Youtuber Antti Kokkonen, who uploads Let's Plays to Youtube under the username Zemalf, is one of the best XCOM players in the world. On January 11, he finished a 50 hour run of XCOM: Enemy Within on Impossible Ironman difficulty without losing a single country. Or Interceptor. Or mission. Or soldier.
It was a perfect run on the game's hardest difficulty (and his first time through Enemy Within). On Ironman, XCOM is limited to a single save file. No do-overs. Beating the game on Impossible Ironman is a rare feat, but beating it without losing a single soldier? That really does sound impossible. But Zemalf did it, and he recorded it all across 58 Let's Play videos.
"I consider myself an okay player, but the run did go really well," he told PC Gamer. With Zemalf's help, we've broken down this achievement in XCOM mastery, dissecting his 58 part series into the key moments that defined the run.
As the XCOM faithful know, Enemy Unknown and Enemy Within operate on a reverse difficulty curve. They're brutally unforgiving in the early missions, when soldiers are inexperienced, panic easily, and die to a single alien blast. "The first five to ten missions are crucial," Zemalf says. "In this run I should've lost, or could've lost, a whole squad in a very early mission where I more or less played really badly. But just out of luck I didn't lose anyone."
If there's a consistent theme through all of Zemalf's run, it's luck. Luck in the missions the game generates, the panic levels he has to contend with, and the soldiers he starts with. And when luck fails him, Zemalf falls back on his slow and thoughtful playing style, methodically considering every option before making a move. He narrates his Let's Plays the same way, speaking in a deep, calm voice.
We've incorporated some of those LP videos below, timestamped to dramatic and crazy and revelatory moments in the run. Watch them as you read for examples of Zemalf's strategy (and some very, very lucky breaks).
Danger zone: surviving the early missions
Chance gets Zemalf out of more than one seemingly impossible situation. Early in the run, he's offered a council mission with a killer reward: five engineers, the equivalent of an entire workshop add-on to XCOM headquarters. He has to go for it. Fifteen minutes into the mission, though, things are looking bad. One of Zemalf's soldiers has already taken a hit and is down to 1 HP. And when he moves that soldier forward to deal with a lone sectoid, he accidentally reveals and activates two more (watch below now).
At this point, the sectoids get to take two shots at his sniper, who is perilously vulnerable in half cover. They miss, granting Zemalf another turn. He misses his first shot. His second, which needs to kill a sectoid, drops it down to 1HP instead. Then he makes what should be a fatal error: he presses the wrong hotkey, accidentally telling his third soldier now dangerously exposed to take a low-percentage shot. It misses.
He stews on it for a minute with only one move left. But that last soldier, the sniper, ends up saving his bacon.
"In most cases I took an educated guess or calculated risk moving into certain positions, knowing if I activate a group here, I can deal with it, like having a heavy with a rocket ready to shoot," Zemalf says. "I was always thinking ahead to activate aliens with moves left." At least, almost always he admits that on a few occasions, like the one above, those calculated risks got him in trouble.
A couple LPs later, Zemalf encounters his first UFO crash. Some risky advances pay off by not revealing additional aliens. If they had, he would almost certainly lose two of his soldiers. But this mission, which he calls the most tense situation of the entire playthrough, shows off the side of XCOM that can be maddeningly difficult: missing high-percentage shots (watch below now).
The encounter starts out easily enough, with one alien totally exposed and at 1HP. But an 85 percent shot misses the mark. And then a 71 percent shot misses. "Welcome to XCOM," Zemalf says under his breath.
A miss from one of the sectoids at point blank range keeps Zemalf's support soldier alive, but the next turn gets even uglier. He reveals three more aliens by advancing too far and spends several minutes considering every possible option.
"Looking back at it, I could've played a lot better, but that's easy to say now," Zemalf says. He makes a mistake by advancing too far, but this situation highlights Zemalf's strength as an XCOM player: he thinks through each strategic option before moving and only commits to the best course of action when he's sure it's the best. And when things get really dicey, XCOM pays back for its earlier cruelty by helping him land three moderate-percentage shots in a row. He wipes out four sectoids in one fell swoop.
Most of the time, Zemalf's aggressive strategy works well. He methodically activates a group of aliens, then tries to take them all out in one turn. He points to an encounter in his ninth LP as an example (watch below now).
Since this is several hours later in the run, Zemalf already has a MEC trooper in his squad. He uses the MECs as tanks to take hits that his other soldiers wouldn't be able to survive. As he faces a pair of Thin Men, he methodically thinks through each of his soldiers' abilities, using the MEC's collateral damage ability to destroy one alien's cover, and a grenade to take out the other's cover. That gives him better odds of landing shots with his remaining troops, and he never has to leave cover to fire.
"It's kind of hard to describe my own style, but based on the comments I get, I think I'm playing more aggressively than many others," Zemalf says. "When I have activated alien groups, I play very aggressively to take them out as fast as possible. I think that was key in not losing anyone. The game doesn't get any chance because of the mechanic of how the groups spawn if you can take the one group out that you activated, before they even get an action, they can't shoot you, and then you more or less can't lose anyone."
Being able to take out alien groups so expediently took some smart base planning early in the game. Zemalf aimed to get as many satellites up as he could in the first three months of the game, which would prevent the XCOM countries from panicking, leaving the project, and denying him crucial resources. He also rushed to build a MEC early and to research laser weapons, which he'd need to deal with the HP buffs aliens get on Impossible difficulty.
Still, it took luck to get him through those first few missions with inexperienced, ill-equipped troops. "Getting hit and not getting a lethal hit is lucky, and I had quite a few of those early on," Zemalf says. The heavy soldiers' rockets and grenades help him get through those early missions. Later he favors snipers and assault troops over heavies, because their explosives could destroy alien weapon fragments he needs for research.
Over the hump
Zemalf's perfect run almost ends in the XCOM Council mission Confounding Light, which gives him 10 turns to outfit a train with transponders and send it down the tracks. The entire mission is tense; Zemalf has to push forward faster than usual, position his soldiers to activate the transponders, but still take out any enemies that could quickly decimate his troops. In the end, he's left with a single turn, a MEC one hit away from death, and isn't even sure he's going to be able to complete the mission (watch below now).
Here at the 10 minute mark, Zemalf accidentally activates some Thin Men and his MEC takes its first hits. Things get worse for the rest of the run. Skip ahead to 45 minutes to see Zemalf play through the last clutch turn. "Please, please, please," he pleads with XCOM as he tries to activate the train. Again, luck is on his side his MEC survives and he completes the mission with his last possible move.
Thanks to XCOM's reverse difficulty curve, he's over the hump by the middle of his 58 video run. Zemalf cites Confounding Light as the last mission he truly struggled on.
Enemy Within is, according to many players, a harder game than the original Enemy Unknown. It adds a resource called meld to maps that expires after a few turns, encouraging players to advance more quickly. It adds new enemies and missions. But it also adds gene modifications, which Zemalf uses to great effect.
"Something I think is borderline broken in the game is the mimetic skin gene mod," he says. Mimetic skin grants soldier invisibility and makes them untargetable. "Using the mimetic skin with the sniper, with squad sight, the aliens didn't even get a shot on me in many missions. , half cover counts as full cover and keeps them invisible. That was just ridiculous."
By combining mimetic skin with a sniper's Snapshot and In the Zone abilities, Zemalf was able to move his sniper and fire in the same turn. And with In the Zone, taking out a flanked enemy with the sniper lets that unit fire again. Zemalf could take out entire squads of enemies with a single sniper (watch below now).
This mission occurs about three quarters of the way through the run. By this point, Zemalf's soldiers are equipped with mimetic skin, and he uses that ability to get close to the aliens without worrying about taking a shot. He deals with them easily.
By LP 45, Zemalf is around 30 hours into his Impossible Ironman challenge. He hasn't lost a soldier or failed a mission. But he doesn't go out of his way to preserve the perfect run. Instead of abusing mimetic skin and coasting to a (relatively) easy zero-deaths finish, he switches out some of his troops for rookies and trained them up.
"I actually played quite sloppily in the later missions and I didn't shoot for not losing anyone," he says. "I just wanted to play through, and that kind of ended up happening anyway."
Amazingly, Zemalf went into Enemy Within with little foreknowledge of the game. He had played Enemy Unknown, but started Enemy Within soon after its release in Europe, and only spent a few days watching streams on Twitch before beginning his run. He knew that MECs were in the game, but knew almost nothing about them.
"I had seen the new stuff in some previews, I watched maybe a couple videos, but I didn't know what abilities the mechs had. I just knew they had a lot of hit points," he says. "I can't say it was blind, but I hadn't played any of the missions."
If not for the player/audience dynamic of Let's Plays, Zemalf likely wouldn't have come through his entire Impossible Ironman run unscathed. Commenters clued him into the gene mods, and he did research which autopsies he'd need to unlock them. They also warned him about the XCOM base assault, so he knew in advance how it would work.
"I got the mission relatively early as I built the hyperwave relay quite early. Some people said I was really lucky because I only got sectoids," he says. "I kind of would have liked to play completely blind, not even know the base assault was coming."
Even with some help here and there from the audience, Zemalf did something few XCOM players could accomplish. And he did it better than most others who have completed Impossible difficulty, too his game summary stats at the end beat the world average in every single category.
As the credits roll on his run, Zemalf reflects on his performance. "Little bit of an empty feeling as this draws towards the end. Little bit of sadness," he says. "But also happy that it went so well. And even more happiness at how much all of you have liked this. It's really something. I've always said that I'd be doing Let's Play videos even if just one person was watching, one person who enjoys them. And when there's a thousand, or several thousand, enjoying the videos, it makes it all even better. And the feedback that I get from all of you, that's what keeps me going. At times it was overwhelming. I was really happy to play this."
Zemalf plans to tackle the original X-COM: UFO Defense at some point in the future.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - email@example.com (Alec Meer)
BioShock could have made a wonderful movie. But realistically it would never been a wonderful movie, even if plans for a Gore Verbinski-helmed adaptation of the Irrational’s opus hadn’t been abandoned. It could only have been an overload of CGI that sacrificed depth and tone for a visual onslaught. I’m sure of that, and I’m glad the movie didn’t happen. But the real reason it didn’t is that backers Universal were spooked by the commercial limpness of the Watchmen adaptation, taking it as a sign that there wasn’t enough of an audience for an R-rated sci-fi movie at the kind of budget Verbsinki demanded; he then wouldn’t agree to a much a lower one. A later attempt at a cheaper movie by 28 Weeks Later director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo was nixed by Ken Levine, who told Eurogamer that “I didn’t really see the match there.”
The movie did at least make it to concept art stage, a few examples of which have recently emerged, and depict new areas of Rapture planned for the big screen. (more…)
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In 2013 Valve told us that it s making a controller, an operating system, and is sanctioning PC manufacturers to create Steam Machines. The three-pronged campaign to put Steam in your living room, deliberately revealed ahead of the launch of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, was the biggest PC gaming news of the year. It s a move that establishes Valve as something that resembles a platform holder, something it s been hesitant to do despite being the PC s biggest online retailer.
We re glad that Valve is removing some of the obstacles to playing Civilization V on our couch. It gets us imagining PC gaming as a more social experience for friends, family members, and whatever other human beings you let into your house. That picture will come into focus at CES next week, when we expect a second wave of information from Valve on its initiative.
We ll also hopefully leave Vegas with a better understanding of how versatile the Steam Controller is, which we ve been investigating. But even if Valve s controller exceeds our expectations and plays a very wide set of games comfortably, there s an serious need for a keyboard and mouse platform that can be used effortlessly on a couch. I m challenging accessory makers like Razer and Logitech to make one.
Just 290 of Steam s 2,459 games feature full controller support, and 502 feature partial support a cumulative third of the library. Even if we give generous consideration to Valve s claim that the Steam Controller older games into thinking they re being played with a keyboard and mouse, I m still going to need to edit command lines, to chat with my Steam friends, to Alt + Tab, and no amount of virtual keyboards, haptic feedback, and autocomplete will ameliorate that. In particular, I don t have high hopes for how well hotbar-heavy games like Dota 2, Starbound, Path of Exile, RTSes and MMORPGs will handle on the Steam Controller.
The Phantom Lapboard. "Do you like typing on a keyboard that s locked at a significant angle to the natural plane of your hands? Of course you don t," Maximum PC wrote in 2010.
The peripheral, though, isn t actually the problem it s the absence of a stable surface in the living room that rests above your legs. Our friends at Tested put it this way in an article from last July: If you just put your mouse and keyboard on the coffee table and perch on the edge of your couch, you're gonna hurt your neck and back, craning your neck to see the TV. Conventional mice and keyboards can work in the living room, but not without a desklike platform to rest them on.
Infinium Labs yes, that Infinium Labs now known as Phantom Entertainment, produced one of the only commercial solutions to this problem, the Phantom Lapboard: a $110, wireless, cantered keyboard and mouse combo. It s bad. The bottom line is that this thing is bad, our sister site Maximum PC said in its 2010 review. The keyboard only tilts at a single angle, the mouse only features two buttons and a scroll wheel, and there s no lip on the surface to contain it. The second you take your hand off the mouse to type something, that sucker s clattering to the floor, MaxPC wrote.
The Couchmaster is the weirder and even more expensive alternative, a hulking, 24 -wide, upholstered thigh prison that at least provides a stable, ergonomic surface. But it s a frown-inducing $180, and its cumbersome shape doesn t seem conducive to easy storage or use in any living room that doesn t feature a wide couch.
Apart from Ikeaing something wooden and rigid together, the two options PC gamers have are pricey and strange. If anything, they show us two designs that any future lapboards should avoid, or at least iterate on aggressively. With Valve s initiative, third-party manufacturers should be scrambling to produce a lapboard that accommodates gaming mice and keyboards, if only because it s an item that will help them sell more mice and keyboards. Razer has a small history of experiments like the Artemis prototype and the Razer Hydra, but more practically, they already make left-handed keypads like the Orbweaver and Nostromo, devices that would be the perfect starting points for a compact lapboard. Logitech would be another good candidate; they make plenty of mainstream wireless peripherals, and on the gaming side they have an ambidextrous keypad we like, the G13.
Valve should want such a peripheral to be available as an alternative to its controller. After all, a sturdy, inexpensive, versatile gaming lapboard would absolutely increase the adoption of living room PCs and SteamOS. Valve s goal isn t to sell controllers, it s to get you playing PC games on your couch, and we should all want that proposition to be as effortless as possible.
An innovative controller can t and won t replace the decades-long relationship PC gamers have with WASD because PC gamers don t like compromise we expect high framerate, high resolution, low cost, and total freedom to modify our devices and games. And while we re grateful for a controller that s built with PC gamers and PC games in mind, it s essential that we get a compromise-free way of bringing the core implements of our hobby, the mouse and keyboard, into the living room.
By Chris Kinniburgh.
It was supposed to be a short break. I told myself Civilization V wouldn't suck me in when I began playing on the big screen. The game will be too tedious. The text will be too small. I was wrong.
I've spent the past couple days going through every game I thought would be interesting to play, and Civilization V on a couch, staring at a big screen TV is among most engaging, relaxing gaming experiences I've ever had with a game.
There were a few hurdles to jump before I began. I chose to decrease the resolution to 1360x768, giving me a 16:9 resolution that looks fine on the big screen while giving me slightly larger text than 1920x1080.
There are two comfortable configurations for the trackpads. First, you can set the left trackpad to control moving the map while the right trackpad controls the mouse. Alternatively, you may choose to use both trackpads to control the mouse (as shown in Valve s Steam Controller demonstration of Paper's Please).
My preferred setup has the left trackpad move the camera while the right controls the mouse. Left and right triggers correspond to right and left clicks respectively. The flipped mouse buttons feel intuitive while playing, though causes a bit of cognitive dissonance whenever a game directs me to click with the left mouse button and I use my right hand. I'll report back in a few months if I've completely lost my sense of direction.
Using the dual mouse method feels quick, but the trackpad allows me to move fast enough through the screen that I only need to lift my thumb once to get from the top left corner to the bottom right. While that 10th of a second speed increase is nice, it's outweighed by the speed gained through quick control over the map.
Moving through Civ V's menu screens is effortless. The Advisor Counsel, Overview Screens, Social Policies, and Era Map are all bound to keys, and there are a few left over to handle zooming in and out, and Next Turn. With these bound, I found myself more quickly navigating the Civilization user interface than I had in my previous couple hundred hours with a mouse and keyboard.
It's also surprisingly easy to move the cursor quickly with precision. While I don't expect to be effectively splitting my Marines in StarCraft any time soon, I can certainly play a turn-based game without frustration.
Sitting 17 feet away from a 50-inch television, the relatively small text is easily parsed. With responsive controls, a comfortable seat, and a large television, I found myself able to quickly enter the flow state that Civ V does so dangerously well.
Along with Civilization V, I've spent a bit of time trying out FTL, which was similarly simple and easy to enjoy. While you won't be able to bind every hotkey available in the game, the overall experience of boxing and moving your crew feels natural and quick. The ability to pause the game while playing also enables players to slowly familiarize themselves with the controls.
I also decided to try my hand at StarCraft II. After taking some time to think through any reasonable hotkey layout and determining there was none, I proceeded by playing with the controller's default keybindings when plugged into a PC: the mouse controlled by the right trackpad, map with the left trackpad, and mouse buttons mapped to the triggers. The games were difficult. I eventually mapped the attack-move command to the right bumper, and S and D to the left and right half of the trackpad. With these commands, I was slightly more able to macro while playing. The game was still tedious. I considered investing another hour into coming up with a way of mapping a couple control groups and re-working StarCraft s grid system to use fewer keys, but I thought better of it.
While the steam controller has the ability to control most games, the effort required to enjoy real time strategy games is great. First you have to spend time finding a comfortable mapping of controls. Next, the effort required to relearn a new control scheme, a process made more difficult by the lack of onscreen button prompts and reminders. Only then can you forget about the controller and just enjoy the game. Increasingly I'm finding myself more and more interested in playing games that quickly move over those first two steps. Platformers are easy to map to a controller, and have generally felt great while playing. Slow paced games like Civ V, FTL, or Hearthstone are relatively easy to map and their slow pace allows for the time needed to come to grips with a new control scheme.
Chris' Steam Controller tests continue, what would you like us to take a look at next? Let us know in the comments.
Before running away for a few days of competitive eating and cooperative gaming, Evan, Cory, and Tyler gathered to reflect on the most memorable victories, losses, and stories they virtually experienced in 2013. Watch the whole five-video series on the PC Gamer YouTube channel, and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more regular content, gameplay footage, and conversations.
Sid Meier is a game design legend. He co-founded MicroProse in 1982 and created Civilization, one of the longest-running and most loved series in gaming. Now the creative director at Firaxis and overseer for both the Civ and XCOM franchises, Meier can be choosy about what he works on. His choice: Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies, a WWI-era turn-based strategy game that's small in price but big on strategy, and even influenced by tabletop games.
PC Gamer spoke to Meier about his interest in smaller game design, and how it let his team take some risks. He also shared his view of the changing strategy game market, and how he thinks all gamers are strategy gamers at heart.
PC Gamer: What drew you to Ace Patrol?
Sid Meier: It was the opportunity to make a game in a shorter time frame, with a smaller team. I guess the last game that I actually finished was Civ Revolutions. We ve done a bunch of big games, Civ and XCOM, and they were awesome. During that time, I got the urge to do a game with a smaller team that we could do in a quicker period of time. With a lower budget you can take more chances and do things that are a little more risky. Doing something on the iPad was an interesting new challenge a new type of interface, a new device. I d had this idea for a World War I flying game, doing it turn-based. Originally I designed it with cards in mind. When we put it on the iPad, we had virtual cards and things like that. It was a game design idea I d had floating around for a while.
There s a prevalent board game influence. What were some of the games you were looking at as you were thinking about mechanics?
There was a game a while back called Wings of War. Basically each player had a book, and you d be on a certain page. Based on what maneuver you chose, you would both go to a different page. That was a fun mechanic. Not one that we borrowed necessarily, but it was a turn-based way of looking at air combat, which I thought was interesting. Board games are just so clear in their representations and in their mechanics. That was what we were going for, a look that you could look at and say, I get it, these plays are flying in that direction, and they re so far off the ground There s a clarity and an accessibility to a board game style of approach that I think we wanted to build upon with Ace Patrol.
That s always our goal, to give you something that you can start to play fairly quickly and easily, but has that depth and that replayability. That s something we always strive for, going back to the original Civilization. A game that s easy to start playing, but has this depth and replayability. I think everyone, at heart, is a strategy game player. They just don t know it yet. We have to get them started playing, and all of sudden they realize that this is interesting, to get these new maneuvers or try these new skills.
The hex map is an accessibility thing, too. It s pretty clear once you see those hexes That kind of regulates the game and makes things very clear, the orientation of the planes and their relative directions and the distance you can move. The hex map, which we embraced with Civ V, has a lot of accessibility features to it, and we take advantage of that as well.
You mentioned that Ace Patrol was developed with a smaller team and a smaller scope. How big was the original team?
We had seven or eight people working on it for a little less than a year. I guess that came out in May, so it s been about five or six months working on Pacific Skies. Compared to Civ or XCOM, that s a very small team.
But it seems like you re definitely experimenting with different pricing models for what s really the same game. You were allowing a little bit of content in the original iOS game and then charging for the extra campaigns. How do you feel like that strategy has worked out so far?
The model that we really were most comfortable with was the classic PC: a free demo, and then basically a game that you pay for. When we did Ace Patrol, the closest thing to that in the iOS market looked like this idea of free-to-play, and then purchasing different parts of the game. That felt to us like, you get to kind of demo it for free, get to a certain point, and then if you like it you buy it and if you don t like it you don t buy it.
What we discovered was that free-to-play brings a lot of baggage with it, because of players previous experience. It really isn t perceived as a demo followed by a purchase. It s perceived almost like a game within a game. How much can I play without paying? What tricks are they going to use to get me to pay? It becomes almost a distraction from the game itself. So with the Steam release of Ace Patrol, we went to just a premium model here s the price of the game, if you want it buy it.
Serious players have had some negative experiences with free-to-play games. Where we are now is, we re looking at this as a premium game, a game that you buy. If you want to figure out what the system is like, you can play the iOS version of Ace Patrol for free and get a feel for the mechanics. If you like it, you might want to buy Pacific Skies or whatever. We feel that the premium model just buying the game fits more with what our players want. They want to buy the game and play it, and not have to worry about if it s all there, or if we re going to ask them for more money.
What are some of the things that you think have worked in recent editions of Civilization and some things that haven t worked?
It s been interesting that each Civ has been led by a different designer: Soren Johnson with Civ IV and then Jon Shafer with Civ V. They ve each brought a little bit of a different perspective to the game. They re all building on the core mechanics and the core gameplay flow that is fundamental to Civ. Civ V specifically has supported a couple of really good expansions as well. Even though a new Civ only comes out every couple of years, there s still energy and new stuff happening all the time with that franchise. In terms of what didn t work I cannot think of anything.
I think what maybe didn t work on Civ V is that it s a PC-only kind of game. I think that s fine: most of our players are on PC. But the world is moving. In our dreams we d love to have it on more platforms. There s no reason why it couldn t be on iOS and other places. That s really kind of a resource and strategy question. We d like to have it on more platforms. But the PC supports what we re trying to do the best right now, so that s where we start.
Strategy games are going through a renaissance, where a lot of people lay a lot of arguably complex games, such as Crusader Kings II. Do you still see strategy gamers as this small hardcore niche market, or is that growing and becoming a more substantial part of the market?
Well, we d certainly like to believe that it s growing. We re seeing that kind of growth, certainly, in the reception to things like Civ and XCOM. There s certainly a very avid and active strategy game audience out there. They re our bread and butter fans. We get a lot of encouragement and ideas and support from them. I think the growth is modest, but continual.
You have to convince people they like strategy. It seems a little daunting at first, when you hear about Civ. It takes 20 hours to play, and then you want to play again? Not everybody says that s what they re looking for. But once you get them to try it, they see how it works and what kind of fun it is. So I think we re gradually accumulating more and more strategy players. But when you look at the market as a whole, it s not the same kind of hit-driven or fad-driven market that you see with other things. The strategy market is pretty solid and steady. Facebook games kind of grew, and then they didn t grow. Certain styles and genres appear, and they re innovative and new and they catch on, but they might not have the depth that a strategy game has, and so they have a limited amount of appeal. Then they re exhausted.
There s good news and bad news with strategy gaming. It s pretty reliable. The audience is there for the long term. But you don t get these flashes of popularity that some of these other genres might experience.
What s the next big thing for strategy games? Is it something like getting lots of people together playing a strategy game at once? Is it more about accessibility, like getting on other platforms? Is it creating the biggest, most epic grand strategy game in the world?
We actually have a philosophy in terms of Civ that with every new feature we put in, we need to take something else out. We think it s reached the appropriate level of epicness and grandness, and going beyond that is going too far, in terms of complexity or length of play.
Back when I was young, we used to make flight simulators. They kept getting more and more complicated. The cockpit started taking over more and more of the screen, and what you saw outside got less and less. With every generation There were some great games, like the Falcon series. But with every generation, some people said, this is getting to be too much for me, I won t buy it anymore. Eventually it just out-complexified itself.
What we want to do is avoid that with Civ. We think we ve found a good balance of playability, depth and complexity. With Civ, we re actually deliberately keeping the complexity at the current level, because that seems to be what people enjoy. So I don t think the future is a super grand awesomely complex game. That s not something that we think makes sense for our players.
I think your idea of a multiplayer strategy game is really intriguing. If anything has changed over the last couple of years, it s the accessibility and the almost 24/7-ness of connectedness. We take it for granted these days, that our internet access is always there. Translating that into a game concept is probably one of the possible next big steps in gaming. Five years ago we had to go somewhere and sit down and push a button to turn off our normal life and go to a place to game. Today we have the tools to game with us every waking and sleeping moment. You ve got your phone or your tablet or something right there with you. So integrating that into a game idea is maybe something that s around the corner.
I think the other possibility for the future is this migration of casual gamers into more dedicated gamers and eventually into strategy gamers. We re seeing people move in that direction. We ve always seen that over time, but now there s probably a larger audience of casual gamers with iOS and things like that. It may be inevitable that they evolve to become more serious gamers.