Code To Joy: Jon Shafer On Civilization V

By Quintin Smith on September 10th, 2010 at 12:30 am.

The whole 'Staring Eyes' thing becomes creepier once you know that this rectangular format of images is called a letterbox format. So, the eyes are peering out from behind letterboxes.

Jon Shafer is a gamer who did the impossible. In January 2005 he was a modder and an active member of the Civilization fan community. Today, he’s the Lead Designer on Civilization V, out on the 24th of this month. I met up with Jon today to ask him about boardgames, how he managed to reach this position in just a few years, what alternatives there were to the improvements coming in Civ V, and seriously how did he manage to reach that position so fast. Blackmail? Gotta be blackmail, surely. Jon found out that Sid Meier coded a satantic message into Railroads! or something.

Click through for the interview. The truth will (probably) shock you.

RPS: So what I’m most curious about is your history. You went from modding Civ 3 to being Lead Designer of Civ V in a few years? How does that work?

Jon Shafer: Honestly, I’m still trying to figure it out myself! [laughter] I think it involves brainwashing.

RPS: What were you modding for Civ 3?

JS: The first thing I started with was general rule tweaks. I was a fan who played way too much Civ 3, and I was like [on the forums] “This thing kind of sucks. Fix it!” and they were like, “No.” And I was like, “Alright.” And then I did it myself.

That was the beginning, and from there I started making maps. I’d been doing games since I was young- my father was a computer programmer, so I learned some things from him that got me interested in making things from an early age. So from maps I started doing more complex stuff, like scenarios. I did some civil war stuff and a Napoleonic war scenario.

RPS: Were you in college at the time?

JS: At that time I was in high school, but I was pretty involved online in a number of things online. Then I became a beta tester for the second Civ 3 expansion, Conquest, then I began testing Civ IV, and I kept bugging people. They relented, and I got a programming internship. That was in February 2005.

I shifted from programming to more design stuff because was what I was doing on my own while I was working there. I was officially an intern, but a lot of the maps that shipped with Civ IV were made by me. So I shifted over to design for the expansions, and then became Co-Lead Designer for the second expansion, Beyond The Sword.

RPS: OK. So we’re nearly there! How did that end up becoming lead designer?

JS: Well the thing about design at Firaxis is that it’s fairly unique compared to design at other companies. Most companies have a lot of specialised designers, so for an RPG you’d have quest designers and narrative designers, and area designers and maybe a lead designer that organises them all. The way it works at Firaxis is that there is a designer, and he is also the gameplay programmer who programs all the gameplay rules, and he also programs all the AI.

RPS: Even for the more recent Civilizations? There’s one guy doing the core of the programming?

JS: Yeah. The thing is, that’s always how Sid Meier’s done it. Firaxis is his company, and that’s just the model that we use. The games have been successful, and it’s the only way that we know.

RPS: So one of the bigger reasons why you were made lead designer is because you know both sides. Programming and design.

JS: Yes. Which is becoming more common, but to be proficient enough in programming to handle all the gameplay rules, you have to be fairly experienced. We had other designers at Firaxis who were senior to me, but they weren’t programmers or they hadn’t played Civ. It’s such a specialised role. Our teams are getting bigger now, so on Civilization V I didn’t program all the AI. Only about half. We had a combat programmer doing combat AI, and a programmer doing the AI for the workers and explorers, but I programmed all the game rules and the diplomatic and economic AI.

Honestly, I think this is a big reason why a lot of games aren’t as good. The vision-holder isn’t working directly on the game, he’s just saying “Hey! Please do this and make it work like this.” And it works sometimes, and sometimes it doesn’t.

RPS: I suppose that’s why we have a focus on iterative design these days. With the lead designer receiving new builds on a regular basis and saying “No, change this, fix this”.

JS: Right. Though that’s an even bigger deal at Firaxis because the guy looking at the iterations is the guy doing the programming. You can be mid-way through writing a feature and you’ll think “Maybe I’ll try this,” and then an hour later it’s in the game. You don’t have to tell anybody.

Especially with a game like Civilization, I think you do need somebody with a vision you can execute all the way through. It’s not something you can segment out and say “You design the combat, you design the economics, you design the diplomacy,” like you might have one guy designing a quest and another designing the combat mechanics. Everything in Civ is so intertwined. You can’t split that up… you need somebody that’s on top of everything.

RPS: Do you play a lot of board games?

JS: …I wouldn’t say a ton, but definitely a fair amount. I’ve played Catan of course. It kills me, but the last time I played, which will be the last time I play, I had 17 turns in a row where I didn’t get anything. There are definitely elements of fun too, but it’s so random with the dice!

RPS: There’s definitely a bit of a renaissance going on with videogame designers turning back to boardgames.

JS: Definitely. Well with boardgames you have to be on top with the design, because you can’t distract somebody with graphics or a big explosion. It’s like, is it fun or is it not? I’d say most boardgames are better designed than most videogames.

The game that we played a lot at work lately is Dominion. It’s actually not a boardgame, it’s a card game, but there are elements similar to Civilization. You start with a small deck or a small hand, then spend money from your hand to acquire more money or these actions cards, and it all gradually builds up into something bigger. And the cards that are available to purchase change every game, so with each game you’re like, “Ooh! What do I buy this game?” It’s an ever-changing experience, like Civ.

RPS: Aha. Here at RPS we spent last winter playing a game called Solium Infernum-

JS: Oh, yes! I haven’t had a chance to play it yet, but I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve heard, I mean, Vic Davis-

RPS: -is just a legend, and-

JS: -yeah. You know, I read you guys! And I’m looking forward to seeing more Civ V.

RPS: Right! Well, uh, so the reason I mention Solium Infernum is that it does the same thing. Each game you’ll have different units, officers and items showing up in the bazaar where all players have to buy their forces, so the game’s different every time.

JS: Yeah.

RPS: So, you said your goal with Civ V was to streamline it. Not necessarily making it less complex, but making play smoother and more accessible. To that end, I was wondering if instead of swapping squares for hexes, you’d considered swapping squares for a tile-free system where the movement of units is shown by a circle.

JS: It’s something we discussed, but not something we felt comfortable with. Soren Johnson, when he was working on Civ IV, famously stated that Civ is a turn-based game and a tile-based game, and the tiles, he said, were more important than the turns. Which I would actually agree with.

The thing about Civilization is that it’s a big, complex game, but it’s also a game that can be distilled down into very discreet elements. At the beginning of the game you have a settler. Then you tell it what to build. Then what? Then you pick your research. OK. What now? You move your unit. Oh, OK.

It’s all these small decisions that together become this humongous web of what can happen, but at the beginning it’s very small and simple. And the tiles are a way of presenting the game world in a way that makes it understandable. For example, I look at the map, and I see that in this tile is iron.

Actually, uh, there’s no iron there. Where’s some iron… Okay, there’s no iron anywhere.

RPS: …

JS: Ah, whatever. I look at the map, and in this tile we have some oil. In this tile, we know that a unit can occupy this space. We know that an improvement can occupy this space. We know what the distance is from this space to this space. If I want to shoot, I don’t need to click on the unit to show me the range. I just see, tile tile tile, if I have an archer here he can shoot here. Easy.

Tiles make the game world more understandable. Distances become easy. It’s not a matter of “What pixel can I build my city on that gets this wheat and then gets this fish and oh! If I move it one more pixel down I could get iron.” It’s something that would turn into a difference experience completely. It’s great because you don’t think about it, but really tiles permeate the whole experience.

RPS: Would you agree that single player grand strategy games on PC have never done diplomacy, dealing with the AI, successfully?

JS: Yech. Depends what you mean by successfully. I think there are games that have done some really interesting things with it, but I don’t think a game has ever gotten it perfect. You could look at Alpha Centauri and say that the personalities of the different leaders are one of the things that makes it so great and gives it such charm. You can’t really translate that to a game like Civilization because, Gandhi plays a certain way and has a certain personality, but it’s not like you can make him a ridiculous fanatic the way Miriam [leader of The Lord’s Believers faction] was in Alpha Centauri, because it’s so strong, it’s such a driver in the game. You could predict how faction leaders would react to you in Alpha Centauri, depending on how you approached different things. If you stripped the planet of all its resources, you knew the environmentalists would hate you.

RPS: I feel like part of the way you implement diplomacy successfully when dealing with AIs is to allow the player to imprint their own vision of a personality onto the AI. With Civilization, where you have these almost-caricatures of the famous leaders, I feel like you’re stopping the player from imprinting a personality or history. Like you’re putting up a barrier.

JS: I think it runs both ways. You gain certain things, and it also costs you. On the plus side, it gives you something to recognise. People will ask “Why even have leaders?”, or [suggest] Build Your Own Leader mode, where you can… pick attributes and, like… move his eyebrows down to his chin or whatever.

But you’d lose a lot of what makes Civilization what it is, I think. You saw there [in the demo]- “That’s Ramses, that’s Catherine the Great”. It’s not a game-changing experience, but it still allows for, like- “I’ve started between Napoleon and Montezuma, oh God.” Whereas if you just start between Leader A and Leader B…

RPS: You’re talking about a tradeoff. You’d be sacrificing instantaneous colour for the chance to create characters.

JS: Which I think is kinda important, because the rest of Civilization is so open and so broad. If we didn’t have the recognisable leaders, all we’d have is [Jon zooms the game’s camera in on a tiny cluster of infantrymen] these guys. And they’re not exactly memorable. But you see Ramses on his throne, and that’s a cool scene.

We want to balance out both sides. We want to add colour and flavour to the game, and the leaders are the best way to do that. If it’s just a completely open, empty experience then you can fill that, but for a lot of players there’s gonna be something missing that they won’t be able to fill in for themselves.

RPS: Who owns the intellectual property of Alpha Centauri right now?

JS: Electronic Arts.

RPS: Argh. Does that break your heart a little bit?

JS: I can’t talk about that.

RPS: ARGH.

JS: You’d have to ask them about it.

RPS: I’ll send them an email when I get home. The subject line will just be “Why” with like, fourteen “y”s. What was Sid’s input on Civ V?

JS: [Adopting an outraged voice] He doesn’t do anything anymore! No, seriously though, he’s the creative director for Firaxis so he’s the overseer for everything that goes on. He has projects he oversees directly, like Civilization Revolution where he was the lead designer, and he’s also the lead on Civilization Network, which is Civilization for Facebook.

But we have meetings where he plays the game and can say, if anything’s really out there, “Ahh I don’t know about that.” It was interesting bringing in the hexes, because with the first Civilization he purposely made it not hexes when everybody else was doing hexes.

RPS: Why didn’t he want to use hexes?

JS: I think he didn’t want it to be perceived as a wargame. At the time, hexes were a statement, like, “This is a game for grognards only! Casual players need not apply!” And Sid’s always made games that appeal to a lot of people. He’s always provided the accessible spin on whatever it is, even something like the Battle of Gettysburg. It’s not a game where you get in and have 50 stats for each units, it’s about positioning and taking the high ground.

RPS: What is it about Civilization that you love so much?

JS: Huh. Well, I have a history degree. I originally got into history because of WW2, as so many people do, and branched out from there. You work for Rock Paper Shotgun, of course you’ve heard of Panzer General. That was actually the first game I ever bought.

RPS: Really? That’s definitely going in at the deep end. Face-first.

JS: [Laughs] Yeah. I was 11.

RPS: Did you figure it out? I grew up playing so many games I didn’t understand.

JS: I was able to figure it out! Because I was really into history, and I’ve always had this love of maps. You can see so much of history’s influence through maps, with how the borders change. So Panzer General was like, “Ooh! Maps! WW2! This has gotta be good!”

The combat system in that was actually very, very similar to what we have in Civ V. We ended up branching away from Panzer General through iteration, but yeah. [At the time] I thought that Panzer General was cool, but I wished it could be bigger. That’s how I got into Civilization. It was like, “This is it!” But I wished it had the combat from Panzer General.

RPS: Wow. I love the idea that for Civilization fans, you playing Panzer General has completely altered Civilization V’s combat.

JS: [Laughs] Yeah.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

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81 Comments »

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  1. Tyler says:

    Yep, time to collect on that Elemental refund…

  2. pakoito says:

    Any word on Hard requisites? Can I play it in my demi-netbook?

  3. Klaus says:

    Needs the ‘staring eyes’ tag.

  4. Kaiji says:

    So hyped for this… Civilization with Advance Wars/Fire Emblem/Panzer General style combat. Yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I just hope it has a smooth release, but even if it doesn’t it can’t possibly be anywhere near as bad as Elemental Fail of Tragic.

  5. Paul B says:

    Great interview. It’s interviews like this which make me love RPS so much (so much that I’ve just decided to subscribe). And I get the feeling that Civ 5 is in safe hands with this guy. Can’t wait till the end of the month.

  6. LewieP says:

    And now I have to play Alpha Centauri til 3am.

    Thanks.

    • alh_p says:

      But thanks RPS for bringing SMAC up!

      I will offer my faith to any deity whatsoever who can be instrumental in securing a sequel to Alpha Centauri. Even Barry the giblet musician god.

  7. rocketman71 says:

    That looks like a bright fella.

    Except playing Catan. If you go 17 turns without collecting a thing, that’s not the dice. That’s your initial city placement and/or your way of expansion being shit.

    I’m hopeful for Civ5 despite that ;)

    • NegativeZero says:

      I dunno, I’ve had experiences like that happen to me playing Catan too. 4th pick on a bad board when the other guys have already taken the best spots and deliberately placed themselves to lock you out of good numbers, so you end up trying to get the best number / resource coverage as you can and hope you can get yourself started.

      Then one of the other bastards rolls a 7 and puts the robber on that one number that then ends up rolling repeatedly in defiance of probability so any resources you might have gotten end up being stolen.

      I hate Catan. The dice make it far too random, there’s a lot less strategy involved. There are so many board games out there that are better. Give me Carcassonne any day.

    • Daave says:

      I played a version with 36 cards representing dice, obviously you lose balanced probabilities (as cards are not reshuffled in) but everyone gets some resources.

    • cowthief skank says:

      @NegativeZero

      I often find it interesting how in Catan the same unlikely numbers keep coming up way more than probability should determine.

    • Jeremy says:

      Or certain people will always roll a 7, but only if they have more than 7 cards… it doesn’t make sense.

    • Joe says:

      @ cowthief skank

      One thing about Catan that not everyone twigs is that when you roll two dice, you are much more likely to get a result close to 7, i.e. the middle of the distribution. So tiles with a 6 or 8 on are mega valuable. 11 and 2, not so much.

    • Foxfoxfox says:

      @cowthief skank:

      Actually probability demands that some unlikely spreads will come up, it’s our anthropic understanding of probability which tells us that the rolls should be more evenly distributed. For instance, in 100 coin tosses, a run of 7 heads or tails seems very unlikely, but there is actually about a 1 in 6 chance – it happens most times you chain 100 flips together.

      Randomnity just doesn’t feel random!

  8. jeremypeel says:

    Ha, nice work Quinns! So what was the situation here, then? An over-the-shoulder interview by the sound of it?

    • D says:

      For example, I look at the map, and I see that in this tile is iron.

      Actually, uh, there’s no iron there. Where’s some iron… Okay, there’s no iron anywhere.

      RPS: …

      Quinns was thinking “Oh no, my misfortune is spreading…”

  9. Nick says:

    The top part of his head looks kinda like Chris Evans..

    The actor, that is.

    I am gagging for some Civ V… not long now.

  10. Antilogic says:

    You didnt ask why hes releasing it the DAY before I move meaning I wont be able to play it for like at least a week! >.<

  11. Premium User Badge

    Fede says:

    Nice piece.
    Poor Alpha Centauri, I fear we will never see a sequel. And poor Quinns, always lacking iron, even during interviews!

    • utharda says:

      try this for horrible.. when warhammer online came out, I got hit by hurricane ike. It landed on the day the collectors edition early start began. didn’t have power for three weeks.

      On the other hand I still have a house, so I’ll shut up now.

    • Kaiji says:

      @utharda

      That sounds terrible, but some people were even more unlucky… They successfully logged in to Warhammer Online.

    • Tyler says:

      “RPS: Who owns the intellectual property of Alpha Centauri right now?

      JS: Electronic Arts.

      RPS: Argh. Does that break your heart a little bit?

      JS: I can’t talk about that.

      RPS: ARGH.

      JS: You’d have to ask them about it.”

      Usually when someone says “I can’t talk about that” it means “I wish I could talk about that, but my nondisclosure contract prevents me.” When they follow it with “You’d have to ask XXX megacorp about that.” it usually means “Yes, EA is doing Alpha Centauri 2 and I’m involved.” Usually.

    • TenjouUtena says:

      @Kaiji:

      Yeah, but they’re re-imagining Alpha Centuri as an First Person Shooter.

      Though in reality this feels more like ‘I don’t want to say anything because I know this game has a million rabid fans, and I don’t want to set them off in one direction or another.’

  12. Jimbo says:

    “No iron anywhere?” Quinns, did he REALLY say that? Was he proving how much of an RPS reader he truly is? We all know you never have any iron.

  13. A-Scale says:

    I think you mean Gandhi, not Ghandi.

  14. utharda says:

    Sigh nothing like reply fail.

    and I think the lack of iron comment was a sly dig at paradox!

  15. Wooly says:

    N-no iron…? :<

  16. warsarge says:

    I’m a huge Civ fan and have been on the fence about pre-ordering with this one for awhile. It took me a long time to finally spin up to Civ IV (over Civ III) and appreciate it. Decisions, decisions…

  17. Freud says:

    I loved Panzer General. I think it had a great, simple battle system. Civ V will benefit greatly from borrowing stuff from it. You can create defence lines with support from artillery without having to cram 20 units into a single square. Being a wuss I like to fortify my territory.

  18. Johnny Go-Time says:

    lol at the “no iron” thing, that’s awesome

  19. Wang Tang says:

    Dominion!
    Been playing that with my friends for months now. Everyone who hasn’t played, get it, and play it now!

  20. BlahBlah says:

    Developing non-commercial games/mods and using that as folio to get into the games industry isn’t impossible. It’s becoming more and more common. Be interesting to see an article covering several developers who started out that way.

    • Tssha says:

      It’s definitely more common than that. I attended a panel on the state of the Gaming industry in Toronto and the consensus was they looked at what you’d done first and your school second. If you’ve got a map you’ve made on your own time and it’s fun and playable, they know you’re a good hire for mapmaker. If you’ve made a playable game on your own time, they know you’re a good hire for programmer.

      If you want to break in to the Games industry, make cool stuff to put on your resume. Even if you get into a crap school, take it upon yourself to use the time to learn what you can. Better yet, research the school and find out if it’s a really good program. Even if you get into a great school, you still have to take the time to learn EVERYTHING you can. Be proactive, answer your own questions and fill in the gaps in your own knowledge base.

      If this advice helps one person get into the games industry…it was worth it.

  21. Premium User Badge

    drewski says:

    The next developer to be interviewed by Walker needs to make a crap healer gag.

    I loved Panzer General.

  22. alice says:

    Okay this is killing me, where does the Quinns needing iron joke come from? Google is not helping me out here.

  23. Bloodloss says:

    This guy seems awesome. It sounds like he got his position through sheer talent, very impressive.

  24. alice says:

    @Lintman
    This is what I get for always saying I will read the game diaries and then never get around to it.

    I always just assumed that Walker was a bad healer.

  25. Sorbicol says:

    Alice, you’re not alone…..

    This game cannot get released quick enough. Especially (as mentioned before) after the Elemental debarcle…..

  26. Daave says:

    By the way, you missed a golden opportunity to call an article “The Joy of Hex”.

  27. Ragnar says:

    RPS: Would you agree that single player grand strategy games on PC have never done diplomacy, dealing with the AI, successfully?

    I’d say that Paradox games has done this successfully. I really like the diplomacy in EU3.

  28. Premium User Badge

    sonofsanta says:

    You work for Rock Paper Shotgun

    Even third party developers you’re interviewing are confirming it now, and still no name at the bottom of the page. Is it just because John would pout if there wasn’t someone officially lower than him?

    That was an awesome interview though, it always gives me so much more hope for a game when someone deeply involved in everything talks freely without the PR man at the shoulder making them toe the line. The enthusiasm, knowledge and care can actually shine through and give you hope for the game. Not that I ever doubted Civ V anyway.

  29. Commander Gun says:

    Playing Alpha Centauri for some time now, both to get in the mood of playing civ and because every few years or so, i just like to play it. Blessed will be the day i can play SMAC 2, but till that day, Civ 5 will do :)

  30. SentientNr6 says:

    Ooooh Civ combined with Panzer General
    Faints….

    • protorp says:

      Yep, my life just became a little bit more complete.

      I too bought Panzer General very early on in my gaming career at a mighty young age, and improbably loved it for the history as well as the gameplay . . . plus one of the best Nazi voice actors ever hear.

  31. Tei says:

    My friends are in a boardgame club, and I got invited there more than once. It was shocking to me how board and card games have evolved. Boardgames have evolved as much as videogames, if not more. Is absolutelly crazy.
    And I am not taking tabletop RPG into account, thats another universe.

    I don’t know what has fueled this expansion. Maybe the boardgames tryiing to compete with the videogame industry.

    In any case, is time to steal^H^H get influences again from the boardgame industry. These guys are incredible.

    Alpha Centauri is… metagame, it overflow the concept of game, and directly tell profound and interesting things. Soo much flavour in it, that you don’t miss games like Master of Magic.
    It will be a good idea to forget it, and create games with what made SMAC so special. I say, nostalgia suck, lets learn and move on!.

    • Edgar the Peaceful says:

      Yes indeed. I’d urge everyone to try and get in on a game of Agricola – yes, 17th Century farming is not the sexiest subject in the world, but the mechanics are so elegant and playtest-refined. Plus it has lovely wooden counters.

      Also you can play it solo. I’ve been into this more than any PC games recently (although Amnesia is fun)

  32. Lewis says:

    Judging by that header image, Jon Shafer shares an upper head with Tom Bramwell.

  33. cowthief skank says:

    I have Civ V on pre-order but was not entirely excited about it – just interested. This interview changed that…

  34. Chris says:

    Hexagonal clouds. Love it.

  35. CMaster says:

    Love the iron reference.

    Also, good to see that there is someone at Firaxis who realises that SMAC did much more interesting things with the genre/series than Civ III or IV have. It’s a shame that people seem to think the liscence matters. Just make another game with a 3d world, real climate, living ecology and let us go at it.

    • Tei says:

      Civ IV did something with the genre: perfection. It was the civ game you want to play, wen you want to play a civ game. All older civ games are training and experiments, to make Civ IV. Thats probably why Civ V is tryiing new things.

    • Xercies says:

      Nah I think that was Civ 2, i don’t know what its about Civ 4 that I don’t like but i definitly get bored of it easily while i can play Civ 2 pretty much every day.

    • Tei says:

      Xercies: if you really thinks that, what stop you from playing FreeCiv?

  36. nine says:

    Good interview. I was hoping to see more about his career progression. I mean, how often does a college grad go from intern to head designer in five years? That’s a truly meteoric rise, and one that I’d love to hear more about from the others at Firaxis too.

  37. Falfa says:

    There’s already staring eyes tag, why not ‘Quintin’s iron’. It gave me along with Dragon Age DLC trailer by far best laughs in weeks. Also agree nine’s comment about Jon’s meteoric rise from intern to head designer. That is astonishing progress.

  38. Gaytard Fondue says:

    And happily lose 20 units because they were on the same tile?

  39. Ginger Yellow says:

    “We had other designers at Firaxis who were senior to me, but they weren’t programmers or they hadn’t played Civ”

    Huh? It’s hard enough for me to get my head around a PC gamer not having played Civ. But a Firaxis designer? That’s insane.

    “RPS: Who owns the intellectual property of Alpha Centauri right now?

    JS: Electronic Arts”

    Sad face. It almost makes me wish the EA/2K merger had gone through.

  40. Ysellian says:

    Great Interview! Not that a CiV game would ever disapoint me, but reading from this guy made me want to buy this game at release instead of the usual 3 months wait.

  41. xtal says:

    I’m away from home for the weekend and now really wishing I had my Alpha Centauri disc with me! Ack…but, oh, Civ V looks to be in caring hands.

  42. Jac says:

    @ Ginger yellow

    Was just about to post the same about the firaxis designer quote. How is that possible.

  43. Xercies says:

    He got the lead designer post because his fathe was Tim ;)

  44. pipman3000 says:

    sid meier could break into my house and punch me in the face everytime i start up civ and it’d still be the best game ever.

  45. perilisk says:

    As much as I love Alpha Centauri, the planet and setting (mindworms, etc.) were never really core to the appeal for me; it was the futuristic technology, customizable units, and the conflict between strong ideologies.

    I feel like they could do something similar on Earth, taking the Deus Ex approach of the very-near future, where the starting tech level is stuff that we’re getting to having. Instead of organic/psionic planetary consciousness, they underlying plot could be one of tech-based, hard science planetary consciousness (i.e., the Singularity) and how the various factions deal with it.

    Just postulate that a combination of social upheaval, resource scarcity, climate change, and fiscal mismanagement caused the collapse of nation-states as we know them in the very near future, and ideological factions rose up to create order amidst the chaos.

    What’s left of the old nation-states invests the UN with a mandate and military to rule as a global power, but it has to face off against the new global factions: the environmentalists, the fundamentalists, the survivalists, the freethinkers, the global megacorporation, the totalitarians, the progressive technocracy. BOOM, spiritual successor, new classic.

    • CMaster says:

      I’d agree with the new setting thing being fine – even better than going to Alpha Centauri again.
      But equally, I think a really important thing about SMAC was that the planet wasn’t just the setting for the game – it was part of the game. You had to tame the land like in Civ, but this time the land fought back. You could alter the shape of the world, and in doing so alter the climate, change water salinity, etc. You could build condensors to cause more rainfall, or solar shades to reduce it.

      But yeah, Planet, mindworms, Morgan etc weren’t really critical, although they all worked.

  46. Ribannah says:

    My Catan record stands at 36 turns without getting anything. And that was in the middle game, when I was initially well ahead.

  47. Ribannah says:

    By the way, will you guys ever get Horseback Riding in the right place of the tech tree? :)

  48. pushlittlekart says:

    Designers “who hadn’t played Civ”. Heresy!

  49. Peter Robinett says:

    ♥♥♥♥♥ Panzer General!