Civilization IV was one of the biggest PC games of 2005, and it didn't take long for the developers at Firaxis to reload with Civilization IV: Warlords, the first expansion pack for the epic turn-based strategy game. Whereas Civ IV is all about guiding a primitive civilization from the Stone Age to the Space Age, Warlords will feature six scenarios that will let you explore great struggles in history in more detail, from Alexander the Great to the ancient unification of China. And if that's not your thing, you can play the epic game with some new additions. Warlords is due to ship later this year, and for the details on the expansion, we turned to producer Jesse Smith.
GameSpot: So, out of all the potential topics out there, why did Firaxis decide to make an expansion featuring famous warlords from history?
Jesse Smith: Toward the end of the Civilization IV project we came up with the idea of a "great general" unit. However, we didn't have the time to properly develop and balance this unit in the time remaining, so we reluctantly left it out. From this seed came the concept for Warlords, an expansion focused on developing the military aspects of the game.
GS: Many of the scenarios in the expansion seem focused on the ancient world. For example, there's Alexander the Great and unification of the ancient Chinese empire. Meanwhile, the most "modern" scenario is set around AD 1200. Any reason why you focused on early conflicts rather than later ones?
JS: When we came up with the initial scenario list, a majority of the ones that sounded fun were based on the earlier eras. We decided to go with them since they all had an interesting feel to them and fit within the Warlords vision.
GS: On the other hand, based on the screens that we've seen, we also know that you'll introduce more modern leaders, such as Churchill and Stalin. Are there plans to add leaders and units to each existing civilization, or just a handful of civilizations?
JS: We're mainly responding to consumer demand. We are adding a new leader to four of the existing civilizations, which were determined through a high volume of requests from players following the release of Civ IV. And, of course, the six new civilizations will each have a leader as well, making a total of 10 new leaders.
GS: What sort of customization work is going into each scenario to make it unique? We know from past expansions for earlier Civ games that Firaxis can get pretty creative when it comes to making a scenario feel special.
JS: We are experimenting with all kinds of mod techniques. The tools we included with Civ IV are extremely powerful and allow an incredible amount of possibilities when designing a scenario. We have already seen some really cool fan-created mods, forcing us to work harder to ensure that ours are as least as cool! For the scenarios, we are using a variety of Python and XML methods to create exciting new content. An example can be found in the Genghis Khan mod. In that scenario, the Mongols build new units from a unit called a "settler camp." This is a mobile unit which can travel with the Mongol armies as they advance. This makes it feel more like you are a leader of a nomadic tribe of people, allowing you to pillage and destroy captured cities rather than being forced to hold onto them to increase production.
GS: When did you start thinking about the expansion, and when did work begin on it?
JS: We began the plan for the expansion prior to the release of Civ IV and design work began in earnest a couple of weeks after the release. Production of the art assets began in January.
GS: Aside from new content and civilizations, what's the feedback been from Civ IV fans as to the features that they'd like to see the most?
JS: New units, buildings, leaders, and civilizations, of course. That's why we've included a whole bunch of these in the expansion pack. And vassal states have been greatly requested by the fan community as well. This diplomatic option allows you to let opponents that you have beaten down to just a few cities become your vassals. They pay you money and provide you with support. You are their master! This makes the conquering of civilizations less tedious and more fun.
GS: Are there any lessons that you learned from Civ IV that you're applying to Warlords?
JS: A big lesson we learned while creating Civ IV was the need to keep the expansion packs focused. We knew going into Civ IV we would be dealing with a huge game covering an immense period of time, forcing us to "focus on everything." We felt the expansions would be more fun and interesting if we focused our efforts on a specific theme and period instead of spreading our design efforts across all of the eras and all parts of the game. This allows deeper gameplay in specific areas.
GS: Civ IV had some teething problems, but Firaxis finally managed to get a handle on them with patches. Do you plan any further improvements to the core game, and will the expansion include a new update for the core game?
JS: Patching is always a frustrating experience. We always hope the initial release will not need to be patched, but it's hard in the PC market because you're dealing with the vast array of hardware issues which may arise, as well as some very complex software. Firaxis is a company that has always been committed to supporting our products after they ship and we will continue to do that. The expansion pack will include the final patch release for Civ IV.
In addition to any remaining bug fixes, we're also including some important modifications to Civ IV's core gameplay, mostly reflecting suggestions we've received from fans. For example, many fans have requested greater differentiation between civilizations, so in Warlords we have given each civilization a unique building to go with their unique unit.
GS: Will there be any improvements to multiplayer? The pit boss multiplayer server has been in beta for a while. Will we see a final version included with the expansion?
JS: We are very happy with how pit boss is working now and we posted the final release recently! Pit boss is available for download online and will be included with Warlords as well.
GS: Finally, where are you in development and when can we expect Warlords to ship?
JS: Warlords just hit its alpha milestone and we are preparing to release it this summer.
GS: Thank you.