Coming Out the End of the Tunnel

Well, it is done! Actually, it was done a couple months ago, but it has taken me awhile to wind down. I suppose it’s something like the bends – you can’t just go from 80-hour weeks to “normal life” in a weekend. Or, at least, I haven’t learned how to do so.

We’re not quite done yet, either – we’ve got at least one more important patch coming, with some memory optimizations and connectivity fixes. However, it’s probably about time to get a little reflective. I’ve been working on Civ games for five of the last six years of my life, and when I came on board at Firaxis, I don’t think I had any idea what was possible for the series. I loved, loved, loved Civ I – it was basically the only game I played in college – and I had a ton of ideas for how to improve the game when I arrived in Maryland in early 2000.

Most of the ideas, I’m afraid to say, were terrible. It took a lot of time to learn how to design in the Civ universe – a love of history and enthusiasm for games was definitely not enough. The parts of Civ which have always worked are the parts that are most transparent – that the player can keep in his or her head the easiest. It goes without saying that simplicity is important, but so is consistency.

For example, the appearance of Great People in Civ4 was originally going to be a random event based on certain factors, somewhat akin to how Military Leaders were created in Civ3. The problem is that the user is not in control – there’s a secondary layer separating them from the actual game mechanics. For some titles, that type of indirect gameplay is ok, even desirable. Civ, however, has a tradition of “boxes filling up with stuff” and following that tradition was one of the reasons culture worked well in Civ3. Thus, we wised up and follow that model in Civ4 – once a bar fills up with Great People points, Shakespeare (or Michelangelo or Einstein) is born. Players can now strategize how to get the most Great People and from which cities and how soon and of what type and so on.

At any rate, it’s been a long process, not just understanding what ideas work but also what type of ideas work for Civ. I’ve been wrong more often than I’ve been right, but fortunately there has always been an abundance of good feedback available, from our internal play session to closed beta testing to the general forums. I could have never designed Civ4 without it.

Here’s a few links from the last few months that might be of interest:
Gamespy Interview looking back on the game’s successes and failures
Planet Civilization Interview on the testing process (conducted by Thamis, one of our beta testers)
Eurogamer feature from my press tour through Europe with Sid

And I hope you’ll forgive me for this, but I just have to share. Civ4 came from so many people, from the team to all our fans, from Sid and Jeff to my family – and I am so thankful.

3 thoughts on “Coming Out the End of the Tunnel

  1. On the “been wrong more often than right” thing, it’s a fairly well known trait of game designers – which makes me wonder what separates a good game designer from a bad one? Maybe the bad ones are NEVER right?

  2. I think there is a lot to be said for the quality of feedback that a game designer gets, either from another designer (like Bruce Shelley for Sid) or from a team that is playing the product or from a beta session with a good mix of fans. Designing in a vacuum is nigh impossible – and I think the ability to read feedback correctly (b/c sometimes it can be very misleading) is the mark of the best designers.

  3. Would be interesting to see you post the play of a Civ4 game to the wed w/your comments about how the AI reacts….

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