns out this isn’t a bug – or if it is, it’s […]

  • Steven Spielberg will direct film adaption of Ready Player One

    Steven Spielberg will direct the film adaption of the sci-fi, virtual world, video game themed novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Warner Bros. bought the rights to the film in June 2010 and hired screenwriter Zak Penn to rewrite the previous draft written by Eric Eason, according to Deadline. The book takes place in […]

  • Bloodborne players with PS4 headsets shouldn’t forget about the custom audio

    Here’s a friendly reminder for Bloodborne players with PS4 headsets: be sure to download the Headset Companion App from the PlayStation store if you haven’t already. As previously reported, the game supports a custom Bloodborne audio mode which can be uploaded. It contains custom audio created by developers specifically tuned to enhance the audio. This […]

  • EA explains why FIFA Ultimate Team transfer prices are now platform specific

    EA has posted a blog entry explaining its FIFA Ultimate Team transfer market price ranges which now include platform-specific pricing in order to best the coin sellers. EA said it has implemented the changes to FUT over the last several weeks because it should be “fair and fun for every player,” ultimately coming to the […]

  • Game of Thrones: Episode 3 – The Sword in the Darkness now available

    In case you forgot, Game of Thrones: Episode 3 – The Sword in the Darkness was released today. It is available on Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One. The third episode releases on iOS devices and Android tomorrow, March 26. The Sword in the Darkness finds Asher Forrester heading to Mereen […]

  • Bloodborne players are already documenting their crazy antics

    Bloodborne has been available for almost two days now in North America, and already players are posting interesting clips and character customization choices for the game. Below are interesting takes on creating a character and videos of a frustrating death and another full of blood coming from a very painful place – monster or not. […]

  • FIFA Ultimate Team celebrates sixth year in existence with giveaways

    FIFA Ultimate Team is celebrating its sixth year in existence with special events running from today until March 29. According to EA, every FUT fan will be handed one free pack every day, and those who play at least one match in the FUT Birthday Cup will have a chance to win rare “tradable In-Forms” […]

  • Halo Online is a F2P PC game in development exclusively for Russia – video

    Halo Online is a free-to-play game which will launch this spring in Russia, and is in development with Saber Interactive. According the reveal event attended by IGN Russia, the game was designed to run well on lower-end PCs and runs on a modified Halo 3 engine. The game is set on a secret UNSC space […]

  • SteamWorld Dig Xbox One release expected in late May

    SteamWorld Dig is coming to Xbox One, developer Image & Form has announced. A firm release date hasn’t been announced, but the studio expects the title to arrive on the system in late May. “We’re preparing quite an elaborate Easter egg for the Xbox One version – a gaming thing that we really wanted to […]

  • SMITE celebrating first anniversary with a sale on skins, Ultimate God Pack

    Hi-Rez Studios is celebrating the first anniversary of SMITE with a sale. From today through Friday, March 27, the Ultimate God Pack, which includes all current and future Gods, will run you $19.99. Alll individual pre-launch skins are 50% off, and all Gem Packs will award bonus gems. In addition, from March 27-29, all SMITE […]

  • Borderlands 2 has sold around 12 million copies, says Gearbox

    Speaking with Microsoft’s Major Nelson in his podcast, Gearbox Software boss Randy Pitchford stated Borderlands 2 has sold somewhere around the 12 million mark. As of August 2014, it was announced by Take-Two in its financial report the 2012 game had sold-in 10 million units. Pitchford noted in the podcast he learned of the figures […]

  • Broken Age releasing on PS4 and Vita same day as Act 2 on PC

    Double Fine Productions has announced it will release Broken Age on the PlayStation Store next month. Act 2 will also be released on PC. The full Broken Age adventure will release on PlayStation 4 and Vita on April 28 in North America and April 29 in Europe. It features cross-buy and cross-save. Broken Age Act […]

  • Star Citizen earned another $1 million within two weeks – total hits $76 million

    Star Citizen continues its funding streak with backers pumping another $1 million into the game’s development in the last two weeks. The total earned for the space sim has now reached $76 million ($76,015,532 to be exact) with 851,395 backers contributing to the staggering figure. Star Citizen’s latest update was version 1.1 which included two […]

  • Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, Resident Evil Revelations 2 and Battlefield: Hardline top Media Create charts

    Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, Resident Evil Revelations 2 and Battlefield: Hardline were the big ticket debuts during the March 16-2 period in Japan, with each game claiming the top three slots on the Media Create charts, respectively. Final Fantasy Type-0 HD moved 92,094 on PlayStation 4, while Resident Evil Revelations 2 moved 73,373 units on […]

  • You can now learn English or Spanish on Xbox One with the Rosetta App

    Want to learn English or Spanish? Rosetta Stone has an App for that on Xbox One. According to the language teaching firm, Rosetta Stone’s Discover Languages, the new application teaches English and Spanish by way of immersive simulation. Users will virtually travel to learn vocabulary and grammar “necessary for real-world interactions.” Here’s how it works: […]

  • PayDay 2 and PayDay: The Heist have sold over 9 million units combined

    The PayDay franchise is a lucrative IP for Starbreeze and Overkill, as both games combined have sold over 9 million copies as of November 2014. The company has also sold over 8 million paid DLC packages since PayDay 2 was released in 2013 (via NeoGAF). In its Q2 half year report issued in February, net […]

  • Nintendo wants to “surprise” customers with NX, not expand upon existing hardware

    Nintendo president Satoru Iwata has firm wants to “surprise” players with its new NX system. Speaking in an interview with Nikkei, translated by Kotaku, Iwata wouldn’t go into details on the new system, but stated expanding on a current gaming system would be “dull.” “In the past few years, the idea of what [encompasses] a […]