It’s a brave new world. Well, I wouldn’t say ‘new’ new… personally I think the name of the new Civilization V expansion is a little bit misleading, as it doesn’t really have anything to do with colonialism or the Americas. Still, what it DOES have sounds quite interesting, and we sat down with Senior Producer Dennis Shirk and demanded he tell us more:
Strategy Informer: So, let’s talk about the new civilizations to start off with – do any of them have an unique units/buildings that target the late game? The majority of civs seem to have uniques that are early-mid, yet this expansion also targets late game play.
Dennis Shirk: We’re not so much targeting ‘late game’, but targeting the new mechanics. Take Portugal, for example, they’re really focusing on the new Trade mechanics. Pedro II of Brazil is one that focuses more on the late-game as he’s all about generating tourism. His Carnival trait means he gets tourism bonuses every time he goes into a Golden Age, for example. His unique unit is from the late game as well. Some of them … I’d say two-thirds of them focus on game-mechanics from the late game, and the other third is fan requests. Fan favourites of civs that they wanted to see in the game. Shaka (Zulu) is one such faction.
Strategy Informer: I imagine this is a deliberate design choice though? No use in a civ having a late-game unique if they don’t get that far because they got wiped out early on.
Dennis Shirk: Right. You can’t have uniques that are really late game… we kind of have an unspoken rule where the latest era that you want to bring a unique into is that WW2 kind of period. You really want people to be able to enjoy the unique units, otherwise why bother having them?
Strategy Informer: Moving on to International Trade – you mentioned how you’ve taken natural gold of out certain game tiles, like rivers, and funnelled it into the trade system instead. Is it going to be more challenging to fund empires now? Infrastructure especially is expensive in this game…
Dennis Shirk: Somewhat. We do a lot of balancing… the gold system, the trade system, was actually one we finished first, that system came online earliest, because we wanted to play it over and over in the months since so that we could make sure it was properly balanced, and that the AI knew how to play it properly. We want people to count on trade-routes for income, we don’t want to make it complicated. If you’re the kind of casual player, you can just keep firing off and connecting your trade routes without getting into the nitty-gritty of who you’re actually connecting to, and maintain a good gold balance there. Then we also have the upgrade buildings – Market, Bank, Caravansary, which then increase that gold output. But if you’re a hardcore player, you like getting involved in all those stats, then you have a lot to play with. We will have failed if we can’t make it so that as long as you’re keeping up with your trade routes, you won’t be running deficits. We really want people to use it and count on them as an integral part of the game, like Libraries etc…
Strategy Informer: What about players who like to set up a good network of roads/rails? Is that still viable?
Dennis Shirk: Yeah, that’s still there. We actually changed it so that they’re just called ‘City Connections’ now, so you still have that openness to gold… it’s just that starting gold, like River, or Coastal gold that we removed just to balance out what you get from the trade routes.
Strategy Informer: The World Congress really gives off a kind of ‘Cold War’ feel to it. The thing about the Cold War era though is that there were actually a lot of proxy wars. Big powers getting the littler nations to fight for them. Does any of that show through here?
Dennis Shirk: Everybody is fairly treated equally. We don’t like to think that bigger empires would have more influence in the World Congress than smaller ones, because that wouldn’t be as much fun for people who want to play Tall instead of wide. We keep that fairly even. For somebody who really wants to ‘game’ the system, like buying off all the city states… I mean Portugal is a prime example of this. They might be one of those who go all the way through the Patronage Tree, buy off all their City-state allies, maintain host of the World Congress, in addition to paying for votes. We like to think there’s a lot of flexibility there for someone who wants to go in deep.
Strategy Informer: Obviously the way Culture works and the Culture victory has been reworked in this game. What would you say to players who turn off Culture victory?
Dennis Shirk: Well… I can say that I understand why you would’ve. I would definitely say you should try it out…. The Culture interactions with the late game are more significant now. You can be a culture player without having to go for the culture victory, as its very important for influence and stuff like that. There are those three ideology tress for example, and you have to choose one of those trees when you reach the Industrial Era. If I choose say, Order, and you’re Freedom, and I’m generating all this Tourism, my influence is going to start pressing on your empire and your people are going to start getting unhappy. If you let it go on too long, you basically have to either declare war on me or switch to my ideology. Your cities might start flipping to my civilization if they riot too much.
Strategy Informer: Archaeological sites is a neat little meta-game you’ve introduced there, linking back to stuff you did earlier in the game. I can’t help but wonder what the Archaeological community would say to the fact that you condensed their entire life’s work into a binary choice, though.
Dennis Shirk: It’s really tough when you represent real-world mechanics in a game and have to boil it down to something so simple. With archaeology, we wanted to put in something that lightly touches on it… I mean on the Civlopedia, there’s a lot of good information about what an archaeologist does etc… but in terms of the gameplay mechanic, that’s always hard. We wanted to keep it light, we didn’t want them to be able to dig up dinosaur bones, for example, we wanted it to have real ties to earlier in the game. It would be unfortunate if anyone took offence to what we did, but it was done with the intention of bringing in a real-world thing and making it a fun game mechanic.
Strategy Informer: The development cycle post-launch seems to have been a lot slower with Civ V than Civ IV… the previous game had an expansion every year for three years after, yet for Civ V it took two years for Gods and Kings to come out…
Dennis Shirk: Let’s think of it in a slightly different way: we had an expansion pack’s worth of DLC content that took up that first eight months after release, and then the next eight-nine months was Gods & Kings and so on… so it actually fits the path. What we found though when we did that intitial bunch of DLC is that fans really did NOT like DLC. When we sold the Civs individually, a lot of feedback we got was “we want gameplay”. I mean it’s neat to be able to buy Polynesia, but you’re essentially just playing the same game, so that’s why we decided to deliver on that and deliver these expansions with bigger gameplay systems. Gods & Kings has been extremely popular.
Strategy Informer: So would you say you learned from that initial DLC process then?
Dennis Shirk: Yeah, we were curious to see what it was going to be like. We actually thought it was going to be a positive to make a la carte civilizations that we could deliver. I mean it was an expansion pack’s worth of new civilizations that we released, when we were done. But people didn’t want to just buy Civs. They wanted Religion, for example. It was definitely a learning experience to see where our fans were going to go, and they LOVE expansion packs. Which is great, because our designers prefer designing gameplay mechanics more so than just doing new civs.
Strategy Informer: Looking at scenarios – you’re adding a lot more with this expansion it seems. How does the community interact with them? I’ve always wondered if they’re analogous to Historical Battles from series like Total War – they’re interesting, but no-one really plays them that much.
Dennis Shirk: We found that people don’t necessarily like to play them, but they like to play “against” them. That’s where the gameplay really comes in. The fan community has these really long lists right now, of what civs they want to see added to the game. Poll after poll after poll. It’s surprising how common a lot of those lists are. It’s weird after having announced all these new civs how close some of their guesses were.
Strategy Informer: Looking to the future then, would you want to look at the other areas and expand on them as well? I guess all that’s left is Technology, Domination to a point and then Score. If you count that.
Dennis Shirk: Possibly… I mean we’re coming to the point with Brave New World.. I mean you know how Beyond the Sword felt when it came out? It felt like this complete experience… so we’ll have to see what the fans think when it comes out, but we’d like to think that this is going to be one of things that just wraps it up as a complete experience. The beauty of Civ is though is that we’re talking about the expanse of human history, there’s always something else you can add to the game. I can’t talk too much about the future, in terms of specifics, but I think it all comes down to what the fans will be thinking, whether they’re like “this is rock solid, this is exactly where I want it to be”.
Strategy Informer: What would you say to people who are like “I’m a technology player, and I feel underserved” or “I’m a Domination player, I feel underserved” … I mean could you actually do anything interesting there? Like you did with Culture and Diplomacy for this expansion?
Dennis Shirk: Somewhat… in Gods and Kings we did a big pass in terms of combat, when we split the Navy up into two, range vs mêlée… so we did a lot of work on that. We felt though that there was a big hole for builders, builders weren’t getting served quite as much, so that’s why we’re no focusing on that late-game building, for people who don’t necessarily want to fight, but want to cause shenanigans against people who do like to fight. We like to think this adds some extra defence to people who don’t like fighting. There’s always places we can go in terms of tech, or in terms of conquest, but that would definitely have to wait for a new version.
Strategy Informer: Just to finish off then – looking at the previous expansion and going into this new one… did Religion and Espionage work out the way you wanted? I do like Espionage, although I feel limited by the fact I only get one spy per era. With Religion, I ‘ve also found it’s a better idea to not found your own religion, as you end up being so influential that everyone close just converts to your way of thinking. Far more interesting to not found your own and have the others fight it out within your territory.
Dennis Shirk: It’s definitely going to be more of a challenge in Brave New World, you definitely want a religion in Brave New World. If you were playing the Culture game, one of the key ways you’re going to be getting great artists, great musicians etc… is through Faith. All the culture buildings have new abilities; the religious buildings can generate culture, things like that. We’ve also added a whole new set of religious belief that’s going to add to all the different areas of the game, whether it’s Diplomatic, or domination… Because of the way of Tourism spreads, spreading your religion is going to be what’s key, so you really want your Religion to be dominant. With regards to specifically the question as to whether or not you want to found your own religion, I’d say revisit it for Brave New World. As for Espionage… well, just many people turn it off completely as like the fact that you only get a limited number of spies.
Thanks to Dennis for taking the time to talk to us. A lot of interesting mechanics coming to this new expansion, as well as new civs etc... to boot. Whether this ends up being the last Civ V expansion remains to be seen, but hopefully this will make the game that “complete” experience that Firaxis wants it to be. Don’t forget to check out our first impressions of the new content.