Having sampled Civilization V's latest expansion pack in our Brave New World hands-on preview, we were keen to explore some of the deeper and persistent gameplay systems that Firaxis' latest offering brings to the experience. To this end, we sat down with producer Dennis Shirk to discuss the totally revamped Culture Victory, archaeology, tourism, new Civs and the future of the Civilization franchise.
Jonathan Lester (Dealspwn): Thanks for talking to us, Dennis. In an age where "dumbing down" and "shooter fatigue" are fast becoming buzzwords, why do you think that Civilization is so enduring?
Dennis Shirk (Firaxis): That's a tough one. I think it has to do with Sid [Meier]'s original design, you know, as Mel Brooks would say: "it's good to be the king." Letting players have all the decision-making throughout the game - they make all of the decisions in terms of what happens to their people and their civilizations, from the stone age to the space age - it empowers the player. You don't just play through and then the story's done, you go back and play a different story that unfolds in a completely different way.
You can do it over and over again. There's just limitless amounts of options for players in Civ V, or any Civilization. I think that's the genius of his foundation: there's a limitless amounts of possibilities in terms of what you can do.
Dealspwn: Let's get down to business: Brave New World. Your latest DLC pack totally revamps the culture system. Could you tell us about that?
Dennis Shirk: Sure! We basically changed the way the Culture Victory works. Before, you had a really exciting beginning of the game, you were building your wonders etc. But you got to a point in the middle of the game where you're just hitting next turn, you're just trying to get the broadcast towers that's going to make your culture blast. But you're just hitting next turn and trying to fill up your five policy trees, and it just wasn't as interesting or compelling as the other victories in the game.
So we've changed the way that works completely. We've split culture into two types of yields. You've got your regular culture which you still make the same way, you still build your wonders and buy policies, but we've introduced a new yield called Tourism. That's your offence, the regular stuff is your defence against other ideologies, but tourism is what's really going to get the word out and make other people in awe of your civilization. You do that with great works. We've broken the great artists into three different types - great artist, great musician and great writer - and they create great works. These great works can be slotted into culture buildings, and they generate tourism.
If you can generate more lifetime tourism in a Civ than [other civilizations] have lifetime culture, you'll win a culture victory. There's all kinds of modifiers to get your tourism really booming (you can get a 25% bonus for borders, plus 25% bonus for trade routes), and there's all kinds of options to deal with that. It really kicks in in the middle of the game, and that's when things get really interesting for a culture player. You don't have to turtle up. You can decide to play a Rome style of game... they're the cultural star of the ancient world and they destroyed everything around them, captured everybody and made the world their own. You can do that, you can invade your neighbours, steal their great works, there's a lot of flexible options, which I think is going to really resonate with the builders of the world.
Dealspwn: Archaeology seems to be a fun new way to generate tourism. We love that they look suspiciously like a certain other fairly famous fictional archaeologist...
Dennis Shirk: Strictly coincidental!
Dealspwn: Heh, whatever you say. How does the archaeology system work?
Dennis Shirk: We're tracking all of the events of the game, so when you do a replay, you can scan back through the history. We actually tapped into that. Exploration and discovery in the early game is one of the most fun parts of Civ, so we wanted to put a mechanism in the late game that gives context to the entire world.
So when you research archaeology, you'll have all these Antiquity Sites appear on the map, and they're all valid events. You don't know what they are, you'll actually send your archaeologists over and spend a few turns digging. At that point, you have the choice to extract an artefact or create a landmark. The artefact is actually going to be from what exactly happened there earlier in the game, for instance, if we were playing as Portugal, it might be a Portugese artefact from a spearman that died while fighting with one of the other Civs. It gives you context and memory; you'll remember that battle that happened. It's nice, because as you're picking through some of these things, it gives you a real sense of history. In the late game it tends to get a little vanilla so we've brought more flavour and personality to the game.
You can also send archaeologists out to a neighbour Civ. You might not know what happened there, but you did up one of his artefacts. Say you find a French artefact from a battle they fought with Assyria back in 1245. That's kind of cool, it suddenly gives you a bit of context about what was happening outside your civilization.
Dealspwn: That sounds like fantastic fun actually, should bring back some fond memories of running around ganking Barbarians in the early game. In fact, speaking of epic pre-gunpowder battles: Shaka's back. Finally!
Dennis Shirk: He's the fly in the ointment. We had all these features in the game, and oftentimes when we add expansion Civs, it's to serve the new gameplay. Portugal is a good example of that here. But we can't all just have the Civs that are just going to do peaceful business at the end of the game, we have to have Civs in there that Domination players can really enjoy playing. Or you come into a game planning on a masterful culture victory, but you turn around and notice that Montezuma's starting right next to you!
Shaka falls into that category. He's all about war. His trait actually gives him a fifth less maintenance for all of his units in the game, and pre-gunpowder, he actually gets promotions. His unique unit is the Impi, a brutal pikeman replacement that has a double strike. When it attacks, he gets a ranged strike for free and then punches you in the face. When he gets a pikeman he becomes very, very dangerous. Overall a very aggressive Civ, a very cool Civ, our fans have been asking about him for a while since he's been in every version of the game except V. It was time to put him in there.
Dealspwn: I found that imposing a 'standing army tax' on Shaka was a great way to shut him down, thanks to the brand new World Congress. Players can now impose global rules that affect all players until they're repealed... so how difficult was it to balance these powerful new edicts?
Dennis Shirk: We didn't want it to be two powerful. We want them to affect the gameplay just enough to make you raise and eyebrow, but not enough where your entire strategy can be trashed. The standing army tax is a 25% boost, so if you have a humongous army, you may have to thin it out to accommodate that. So the potential is there, but when you get hit with this, it's probably a result of something you're not doing very well.
Like, if Shaka's extremely hostile to you, you'll probably want that to be in place place. If you're a warmonger, you're taking over the world, you shouldn't be too surprised when the other leaders band together and either do a trade embargo against you or a standing army tax. In which case, you'll want to have some friends, even if you have to pay them all off!
Dealspwn: Yeah, I can see myself losing a lot of friends because of this - both virtual and real!
Dennis Shirk: In multiplayer, we're really anxious to see how that plays out. You see, there's never going to be any 'world's fair' in multiplayer, it's all going to be these dastardly ways of hurting everyone else!
Dealspwn: I bet. By the way, we're fans of big expansions like this - we pine for the days of proper expansion packs rather than bitty DLC. Why take this old-school approach?
Dennis Shirk: Our fans love big fat expansions. We did try DLC just to see what it would be like, what if we gave fans the option to buy a la carte, so after releasing Civ V we had a string of those to see if fans would like those more than expansions. Not even a little bit. They didn't like it at all. They wanted the gameplay more than new Civs, they wanted religion in the game, they wanted to see the World Congress, they wanted to see these big gameplay systems that you can't do with piecemeal DLC. That's why we course-corrected with Gods & Kings and Brave New World.
The fans have been extremely happy so far. We loved the reception that we got with Gods & Kings; the attach rate for that was amazing compared to other Civilization expansions because they really loved the gameplay that the team put in the game. That really encouraged us to go a little bit further, this adds more new gameplay than Gods & Kings.
Dealspwn: So what's next for Civilization - and Civilization V?
Dennis Shirk: Unknown! [laughs] We actually approached Brave New World with the intention of finishing off the quintessential Civilization V experience. Like, Beyond The Sword was for Civilization IV. It kinda rounded off the whole thing. There comes a point when you want to draw a line, where Civilization V feels complete. That's what our goal was; whether we've met that goal is unknown and whether we release it and the fans go "well, you know what would be really cool..." and we say "wow, that's actually a really good idea."
We don't know what's going to come up. In terms of long-term plans, we don't really know what's going to happen until a designer comes up with an idea. Like Jon Shafer: he was a scenario designer on Civilization IV, and there wasn't a Civilization V on schedule until he came up with something cool just because he wanted to do it. Sid gave him the thumbs up and we started progressing. That's the great thing about Firaxis, it's all going to be gameplay-driven. If the idea is there, then we progress with something cool. If it's not, we keep going.
Dealspwn: Amen to that!
Civilization V: Brave New World releases on PC and Mac from July 12th in Europe.