Sinister Soups Serving Musings On Game Development and Play

18Feb/101

All I Have To Say Is… Civilization 5!

 

Civilization 5 exists! And it looks pretty!

I'm excited! So excited! Civilization 5 was announced today, with a release date of Fall 2010. I wasn't expecting to see a new Civilization game this year, since there haven't really been any rumors to that effect, so I guess they did a good job keeping it quiet.

I make no secret of the fact that Civilization 4 is one of my favorite games ever; in my opinion it took everything that the series had done up to that point and really distilled and refined the hell out of it:

  • It solidified the concepts of borders and culture, which had been added in Alpha Centauri and Civ 3, but hadn't been as fully integrated into the design as they should have been in those games.
  • It adopted and adapted Alpha Centauri's civic system, allowing greater and more satisfying customization of your society.
  • It even worked to resolve the problem of city spam in earlier games, where building tons of cities right next to each other was the optimal strategy, by making a smaller number of specialized cities the way to go, which is the way I had always wanted to play.
  • It had extensive modding support built in, which led to excellent fan modifications like the critically acclaimed Fall From Heaven II.
  • The design centered on a functional multiplayer from the very beginning, which ensured that it wasn't buggy and useless like it had been in some of the previous games.

Civilization 4 really is a gem, I still play it to this day, and play it online all the time with an old friend of mine.

With that in mind, I am really excited to hear about a new Civ game... but I'm also a little bit worried.

My primary concern is that the design of Civ 4 was spearheaded by Soren Johnson, whose blog you can see prominently linked to on the right there and whom I mention as a sort of inspiration of mine on my "about me" page. Soren Johnson no longer works for Firaxis however, he joined EA to work on Spore a few years back, and while I'm sure Firaxis has plenty of talented people, I would feel much more at ease about this new entry in the series if he were the mastermind behind it.

The only entry in the series since Civ 4, the console Civilization: Revolution, had some interesting ideas, but was also a much more simplified version of the game, and that was a game designed by Sid Meier himself! As far as I understand, Sid is now working on the Facebook "social networking" version of Civilization, so I assume some other promising designer is in charge of Civ 5. Whoever that is, I wish them luck, and hope they can pull off a really great followup to one of the greatest games ever.

Wild Speculation!

We don't really know much about the game at this point, the official site linked above doesn't really have any meaty details, and there are only three screenshots, though they look very pretty. However, I'm going to take the time to do some speculating on how the game will differ from Civ 4, based on those screenshots.

The biggest takeaway from the shots is definitely the fact that the game uses hexes instead of a square grid, a first for the Civ series! This may seem like a drastic change, but it really isn't; the previous game used a square grid, but since you could move freely on diagonals, it was really more of an octagonal grid in disguise.

From the screenshots, it looks like cities will still have a radius of two tiles that they can work, though now that will mean two hexes out, instead of the old "fat cross" setup of the previous games. I infer that that's how it will work from the city in the screenshot above, which seems to be working a forest hex south-east of the city center and one hex away from it.

Units look like they have a lot more soldiers in them, which might just be a stylistic decision to make them look more realistic, or they may be adapting the army mechanic from Civilization: Revolution, where you could merge several units of the same type to create a single army unit, combining all their strength together. If they did adapt the army mechanic, that would be a major change to how the PC game plays, and I'm not averse to it, since I thought that was one of the more interesting additions to the console version.

My last major takeaway from the screenshots is that there are still resources on the map (like horses and cows), and it looks like you can still claim them with an improvement like you could in Civ 4, so I'm hoping that goes largely unchanged from the last game. One thing I'm not clear on though is if you even can still build improvements, or if they've gone with the system from Revolution, where a square worked by a city looks like it's improved, but you can't actually build a farm on a hex, or a mine, or a windmill.

I really hope they haven't done away with improvements like they did in the console game. It may sound silly, but having a ton of improvements at my disposal, letting me modify my empire's territory as I see fit, was a key feature of earlier games for me. I loved developing my land and optimizing my cities to be as efficient as possible, more than even the diplomacy or war aspects. I was very pleased with the number of terrain improvements they added in Civ 4, somewhat reflecting the crazy terraforming possibilities in Alpha Centauri, like the borehole: a giant strip mine drilled down into the planet's crust.

So yes, it's really too early to tell exactly where they're going with this game, but we can see how wrong my speculation turns out to be in the months to come.

I really do hope they're not going the "massive simplification" route to make it more accessible, though. We PC gamers like our strategy titles to have plenty of juicy complexity, and it would be a shame if they failed to take the computer's strengths into account when making this game, and made it too much like the last console title.

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