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Sid [Meier] didn t know he was inventing a genre back in 91 – if he had he might have been a lot more careful. He was just making it up as he went along.
That s how genres begin. By mistake. Somebody creates a set of rules and systems for the needs of a particular game, and then either people adopt and adapt those rules. Soren Johnson, creator of Offworld Trading Company and lead designer of Civilization IV, is working on a new game called Ten Crowns and after spending almost an hour talking with him at GDC, I get the impression he s going to be very careful indeed. Not cautious, because I expect some bold reinvention of 4X strategy fundamentals, but careful in his treatment of a genre that we both agree needs to escape its own past.
What do you reckon is the greatest threat to the future of humanity? Climate change? Nuclear war? A global epidemic? They re all causes for concern, but it s my belief that one of the greatest risks is actually posed by superintelligent AI.
You might need some convincing of that, which is why researchers at the University of Cambridge s Centre for the Study of Existential Risk have made a mod for Civilisation V that introduces potentially apocalyptic AI. Ignore the pressing need for AI safety research, and it s game over.
I tried it out last week, seeking to answer two questions. Does it accurately portray the risks involved with the development of a god-like being? And is it any fun?
Last month, the University of Cambridge s Centre for the Study of Existential Risk released a mod for Civ V that introduced superintelligent AI to the game – not in the form of AI opponents, but as a technology that can end the game for every player if it’s left unchecked. It’s a novel overhaul to the science system, as well as an attempt to teach people about AI safety.
While I had some problems with the mod, I also thought it was a fascinating idea. Keen to learn more, I spoke to project director Shahar Avin about how the mod came about, the issues that it presents both poorly and well, and how people can get involved with AI safety themselves.
I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down. That’s what I’ll be singing when I play Civilization VI‘s upcoming Rise and Fall expansion. There are loads of new features but the unifying theme is, as the title suggests, success, failure and recovery. That means dark ages that come with hardships but also bring about the possibility of a renaissance into a heroic age. All of that, and much more, is explained in the brand new video below.
In Civilization, civilization is a competition. Land and resources are limited, and even those nations that don’t expand through military might are attempting to climb to the top of the league table in other ways. Geography, technology, culture, religion, diplomacy they’re all, to some extent, weapons to be deployed, or at least arenas where an advantage can be gained. Culture and history are the clothes that Civ wears but it’s not really about building an empire or a nation, it’s about sharpening a knife.
The upcoming Rise and Fall expansion for Civ VI introduces several new playable nations, but the introduction of one civ has led to criticism from an unexpected source. Yesterday, Milton Tootoosis, an elected headman-councillor of the Poundmaker Cree Nation, spoke to CBC News about the inclusion of the Saskatchewan First Nation. He acknowledged excitement about the news and noted that historical chief, Poundmaker, is to be portrayed as working to build a bridge between settlers and First Nations . But he also voiced a fundamental concern about the portrayal: It perpetuates this myth that First Nations had similar values that the colonial culture has, and that is one of conquering other peoples and accessing their land. It’s a concern that cuts to the heart of what Civilization has always been and – I hope – to what it could become.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge’s Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (an actual real institution) have released a Civilization V mod exploring the hot new apocalypse everyone’s talking about: unchecked AI casually wiping out humanity in the name of efficiency. If you’ve already clicked through the universe as a single-minded AI in Frank Lantz’s ace Paperclips, you might fancy this mod. Trapping a brilliant mind in a metal box does also have its benefits, you know. (more…)
Another year over, a new one just begun, which means, impossibly, even more games.> But what about last year? Which were the games that most people were buying and, more importantly, playing? As is now something of a tradition, Valve have let slip a big ol’ breakdown of the most successful titles released on Steam over the past twelve months.
Below is the full, hundred-strong roster, complete with links to our coverage if you want to find out more about any of the games, or simply to marvel at how much seemed to happen in the space of 52 short weeks.
Jon Shafer, the lead designer of Firaxis’s Civilization V and his own strategy game At the Gates, is gone from strategy specialists Paradox only six months after joining. Paradox say neither that he ditched the company nor that they fired him, rather that they have all “decided to part ways due to creative differences.” How enigmatic! We didn’t even know what he was working on. (more…)
Jon Shafer was 21 years old when he became lead designer of Civilization V. Now working at Paradox on an unannounced project and on his own historical strategy game At The Gates in his spare time, he says he’s learning from the likes of Spelunky along with the more obvious strategic influences. We spoke about how the second half of every Civ sucks, the part the series played in his life, the perils of boredom in strategy design, how much we love maps, and what the future holds for both Shafer and Paradox.
I began by asking how he ended up sitting at the Paradox Convention, in Stockholm, the city that has now been his home for two weeks: “It’s quite a long story, actually.”
That story begins in Denver, around 2003.
Video games always come with an expectation that the player will suspend disbelief to some extent. Genetically engineered super-soldier clones don t exist, radiation has never and will never work like that, and overweight Italian plumbers could never make that jump. In most cases, if we are unwilling or unable to suspend our disbelief, we may well struggle to enjoy the game and our questioning of the basics of its reality would probably make us insufferable to be around.
There are some games however, where the realities of our world are key to enjoying the game. These are the builders like City Skylines, simulators and sports games like Prison Architect and FIFA, and even crime games like Grand Theft Auto. One genre has a particular problem when it comes to maintaining a foot in the real world yet still creating a setting where one can have fun without becoming mired in morally questionable events and choices: historically based games. And among historical games, few subjects are as complex to represent as slavery. Many have tried, from Europa Universalis IV and Victoria II to Civilization and Assassin’s Creed: Freedom Cry, and in this article I’ll investigate the portrayal and use of slavery in these games and more to explore what they get right, what they get wrong, and how games could do better in future.