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Feb 14, 2013
Jon Shafer, designer of Civilization V, has successfully funded his upcoming At the Gates on Kickstarter with 22 days to spare. Today, in an update on the Kickstarter page, he took a long and merciless look into the mirror of self-criticism, admitting what he perceives as mistakes in the design of Civ 5 that he hopes to make up for in this new project. Everything from AI programming to unit stacking is dissected.
One particular element of Civ 5 he singled out was the AI design, and the way that many of the computer-controlled leaders would behave somewhat randomly. He pins this on a very complex diplomacy system with lots of moving parts, that often didn't present any kind of outward logic to the player. "The only thing which matters in a game is the experience inside the player's head," he wrote. "It doesn't matter what your intentions are or what's going on under the hood if the end result just isn't fun.
"With I'm staying completely focused on the end goal: results. This means a much simpler AI system, which in turn will result in a much stronger opponent. When you as the developer know exactly what an AI player is doing and why, it becomes much easier to recognize bad behavior and fix it."
He was also very critical of his decision to institute the One Unit Per Tile rule, explaining that it caused issues with everything from AI to production times.
"In Civ 5, every unit needed its own tile, and that meant the map filled up pretty quickly. To address this, I slowed the rate of production, which in turn led to more waiting around for buckets to fill up. For pacing reasons, in the early game I might have wanted players to be training new units every 4 turns. But this was impossible, because the map would have then become covered in Warriors by the end of the classical era. And once the map fills up too much, even warfare stops being fun.
"...The key is the map. Is there enough of room to stash units freely and slide them around each other? If so, then yes, you can do it. For this to be possible, I'd think you would have to increase the maximum map size by at least four times. You'd probably also want to alter the map generation logic to make bottlenecks larger and less common."
If you're in the mood for a long read, you can check out the full essay, which goes through just about every design element in Civ 5 and puts it under the microscope, offering solutions to his perceived problems that will be used in At the Gates. In case you missed it, you should also peruse our interview with Jon about the game.
If you've been holding off on buying Civilization V in the hopes of snagging all of the released content in one package, your day has finally arrived. Civilization V: Gold Edition includes the Gods & Kings expansion, along with all of the map, civilization, and scenario packs for $50. That's $10 cheaper than buying just the base game and the expansion separately on Steam. Of course, this won't be the complete collection for long if the rumors about the upcoming One World expansion are true. But it's still enough content to keep you busy for a while. (180 hours, in my case.)
Compared to vanilla Civ V, you'll be getting Korea, Spain, the Incas, Denmark, Babylon, Polynesia, the Celts, the Netherlands, the Mayans, Carthage, Byzantium, the Huns, Austria, Ethiopia, and Sweden. Not to mention some pretty cool scenarios, including my personal favorite, Fall of Rome. If you'd like to see Gods & Kings in action, check out my Civilization V Chronicles, our review of the expansion, and the Steam demo.
Product Release - Valve
Civilization V designer Jon Shafer has come down from the mountains, into our frozen world, to reveal At the Gates. To develop it, Shafer's new studio, Conifer Games, is asking for $40,000 in funding on Kickstarter. Check out the video above for an overview of the game, then dive into some finer details in our interview with Shafer below.
PC Gamer: I noticed you have unit stacking implemented right now. This was famously absent from Civ V, and personally, I was one of the people that really loved the more tactical warfare that model allowed. What was the reasoning behind bringing unit stacking back for At the Gates?
"Think of it as a well-developed game of chess..."
Jon Shafer: The focus with warfare in At the Gates is supply. Every tile has a supply rating which is based on the type of terrain and whether or not it’s within supply range of one of your settlements or supply camps. Timing when your invasions take place is critical, and success usually comes down to holding out or cutting off the enemy’s supply, rather than building a front line (a'la Civ 5) or who has the biggest stack of units (a'la other 4X games). Think of it as a well-developed game of chess where each side is waiting for the other to provide an opening, and once one is exploited resolution comes fairly quickly.
One of the big reasons why I went this direction is to really play up the new seasons system. The weather had a huge impact on the way wars were fought, and I wanted to make sure combat took advantage of not just the mechanics in the game, but also had a nice tie-in to history.
Your tribe captured a stronghold at one point in the video. What benefits do these give you, and how do they differ from settlements and cities?
To be perfectly honest, I’m not really sure yet! They may turn into normal settlements at that point, they might just serve as trophies for your victory, or they could have some unique effect. Something I still have to figure out!
"I really wanted the economy to be much more strategic."
Is it possible to build new settlements (both mobile and immobile?)
It is. The Pioneer unit is able to build new settlements.
Can settlements "settle down" and become cities?
There will be ways for them to become fixed—for example, if you build walls. There will also be Romanization Perks that give you a bonus, but come with the drawback of your settlements becoming fixed to where they are. Roman cities are also obviously cannot move.
Do you need to stay in proximity to an improvement to benefit from it? Or can you gain resources from as many as you can defend?
The latter. The role of settlements is more limited than in other 4X games, in that they produce a small amount of wealth, serve as supply nodes and are able to build new units. But you’re not going to be managing what tiles they’re working or anything like that. I really wanted the economy to be much more strategic. There’s a nice tension where you have to decide between moving on to new lands and protecting what you still have.
Does winter have an effect on the outcome of combat, beyond limiting supply?
The primary effect is definitely supply, but the changing of the terrain also affects defensive bonuses, movement costs, etc.
What are the benefits of holding a city (as opposed to strongholds and settlements)?
Roman cities produce quite a bit more wealth via taxes, and they’re also eventually able to build special types of units that you can’t from your plain ol’ settlements.
Is it possible to build your own roads eventually? What benefits do roads offer?
Nope, no roads for you. The roads on the map are fixed from the start. They provide a movement bonus, as in other 4X games, but that’s pretty much it.
What years are covered by the game?
The game starts in 375 AD, and will definitely wrap up within a hundred years. The specific dates and number of turns is still up in the air, as that will be determined by gameplay.
Something else I should note is that the turns in ATG are much more “dense” than in other 4X games. You have the seasons to consider, depleting resources to manage, diplomatic requests to watch for, etc. Production for most items is immediate, so you won’t be hammering the end turn ten times in order to finish things. You really want to be paying attention at all times!
Can you tell us anything about the other playable leaders besides Attila?
The final list hasn't been nailed down yet, but the goal is to make them very distinctive from one another. Everyone has an idea of Attila in their head, but this is obviously a period of history that few people are really familiar with. That’s great in a sense because it gives us some room to play around with ways of differentiating them, but it also necessitates that in a way, as Fritigern is a whole lot less well-known than, say, Julius Caesar.
Do specific tribes have special abilities, such as North Germanic bands being more equipped for harsh winters?
Absolutely. This ties heavily into the idea of each faction being very unique. As you noted, some tribes will be able to deal with the harsher seasons better. For the Huns I’m considering something very different, where they can’t actually own any fixed improvements or cities, and can only acquire resources by moving around and pillaging. Still have to playtest it to make sure it actually works, but it sure sounds like fun!
"I didn't feel that a heavy emphasis on 'city' development would really make sense in this era."
How many climate zones are there?
At the moment there are seven ... I’ll probably make the system more granular later when I have more time.
Does population play a role in the game?
It’s required when training new units, and they provide wealth each turn but that’s about it. As noted above, I really wanted the focus economically to be on your empire rather than specific locations. I didn't feel that a heavy emphasis on “city” development would really make sense in this era.
How many religions are in the game? Do they have any effects beyond diplomacy modifiers?
Just three: Nicene Christianity, Arian Christianity, and Paganism. Their effects are limited to diplomacy, so there’s no missionaries, conversion system, etc. Religion certainly played a large role in this era, but it was mostly as a diplomatic and political tool. I didn't want to burden the game with a complex system when I felt I could get exactly what I wanted from it by keeping it as a fairly simple but still powerful diplomatic knob.
Can you make requests of other tribes, or manipulate them to fighting each other/your enemies?
The specific requests system showed in the video is limited to the AI players, but there are definitely ways to ask them for favors, alliances, etc. though, and their willingness is very much tied to your relations. Finding ways to get that number up is a big part of the diplomatic game.
How close is the art in the game right now to the final version?
The plan is for the game to be released in the first half of 2014 and most of the art development time is still in front of us, so I would expect it to change a fair bit. I couldn't say how exactly, as that will ultimately come out of the iterative process. One major difference is that the units and landscape will be animated, whereas right now they're obviously all static images.
How large is the map, in comparison to the total area shown at the end of the demo?
The video showed the entire map used in that game, but you’ll be able to play on ones that are much larger if you’d like. Don’t know what the exact dimensions will be yet, but it will be at least four times as big as what you saw there.
Is it possible to subjugate other tribes?
That’s still up in the air. I certainly like the idea of it, but I have yet to come up with a design that I’m happy with. The trick is for it to be more useful than just conquering the tribe and running it yourself!
What does the Glory resource do?
Glory is basically your score. In order to win you have to have at least 500 Glory and capture either Rome or Constantinople. Not sure if that will remain that way in the final version of the game, but that’s how it works right now at least!
Thanks to Jon for taking time out of coding and pillaging to speak with us. There's a bit more info available on the At the Gates official site.
Shacknews - John Keefer
Civilization 5 lead designer Jon Shafer has kickstarted a new 4X turn-based strategy game called Jon Shafer's At the Gates, coming from his new three-person indie studio, Conifer Games. The game is about half-way complete already and he is looking for a modest $40,000 target to get it officially off the ground.
"The core aspects of the game are all in-place, but a lot of the peripheral, more 'boring' work still needs to be done," he told Shacknews. "Things like sound effects and hotkey systems. We also want to polish up the art and add nice 2D animations for all the units and the landscape. The gameplay also needs iteration time. The features are in but the game hasn't had much playtesting, and I'm sure it's not very much fun to play at this rough stage! Thereâs also a lot of AI work still left to do."
Shafer has already taken a cue from the Sid Meier school of game naming. "Making games is a tough business, especially as an indie," he said. "You really have to take advantage of every possible opportunity to spread the word about what you're up to. I was very fortunate to have been chosen as the lead for one of the biggest strategy titles of the past decade. As a result there are a few people who actually recognize my name. If putting that in the title will help increase the chance that the game succeeds. As a brand-new businessman I have to take advantage of that. Though, yes, I do feel a little bit dirty about it."
At the Gates lets the player take on the role of a barbarian tribe battling the Roman Empire in its waning days. It may look a bit like a Civ game, he said the differences run deep.
"The fact that the game transforms as you play is a huge difference," Shafer said. "The effects of the seasons means that you have to be more flexible and plan ahead more. Sending an army off in the winter without making sufficient preparations is a death wish. And if you don't have enough food saved up your people will starve. Much of the time in a Civ game you can pretty much just play on autopilot. Hitting the end turn 10 times in a row might not make much of a difference. Well, in ATG that would be a really, really bad idea."
When seasons change, rivers will swell, farms stop producing food in winter, and coastal areas can turn to ice. Shafer said the game's resources will deplete over time, so you can't sit back and hunker down waiting for the enemy to come to you. You will need to continue to explore, meet new leaders and be diplomatic.
"The main way of building relations is through completing requests, and these requests are all situational," he said. "You can't just give another leader some food and expect them to like you. Just imagine how that sort of thing would go over with someone you've just met. But if that same person is starving to death and you give them a meal the context and effects are completely different. That's the idea behind diplomacy in ATG."
Shafer said that there is a possibility of modding for the game as well. "We've been thinking about XML modding, a map editor and even releasing some source code for the game, but it all takes work. Honestly it depends on how the Kickstarter campaign does. ... We'd really like to flesh out the modding side, as well as add more factions and gameplay options. If the campaign does really well, we might even look at crazy stuff like making the Roman factions playable."
With the modest crowdfunding goal, Shafer is optimistic. "Our scope is tight. We don't have a complex, expensive 3D engine, nor are we including multiplayer. We know what we want from the game and there's very little risk," he said. "One of my goals with ATG is to really mix things up with the 4X genre. I feel that there hasn't been a lot of innovation in that space during the past decade, and I'm hoping that ATG shows that there's still a lot of meat that we haven't yet gotten to. I strongly feel that the 4X genre has been underserved and people really want more of these types of games. The fans are a passionate group, and I think they'll be really excited by ATG."
Jan 28, 2013
On the cusp of an open multiplayer beta for Crytek's maximally lustrous Crysis 3, Nvidia released an early version of its GeForce 313.95 drivers today. The GPU giant claims the drivers boost SLI performance for Crysis 3 by up to 35 percent in addition to other "sizeable SLI and single-GPU performance gains" in games such as Assassin's Creed III and Far Cry 3.
Nvidia says users should expect a 27 percent gain in graphics performance while playing Assassin's Creed III, 19 percent in Civilization V, and 14 percent for both Call of Duty: Black Ops II and DiRT 3. Just Cause 2 improves by 11 percent, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, F1 2012, and Far Cry 3 all improve by 10 percent.
Demonstrating its mastery over orderly green bars, Nvidia also supplied benchmark charts for these games using four of its most recent cards: the GTX 650, 660 Ti, 680, and 690. With the 313.95 drivers, the company declares GTX 690 users can max out all settings in Crysis 3 and still achieve 60 FPS.
Grab the new drivers and check out the charts at Nvidia's website. Also try out the GeForce Experience—which we've talked about at length—to automatically optimize and configure your games based on your PC's hardware.
Jan 16, 2013
Shacknews - Steve Watts
Civilization V may be getting another large chunk of content. A listing for an expansion titled "One World" has been spotted on a database, fueling rumors of more content to come for the world culture simulator.
The executable file listing was spotted on the Steam Apps Database, and then spotted by users on the 2K forums (via Joystiq). This is far from a solid confirmation, especially as Firaxis hasn't mentioned any upcoming content, but it does give eager world-conquerors reason to hope for some more variation coming to the game--as if it didn't have enough already. 2K has responded with the usual "we do not comment on rumors or speculation" line.
Civilization V might be getting a second expansion at some point in the future. According to the Steam Apps Database - a website that trawls Steam's huge library - an entry exists for an expansion called "One World". This was spotted by a user of the 2K forums, who was presumably inspired by the addition of spies in Civ 5's last expansion, Gods & Kings.
While potentially exciting news for Civ fans, it's worth remembering that the Steam database isn't an exact science, and a content listing isn't a guarantee of release. Still, more Civ 5 content is hardly outside the realm of possibility. While Gods & Kings had some great additions, it wasn't an all-changing shift in how the game played out.
One World doesn't give many hints as to the possible direction of an expansion. Civ fans are speculating that it may refer to colonies, corporations, or enhanced economy and diplomacy options. Let's be honest though, at this point they're just throwing their wishlist at the wall and hoping that something sticks.
2K have responded to GameSpy's enquiries with the stock "we do not comment on rumors or speculation" line.
Dec 17, 2012
Lambent Stew's free, web-based Steam Time Analysis tool laid bare my backlog of shame by breaking down time spent (or not spent) on each of my library's games like some sort of cold, ruthless PowerPoint presentation. The breadth of information provided is quite impressive. Over email, Stew told us the new build includes a few new features that further visualize users' habits.
You're now be able to compare your profile with those on your friends list for games owned, how many were played, and total hours played. (Our own Executive Editor Evan Lahti only played around 16 percent of his over 1300-game stable, the lazy bum.)
Similar to another homebrewed utility, a new worth calculator also provides combined figures for minimum, maximum, and current game prices in your library. Locating your own profile should be easier with improved search: just type in your Steam profile ID, and the tool should easily zero in on your data.
Check out the tool for yourself on Lambent Stew's website. How do you rank against your friends? What's your most-played game?
Combating Thanksgiving food comas with the awe-inspiring power of the gaming binge, over 6 million gamers logged into Valve's digi-hub over the weekend after enduring the motions of spending "time" with "family." Undoubtedly spurred on by the Autumn Sale and its many wallet puns, the surge also rode the waves of numerous major releases such as PlanetSide 2, Assassin's Creed 3, and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.
The ballooned player count peaked around 11:00 a.m. PST Sunday with 6,045,912 users logged on, Kotaku noticed. Notice that's concurrent logins, not active game sessions—while games define the vanguard of Steam's excellence, the chart gathers numbers from simply having the program launched and running. That's where the always-handy Steam Graph service steps in with more numbers for your numbers.
Plugging in a few top releases into Steam Graph for the Thanksgiving weekend shows a fair spread across PC gaming's most popular genres. Dota 2's un-beta boasted a little over 170,000 simultaneous players on late Saturday, while soccer-sim Football Manager 2013's surprising strength topped at around 60,000. On Sunday night Black Ops 2 spiked at 51,000 soldiers, and PlanetSide 2's fight for Auraxia swelled to 30,000 Steam conscripts last night. Lastly, as many as 15,000 stone-faced killers were concurrently shoving sharp metal objects into various people in Assassin's Creed 3.
Conclusion? I'm really tired of turkey sandwiches, but Steam's powerful presence on the PC only increases with each passing year.