The Civilization series is a long lived and much loved strategy game series with its newest installment, Civilization VI, being developed by Firaxis Games and published by 2K. At a recent preview event at the 2K offices in Sydney, Tom Alderton and I were able to sit down and have a chat with associate producer on the game: Sarah Darney.
Mateja: A bunch of new features have been revealed for this new installment in the Civilization series but what, in your opinion, has been the biggest change to the game design and how have you guys balanced it with the rest of the gameplay?
I would say unstacking the cities was definitely our big new feature for Civilization 6. Just taking what used to live in the city centre and spreading it out in the districts on the map. It really makes the map way more important with the adjacency bonuses and requirements for the districts as well. Every decision really means so much and it really makes you think. In terms of balancing that we’re playing the game a lot in the studio… we’re all big Civ fans and we’ve got a great QA department. Just playing it a lot and making sure everything feels right.
Mateja: Last game, you guys unstacked units from each other which forced players to think more tactically in terms of unit positioning on the map as well as preventing players from simply piling entire armies onto one square. How has unstacking the cities this installment affected other aspects of the gameplay?
It’s very cool when you’re engaged in a battle with someone because you can see that, for example, this is a very ‘science-heavy’ city and I’m gonna destroy that. You can pillage districts and the buildings in them as well. So it’s a huge impact on how, even if you can’t necessarily take someone’s city, then you can slow them down which can be pretty useful.
In a game like Civilisation, there are so many systems which work together and there’s a lot of interconnecting tendrils. Unstacking the cities really spreads out to everything.
Tom: In Civ 5 you’d try to make your cities as specialised as possible with each city producing as much of one resource as possible. In Civilization VI, has the city decentralisation helped to increase or decrease the need for city specialisation? Is specialisation still the goal or can cities be more generalised?
You can definitely play both ways. It’s cool as you’re exploring the map with your scouts you’ll see this great mountain range next to some woods and you’ll think “That is where my holy site is going”. You can see all the jungles and mountains and think “okay, campus” and build a science producing city.
As I’m playing, I think of the map as this other character.
Mateja: Speaking of characters, it looks like the diplomacy gameplay has undergone a huge revamp. Could you tell us a bit more about that?
Well, every leader has an agenda. You saw in your game that Cleopatra did not care for you because your army was too small. So when we were looking at the leaders that we wanted to use Civilisation 6, we were looking for these big dynamic characters that we could really use for the gameplay. In addition to that we also have the hidden agendas which really mix things up a little. So it won’t be the same every time you play but there is that familiarity with the characters.
Mateja: So each of these personas will have a public agenda which is open from the start, which is based on the historical persona themselves.
Yes, the historic agenda.
Mateja: And then they’ll also have a second one which is hidden unless you work to figure it out. Can you tell us a bit more about the hidden agendas?
Sure, the hidden agendas really make building the relationships with the other Civs important. Like the gossip system, which lets you learn little tidbits of information, where if you become allied with someone you learn much more than through espionage.
Mateja: International politics is starting to sound scarily like high school. Could you tell us more about the gossip system?
Sure. So with trade routes, for example, you might see a pop-up saying that your trader “Bob” has learned that Cleopatra has gone to war with someone else. It creates these little tidbits of relationships where even small things like trade and delegations let you uncover things about the world through the gossip system.
Tom: I noticed during my playthrough that those pop-ups don’t seem to be so strongly tied to the use of spies as much.
You can get more information through spies, yes, but there’s more ways to learn than just espionage to learn about your neighbours.
Tom: Have there been any other improvements to the AI in terms of its difficulty? I noticed in the harder difficulties on Civ 5 that they just get bonuses and cheat but they’re not actually better. Has that been reworked this time around?
Yeah, we’re very focused on giving players the best experience possible so giving the AI more intelligent behaviours will help with that. I think you had a moment, in your playthrough, where Teddy Roosevelt was retreating his wounded units. So things like that are good to see the computer do that because it makes it tougher but more fun. The barbarian AI is very fun too so I’m not sure how much you played with that before you were attacked by all your neighbours.
Tom: I noticed that the barbarians weren’t as aggressive with the pillaging as they used to be but were a lot more aggressive with attacking my units.
Mateja: Maybe it’s because they’ve accepted the word of our lord and saviour, Sid Meier, into their hearts?
Tom: Too busy playing Civ to pillage my districts?
Tom: Speaking of which, I’ve noticed that religion makes an appearance into this installment as well, but is there also a holdover from the ‘tourism’ mechanic of last game?
Yup, so cultural victories are still a thing and tourism is still a very important element and which great people play a big part in it… but that’s all I’ll say.
Mateja: Tourists… the barbarians of the modern age.
Tom: There was one civilization that was missing in Civ 5 that got added in by modders, which was awesome, but… is Australia gonna make it in to Civ 6.
(Laughs) Unfortunately I can only talk about the civilizations we’ve revealed so far… but I can confirm that we’ll be supporting modding. Unfortunately I can’t get too much into that either.
Mateja: That’s good to hear and we’ll look forward to hearing more about that too. Finally, is there anything in particular that you’re proud of or would like to highlight in the new installment?
This is the 25th anniversary of the Civilization series and it has so many fans and so it’s super exciting being a part of that. I love this game and I love the way the way the systems are coming together and I think the fans will too. I think we’re living up to the legacy.
Mateja: I hope you do and we look forward to seeing more of the game in the coming months.