Will Civilization V Make History?

Will Civilization V Make History?

Civilization V is the latest incarnation in the successful series of strategy games developed by Sid Meier that allows players to take a tribe of people and attempt to make them the most dominant country in the world.

As part of a recent feature for CNN.com, we got an invitation to the Civilization lair at Firaxis Studios to get a look at the new elements of the video game and talk with the brain trust there about what changes they made and how it will all fit together.

When Sid Meier’s Civilization IV was released in 2005, it swept up several awards including three “Game of the Year” awards, garnered many perfect and near-perfect scores from reviewers and spawned three expansions over as many years.

While fans of the series continued to play “one more turn” as they justified staying awake late at night, some asked if this was the best the game could get and would Firaxis Games, the creator of Civ IV and many Sid Meier-developed games, ever make another installment.

“Each new version of Civilization presents exciting challenges for our team,” said Sid Meier, co-founder and director of creative development at Firaxis Games. “Thankfully, ideas on how to bring new and fun experiences to Civ players never seem to stop flowing.”

Designer Jon Shafer said his goal wasn’t to mess with the formula that made other Civilization games so successful. Having played the series since Civilization III in 2001 and worked on the Civilization: Beyond the Sword expansion pack, he had a plan in mind.

“I want to add more to it,” Shafer said. “We wanted to evaluate the larger parts of the game to see when we could make changes. Combat was a big area.”

A new combat system, deeper diplomatic experiences, expanded features and rich, dynamic graphics are all part of the new package for Civilization V that took more than 2 ½ years to make. Pete Murray, marketing associate at Firaxis, said it was all designed to invite players to get into the game.

“We really wanted (the players) to become engaged with it,” Murray said.

“But we also had to develop a graphics engine so we could be able to get it down for laptops.”

Hexes now replace squares as each map in Civilization V‘s main building blocks.

One of the earliest changes to how Civilization was played was to move from a square-based map to a hex-based map. The development team said this was an important change because it opened up new avenues for how the game would look as well as how it could be played.

“We wanted to create a believable world,” marketing director Kelley Gilmore explained. “It looks much more organic and takes the game a step farther from where it used to be.”

The hexes are overlaid onto a more diverse geographical terrain and rounded coastlines and features completely fill hex spaces rather than bleed over into neighboring areas as happened in the square overlay. Murray said hexes make the map appear more natural.

Using hexes instead of squares on the map opened up the way for changes in how combat would be played. Instead of surrounding an enemy on four sides, two more units can be brought in for a battle. Movement also has a more realistic feel and allows for more options.

Players will be greeted with a new way of doing combat. In the older version, military units could stack, meaning you could have multiple units on one square. Known as “stacks of doom” by the fans, wartime strategy usually consisted of moving these huge stacks though enemies, who often had “stacks of doom” living in their cities.

Murray said the new system will only allow one unit per hex and units cannot stack. He said this brings the element of tactical combat to the game.

“Military units can take gradual damage, which makes them last longer,”

Murray explained. “It requires players to build a more efficient, modern army.”

Units that have ranged attacks – archers, catapults, cannons, artillery, etc. – will be able to attack from distant hexes instead of being required to be next to opposing forces. Garrison forces will help in the defense of cities so that towns won’t be outnumbered by surrounding enemies.

Artificial intelligence programmer Ed Beach said each civilization has some overall tendencies on how it will play, but there are random actions. He said the approach is new in terms of how the AI plays the game.

“It looks for weaknesses and uses best practices to play the game,” Beach said. “There are different levels of strategy and it will pick up on how you play.”

Combat is just one of many game mechanics getting a major overhaul.

He said they did thousands of AI runs to make sure that all civilizations are balanced. But he cautioned that bonuses and maps will play a big part in the success of each culture.

While technology advancements enabled changes in how the game was played, it also contributed to how the game looks and feels. Lead artist Dorian Newcomb said tech pushes things farther from a visual standpoint.

“The landscape is based on real-world images. We wanted to try and give a helicopter view of the world, but romanticize it – no need to accurately reproduce it,” Newcomb said.

He said Wonders, items that represent a significant milestone or bonus to players, also were made to have an epic feel. The action sequences are intense and full of cultural references, and there are active celebrations depicted when a Wonder is built, Newcomb explained.

The entire game has been given an art deco feel to it. Buttons have a bronze tint to them and angles in the graphics are from a low perspective to lend a look reminiscent of posters from the New Deal era.

World leaders were also graphically designed to make them feel like real competitors. They speak the language of their people, or as close as they could get, and the backgrounds behind them are representative of their cultural history.

“Game designers are history majors,” Newcomb laughs. “We have to know how to draw these characters. The way they look, where they might have held court, everything.”

Lead animator Chris Hickman said he wanted to make the leaders have distinct personalities so that each one feels different.

“George Washington is based on my grandfather, a friendly, open, older gentleman,” Hickman said. “Julius Caesar is bored and dismissive when talking with the players.”

Indeed, during a demo of the Caesar animation, the Roman emperor appears to be distracted and yawns. He ends the conversation with a wave of his hand.

“We wanted to try to be respectful, but not necessarily historical (in the representations),” Hickman said. “We want it to be a fun experience for the player.”

Units and surroundings will be represented in greater detail than ever.

The music included in the game continues the idea of keeping a historical feel to the experience. Michael Curran, senior sound designer and composer, said the goal was to achieve a cinematic orchestral style that fit the culture they were trying to represent.

“In the case of ancient or dead civilizations, we were actually able to find melodies, if only fragments in the case of Augusts Caesar or Ramesses II,” Curran explained. “With more recent leaders, these melodic sources will be recognizable.”

Many of the pieces in the game were recorded by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra in Prague, capital of the Czech Republic. In addition to traditional instruments, hundreds of unique ethnic percussion, string, wind, and reed instruments were used to achieve each culture’s musical feel.

Shafer said all the changes are geared to give fans of the game the depth and richness they’ve come to expect from a Civilization game, yet still make it simple enough for new players to enjoy and not feel overwhelmed.

Civilization V is expected to be released on September 21, 2010 for the PC only.

Editor’s Note: For more articles by Larry Frum, be sure to read his Gamers Notes blog.

About Larry Frum
Larry Frum has been a gamer from the Atari 2600 to the PS3 and every console in between (yes, even the Genesis). His gaming articles have been featured on numerous sites including CNN.com and Sci Fi Wire. Larry also has his own gaming blog – Gamers Notes.

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