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Are there set behaviour types? David McDonough: Actually, that's a really good questions because, as Will was saying about the affinities, we don't want them to be synonymous with a certain way to win, or a certain way to play. Supremacy doesn't always mean military. So the civ with the more militaristic bent, which is Brazilia? Harmony would be just as good, Purity would be just as good as an expression of military strength. So the AI will make the same adaptive choices that you will.
So if they start with a certain situation with alien neighbours, the terrain, they may find that their easiest path is one of the three affinities and the next time you play it'll be different. We also give them a little curve to their ball, so they tend to pick things that you don't. It's not like one big world of Harmony. If you go Harmony, they're going to go something else. That's a little bit of a designer device just to make things fun.
Will Miller: It's much more oppositional. There's no world congress or galactic council or anything like that. I think there are avenues for that sort of play through the diplomacy system. One of the systems we're really excited about is the white hat black hat covert ops. It takes espionage from Brave New World and expands it quite a bit.
You can do many, many more things with spies when you get them in cities and things like smuggling from them and stealing their research and technology to things like planting the Dune thumper device in their city and having worms pop out. Only the Harmony player can do that. Or setting off a nuclear explosion, a dirty bomb in their city. There's some stuff that's white hat stuff that's done peacefully, that's not detrimental to the other player but is still clandestine, so if the AI catches you doing it they're not going to be pleased about it, but it benefits you and doesn't harm them as much.
Then the more clandestine activity happens in a city, we call it intrigue, there's an intrigue level that increments. Once that gets real high you can start doing things that are more directly offensive, like detonating a bomb or sending the aliens to attack. That's a pretty cool avenue into the diplomacy system that's not "I'm going to talk to you now, let's have a conversation tree.
Will Miller: Well, we telegraph. It's not like you'll never know stuff is going to happen. You telegraph that the - there's a part of the HUD that's your intrigue. It's kind of like the stars from Grand Theft Auto. When you get five of them the cops are after you, you kind of understand what that means. Once it gets to a certain threshold you can see, you don't know who's doing it, but you can see that there's a lot of intrigue going on, so I'd better put counterspies in here, or I'd better build the office of homeland security to clamp it down.
There's several ways, virtues, buildings, even satellites can assist you in defending yourself against covert action. PC Gamer: What kind of units can you build? David McDonough: Since obviously without the historic context there's no such thing as going from archers to guns. When you land on the planet you've got pretty good stuff contemporary military plus.
One of the favourite features from Alpha Centauri is the unit workshop, which everybody really likes, even though in our opinion the design of that could have been improved, so we did! We decided on a different way to make your army customisable, and also feed back into your affinity, your cultural identity. So you have a catalogue of generic unit types that will upgrade as you level up.
As your dominant affinity goes higher you'll be able to stack these guys with perks, with special abilities that are themed to that. Your marines can start out as normal marines, and then you play a little while and they level up to level two marines and you give them the anti-alien perk instead of the anti-city perk, because that's the kind of army you want to field. Then they have more abilities beyond that, so your stock types upgrade throughout the game.
About a third of the way into the game they start to get augmented by unique units, which are unique to affinities, they're not unique to affinities. So if you play the Supremacy path you will have access to Supremacy uniques there's a catalogue of them, and they are themed along Supremacy ideals, so the first two are robots, basically droids, and they get more sophisticated from there.
So there are robo-soldiers for Supremacy, using alien lifeforms as herds, or as cavalry, or breeding new creations for the Harmony player. Then the Purity player has the aforementioned flying fortresses. They're the tough guys, so they specialise in the float-stone, and they figure out how to mill it into a particular kind of ore that they can use to levitate truly massive objects.
Their highest levels are the lev-tanks and the lev-destroyer, which is essentially a battleship that flies. So depending on your playstyle you can look at these different styles of armies, and by the end of the game they're going to be totally different. Your army will be totally different than your neighbours, but balanced, so it's more like which of you is better at using your particular strengths? PC Gamer: Does that separate the military tree from the tech tree, so you're not actually researching new units?
Will Miller: They're kinda tied. The central ring, the first simple techs you'll be able to get to quickly unlock the generic they're not really generic, we call them the classes so you research your tech to unlock the cavalry and the siege units, and the battleship and stuff like that. Then, once you have those categories unlocked, you can go into our version of the workshop, the unit upgrade screen, and that's where you see their progression tree. It starts out linear and then it branches depending on affinity.
So as you research affinities in the tech tree, the various branches unlock along that. Then each time you unlock an upgrade you get to pick one of these perks, so even within that selection, the affinity-based selection, you still get to specialise even further with the perks. PC gamer: It feels like the factions are quite emergent. From their military, to the way they behave and their aspirations. There's a lot going into that mix, so when you meet another player, you really have to figure out what their deal is by looking at them, I imagine, and spying on them.
Will Miller: Covert ops is a good way to do that. One of the lower level things you can do is gather intelligence. You would send a spy to their city, gather intel, then you would get an intelligence report that says 'here's their level'. Depending on the level of the spy you'd get more detailed information here's what they're researching, here are their affinity levels.
David McDonough: It is true that their actual aesthetic will change. The art team has done a lot of work to bring the affinities into the game visually, so the units will look different. Your high level Supremacy marines will look like these lithe, robotic gleaming things, versus the Purity marine, which is really heavily armoured with a heavy bore gun, so yeah.
And their cities. Their building composition will change. Their leader will change. Everything about them will get coloured by their dominant affinity. It'll be impossible to miss. Will Miller: It was really cool when our art team got spooled up. We started getting these concept art pieces in and we were like 'oh my god, we get to put that in Civ? That's awesome!
The robot samurai guy, the giant alien walker thing. This is going in a Civ game? That's so cool. They're used to a more research-oriented art process. When we said 'you guys just get to invent this' they had a lot of fun. PC Gamer: Has it been liberating not being tied down by history for this project? Will Miller: Absolutely. Both from a player's perspective it's a really refreshing take on the Civilization formula, but from a designer's perspective it's even cooler because we get to do things like, have the seeded start with the customisable civs, or the tech web, or the unit upgrades and the fiction and all this stuff.
It's really, really cool. It's an exciting game to work on. PC Gamer: I know you guys have been reading a lot of sci-fi and watching a lot of science fiction films. Are there any influences you'd pick out in particular? The Great Mistake is a nod to him in one of his novels. Lots of sci-fi movies. You name it, we've probably seen it. David McDonough: Yeah, it's little bits of everything. There's a fair bit of Dune, obviously, with the worms.
And Ender's Game with the bugs, and the hive mind idea. The inspirations come from a lot of places. David McDonough: Some are more obvious than others. Like the contact victory, and Carl Sagan's book of the same name. Will Miller: laughs Right, like it isn't obvious enough. This is our love letter to the genre.
PC Gamer: I like seeing those little nods and winks to classic sci-fi concepts. It's kind of rewarding, as a sci-fi nerd. Will Miller: There's tons of little nods in the quotes, and the stories, the quest stories. We've tried to work as much in there as we can.
PC Gamer: How have you dealt with the massive legacy and expectation attached to Civilization in this new context? What are the things you've had to do because it's a Civ game? David McDonough: The bones of the experience are very much recognisably Civ. The idea of the cities, city-base progression, leaders, the passage of time, tile-based, turn-based, building improvements, technologies.
A lot of them are very familiar themes to the Civ player. The opportunity was not to say 'how does the legacy of Civ limit us, but once we strip all of the flesh off the Civ idea and get to its bones, what new creation can we put on top of it, that is ideal for science fiction, not for history?
We don't have to explain what cities and buildings and technology are. We can say to the player 'here are some things you remember, now forget everything you know, it all means something else'. The influences are different. The stories are different. The themes are different. Will Miller: It's a tough balance to strike because we want to reach a new audience.
We want to get to those XCOM fans who may not have played Civ because history wasn't their thing, or strategy gamers that are playing a lot of these strategy games on IOS, that haven't tried Civ before. We want to reach those people, so we're trying to make the game more accessible for them, but also catering to our hardcore fans. We think a lot about 'oooh, what would they think if we took this out and put this in'.
We try to listen to that, but we really want this product to stand on its own, and we've taken some risks, and made some changes that are surprising I think to fans, but I really think that they'll like it. David and I are relatively young designers. This is our first big Civ product. We've worked in Civ a little bit.
We've done our time on Civ stuff, but it's really a testament to Firaxis to trust us and let us take this chance and make this new thing. PC Gamer: How long have you guys worked for Firaxis? Will Miller: Five years, with a sabbatical in the middle. We met in college and we learned to make games together in college. I came here first, and Dave was visiting just to catch up and I said 'hey, we've got this production position open at Firaxis, why don't you come by and do an interview?
We worked here for two-and-a-half years, then I went to Big Huge games to work on Amalur and Dave followed shortly thereafter. We were both systems designers, so Dave made the transition from David McDonough: I was an engineer at Firaxis first, and we both made the transition into systems design at Big Huge, then we were invited back to do this.
It was a really cool thing. We're best friends and we get to work on this cool game. PC Gamer: I like that you're both lead designer, it's quite unusual, a lead designer unit. David McDonough: People around here seem to really enjoy it. I think it's amusing to the company to be able to present us like that.
PC Gamer: The hive mind. David McDonough: We're very different. Our personalities are very different, and our perspective on the game is very different. We design through dialogue, and I think we do a pretty good job. PC Gamer: What kind of design ideas do you argue about when putting together a Civ game? David McDonough: I mean, everything's up for grabs.
There's conflict in every way you interpret what this opportunity means. Very traditional Civ, very not-traditional, shedding even the strongest of conventions. Trying to justify the presence of every mechanic that's in the game. How does that enable new ones? That's where affinities came from, this hammered-out forge of different influences.
How do we represent the idea of post-humanism mechanically, with numbers? There's no shortage, large and small, from 'I think that military should move three instead of two' to the very concept of technology as a web, rather than as a tree. It's a huge moving part. You put that in and it changes everything. Will Miller: One good example of that is that, in my mind, there are two kinds of Civilization games. There's Civilization 4 and Civilization 5, then there's Civ Rev.
Civ Rev is my favourite, it's the last Civ that Sid Meier himself has designed, that's in the Civ canon. It's a much more asymmetrically balanced game, whereas Civ 4 and 5 where symmetrically balanced games. There's a lot more drama in Civ Rev, for me as a player. The game can swing very dramatically one way or the other, and that's been an issue, resolving the desire to get that sort of drama in the game, while at the same time not upsetting fans of Civ V too much.
There are different voices in our office for each of those perspectives. Anton Stringer, is our systems designer. He's done a tour on every expansion, I think, and is one of those hardcore Civ players, so he represents that voice. We talk I don't think fight is good laughter. Contentious conversation, perhaps. David McDonough: Debate! Will Miller: Impassioned debate.
But it's not design by committee, that's important to note. We really do convince each other and go forward with conviction. PC Gamer: It's interesting, there are different types of Civ, of course, but so many types of Civ player. I'm very militaristic, so I'm not going to care about whole systems in that game. How do you design to those different needs? David McDonough: It's a very strong influence.
A lot of the systems in the game are designed with exactly that thought process at the beginning. How are the full spectrum of Civ attitudes going to be able to use this? Is it going to be fun for them? We had a design meeting the other day which was specifically about the peaceful player. We put a lot of effort into making these military units really cool, and these aliens are really cool. Only if you fight with them. If you don't fight with them, what are you going to do? Making sure that that player has fun too, and their game is no less rich.
Once again, from the biggest to the smallest mechanic, it's always with a view of 'how does this trickle into every dominant way to play the game? We want to embrace that. We have to be careful about designing too much around the conventions of play surrounding Civ V. There's a concept of wide and tall in that game. There's definitely a concept of wide and tall in this game as well, but we're always thinking 'what is the next approach?
Is there a different approach? We want to set the stage for new ones to arrive, and foster those as well. PC Gamer: I'm curious about the very start of the design process, when there's no art. What does it look like, is there a stripped down screen with hexes everywhere and formulas dangling off them? How does it actually come together? David McDonough: There's a lot of placeholder assets.
We get a minimum level engine going, then there's a lot of really crummy looking stuff, programmer art, as it goes. Will Miller: A lot of it from Civs of past, we'll just pull in. Having found the application launch parameters there, you need to specify the -window -noborder command in the input line. This must be done before stretching the image in CS:GO so that it runs in windowed format, but the frames and window buttons are not shown on display. The next step is to configure the video card.
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