On the Quirks of Civil War Generals and Civilization's Scenario Design
Firaxis' lead designer, Ed Beach, and lead producer, Dennis Shirk, talk through the designs of the two new scenarios coming in Civilization V: Brave New World.
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The Civilization series has always been known for its massive campaigns spanning centuries of human history. However, it has also been supported by a series of challenging scenarios for players seeking a more directed experience. For Civilization V's latest expansion, Brave New World, Firaxis' lead designer, Ed Beach, and lead producer, Dennis Shirk, have two new scenarios in the works: the American Civil War and Scramble for Africa. These scenarios not only put a new twist on Civ V's mechanics, but also let the developers show off some of the new technology designed for this expansion.
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"When we started working on the American Civil War scenario, we wanted to come up with a way to reflect the quirks of Civil War generals and the big effect they had on [soldiers'] performance," explained Beach. To do this, Beach and his team developed a promotion system where every unit, before entering combat for the first time, is considered "green," or untested. After that unit goes through battle for the first time, that green promotion is swapped with a random one from a pool of good and bad promotions each named after a Civil War general. "For example, you might get the Stonewall Jackson promotion, which gives a bonus for flanking attacks, or the George Pickett promotion, which gives a penalty for charging across open terrain."
While this randomized promotion technology was developed specifically for the Civil War scenario, that technology found another use in the main game. According to Beach, when designing the Indonesians, the team decided it wanted to have a swordsman unit that used a curved, cursed blade out of Indonesian folklore. According to the legends, some of these blades were good, while others were, well, cursed. Now, Indonesian kris swordsmen start with the mystic blade promotion, which is swapped out for good or ill after their first combat.
With Scramble for Africa, the main goal was designing a scenario that would showcase some of Brave New World's new civilizations, including the Moroccans and the Zulu. In this scenario, the colonial powers of the world aim to conquer Africa, while the natives must battle back this invasion and establish dominance. Regardless of which side you take, the layout of Africa is what makes this scenario special. The continent's borders always create the shape of Africa; however, its interior is randomized each time you play. For Beach, using this technology in a scenario serves a dual purpose: it gives Scramble for Africa a unique quirk and also demonstrates to the game's modding community how to implement this new technology.
Scenarios have become a long-running part of the Civilization series and they let the development team flex its creative muscle. "We can put situations and historical events in place that we really don't have the flexibility to put in the main game; Empire of the Smoky Skies from [Gods and Kings] is a prime example," said Shirk. "The other thing to mention is that [scenarios] give us a chance to come up with a whole different set of victory conditions than what's in the base game," Beach added. "We get suggested different victory conditions all the time, and scenarios are our chance to explore those conditions."
With the exception of Into the Renaissance, the scenarios in Civilization V are intentionally designed to be shorter than the base game. "If you end up with a really long scenario, you end up echoing the base game as you're once again showing a progression through a large portion of history," explained Beach, adding that most scenarios are designed so that you feel like you're diving deep into a specific part of history with a highly tailored experience. "The scenarios I enjoy most," added Shirk, "are the shorter ones because of how [Beach] is able to create such a dramatic story arc. He is able to keep the stress level very high because there are no long periods where you're not really engaged with the game."
Those high-stress situations have kept a dedicated few coming back time and again to certain scenarios in pursuit of the perfect strategy. For Beach and his team, it has been rewarding to see which scenarios are still being discussed today. "I've been heartened by the fact that the discussion for the Rise of the Mongols scenario has been going on for over three years," said Beach. "Just the fact that the discussion has remained so active has been very interesting to keep an eye on over the past few years."
Outside of their own designs, the two developers have taken notice of the community's efforts as well. "I've always been a fan of R.E.D., a massive World War II scenario [with] an unbelievable amount of custom units and expansions," said Shirk. "It's an amazing undertaking!" Beach, on the other hand, has his eye on something more in the fantasy realm, adding, "I've looked at some of the Game of Thrones mods, but I can't say I've had time to play deeply into any of them. However, I like seeing the level of enthusiasm for that genre that's going on right now."'