Civilization III Preview

We catch up with Firaxis president Jeff Briggs to learn the latest on the next game in the Civilization series.


To say that the Civilization series has been subject to turmoil over the past few years would be an understatement. MicroProse owned the rights to the Civilization license, but the company was bought by Spectrum Holobyte, so the license was transferred over to it. A short time later, Activision wrangled the license from Spectrum Holobyte and produced a new series known as Call to Power, which branched off of Civilization II. Eventually, Hasbro Interactive bought MicroProse, which gave Sid Meier's company, Firaxis, the chance to recapture the license and work on a brand-new Civilization. "It's been a hot potato," said Jeff Briggs, president of Firaxis. "A lot of the people at Firaxis, including myself, had helped Sid [create Civilization]. We liked the game and that's why we want to do Civilization III."

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Now that the Civilization series is back in the hands of its creators, Firaxis is working to ensure that Civilization III combines the best elements of the two previous games with new features that add new dimensions of depth. "I think the first two games, especially the first one, used a broad brush approach, and that made sense for that time," Briggs said. "With Civilization III, we've taken some of the systems that were broad-brushed and tried to flesh them out." One of the systems that's receiving special attention is trade, which, in the two previous games, simply consisted of building caravan units and moving them from town to town to collect additional goods. Civilization III gives Firaxis the opportunity to build the trade feature, which is a much more dynamic and useful part of the game. "We've put a lot of energy and effort into getting a trade system that is integrated into the Civilization system, creating a whole new aspect to the game that [influences] diplomacy, war, and the way you make your citizens happy," Briggs said. "It's all pretty integrated, and we feel really good about that." Trade isn't the only feature receiving an overhaul. Diplomacy is also the subject of intense focus at Firaxis, and the development team hopes to give you additional options to consider when confronted by other civilizations. Of course, there are many cosmetic adjustments being made, including refined city-information screens, three-dimensional units, and incredibly detailed maps.

"It's all pretty integrated, and we feel really good about that."- Jeff Briggs, President of Firaxis

Overshadowing all of these subtle improvements are the features never before seen in previous Civilization games, such as culture. "Civilizations develop a sense of self-identity. We think culture is what causes things like France to happen. There is a whole group of people that speak French; they share a past experience," Briggs explained. "All these things put together form a thing called culture that binds these people together and makes them have influence over the whole area that is France." Firaxis has taken that concept of culture and integrated it seamlessly into the Civilization universe, creating a whole new dimension of strategy and possibility that was completely absent in previous Civilization games. Brute military force is no longer the only option you have for conquering enemy civilizations--now you can join together through culture.

Culture Club

Though there are many new features, none of them have as much impact in Civilization III as culture, which can have a tremendous effect on other aspects of your civilization, from diplomacy and trade, to outright invasion of enemy territory. Using culture effectively isn't as difficult as it may initially seem. "Culture is a function of how much you invest in improvements in your cities that pertain to culture like temples, cathedrals, libraries, coliseums." Briggs continued, "Each one of those items produces a number of cultural points every turn. If you have a library that's one turn old, it's worth four cultural points." As cultural structures begin to age, they continue to accrue more cultural points, strengthening the bond within a civilization and expanding the sphere of influence.

On the Civilization III map screen you will be able to see different colored borders surrounding each civilization. These borders mark a city's sphere of influence, which is dependent upon the number of cultural points a city has--the more cultural points, the farther its borders spread into other territories. Briggs recalls the example of France and the city of Paris: "When Paris starts out, it doesn't have any sphere of influence. After a while, it has a religion going because it has built a temple, and people in the surrounding area are now going to Paris, or looking to Paris, for religion, so the borders have expanded." If culture becomes a major part of your strategy, you can continue to build a city with structures that increase cultural points until all of the borders join, forming a true civilization bound by a single culture.

The different colors indicate where the borders of a civilization are. You expand these borders by joining your cities together with roads.

When the sphere of influence increases and borders expand to a point that they're encroaching on enemy territory, a number of factors come into play that determine how the border cities react to the presence of a new culture. If a border city of the opposing culture has very few cultural points, there's a strong chance that it will be assimilated into the dominant culture as the game progresses, eliminating the need for a military force to move in and conquer it. However, it may not always be that simple. "Every population point that gets built in Civilization III has a nationality. If you're France, every person that's born in one of your cities is French," Briggs explained. "Suppose I capture a German city. That city will have German people in it, and so they have cultural ties to Germany. They're more likely to go back to the German side, and they're probably going to revolt." Regardless of how strong your culture is, there is always the possibility that a smaller captured city with fewer cultural points will revolt if its ties to the opposing civilization are too strong.

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Culture can become a source of conflict in Civilization III. When a city from one civilization join's an opposing civilization's culture, the civilization that lost the city loses cultural points, which gives that civilization ample reason to use military force to get the city back. More so than culture, what will likely be the major source of conflict in Civilization III are the luxury items and the strategic resources, which not only influence trade and the emotions of the civilians but can also dictate the types of units a civilization can construct.

Iron Will

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Firaxis is focusing much of its efforts on creating a more dynamic and entertaining trade system than the one found in previous games. "Trade was really abstract in the two [previous Civilization] games," Briggs said. "You would build caravans and move them yourself from city to city, moving them in the right place. I thought that was cumbersome." To change all of that, Firaxis is implementing two types of resources--luxury items and strategic resources--and depending on your strategy, you will want to make a concerted effort to control as many resources as possible. If you don't control as many valuable resources as other civilizations do, then you can either take the resources by force or establish strong trade relations.

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"Suppose I have four elephants and my friend the Egyptian has no elephants--they want the elephants because they make people happy," Briggs explained. "The whole luxury slider aspect to the game has been consumed by this trade system." And it doesn't stop at elephants. As a civilization grows by expanding its road system, more and more luxury items become available, civilians are happier, and it's much easier to establish trade with lesser civilizations by offering the luxury items in exchange for a variety of things, including technology.

Strategic resources are secured in the same fashion. If you see resources within your territory, all you have to do is build a road to those resources and you will have immediate access to them. Strategic resources serve a different purpose than luxury items do--the type of resources you have access to determines the units you can build. Basically, you can't build swordsmen if you don't have access to iron, nor can you build units such as tanks if you don't have control over iron, oil, and rubber. "It becomes a real game of trying to corner the market on certain resources so that you can be a power broker among the other civilizations," Briggs said. "If you have complete control over iron, you're the only one with swordsmen, so you can pretty much dominate."

Though it may seem incredibly unfair for one civilization to have complete control over iron, there are a few ways to prevent resource domination during the course of the game. If the iron-controlling civilization wants to build tanks, it needs oil, rubber, and iron, but if oil and rubber are controlled by two other civilizations, then the iron-controlling civilization must be careful about the types of strategies it uses. If the iron-dominant civilization enters into the rubber-controlling civilization, the oil-controlling civilization may see that as a potential threat and ally with the rubber-controlling civilization to fight off the invasion. It's possible to set up trade and live in peace with the other civilizations until you've built up a suitable number of tanks, then start a war. But other civilizations can protect themselves against that strategy by destroying roads and cutting off supply lines of iron or by making smart diplomatic decisions.

Needless to say, strategic resources and luxury items are an integral part of Civilization III, and they help to intertwine various aspects of the game, such as diplomacy, war, and trade.

Refinements and Final Thoughts

Since so many of the new features can ignite confrontations between civilizations, diplomacy in Civilization has been made more robust to accommodate different situations. In addition to the options in the previous games, like peace treaties, and technology exchanges, there are a number of new options to choose from in Civilization III. At the most basic diplomatic level, Civilizations can exchange luxuries, technology, and resources. There are also military alliances, mutual protection pacts, rights of passage, and options to gain information on other civilizations. "The thing about [diplomacy] is that it doesn't have to be eggs for eggs," Briggs said. "I can trade a technology and a world map for a diplomatic agreement or for some gold and information. There is a huge number of different combinations to choose from." Interestingly, technology has an influence on diplomacy because diplomatic and trade agreements cannot be made unless a civilization has the writing skill. Individual leader personalities come into play as well, so a leader of one civilization will act differently in certain diplomatic situations than other leaders, which forces you to change your diplomatic strategy when encountering new civilizations.

Advisors are incredibly helpful in Civilization III because they give you advice and access to the Civlopedia.

While some of the older features are getting overhauled, some of the new features have yet to be completely implemented. One such feature is the Great Leader unit. After a successful military campaign, some units will receive a promotion to Great Leader status, which means that you can use them to construct a military academy, resulting in a stronger and more balanced army. You can also use the Great Leader unit as an army itself because it's possible to group additional units within the Great Leader unit. The military side of the Great Leader unit is in place, but Firaxis is currently debating whether or not to apply it to other areas of a civilization in addition to the military.

Another feature that isn't in the game as of yet is multiplayer. Firaxis is still deciding how it wants to incorporate multiplayer into the game, and before it does so, the development team wants to make sure that Civilization III's single-player mode is as good as it can possibly be.

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Most of the work on the visual side of Civilization III seems to be near completion. Firaxis has made a few subtle adjustments to clean up various interfaces so that they don't break your connection to the game. The city-management screen takes up only a small portion of the main screen, so most of the actual game stays in view. You can also queue up items in the technology-tree screens so that the menu doesn't appear after every few turns, but if necessary, it's possible to change the queue and learn different skills. As far as actual graphics are concerned, in the two years Firaxis has been working on Civilization III, the art team has produced more than 12,000 tiles to give map screens a much smoother and more natural look, and now all units are fully in three dimensions, giving them much more detail and personality than they ever had in previous games. But perhaps the most impressive visuals are the new city views that give you a detailed look at all of the different structures within a city. Firaxis and Infogrames are currently aiming for a winter 2001 release for Civilization III.