Damn, October and November are going to be really busy months with all the new game releases happening. There are already three on my future games list!
But you know what occurs to me? I haven't even talked about what Civilization: Beyond Earth (CivBE) is exactly? I mean, it's part of the Sid Meier's Civilization family, but so was Alpha Centauri, and that game wasn't exactly a resounding success financially. And yes, CivBE is partially based on Alpha Centauri. But I think this time Firaxis may get it right this time. Let's dive in.
Here's what Firaxis' web site says about CivBE.
- Seed the Adventure: Establish your cultural identity by choosing one of eight different expedition sponsors, each with its own leader and unique gameplay benefits. Assemble your spacecraft, cargo & colonists through a series of choices that directly seed the starting conditions when arriving at the new planet.
- Colonize an Alien World: Explore the dangers and benefits of a new planet filled with dangerous terrain, mystical resources, and hostile life forms unlike those of Earth. Build outposts, unearth ancient alien relics, tame new forms of life, develop flourishing cities and establish trade routes to create prosperity for your people.
- Technology Web: To reflect progress forward into an uncertain future, technology advancement occurs through a series of nonlinear choices that affect the development of mankind. The technology web is organized around three broad themes, each with a distinct victory condition.
- Orbital Layer: Build and deploy advanced military, economic and scientific satellites that provide strategic offensive, defensive and support capabilities from orbit.
- Unit Customization: Unlock different upgrades through the tech web and customize your units to reflect your play style.
- Multiplayer: Up to 8 players can compete for dominance of a new alien world.
- Mod support: Robust mod support allows you to customize and extend your game experience.
That's fairly non-descriptive. I mean, it really doesn't say anything about the game play or how CivBE compares to a blockbuster like Civ5. What does say a lot about CivBE is the E3 interview Gamespot did with co-creator Will Miller of Firaxis.
I think what really got my attention is when Will Miller describe the fundamental design mentality as asymmetric. In Civ5, everything is very linear. If I don't force myself out of my comfort zone, I end up achieving victory the same way every single time. And I can do that because progression is predictable, and there are not very many potential counters to any particular strategy. Once you've played the game as long as I have, moves become pretty much rote and you only lose when you make a mistake.
That takes a lot of the risk, and challenge, out of the game. Not to mention it becomes a purely numbers based game. After awhile, you come to inherently know if you build X number of these units at this time you win - and that works in almost any game scenario no matter how much you vary the starting conditions. For example, all I have to do to keep an AI from attacking me is to fortify a unit in each city and make certain to upgrade it at every opportunity. I've not encountered an AI yet that would attack me - except Shaka that is. He'll attack anything. But 99% of the time, if I do what I just outlined, and build the appropriate defenses in the city (forgot that part,) I am free to pursue any other victory condition without worrying about having war declared against me.
Now, I can't say CivBE has eliminated that, but it has made the whole "win" calculation a lot more difficult. From what Will Miller described in the video, it's like they've gotten rid of all the units of a particular type, say the ones that use gunpowder weapons, and create one unit that uses a rifle. Then you increase it's capabilities through promotions only, or in the case of CivBE, through technology upgrades. And since the technology is a web and not a linear progression, it is much more difficult to gauge the actual strength of an opponent's army.
I think this uncertainty will also spill over into the technology web. You always get a notice in Civ5 when another civilization enters a specific age. Since technology is a linear progression in Civ5, that means you always know approximately how advanced your opponent is. And this is done without any future resource expenditure on your part. If you are two ages ahead, she can't touch you militarily, and every other victory condition is tilted in your favor as well. With the technology web in CivBE, there are no ages. And I certainly hope the game never announces any particular opponent has achieved any particular level of advanced technology. If you want to find out how advanced they are, you should have to send a spy or attack on of their units to discover exactly what they've researched.
And lastly, I love that the victory conditions will take 50 to 60 turns to implement, let alone plan. Once committed, it should be far harder to switch to a different victory condition. That makes early strategy much more important than it is in Civ5. In Civ5, the only true early strategy is to expand. It really doesn't matter what else you do. You really don't have to start working on a victory condition until you hit the Industrial Age. Some of them you can wait even longer. The only victory condition you really should start at the beginning is the domination, conquer everything victory condition. And even with that one I've waited until the Modern Age to implement.
I remember one game I was playing against Germany (and some other's,) and old Otto pissed me off. So I dropped a nuke on Berlin... just because I could. Then everyone attacked me because I'd nuked Otto. I was an age ahead of my nearest opponent (Otto,) so I just went mad and conquered everyone. With any luck, that just won't be possible in CivBE, but if it is, it should be so difficult that no one will want to try it unless they have no other option. When I nuked Berlin, I was already well on my way to another Scientific Victory. I didn't have to nuke him or fight everyone else. They couldn't have really hurt me one way or another. That's fun in a certain way, but it certainly is not challenging.
Most of this lack of challenge comes from a mentally impaired Civ5 AI. I have seen cannon in front of infantry, archers conduct frontal assaults, and armies run to engage a scout while cavalry swoops in to take the city from the other direction. The Wonders the AI chooses to build sometimes make absolutely no sense, especially when I've already researched the technology to make the Wonder's affects obsolete. And I won't even go into city management. The AI in Civ5 really is not that good. Perhaps the AI in CivBE will be incredibly smart, and not make stupid decisions, playing more like a human than a dumb machine. Firaxis is making some concrete promises in that department. In an interview with gameplay designer Anton Strenger, Sid Meier’s Civilization series senior producer Dennis Shirk and associate producer Pete Murray done by Matt Peckham on Time.com (April 14, 2014,) they had this to say about CivBE's AI,
Beyond Earth‘s A.I. programmer, his name is Brian Whooley, has been with us from the very beginning. Will Miller and David McDonough, our lead designers, have worked with him on their previous project [Haunted Hollow for iOS] very closely. Me and Will and Dave share an office, and right across the hall is Brian Whooley, and we meet multiple times a week. He’s following in close step with all the design features that come on line, to make sure the A.I.’s up to par, that it’s winning the game in all the different ways and stuff like that. So the A.I.’s definitely been a focus for us, and we expect we’ll be in a good place at launch.
I can only hope!
I know it's common to use December 31st as a placeholder for an actual date when a company only gives a general release timeframe like, "Coming in 2014!" I made the comment I did for editorial emphasis of my desire to get a firm date. Less than a week later I had it. So ease up off my back already ;) ! ↩