Firaxis Builds, Expands on Civilization Formula with Beyond Earth

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Posted on October 24, 2014, Phil Hornshaw Firaxis Builds, Expands on Civilization Formula with Beyond Earth

The reviews are out for Civilization: Beyond Earth, detailing the way it takes the classically historical drive of the Civilization franchise and builds on it by taking Firaxis’ 4X gameplay to a new, alien world.

As our Janelle Bonanno points out in her review, Beyond Earth is at once familiar Civ and something new, and the game both explores new territory with many of its systems, and borrows and tweaks some of the better ideas to come out of the franchise in the past. Unlike, say, Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, Beyond Earth is a distinctly “Civ” game, and it both leans on and plays with the underlying trappings of Civilization V, the Civ game directly preceding Beyond Earth, in particular.

“I think the one unit-per-tile that Civ V introduced, the departure from stacks in Civ IV, made the game much more tactical. That was a really great decision and we definitely kept that,” said Will Miller, Beyond Earth’s co-lead designer, in an interview with GameFront. “But we also added some things that sort of work around that. The Orbital Layer is an example of how to stack units. That’s kind of a great general (from previous Civ games) and stacks sort of rolled into one. We saw that as a positive.”

The Orbital Layer is one of Beyond Earth’s major changes. It’s a portion of the game dedicated to the skies of your planet, allowing players to launch satellites over cities and other regions to convey different effects. For example, you might launch a satellite that gives your army a defensive buff in a certain area, or one that increases the economic potential of a city.

Satellites can’t occupy the same space, and their regions of influence can’t overlap. The Orbital Layer, then, adds another strategic consideration for players, both in how they plan their own agendas and what they do when they encounter other (potentially hostile) civilizations.

“We’re always looking for natural problems that human beings can solve well,” Miller said. “One of those problems is bin-packing: the actual act of taking things, like Tetris, fitting pieces together in a confined space. This bin-packing problem. Humans can do this very well. The other one is pathfinding, or ‘traveling salesman.’ That’s what the trade system is. Figuring out what the optimal way to move trade around. So when we find one of those problems, we try to put it in the game, because it’s something we don’t need to explain, and it’s something that makes sense and is intuitive.

“We’re always looking for natural problems that human beings can solve well.”

“(The Orbital Layer) is really neat system, and it kind of serves the same mechanical purpose that great generals did, which is this kind of area of effect buff. And at the same time, it’s a more interesting problem to solve. If I put a defensive satellite above my city, I do that at the cost of not being able to have the economic one there, because they can’t overlap. And they’re also temporal — so they’ll fall out of the sky after a certain number of turns. And when they fall, they have a chance to create like a crash site that you can go dig up for additional resources. …You’re constantly min-maxing that space, it’s big enough, the granularity is such that it doesn’t feel tedious, and it does really interesting things to things below.”

Miller said other elements of Civ V helped provide the backbone of Beyond Earth. One key item: procedurally generated maps, geared toward making for a fresh but fun experience every time players jump into them.

“The characteristics of the world — like a lot went into generating the map and figuring out where the resources go, and ensuring that there’s always a fun game there for you to play,” he said. “It’s a procedural system, so there’s always going to be some that don’t work, but we try to generate maps that are always fun, and that have character and that change over time. In the beginning of Beyond Earth, there are a lot of blockers. There’s miasma (a gas that can damage units if they end a turn standing in it), there’s canyons, there’s the ocean, mountains – and all those things become advantages later, depending on how you negotiate through the tech tree and the decisions of the game. And the characteristic of the world changing over time, I think, is a really cool core thing to Civ.”

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