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In-House Preview Part 6: "Starting Points"

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  • In-House Preview Part 6: "Starting Points"

    November 7th, 2007 in Hunt Valley Maryland at the head offices of game developer Firaxis Games. It’s early afternoon local time (EST). In demonstrating their up-and-coming Civilization: Revolution to myself and Civilization Fanatics Center's Kevin “Padma” Zimmerli, Director of Creative Development and CivRev designer Sid Meier chooses to play the Americans led by Abraham Lincoln as they start with a Famous Person (also known and hereafter referred to as a Great Person or GP). It’s that civilization’s starting bonus in the game. While this world loads, the splash screen is a still of an Xbox360 controller with light, lively music playing in the background. Meier and company Executive Producer and CivRev Lead Producer Barry Caudill are using a unit of this console system with two wireless controllers for the demonstration in the company’s main conference room.

    It's 4000BC and we have our Settler unit to found our first city which will also serve as our capital. Sid places Washington on the first tile we appear at, surrounded mostly by water and secondarily by trees. Reflecting on other Civ titles to date, the long-standing strand or bushel of wheat to represent food has been replaced with green apples while red circles replace gold coins to represent trade. CivIV’s blue hammers remain to represent production to build things in your cities, having replaced shields from before. Appearances aside, there is an important difference here between CivRev and earlier Civ titles. There are no Research Points that every city collects and are used to research advances on the technology tree. (That’s Beakers for those who feel a particular affection for that term.) Instead, cities must generate trade which in turn can and need to be funneled in part to generate research. As a result, do not expect your Science Advisor in CivRev to be the first of your advisors that you speak to in a game. Rest assured you will be hearing from him and others in short order though.

    [With your advisors,] we want to get a sense of you in the King role. You're the King, you act like a King... and so you have advisors who kind of treat you that way and bring you information, Sid says. At my nostalgic mention of the much loved and missed High Council from CivII, Barry regards CivRev's advisors like them on steroids -- though I would hastily add that they are so without the destructive personality. Advisors will point to key areas of interest on the game map from time-to-time; let's use the Science advisor s an example. In addition to being able to build Granaries, the Pottery technology will allow you to make use of any Wine resources you have in your territory or otherwise discovered on your map. When being able to consider Pottery from the research choice screen, if you hover over this option your Science advisor will point to a/the Wine resource and explain why. He could also point to a city which houses a settled Great Person of yours should an imminently researchable technology allow him to do so.
    Besides informative, almost all of your advisors can be humourously likable particularly if you’re in a silly, over-the-top mood. Sorry Elvis fans, but he is still out of the building.

    Right away our Military Advisor enters the foreground in a prominent fashion, slamming a fist into his armoured chest. He informs us of the presence of and asks what to do with our Great Person, Cheops. GPs have 2 movement points per turn but there’s no good reason to move him around: exploring surrounding terrain with your GP would be a reason, but not a good one. As a Great Builder, Cheops can settle in Washington where he will cut the cost of all buildings in half or complete the production of whatever is currently being built in the city; in this case, a Warrior. Unless we were facing imminent destruction from a very nearby and aggressive neighbour -- yes, Montezuma and Tokagouwa quickly come to mind -- it would be downright foolish to rush the completion of the Warrior. A Wonder of the World, on the other hand, would be a different story. Given the circumstances, Sid understandably chooses to settle Cheops in Washington. He could prove useful later on to rush production then.

    In a blink of an eye afterwards, our Warrior unit is ready for work. Did I miss the prompt to press A, B or whatever other button on the controller is programmed in to cycle through turns where we have no prompts for orders? Sid explains why I did not. We don't really emphasize the concept of turns at the beginning of the game. Turns go by... As we go deeper into the game, turns become a little more visible but [is] one of the ideas I think that [for] an early player can be a bit of a stumbling block. I’d add that as what I call ETI, or ‘End Turn Infinitum’, can be an annoyance for experienced Civ players this is a welcome move all around. When the next turn requiring player interaction appears, a summary will appear top-centered on-screen in a square box detailing year in-game, number of units built, number of artifacts revealed and landmasses discovered.

    But as with most things in life there are exceptions. I know I’m not alone when I say I prefer at times during these otherwise uneventful turns to do any number of odds and ends such as investigate city screens, or roam around the map such as is known or consult Civilopedia entries. I didn't even have to ask about that though. In his next breath, Sid notes that you can always interrupt the game to do ‘something’ but normally the turns go by unless there is something to be done. Even if CivRev was being targeted primarily to existing Civ users and condensing gameplay time was not a focus for Firaxis, I believe this to be a positive change too.

    He’s no Scout but he is mobile. As Sid starts exploring with our Warrior I am surprised just how much larger a landmass we are on than I had originally thought. Given the topography and the fog detail I initially assumed that we were on a small island. I had been silently grumbling that this could be lovable if were we playing the Japanese with their sea square food bonus from the get-go. The fog [is] truly biometric... you can actually see it flow, Barry will point out later. If you leave an area, you can actually watch the fog. If you just stay still, you can see that the fog is moving. It's something that we've never done before and it's little stuff. For the hardcore strategy guy, it's probably like "yeah, whatever" but it adds to the whole feeling that this game is something special and different.

    Sid has only explored the equivalent of one tile and we have already made a discovery: a Great Forest. Our Culture Advisor announces this while waving in a fashion akin to a stereotypical Queen Elizabeth II. Like CivIV, we can name this geographical feature but in CivRev the process is more formal and privileged: we are prompted to do so as we are the first to discover it. We are given three default choices or we can enter our own name which Sid qualifies is hopefully tasteful. He settles on one of the default options, Smoky Forest. Unlike CivIV, we also receive a gold bonus for making this discovery -- +10. It encourages us to wander around in the world and discover things, Sid states. That's not all for this already eventful turn.

    Another blink of the eyes and our Culture Advisor is taken aback – literally – by Brennos, Barbarian leader. He is the leader of barbarians found in temperate climates. Though he proceeds to bang his club on his head, fortunately for his immediate health he manages to avoid contact with one of several metal spikes sticking out near the top of it. Whether you’re talking to Brennos, colder climate-found Grey Wolf or warmer climate-based Norte Chico, Sid finds them all totally hilarious but they are expectedly aggressive. The combat summary prior to any open hostilities is much more prominent and easier to read than in [i]CivIV[/em]. Our Warrior has a base attack of 1, and only that – he has not yet had any battles let alone victories to this point that would have allowed him to gain any bonuses. However, the barbarian's defense value is halved to 0.5 due to a 50% loss for being ‘Uncivilized’. The outcome is as inevitable as the conflict: our Warrior yells out an audibly enthusiastic "Yeah!" upon his triumph. Down to one-third strength, he is badly injured but in healing at a rate of one third per turn is back in full fighting form after two.

    Still adjacent to the barbarian camp, we – OK then, Sid – goes on the attack. Victorious again but our Warrior’s health is knocked down two-thirds once more. Washington’s timing to complete a second Warrior is impeccable when it comes next turn: he advances on and finishes the camp off. Besides removing a militaristic annoyance – they were situated too far away from our undefended capital to be any real threat – 30 gold pieces are gained for the effort. It was possible that before the camp was down to one unit they could have gone on the attack again particularly given their awareness of our (first) Warrior and it being adjacent to their camp. When I asked why that probably didn’t happen this time, Sid indicated that a larger barbarian camp was likely needed in order for them to continue their attack. He also comments that the civilized vs. uncivilized conflict between players and barbarians was incorporated early on in development to get you into the feel of the game. Success.

    It’s 3700BC. Now that Washington is starting to generate trade and research in turn, our Science Advisor appears asking for direction on what to work towards discovering. You'll see a lot of your favourites here, but it is a manageable sized tree, Meier observes. To view the technology tree in-game, visit the Technology Planner which is accessible from the menu to select which advance to work towards. In a typical flowchart format you can assess what prerequisites if any are required to research a particular technology and if more than one path exists to get to that technology; in other words, two or three prerequisites may exist for a technology but you do not need them all in order to be able to pursue that research. Many later game technologies found in one or more existing Civ titles, such as Recycling and Lasers, have been omitted but new ones such as Irrigation, Literacy and Religion have been added. This is a "greatest hits" of technologies, Sid quips. Irrigation is advantageous if one or more of your cities have rivers within their radius as it lets you get extra food from places next to them. Literacy allows you to construct the Courthouse building. Icons represent and show what acquiring a given technology will then permit the player to build. For example, discovering Bronze Working will allow the building of Phalanx units, Galley units and the ability to harvest fish for the first time.

    Those of you already experiencing the first symptoms of Beaker withdrawal can get a quick fix from consulting the Technology Planner at any time. To the right of a given technology's name and activating options, a beaker icon is shown. It's not just eye candy for the scientifically inclined: each beaker contains either gold liquid, blue liquid or no liquid at all. If there is liquid and it is gold, you as a player could potentially be the first to research that technology. If this comes to pass, you will be rewarded with a bonus for being the first to discover that technology. If you can research a technology but it is certain that you cannot be the first to research it, the beaker's liquid is blue instead. An empty beaker indicates that you are not able to research that technology at all yet. To best determine if you’re still in the running for “the gold”, you could check this planner 'turnly' to see if any technology's liquid has turned to blue.

    Our initial choices in Sid’s-led game are Alphabet, Bronze Working, Ceremonial Burial and Horseback Riding. As another testament to the greater speed of this game over previous Civ titles, none of these four starting technologies are more than 7 turns away from discovery (exact number can vary from game-to-game particulars of course). Sid chooses Bronze Working. A confirmation message of Bronze Working starting to be researched then appears from the Science Advisor. This message is of no interest to me and personally I would disable it if and where possible, but that's a most minor of quibbles.

    2700BC has come and our wandering Warrior has discovered yet another geographical feature: a great body of water. Along with naming rights (Sid chooses Chesapeake Sea), we pocket another 10 gold. It seems a remaining brood of Brennos' clan heard my question about their lack of going on the offensive before – some had hidden in a small cluster of trees that had been previously undiscovered. The initial American Warrior is again successful in the ensuing combat. This is that unit’s third victory, marking an upgrade to veteran status and a 50% combat bonus going forward. His physical appearance has changed: he is now wearing a helmet, a visual to distinguish him as such. For simplification and narrative purposes, let’s give this fine fellow a name: First. (Originality is my middle name. )

    100 in-game years later, First comes across a yellow-coloured unit. We are greeted by their leader who offers us peace…

    A 05m31s gameplay video accompanies this write-up, complimenting and at times corresponding to what I recount here story-wise. It’s available in Windows Media format and weighs in at 22MB. Note that in some later installments the camera is zoomed in closer on the screen.
    Last edited by DanQ; January 6, 2008, 12:37.
    PolyCast Co-Host, Owner and Producer: entertaining | informing civ
    >> PolyCast (Civ strategy), ModCast (Civ modding), TurnCast (Civ multiplay); One More Turn Dramedy

  • #2
    DanQ, I can't access the page it says page not found when I click the link for the videos. I really wanted to see this gameplay vids.


    • #3
      While the link to the video at the bottom of the post is dead, the one in the graphic at the TOP right of the post works fine, marinofan.


      • #4
        Originally posted by marinofan
        DanQ, I can't access the page it says page not found when I click the link for the videos. I really wanted to see this gameplay vids.
        Pardon that -- as Jaybe said, the graphical link at the top of the post has always been working but the one at the bottom was not. I say "was" as I've now fixed it... it had an space in there originally when it shouldn't.

        PolyCast Co-Host, Owner and Producer: entertaining | informing civ
        >> PolyCast (Civ strategy), ModCast (Civ modding), TurnCast (Civ multiplay); One More Turn Dramedy


        • #5
          Thanks DanQ, once again you are our only source of info. Is there a second gameplay vid or it was just that one? lol I was enjoying it but it was short.


          • #6
            Originally posted by marinofan
            Thanks DanQ, once again you are our only source of info.

            Is there a second gameplay vid or it was just that one? lol I was enjoying it but it was short.
            More parts still and gameplay videos to come.
            PolyCast Co-Host, Owner and Producer: entertaining | informing civ
            >> PolyCast (Civ strategy), ModCast (Civ modding), TurnCast (Civ multiplay); One More Turn Dramedy