It's been a long time coming, but Civilization III is finally completed, and the collective cheers of game strategy fans everywhere is nearly audible.
There's no question as to how this series has shaped the strategy genre--even the entire face of PC gaming--in the ten years since its release, and to this day, the original Civilization games are being played on a regular basis.
Firaxis president and CEO Jeff Briggs and company chairman and director of creative development Sid Meier, both of whom were instrumental in the design of Civilization and Civilization II, sat down with GameSpot to give an inside look at their latest development.
GameSpot: What did Firaxis set out to accomplish with Civilization III in revisiting one of Sid Meier's best-known games?
Sid Meier: We felt that technology and game design had advanced to the point where we could give form to the vision we've had for Civilization for some time, as well as incorporate some of the great feedback we've received from Civilization players over the years. We wanted to take the game to the next level and create the ultimate Civilization experience...and we have!!
GameSpot: What game elements have seen the most change since Civilization II?
Jeff Briggs: We've made many significant improvements to existing systems in Civilization, as well as added some amazing new elements to Civilization III. The features we're most excited about are the enhanced trade system, more powerful combat, the new concept of culture, greatly expanded diplomacy, a unique and innovative world map generator and the beautifully detailed art, animations and sound.
With all of the new and updated systems we've put in Civilization III, veteran players will find a very familiar, yet completely new game experience. All of the systems are intertwined so that players will need to come up with new strategies from those they used in Civilization and Civilization II, in order to accommodate these new game play elements.
GameSpot: In what ways are the technologies, units, and wonders different?
Jeff Briggs: One of the most noticeable differences between Civilization III and its predecessors lies in the Technology tree. First of all, a fully interactive tech tree can now be found in the game. The tech advances have been re-structured, with new technologies (free artistry, ecology, integrated defence, etc.) added, the requirements for research for many advances altered, and in some cases the benefits dramatically changed. The "age" that a civilization has reached is now closely tied to the tech tree, with certain advances required before that civilization can move into the next age; so, portions of the tech tree will be closed until the player can reach the appropriate age.
Since Civilization III is a tightly integrated design, this revamping of the tech advances brought some significant changes for the wonders. There are now two types of wonders: great and small. Great wonders are those that can be built only once; once one civilization has built it, no other can construct that wonder. Many of these great wonders will be familiar, however, some have been removed (such as Marco Polo), others added, and many have somewhat different effects. The Small Wonders like the heroic epic, Wall Street, Pentagon and Apollo Program, can be built by each civilization and are available only when specific non-Technology requirements are met (battlefield medicine, for instance, requires that a civilization have five hospitals built before it can be constructed). While each of the Wonders is an advantage, players should be highly selective as to which of these they commit resources, since each one represents a considerable production investment.
Some radical improvements have been made to the units. At the very start of a game of Civilization III, players will notice that there are now workers and settlers, separating the functions of settlers in the previous games. Now, settlers settle and workers work. The values of most of the combat units beyond the basic Warriors, Spearmen and Swordsmen have been altered. And now there are the special units ... "special" in the fact that each of these (such as the Greek Hoplites, Japanese samurai, English men-o-war, and German Panzers) is unique to a specific civilization. In effect, these special units are upgraded equivalents of combat units that other nations can build.
GS: What went into fleshing out the game's combat?
JB: Although the original Civilization was not intended to be a game about war, it was most often played as a conquer-the-world game. So, in Civilization II, we added a few details to the combat system to make it a little more interesting and "realistic."
In Civilization III, we've greatly expanded the combat system to make it a deeper part of the experience. Many of the units are now specialized, reflecting their real-world roles. For example, cannons have no attack or defensive values (therefore, like workers and other non-combat units, they can be captured), but they have a powerful bombardment value that can be projected into any square within their range.
Along with the direct combat among ground and naval units, there are now three additional types of combat: bombardment, missile attacks, and air combat. Bombardment is not limited to targeting enemy units--players can also use it against terrain improvements (roads and the like) and cities (where it may cause a population decrease or destroy city structures). Missiles operate in a similar way, but they are expended once the attack is conducted. And air units now have a specialized range of missions, running the gamut from air superiority to recon and precision bombing. All these improvements make for a combat system full of fun choices that enhance the experience of planning and executing military campaigns.
GS: How do the trade system's new strategy resources work?
SM: It's pretty straightforward. If you don't have certain strategic resources, you can't build certain units. For instance, without horses, a player won't be able to build chariots, horsemen, knights, cavalry, and so forth. Without oil, you can't build battleships, bombers, tanks, and so on. Most units, including the special ones, require one or more strategic resources. Players will probably find that their short-term strategy will be shaped by the realities of which resources they have and don't have--launching wars to obtain certain resources, building distant colonies, entering into one-sided trade agreements to gain access to saltpeter so they can build musket men. All these changes, along with the changes to the technologies, wonders, and units, make Civilization III more challenging and more historically realistic.
GS: How does culture work into the game?
JB: The cultural component is one of the most exciting design advances in Civilization III and perhaps the one that will be most challenging to longtime Civ fans. Culture is the general social cohesion of your civilization, the impact of your nation's philosophy and arts on the world, and your influence over the lands that surround your cities. Culture's effects are most visible in the expansion of borders, but it also affects how other civilizations interact with you in diplomatic sessions and can be a major factor when dealing with conquered cities. One of our goals in developing the culture system was to provide a powerful alternative to war and conquest. Like diplomacy and trade, culture is intertwined so closely with the other major game systems that ignoring it will have dire consequences.
Each city and each civilization will build a cultural rating based on the cultural points generated by specific city improvements and wonders. The "civilopedia" displays how many points per turn these things will generate for a city. The number of cultural points they generate can increase over time, so building them early can have immense importance later. In general, those improvements and wonders dealing with happiness (temple, coliseum, cathedral, and so on) and knowledge (library, university, and so on) foster cultural growth. You can see how you are faring by consulting your cultural advisor and how you compare with your opponents by calling up the "histograph" screen.
GS: How do you expect cultural spheres of influence to affect the latter portions of the game? Will it create a more static balance of power and hinder conquest?
JB: With this new cultural element, some clever players will be able to play to victory without ever going to war! There is the potential for a player to absorb cities due to spreading cultural influence. When the boundaries of opposing civilizations come together, the next expansion of either may see the citizens of a city decide that the "stronger" culture is more worthy of their loyalty. It is perfectly possible for players focused on maximizing their culture to expand at the expense of their neighbors without resorting to the uncertainty of combat. There are few pleasures in Civilization III greater than getting the announcement that the citizens of another civilization, awed by your culture, have overthrown their governor to join your glorious realm.
GS: How would you compare Civilization III with the Activision's Call to Power games?
JB: It's up to the players to compare the games. We feel that Civilization III builds on the legacy of our legendary game series and delivers the greatest Civ experience ever.
GS: Many strategy games try in some way to expand victory conditions beyond just world conquest. How do you see Civilization III's multiple paths to victory working out?
SM: We added some new paths to victory in order to offer people lots of challenging ways to play the game. Along with the military victory (where you wipe out all the other civilizations) and the space victory (where you launch a spaceship to Alpha Centauri), we've added the following:
A cultural victory, which can occur if one of your cities amasses 20,000 culture points, or if your entire empire amasses at least 100,000 culture points and no rival civ has more than half of your cultural value.
The diplomatic victory, which is enabled after the United Nations wonder has been built. Once built, the UN will meet periodically to vote on a leader. Any civ that receives a majority of votes from the UN council wins the game. The catch here is that in order to even be on the UN council (and thus eligible to be elected UN leader), you must control 25 percent of either the world's territory or its population. The civilization that builds the United Nations wonder automatically gains a permanent council position.
The domination victory occurs if you control a majority of the world's land surface within your borders. This can be achieved through various means, either by cultural tactics or military ones, or a combination of both.
If the game ends and no one is victorious by any of these means, the game uses the histograph to determine the winner. The histograph averages the "score" of all the remaining civilizations, taking into account their score across the entire game. The civilization with the best average score wins. Thus, your performance in ancient times is every bit as important as in the modern era.
GS: In planning the game, did you focus on what fans of Civilization games would like to see or try to make the game appeal to those who may have never played games in the series?
SM: Civilization III is a game that will appeal to all types of gamers, from veteran Civ players to people new to the gaming experience. Our goal is for everyone to enjoy the game.
Since the release of Civilization II five years ago, we have received volumes of feedback from Civ fans with suggestions of new features and changes they'd like to see in the game. That information, along with the ideas we get from Civ veterans on our development team, has been instrumental in the making of Civilization III.
GS: What were the biggest design challenges in developing Civilization III?
JB: The biggest challenge overall was never losing sight of what makes the Civilization series great, while integrating new systems and features into it.
GS: In what ways have you tweaked the game's initial design as a result of play testing?
JB: The final design of Civilization III profited in myriad ways from the Herculean play-test effort. Our highly experienced team of play testers offered suggestions, critiques, and opinions on everything from the interface to the artwork.
Combat was continuously tweaked throughout the testing, seeking to retain the probability of extreme results while eliminating extensive runs of luck (good or bad). In addition, the bombardment and air combat systems were revised. For instance, the ability of battleships to have multiple bombardments in a single turn was eliminated and the air superiority missions were added. Fine-tuning of unit values--notably for the special units--was continuous up to the final version, as were changes in the required resources for the production of units. The close dialogue (and occasional debates) between designers, programmers, artists, and play testers certainly helped us deliver what we feel is a true gem in computer gaming.
GS: What's left to do before the game is complete?
JB: We're happy to report that it's finished and will be shipped to stores October 30!
GS: Anything else you'd like to add?
JB: We're very proud of Civilization III and we hope everyone has as much fun playing it as we did making it.
GS: I'm sure we will. Jeff, Sid, thanks for your time.