Civilization Revolution Interview

by on 16th Dec 2007

Civilization Revolutions - Don't call it Civ Lite or Sid'll scold you!

I had a chance to play Civilization Revolutions at E for All on Thursday. It looks like a pretty fun game, which adds back in some of the lightheartedness that has been missing from the series lately. Graphics were not yet finished, so the graphic quality was only so-so, but they were fun to watch. If you reach a certain milestone, a minor civ (the Phoenicians, more on them later) will give you a reward of dancers, which jumped around inside your palace (yes, the palace is back). The arctic barbarian chief Gray Wolf climbs or pulls himself into the screen before he starts insulting you. Take away a city of his, and he'll tell you he did not really want it anyway. The demo only lasted about ten minutes, but it gave a pretty good impression. However, the game was fun to play, although it took me a few minutes to learn the controls (not owning a console).

There are 16 playable civilizations, each with one (and only one) leader assigned to it. Thirteen civs were included in the demo. I have listed them below, along with their ruler, starting bonus and unique units:

EnglishElizabethMonarchyCrossbow archer, Lancaster bomber, Spitfire fighter
MongolsGenghis Khan+1 mountain production 
AfricansShaka ZuluOverrun combat advantageImpi
IndiansGandhiAccess to all resources 
FrenchNapoleonImpressive cathedralTrebuchet, howitzer
JapaneseTokugawaCeremonial BurialSamurai knight, Val bomber, Zero fighter
AmericansLincolnA Famous PersonSherman tank, Flying Fortress, Mustang fighter
ChineseMaoWritingCrossbow archer
RussiansCatherineLocal area mapCossack horseman & T34 tank
SpanishIsabellaNavigationConquistador & Oxbow archer
RomansCaeserAn Ancient Wonder 

One new concept added is that civilization bonuses change according to ages. Civilizations advance from the Ancient Era to the Medieval Era to the Industrial Era to the Modern Era. As they advance, they acquire new bonuses based on that civilizations history. For example, I have listed the era bonuses for the American and English eras below:

American Era BonusesAncient: 2% interest on gold reserves
 Medieval: rush units at half price
 Industrial: +1 food from plains
 Modern: factories 3x production
British Era BonusesAncient: knowledge of Monarchy
 Medieval: +1 naval combat
 Industrial: +1 hill production
 Modern: 2x naval support

I had a chance to interview Barry Caudill, Executive Producer with Firaxis Games. The results of this lively give and take will follow shortly, and includes insights into the future of Civ on the PC.

SC: This is Mike Nino of StrategyCore with Barry Caudill of Firaxis, here to talk about Civilization Revolution. I'll start with a softball: Firaxis isn't moving away from PC games, are they?
BC: No, not at all. There were two things we were trying to address. One is that we felt that there weren't strategy games like we like to make on the consoles. We look around and didn't see it. We think that might be an untapped market.

SC: It is a huge market, too. I was reading some E3 literature which stated that there are 10 times more people now gaming on consoles than on PC's, which is distressing to a person that really only plays games on the PC.
BC: I don't think PC games are going away, but there is a huge console market out there. We play both. Obviously, we play PC games because that's what we like to make. But we also play a lot of console games and we didn't see any of those kinds of games out there. And secondly, we thought that it was a really great opportunity to redefine what Civilization is. Because when you are making Civ 1, 2, 3, 4 and expansion packs, eventually it gets to be so deep and so complex and so daunting that a new player isn't going to be able to jump in and play. So, this game was a chance to say "What's the core Civ experience?" It was very liberating for us to be able to throw away all the stuff and start putting things back in and saying "Well, that has to be there, and this has to be there." So it was good for us. It works on both fronts. And I think some of the ideas that we've actually had for this product will work their way into the PC title.

SC: That's good. The cross pollinization is a real strength when you do something like this.
BC: Absolutely. It's really helped us because there are certain things in the PC version that are in this version. It started as a PC title. But I think that some of these new features, like naval support, have never been in Civ before. It's in this game and it will probably make its way into the PC version, too.

SC: Did you say that Civilization Revolution started as a PC game?
BC: Civilization in general stated as a PC game.

SC: Right, right.
BC: But also, when Sid writes his prototypes he writes for the PC first.

SC: As he should.

BC: (laughs) The prototype for this game was on PC and still runs on PC. The cool thing about his game core is that it doesn't know or care what system it's on. It's just the game core, and consequentially, it's whatever the presentation layer and the interface layer we wrap around it, that's what knows what system it's on. So, as I said, the prototype runs on a PC, but then when we wrap the presentation layer for the next gen consoles, then it works on those. But it also works on the Nintendo DS with no memory. It runs because that's the way he's written code ever since the Commodore 64.

SC: Earlier, I was talking with Jason (2K PR), and he said that there was no intent to have this for the PC, but if the core can run on the PC, why won't you offer it for the PC?
BC: We thought it would be confusing. Because we have such a great PC market, we have so many players. If we put out Civilization Revolution for the PC, a lot of those guys who bought Civ 4 would think that this was Civ 5, and it's decidedly not. We thought it was more marketing hassle than marketing good. It's going to be a good thing because it helps us establish on these new platforms and get people that we would never see on the PC. Hopefully, maybe those people would like it and say "Hey, Civ 4 has gotten religion. That sounds interesting, I'm going to go over and look at that."

SC: Have you thought about offering this to the PC on-line?
BC: The thing is, the prototype still runs on PC, but this game as it stands wouldn't run very well on PC because of the shaders and all that stuff. One of the things about the PC is that we have the tendency to write to the lowest common denominator. We have to write for the lowest level PC that people will use - we develop minimum system requirements. Whereas for a console, there is no minimum and no maximum, there's the system and you just write to the system. So everything is sort of based to where the systems are right now.

SC: Civilization 4 was a pretty demanding game in terms of hardware.
BC: It was more demanding than our previous games but the minimum spec on that was a 1 GHz Pentium 4 in 2005, which at that time was pretty low. But the thing is, for a lot of Civ fans, that's the only game they play, so they don't have gamer machines. It wasn't so much the min spec for the CPU or the RAM, it was the min spec for the video card that we had to write to. We hardly used any shader stuff at all. Whereas, even now we probably would be expected to do a lot more shader stuff, so that min video spec would probably go up on future titles.

SC: When will Civ 5 come out?
BC: We always think about Civ, we never stop thinking about Civ and always have new ideas. At a certain level, we're already working on the next thing but we're not ready to talk about when it might come out. But we did just release Beyond the Sword, the largest expansion pack that's ever been for Civ. There is another PC title in the works that will probably come next year that fits into the same genre. You'll see that we're still serious about the PC. (laughs)

SC: I actually do have Beyond the Sword and I was saying how much I liked some of the mods. I really like The Final Fronter mod and Next War mod, the one's that is more future oriented. The original Master of Orion was called "Civ in Space" and now you can actually get "Civ" in Space. You can't get anymore Civ than Civ.
BC: That's very true. I've always felt that way with Master of Orion. I thought that Master of Orion 3 was a bit of a disappointment but...

SC: Very much so.
BC: But Master of Orion 2 I enjoyed a lot. Final Frontier was sort of a tribute to that. It was cool that we were able to push the Civ engine really far.

SC: Do you need to defeat local barbarians to progress to the next level?

BC: Not to progress to the next level. We put them out there to let you cut your teeth on these barbarians before you have to go fight the real civs. But there are three different types of barbarians in the game. There is a warm weather barbarian, a cold weather barbarian and a temperate barbarian. The warm weather barbarian looks a Pygmy with a blow dart. The cold guy is the guy right there (points at Gray Wolf) while the temperate guy looks sort of Celtic: he looks like Braveheart with a two tone face. They are there to harass you a little bit but also to get you used to the idea of combat.

SC: Good idea. There are 16 civilizations?
BC: Yes

SC: I noticed that the Phoenicians weren't on the list of civilizations although they gave me a gift. Are there some civilizations that you can’t play?
BC: The gift givers are these minor civs that Sid kind of threw in. They don’t really show up in the game except to give you the gifts. But it is an interesting thing. People do sort of expect to meet them. "He gave me a gift. Shouldn’t I go see them?"

SC: Normally when they give you gifts it means they're pretty weak.
BC: Exactly. That's what it is. They are sort of paying tribute to you for doing cool stuff. That sort of takes the place of the old castle in Civ 1, the old throne room in Civ 2 or the castle again in Civ 3. Civ 4 didn’t have anything. For Civ Revolution we wanted to go back to that throne room idea.

SC: I think that is a good idea.
BC: I think it lets the player know how well they are doing. You know.

SC: There is only one leader per civ, right?
BC: Yes. Although there is this idea of downloadable content so there is every possibility that we can add either new leaders or new civs or something like that as we go along.

SC: How many unique units are there?
BC: That’s funny, I would probably have to sit and count. We cut it down a lot. But what we’ve done is instead of having a whole lot of different or unique units, we make them different and individual for each civ. So, in the ancient era for ground units, melee units you might find warriors, legions, phalanx and horsemen, and that’s about it. The units feels different because for each civ they have different team colors, different helmets, different shields and different swords and things like that so they feel very different. But then also depending how you use them in battle, you might upgrade them differently. Depending on how you give them upgrades, it affects their performance and abilities. Then you can actually put those units together in an army so they become even more powerful.

SC: How do armies work?
BC: Anytime you have three of the same unit in a square you can make an army. The cool thing is if any one of those three units is veteran, then the army is veteran. If any of those units is elite and has an upgrade, the whole army gets the upgrade. And you can have up to three upgrades per army, which is really, really cool!

SC: Wow! So armies are going to be super powerful. Can you upgrade the units in the army?

BC: Yes you can actually have an army that gets an upgrade because they won enough battles at a certain point.

SC: I mean an upgrade from a longbowman to a musketeer.
BC: The only way you can do that is with one of the wonders. We went back to the Leonardo’s Workshop wonder. The Leonardo Workshop wonder actually upgrades all your units like it used to back in Civ 2.

SC: Do you have the same music? I really like the music back in Civ 2 for Leonardo’s Workshop. When you first built it there was a cool jazz tune.
BC: Actually the guy that did the music for a lot of Civ 2 works for us now. His name is Roland Rizzo. But the music for Civ Revolution is done by a guy named Duane Decker who wrote music for Rise of Nations and Rise of Legends and also did music for a lot of the Mech games that Microsoft did. He is actually a very accomplished composer and it’s great to be working with him.

SC: How many types of building are there?
BC: Let’s see. It is funny I don’t know the number. I would have to sit and count. But we have limited it so there aren’t quite as many as there would in Civ 4 but there is still everything you would expect. There is a temple and a cathedral, they are like a pair, there are libraries and universities, a marketplace and a bank. There are different types of mines you can build, there are walls, and there are 21 wonders...

SC: So there are 21 wonders? Does that include something called a relic?
BC: Relics are different. Relics you find in the world. They are powerful like a wonder but they are a one shot. Only the first person that gets it gets the benefit.

SC: How many are there?
BC: There are seven of those. But they randomly show up in the game. You may have three in one game and five in another or something like that. They randomly appear.

SC: What about the tech tree?
BC: The tech tree is streamlined too, but it’s still everything that you expect to see in a Civ game. You can actually look at it when you play the demo. It's hard to find what techs are missing.

SC: It looks kind of like Master of Orion 2 where you kind of have to choose one out of three techs.
BC: Well, early in the game we like to limit your choices but as you get in you can get more and more choices. Because we don’t like to kill you with decisions early but Civ's a great game where it builds up how many decisions you have to make over time.

SC: That's good! But you already know that!
BC: (laughs) Yeah!

SC: How do advisors work?
BC: We wanted you to feel more like a king. So the advisors are right there in your face all the time and they are showing you stuff in the world and giving you advice about all kinds of different things. There are four of them: a domestic, a foreign, a military and a science advisor. They are always available to sort of give you hints or things like that. Help you out a little bit. We think that having cool advisors makes you feel more like a king.

SC: When I was playing the demo, I had a settler and was ready to found a new city but I didn’t get a hint of where to put it.
BC: We’re getting that in. We don’t know how to show it to you yet, we are trying to work out a way to highlight a square without sort of forcing you to go there. It is all about your decisions even though we may say "This is a better place than this one". We want to highlight a good choice without making it seem that's the only choice. So we are still working on how to show that on the interface.

SC: Well, thank you very much!
BC: Thank you.


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Game Card

Civilization Revolution Box
Developer: Firaxis
Publisher: 2K Games