Big 2.0 Update To Fix ‘Conservative’ Civ Beyond Earth

looking anything like its concept art might have helped, actually

Civilization: Only Very Slightly Beyond Earth, more like. While perfectly serviceable, Firaxis’ sci-fi themed strategy spin-off proved far too reluctant to step out of Civ V’s shadow for my tastes, and I haven’t been at all tempted to go back. Conventional wisdom had it that an add-on might add the verve and variety it needs, but it turns out there’s a 2.0 update planned which may (or may not) get Beyond Earth back into orbit.

Details on exactly what the update will do, but Firaxis revealed it – and most importantly their reasons for doing it – at a GDC talk last week, as reported on by Polygon. Lead devs David McDonough and Will Miller bandied around terms such as “a little bit of lack of ambition,” “pulled our punches a little bit”, and “conservative”, all of which ring true and which they partially ascribe to reverence to Civs past and partially to not having a widespread beta test with which to gather player feedback.

Particularly singled out as a misstep is the game’s diplomacy system, which I did find to be pretty thin. As McDonough and Miller point out, the Civ games benefit from the leaders of rival civilizations having famous names and faces – Gandhi, Queen Elizabeth and so forth. Those mean something to players even before they start playing, and in turn lead to reasons to like or hate them, and as the talk cited, giggles such as Ghandhi lobbing a nuke at you. Beyond Earth’s leaders, by contrast, were created specifically for the game, but the devs decided to let players’ imaginations flesh out their personalities rather than do much to make them characterful.

I think it’s true that rival civs in BE seemed like one-dimensional pop-up faces who were randomly friendly or aggressive, and often seemed irritating as a result. Diplomacy “just fell flat”, admit the devs. I’m not sure what the fix is there – there’s reference to more backstory and dialogue having been written but not used – but I’ll certainly be fascinated to see whether Beyond Earth 2.0, due within ‘the next few months’ really can add more personality to what was a disappointingly dry game.

Also mentioned as being underwhelming and possibly in for a tweak was Beyond Earth’s wonders, which similarly lacked the resonance of having real world analogues and not too much in the way of punchy supporting fiction.

Of course, diplomacy, dialogue and big buildings were just a few of CBE’s shortcomings. I’d really like to see the fiddly, muted quest system overhauled, more alien variety, more planet types, more meaningful ways to win. But it’s not fair to ask quite so much of what sounds like a free update. If they can get CBE back on its feet with a patch, maybe there’ll be scope to really set a fire under it with a later expansion pack after all.

We’ll see how substantial the update is, but in theory this is a wonderful thing to do, and one they didn’t have to, given the history of add-on packs. If they can turn this ship around with something they give out for free, then more power to their elbow.

I really wish I’d been at that talk (well, I wish I’d been at GDC), by the way. It sounds as though it was pretty candid, and there was probably more to glean about Beyond Earth’s future.

60 Comments

  1. RedViv says:

    Oh, so it *was* a beta that they sold. Good to have confirmation on that.

    • Lars Westergren says:

      If a company are willing to acknowledge weaknesses in a product and are planning to release a major upgrade as a free patch rather than as a paid expansion, I don’t think that deserves scorn. The initial product may have disappointed (I haven’t tried it so I don’t know) but at least they are trying to do better?

      • RedViv says:

        There was no scorn. Just disappointment in their rushing out a game far too early. It is good that we will not need pay for another BNW here, but it would still be far better had this not happened *again*.

        • Lars Westergren says:

          Agreed.

        • Cross says:

          Rushed out? I think what they imply above is that they didn’t have an opportunity to get large-scale feedback on the balance of the game, not that they didn’t have time to finish the game.

        • airmikee says:

          I’d be surprised if Civ6 isn’t followed up with two full expansion packs (sorry, “overpriced DLC”), just like happened with Civs2, 3, 4 and 5. It’s become a staple of the series, and something to look forward to with gleeful anticipation. How will they add to the game? What will change? It’s almost like Christmas.

      • alinadecosta59 says:

        our co worker’s ex wife makes 86 an hour at home. she has been out of a job for eight months… the previous month her pay-check was 17595 working at home 3 hours each day.. check out this page. =–==,,,
        This is where to start

        ►œ►œ►œ►✒✒✒✒✒✒ http://www.FOX81.com

    • bduddy says:

      You bought a PC game in 2015, what were you expecting?

    • Zenicetus says:

      I wouldn’t call it a Beta. From what little I played of it, I don’t recall any game-breaking bugs. It seemed pretty stable, and that’s what Betas are usually aimed at ensuring.

      The real problems were (and still are) with the lackluster, “phone it in” design of the thing. The drab faction leaders, the limited alien types and environments, the boring tech trees. That’s not something Beta testing and user feedback can fix, unless the developers just start over from scratch, which rarely happens.

      It sounds like what they’re doing here is similar to what CA did with TW: Rome 2. They realized the initial release was so poorly received that they had no chance of selling DLC. So they released some freebies while patching up the game to the point where people actually wanted to play it. I’m not sure it will work here with BE though. There just isn’t that much to work with.

    • jalf says:

      That doesn’t seem accurate. It was pretty technically solid, wasn’t it?

      Their lack of vision and courage wasn’t because the game was rushed. (And blaming it on not having a large-scale beta to get player feedback seems counterintuitive here. More player feedback can improve balancing, but it won’t improve a fundamental lack of vision)

  2. James says:

    This is welcome news. I had believed in my cynicism that such extravagant features such as speaking leaders would be saved for a paid expansion. It’s nice to be proved wrong from time to time.

  3. airmikee says:

    Even though I’ve put 1500 hours into Civ5 already, it’s the reason I no longer buy new releases. It took Firaxis six months to fix a game breaking bug in that game. Now that they’re patching C:BE I’ll probably pick it up soon. :)

  4. Jason Lefkowitz says:

    I feel like the problem with diplomacy in Beyond Earth goes deeper than they seem to recognize. Fundamentally, the story and lore the game presents makes it just inappropriate to pick up Civ‘s diplomacy model and plunk it down into this game.

    I mean, if you watch the intro movie or read the flavor text, the game tells you that all these leaders are basically leading pieces of the last hope of human civilization — that Earth is doomed, so if humanity is going to have a future, it’s going to be on this weird new planet. So I sort of expected the AI, early in the game, to lean towards cooperation. Maybe Vaguely Futuristic Ethnic Group 1 and Vaguely Futuristic Ethnic Group 2 have some animosity towards each other, but I think most people, faced with being the Last Hope of Humanity, would be able to put that stuff on the shelf, at least for a while. Maybe have that willingness to hold back decay over time, as the memory of Earth fades and people get less concerned about living up to their special destiny.

    But Beyond Earth’s AI does nothing like that. It behaves exactly like Civ 5’s does, which is to say some factions are cooperative at the start but others come out swinging. And I’m like, seriously? We just escaped the end of the world and you want to pick a fight with me? Wouldn’t it be in both our interests to work together to tame this weird alien world a little first? Especially since it’s full of beasties who can run down our basic infantry without breaking a sweat?

    That’s not to say some friction couldn’t be made to work; it might be interesting to have the standard be that kind of “let’s not do that again” cooperation, but occasionally make one of the AI leaders a sociopath who just doesn’t care and is willing to burn civilization down to grab a little extra Energy or whatever. But Beyond Earth’s AI feels weirdly disconnected from the game it’s been dropped into, and that’s a broader issue than just players bringing sentiments about (say) India to the table that they don’t bring for Polystralia.

    • airmikee says:

      Wow, sounds like the AI is actually a lot closer to SMAC’s than has been previously reported. Dierdre, Morgan, Lal and Zhakarov usually trying to be cooperative and nice in the beginning, while Yang, Santiago, Miriam were always looking to take my land right away.

      • DrScuttles says:

        I dunno, sometimes Yang and me could be kinda sortof buddies for a hundred years or so. Then he’d always start getting cocky, demanding my sweet sweet tech in the name of friendship or somesuch and eventually flipping and using my refusal to implement a police state as the impetus to declare war. Often while Miriam and Santiago are fighting literally everything and Lal’s just breeding his way to victory. Morgan’s off somewhere rich as fuck. And no-one knows where Dierdre is but she said something about a pretty fungus taking her dancing.
        But whatevs. I got planet busters. Built by freshly nerve stapled drones. Because SCIENCE IS ABOUT PROGRESS AND PUSHING BOUNDARIES AND NOT ABOUT BEING NICE AND SHAKING HANDS WITH YOU MAD BASTARDS ALL OF YOU.

        Really though. SMAC AI was crazy.

      • Premium User Badge

        gritz says:

        And IIRC, the leaders of SMAC began their mission in the spirit of cooperation and survival, but their ideological splits broke them into factions on the long trip to the planet.

        • Press X to Gary Busey says:

          In SMAC the U.N. colony ship’s reactor malfunctions and the colonists wake up from cryo-sleep a few days too early. Chaos ensues and the captain is murdered. The colonists split into factions around their department officers and some around charismatic ideological leaders. Each faction takes control of a colony pods and abandons the original mission as the ship crashes into the atmosphere.

          In BE all the factions arrive separately, sponsored by various (socio)geographical super powers. You get to choose what type of colonists dominate your mission but the ideologies beyond that are pretty free-form.

          I think both scenarios works as diplomatic minefields. The crew in both games are in cryostasis the entire trip so when they wake up it’s like they left earth just days before.

    • ChiefOfBeef says:

      I actually don’t like the BE leaders on a personal level. Everything I know about them in the encyclopedia and the things they are actually quoted as saying: these people are not the kind of people who can save humanity, but the kind of people who likely caused the ‘great mistake’ in the first place. Arrogant scientist: check. Sociopath company executive: check. Cult leader: check. Social ladder climber: check. Cynical PR man: check. Two generals, one borderline fascist, the other in no doubt a fascist: check. Platitude-spouting charlatan: check.

      They’re not ‘leaders’ of different varieties but absolute rulers, where in previous Civ games at least some were elected democratically or at least born into institutional monarchy which placed expectations and limits on their behaviour, these are ‘self-made emperors’. Basically- Firaxis entrusted the future of humanity to winners of The Apprentice: all twats.

  5. Taerdin says:

    Apparently Civ isn’t that good when it’s not thematically cashing in on things people already have knowledge of.

  6. Colwolf77 says:

    I would pay good money for an updated version of Alpha Centauri, that game had atmosphere by the bucket load and unique game mechanics that made this look sedentary by comparison.

  7. Creeping Death says:

    If someone offered me £1000 right now to name a Civ or Civ Leader in Beyond Earth I honestly wouldn’t even know where to begin guessing. Part of me assumed the leaders were actually pulled from a random name generator.

    I’m glad to hear they plan to fix a lot with a free patch as I feel that if they tried to released a paid expansion there wouldn’t be much of a market for it right now.

    • UnholySmoke says:

      £1000? Easy money, here goes.

      – Cape Town Metrosexual
      – Tinpot Latin American Camo Dictator
      – Cosmonaut Major Crazyeyesakov
      – Angry President Lady

      Oh alright I give up. Hope this update makes the aliens something other than Barbarians-in-Space. I want to go the Harmony route, make them my green underlings and march them across the miasmic wastelands to glory.

  8. Provost says:

    I’m a huge Alpha Centauri fan, and have been for years, so this may colour my perceptions. That being said,I played Civ:BE during the free weekend and I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed. I understand that they’re not building on established history, but in AC they filled it in with rich, fascinating lore. I honestly couldn’t tell you a thing about the faction I selected, mostly because there wasn’t any flavor text and the only description was what their in-game bonus was which was described in mechanics that I didn’t understand yet (I haven’t played Civ:V much). The whole affair was forgettable really. The units also seemed pretty restricted, and I couldn’t build a submersible aircraft carrier that launched quantum laser helicopters, sot that was pretty disappointing as well.

    • melancholicthug says:

      You’ve failed, Firaxis. Just call Brian Reynolds and ask him nicely if he’d be so kind to fix your game for you. Otherwise, this will keep on being a bland, forgettable failure.

    • Rindan says:

      I think what kills me the most is that Alpha Centauri blazed the trail, paved the trail, and put up signs pointing in the right direction. The only thing they had to to do was fucking walk forward down the trail already blazed a decade and a half ago. If they wanted to walk down the trail, get to end, and keep going forward, awesome, but there was no god damn excuse to see the trail, and go “nah” and curl up in some poison ivy and go to sleep.

      Maybe I have lost the analogy.

      My point is that it kills me that they were given all the answer and did nothing with them. They KNEW how to make interesting factions. They knew how to make interesting choices between resisting the planet and working with it. The knew how to make an immersive atmosphere. They knew that video for wonders could make them interesting and often times chilling. They knew to voice the text and give it flavor. They knew to give the factions and leaders personality.

      I can, to this day, name each and every SMAC leader, name their faction, describe their personality, and see in my head exactly what their cities looked like. My memory is generally shit, but SMAC was memorable. I couldn’t tell you a single god damn thing about Civ:BE’s leaders other than they are ethnic groups from the obvious places.

      Blah. Fraxis is so utterly out of touch, they might as well go the way of Maxis. Personally, I am currently enjoy the hell out of Cities Skylines. I would be happy to enjoy a REAL spiritual successor to SMAC, even if it wasn’t from Fraxis. Civ:BE doesn’t stand on its own merits, and it is only the palest of shadows when put up next to SMAC.

      To this day, SMAC was so memorable that people quote it like it was an authoritative source on the future. Civ:BE is utterly forgettable in contrast. Wax nostalgic with me for a moment

      As the Americans learned so painfully in Earth’s final century, free flow of information is the only safeguard against tyranny. The once-chained people whose leaders at last lose their grip on information flow will soon burst with freedom and vitality, but the free nation gradually constricting its grip on public discourse has begun its rapid slide into despotism. Beware of he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he dreams himself your master.
      -Commissioner Pravin Lal, “U.N. Declaration of Rights”

      I think, and my thoughts cross the barrier into the synapses of the machine – just as the good doctor intended. But what I cannot shake, and what hints at things to come, is that thoughts cross back. In my dreams the sensibility of the machine invades the periphery of my consciousness. Dark. Rigid. Cold. Alien. Evolution is at work here, but just what is evolving remains to be seen.
      -Commissioner Pravin Lal, “Man and Machine”

      I don’t know but I’ve been told, Deirdre’s got a Network Node. Likes to press the on-off switch, Dig that crazy Gaian witch!
      -Spartan Barracks March

      Richard Baxton piloted his Recon Rover into a fungal vortex and held off four waves of mind worms, saving an entire colony. We immediately purchased his identity manifests and repackaged him into the Recon Rover Rick character with a multi-tiered media campaign: televids, touchbooks, holos, psi-tours– the works. People need heroes. They don’t need to know how he died clawing his eyes out, screaming for mercy. The real story would just hurt sales, and dampen the spirits of our customers.
      -Morgan Stellartots Keynote Speech, “Mythology for Profit”

      As the writhing, teeming mass of mindworms swarmed over the outer perimeter, we saw the defenders recoil in horror. “Stay calm! Use your flame guns!” shouted the commander, but to no avail. It is well know that the Mind Worm Boil uses psychic terror to paralyze its prey, and then carefully implants ravenous larvae into the brains of its still-conscious victims. Even with the best weapons, only the most disciplined troops can resist this horrific attack.
      Lady Deirdre Skye, “Our Secret War”

  9. raiders5000 says:

    I know I’m in the minority, but I say scrub the diplomacy system all together. You’re right, Alec. They should’ve found/added other victory conditions. The aliens were just too…well…conservative. They didn’t even remotely behave like I thought they would. Just horrible gameplay all around. As for the leaders, yep, they are pretty dry and boring.

    Why can’t we interact with alien leaders? Like Captain Kirk used to do? We land on a planet and ALL the aliens are mindless beast? C’mon, now!

    Or how about alien civilizations landing on the planet at different times as well? We could battle humans, affinities, and alien blastards alike. I’m not sure they’ll be able to fix this mess.

  10. SuicideKing says:

    I’ve never understood why Gandhi represents India, he wasn’t even a ruler or any sort. And he was assassinated before independence too.

    • airmikee says:

      Almost 200 years of work by the Indian Independence Movement, and you don’t know why their last, internationally recognized, leader is being recognized as one of India’s most important leaders by the international community? India was proclaimed an independent nation by Britain on August 15th, 1947. Gandhi was killed on January 30th, 1948.

      Maybe these new facts will clear up your confusion?

    • James says:

      Name an Indian noteworthy enough that people accross the world have heard of them.

      *tumbleweed rolling typically accross suddenly dusty ground*

      That is why. That and the Mughal leaders were pre-India, until colonialism it was rare for India to be seen as a nation or single ethnic group. Hence they would make bad Civ reps for India.

      • James says:

        I meant ‘other Indian’ instead of just Indian. Damn you edit buttion and your extended vacation!

      • Premium User Badge

        gritz says:

        Yes because Civ only features household names like Willem Van Orange, Mansa Musa, Pacal and Zara Yaqob.

      • Llewyn says:

        Jawaharlal Nehru, the celebrated post-colonial tailor, naturally. (Also, Indira Gandhi.)

        Alternatively, given that this is sufficiently futuristic, I posit that Sachin Tendulkar is the obvious candidate.

    • hypocritelecteur says:

      Because India did not have -any- national leaders before Gandhi. They had British rulers…
      And before that there was no India. I just don’t even

  11. JiminyJickers says:

    I really liked Beyond Earth. It will just get better, excellent!

  12. Premium User Badge

    basilisk says:

    In somewhat related news, Endless Legend is getting a moderately sized free update on 18 March followed by a paid DLC/expansion pack on 16 April. As far as I’m concerned, that game is closer to a “spiritual successor” to the venerable SMAC than Beyond Earth was.

    • iucounu says:

      Why did I stop playing Endless Legend after a month or so, though? I dunno, it didn’t have the stickiness of Civ, and I think it’s perhaps because it doesn’t have Civ’s alternate-history resonance.

    • Premium User Badge

      AceJohnny says:

      I was all the more impressed by Endless Legend after being underwhelmed by Beyond Earth. While I played a couple games of Beyond Earth, it failed to leave a lasting impression. Endless Legend was definitely the 4X highlight of 2014.

      So between a Beyond Earth patch and Endless Legend patch and expansion, I’m giddy!

    • Zenicetus says:

      Yeah, RPS hasn’t covered it yet, maybe it’s because Amplitude hasn’t given many details. They just posted the dev blog about it today:

      link to forums.amplitude-studios.com

  13. Rizlar says:

    I’ve been playing the crap out of Civ:BE recently and loving it so this comes as great news! It does a lot of interesting things, like the aliens and tech strategies, will be interesting to see some of them developed a bit more.

    • Rindan says:

      I pretty much am willing to bet my soul you never played Alpha Centauri. I can understand finding Civ:BE acceptable, but to actually love it takes ignorance of the vastly superior game that came a solid decade and change before it.

      • airmikee says:

        *rabble* *rabble* *rabble* How dare he love something that you don’t? *rabble* *rabble* *rabble* Git the pitchforks, ma, we’ve got us a C:BE lover! *rabble* *rabble* *rabble*

      • Cross says:

        WILL you please just bloody STOP it with your sneering elitist frothing over a twenty year old game that hasn’t even aged very well? Even if SMAC was amazing, it was never the intention of Firaxis to remake it with this Civ:BE, so judge it on its own terms.

        • Zenicetus says:

          You know what? I never played SMAC either. It just fell through the cracks, while I was off doing something else at the time, probably flight simulation. So I judged BE on its own terms, as a fan of both sci-fi and strategy games.

          Just personal opinion, but my opinion is that it sucks.

          Even ignoring the SMAC heritage, it just fails for me as an interesting sci-fi scenario. And to be fair, BE isn’t alone in this. Compared to the brilliant writing and concepts in the best sci-fi literature — both old classics and modern writers — most sci-fi games seem like they’re designed by people who never *read* good sci-fi, and only use the most bland, recycled ideas they’ve seen in bad sci-fi movies. From what I’ve heard, SMAC was designed by people who did understand good sci-fi, and that makes all the difference.

          If more game developers would actually *read* good sci-fi novels and think about why they’re appealing, then maybe we’d have better games.

          /rant

          • Rizlar says:

            For what it’s worth I agree with you. Some of the wonder/tech/quest descriptions barely even make sense. As a piece of science fiction it is rubbish and unconvincing.

            But I’ve enjoyed playing it recently anyway. The gamey/mechanics side of the game has a lot going for it, cool ideas (aliens, covert ops, orbital units, strategic resources etc) that, while perhaps not developed to their fullest, nonetheless make it far more interesting to me at the moment than Civ5 even with the expansions.

  14. jgf1123 says:

    Alpha Centauri did manage to create 7 personalities because they each epitomized one particular belief, and I can still list their names off the top of my head. Except Lal, that took me another minute. And while fleshing each faction out would make the game more compelling, I hope the patch is more than adding flavor text.

    • saluk says:

      Ah I knew I would find a reply about Alpha Centauri’s diplomacy. Saying the leaders weren’t interesting enough because people don’t know who they are is a total cop-out. The writing and lore in Alpha Centauri’s leaders – going as far as ascribing quotes to those various leaders throughout the tech tree – really made them come to life, whether you were directly interacting with them or not. I was more interested in them than I am even in the Civ games.

      • kafkaeskimo says:

        I agree about Alpha Centauri’s leaders versus regular Civ. Their execution is far more interesting than historic leaders. I think part of that is they were able to be written into the same timeline and allowed to explore the future of humanity in the context of a blank alien slate. Civ spends a lot of time reminding us who people were and leans toward pointing out what made societies grand. The characters in Alpha Centauri were darker and left you unsure if anyone was on the right track. Every new technology and associated quote made me second-guess if I was the good guy or the bad guy.

      • iniudan says:

        Beyond Earth leaders have backstory, but it all in the civilopedia, while, sadly, what they present in-game, thus to most people, is just too generic.

        In other word they forgot the maxim, show don’t tell.

      • jalf says:

        Sure, that’s all true, but the #1 thing that made the leaders in SMAC work was that they each had a distinct purpose.

        UN in space, Science in Space, Money in Space, Treehugging in Space, Bible in Space, etc. You had a clear idea of what each represented, and how they would approach any given problem.

        In BE, leaders don’t represent ideas, they represent something as irrelevant as regions of Earth. I have a pretty good idea of what a scientist or an economist would want on an alien planet. I haven’t the foggiest notion of what Brazil would want.

  15. Zenicetus says:

    Also, let’s not forget that there is supposed to be some kind of shared data in the works between BE and the upcoming Sid Meier Starships game. It wasn’t mentioned in the Polygon link, but I’m guessing the patch has at least as much to do with that, as it does with improving BE as a standalone game.

    • Rindan says:

      I don’t see why we should “not forget this”. This seems like a perfectly forgettable addition to a bad and soulless game.

  16. Premium User Badge

    Panther_Modern says:

    It is an incredibly lazy excuse to say that the lack of recognizable historical figures as civ leaders was the reason diplomacy failed, given that the Alpha Centauri’s ability to characterize the different factions was incredibly well done and widely celebrated. I’m confident that for almost anyone who played it, Pravin Lal and Chairman Yang quickly became more memorable and recognizable than say, Zara Yaqob.

  17. Chris says:

    BE? Quick cash in.

    Civ 6? Call Soren.

  18. fredc says:

    Glad to hear they’re giving it another go. I played it through once and haven’t had any desire to go back.

    It was basically Civ 5 with some fiddly new mechanics that I didn’t dislike, but also complete lack of historical or narrative interest once you got beyond the very-cool-for-a-Civ-game intro movie. I honestly was having more fun and a greater sense of immersion in the Elite Gamma release, which I think says it all!

    To be fair, I pretty much expected this since I never particularly liked Alpha Centauri and its slightly random factions. And CBE was at least better than AC.

  19. Carlos Danger says:

    But they don’t do anything to address the anemic alien life forms? This game desperately needs some form of “Deathworld” mod to make the game more interesting. I don’t think a tweak to diplomacy is going to address any of the real shortcomings to the game.

  20. Cyrius says:

    The game just feels too flat to me, and has some strange design choices. Like why do I see their landing spot, or ‘discover’ areas outside of the fog of war?

  21. malin7979 says:

    I would just be happy if they released a patch that enabled everyone who owns the game to play. There are still quite a few of us who have not even been able to play enough to be disappointed.