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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 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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  • by CyricZ ( 887944 ) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @01:41PM (#13890397)
    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.

    It is surprising that the AI was not written in Python, which is highly integrated with this game. Indeed, Python is just the sort of language for writing such code. However, was it not done this way due to the slower execution speed of Python code, relative to C++?

  • No CD fix (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 27, 2005 @01:44PM (#13890425)
    I'd happily fax over my receipt if Firaxis provided an executable with no-cd check. Make it so that I'd have to have the CD in the drive to patch the file. Then the file is patched and the CD can go back on the shelf.
  • by LDoggg_ ( 659725 ) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @01:45PM (#13890434) Homepage
    First rule of slashdot. We do not talk about slashdot.
    Second rule...
    We do not about games on platforms other than windows. []

    BTW, 4 of the 36 +5 modded comments for this interview were about platforms other than windows.
  • by rfunches ( 800928 ) <thefunch AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday October 27, 2005 @01:46PM (#13890439) Homepage
    It was pointed out that Civ for the family is hard because it would require multiple computers. I was in the Discovery Channel Store over the weekend at the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City and they had Civilization the board game -- I don't know for how many players but it was [obviously] multiplayer and looked a lot like Risk. If it wasn't selling for $49.99 I would've bought it.
  • Re:No CD fix (Score:4, Interesting)

    by enigma48 ( 143560 ) * <<moc.modffej> <ta> <hsals_wen_ffej>> on Thursday October 27, 2005 @01:52PM (#13890496) Journal
    It's a good idea but the no-cd EXE will leak, they'd have to verify receipts were real, hiring more staff, etc.

    Copy protection and theft/copyright infringement (whatever) is a hard thing to crack. I'm just glad I'm technical enough to know how to fix my own problems when they arise; 90% of gamers wouldn't know where to start.
  • ATI Video (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 27, 2005 @01:55PM (#13890522)
    Someone should have asked why the CivIV team didn't test it with ATI video cards.
  • Re:Thank God... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by stlhawkeye ( 868951 ) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @01:56PM (#13890531) Homepage Journal
    ...they got rid of pollution. Easily the most annoying aspect of Civ3. The ability to select multiple cities is also good news. Can't wait for my copy to arrive!

    My girlfriend bought me a copy for Christmas and, bless her heart, had it sent directly to my house so I could play it now. That's a good woman. Even though I waste inexcusable quantities of time playing Warcraft, he buys me more video games because I like them. Plus she'd prefer me to play Civ over WoW. I can get up and walk away from Civ at any moment. Not so with WoW.

  • Re:No CD fix (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Scorpius-nl ( 827901 ) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @02:04PM (#13890587)
    DRM can be tied to hardware also, like windows XP does.

    It can easily be done during setup time, with online verification so that you can't lend your CD to you neighbor.

    After setup is done, you can just start your game without CD.
  • by painandgreed ( 692585 ) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @02:04PM (#13890595)

    The boardgame Civilization has been around for a very long time. It was the inspiration for the compter game, but it is a similar but significantly different game. You don't have hexes or regular areas but rather regions like you would see on a Risk board. Each turn, your chits (little cardboard counters) which represent people, double. They can then move and if you can get enough into the same region they can form a city. Move them into a different region with other players chits and they fight through attrition till only one player's units are there. Then you get resource cards for every city you have. the more cities, the higher level or resources. You collect and trade these resource cards to buy tech. First person to reach a suitable tech level wins.

    A computer game that was much similar to the boardgame did come out at one point with called Advanced Civilization IIRC.

  • by painandgreed ( 692585 ) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @02:12PM (#13890645)

    that boardgame is based ont eh comptuer game but it is not the original Civilaization.


    Advanced Civilization

    Sid Meir's Civilization _ the board game

  • Re:No CD fix (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Mercano ( 826132 ) <> on Thursday October 27, 2005 @02:18PM (#13890690)
    On a tangential note, I found that the disc labeled "play disc" is in fact the second install disc, with just one huge file on it. To actually play the game, you use the first disc, helpfully labeled "install." Snafu?
  • by CyricZ ( 887944 ) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @02:22PM (#13890734)
    Yes, I thought about performance reasons. You obviously didn't bother to read my initial post on this matter:

    However, was it not done this way due to the slower execution speed of Python code, relative to C++? []

    See, I specifically covered that very topic.

    With a game such as this, increased AI "intelligence" could very well mitigate the slightly slower execution. Python allows for extremely complex systems to be developed very quickly, at the expense of runtime performance. Neural nets, for instance, can be implemented far easier in Python than in C++.

  • Re:No CD fix (Score:3, Interesting)

    by greenskyx ( 609089 ) * on Thursday October 27, 2005 @02:37PM (#13890899)
    How about something like this... Civ IV enters my key information into Steam (or something like that) and then uses Steam to provide authentication.
  • by Geoffreyerffoeg ( 729040 ) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @02:39PM (#13890925)
    we want to get paid

    And why not? If you want people to do work for free, move to Russia and time travel about half a century back.

    And yes, I understand free software and all, but it should be the developer's choice to release the software as free. And most developers who spend at least 40 hours a week working on software aren't willing to work for free.

    If you want a Civlike game without paying, freeciv does exist. If you want Civ IV, you'll have to pay.

    Inconvenience for the customer is a valid reason for protesting CD requirements. Not wanting to pay isn't.

    Go read Atlas Shrugged. You'll probably hate it - and there's nothing wrong with that - but you should at least see her viewpoint.
  • by Brad Oliver ( 604118 ) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @02:44PM (#13890968)
    Ooooh, is it too difficult to comprehend that they can only afford so many programmers working at any one time, and that ports have to be done by the same people who are working on the original platform?

    Allow me to interrupt this Sarcasmathon with some facts. ;-) I work for Aspyr and am the lead programmer on the Mac Civ4 port.

    The port isn't being done by the same people who did the PC version - it's being farmed out to a Mac developer and Mac publisher. This is the typical case with most Mac game ports. It also means that we have to wait for legal hurdles to clear, code drops to arrive, and naturally, for the Mac code to start working and stop being buggy. ;-) Now you might think that rewriting a game that depends on several third-party libraries with no Mac version and a dependence on DX9 might be trivial, but alas it is not.

  • Colonization 2? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 27, 2005 @02:45PM (#13890984)
    It's a shame there isn't a Colonization 2 in the works. Granted some of the political issues may be in the matter, but that doesn't stop us from playing bad guys in other games.

    For those who have not played it, it looked like Civilization without science advances and with resource management.

    It also plays fine in DOSbox .63.
  • Something different does need to be done in this area. I hate having to have the CD in the drive as well, and I doubt it really helps much. And, as several people pointed out, I suspect it hurts sales by almost as much as it helps them.

    I think that copyright law is broken in this regard too. It doesn't reflect the reality of what's easily possible. Games occupy a category that's more closely similar to music than software. Perhaps similar models could be adopted for funding games in a 'copies can't really be controlled' world. I would've pre-paid (in escrow) Firaxis $50 or more to produce them game if there was going to be a Linux version.

  • by lgw ( 121541 ) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @02:52PM (#13891055) Journal
    It's faster to write anything in the language you're comfortable with. This is undoubtedly why they did most of the game in C++.

    I have a real problem with using Python for large projects simply because of the lack of static typing. Dynamic typing is great for scripts, but well-documented interfaces become the most important factor when a project scales beyond a single team. Static typing forces you to put important interface information in the code, rather than hoping someone added it to comments.

    Of course, not having to worry about memory management in Python is a similar advantage to that language (as "who frees it" is anther big part of interface documentation that people always seem to leave out of comments), but there are C++ programming styles that mostly eliminate that problem.

    I'm not sure why you'd say it's easier to implement neural nets in Python. Anything is easier in a language that has libraries attuned to the problem at hand, but you can always write such libraries if your language of choice lacks them (and you only have to do that once).
  • Re:No CD fix (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Hard_Code ( 49548 ) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @03:02PM (#13891135)
    Even if this "registration" or whatnot has to be done on a per-machine basis, which would still serve to prevent piracy (so you couldn't take one no-cd binary and move it to another machine), it is MUCH MUCH MUCH better than CD jockeying. I hate CD jockeying. I will not play a game that requires this. If you make me get up and try to find the right CD and put it in my CD drive and then wait for the program to spin the drive up and engage whatever DRM it needs - you have just lost me as a gamer. As gamers mature and have less free time to play games, CD jockeying gets less and less appealing.
  • by Evil Pete ( 73279 ) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @03:10PM (#13891240) Homepage

    I don't understand why they don't take the path that Blizzard took with Starcraft. Have a spawn option that allows the use of installation of a multiplayer only version for use in local networks. Then you still need that one original installation with the CD. I think one thing that made Starcraft so popular was that at work you could easily create spawns to play after hours, then buy your own copy to play at home/online.

  • Re:No CD fix (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Surt ( 22457 ) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @03:12PM (#13891267) Homepage Journal
    The thing is, while copy protection is a minor hassle for the legitimate user, it's not a serious enough one to prevent many sales. And, while it doesn't prevent any sufficiently technical user from copying the game, it does help to prevent the sort of casual copying where you just install the game and then hand the cd to a friend. The industry has studied the outcomes. Comparable games from companies with comparable reputations sell more units if they include copy protection. Until that statement is not factual, expect to see copy protection continue.
  • Re:No CD fix (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Bradee-oh! ( 459922 ) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @03:27PM (#13891419)
    Ehh... I played Civ3 on my desktop at home and on my laptop while out. I had Civ3 installed on both (with the no-cd patch) and shifted the savegame files from one to the other as I arrived home or left home.

    Having two installs against the EULA? Probly. Completely legitimate usage of the software from a moral standpoint? Sure. Would I have even purchased Civ3 if there was WinXP-style hardware lock-in? Seeing as I spend about 60% of my time at home and 40% away and like to have my games available everywhere, no I would not have.
    Agree with the principle or not, WinXP style DRM makes sense for an OS. Not so for any other off-the-shelf software (imho)
  • by Sethb ( 9355 ) <> on Thursday October 27, 2005 @03:53PM (#13891653)
    Great to hear you're working on it, Brad, you've done great work on the previous ports, and you've always been forthcoming with the community, which we appreciate immensely. While my desktop is a PC, my portable is a PowerBook, and I'm looking forward to buying the new versions, especially Civ 3 Complete. I just hope that Civ 4 will be playable on my PowerBook (12" G4 1.33Ghz, 1.25GB RAM), I picked it up yesterday for the PC, and found that huge maps simply aren't going to be an option on my PC, (2.2Ghz Pentium 4, 1GB RAM, and Radeon 9700 Pro). I played a game on a standard map through last night (on Settler difficulty), just to get a feel for the techs and building improvements without having to actually compete much, and I'm already hooked, there's just obviously a lot more going on in Civ 4, both graphically and computationally, and I think that many of us turn-based gaming fans don't have the latest CPU & GPU gear that the hard-core shooter crowd does.
  • by ERJ ( 600451 ) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @04:05PM (#13891773)
    Something that existed in CivNet that has not existed since is the ability to play concurrently in multiplayer mode. This could lead to some aggravation (haha I attacked with my chariot before you could attack me with yours) but overall really sped things up and made it much more enjoyable for me. Any chance this is in the new civ?
  • by Jodiamonds ( 226053 ) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @04:15PM (#13891867)
    A pithy, catchy statement, but hardly an "insightful" truth.

    I'd agree that the original statement isn't very meaningful and probably not true, but neither is this reply. Thinking that games should require CDs in the drive has been going on for some time now, and sales haven't fallen off as a result. How many people do you know who would definitely have bought Civ4, but now won't because it requires the CD in the drive?

    It's incredibly annoying, and probably just unwise, but hardly a showstopper for the vast majority of people, including the hardcore and casual game players.

    I wouldn't say that the future of game development actually depends on preventing privacy: Game development will continue regardless. At the same time, people *thinking* it depends on it isn't going to end game development either. Neither piracy nor thinking it's the end of the world is actually the end of the world.
  • Re:No CD fix (Score:3, Interesting)

    by drew ( 2081 ) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @04:30PM (#13891991) Homepage
    If I steal the cd from the store, how does enforcing the cd to be in the drive enforce purchase?

    If you steal the CD from the store, Firaxis already has been paid just as much money for the CD as they would have recieved had you purchased it legally. It's only the store that loses money.

    And yes, I know that wasn't your point.
  • by demonbug ( 309515 ) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @05:07PM (#13892356) Journal
    Where are all these mysterious games without copy protections they are using for comparison? I don't seem to remember seeing any major releases without copy protection in at least five years.

    I'd say the publishing houses claim this on a yearly basis (probably far more often than that), but they probably all refer to one case back in 1997 or 1996 when two games in the same genre were released near the same time, and the one with protection sold better than the other. That's enough proof for the publishers.
  • by praxis ( 19962 ) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @05:52PM (#13892726)
    There's a more clever way to encode this.

    |||\ command or meta-command digit 0
    ||\- command or meta-command digit 1
    |\-- command or meta-command digit 2
    \--- 0: command; 1: meta-command

    000 Idle
    001 Build road at nearest friendly location (that can support a road)
    010 Build mine at nearest friendly location (that can support a mine)
    011 Destroy nearest road
    ... etc

    000 End orders, return unit to unordered status
    001 Repeat last command
    010 Mark this location
    011 Return to last marked location
    ... etc

    Now you can encode you're secenario like this
      |   |   |   |
      |   |   |   \-- Meta-command to return to marked command
      |   |   \------ Command to destroy a road
      |   \---------- Command to build a road
      \-------------- Meta-command for mark

    So it took all of 16-bits to encode those instructions, and they leave room for eight types of commands and eight types of meta-commands.  Of course the encodings could be even more efficient, this was just an academic example.  Also, adding another bit doubles the number of meanings you can give to each command.

    So you see, many types of infinite data can be encoded with different methods, this being one example.  Periodic functions are another.  You are correct that there are certain infinite patterns that can not be encoded finitely without proposing a finite symbol that refers to the infinite quantity, such a Pi.

    Alas, I think this was all moot since I think the english statement used to imply the command list was infinate was to not be taken literaly, but to be interpreted as meaning that there is no *arbitrary* limit to the length of the command list.

In seeking the unattainable, simplicity only gets in the way. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982