Civilization IV Q&A--The Nitpicker's Q&A
As much as we love Civilization, there are small issues with the game that have always bugged us, so we asked senior producer Barry Caudill how they're addressed in Civ IV.
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As you can probably tell from its name, Civilization IV is the fourth chapter in the landmark strategy game series that stretches back to 1991. It goes without saying that the Civ formula is one that has withstood the test of time quite well. That's not to say we don't have our issues with the game. We love Civ, but there are little nitpicks that have bugged us for years, like watching spearmen from the Stone Age defeating a modern-day main battle tank or, even worse, a battleship. So with Civ IV currently in testing and balancing for its November ship, we threw some questions at Barry Caudill, the game's senior producer, hoping to find out how Firaxis has improved the gameplay to eliminate those nits.
GameSpot: The news that you've removed the ability to transfer production from one project to another caused a ruckus among Civ fans everywhere. What's the thinking behind that, and how much has it changed the game thus far in testing?
Barry Caudill: Being able to transfer all production from one thing to another (or from one research project to another) has traditionally been one of the big exploits in the series. It doesn't make much sense to be building something like the Colossus for many years and then have all of that simply transfer into a Great Library or an aqueduct. The good news is we understand how much players would hate it if all production or research spent simply went away--it doesn't. Let's say you are building a Buddhist temple and decide that you really need a better defender, so you switch to an archer. If you were to then switch back to the temple, you would find all of your previous production on that temple is still there.
The same would be true for research. If you are researching optics and feel the need to switch, you will still have that research available when you switch back to optics at a later time. This "banking" of resources or research is not infinite, however, as you will start to lose production or research slowly over time. In the case of wonders, where someone else can build it so you are unable to return to it, you will be paid a fair market value in gold for any lost production.
It really hasn't been a big balance issue in tests because everyone (the artificial intelligence included) is on a level playing field in this regard. Plus, you don't have the old "wonder domino" effect from previous versions, where you will see five wonders completed in the same turn as everyone scrambles to change production from the one that was just built.
GS: We've learned that expansionism, or squeezing in as many cities as you possibly can on a continent, is dead, or at least on life support, in Civ IV. What's the reasoning for this change, and what will happen if you try to build cities like mad?
BC: Another big exploit from previous versions was a strategy lovingly referred to as "settler spam." This tactic was based on the player making a settler in each city as soon as possible and then starting new cities. Lather, rinse, repeat. In Civ III, we added corruption to try to address this, but it wasn't so much a solution as an annoying speed bump. In Civ IV, cities require a maintenance amount that increases with each city. That means settler spammers will find themselves going broke, or with very little money left for research.
Of course, people like to play with lots of cities, and we certainly don't want to shut down their enjoyment of the game. Those people will be able to make very large civilizations with many cities, but they will have to do so in a more thoughtful and strategic manner. As cities grow, they are better able to sustain themselves without taxing the overall economy. Players will also be able to use diplomacy, religion, trade networks, and improvements to generate more income, thereby making them better able to handle the ever-increasing maintenance costs.
GS: The combat system has been overhauled, so the infamous "spearmen defeat ultramodern hi-tech main battle tank" problem shouldn't happen anymore. Right? Explain.
BC: The short answer is yes, and the long answer would be fodder for a whole article. The main change is that we brought back a system similar to firepower from Civ II. That system was a bit too complex and many people struggled to understand it; so, like many other things in Civ IV, we decided to streamline the process. Basically, two units of the same relative power will do about 20-percent damage per hit, so it would take five hits to kill another unit. When one unit is much more powerful than another (like in the case of the poor spearman, for instance), the more powerful unit does a higher percentage of damage than the less powerful unit. So if both managed to hit three times in this battle, the spearman would have only done about 40-percent damage to the tank, while the tank would have decimated the spearman.
In addition, there are many more calculations going on under the hood and that makes for fewer "lucky rolls" from the random number generator, and that helps balance it out even more. In the options screen, players can turn on an option that will let them see bars over the units, so you can easily judge your chances before entering into combat.
GS: There are certain great wonders in Civ that are simply heads-and-shoulders better than the rest, such as Great Library, and if you got these wonders, you had a huge edge over the competition. How have you addressed this in Civ IV?
BC: We took a long, hard look at all of the wonders from previous games and changed or eliminated anything that was really unbalanced. In the case of the Great Library, we moved its former effect to the Internet wonder, which comes much later in the game, where the impact is less. The "new" Great Library gives the player the ability to have two free scientist specialists and makes the city more likely to generate a great scientist.
Say No to Settler SpamGS: We've heard that roads no longer grant commerce. What's the reasoning for that? We assume this will cut down on the habit of planting roads and rails in every square inch of your empire. This created such an unseemly sight, as roads and rails littered every square.
BC: Roads no longer grant commerce because we completely overhauled the trade system and it just didn't make sense, in light of the new rules, to also give roads/railroads a blanket bonus. The other problem with the old way was that there was really only one choice that made sense--you build a road any chance you get--and having only one real choice is not very fun. There are plenty of ways to generate trade in Civ IV and they are more strategic and fun than simply sprinkling roads everywhere. The fact that it will help prevent the "every tile has a road" phenomenon is a bonus.
GS: We know that resources are going to be more fairly distributed in Civ IV than they were in Civ III, but how so? And nothing hacked us off more than seeing our single, precious oil or iron deposit suddenly disappear, only to reappear in a rival's territory. Will we see an end to the migrating resource problem?
BC: There are really three questions here, so I will answer them in turn. Since we are using Python scripts to generate random maps, we have the ability to more easily tweak them, and that gives us much finer control over the placement of resources. The algorithm is fairly complicated, but Soren Johnson (Civ IV's lead designer) has the resources grouped together by what they do and when they are important, and he makes sure that a resource from the same group cannot be within a certain distance of another from that group. That makes similar resources spread out across the map more, and that helps ensure better overall coverage. Regarding resource migration, it will not happen anymore. The third question is implied (at least to me) and I think it is important to answer it: You talk about the "single, precious oil" and I wanted to point out that we have taken great pains to balance the tech tree, resources, and what you can produce in such a way that none of the resources is a "magic bullet" like oil was in Civ III. For instance, if you have no iron or horses early in the game, the new tech tree design makes it much easier for you to make a beeline for gunpowder, and salt peter is no longer required.
GS: What about the cutthroat, ruthless AI that came after you like you had insulted its mother and that knew everything about you, including the location of your every city and military unit? You'd have a huge lead, then suddenly, the AIs would gang up and come after you with a vengeance, even if you had been the most peaceful of neighbors. Have you addressed that in Civ IV?
BC: We have addressed this in several ways. We have given attributes to the leaders instead of to the civilization. That means that some are more warlike, peaceful, trustworthy, etc. than others. Leaders will appreciate other leaders that share their traits and civic or religious choices, and they will tend to form blocs. If you find leaders that share your tendencies, it will be possible to form lasting (even permanent) alliances. Of course, you won't be able to make everyone happy, so you will have to choose your friends wisely. In addition, our beta testers from the Civ community have been helping us balance things for quite a while now, and they are incredibly thorough in their game testing. Finally, Soren is now at the point where he is totally focused on tweaking the AI, and that's a good thing.
GS: We hate having to dicker with the AI when trying to arrange a trade. Instead of actually negotiating, all you do is adjust by one increment the amount of gold you're willing to part with to see if it will bite.
BC: Soren recently added a feature in which you can put a deal on the table and then ask the AI leader to fill in the blanks, no matter what combination is out there. You can also tell when a deal would never happen because the choices will show up in red on the list.
GS: Civ games tend to grind down in the latter stages of a game, because you simply have a ton of cities and units to manage. The result is that turns take longer and longer to resolve. Does Civ IV address this problem in any way?
BC: Well, yes and no. As you note, there will be tons of units and cities at the end of the game, and that has an effect no matter what. On the other hand, we are doing a lot to streamline various aspects of the game, and that will significantly improve the late-game experience. For instance, you will be able to easily group units and command them as one. You can also select multiple cities and give them all the same build orders at the same time. Workers can be grouped together, and then their actions within that group can be queued--so you can tell three workers to build a road to a certain point and not have to mess with them for several turns. Finally, we eliminated the elements that tended to slow down the late game, including pollution cleanup, city riots, and units disbanding because you have money issues. So, the late-game experience should be as much fun as the rest of the game.
GS: Finally, there are a gazillion other nitpicks out there, but what was your personal nitpick, and how did you address it in Civ IV?
BC: In Civ III, it made me a little crazy watching the AI tromp through my land with a settler/defender stack so they could plant a city on some open square on the other side of my empire. I couldn't get rid of them without starting a war because they would just come back in the next turn. I was left with the option of placing units in squares so they wouldn't think of them as open. In Civ IV, this is addressed two ways. First, the new city maintenance costs make this option less attractive to the AI (and other players in multiplayer), and second, they can't cross your land without declaring war unless you have established an open-borders treaty.
GS: Thanks a lot, Barry!
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