Civilization Revolution: E3 2007 Preview

As we polish off the last of our epic E3 coverage, today’s non-MMO preview is of Civilization Revolution, the console adaptation of the epic strategy franchise. Sid Meier took a hands-on approach with this game and at E3 we saw the Xbox 360 demonstration.

E3 2007 Preview: Civilization Revolution
2KGames (publisher) / Firaxis (developer)
Article by Dana Massey

What sounded like the worst idea anyone had at E3 turned out to be one of the show’s surprise gems. That little surprise is Civilization Revolution from 2KGames and Firaxis, the epic strategy franchise’s console adaptation. That’s right, one of the most complex video games ever made, is coming to the to the Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and even the Nintendo DS next spring. The real shock is that from what we saw, they may actually have pulled it off.

Sid Meier took a hands on approach to this latest Civilization. He felt there was a void in the console market for strategy games and unlike an RTS – which really does require a mouse – a turn-based strategy game could fill that void.

Designer Jake Solomon showed the Xbox 360 version of the game, which capitalizes on the horsepower of a console to create the most beautiful Civilization game ever. The look is slightly more exaggerated than previous versions, but it’s all ratcheted way up the polygon scale. The fog of war is in fact a thick, swirling fog. The tides break on the beach from a sea of fully reflective water. The advisors are no longer Windows-style screens, they have faces, animations and emotions as they present their information. When Firaxis designs games for the PC, they take into account the widest possible ranges of machines. On the consoles, there are no such limitations. In the version we saw, they embraced that and pushed the machine to its visual limit.

None of this answers the big question about any console-adaptation of such a complex, Windows game: how the hell can a controller pull off that level of control? Well, admittedly, it cannot and that’s why Firaxis rethought some of the ways the game works.

Civilization Revolution is on a much smaller scale than its ancestors. The average game lasts 2.5 to 3 hours and each Civilization likely only has about six or seven cities and maybe only a total of about 20 in the whole world. There are only five civilizations per game. The scale helps the controls. In a full scale map of Civilization IV, the late game would be absurd to manage.

Once scaled to a sane size, the team uses the control stick as a replacement for the mouse. In the center of the screen, a box outlines one of the tiles and using the left control stick, the player can move the camera. When on top of something, like a unit, the player can click a face button to select them. The movement is rather simple and while not ideal, gets the job done.

In terms of depth, the game has most of what players have come to expect. The tech tree looked very similar, if not identical, to Civilization IV. They’d scaled back in some areas, but largely, fans of the series will be right at home. They also changed the way units themselves advance, which might actually be better than what they did in Civilization IV. Now, in some respects, it’s almost like an RPG class-system. As a unit wins battles, it can follow one of many specialized career tracks, unlike previous games where players could essentially just select random bonuses. They took advantage of this to make upgrades more visual. If a unit takes a medic track, they dress in medical outfits and so on.

The “revolution” of this game is the way it handles victory conditions. My one complaint about the Civilization franchise has always been that at a certain point, it feels like there is an inevitable march to a specific victory. It’s an epic game and not really full of twists and turns. They reworked that for Revolution. They believe that every single victory condition is now viable and, what’s more, each civilization will likely have a chance at one of them each game. This means that while Napoleon goes for a conquest victory, George Washington might be on the very of economic victory, Ghandi a cultural win and Elizabeth I a space victory.

The game also has a bunch of ways for players to pull the rug out from under each other. For example, if Rome is about to take home the economic win, a player who builds “The World Bank” wonder ups the amount of money Caesar needs, but leaves it the same for themselves. A well timed World Bank could be the difference between a narrow loss and a dominating win.

The leaders also received a lot of attention and the visual horsepower allows them to transfer some elements that had previously been in text into visual queues. For example, when a player highlights an option in diplomacy, they can get a read on the potential response through the opponent’s body language. In our game, Napoleon could not compete militarily and positively quaked in his boots when Solomon highlighted the war option.

Unlike IV, the opposing leaders are now fully animated head to toe and stand in all their glory beside the diplomacy screen. Occasionally, the player’s advisors will want to interject and based on how they feel, interact differently – in front of the player’s eyes – with the opposing leader. For example, the military advisor forcefully shoved the weakened Napoleon off screen!

With a faster game, Firaxis will capitalize on Xbox Live and similar services to offer downloadable content and online play. At 2.5-3 hours, these games will still be epic, but thanks to simultaneous movement in multiplayer, this should develop a vibrant online community, something none of the other Civilizations have truly done.

Solomon also told us about their plans for a weekly map that puts everyone who downloads it into an identical situation. They have all week to play it as often as they want and can submit their highscores. Each week, a winner would take home bragging rights.

There were few details on the Nintendo DS adaptation, but Solomon did tell us that they have some plans for multiplayer on the handheld. He also revealed that a Nintendo Wii version will follow in the Fall of ’08.

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