A first-ever look at how Firaxis unearths the history that drives Civilization
It's in the name: Civilization. It conjures romantic thoughts of world-spanning accomplishments and ageslong struggles. It brings to mind man's search for meaning. It plays at global conflict.
The Civilization series has, for over 20 years, defined strategy gaming. It has also, almost as a side effect, inspired a great number of people to study history — including some of those who now make the games.
"I played Civilization 3 and 4 during high school. I played 4 a little bit during college. I went into college wanting to study history, and I attribute that largely to ... playing Civilization."
That's Anton Strenger. He did go on to study history in college, including spending a good bit of time studying the ancient Assyrians. But he also, eventually, studied computer science, and after he graduated, he went to work for Firaxis, the maker of Civilization.
Strenger now sits at a table with Ed Beach and Scott Lewis, veteran designers who, along with Strenger, are the leads of Firaxis' upcoming Civ 5 expansion, Brave New World, the final official release for the game this team has been working on for seven straight years.
We're on the other side of that table. Firaxis has promised to reveal the source of its magic; to show us where civilizations in Civilization are born. To reveal, in other words, the source of that Nile.
Nine new civilizations are coming as part of the Brave New World expansion that will officially bring new development on Civ 5 to a close, including the previously unannounced Venetians and Shoshone. We wanted to find out how they get built. Not just from a technical standpoint, but from the archeological. How true-to-life are these civs? And what goes into making them worthy of inspiring people to actually study history just from playing a game?
Here's what we found.
The number nine
The journey begins with a number.
In this case, that number is nine, which is no more or no less than the same number of civs released in the previous Civ 5 expansion, Gods & Kings.
"Production tells us how many," says Ed Beach. He's the lead designer on Brave New World, as he was for Gods & Kings. "There's a lot of art bandwidth that is required for each civ. They knew they could do nine civs worth. They knew they couldn't do more than that. So we capped out there and that was always the firm number."
According to Producer Dennis Shirk, the number nine was a production budget issue, but also a way to ensure that BNW would be equal, in the eyes of fans, to G&K.
"We didn't want to do eight or seven, because ... the fans say, 'Well, we got nine with this one,'" Shirk says. "If we released eight with this and a gob of new gameplay, it would still be a disappointment, because there's only eight leaders. So they found a way to do the nine that we needed."
Once the number is settled, it's time to get dirty (with history). Beach, Lewis and Strenger took a look at the world map and asked themselves three questions: Where haven't we gone? Where do people want us to go? And what can do we do that's fun?
Answering the first question is as easy as checking off a list, and, as it turns out, South America and Africa haven't been on that list very much, in spite of having a combined wealth of world civilizations to choose from. Three of BNW's nine new civs will be from these two continents.
To answer the second question, the team turned to its forum community, CivFanatics, a source of continual joy (and occasional frustration — the forum community determined that a list of announced achievements was in alphabetical order, and so determined what letters the unannounced civilizations started with) for the developers. They wanted to make sure that parts of the world where people might play Civ (and there are a lot of them) don't feel left out of Civ.
Enrico Dandolo is the leader of the newly announced Venetian civ.
"Even though you don't think of, say, Indonesia, as a big video game outlet and consumer market, the country is huge now," says Beach. "More and more places like Indonesia and Brazil, you just can't ignore how important their growth is here in the 21st century."
And so, Indonesia and Brazil. Check. Zulu and Morocco, check. Five to go.
The next question, says Beach, is: "How can we take a civ and make it into an interesting gameplay experience?"
Enter Portugal, Poland, Assyria, the Shoshone and the Venetians.
"Portugal ... doesn't meet the geographic diversity requirement, because Europe was already heavily represented, but it's a fan favorite," says Strenger. "It's been requested for a long time, it's been in previous Civ expansions like Civ 4 and they were historically this awesome trading empire. Here we are adding this awesome trading system. That lends itself really easily to creating this cool trading-oriented civ. That was one of our earlier additions."
One of the new gameplay mechanics in BNW is an enhanced trading system, with cargo ships and caravans. You can send these units to neighboring cities for an influx of cash and an exchange of science and religion bonuses. And they can be plundered, unlike the nebulous "trades" accessed via the diplomacy screens. New technologies unlock additional trade routes, making focusing on an economic civilization both more challenging and more interesting.
Poland, as well, taps into the new gameplay mechanics, granting players additional social policies which, when paired with BNW's enhanced policy system, grant the player the ability to make the civilization into practically any kind of power they want.
"Poland is set up to be a jack of all trades," says Beach. "You can start a game as Poland and you can react to who else you encounter. If Genghis and some of those other guys are in the game, you can take honor and defend against them, or maybe I don't go the military path to win the game and outrace them some other way."
"We kind of do look toward the endpoints of the game in terms of, are they going to try to win diplomatically? Are they going to try to win culturally? Historically, which one makes the most sense?" says Strenger. "The traits and the unique units and buildings that we end up designing for them from historical context, what do those lend themselves to?"
The capital of Assyria
Each civ has two distinct musical compositions, one for peace and one for war.
What Assyria lends itself to is domination. Its unique ability is stealing a technology from conquered civilizations, an old mechanic from prior civs that's just now landing in Civ 5.
"We have a lot of militaristic civs, and we have a lot of scientific civs, but especially the scientific civs — you have Babylon, Korea — they're very peaceful, protective. They'd like to stay small," says Strenger. Assyria is his baby. "And so I thought, what if Assyria ... they kind of were the scientific powerhouse of the ancient era, especially since they sacked Babylon and stole all their scientific texts. What if they were this militaristic, expansionist science power? That's kind of how that started."
Strenger studied the Assyrians in school. He remembers being struck by their emergence as a great power in the ancient fertile crescent, mainly through subjugation and stealing technologies. So when the call went out for new civs for BNW, he dug through his old college textbooks and put his head together with one of the Firaxis artists, who also studied ancient Mesopotamia in college. Together they whipped up a design and Assyria made it into the game, for the first time in, well, history.
"She [the artist] had just been over to Turkey on a big trip over there ... to the Hagia Sophia and visited Gobekli Tepe, that they just unearthed in the last 10 years," says Beach." All of our Civ games start at 4,000 B.C. and this thing's from 8,000 B.C. We're like, 'Oh, man, we've gotten it wrong all this time.' ... When you have people like that on staff, there's a lot of sharing of resources back and forth. That's exactly what happens."
Once the designers settle on civs, the art team steps in. Models for special units, buildings and wonders have to be created or modified from existing game pieces, but the most visible visual element of a new civilization has to be created from scratch: its leader.
In Civilization, interacting diplomatically with a civilization means dealing with its leader. In Civ 5, those leaders appear in very detailed 3D settings with dramatic lighting and full-polygonal animation. These scenes are easily the most graphically intensive parts of the game, and the art and animation teams put as much care into them as if the game depended on them.
"The first thing we do with a leader, we get together and talk about him," says Brian Busatti, a senior artist at Firaxis. "We talk about his characteristics, how he's going to play, how the AI is going to play, the personality. We go from there as we start the concept phase."
This next step involves a lot of research and some creative decision-making. For the Assyrians, Firaxis knew the leader would be Ashurbanipal, and the Assyrians' special building would be the Royal Library. That actually made things easier for the team, but only to a point. While knowing where to start was definitely an advantage, creating detailed 3D models of structures and people who lived before 3D models (or even photographs) existed can prove tricky.
The designers scour the internet looking for clues. They consult historical texts as well as Osprey books, renowned among historical wargamers for their attention to detail. Occasionally, as a last resort, they also turn to cosplayers.
"We found a lot of paintings of [Ashurbanipal] depicted, so we tried to put those together, as well as using later reference," says Busatti. "[We tried to] get as close as we could to how he would have looked. The hardest part with him is the beard."
Ashurbanipal, in addition to being portrayed as a very muscular man, is also often shown with an intricately woven beard. Paintings and other historical media don't tend to have the level of definition required to make an accurate polygonal model of this signature feature. The end result: 21st century game makers spend a significant amount of time and brainpower attempting to guess at how to braid a beard.
"It's some kind of stiffener under there," says Busatti. "I imagine it would be hard to [braid] unless they did, because they have such tight braids in there. ... We try to research as much as we can about the actual character, what they were in their life. We try to tweak them a little bit so they work with the game, but I think we're pretty true."
Once Busatti has the concept and design of the leaders down, animator Alex Kim steps in to make them move.
"We get a description of who these leaders were, their histories, their mannerisms, what they did, all this stuff," says Kim. "The things they did in history. You get a kind of characteristic of who they are. Then we do our best to get that person."
For Shaka, the leader of the Zulus, Kim studied how football players stand when doing interviews: chest out, shoulders squared. Aggressive while being open. Guarded. He figured a warrior king would have that same kind of swagger.
"We do our best to look at things like that and try to incorporate them," he says. "We know people's perceptions of things, and we want to follow what they believe they would be like ... we want to make sure it's as close as possible to what they perceive. Like Montezuma, where they're very angry. People want to see that. Or Attila the Hun. They don't want to see a very nice Attila the Hun; they want to see an angry Attila the Hun. That's what we want to represent."
Designer Ed Beach on Brave New World's antiquity sites
"What we do is ... we have a number of events that are worthy of archaeological data storage. We get one of those on the [game] tile and we write that in there. The oldest one wins.
"We want to try to unearth all that ancient stuff. So where that goodie hut was has been recorded. If there's a battle there now, that probably won't get recorded on that tile, just because we want to keep remembering the goodie hut. That was the oldest kernel of information about that site.
"When you start to work those antiquity sites and send an archaeologist out there, you have two choices. You can create a landmark there. That's going to provide culture. Once you get hotels and airports online, it also produces tourism. Or you can bring it back to your museum. Obviously, if it's outside your territory, you probably want to bring it back. But the ones that are in your territory, you have to decide which way to go on that.
"The amount of culture and tourism generated is based on how old it is. That increases during the game, so it's a really simple formula. If you're in the medieval era, which is the third era in the game, and this goodie hut was from the ancient era — where we are right now, the first era in the game — it's just two eras further, so you get two culture from it. But as you go, each era you progress through the game, all your sites start building up more and more.
"You always want to keep those oldest landmarks possible, because then you get the greater culture out of them. Sometimes you don't remember. 'Was there really a goodie hut there?' But it's really cool. Like, occasionally one was in a very interesting spot, where you got it just before some other player got to it, so you remember that. The barbarian camps, I tend to remember them the best, because those usually required a little bit of effort to root them out.
"When you get the antiquity site that says, 'Hey, there was a barbarian camp here and you plundered it,' that's kind of fun to remember."
The lost civilization
While Strenger was focusing on his favorite civilizations from ancient Mesopotamia, Lewis wanted to do a North American civ. Specifically a Native North American civ. More specifically, the Pueblo.
Lewis had a grand vision of tapping into the Anasazi myths of an advanced native civilization, living in caves, sorting out the mysteries of the universe by firelight. If only the actual Pueblo had been willing to go along.
Civilization is like a strategy-gaming Rosetta Stone. If your goal in life is to learn how to say the equivalent of "Make me an offer" in a variety of world languages, then all you need to do is play.
The Firaxis team agonizes over identifying the cultural languages of all of the civs in its repertoire, then searching out voice actors who can speak those languages in order to get them into the game.
"About 50 percent of the languages we have in our game are dead languages," says Shirk. "When you hear three different actors coming back — if we're lucky, we have three. If we're not lucky, like with Aztec [they found one and only one], then we have to work with that actor. But just to hear it come back to life, to hear somebody speaking it, it's really amazing."
Having so few options to choose from can also cause problems for the animators, who are stuck with building a character around whatever voice comes back to them.
"They're not always typical actors," says composer Michael Curran. "Sometimes they're academic types, if it's a really rare language. You don't get a big pool of actors to choose from."
"The people who are the best actors are close enough to the range we want them to be, but sometimes they might have a higher voice or a lower voice," says Kim. "It all affects the way we want to animate them. We can't animate somebody who's talking really high, even though he's supposed to be really angry. ... One of the people who was doing the voice acting, we were trying to push him to be angry. We were like, 'Come on, be more angry!' Because we had these hate poses ... and he was like ... the leader that he knows, he doesn't get angry. He's a very docile, very humble person. But we're like, 'We need him to be more angry!'"
For the Pueblo civ, Firaxis reached out to the modern descendants of the ancient Native American Pueblo nation, and the tribe's current leadership council. It wanted their help in studying the civ and capturing their language in video game form. They refused.
What are collectively called "the Pueblo" are actually a loose collection of various Native American tribes, each with certain similarities. Language, however, is not one of them. Like many ancient cultures, the Pueblo's language varies from region to region and tribe to tribe. The Hopi, for example, traditionally speak Uto-Aztecan, a language itself formed from an amalgam of multiple languages with its roots in the joining of the Ute language with that of the Aztecs.
"I knew that I was going to do a western North American tribe, and one of the things I wanted to stay away from was overlapping with the Zulu, who were perceived as natives, aggressive natives."
Firaxis was willing to consult with the Pueblo Council to determine the most realistic way of portraying the Pueblo civ, but the Pueblos drew a hard line at the language. To the Pueblo people, their language is sacred. They viewed inclusion of the language in a video game as a form of desecration, similar to how many native people do not wish to be photographed.
Out of respect for the ancient culture and its elders, Firaxis cancelled the Pueblo civ and turned its attention to the Shoshone.
"I knew that I was going to do a western North American tribe, and one of the things I wanted to stay away from was overlapping with the Zulu, who were ... perceived as natives, aggressive natives," says Lewis. "The Sioux fall into that same bucket. That's why, initially ... I wanted to have another civ that was sort of like a native that was more peaceful, which is where the Pueblo fit in very well. Here are the natives, but they interact with you very differently. The Pueblo would be a more spiritual, religious Western civ. When that got axed, we moved on to the Shoshone, and it was like ... We wanted them to be strong and proud, but we didn't want them to be just guys with spears."
Unfortunately, out of all the Native American tribes, the Shoshone proved the hardest to research. Beach and Lewis scoured the country for texts or exhibits, but kept coming up blank.
"I could find Encyclopedia of the American West," says Beach, "books like that, that are broad overviews of the entire American West, and you could find them in the index and there would be 10- or 15-page sections on them, but you could find Comanche, Sioux, whatever ... everyone else was covered in their bookstore. There was nothing on the Shoshone themselves."
One of the few things Firaxis knew about the culture was its ties to the famous Lewis and Clark expedition, through noted pathfinder Sacajawea. Firaxis considered making Sacajawea the "leader" of its Shoshone civ, but ultimately rejected the notion for historical reasons.
"She was a mom who happened to run into Lewis and Clark at the right time," says Beach. "She played an important role, but could she really have ever been considered a leader? That was where we kept looking at her and saying ... eh, maybe not."
Instead, they tapped actual tribal leader Pocatello to head the Shoshone civ, and immortalized Sacajawea's role in history by naming an achievement after her, and granting the Shoshone the specialized "Pathfinder" unit. Additionally, when starting new cities, the Shoshone are granted "huge swaths" of land instead of the traditional six hexes. The designers say this was intentional, to help create the Shoshone as a tough, but almost isolationist civ.
"Shoshone are ... an enemy that's not aggressive," says Lewis. "Everybody wants land. Everybody wants territory. Everybody wants a little bit more. 'Oh, if I had oil right over here ...' The Shoshone have oil, and they're real nice ... but they have that defensive bonus.
"I just like it because they present, in a way, a moral challenge. You don't worry about kicking Montezuma's butt, because he's a jerk. Pocatello, you're like, 'He's kind of a nice guy. Kind of an honorable guy.'"
"They're always a target now for the other civs," says Beach. "That pressure to have their territory encroached upon ... it's just like the American West fighting itself out, over and over again. ... People, when they start a game and they see the Shoshone, there's some trepidation about, 'I gotta move quick or they're going to grab up all my land.' All of a sudden those westward expansion pressures and conflicts ... we're seeing them re-emerge."
"Shoshone were pretty easy to prototype," says Lewis. "It was just one of those happy accidents, where you put something in and you're like, 'OK, what if we do this?' Most of the time ... it's just horrible. The Shoshone were just like, 'This works; this is fun. Thank God that it worked this time.'
"Whenever you see anything that you can interpret as a historical analog, it's just ... it's the best thing in development. You hope that this thing will work out, and you plan to get it to do something like that. When it happens, especially when it surprises you, it's the greatest feeling. You felt it. You know that hopefully tons of players will feel it. They'll feel like, 'Oh, this is just a random game, but I just re-created history.' It's the greatest thing."
The merchant of Civ
This is the part where it gets nerdy.
Lewis was listening to a podcast about a book about the Byzantine empire by noted historian and author Lars Brownworth, because, you know.
"They talked about the Venetians sacking Constantinople," says Lewis, "and I was like, 'Wow, these guys are awesome villains. They're really interesting and they're cool bad guys.' That sort of got the wheels turning."
Lewis dug into the research on his own and visited Venice on his honeymoon. He was taken by the culture and beauty of the city, but also impressed by the cultural sway of such a relatively small city-state in a time of kings. He set his mind on bringing them to Civilization.
"It was interesting trying to pick a leader for Venice," says Beach, "because we found out that all the doges of Venice were people that were established statesmen. ... They were picked by the council to be a figurehead in their last few years of life. So you get all these 80-year-old guys who reigned for about five years."
Lewis and Beach settled on Enrico Dandolo.
"When I was working with ... the art lead, Mike Bates ... whenever there was a concept for Enrico Dandolo, I would be like, 'More evil! He needs to look more evil!'" says Lewis. "Because I feel like the game works great when you have guys that are just bad guys, that you root against. As you know, we can't use Hitler or anybody like that, so we have these guys that are historically ... that were evil toward a certain group, great rivals. We had the Byzantine empire in Gods & Kings, and now we have the Venetians in Brave New World."
"Here was this guy who was a sort of shrewd manipulator ... he ended up being a great character for us to have," says Beach. "But it took a little bit of digging to figure out which one we were going to go with.
Lewis urged artist Mike Bates to make Dandolo look "more evil."
"With 43 civs, a bunch of us have visited a lot of these places, but we haven't visited all of them. We have to come up with tools and tricks to make sure that we respect the actual leaders that [the citizens of modern nations] feel are important and we get that right. Looking at things like who's on their currency, who's on their stamps, who they have statues of in their public places ... we actually do look at all that stuff. That's a really good way to make sure we get it right, in terms of representing each culture with the icons and units and buildings and stuff that they would feel good about being represented by."
When researching the Korean civ, Firaxis leaned on publisher 2K's presence in South Korea.
"When they heard that we were going to do Korea, they were like, 'Do it right,'" says Beach. "That was one of the few civs where we had to send out trial balloons."
The team settled on the 15th century ruler Sejong the Great, a popular, pre-modern figure they felt that most Koreans would feel comfortable with and who would be far removed from political disagreements that have divided the Asian nation since the mid-20th century.
"That was kind of the great simplification," says Beach. "Going back and doing a Renaissance-era leader who governed the whole united peninsula of Korea and helped establish their language and everything like that. Once we settled on who we were going to have as the leader there, it was clear that that disentangled us from any potential modern-day issues. It was a good way to go."
The selection of Enrico Dandolo as the leader of the Venetians may not be entirely free from modern political or cultural entanglements. As it turns out, his impact reaches into the modern day owing to his treatment of one of the great holy cities of the world.
"When [Dandolo] led the Crusaders ... he charged them money to stay [in Venice]," says Lewis, "and they had to pay back their debt. He said, 'OK, you can help me by taking Constantinople.' At the time I believe he was 83, he was blind and he led the fight to take Constantinople. They were the first ... everybody knows about 1453 when the Turks sacked Constantinople, but it was actually sacked by the Venetians a hundred years earlier, in the Fourth Crusade."
Designer Ed Beach on the Scramble for Africa scenario
"Scramble for Africa [is] set in the late 19th century. The interesting thing about that is that there are three entirely different play styles.
"You can be a European aggressor, where your job is to grab as much of Africa as you can. The Europeans see the whole outline of Africa, and so one tile all the way around the coast is visible to you, but the center part that is not visible is re-rolled every time.
"We have a randomly generated interior of Africa. The coastline and where the Congo empties out into the sea and where the Nile empties out, that's all fixed, and we hook up the rivers in the interior to come out in the right places. It's fun as a European because you get a lot of your points through exploring the interior of the continent, finding Kilimanjaro and the source of the Nile, all these other natural wonders. And then you're trying to claim land.
"Fighting against the Europeans, you have three sub-Saharan proud nations — the Zulu, the Ethiopians and we put in the Boers as well. They're trying to hang on to their cultural heritage. They get points for being able to develop and maintain culture buildings that don't get taken by the Europeans, and then actually fighting off the Europeans, that earns culture as well.
"The third set of powers you can play as are the North African Arab states of Morocco, the Ottoman Empire — which at this point controlled Algeria, Tunisia, that area — and the Egyptians. The Egyptians start with control of the Suez Canal. Morocco, you've probably also gotten the sense that they're a big trading empire. These guys are all about taking advantage of the situation and manipulating it for money. The more gold they accumulate, the more victory points they get.
"There are three very asymmetrical sets of victory conditions. In each of those blocks of victory conditions, you have between three and six different powers you can try. Then the map changes every time. Whereas the Civil War scenario is this really cool set-piece battle ... the Scramble for Africa is one of these things where you can play it over and over again and it unfolds in a lot of different ways.
"The experience of playing the poor Boers ... they're sitting there. Even their other sub-Saharan nation right next to them, that they start with ... you would think, "Well, I only have to worry about fighting off Europeans." But no, the Zulu start next to them as well. [laughter] Even though it doesn't really help the Zulu in terms of winning the scenario to fight the Boers, they'll often go down and fight them anyway. They're in a really tight bind.
"The Europeans have a great incentive to hook up rail lines across Africa. If you've played Settlers of Catan, the board game, there's Longest Rail in the Africa scenario. All of the European powers are trying to out-compete each other in terms of building the longest railroad. With England, I didn't realize this until I started doing the research for the scenario, they had this crazy plan that they were going to build a rail line from Cape Town all the way to Cairo. That's not a victory condition. You don't have to do that to win. But we put it in as an achievement. One, you have to hoard enough territory all the way across the continent with all heck breaking loose everywhere on all sides of you. Then you have to build a rail line up there too.
"Cecil Rhodes' dream ..."
Everybody knows. This is how you know you're dealing with history nerds. And for a game that has inspired millions to take up their own historical nerdidity, it's fitting and right that a man who'd schedule his honeymoon around a historical fishing trip be in charge of making the civs.
"The Hagia Sophia is where Enrico Dandolo is buried," says Lewis, "which is sort of ironic, because he was a villain, and if you talk to any Orthodox Christians, they really don't like Venetians. ... The venom that they hold toward Venice I find very entertaining. I don't totally ... I'm like, 'OK, that happened a while ago ...' [laughs] But all right, if you still feel like that."
In BNW, the Venetians are a trading empire, and as befitting their city-state roots, they spawn no settler, instead expanding their reach by taking over other city-states.
"I think they're interesting to play," says Lewis, "because the typical breakdown of how you start a game is, 'OK, I'm going to go warrior, scout, scout, scout, worker, settler.' You can't get the settler, and you're like, 'What do I do?' [laughs] 'Maybe I need a merchant? How do I get a merchant?' It forces you out of that play style, which I really love."
The Venetian special unit, the Merchant of Venice, replaces the Great Merchant, and players are granted one early in the game, after researching the optics technology to kick things off.
"That's sort of like ... 'Hey, you're Venice. You're going to be playing a naval trade game. Why don't you go to optics right away?'" says Beach. "That's going to put you on the right path. [The Venetians are] hard enough to play as it is, in terms of breaking everyone out of their normal comfort zone, that it was good to give everyone a kind of hint."
"When I was working with the art lead, Mike Bates, I would be like, 'More evil! He needs to look more evil!'"
Players can send their Merchants of Venice to city-states in the way they'd normally conduct a trading mission, but instead of generating money and influence, the Merchant of Venice can instead simply buy the city-state, making it a puppet to the Venetian empire. This can create a powerful, but far-flung civilization, putting a heavy emphasis on building a strong navy.
"One thing we did do is we made sure Venice has a really good ocean start," says Beach. "We have a start bias system so that every civ in the game ... like the Aztecs like to start in the jungle, the Moroccans want to start in the desert, Brazil likes the jungle. That kind of stuff. There's a whole slew of civs that like to start along the sea. There's Polynesia, there's Carthage, Byzantium, a bunch of them. But we give Venice super high ... even out of all the seafaring powers, they're the first pick. They get basically first pick of oceangoing spots when we roll up the map, just to make sure they get a good spot to set up a trading empire."
While the Venetian player can't control what its puppet city-states produce, the civ does get more trade routes than any other civ, which generates more money, faster, for the Venetians than other civs will have access to. It can also purchase units in its puppets, making it possible to generate large armies in far-flung corners of the world.
"The puppet's just going to keep its normal production cycle, building all the buildings it needs, but you can buy an army there," says Beach. "It seemed very Venetian ... it was all about having the finances and capital to have this great mercantile empire. So we put that in, and all of a sudden they played fine. That's Venice in a nutshell."
Brave new Civ
While the Brave New World expansion brings a lot of new features to the Civ table (trade routes, the World Congress, culture and ideology enhancements, etc.), it is always the new civs that get the most attention. Firaxis knows this, which is why it decided to take some risk with BNW's new batch of civs.
"The trickiest thing recently has been trying to differentiate from what's already there," says Beach. "Because we're warping the play style a little bit further than we used to ... you can get a sense that a second expansion, 43 civs in ... we definitely had to push the envelope a little bit more this time to come up with play styles for everybody. It's fun and exciting, too, that we had to do that, because now we've pushed ourselves to come up with some very unusual ways to play the game and then put that into the nine civs that are here."
Firaxis conducts multiple rounds of playtesting with new features and civs, but the challenge it faced with the new civs in BNW was teaching the playtesters how to approach them before they could test them out.
"Venice just changes the way that you play. It's going to be fascinating to a lot of players."
"First we had to get our testing group up to speed on how to even play Venice," says Beach. "Then, once they felt comfortable with it, they could start to judge that. So we had to be careful not to treat the early results, to overweigh them. We had to wait until everybody got comfortable with it."
The final proof, says Shirk, will be in how well it plays in the hands of the fans.
"We think people are going to have a lot of fun with Venice in particular," Shirk says. "Aside from the unique way of playing Shoshone, Venice just changes the way that you play. It's going to be fascinating to a lot of players. We always have a sense, in terms of exploits, things like that, because it's all within the family of playing through a normal game. This one is going to be kind of a wild card."
Beach says that if there's anything left over that he might have wanted to include in Civ V, after a full game and two expansions, it would be the ability to zoom out to reveal a globe-shaped world (a feature lost when Civ moved to a custom game engine) and the ability to terraform. The original design for the Dutch civ called for them to be able to reclaim land from the sea, but this proved to be impossible within Civ V's existing game engine.
"That's a little tip of the iceberg for what was left here. There are so many places to go," Beach says, hinting, perhaps, at what fans might be able to expect from an as yet unannounced (or even acknowledged) Civ 6.
As for Civ 5, Firaxis is confident that, after seven full years, it's put the game to bed as finally and completely as it could have.
"If you look at Civ 4, it's still getting played ... Civ 3 is still getting played. It's a model that makes sense," Beach says. "Part of the strength of the community is the way that, even once we wrap up working on one, they know it's going to have been brought forward over many years of gestation, and it's going to be in a really solid place.
"[Fans are] going to be happy sitting with [Civ 5] for a couple of years until the next one is ready to roll out."
Editing: Matt Leone
Design / Layout: Matthew Sullivan, Warren Schultheis
Image credits: 2K Games