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Firaxis Talk Us Through Civilization V's Brave New World

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There's going to be a second major Civilization V expansion. It's called Brave New World, it introduces 9 new Civs, the concepts of tourism, ideologies, international trade routes and archaeology, and basically it sounds like it's pretty huge on an under-the-hood front. I had a big chat with Firaxis lead programmer Ed Beach and senior producer Dennis Shirk on what's in there, why, how it works and why we'll be forming impressive in-game art collections.

RPS: I guess the thing is to sum up for me and the readers how this is going to make Civ V different.

Ed Beach: We felt like with Gods and Kings, we’d really done a good job looking at the early to mid-part of the game, adding a lot of content and a lot of richness to the game there, with the new religion systems and then later with the espionage system. And we didn’t want to ignore that part of the game entirely, so we’ll talk later about the international trade routes which definitely come into play right at the very beginning of the game and are a big new change there.

Overall what we wanted the focus for this expansion to be was to look at that back half of the game from when you get into the twentieth century, and then you push on to one of the four different types of victories that are supported in Civilisation V, and we wanted to ramp up the tension and excitement level in that part of the game. So there are two things that we did: one was that we looked at the conflicts of the twentieth century. We already had a concept we just started to introduce in Civ V a little bit about different ideologies, where we had a freedom policy tree, an order policy tree, and an autocracy policy tree, and we wanted to bring that to the fore and really make civilisations make a commitment to one of those three different types of ideologies.

So when you reach the modern era you have to look around the world, see who’s going with which of the ideologies, who’s your friend, what type of victory you want to pursue, which ideologies might help you get there. You’ve got to make a key decision at that part of the game, are you going to be a freedom Civ, are you maybe going to take the workers of your country and try to unite them and get behind order and push towards victory that way? So there’s a big decision point there, big political and diplomatic blocks form around that, and that’s sort of where the tension towards the end of the game revolves.

RPS: And you’re completely locked to it once you choose it, presumably there’s no way to switch out to another one?

Ed Beach: Mostly. You can change it. You probably don’t want to, but there is this idea of a brand new system we have for cultural victory. Before in cultural victory all you were trying to do was just fill up policy trees, and you weren’t interacting with the other civilisations at all, very, very different now with Brave New World.

With Brave New World what you’re doing is you’re creating Great Works as well as Wonders, basically all sorts of different items that will attract people to want to come and visit your civilisation and sample all the great elements of culture that you have present in your civilisation. That starts producing what we call Tourism, and what you’re doing with the Tourism is you’re taking the glories of your civilisation and you’re pushing it out on all the other players and civilisations in the world, and getting them to realise what an amazing civilisation you’ve created.

If you push that cultural pressure out on them hard enough, and you have a different ideology than they do, then you can actually start to see effects in the game that are sort of similar to the 1989 bringing down of the Berlin wall, maybe Arab Spring sort of thing that we’ve seen more recently, where the people within those AI civilisations will start to become very unhappy about their leadership having adopted an unpopular ideology. And they will actually gain a whole bunch of unhappiness and they can actually choose, wow, we really need to switch and adopt freedom or order, or whatever the ideology that’s putting that cultural pressure on them is.

RPS: So you could basically disrupt someone’s autocracy and either they roll with it and adapt to what their people want or they basically end up losing because they’re in a state of revolt?

Ed Beach: Right. And as a player, if you are put in that position, then, you were saying do you ever switch ideologies, well you could, you might be in a situation where maybe you’re a very scientific player and you’ve been ignoring this whole cultural, diplomatic, theological battle, but your people are telling you that you picked the wrong ideology. You could go and switch to a different one and hopefully get your scientific progress still fast enough that you can get to the finish line before everyone else does.

Dennis Shirk: And you can certainly suck it up, if you’re not playing a culture game and your people are getting brow-beaten by this other ideology and they want to switch, I might decide to do the strongman thing and instead build plenty of happiness-inducing buildings and try to offset that loss of happiness to stick with the ideology that I believe in. So as a player you have options for that.

RPS: And the AI will presumably be trying to do the same to you, or does it behave a different way to how a player would in that regard?

Ed Beach: It’s playing the same game you are.

RPS: Ok. And with the ideologies, presumably there can be any amount of say, freedom ideologies, they don’t get taken out of play like building a wonder does once the first person chooses it or anything?

Ed: That’s correct, that’s a good point because the way the religion system works is as you’re configuring your religion, you’re pulling those religious beliefs out of the common pool, and once you lock that belief into your religion, it wasn’t available to anyone else.

Ideologies are a little bit different but they are more free-form than the social policy trees that are in the game right now, where there are five different choices, and the way they branch is all kind of hard-wired into them. With the ideology system, we just have level one, level two and level three social policies, we actually call them ideological tenets, and you can mix and match those and configure them. You can’t get a level three tenet until you have a certain number of pre-requisite level one and level two tenets, but you can kind of build up your own ideology. Your Russian order ideology is drawing from the same pool as the Chinese order ideology of your neighbour, but they might decide to choose exactly what social policies are slotting in where, and build it a little bit differently than you are.

RPS: With this added on to Gods and Kings as well, it’s quite a complex game now compared to Civ V when it first came out, which seemed to be trying to streamline a bunch of stuff and split it into core values, and now you’ve got quite a lot to learn in there.

Ed Beach: I would say that is true, but we do like the fact that a lot of these systems come on line and get unlocked as you go through the game, so you don’t have to learn it all at once, even if you’re brand new to this and you buy whatever megapack gets you all the content at once…

RPS: Civ V ultra-gold platinum edition…you’re going to run out of qualifiers soon for those I think…

Ed Beach: As soon as you get that pack you could still dive in, and you get to the early part of the game, you’ve got to learn religion, and now you’ve got to learn our trade routes, but then you play another 20 turns before another system kicks in, and they sort of build throughout the game like that.

Dennis Shirk: There are still new players out there that will probably try this not having touched Civ V. Being the second expansion pack, this is something that we really wanted to keep kind of building on, that people have been playing the game, at least our existing fans, for quite a long time now, and they’re ready to try some new depth to the game.

Ed Beach: And nine new civilisations coming to the game. We can’t talk about them all right now, we can only really talk about Poland, but what we have stuck to is that every time we introduce a new civilisation, we try to shake up the play style. That’s one of the things about Civilisation V, each civilisation has its own unique abilities that give it a special path through the game, and we’ve definitely done that as well with all the different civilisations in this expansion, which now brings the total to 43 different civilisations.

RPS: Good lord, that’s a lot of time to spend at the menu when you first boot it up I think. Was this, and I guess Gods and Kings too retrospectively, was it ever a part of the original game’s design, or was it only stuff that has come up as a result of what people are playing and what people are asking for?

Ed Beach: We’ve definitely come up with concepts, especially on the expansions on the fly, because as our fans have played it for a while, I mean we’re constantly on the community sites looking for the things that they think would be really awesome in the game. Sometimes we pick up on those ideas, sometimes we pick up on the ideas simply by playing some of our older titles, but we always see these lulls in the game, for instance in Civ V, the late game we didn’t think was as compelling as it could be.

The first half of the game, as we know with exploration, the new things that come online in the middle of the game are all very compelling, but as people start gearing up for the victory types that they’ve wanted, sometimes you find yourself clicking ‘next turn’ just a little bit too often instead of really engaging with the game. With this expansion we really wanted to give this whole new level of these interactions and ways to win in the late game that really make the late game race, the victory race, a lot more exciting.

RPS: Does it become more unpredictable as opposed to the more common long-winded stalemate that we do see in games in Civ?

Dennis Shirk: I personally think it’s become more unpredictable because especially the new battle of the culture game, your outgoing culture versus their incoming, et cetera, that battle means that you never quite know if you’re going to win. Just like if you’re playing Domination, you can try your best but sometimes you’re going to hit a roadblock. You might find that other civilisation that has this culture game that’s as strong as yours that might be really difficult to overcome, so you decide ‘I’m pretty far in the tech tree, I’m going to start switching to that’ and go for a spaceship instead, or decide to get to a culture victory by capturing all their great works or something like that.

I think you have play styles that you can switch to now whereas before, especially with the culture game, you couldn’t really switch. When you’d started down the culture path, you were dedicated to that. You couldn’t easily switch to a culture victory, you couldn’t gear up suddenly for a domination win. So I think the play styles are going to be a lot more varied.

Ed Beach: And part of that is that each of the ideologies, there are three ideological trees, and each of them supports three different ways, three of the different victory types with a lot of the ideological tenets that you can purchase within that ideology system. So for instance, if I’m playing as a freedom civilisation and I want to go for a culture victory, in that particular game what I want to do is, freedom gets huge bonuses for building broadcast towers in cities, and spreading their culture in that sort of Radio Free Europe, Voice of America type style, and that’s one way to go to a culture victory. But it might be very different if I’m playing as an order civilisation.

The way that the order civilisation wants to get to the culture victory, is they want the workers of the world to unite, and so if you can have a civilisation where your people’s happiness is very, very high, and all the other civilisations in the world see ‘wow, they have very great happy workers in their order civilisation, maybe that’s the way that we should be going,’ and you actually get bonuses to go towards the victory in that circumstance by trying to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat and making the workers of the world all happy with everything.

We have four different victory types, but a lot of the different ideologies actually have different ways to play the game to get to those victory types, so again another explosion of different ways to play through the game.

RPS: You mentioned this tourism concept for culture; is that something that’s actually visible in any way or is it more just a concept to explain the number as it were?

Dennis Shirk: It’s very visible, what we’ve basically done is before you just generated culture, you built lots of buildings, you filled up your tech trees. Now the culture yield itself is actually a defence for your civilisation, the amount of culture you’re pushing out. When you get to around a third of the way through the game, you’re going to start generating great people: great artists, great writers, great musicians, and they’re going to be able to create a great work of art or a great work of music in the game, and we actually have, in your cultural buildings now, we have slots for these, so one of your great artists might create ‘Starry Night’ and you put that in one of your museums.

That piece of work now is creating tourism, and it’s an actual yield, and you’re staring to build up tourism. Later on when archaeology comes online, you’re going to be running around on a second phase of exploration and discovery in the world when archaeology comes up because there’s now all these digs around the world that are actually reflections of stuff that happened earlier in the game where a battle might have taken place, where a barbarian camp was. You can extract artefacts from these sites and also put them in your museums.

Some of your wonders now have different great work spots, they create tourism. So you’re now creating tourism in parallel with creating culture, and that’s going to directly go head to head with other people’s culture, and you can get bonuses,. In other words if you have open borders with another civilisation, that creates a boost for your tourism. If you’ve got trade routes to that other civilisation, more boosts to your tourism. So it’s an ongoing battle that really becomes dynamic late in the game, because late in the game when you have a lot of tourism being pumped out, other civilisations might have to take notice and start creating more culture to defend against it, because their culture’s now being overwhelmed by your pushing tourism, it’s a dynamic way to play that game.

Ed Beach: We actually have a screen in the game where it’s a way for you to browse all the great works and amazing things that your civilisation has created. You can click on those, bring the painting back up, listen to the music again, just sort of enjoy your civilisation’s culture if you want to.

RPS: Yeah, ‘Look how amazing we are.’ That’s a nice idea.

Dennis Shirk: That’s kind of cool on a side note, it doesn’t really impact gameplay too much, but all of our great people now, the great artists, writers and musicians, aside from being real people, all of the writing snippets and the music samples and the artwork that you see come up when you use them are actually those great works. So, ‘Starry Night’ coming up, or Shakespeare’s Hamlet, you’ll hear Morgan Sheppard actually reading a snippet from Hamlet. It’s actually a really nice touch on top of it.

RPS: The archaeology thing, does that actually reflect previous in-game events like would you actually find a relic on a battle you know you’d been involved in a century earlier, or is it random?

Ed: It actually is, and as battles occur earlier in the game, we’re writing data onto the map, storing that information, and so at the point in time whenever the first civilisation discovers archaeology, at that point in time we do sort of lock down where all those different, we call them antiquity sites, are.

Those antiquity sites we keep track of, which civilisations were involved, whether it was a battle, whether it was an ancient ruin that was uncovered or a barbarian camp that was destroyed, and so that’s exactly when your archaeologist goes there, he’s going to try to extract that item and he’ll be able to take it back and create another great work, an artefact, and put it in the museum. And based on the different types of museums you have, you’re sort of trying to collect different types of archaeological pieces.

So for instance the Louvre, if you think about the Louvre, it’s got art, archaeological things, all sorts of things from across the world. So for instance, if you build the Louvre wonder, trying to fill that with a great diversity of different works of art and artefacts from all sorts of cultures from around the world, and the better you satisfy those what we call theming bonuses from the different wonders and museums in your civilisation, the extra points of culture and tourism that you can generate.

Dennis Shirk: It’s actually a really interesting mini-game that kind of happened into being that our community gameplay testers really started to enjoy, because you’ve got this UI that you can bring up that shows all of your great works and artefacts in all of your different buildings. As Ed said, theming them or matching them up or putting all the ones that you’ve found in one particular building, you can get different variations on these tourism buffs, like plus two tourism or plus four tourism, if you theme them well, so actually discovering the themes because we’re not documenting them. It’s up to the fans to find all these different kinds of themes. It can give you big benefits, but it’s actually a lot of fun just seeing what will actually match up from similar time periods, the kind of variety and diversity of artwork you put into place. Very cool.

RPS: Is there any extent to which you could game that, like you have in the early game, you have loads of different battles near where you are knowing that you’ll come back to them later with your archaeologists and just get as many relics as possible?

Ed Beach: Not every single ancient battle turns into an archaeology site, and we do try to keep a relatively even distribution of them across the map. So you can make sure that there are going to be a couple nearby you, but there’s no real advantage to try and form extra ones of those.

RPS: Ok, cool. That’s completely the kind of thing that a min/maxer player would do if it was there, I’d imagine.

Ed Beach: You’re not the first person to have thought of that.

RPS: You mentioned the trade route stuff could happen right from the start of the game?

Ed Beach: Yes, what happens is that both land and sea trade routes open up right in the ancient era, you get one of each type typically, and as the game progresses you can get more and more of those, and those represent the way your civilisation generates additional wealth. It used to be in Civ V that settling along a sea coast or along a river gave you free gold. We’ve taken that gold out of the game and now you actually have to earn it by creating these trade routes.

Trade routes not only shift gold back and forth, but as the game progresses and the other systems in the game unlock, you can start to see that maybe you’re trading with a civilisation that’s much more advanced than you are scientifically. You’re actually getting a trickle of science back from that interchange of goods. You’ll also see, once the religion game is in place, that religion will spread along trade routes. You might want to think twice about whether or not you want to hook up a trade route to somebody who has a very strong religion’s holy city. That might be good if you want that religion to come into your civilisation, but if you’re trying to keep it at bay, you may not want to do that.

So the trade routes, you can unlock by the end of the game, you usually have seven or eight trade routes at least, and there are a lot of different implications for what cities you decide to hook up with with trade, what other civilisations you’re connecting to, there’s a lot of depth added to the economic side of the game with that new system.

Dennis Shirk: And keep in mind, these aren’t just nebulous UI trade routes that float around the map; you actually build the units, you build a caravan, you build a route and they act as an automated unit. When you build your caravan you decide to assign it to a trade route, it comes up with a city list and shows you all the benefits of the different cities in the area that you can connect to, and then it’s going back and forth and you have to also protect those routes because barbarians can kill the caravan. If you’re at war with someone they can come and find your routes and destroy them, so there’re actual physical units on the map that you interact with. They’re not just a nebulous concept that you have to just bring up a UI screen to look at.

RPS: Presumably you need to have discovered all the cities they can go to, just because you said it would work from the start of the game and obviously the map starts off dark, they couldn’t just head off into the ether and find someone to do it with automatically?

Ed Beach: Correct, although you don’t necessarily have to have uncovered every step on the path, they’ll be able to come up with the best sea route even if you haven't explored all of it, but as long as you’ve found that other city on the coast you can open up trade with them.

Dennis Shirk: But they don’t have visibility, in other words they might pass right underneath the fog and that’s where the barbarians might be, so it actually behoves you to have some military units out in the ether, keeping your paths lit up to make sure nothing bad happens to your financial goods as they’re heading off into the fog.

RPS: Is there an element in the game which you’re really proud of but most players probably aren’t going to notice?

Ed Beach: I think probably the system that we were talking about before where the different ideologies interact with each other and they can possibly cause enough unrest in another civilisation that that’s going to be the tipping point.

That system grew out of where we were going with the design, with ideologies and with culture and the new culture victory, but it sort of has this kind of interesting ring in the contemporary world with events that are happening in the middle east right now so. We weren’t trying initially to mirror world history with that, we were just trying to come up with a neat system for the game, but all of a sudden it started to have these echoes in terms of current politics and stuff that was pretty fascinating.

RPS: I guess it kind of does the Cold War thing a little bit as well, where two countries are really opposed without necessarily being in open conflict.

Dennis Shirk: Right. Also the way that it ties into the New World Congress to the way that you’re going to have horse-trading in terms of the buying and selling of tech with other civilisations. A lot of that coming into play in the late game, combined with the ideologies really gives it this 1980s/1990s Cold War feel.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

Civilization V: Brave New World is due this Summer.

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Alec Meer avatar

Alec Meer


Ancient co-founder of RPS. Long gone. Now mostly writes for rather than about video games.