The Civilization strategy series has stood the test of time, debuting years ago on primitive home computers and engaging countless players with its deceptively addictive turn-based strategy gameplay. The Civilization formula, which puts you in control of one of Earth's sovereign nations as a legendary world leader (such as George Washington of the USA or Cleopatra of Egypt), tasks you with taking over the world by way of military might, finance, culture, diplomacy, or scientific research. The happy task of world domination was explored so thoroughly in the previous game, Civilization IV, that it seemed like the development team at Firaxis had done just about everything possible with Civ. That is, until Civ V was unveiled earlier this year with huge changes that will clearly alter the core gameplay of the series. We got in touch with lead designer and principal gameplay programmer Jon Shafer just ahead of E3 to get an exclusive glimpse of what will be on display at the show.
GameSpot: Give us an update on the game's development. What aspects of the game is the team working on now? What will be the focus at E3?
Jon Shafer: The art is nearly done, and we're finalizing the text that will be included in the game. Programmers are finishing up a few features, working on bugs, and improving performance.
At E3, we'll reveal the social policies system, a major new feature that we haven't talked much about before. As players accumulate culture over time, they're able to spend it to adopt social policies. There are 10 branches to select from, most of them requiring the player be in a particular era to utilize. Each branch is themed around a different aspect of the game. For example, the early-game "honor" branch provides bonuses to one's military, while the later "commerce" branch improves one's gold output.
With the policies system, we wanted to keep the feel of mixing and matching to construct one's government that was part of Civ IV, but we also wanted to instill a sense of forward momentum. Rather than having to switch out of one policy to adopt another, you build upon the policies already unlocked. The thought process we want to promote is "What cool new effect do I want?" rather than the feeling of needing to perform detailed analysis to determine if switching is a good idea.
The cultural victory is now tied to unlocking a certain amount of the policies tree. The policies give quite a bit of punch to the cultural side of the game, in addition to being a viable path to victory.
GS: We caught an early glimpse of the game at the Game Developers Conference, where the game's new, slimmer interface with lessons picked up from Civilization Revolution was first shown, along with the return of Civ III's advisors. Tell us about the new interface and the returning advisors. What will these changes add to the game?
JS: [One of our] major goals with Civ V is that the game be accessible to more people than the previous Civ games. The best way to address that is by improving the interface and providing players with new tools for learning the game.
With the interface, we've tried to focus as much as possible on displaying only the information that's important at the time, instead of placing as much on the screen as possible. This makes it easier for new players to find what they need. We also have options to turn on more advanced user interface settings, so we're trying to be mindful that some people do want more on the screen.
The advisors in many ways serve as a tutorial for the game, without forcing everyone to go through pre-scripted missions. As you play the game, advisors will pop up and offer useful information. We recognize the fact that most people don't want to sit through an hour or more of lessons before getting the opportunity to actually have fun. The advisors should help make players more confident when just jumping into a game.
GS: We also understand that the notification system is being overhauled for the purpose of being less overwhelming to new players and to keep them more engaged in the game. How will the new notification system work?
JS: The notifications do a couple things for us. First, they let players determine when they want to make decisions. In previous games, pop-ups would often appear and force players to make a choice, perhaps before they were ready. Now the option exists to, say, choose production for one's cities at any point in the turn.
Secondly, the notifications shine a spotlight on important events. For example, if players find a barbarian encampment, a notification will appear. Mousing over the notification icon will provide more details. It's a handy way of organizing information and letting players dig deeper if they want. The game keeps a log of notifications and players can refer to it later in case they want to review what happened in previous turns.
GS: We understand that modifications (mods) will play a larger role in Civ V and that a player's installed mod can be accessed much more quickly--and that a player can even search for mods in-game. Tell us how these systems work.
JS: We are really excited about how modding is being supported in Civ V and will reveal the details shortly.
GS: Let's switch gears and talk gameplay. We already know about Civ V's big, big change of going from square tiles to hexes. How will this change affect early-game exploration and territory expansion?
JS: The biggest difference with hexes is that they only share sides and do not have corners. This removes the distance distortion when it comes to movement or visibility. In previous Civ games, the squares (or isometric diamonds) would give players an advantage if they moved in certain directions. Things are now more "fair."
GS: We also saw big changes to the combat system--each hex can be occupied by only one unit at a time, and ranged units will truly be ranged and can fire on enemies that are multiple hexes away. What other changes and additions are planned for combat in Civ V?
JS: Ranged attacks in general play a major role in Civ V. All warships are now ranged units with the ability to hit land targets, dramatically increasing their importance relative to previous games in the series. Siege units are very important to taking cities. They're more powerful than infantry-based ranged units like archers and crossbowmen, but as a trade-off, they must be set up prior to firing.
One other big thing we've done is add a zone-of-control effect to the game to prevent enemies from easily skirting around defensive positions. Unlike [the way things worked in] earlier Civ games, the effect only applies to units belonging to players you're at war with. We wanted to make sure it was an element of war tactics but not a source of frustration. It's not a hard effect though--some games with this feature prevent movement completely, but in Civ V, units can still move one tile within that unit's zone of control.
GS: We also understand that one of Civ's key pillars--diplomatic relations with other nations--is going to be updated for Civ V. Tell us about these changes. What new diplomacy features will be on display at E3?
JS: Enhancing diplomacy was one of our focuses with Civ V. Our goal was to make diplomacy feel more like interacting with other players or world leaders, rather than a system to be min-maxed. No longer are diplomatic modifiers shown since this used to give away pretty much everything your computer-controlled rival nations were thinking. That's one way of doing diplomacy in a strategy game, but we wanted there to be more mystery in the interaction. Some leaders will work behind your back, and showing the numbers would either give everything away or provide a misleading sense of security.
A big part of diplomacy in Civ V is discussion with other leaders. The artificial intelligence in Civ V is quite perceptive and will be able to determine when you're settling aggressively, when you're stationing units near its borders, and so on. Depending on their personality, they might raise the issue and demand a response from the player. Your decisions will have an impact immediately and may also have other effects down the road. The AI leaders will also ask players to work with or against other civs in the game--and in turn, players may ask the same of the AI nations.
Additionally, we're enhancing the diplomatic victory condition in Civ V. Like in the previous games, this requires winning the UN election. Every player in the game has one vote, including the city-states, making them vital to winning this way. Should a city-state be conquered, it can be liberated, and if this happens, that city-state is guaranteed to vote for the liberator in the UN election. The ability to provide "gifts" of gold to the city-states should result in some exciting finishes.
GS: Speaking of which, at GDC, we got a glimpse at city-states, another new feature in Civ V. What can you tell us about how these new communities work in-game? What will be shown at E3?
JS: City-states are another important component of the diplomatic side of the game. They exist to be befriended or conquered by the major powers. Players may offer to protect them, and inevitably conflict will ensue when a warmonger steps on the wrong toes.
There are three types of city-states in the game: maritime, cultured, and militaristic. Befriending one provides bonuses relating to their type. While city-states can be friends with any player, they can be allied to only one at a time. City-states grant all of their resources to their ally and will join that ally in war, which makes an allegiance with city-states a very handy thing to possess.
As the game progresses, city-states will make various requests of you. Some might request the major powers kill another neighboring city-state, while others might ask you to clear out some nearby barbarians.
GS: We understand that money will talk a lot more than it used to previously. For instance, players may even be able to use it to buy territory. Tell us about this and other uses for the almighty dollar in Civ V.
JS: Spending gold to expand one's territory is an important part of the game. Border growth now takes place one tile at a time instead of a bunch at a time in large rings. Players may choose which tiles are obtained with money, but the price will depend on how easy or hard it would be for the city to claim the tile normally. This gives players some element of control and provides a compelling reason to save up. If you need 200 gold [pieces] to get that iron tile, you're going to be much less likely to spend your money carelessly.
Gold also plays a large role in diplomacy. Providing gifts of gold to city-states improves your influence. Additionally, like in previous Civ games, gold may be used to purchase units, buildings, and other important properties. In addition, you can now even expand your borders by buying individual tiles around your cities. These are a few major roles for gold that should really make saving and spending quite a bit more interesting in Civ V.
GS: It was hinted at in March that Civ V will also make larger changes to the economic game, just like changes to combat. Tell us about these updates to the economic game.
JS: A big change that veterans will notice is that the age-old "slider," which required players to choose between focusing either on scientific research or on producing wealth--or some kind of middle ground between the two--has been eliminated. Gold and science have been completely split up and come from different sources now. We just didn't feel that the slider was adding a whole lot to the experience in Civ V. In previous games, the objective was nearly always to run with as much science as one could afford, making the occasional change to upgrade units or trade for a tech or something. The new system requires less turn-to-turn management and better rewards long-term planning. Most science now comes from your population, though specialist populations and unique tile improvements also contribute.
GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about Civ V leading into E3?
JS: We're very excited to be showing off the game and look forward to getting it into everyone's hands soon.
GS: Thank you, Jon. Actually, E3 is just about to get started, so we'll see you soon enough.