Interview: Civ Beyond Earth Devs Reveal First Expansion, “Nudging The Game Further Into True Sci-Fi”

‘Wait for the expansion’, is what RPS’ feeling about Civilization’s sci-fi spin-off Beyond Earth boiled down to. Well, now that expansion has been announced. Sid Meier’s Civlization: Beyond Earth – Rising Tide is due for release ‘this Fall’, and brings water construction and combat, a revamped diplomacy system and two new factions into play. A few days ago, I had a chat with Will Miller and David McDonough, Co-Lead Designers on the turn-based strategy title, about what’s planned, whether Beyond Earth was too conservative both in terms of breaking the Civ template and in its science-fiction, how war shouldn’t be a surprise any more, and whether this is considered redemption.

Will Miller, left, and David McDonough, right, lead designers on Civ: Beyond Earth.

RPS: What’s this doing in a nutshell, then?

Will: Rising Tide is what we like to call a Firaxis-style expansion, which means in addition to putting a lot of content into the game and balancing and polishing we also put new systems into the game which fundamentally change how it plays. If you’ve had Beyond Earth for a while and are interested in the expansion, this is going to be a brand new experience for you, from a gameplay perspective as well as a content perspective.

There are several features that we are very excited about. First, as the name suggests, is the addition of water-based gameplay, the ability to land cities on the water, and the new units and the aliens and the resources that come along with that. We’ve also completely replaced the diplomacy system from the original game with something new, which I think probably changes the game the most. I think that’s the most fundamental difference under the hood.

We’ve added four new factions, including the Al Falah, the Arabic leader. And we’ve also introduced the concept of hybrid affinities.

RPS: How much of a foregone conclusion was an expansion pack for Beyond Earth? A lot of reviews – including ours, I think – predicted that expansions would make it so much better, but how reasonable an assumption was that?

Will: We have a long-term product plan at Firaxis. I can’t comment on exactly what that looks like, but when we set out to make Beyond Earth the idea was to make a franchise. You’re seeing us committed to that franchise, committed to that idea with this expansion, And with the patches to the base game that we released afterwards. I think it is sort of a foregone conclusion for us. This kind of echoes what happened with Civ V. We released it, it had some problems, then we patched it, we released two expansions that really brought that game up to what people know and love today. We’re in the process of doing that with Beyond Earth. I think we released a very strong initial product, and we patched it based on user feedback. This expansion is a combination of David and my vision for the game, and the addition of what people wanted from the community. We built this game for our players, and we’re always watching how people are playing and trying to react to that, and drive the franchise in a new and differentiated direction from Civ.

Nothing is ever certain in this business, but when we set out to make Beyond Earth we certainly hoped that it will have a long life. One of the biggest, most rewarding pieces of feedback that we got from our community was that there was a hunger for this game, for the idea that this game represents. We’re delivering on that.

RPS: Is there a conscious attempt to be less conservative now?

David: Absolutely. Beyond Earth went as far as we thought that we could go. We actually talked about this at GDC, on this exact subject. We did a lot of things that we’re really proud of and we think that the game is very successful one, but when it came out we were both pleased and surprised to see fans react by saying ‘I wish you’d gone further, I wish there was more differentiation, more wildness.’ We were like ‘oh, we’d love to.’ So in the expansion we’ve definitely taken a few stands that are way different from anything that a Civ game has attempted before, beyond what we felt we wanted to do with the base game. We’re really excited by how much it changes how the game plays. Water gameplay alone – there’s never been a Civ game where the whole surface of the map is playable, there’s nowhere to escape. The idea of totally rebalancing the game around cities that are on water as well as on land is more than just ‘oh, you have blue terrain now.’ It’s an entirely different strategic landscape. Every game, every decision you make is new, even the old ones. There’s a lot in this game that really pushes the envelope of what BE can be and Civ can be.

RPS: Is the water building something you can do from the off, or do you have to actively pursue it in the Tech web?

David: You have a modest tech requirement, similar to Pioneering in Beyond Earth, which you had to research before you could build a Colonist. It’s very achievable really quickly if you go for it. And two of the new factions – unfortunately neither of them we’re revealing yet – will have special advantages to playing on the water. There’s a real effort to make water gameplay part of your game from the very beginning. Even if you intended to play an entirely land-based Civ, you’re still going to have understand how the water works, how to play against aquatic competitors, use the new power that water gameplay provides… It’s a big deal.

RPS: Is it all on the surface of the water?

Will: It is one surface. We wanted to keep the gameplay on the map, we didn’t want to make another layer that you had to drop into to see what was going on. The information is there. Our artists have done a really amazing job with the presentation of this and I cannot wait for you to get screenshots to see just how good this looks. We’ve rewritten our water rendering and our water shader to let you see through the surface, we’ve revamped how our terrain generation works and how our map generation works, to generate the terrain underneath. We have a full range of new aquatic resources for both shallow and deep water, and new expedition sites, and new things to find out there, along with a host of new aliens to contend with. So it’s an entirely new space for you to play, and as David alluded to, it’s not just blue terrain. There are some mechanical differences between terrestrial cities and water cities, terrestrial combat and water combat, and how growth works. We’ve really differentiated them without, I think, increasing the complexity too much.

RPS: If you’re an experienced BE player starting your first Rising Tide campaign, what’s the first thing you’ll hit that’ll feel significantly different?

David: Really the second you land you’ll be able to see the new water. You can see the surface and the sea floor, all the new creatures and new resources. Even if you play on a map that’s predominantly land it’ll look different. A couple of the factions will start with major advantages on the water, so if you pick one of those your game is utterly different from the get-go. But it’s impossible to ignore – everything from the units you can to build to the technologies that you first encounter and what they unlock, how you get Affinity, how you’re interacting with the other leaders. The new Diplomacy system… From the very beginning the changes are in front of you.

Will: We’ve also introduced two new biomes. We can’t really say what those are yet, but even the environment that you play in can be potentially be different. From turn 1 it’s going to be a pretty different game.

RPS: How has the Diplomacy system changed, then?

David: We can’t tell you too many details, but I can speak to it from a philosophical level. One of the takeaways from the base game is that the diplomacy system from Civ V, which we just brought over wholesale, didn’t really work, because it relied on these characters from history. Players understood intuitively how Montezuma might behave or how Ghandi might behave. You could make strategic decisions based on prior knowledge of those characters. Because we have invented characters we wanted to provide more transparency in terms of how they behave and why they do the things they do. We wanted to make a game out of that. We also wanted the player to do more meaningful things through diplomacy. In Civ V and in Beyond Earth the outputs of diplomacy are trade and you can declare war or peace. There’s actually very little that you do in diplomacy; they’re important things, but there’s not a lot of high frequency interaction that you have. You didn’t have a lot of opportunity to interact with the leaders that we put in, their personalities didn’t really get an opportunity to shine. We wanted to build a game around this idea of diplomacy, that would allow our characters to take centre stage and give the player the chance to introspect into their personalities and to give them more things to do, more benefits to be gained.

So just as an example, if I’m playing a military game but I need help researching new technologies, I can solve that problem now through the diplomacy system. I can make an agreement with another leader and in exchange for other things can now have mututal benefits, but it’s a strategic choice because they get something from me too. So I have to be very careful about who’s getting what.

We’ve also built in some new vectors about how leaders communicate with you. The system as a whole is broader, I would say. There’s a lot more meat to it, there’s a game to it, there’s a progression to it, and it’s more transparent.

RPS: It kind of felt in Beyond Earth like you had the option to steamroller everyone or you had to perpetually have something prepared in case someone suddenly lashed out at you; now will you have more sense of why that might happen, and how much does that enable a more nuanced and reactive approach?

Will: Yes, that’s exactly right. The reason the AI behaves the way it does is very complicated. I think one of the problems with Beyond Earth is that the perception of motivations for the leaders was not apparent. They would do things that didn’t make any sense in the context of what was happening on the map. This system is there to give you a window into what they’re thinking, and to make a game out of that. One of the inspirations for that, and this may give you a little bit of a telegraph into what this looks like, is a boardgame called Tales of the Arabian Nights.Your personality as a player is this collection of cards that you get from the experiences that you have in the game. It’s not exactly like that, but we loved this idea of the player having a personality that evolves, and that personality be the driving thing behind the interaction you have with them, and to put that in front in the player and let them strategise around it.

RPS: Do you mean that the player’s behaviour will change over the course of the game because they feel they’ve built up relationships with the other factions?

Will: I’d say that that’s true. I’d also say that you can use the diplomacy layer to make up for deficits. So if I need something I can get it through research, I can get it through exploration, and now I can get it through diplomacy. We’ve taken a lot of these benefits and spread them all out across the game, making the diplomacy important to other parts of the game, rather than just the war and peace thing. And adding this idea of progression, so the leaders that start off the game have a personality that changes over the course of the game to something different at the end, based on what’s happening, based on your interactions with them, based on the map, based on a lot of factors. You can see that as a player, and you can plan around it.

RPS: Traditionally, or at least as armchair critics like me have it, Civ expansions target weaknesses in the mid game or the late game. It sounds like this one is meant to be more game-wide?

David: That’s definitely true. Our game has got a different pace to it, a different arc than a traditional Civ. It tends to ramp higher and faster. In the base game we spent a lot of our effort making it play and feel different from Civ in very key ways – things like the Tech Web and the Affinity system. What we’re doing in the expansion is simultaneously deepening those systems and adding more content and more variety, more opportunity for player personalisation and for them to control the way the game goes. But also things like the diplomacy and the water system are relevant no matter how big or how small your game is, or how early or how later. There are things that are going to change every decision that you make, in big and little ways. There are also things that scale with the player’s interests. You can invest in the diplomacy to whatever extent that you feel you need to. It’ll be rewarding whether it’s a 1v1 game or a 1v10. Likewise, the water gameplay, even if you play on a map that’s one little ocean or one that’s entirely water, it’s still a big deal, one that changes the strategic landscape. I think it’s accurate to say the changes that we’re after in this game are consistent throughout all the phases of it, they’re meant to turn up the stakes on every part.

RPS: Has your approach to science fiction changed? Despite having human-alien hybrids, it was kind of buttoned down in the base game. How much is the wildness restrained by a theoretical science mindset?

David: I think we do both, actually. I think there are a lot of new additions which are very much plausible science, real world-inspired things. There are a lot of ideas in the dipomacy which are based on real, modern politics, there’s a lot of aspects of the new factions that are drawn from the same real-world sources that the existing ones are. The new units, like we’ve introduced the submarine, which is a unit that everyone already understands, but the Hybrid Affinity unique units are much wilder, they’re more bizarre than the Purity ones were. The naval alien catalogue has been expanded, so that feels even more alien, more of a strange environment, than it used to be. And then little things like the new biomes and adjustments to the victory conditions… In many, many small ways we are nudging the game further into true sci-fi. We’re letting it progress there. There’s a number of pieces of new content or new features which are much more strange, much more space than BE had.

RPS: Internally, how much sense is there that you have to redeem Beyond Earth?

Will: Every product is iterative with us. I think our audience, and rightfully so, has a pretty short memory. When Civ V came out it was pretty rough and it took two expansions to get that game to the place that people have in their heads. The game that people have in their heads is the result of lots of patches, lots of iteration and two expansions. Beyond Earth is no different. When you make a complex strategy game or you iterate on a franchise like Civ you have to watch how people play, you have to see what people do with the game, and you have to respond. We’ve done that with the patches that we’ve released and the Rising Tide expansion is an indication of our committment to this as a franchise. We’re growing this idea and improving and expanding upon it. We’re not a studio that releases one-and-done products. We’re always watching and always improving.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

Rising Tide is due for release this fall/Autumn and will cost £19.99.

85 Comments

  1. RedViv says:

    Good so far. And what about that Patch 2.0?

    • eXplorminate4X says:

      I have a website and we’ve tried to reach out to them regarding this and their reply was “we have nothing new to report at this time”.

      I, too, am very interested in knowing more about 2.0 before I hand over ANOTHER $30 to them.

    • razgon says:

      I’m flabbergasted RPS didn’t even ASK about 2.0? I wonder if that was the deal with the interview? Do NOT ask about 2.0 or the interview is off – I mean, look at how angry the lead devs even look?

  2. Gap Gen says:

    I think a bunch of the game needs an overhaul. In terms of the pure mechanics, an ending where you had to just shove units through a portal for 50 turns was never going to be fun, and stuff like trade was a huge micromanagement grind (which apparently was semi-fixed in a patch I never tried). Still, I gather that Civ V was markedly improved by DLC so hopefully this will be the case here, too.

    • Cinek says:

      “I think a bunch of the game needs an overhaul” – I seen identical comments right after Civ V release.

  3. Chris Cunningham says:

    Jesus Christ. Maybe for once they might send someone who’s ever actually played the game’s primary influence to do these interviews? “Water man, this is groundbreaking stuff, you wouldn’t believe what it’s like to build CITIES on water, never before seen.” Unless you’d played Alpha Centauri and were intimately familiar with this radical new move fifteen years ago.

    I’m going to make the bold move of predicting that this mind-blowing overhaul of the diplomacy system is going to be a thin veneer over the old one that adds a smattering of SMAC-style advanced trading to the existing Civ 5 one too (let’s remember that at present, Beyond Earth doesn’t so much as change the *strings* for most of its diplomacy from Civ 5: it’s literally a copy-paste job). Generic Australian Guy is still going to be better known for calling people “yobbos” when he’s angry than for any of his supposed personality traits.

    • Gap Gen says:

      No game was ever ruined by DLC.

      • brotherthree says:

        I still strongly feel Beyond Earth was a cash grab, and these new “features” make me want to laugh and cry at the same time… and after reading the article I honestly feel like these devs have drank all the kool-aid and not left any for their fans.

        “One of the biggest, most rewarding pieces of feedback that we got from our community was that there was a hunger for this game, for the idea that this game represents. We’re delivering on that. ”

        … Wait what??? Beyond Earth was a fucking flop, which DIDN’T deliver. Why should we believe you this second time around?

        “RPS: Is there a conscious attempt to be less conservative now? David: Absolutely. Beyond Earth went as far as we thought that we could go.”

        Beyond Earth universally dead panned as a re-skinned Civ5, for full price. Did he seriously just say they went as far as they thought they could go? This is like when your five year old son runs away and you find him hiding under a tree two houses down… He went as far as he thought he could go too.

        The team behind Beyond Earth don’t qualify for my ‘benefit of the doubts’ any more – their work on this expansion is going to have to do the talking for them, and until it’s released Ill make an effort to ignore everything they are saying to hype this up.

    • Beanbee says:

      You know what could be mind blowing?

      Orbiting cities. Placed on trajectories or kept geostationary. You’re prepared for a coastal assault from the East and then bam, a city swings overhead from the north polar airdropping troops and launching aircraft.

      How could that not be fun?

    • malkav11 says:

      Well, hey, what they said was technically true. No Civilization game has ever had water cities…because Alpha Centauri is a separate game without the Civilization branding.

      The idea that it’s somehow revolutionary is nonsense, though.

      • Gap Gen says:

        I’ve been catching up on old Three Moves Ahead podcasts and one of the points they made (either in the 4X episode recently or in the Beyond Earth episode) was that there are very few people who can design one of these things well. They’re complex beasts that are hard to get right, and take a lot of time playtesting and iterating, plus you have to know how to head up a team to build it. Granted Firaxis is an old hand at this but the team leads generally change each iteration, so you’re probably still getting people learning as they’re going. Hell, even Starships wasn’t received that well and that was (I think?) from Sid Meier. So it’s probably not surprising if these games are conservative and make mistakes along the way, particularly if BE’s development cycle was a lot shorter than other projects. I still think it’s a misstep by Firaxis, but there are perhaps reasons why large parts of these games fall short of what we would like in a TBS game.

    • meepmeep says:

      Also, Alien Crossfire can be summarised in one sentence: “introduces a simultaneous overarching planetary battle between two otherwise disinterested powerful alien factions…and pirates.”

      This? I still have no idea what this is other than involving water.

    • melancholicthug says:

      Yeah, i had to stop reading at that. Really? These are the ‘lead designers’? They don’t seem fit to scrape the dirt of Brian Reynolds’ shoes. It blows my mind they could get out with “LOOK HOW AWESOME AND INNOVATIVE, WATER CITIES” without rebuttal.

      Seems RPS’ policy is to be only brutal and scathing to Peter Molyneux, and give free passes to talentless hacks.

    • Cryptoshrimp says:

      And they clearly haven’t played Anno, which showed that witching between layers was fine and worked well even in real time. Also, water.

    • Vacuity729 says:

      You seem to be misattributing this; that was the developers saying that, not the interviewer.

      Alec Meer could have chosen to point out that SMAC already did this, but there are two technicalities; as someone else has said, SMAC wasn’t a Civ game; secondly, SMAC only allowed building cities/improvements on shallow water tiles, this appears to allow building on *all* water tiles. It would have been pretty idiotic for Alec to have tried to disagree about it.

      As to the rest of it, well, I tried Civ:BE on the free weekend and was quite underwhelmed. I own SMAC, Endless Legend, Pandora: First Contact, and Civ V which seem to be the closest games in terms of style, content and arrival time, as well as a bunch of other 4Xs. Nothing I saw on that free weekend made me think I was missing anything I didn’t already have available. I really hope that this expansion helps make me think otherwise as I’d very much like to have another great sci-fi 4X game.

      • Chris Cunningham says:

        A good interviewer would catch that: would think to ask “is this closer to SMAC than the last one, because a lot of people have pointed out that BE barely pays lip service to it right now”. But then this is Alex “SPACE HULK” Meer we’re talking about.

        • Baines says:

          I don’t know if Alec was actively trying to not be John, but it is pretty much a PR puff piece. Informative, but it does very much read like something a PR department would approve of.

          That isn’t to say that a more confrontational tone would have necessarily have been better. It might have been more entertaining for readers, but it probably would have been less informative about the expansion. And Alex presumably wanted to write about the expansion, not battle it out over how uninspiring Beyond Earth was.

        • Vacuity729 says:

          Surely the fact that Civ:BE is not SMAC has been done to death at this point? I don’t really see how the comparison would have really improved the interview in any meaningful sense other than “scoring points” on behalf of disgruntled Internet commentators.

          This being the Internet, the comments section of this and every other site will continue flogging this dead horse ad infinitum (this comments section’s already doing a great job of it).

          I think it’s better to judge it on its own merits, or in comparison to Civ V, of which it is pretty much just a sophisticated reskin than comparing it to a game which it has so very little in common aside from being a planet-based Sci-fi 4X game.

          • Chris Cunningham says:

            If the main point of your £30 expansion is that you can build cities on water, and you’re hyping this as revolutionary, it seems neglectful not to make any attempt to point out that this was present in the game that your entire premise is based on, in the base package no less.

          • Vacuity729 says:

            I think we’ll have to differ on that point. To me the comparison is a dead horse that’s bean beaten quite sufficiently both by the press up to this point, and even more so by ‘the Internet.’ Alec not continuing to flog the equine corpse is fine by me.

            I think you may be aggrandising SMAC in one sense though; it wasn’t really until the expansion, SMAX, that building cities over water became a particularly interesting or useful mechanic. Up to that point it was a bit of a poor choice in most circumstances, mostly for niche cases where two landmasses nearly met but lacked a land bridge.

          • Rindan says:

            The cries of “you can’t compare it to SMAC!” fall on my deaf ears. Yes you can. SMAC is better and vastly more innovative despite there being people who played Civ:BE who were not fucking alive when SMAC came out. Go and fucking steal from it. It would be one thing if Civ:BE blazed its own crazy trail and so “don’t compare us to SMAC!” I could respect that. They didn’t though. They took Civ5, somehow managed to downgrade the game, and made a game that frankly sucks.

            The problem with Civ:BE wasn’t that they forgot to put cities on fucking water tiles. The problem was that the game is awful. The affinities, while a fantastic idea, are so awfully executed it defies reason. The affinities are literally, no seriously, LITERALLY the same. There are slight state tweaks between them, but that is basically it. The harmony folks don’t get some awesome bonus for not murdering all the planet life. The supremacy don’t supremacy folks don’t get fucking weird and go all robotic. The purity don’t wall back the planet and try and make Earth on the planet. The “affinities” are just shitty stat boosts that barely differentiate. The factions are utterly lifeless.

            I can still name every single SMAC faction, their leader, and what they stood for. I doubt even a Civ:BE fanatic can do the same because the factions are such lifeless pieces of shit.

            Personally, I am done with Civ:BE until the tone deafness ends. I can only assume based upon their output that the “creative leads” for Civ:BE are 50 year old non-gaming men with MBAs, and that the tiny slivers of creativity in that game were snuck in by subversive programmers who have not had their creative impulses destroyed yet. The entire “vision” side of Civ:BE needs a Stalinist style purging. Civ:BE is awful. I think no game has disappointed me more.

      • Psykhe says:

        “SMAC only allowed building cities/improvements on shallow water tiles”

        This isn’t correct. The pirate faction could build sea cities everywhere and with tech higher in the tech tree everyone could build improvements in ocean tiles.

        • Vacuity729 says:

          Ahh, yes. Forgot that. The pirates weren’t in the last game I played (a year ago) and that had passed from my memory.

          I stand corrected on this point.

    • Baines says:

      Meh, building cities on the water is just an extension of Civilization 1 letting you build railroads on the water.

      Sure, it was most likely an oversight. I want to remember that you couldn’t use them for movement. But they did increase production in fish shoals, and it was fun to pave and rail the entire world.

  4. Hammersong says:

    “Players understood intuitively how . . . Ghandi might behave.”

    WAR.

  5. malkav11 says:

    The factions in the base game make next to no difference, so they’d better have really amped what those do for four more of those to be any sort of selling point.

  6. Bundin says:

    I like their candid “we initially release rough games and then get those games to a decent state with expansions”. To me, that reads like “we know we’re screwing you over by releasing incomplete products, because you’ve proven to be willing to pay for the things that are missing a few months down the road”.

    Civ V was an excellent example: missing a ton of features from Civ IV. And Beyond Earth was just a reskin, with truly new things hidden behind another paywall. I’ll pass.

    • BlueTemplar says:

      Yet I’d be willing to disregard that considering how complex empire games can be : look how much people love Civ5 now!
      The issue with BE is not so much that it’s not Alpha Centauri, it’s that it’s a pretty average game to start with…

  7. arioch says:

    I always feel slightly torn by Firaxis outings… I know that 2 or 3 years after release I will have access to an incredible strategic game that I can delve into for hours of enjoyment, but until that point it will be buggy and frustrating.

    I have no doubt that after a couple of expansions BE will be fantastic, just like Civ 5… I just wish that Firaxis had the patience (or more importantly – probably, the funds) to polish their games as much as a company like Blizzard does before releasing them.

    Yet I still cannot resist buying them on release… Go figure.

    • Gap Gen says:

      Yeah everyone I know who plays these things knew instinctively what their response to the game would be and yet we all bought it on release anyway. Ah well.

      • RedViv says:

        We’re just *starved* for at least tolerably good sci-fi 4X games.

        • mattevansc3 says:

          Off the top of ny head there is Endless Space, Sins of a Solar Empire, Sword of the Stars and Galactic Civilizations. I wouldn’t really say we are starved of decent sci-fi 4X games.

          • Zenicetus says:

            True, but all of those are set in space as the main action area. We’re still starved for good land-based sci-fi 4X, with the only recent examples being BE and Pandora (which I haven’t tried). Endless Legend is kind of a land-based sci-fi 4X if you look at it sideways and get into the lore, but I think there’s still plenty of room in this niche.

            For one thing (and unlike the space games), it’s an opportunity to deal with non-sentient aliens. That seemed like a promising interaction in the early previews of BE, but then they turned out to be mainly just reskinned Barbarians in the actual gameplay. There is major room for improvement there, but it was barely mentioned in the interview.

          • mattevansc3 says:

            I see your point but disagree. BE is Civ5 skinned to be Sci-Fi its not a 4X game built around Sci-Fi concepts. For me personally I’m looking for a Risk 2210AD variation on the 4X genre.

            Its a good game that has the core Risk concept but introduces game elements that make use of the Sci-Fi setting. BE is not really doing anything special with its sci-fi setting. The likes of Endless Space are (Warlock 2 serves as a reminder why fantasy 4X doesn’t handle multiple worlds well).

            I want something uniquely sci-fi to come out, I want a game that does for the 4X genre what Babylon5 did for the Space Opera.

          • jmtd says:

            Don’t forget SMAC.

          • BlueTemplar says:

            @Zenicetus :
            Non-sentient aliens are all over space empire games (and not just Space Empires games) as various random encounters.
            Maybe you mean life forms that don’t seem sentient at first glance but actually are, like in Alpha Centauri?
            Surely, considering how often these random encounters become a full-fledged new race with a new expansion, there must be other examples like that out there…

  8. XhomeB says:

    Sorry, I’m not interested in the slightest. Firaxis might attempt to sugarcoat this bland, unimaginative universe all they want, they can’t salvage this mess – the foundations are too weak. Sure, gameplay-wise, it’s playable, often fun in short doses, but that’s because it copied the already solid post-expansion Civ5.
    Alpha Centauri never needed an expansion to be amazing, and it crushes Beyond Earth in every possible way, especially when it comes to the sheer imagination and believability behind its sci-fi universe.

    • Rizlar says:

      Basically yeah. I have defended BE in the past, the gamey parts are really good but the fiction is just so terrible. And it feels like they still don’t get it. From this interview it sounds like their solution for lack of character in diplomacy is ‘make it into a game’!

      And the idea of a ‘long-term product plan’ for the ‘franchise’ is always a bit offensive. The naval aspect of BE always felt under developed, clearly they had this expansion planned in advance yet still priced the game as if it were complete.

      Hopefully it grows into something beautiful. But it needs more than just good game mechanics. It has to show a bit more imagination and soul.

      • Psykhe says:

        Agreed. Both the other factions as well as the alien planet are just faceless replaceable entities in BE. What SMAC did really really well was to build a connection with the player and the different faction as well with the native wildlife. BE tries to emulate SMAC without realizing what made the game great.

  9. meepmeep says:

    Christ, now I want to see the interview photos you didn’t use.

    • Wowbagger says:

      Yes indeed – ‘face like a slapped arse’ Isn’t usually the first choice.

    • Zenicetus says:

      All that photo needs is an alt tag reading “Yes, we know it’s nowhere near as good as Alpha Centauri, okay? Can we get on with this?”

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      teije says:

      It must not be very comfortable to have an alien fungus infection in your rectum.

  10. Fenix says:

    The whole interview went along without once mentioning Alpha Centauri.. congratulations!

  11. Sidewinder says:

    Well, it sounds like these two are genuinely trying to make the game better; I do hope that interpretation is correct, and I wish them the best of luck- but I was building cities in the water sixteen years ago, and a few months later, doing so everywhere on the planet.

    And I understand.that constantly being compared to a game your company made in the previous century is wearing at best, but your pitch for this game desperately relied on selling it as a spiritual sequel.

    And I understand that the game’s fabulous writing was a vanishingly rare, probably once-in-a-lifetime thing, but it’s mechanics were most definitely not. Just yesterday, I launched a three-pronged attack against the Morganites by engaging their main army in the field over the narrow peninsula that was our border while a group of formers, escorted by AA guns, built a land bridge to sneak my rovers in and I conquered his industrial centers with a force of tachyon bolt helicopters launched from a submersible aircraft carrier, followed up by troopers paradroppped in from a space elevator. Beyond Earth, by contrast, would let me… slightly disrupt his income by attacking his caravans? With my bare handful of unit types from a system shamelessly ripped off from Pandora: First Contact, itself a knockoff of Alpha Centauri?

    I’m not asking for real depth of improvements, here; I just want to know why it’s apparently so impossible to not slide hopelessly backward.

    • Chris Cunningham says:

      You actually had to fight the Morgans? In all my years of playing I’m still pleasantly surprised if Morgan Industries isn’t orange or grey by the time I get to it, where it’s inevitably unguarded.

      I’ve always taken it as a chilling warning against Randian corporatists ever actually following through on their plans to Go Galt, where they’ll be exposed to the real world that their parents have always carefully sheltered them from until then.

  12. Quiffle says:

    I’d rather have a Philosophy student run design on this game, rather than suffer the attempts of another “game design” graduate armed with a stack of sci-fi lit cliffnotes. Damn I miss Microprose. Their game mechanics could either be hit or miss, but it certainly invoked the imagination.

  13. egattocs says:

    Having not picked up the game yet, due to the lukewarm reviews when it was released, hopefully the DLC will improve it enough that it’s more than Civ V in a new setting. I’m looking forward to giving it a go.

  14. Flammarion says:

    As much as it’s great that they’re working on improving the game, I think it’s kind of insulting that they’re blaming their audiences “short memory” for the relatively harsh comparisons that have been made between BE and Civ 5. Yes Civ 5 has had years of patches and expansions, but that’s hardly an excuse for the lessons they’ve failed to carry over, nor the relative blandness of their setting when compared to other Sci-Fi 4X’s.

    I mean, the aliens have nothing to them beyond “ooohhh, we are bugs and we so scary”, and the faction leaders were practically non-entities, which given they are (or, at least should be) the primary expression of that faction’s ethos, seems really lazy.

    I do really like that they’re going to improve this game, and I sincerely hope it ends up on par with their other work, but this denialist blaming of the audience crap is the worst kind of PR non-speak, and no matter how many times we relive it from different sources, it’s still really disappointing.

  15. ChiefOfBeef says:

    This bit about the leaders: “You didn’t have a lot of opportunity to interact with the leaders that we put in, their personalities didn’t really get an opportunity to shine.”

    Everything about the leaders which can be learned in the game from the various quotes and biographies makes them distinctly unlikable to me. They come across as the very same type of people who likely ruined Earth in the events pre-game. There is nothing exceptional about any of them, their status achieved by being the best in social, cultural and economic structures designed by people just like themselves to accommodate them. These are sociopaths, narcissists, luvvies and anti-democrats who would get on fine around the same dinner table. When I play, I so WANT bad stuff to happen to every one of them yet I’m so aware that I have to pick one to play as. I pick random and edit the name so I spend the game as ‘Patrick Batemen – Leader of Doubles’.

  16. Zenicetus says:

    It doesn’t sound like these guys understand why so many of us were disappointed. You don’t fix lack of imagination just by expanding the available terrain and adding factions. Maybe better diplomacy and characterization of the faction leaders will help, but I’m not sure it’s enough to rescue this “franchise.”

    The $32 USD price for the expansion also seems just a wee bit presumptuous, for what seems like a fix-it patch for flaws in the base game (especially the “bland leaders” problem). That’s 60% of the base game price! At $15 I might be tempted to give it a shot.

  17. Carlos Danger says:

    Not only will I pass on this one, I will now look skeptically on anything they put out in the future.

    What a shame.

  18. Moraven says:

    The water and space colonization reminds me of Activision’s Call of Power. Think I played a lot of the 1st one and never played the better 2.

  19. BluePencil says:

    I know they didn’t want to reveal the diplo changes but the only one that is hinted at is tech trading, which is hardly novel. (Please excuse me if BE already has tech trading, I haven’t played it due to its poor reception).

  20. Niko says:

    Future, where women in skin-tight suits always stand with their back to the camera.

  21. Premium User Badge

    Mikemcn says:

    What if they took this revolutionary water-based gameplay, and put it in a new xcom expansion…

    Perhaps we could call it, Xcom: Enemy Underwater? Xcom:Terror from the below?

  22. mattevansc3 says:

    I’m really shocked at how lightly they got off during this interview. Now its probably a mixture of me being jaded with the industry and being spoilt by Paradox and CK2 but that interview honestly read like they planned to release a sub-par product just so they could sell the fixes as DLC/expansion.

    • Vacuity729 says:

      Well, I plan to wait until the game and all its expansions are going cheap, so I’m not overly upset, but yes, it does rather sound like that. I wonder how much that’s true and how much it’s just poor self-expression.

    • P.Funk says:

      Yea this was definitely a soft ball interview. I am a bit disappointed that RPS is apparently only a crusader for the truth when the developer is a monstrous liar but proceeds to do basically a smiles and hand shakes free corporate PR piece for these guys.

      Might as well be an interview backstage at Glastonbury.

      “How were things?”
      “Great”
      “The crowd”
      “They were great”
      “How have you guys done as a band”
      “We’re great. New album.. great. Its got sounds on it an’ things. Very great.”
      “Great guys, thanks for the notes so I could ask the right questions”
      “Great”

  23. Wetcoaster says:

    I think the lead designers should have not only played a couple straight weeks of Alpha Centauri, but also listened to the Three Moves Ahead podcast episodes on the 4x genre as well as the old episode where Brian Reynolds was on to talk about Alpha Centauri because of the insights into the differences and pitfalls they encountered.

    One of the main observations by Reynolds was that as they discovered, you can’t just do ‘Civ in Space’ – Civ (and Rise of Nations, Age of Empires, etc. etc.) are reliant on using human history as context, without that, it’s very easy to end up either a very bland space opera setting or a giant obtuse lore dump. Alpha Centauri skirted this by using lots of flavour text that references a narrative arc without actually being a novel. It also manages to both be self-aware of some of the weird conventions of the genre and strongly themed around the hardships of colonization. Limiting themselves to a small number of very clearly designed factions and personalities probably helped more than a bit too.

  24. Dilapinated says:

    Wow, everyone’s being consistently awful to either the interviewer or interviewees in the comments on this one. Lovely.

    • Zenicetus says:

      Right! How dare someone spend money on a game, play it, and then express an opinion about it online. The nerve of these bums!

      If it seems like there is some piling on here, it’s probably because 1) People have been pining for a “spiritual successor to Alpha Centauri” since forever, and 2) that’s exactly what the marketing angle was for BE, and 3) unlike an indie developer, Firaxis has an actual budget to work with, and 4) They and Sid Meier have done some great games in the past. That makes it all the more disappointing when the product doesn’t deliver. I think people might have been easier on an indie developer that didn’t deliver on expectations.

      It ain’t easy out there, being a niche strategy game developer even with a budget. But they have my money now, so they get my opinion too.

      • Premium User Badge

        teije says:

        Perfect – couldn’t have said it better myself. Now I don’t need to pile on and be mean to those nice, scared looking designers.

      • BlueTemplar says:

        Considering Civ5 is in the top 10 played games on Steam (and probably is not far from being as popular than ALL the other 4x/empire games combined), I wouldn’t call Firaxis “a niche strategy game developer” (yes SMAC/BE is more niche than that, but it IS the whole company we’re talking about).

    • P.Funk says:

      Its almost as if the commentators are agreeing upon a shared opinion. Fascinating social phenomena.

    • green frog says:

      This is why developers have to be very bold to ever try to resurrect these kinds of beloved classics. Given how hard it is to capture lightning in a bottle twice, your “reboot” or “spiritual successor” will inevitably fail to meet the fans’ stratospheric expectations, and when that happens many of them will hate you for it.

      There was basically a zero percent chance that these guys (or indeed, any other guys Firaxis could have hired) were going to be able to make a game just as good as Alpha Centauri, especially in the writing department, and therefore there was a 100% percent chance that we’d see, to some degree, exactly the kind of acrid backlash that Beyond Earth has gotten.

      People wonder why some of these kinds of unique, beloved games tend to stay dead even when there’s clearly such “demand”, such “passion” for them even decades later. And I can’t help but suspect that part of the reason is because the publishers know that nothing their teams are capable of making will possibly live up to the fans’ feelings for the original game, and when that disappointment sets in they’re going to rip your head off. It’s usually much safer to just leave these things where they lay and not open that can of worms at all.

      Obviously there’s quite a bit of wiggle room here with these things depending upon the particular execution of the revival in question. J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars may very well go down much more smoothly than the prequels, for example (in fact, it may go down extra well especially because of favorable comparison to the prequels).

      But there’s always going to be some people who are going to ratchet up their expectations to an unrealistic degree, and will regard anything short of fully recapturing the magic of the original work as a heinous insult and betrayal of their fandom, and those people are always going to be very vocal about expressing that.

      • Zenicetus says:

        The problem with that thesis is that Firaxis is the same developer that did a fine job of taking a beloved old series — X-COM — and delivering their own successful take on it. And with a great expansion too.

        It wasn’t the same game mechanics as the original, and there is still probably some moaning about that. But overall, I think the RPS hivemind counted it as a success on its own terms. They took the basic idea, and ran with it. They made something worth buying. I still have X-COM Enemy Unknown and the Enemy Within expansion on my hard drive, and I dip into it every now and then.

        Why couldn’t they have done that here, with Civ-in-Space? Forget whether they were trying to make a successor to Alpha Centauri or not. Why isn’t the game as good as the X-COM reboot?

        • green frog says:

          Because it’s really freaking hard, that’s why. To make a game so good that it stands toe to toe with some of the best strategy games ever made. Do you seriously think they sat down in a room and made a conscious decision to intentionally handicap the quality of the game? That they totally considered making the best game ever but then chose to make an average game instead? Seriously?

          It honestly frightens me that some presumably intelligent people seem to actually believe that Beyond Earth is the product of some evil conspiracy to sadistically break the hearts of Alpha Centauri fans.

          Why don’t you go and make a game as good as Alpha Centauri, then? (And a movie as good as Citizen Kane, and music as good as Mozart, etc. etc.) Because you can’t, that’s why. And apparently neither could Firaxis. And so what? It doesn’t mean that they’re bad people or that they’re stupid.

        • mattevansc3 says:

          I’d have to disagree with that. With XCOM Firaxis proved that they could take a beloved franchise, strip it down to the bare bones, put in some “gamey” systems that don’t gel with the overall game, remove the character from the series and any true form of replayability and still have it sell well.

          Beyond Earth is just a continuation of that work.

      • BlueTemplar says:

        I arrived to the same conclusion lately, better have a developer to make a whole new game that has a small chance of being great, than a sequel that is much more certain to disappoint.

  25. Lethys says:

    They shouldn’t be charging full price for a game which is so bland without expansions. I don’t think all the expansions and DLC should magically add to a full price game, but give a discount on the original for people who buy early so that there isn’t that fatigue when expansions roll around, unless of course the game can stand on its own from the get-go (which Beyond Earth maybe could if Civ V wasn’t so clearly better and the two weren’t so strikingly similar in many ways).

    And I don’t think iterative sequels are a bad thing, but I think the customers should be given a bit of financial relief for their supporting the game early. Not every financial model applies to every game, that’s why MMO’s are priced so differently and whatnot. This should work in a way more equipped for strategies with expansions.

  26. Xyth says:

    I don’t see anything in this interview that makes me want to spend more money on this game. After I bought it, I played 1.5 campaigns and went back to Civ V. I will wait for BE to sell xpac bundles at deep discounts in a couple of years, pending future reviews of course. No more pre-orders for me, thanks.

  27. P.Funk says:

    I think they should really never try to sell us this as a “true sci-fi” title again. Its really obvious that they’re ill equipped to offer us what is clearly an attempt at plaintively gratifying the SMAC fan boys. Its a losing gambit. SMAC had all that charm and character out of the box. No expansion is going to add to this a shred of what was in its DNA.

    I’m not one of those who insists this is shit because its not SMAC, but its obvious that its not even close to being it so lets not allow them to continue to butter us up with that clearly impossible suggestion.

  28. Vacuity729 says:

    I had a re-read of the earlier interview with these developers on RPS, and I really don’t see where or when they state that this is a sequel to Alpha Centauri. They even state a couple of times that it’s very much Civ in space. Maybe they did make this claim in another interview on another site, but I don’t read much on other sites.

    Pretty much all the Alpha Centauri-sequel comments both pre- and post-release come from comments. The game may not be particularly exciting, but the Internet-rage seems thoroughly misplaced and self-generated.

    • green frog says:

      Yeah. This is really just typical internet conspiratorial-thinking in action. There’s this whole narrative now that the developers cravenly lied to us for months about how their game was going to be so as to rake in the pre-order cash, while they intentionally half-assed the game because Beyond Earth was just some nefarious cynical scam from the get-go.

      If you go back and read what they actually said, they never claimed their game was going to be the next Alpha Centauri, in fact they tried to distance themselves from Alpha Centauri. Clearly it didn’t work. No, they didn’t shit-talk their own game and tell you it was probably going to be a big disappointment because no developer has ever done that. I mean, come on.

      The hate brigade did this to themselves. They set ludicrously unrealistic expectations that Beyond Earth was going to be or had to be the next Alpha Centauri (one of the best games ever made), and when Firaxis’s best effort inevitably fell short of that incredibly high bar they got ugly about it. Personally, I feel more badly for Firaxis here than the angry mob.

      I mean let’s be clear, you don’t have to even like the game. You don’t have to sing it’s praises from the mountaintops. But this angry vilification of Firaxis because some of the fans set unrealistic standards just strikes me as childish.

      • brotherthree says:

        The vilification is due to people like me wasting their money on what was billed as a brand new space 4x from Sid Meier, which turned out to be a graphical revamp mod of a game everyone had already purchased. (Civ 5)

        Firaxis hyped Beyond Earth, not the fans. Firaxis delivered a pile of steaming crap and called it progress, not the fans… Yet you feel bad for Firaxis, not the fans?

        They got my money. They got many, many peoples money.
        Firaxis were the only winners here… not the fans who are complaining about the game.

        Did the Sid Meier name and it’s renowned from previous series help sell the copies for them?
        Undoubtedly, Yes.
        Should everyone who bought copies have waited for a review before buying it?
        Yes.
        Does this excuse a company for putting out a shoddy product? To the point where we shouldn’t even be angry at them?
        No. No, it certainly does not.

      • BlueTemplar says:

        If so, then they were quite naive in thinking they would be able to distance themselves from Alpha Centauri, considering it’s yet again Firaxis doing a sequel to Civilization set on an alien planet… (and barely any competition in that specific subgenre, with Pandora consciously ripping off SMAC, and Endless Legend having been released only shortly before that).

    • trouble_gum says:

      Alas, they did make this claim elsewhere. To quote from an ArsTechnica article about the Civ:BE PAX announcement –

      ‘”we like to think the heart and soul of that game belongs at Firaxis,” lead designer David McDonogh said at a PAX East panel today. “For all the fans out there of Alpha Centauri, this is the game we have made for you”‘

      Welp.

  29. IonTichy says:

    Awesome…just one more expansion and the game will be actually full version (if the last civ titles have thaught me anything…)

  30. Neutrino says:

    My take on what I’ve read here though is that this ‘expansion’ is more about completing, refining and tuning something that was previously quite subpar, rather than giving you a whole new dollop of something that was already awesome.

    So while It looks really pretty I really can’t see myself paying for the base game and then another £20 for a patch that brings the base game up to a reasonable level. If the expansion were free I’d consider buying the base game, otherwise not.

    • BlueTemplar says:

      Wait 6 months after expansion release, and there’ll be a sale that allows you to get both the base game AND the expansion for that price. They are not getting a day-one sale (or even a discounted pre-order) from me again though.