Civilization V: Gods & Kings interview with lead designer Ed Beach

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Yesterday at GDC, we had the chance for a brief interview with lead designer Ed Beach about the upcoming Civilization V: Gods & Kings expansion. The add-on will include new religion and espionage systems, nine new civilizations, over 27 new units, new buildings, new wonders, new natural wonders, new scenarios, and new resources. That's a lot of new, but our biggest take-away from the interview is that the expansion isn't just about adding, but also improving the existing AI, multiplayer, and balance. That's great to hear.

But regarding what's new, the religion system will allow players to found religions and choose beliefs which give their civilizations bonuses. Religions are spread from city to city by proximity and through new missionary units, and converting the people of city-states or other civilizations can boost belief-based bonuses and have tactical benefits. Later on in the game, spies can be used to gather intelligence, steal technology, and instigate revolutions--all very fun-looking stuff. Read up on all of it below...

PCG: How similar is the new religion system to Civilization IV's culture system?

Beach: I think what was engaging about the Civ IV system was just the idea of religions springing up and spreading throughout the map, bumping up against each other, and there being conflict there—wrestling for control of the hearts and minds of everybody. That gave a great flavor to everything, and it felt like it was a richer world because of that, but taking a hard look at that, we didn't feel like there was a huge impact on the gameplay. It was like this cooler world going on, but it wasn't really giving us interesting decisions, so we kept some of those neat immersive things about it, but added how it loops into the gameplay.

PCG: Do the religions--Christianity, Buddhism, and the others--come with existing beliefs? Can they be modded?

Beach: We have one scenario that's set in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, where we actually do pre-bake in beliefs, and that's a great example for our community about how the religion system can be modded. What they can do is add more beliefs in. We have a good set—there are between 50 and 60 beliefs that will ship with the expansions, but there's no reason the mod community can't expand on that.

But yeah, the historical religions are just sort of like containers that the beliefs get slotted into--there's no reason that guruship doesn't have to be part of Sikhism or Christianity.

PCG: And does religion's influence taper off at some point?

Beach: What happens is, as you get toward the end of the Renaissance, we don't just remove religion from the game--it's still present and you're still keeping those bonuses you built up. What happens is that the cost of missionaries starts to go up, so your ability to make sweeping religious movements and displacements diminishes. People are more accepting of other people having different faiths.

The other thing that happens during the Middle Ages and Renaissance is that we take the diplomatic modifiers for you forcibly spreading your religion onto some other civilization and we crank those up, and that becomes a very important part of the diplomatic game. But as you fall into the Industrial and Modern Eras, those modifiers get cranked way down, so it's no longer a significant part of the diplomatic game.

PCG: There's a lot of new content. Has there also been a focus on existing issues? Something the community talks a lot about is the multiplayer...

Beach: Yeah, we're not only adding new things, but rebalancing and looking at each of the AI subsystems. We're actually in the part of the project now where we're in that final balance and polishing phase, and we've gone and categorized all the different AI systems and areas where we can make improvements. We've already made a lot of improvements, and right now we're trying to figure out the key items that are really going to take the AI to another level.

And in multiplayer, we've had one of our senior engineers on the project dedicated to hitting some of those items. The gameplay processing and graphics processing have been threaded out from each other, and that's helping with the multiplayer stability. One of the requested things from the community was to allow combat animations to play during multiplayer--we've got that in and working. And there's been tweaking and improvements and ease of use things. You know, multiplayer has never been a huge community for Civ, but it's an important and vocal community, and we want to support that. It's a great way to play the game.

PCG: So you've definitely been paying close attention to the community.

Beach: We have. I don't want to give people the misconception that, for instance, the community wanted religion so we turned on a dime and started figuring out how to put religion in. We've had the plans to put religion and espionage in for a long time, and it met a lot of our goals. Religion met the great goal of customizing the gameplay experience, and we've had plans to do that for quite a while. And with spies, we knew we had this rich AI world happening behind the scenes, and if we could bring that forward to the player so that they can look into that, it would be an amazing way to play Civilization.

So we've known about those changes a long time, but there are a lot of areas where we're specifically looking at what the community is asking for and saying “yeah, that is a key thing to address.” We've made sure some of the really active members of the community are part of our beta test group. So, we put out two builds to our beta test group every week of the project, just to keep plenty of eyes on things and so balance and multiplayer gets a lot of attention.

PCG: You mentioned spy's intrigue system, which lets us peek at what the AI is planning. How will that work in multiplayer?

Beach: Yeah, intrigue doesn't work in multiplayer. You picked up on that.

PCG: Is it completely turned off, or could we use it on AI opponents?

Beach: I think the current plan is just to have it turned off.

PCG: So you've mentioned a few new scenarios, can you tell us about them? Will we see a Cold War espionage scenario?

Beach: Could be, but that's not one we picked. That would work with the city-state system and all the coups and everything. It's absolutely something the fan community should jump all over.

PCG: But there are a couple religious scenarios.

Beach: We have one that highlights the religion system and how to mod it. We have another one—the Celts and the Huns and the Byzantines—we're introducing that set of three new civilizations and we decided that a fall of Rome scenario would be perfect. And then the third scenario we're shipping with is an interesting departure. We actually have a steampunk Victorian-era science fiction scenario that's an interesting departure from the usual historical fare.

PCG: What's different about that scenario to give it a steampunk or science fiction feel? A mix of technology?

Beach: We have specific units that are designed for that, and a whole new tech tree designed for it. It's vaguely historical, twisted, technology, masterminds, and corporate leaders…you know, so we even have brand new leaders introduced.


So there you have it, AI tweaks, multiplayer fixes, religion, spies, and... steampunk! Civilization V: Gods & Kings will be out this spring.


As Executive Editor, Tyler spends a lot of time editing reviews and looking at spreadsheets, and whatever time is left over writing reviews. People joke that he doesn't like 90 percent of the games he plays, but he'll tell you he just has very discerning tastes.
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