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SMAC: Interview With Brian Reynolds

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  • SMAC: Interview With Brian Reynolds

    Q: First, our thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. Most call SMAC a "civ2 sequel", other say it's a "civ clone"(in a rather bad sense for some reason ), almost everyone agrees that SMAC is based on the Civ series. Was this your first intention?
    A: The Civ games are a great series, and we're really proud to have designed them. They're addictive turn-based strategy games and they have a lot of really strong gameplay elements. Since SMAC is also a turn-based strategy game it follows naturally that we've tried to include elements we think make for addictive gameplay in that kind of game. Since SMAC and Civ are both turn-based strategy games designed by the same authors, there will naturally be some similarities, but there are also many significant differences. SMAC certainly isn't intended to be a "sequel" or "clone" of Civ; it is a new game, the next generation of turn-based strategy game.


    Q: For those who have tried the SMAC demo, do you think that they will be pleasantly surprised by the release of the full version of SMAC? In that respect, how does the full version compare with the demo in terms of gameplay and overal aesthetic appeal?
    A: Very pleasantly surprised! The demo by necessity provides an extremely abbreviated sample of the full experience; the full game lets you use all the unit types, all the technologies, unlimited bases, no "demo time limit", and so forth. The full game also includes quite a bit of presentation and atmosphere which is missing in the demo for reasons of space.

    Q: Knowing that Firaxis has some of the best graphic artists in the business, what do you believe are some of the factors that are contributing to some criticism of the art in SMAC? Do you believe that adapting to an alien landscape has anything to do with this?
    A: We've been made aware of complaints about the demo being "too dark" on some monitors; the full version of the game completely addresses this issue through the addition of a "gamma correction" slider bar, which allows each player to adjust the game to his/her individual monitor.

    For further graphic enhancement, we've also included hi-res graphics for the units in the full version (the lo-res graphics used in the demo are also available for those w/ slower machines).


    Q: What do you think about the mindworm balance in the demo? Did any of the problems that have been reported show up in the beta rounds? If it showed up as a strategy in the betas, why didn't you teach it to the AI?
    A: In the full version of the game, "mindworm farming" is still possible, but is more circumscribed -- you won't be able to take it to the extremes that are possible in the demo.

    Q: How much AI is shared between the factions, and how much is individualized? Even if each faction has its own individual AI, are some behaviors identical in each (response to atrocities, battle plans, etc.)?
    A: There is a combination of shared code and individualized code. Each faction leader is made distinct by his/her personality settings (aggressiveness, explore/discover/build/conquer priorities), by his/her special advantages and disadvantages, and by his/her social agenda. The "shared code" is frequently modified by the personality/advantages/agenda settings, so even the shared code situations produce unique responses. The AI also, of course, takes into account the current game situation of the faction, which can also affect faction decisions & personality.

    Q: Where did you come up with ideas for each faction/leader? Are they based on specific people/historical civilizations, or did you just say 'here's an ideal, what if it was taken too far?'
    A: We wanted to let the player devise his/her "vision of the future" and try it out against other, competing, visions. So we designed the characters to espouse different political/social viewpoints, to provide interesting foils for the player character.

    Q: We know a lot of work goes into play balance, but do you think there's a 'strongest' overall faction that works with several play styles? Do you think any imbalances are because of a faction's bonuses or its AI? Is there one that seems stronger in multiplayer, when AI isn't a factor?
    A: We've done our best to avoid having one or two factions predominate; whenever (during testing) we became aware that one faction was particularly strong or weak, we modified its power to adjust it toward the norm.

    Whenever I'm playtesting and am confronted by the "choose your faction" menu and I see a faction that I really "don't want to play", I try to figure out why I don't want to play it and increase its power or whatever so that it is cool enough to want to play. Likewise, if at the beginning of a multiplayer game I'm thinking "okay, I'd better choose the Hive so that Tim won't get it" then it's probably time to reduce that faction's power. At various times, the Spartans, Believers, Gaians, Hive, and University were all been accused of being "too powerful".

    I think we've arrived at a nicely balance set of factions for SMAC. If release "in the real world" reveals some imbalances we hadn't previously detected, we'll of course consider enhancements later on.


    Q: What brought about the art revision? Is it possible that the original art will be released, either as an option to customize the game or as part of an expansion pack (since a lot of the buttons etc. have been moved and functional areas are different in different graphics revs.)?
    A: Back in the summer, we decided that we wanted to have a more consistent look-and-interface throughout the game, rather than have each individual screen carry its own organization and style. We came up with a nice, functional look and applied it to all the areas of the game.

    Q: What's the current thinking on adding hotseat, which seems to have a lot of fan support, and PBEM, which seems to have a fairly vocal following as well?
    A: It's something we're still thinking about; we're checking to see if it's technically feasible to add some of these features in a future enhancement.

    Q: Finally, will we see a patch for the demo or a new version of the demo before the release? (The questions were sent before the release of the new version of the demo) What are you currently working on improving?
    A: Yes, I believe a new version of the demo is already available for download.

    Right now we're working on a free downloadable enhancement for the game which will contain some additional features which players have asked for.


    That was all ladies and gentlemen, We hope you found it interesting. Questions by John Bell, Jason Beaudoin, Markos Giannopoulos. Our thanks to Brian Reynolds for his immediate response to our request and Lindsay Riehl for her help on arranging things.
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