Strategy game fans who look to the stars are giddy about the upcoming release of Civilization: Beyond Earth. We talked to one of the game's co-designers to learn about the game's classic science-fiction inspirations.
Civilization: Beyond Earth is sort of a sequel to the highly successful Civilization 5. It isn't Civ 6, but it shares a lot of Civ 5's basic gameplay systems, including the hex map, tech advancement, building improvements, and diplomacy with other leaders. It's also tempting to draw parallels to the classic Alpha Centauri, another part of Civilization's scifi lineage. I don't know that I can gauge how highly anticipated Civilization: Beyond Earth is in general, but I can tell you I've personally been anticipating the crap out of it. It's slated for a fall 2014 release for PC, Mac, and Linux.
In this interview, Co-Lead Designer Will Miller talks about the game's sci-fi roots, and where it diverges from the tried and true Civ formula.
io9: The idea that you're drawing from sci-fi touchstones to inform and inspire the design of Beyond Earth is really interesting. Can you talk about some features or design decisions you made based on a specific novel or movie?
Will Miller: Before the actual production on Beyond Earth started, the design team devoured every scifi novel and movie that we could find. People have done a great job of creating these lists of canonical scifi. Collectively, the team had read all of them, so people could go and fill in the gaps if someone said: "Oh, this book is great, and you should check it out." We've never had so much fun researching for work. We read all the classics: Asimov, Bradbury, Sagan, Arthur C. Clarke just to name some. The themes and narrative you'll experience are definitely inspired by these works and we want people to know that. Fans of scifi will definitely pick up on our inspirations just by playing the game. We see Beyond Earth as telling a story of redemption, discovery, as well as giant robots. The game has been designed to be a love letter to the sci-fi genre.
Are there moments in the game that pay homage or call out to classic sci-fi? Is there a point where the player feels that Star Trek sense of awe and exploration, or the "Hell yeah!" of blowing up the Death Star? Or perhaps the creeping paranoia of a Philip K. Dick style surveillance state?
Miller: Absolutely. The game is filled with references to our favorite sci-fi books and movies. The game's fiction references something called the "Great Mistake," which is a nod to Dan Simmons's Hyperion Cantos. The "Contact" victory type is an homage to Carl Sagan's novel of the same name, and the philosophical basis for the Purity Affinity was inspired in part by the Albertian Order of Leibowitz in Walter Miller Jr.'s A Canticle for Leibowitz. The giant Siege Worms that roam the planet's surface need no introduction to fans of Dune. I'm really excited to watch people discover all of the little details we've put into this game, and I hope they see just how much the whole team loves the sci-fi genre.
To what extent is your design goal to attempt to predict plausible future scenarios versus opening it up to more fantastical science fiction concepts?
Miller: It was very important to us that the technology progression and aesthetic changes that occur over the course of the game are believable every step of the way. We want to maintain the suspension of disbelief throughout the game, even if you're flying giant castle-cum-battleship LEV Destroyers or commanding massive bioengineered Xeno Titans by the end. Beyond Earth is a work of fiction and we took some liberties, but in general we tried to start with technologies that exist today, or that are just on the horizon and extrapolate from there. Designing this was really fun for us because we got to put ideas and technologies into the game that we are personally excited about. Things like thorium energy, bioengineering, quantum computing and artificial thought all make an appearance because we are fascinated by them.
I'm really interested in where Beyond Earth feels like Civilization, and where it diverges most significantly. One of the classic, beloved moments in strategy games, or videogames in general, is that first Civ turn. Build a city and send your unit out to explore and see what's beyond the hills. Is there an equivalent to that in Beyond Earth?
Will Miller: Absolutely and I agree with you! I love the sense of adventure and exploration at the beginning of Civ V. What worked for previous Civ games is: While you don't know the layout of the map, you know what wheat, mountains, barbarians, and all those things mean. What is great about Beyond Earth's first few turns is, not only are you exploring a new world, but it's an alien world. The sense of discovery and adventure is much grander and comes at more cost. You don't know the terrain. You don't know what you can eat. You don't know what resource to prioritize, but you will know all of these things by exploring the alien planet. There's a lot to learn as you play through a game and also a lot to lose if you don't adapt.
How will Beyond Earth handle religion?
Miller: Beyond Earth does not have a Religion system like previous Civilizations, but the idea of religion is implied in the game's new Affinities system. Affinities represent holistic post-human trajectories which encompass your civilization's faith (or faiths) as well as its technologies, cultural identity and even morphology. The decisions you make regarding your civilization's Affinity have wide-spread effects on all of the game's other systems, and color your entire playthrough.
Will veteran gamers have any Alpha Centauri Easter eggs to look forward to?
Miller: There are several Alpha Centauri Easter eggs in the game, the most obvious being the "Transcendence" victory. There are many less obvious references throughout the game, and I'm excited to see fans discover them!
Diplomacy seems like a challenge to design. It's always been a core part of the Civilization experience. How is diplomacy different in the future? How do you create a sense of alienness while still allowing those systems to function in a somewhat predictable and usable way?
Will Miller: Much like humanity in Beyond Earth, Diplomacy has evolved. There are completely new ways to interact with the other leaders and some of our new systems guarantee unique experiences with our Diplomacy system. Favors are a seemingly small addition that can have a huge impact on your game. Stock up on favors and even the weakest leader can tell the powerful factions what to do. Affinities also play a big role in the diplomacy of every game. Each leader will decide, depending on their current situation, which Affinity to pursue. This will obviously change in every game because there's an infinite amount of changes every time you load up a new map. Leaders who may naturally oppose each other, could become strong allies due to their Affinities being aligned and vice versa.