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PC Games (Games)

Answers From The Civ IV Team 439

Late last month we asked you for questions to pass on to the Civ IV team. Last week we posted the responses from game designer Sid Meier to your questions about his design philosophy. Well, this week Civilization IV has shipped, and we have responses from lead designer Soren Johnson for the Civilization development team over at Firaxis Studios. He has some thoughtful answers to your questions, and they're well worth taking a look at. Many thanks to Mr. Meier, Mr. Johnson, and the entire Civ IV team for accommodating us. Read on for the responses to your queries.
1. The Civ4 AI - by Skyshadow
My only question for Civ4 concerns the AI: Have you made it a crafty enough opponent yet that it can compete at the higher skill levels of the game without resorting to the "cheating" that we've seen in previous incarnations of the game? If so, how?

Soren Johnson:
A great deal of effort has been put into making the Civ IV AI the best yet. For the first time ever, we have received direct input from the world's best Civ players during the game's development, via a very selective, closed beta that began very early. This feedback allowed us to iterate on the AI's design much more quickly and effectively than ever before.

Much of the information cheating has been removed from the game (such as knowing where a resource is before it is discovered, sending off galleys with settlers to undiscovered lands, targeting cities with fewer defenders, etc.) Further, the heuristics it uses to make decisions, such as for diplomatic demands and declarations of war, are the same ones available to the player (such as from the power chart on the Demographics screen). However, as with all versions of Civ, the AI has production and research penalties at the lower levels and bonuses at the higher levels. The level of the bonuses are lower than they have ever been before; in fact, the AI never receives any bonuses whatsoever for building wonders - a far cry from the "free AI wonders" in Civ 1. Noble and Prince are the difficulty levels where the AI's rules are closest to the human's.

2. DRM in Civ IV - by Lord Ender
Civ III requires the installation CD be inserted every time you play, even though none of the content on the CD is used by the game after installation. This annoys your customers by making them juggle CDs, unnecessarily wear out their hardware, and shorten their battery life. Consequently, many of your customers install "No-CD Cracks" to fix this flaw in your software. How do you feel about the existence and use of such cracks? Will you include this CD requirement in Civ IV even though it does not prevent copyright infringement but still inconveniences your customers?

Soren Johnson:
Like our previous games, Civ IV requires the CD to be in the drive on start-up. The funding we get for all of our games, which allows us to hire developers to work on the AI, graphics, interface, etc., is a direct reflection of how many copies our previous games have sold in the marketplace. Thus, I hope people will understand that making sure that our games are purchased instead of stolen is very important to us. Frankly, I do not agree that requiring the CD to be in the drive "does not prevent copyright infringement," even though I understand that this is almost always true for the technically adept. This is a sensitive issue, but the future of game development depends on preventing piracy, so I hope people will have patience with the basic safety measures we have used.

3. Politics - by MosesJones
How much will CiV4 use political shifts in countries as a cyclical change in approaches?

Soren Johnson:
Each of the leaders in the game has a certain political leaning that will become clear over the course of the game. Mao may pressure you to adopt State Property while Roosevelt would encourage Universal Suffrage. Indeed, playing off these various interests is a core part of the diplomatic game. We do not, however, have political shifts modeled - outside of the anarchy that occurs whenever the player chooses to change Civics. Perhaps it is an idea to consider for the future.

4. Family Gaming - by carambola5
Growing up, playing games with the family meant getting out classic boardgames like Monopoly, Risk, etc. The Civilization games seem like a prime candidate for breaking into the family-game-playing field. What, if any, steps has your team taken to bring your game(s) to the level of "game night with the kids?" What technologies, such as display and control, need to be developed before such an environment is realized?

Soren Johnson:
Civilization is a great game for families, especially now that true team-based play is possible. One could easily imagine a parent and child playing together to Take Over the World. However, that situation does require a couple computers...while hot-seat is the option for families with one computer. I am sure more could be done in this area, but the assumption of a single mouse and keyboard is certainly the limitation. On a console, "family-night" may be more viable as multiple controllers would be available.

5. Portables - by BMonger
Is there any chance we'll get to see some of the Civ titles moved to portables? I think the game would play wonderfully on the DS.

Soren Johnson:
We are very intrigued by the idea of Civ on a portable. Certainly, turn-based gaming has proved quite viable on that format - many of us are big fans of Advance Wars. The fact that Civ can be put down and picked up at any time makes it a good fit. There are, however, no official plans at this time.

6. The Civ4 AI - by freidog
Is the AI going to be as moddable and customizable as the rest of the game content? I know Mr. Caudill mentioned an 'AI SDK' for 'experienced programmers' over on the IGN Civ 4 preview to tailor the AI to their desires. But it was mentioned as a seperate entity from the XML unit files and the basic Phython scripts. Basically I was hoping you could go into some more detail on what AI and other more complex modding might entail.

Soren Johnson:
The AI for Civ IV is written entirely in C++. However, all the AI code (as well as game code) is compiled into a separate DLL which can be replaced with a modified version. Essentially, the SDK release will be all of the files required to build this DLL. Thus, changing the AI and "core" game rules (such as terrain, movement, production, etc.) is possible - one could implement a completely different combat model, for example.

7. Alpha Centauri - by squiggleslash
I'm wondering if plans are afoot to work on Alpha Centauri, and if so, how the original will be improved upon. Some of us see AC as the best in the whole (greater) Civilization series. Awesome game.

Soren Johnson:
There are no official plans to make a sequel for Alpha Centauri although it's certainly an idea we kick around every now and then. In many ways, Civ IV is an attempt to incorporate many of the things which were great about SMAC into the core series. Civics obviously derives directly from Social Engineering. Also, the promotions system can be seen as a more reward-based version of the Unit Workshop. The increased role of leader personalities is also inspired by the diplomacy from SMAC. Thanks for the feedback...it definitely pushes us to take a closer look at the idea of making a new version of SMAC. We'll keep you posted.

8. Python+XML vs lua - by SumDog
My questions are:
Why did you choose the language that you did (python + xml files)?
What are the advantages to this approach?
What are the disadvantages you've found using these technologies?

Soren Johnson:
We chose to use python because we wanted a well-supported scripting language that could extend our core code. Indeed, we wrote much more code in python than we were expecting, including all in-game screens and the main interface. It was a huge win for the project because writing code in a language with garbage collection simply goes faster than writing code in C++. The fact that users will be able to easily mod the interface is a nice plus as well. The downside of python was that it significantly increased our build times, mostly from linking with Boost. XML was chosen because it is a very flexible system for storing data, which is important for a game like Civilization that is essentially "built" from numbers. Using an off-the-shelf XML editor, anyone from our designers to end users could modify our game data. We also have a high-level file system which allows you to override any specific art, sound, python, or XML file simply by setting a specific "mod directory" that contains only the modified files. If a specific file is not found in this directory, the game just uses the default one.

9. Macro and Micro Management - by kenp2002
How did the Civ team address macro and micro management aspects of the game? RTS games are forced to place heavy consideration into managing in real time units and control and the scope of an RTS prevents a snowball effect. Turned based games become burdened by logistical considerations as a result of not having that same focus on micromanagement. Managing 55 workers in Civ3 along with 35 cities becomes a logistical nightmare when governor AI doesn't learn from your play style. Which Direction is Civ4 taking?

Soren Johnson:
Removing unnecessary micromanagement from the game was a high-level design goal for Civ IV, one which paid off huge dividends in the final product. We systematically looked at every piece of micromanagement from which Civ 1-3 suffered and figured out ways to remove it without altering the underlying game dynamic. Pollution was removed in favor of a high-level health system. Beaker and hammer overflow was introduced to end the incentive for min-maxing your citizens each and every turn. City riots were simply turned into angry citizens to take away the need to continually check on your cities' happiness in case something went wrong. Workers now have two moves so that a move and an order can be given on the same turn -reducing the number of times the player deals with an active worker by half. Also, some high-level controls to allow micromanagement were added. For example, workers can be grouped together and given an infinite number of sequential orders. Multiple cities can be selected at a time, allowing the player to change all cities on one continent to build tanks with just two clicks.

10. Do you think 3D graphics will enhance gameplay? - by Anubis333
As a long time Civ player, I would have to say that I really didn't understand why it moved to 3D graphics. Will having the engine be entirely 3D in Civ IV actually add to the gameplay in any way, other than have objects occlude one another? When I say 'add to the gameplay' I mean, add to the game experience in a way 2D sprites couldn't. For example: Physics, multipls views, wind, etc.. (I have only really seen the 3D globe, and like the idea).

Soren Johnson:
Graphics succeed in a Civilization game when they provide a good representation of the world's state. Simply put, what-you-see-is-what-you-get is a lot easier with 3D than with 2D. Wonders and buildings now appear on the map, so the player doesn't need to reference an advisor screen to see which city has the Pyramids. Improvements like farms and mines animate differently depending on whether a city is working them or not. Multiple units can now be used to signify hit-points, instead of the old red/green bars. Now, most of these ideas could have been executed in 2D, but certainly with more difficulty as everything displayed in 2D requires an algorithmic system which must be built from scratch. From a pure design perspective, 3D provides an incredible amount of flexibility for free.

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Answers From The Civ IV Team

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