Sid Meier's Civilization® IV

Roughly 145 singers from a California choir group called the Angel City Chorale performed "Baba Yetu," the main theme of Civilization 4, on a recent episode of America's Got Talent. The group's rendition was wonderful, and proved popular with the judges: it earned a golden buzzer from actress Olivia Munn, guaranteeing the group a spot in the next round of the competition. 

Composed by Christopher Tin and originally performed by South Africa's Soweto Gospel Choir, "Baba Yetu" was the first piece of video game music to win a Grammy award. It topped the category of Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists in 2011. For my money it's also one of Civilization's better themes, and I'd say the Angel City Chorale did it justice. You can compare it to the original version here: 

Thanks, Eurogamer

Sid Meier's Civilization® IV

Civilization 4 marked the start of a new generation of Civ games. It was the first in the series with a 3D engine, the first built from the ground-up as a multiplayer game, and the first with accessible modding. As game designer Soren Johnson told Fraser in November, he wanted to "start from scratch and re-evaluate everything" about the series up to that point. It's still worth playing today, and Twitch Prime subscribers can now do just that for free for a limited time.

All you have to do is head over to the game's Twitch page (or click the 'Prime Loot' icon next to your user name) to get your free copy—you'll need to download the Twitch desktop app to actually play it. You can do that here.

It's the latest in a long line of games that subscribers to the service, which is included with Amazon Prime, have received for free. Devil May Cry was on offer earlier this week, and other recent free games include Superhot and SteamWorld Heist.

Alongside free games, Twitch Prime subscribers get ad-free viewing, discounts on games sold through Amazon, in-game loot (like Overwatch crates), and emotes for Twitch chat. As I've said before, I don't think it's worth the cost of entry for Amazon Prime on its own, but it definitely sweetens the deal.

To link your Amazon Prime account with Twitch Prime, go here.

Sid Meier's Civilization® IV

This article was originally published in PC Gamer issue 311. For more quality articles about all things PC gaming, you can subscribe now in the UK and the US.  

Welcome to the history of Civilization, a series that has been keeping us up until silly o'clock in the morning  since the release of Sid Meier's original game in September 1991. Civ turns all of human history into a playground that you can exploit, turn by turn, to bring your chosen nation to glory. It's a fascinating series because it has been interpreted by a new lead designer in each iteration, including Alpha Centauri's Brian Reynolds, Mohawk Games' Soren Johnson, and of course Sid Meier himself. In the following pages we talk to all of them about how the series has evolved from Civilization through to Civilization VI.


"We were young, and we had no fear" 

In 1991, MicroProse launched Sid Meier’s Civilization, a game that would define turn-based strategy for over two decades, and give birth to a genre that eventually became known as 4X: eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate. You probably know someone who has been struck down by One More Turn Syndrome, shackled to their PC at 3am. Maybe it’s you. Meier had no idea what he was starting. 

Meier and Bruce Shelley had finished Railroad Tycoon and were looking for another project. They wanted to expand on some of the ideas behind their last game, and Meier had been intrigued by the exploration system found in Empire, the turn-based wargame. It started by giving players a limited view of the world, but that viewpoint gradually unfurled as the world was explored. 

“Railroad Tycoon had this sense of being a large-scale game,” Meier recalls. “But we were bold and wondered what’s a bigger, more epic thing we can do? Well, how about the history of civilisation? We were young, and we had no fear.” 

It was easier to be fearless then. “The expectations in terms of graphics and team size were different in those days. We did the first half of the work on Civ with just Bruce and I, so we could try things with less risk. It was definitely not something we knew was going to work, but it looked like it would be fun to try.”

While other strategy games were offering up cities or companies as playgrounds, Meier did worry that what they were creating was going to be too much. Too daunting. How do you make a game that spans human history? To start with, they said no to hexes, which wouldn’t make it into the series until Civilization V.

“One of the reasons we used squares for mapping was we thought hexes were too geeky. We went with squares to make things accessible.”

Making Civilization turn-based was an accessibility decision, too. Meier considered creating an RTS, but after testing it, he realised that it didn’t give players enough time to get to grips with its myriad systems. “Development is a journey in itself, and it could have easily gone in different directions. There were a number of things we considered that we didn’t end up doing. Real-time is one of them. I think it’s great to look at Age of Empires, for example, because that’s how the game would have probably progressed if we’d continued down that route.”

Despite being a game of conquest, there’s always been a thread of optimism running through the series, and it’s not an accident. It was part of MicroProse’s philosophy. It wasn’t all murder and land-grabbing. “It revolved around what’s the most fun. We were criticised for not including slavery in both Civ and Pirates, for instance, but those were decisions based on what makes a satisfying and pleasant experience for the players.” 

Everyone who’s played Civ knows that Montezuma’s a dick, and for each leader, there are personality traits attributed to them. But while later iterations emphasised that, those AI personalities were basic in the first game. “Players would read more into the game then what was there in some cases,” Meier laughs. 

Some leaders might be more aggressive than others, and they were affected by player interactions, but it wasn’t quite as elaborate as the stories told by players implied. It helps, Meier thinks, that each leader and civilisation was recognisable. Players knew what to expect.

“One of the reasons Civ was successful was it tapped into things you already knew. You can enter into this world which you already know. You might know Napoleon, and Gandhi has a clear personality; these are leaders who you’ve probably heard of and already associate a personality or feeling with.” 

That success wasn’t a given, though, and Meier only realised quite how special Civilization was after seeing other people playing it. “As other people played it in the company, we’d hear, ‘Just one more turn,’ and, ‘I can’t stop playing.’ Whether the world was ready for it or not, we weren’t sure, but as the game launched and we started to get feedback, it gained momentum. We sensed that something unique was happening. 

“Good thing we left room for five more iterations.”

Civilization 2

An empire built on word of mouth. 

Brian Reynolds remembers when Sid Meier gave him a copy of Civilization. “I played until 2am,” he admits. “It combined the city, units and ‘one more turn’ of Empire with the experience of Civilization the board game. Avalon Hill games were the gold standard, and I didn’t realise computer games could do that.” He was hooked. 

He’d been working on adventure games, trying to compete with Sierra, but it wasn’t working out and everyone was worried about their jobs. So he started developing a prototype—a game about discovery and exploration. He showed it to Meier, and a week later he’d been moved to a new department to commence work on what would become known as Colonization. 

Then SimCity 2000 came out. Its predecessor had been one of Civilization’s influences, but SimCity 2000 offered up proof that iterative sequels could work, inspiring MicroProse once again. At the same time, Reynolds was moving across the Atlantic with his wife. “I moved to North Yorkshire with a PC and a mandate to make a new game: Civilization 2000.” The three zeroes would eventually be sliced off.

In a new country, left to his own devices, Reynolds found himself tasked with an intimidating job. “Nobody had ever done a sequel to Civilisation or even another MicroProse game before. How do you make a sequel to a game that covered all of human history?” Luckily, he had a long list of desired features from players, who had taken to Usenet groups to tell MicroProse what they wanted to see. These ideas, coupled with Reynolds’ own, ran the gamut from alliances to handy notifications that your enemy had started work on one of the Wonders of the World. There was the all-new tech tree, as well, which had to be built from the ground up.

“It all started to feel really fresh, but for reasons you couldn’t always put your finger on. They were subtle. But the executives didn’t understand. They just thought it was Civ, but for Windows.” That didn’t mean the fact that it was being designed to run on Windows 95 wasn’t important. “We were perfectly placed with the launch of Windows 95 to be successful. It was probably the first triple-A game that could run on the operating system, and we really leaned into it.” This allowed Reynolds to play around with different screens, making the UI modular, taking advantage of the OS’s strengths. 

The original Civilization made it so that there was more than one way to win the game, but with Civ II, Reynolds wanted to double down on peaceful solutions. So there was the aforementioned alliance system, while peace treaties would force the other civilisation to remove its units from your areas. 

“We did a lot of work on diplomatic AI in Civilization II,” Reynolds stresses. “It actually quadrupled the amount of code we had to write.” These changes to diplomacy also served as the beginning of the national border system that would see use in future Civs, as well as Alpha Centauri, which Reynolds also designed. 

Despite this focus, conquest wasn’t forgotten. Indeed, it was dramatically enhanced, thanks to unit hit points. The result was considerably more tactical when compared to Civilization’s basic combat. It also made the era units were from matter more. Reynolds wanted to get rid of those moments where a phalanx could stand up to a battleship.

“It was a long journey, making it more tactical,” Reynolds recollects. Master of Magic was a source of inspiration, but he still didn’t find the combat to be much fun. “There was talk of Sid working on that side of the game, but it didn’t happen. I’d already coded the idea of hit points, getting ready for what I thought was coming, and Sid was like, ‘Yeah, my prototype isn’t as fun as that,’ so I carried on.” 

In 1993, MicroProse was sold to Spectrum Holobyte. There’d always been issues with the business side of MicroProse not understanding Civilization II. It was more invested in the multiplayer remake of the first game. This wasn’t helped by the fact that multiplayer wasn’t on the cards for the sequel. “I put a good amount of time into multiplayer logic for Civilisation II, but by 1995, there was no way we were going to get it in.” After the acquisition, things seemed to get worse. 

“When they took over, they didn’t have confidence in the game, so they did very little marketing for it. In the end, word of mouth saved it.” The publisher estimated poor sales. By the time Reynolds left the company, it had sold 2.5 million. “It established that Civ was the type of game that could support sequels. Civ III was definitely going to happen.”

Civilization III

The series returns home to its creators. 

With the unexpected success of Civilization II, another sequel was inevitable, though not before some litigation over naming rights and the launch of Activision’s Civilization: Call to Power series. After suits and countersuits, the licence eventually ended up with Hasbro, and by 2001 the company had been acquired by Infogrames. Firaxis, which was founded by Sid Meier, Brian Reynolds and Jeff Briggs in 1996, could finally work on the next game. 

And, once again, the question became: what could possibly be added to such a huge thing? “Sid and I used to joke with each other that after designing Civilization, what else could you do?” Jeff Briggs recollects. “The scope of the game spans all of human history from the agricultural revolution to the present, so we already had everything that any other game could have.” 

Luckily, Briggs had been thinking about a new version of Civilization ever since Civilization II had been released in 1996. A lot of the experimentation had already taken place in his head. It was also around that time that he started thinking in terms of thirds. One third the same, one third new and one third improved. This, he says, helped guide them through the experimentation. 

Civilization has a tradition of having a different lead designer for each entry in the series, but this started out as a coincidence. With the original Civilization, Meier felt he had poured everything into that game, so Brian Reynolds took over. The idea was for him to lead development on Civilization III, as well. “We originally planned for Brian to lead the development and design of Civ III, but he decided to start Big Huge Games instead and left Firaxis before development really got started. So I was left as the default designer—exciting and intimidating. Luckily, I had a list of features that I wanted to integrate into the game already.”

One of those features was civilisations that had unique hooks which went beyond aesthetics. In Colonization, which Briggs worked on with Reynolds, Meier and Doug Kaufman, each faction had a sort of starting ‘power’, and he wanted to tap into that. “I looked at the time in history that each of the civs had achieved some level of dominance and tried to identify units and capabilities that would signify that moment in their history. This meant that a civ would have a slight advantage during their historical prime time and shape the player’s strategy to some extent.” 

Briggs wanted to expand the game to include elements that weren’t 4X concerns. He considered civilisation as not just domination on a military and control basis. Thus, culture was introduced, making border expansion a function of shared cultural experiences. Systems for ‘Great People’ were also designed, along with works of art, music and architecture, but many of them would be dropped before development concluded due to resource and time constraints. What didn’t make it, however, found life in later games.

The constraints did mean that the multiplayer side of things wasn’t ready for launch, unfortunately. If they’d waited, the game would have been delayed by a year. But Briggs doesn’t recall any serious issues or obstacles that impeded development, and with the hiring of eventual Civilization IV designer Soren Johnson, more work could be done. 

He does wish he’d removed the corruption system, however, which created an obstacle when it came to making large empires with cities spread out across great distances. “Corruption and waste had been factors in Civ and in Civ II as well. I wish I had removed it from Civ III altogether. To be honest, I don’t recall it ever coming up during development as a problem. I think we all just accepted it as a part of the system and we were a little afraid to mess with it. Oops.”

While Civilization III proved to be one of the more divisive games among veteran players, it was another success for the series. Briggs thinks that there’s something fundamental about the franchise that keeps people coming back. 

“It is the go-to game for history-of- the-world games. Several others have tried to steal this mantle but they’ve usually tried to ‘improve it’ in ways that go against the simple elegance of Sid’s original turn-based seeding of future events system. Improving graphics, adding new systems, expanding the definition of the game to include more and more elements of human history—all of this has kept it fresh.”

Civilization IV

The next generation of Civilization.

After cutting his teeth on Civilization III, Soren Johnson became the next torchbearer. It was the first in a new generation of Civilizations, built with a new 3D engine, accessible modding and multiplayer. And when it came to deciding what shape it would take, Johnson wasn’t going to give any feature a free pass.

“One thing I had a strong conviction about was that we weren’t going to do anything by default,” Johnson explains. “We weren’t going to adopt anything from the previous games by default. It’s not necessarily the most high-minded concept, but it meant that I was going to start from scratch and re-evaluate everything.” 

He wanted to place the focus on the big picture, not the tiny details, removing things like corruption and introducing religion. From other games came ideas like unit upgrades. Johnson had played Alpha Centauri, and was inspired by the armoury system. The Civilization IV version is simpler, but keeps the essence, the important decisions and different paths. This philosophy is also echoed in how Johnson approached the development of civilisations. 

“I felt like the previous games didn’t offer a lot of interesting choices about how you could develop terrain and manage citizens. In previous games it was pretty sparse, basically mines and farms. I wanted people—I think this has become a theme for the way I make games, and you can see it in Offworld Trading Company—to have a reason to play differently each time they started a new game.”

The map became littered with resources that ranged from cotton to iron, luxury and strategic goods that could be harvested by placing the appropriate building on them. But many of these resources were locked behind era-specific technologies, meaning when and if the player got access was largely up to them.

For all the new features, Civilization IV’s most dramatic changes were broader in scope. “There were a lot of things that were really development and productionstyle innovations or priorities,” Johnson recalls. And that included multiplayer. “It’s no secret that Civ has had a problematic history with multiplayer. One of the defining features of Civ IV is we also built it, initially, as a multiplayer game, not as a singleplayer game. So we knew that every system worked in multiplayer. 

“We were playing multiplayer games during the first two or three months of development,” Johnson continues. “They were rudimentary, but you don’t really need a lot of mechanics to have a fun experience with other people. We actually made a lot of progress just by being able to base it off these play sessions we had every week. It was a revelation.” 

There was a 3D engine to play with as well—a first for the series. It represented a huge graphical leap, but while the upgrade was a welcome one, it was the enhanced legibility that made all the difference when it came to navigating the map. It was easier to understand what you were looking at, be it a city or a piece of terrain, and what was happening there. Accompanying this was a slight change in perspective, too. “

It was actually a big fight between me and the artists for how the grid system would work. The 3D system in Civ IV is like a chessboard. It’s straight ahead. Artists hated that. Even though it was 3D, they still wanted that diagonal board, and I’ve always felt that it makes the distance between tiles confusing. If you move two tiles east to west versus two tiles north to south, you literally move twice as far, so it really obfuscates how close things are on the map.”

The changes to the map weren’t kept in its successor, Civilization V, which made the move to hexes. Johnson’s a bit wistful about that. “We were a bit afraid of hexes at the time.” But many features developed or established in Civilization IV have continued through the last two games. 

“If none of this had happened, Civilization would still be a landmark title. If Civ II had flopped, Civ I would still be important. But I feel like the franchise begins with Civ IV because the blueprint for how to keep iterating sort of starts there. There’s a path that’s been followed by Civ V and Civ VI, in terms of the amount of stuff you add to the game, how you manage things and the expansion format.” 

Halfway through development, the game was dropped by its publisher and sold to Take-Two. Yet Johnson remained confident. “I saw so many things that I thought needed to be improved from Civ III.” That confidence paid off for the team, and Civilization IV went on to become a series favourite. It even managed to be the first game to win a Grammy, thanks to Christopher Tin’s stirring Baba Yetu theme.

Civilization V

Squares are dead! Long live hexes!

A storm was brewing at Firaxis, and it was undeniably hexshaped. Since 1991, the series had used square grids, while more and more 4X and wargames gravitated towards the sexy angles of the hexagon. As a fan of games like Panzer General, new lead designer Jon Shafer decided to introduce Civilization and its many adherents to the joy of hex. 

Development started in early 2007. Shafer was 21, and he wanted to do something different. “Civilization IV was such a good game, so we wanted to put a different spin on things. We acknowledged that it was going to be controversial, not everyone was going to like what we did, but we made a conscious effort to push things in a different direction.” 

What could be more controversial than killing squares? A lot of other things, it turns out. Surprising to Shafer, getting people to be open to it wasn’t all that difficult. He’d had the idea, and remembers suggesting it off the cuff, but never meant it seriously. Then, in a design meeting, someone else threw the idea out there. Sid Meier was there, and his opinion about hexes had changed over the years. He thought it was a good idea. So did the artists. And the engineers. 

It was easier to do since, like Civilization IV, the fifth iteration also used a new engine, built from scratch. It also allowed the art team to elevate the series’ aesthetic. “It broke a lot of boundaries in a lot of ways. It certainly had higher system requirements than some people were accustomed to with Civilization, but overall it was something that worked out in the end.”

In any other Civilization, the hexes might have been the headline attraction, but Schafer wasn’t joking about wanting to make big, potentially controversial changes. Stacks of doom were gone. No more could conquerors cram armies into a single tile. Instead, each unit needed its own tile, pushing things like unit placement and logistics to the forefront. It was one of the biggest changes to combat in the series’ long history. Shafer is unexpectedly ambivalent about it now. 

“The idea was to add more depth to the combat system. Lots of different systems had been tried, and none of them worked very well. But I don’t think the one-unit-per-tile system works very well, either, though it’s probably funny hearing me say that. It was an experiment, and it’s something that’s changed the series. A stack model is probably better, however; it’s more suited to a game of Civilization’s scope.” 

Despite this, the unstacking has continued in Civilization VI, and though he doesn’t think it works as well as it could, Shafer still believes that Civilization V’s combat is more interesting than it was in previous games. It gives more prominence to the map. You want to put archers on hills, hide warriors behind forests and generally pay more attention to the environment. And maps, I have learned, are one of Shafer’s passions. 

“There are very few designers who love maps as much as me. I want to put as much as I can on the map, utilise that map, utilise random maps, procedural generation,” Shafer starts to lose himself in a list of the map’s potential. He wants to use it to steer the game and highlight things that players might want to do, or explore, and in Civilization V, the result is a world that’s full of detail.

“This was something that was heavily emphasised and contributed by the art team. Our art lead, Dorian Newcomb, one of his bullet points on the art was ‘a living world’. That also fed into the design side because he was one of the first members of the team, and he said, ‘These are the pillars that we’re looking at on the art side.’ It made sense, so I thought maybe we could try to do more here.”

In hindsight, Shafer admits that there are some things he would do differently, and he has new ideas about how to bring strategy maps to life more, and what can be done with unit stacking. But he doesn’t dwell, and he certainly doesn’t regret the experiments and changes. 

“The only way I know how to do things is say, ‘What’s the craziest thing we can pull off here?’ Not everybody is going to like that approach. But there are plenty of Civ games, and there will be more in the future I’m sure, so people will have a chance to see many iterations.”

Civilization VI

Letting it all hang out.

As soon as work wrapped up on Civilization V’s final expansion, Brave New World, the design team had already moved onto Civilization VI. And with Ed Beach leading development on both, it’s not surprising that the pair share a lot of similarities, with the latter fleshing ideas introduced in the expansion and Civilization V’s other pieces of DLC. 

Ever since it appeared in the third game, culture has evolved into one of the key pillars of the Civilization series, and for Beach it was a priority in Brave New World, which saw the introduction of the tourism system. It became a priority once again in Civilization VI, culminating in a new progression system that put culture on the same level as science, complete with its own tree, but for civics rather than technology. 

“I’m a huge fan of world travel and spending time in other cultures,” Beach explains. “Every time I go to major European capitals, for example, all those opportunities to see the art that’s been collected, the museums, it’s a really interesting insight into what civilisations value and want to preserve. So I like to think about what that tells me about how civilisations should interact with each other, especially in the late game, when it’s not all about conquest.”  

This culture focus, and particularly the civics tree, greatly expanded how much you could do in the game without cracking skulls and smashing down city walls, but it also continued the philosophy of optimism and positive forward momentum that Meier espoused all the way back in the very first game. And as Beach notes, along with several of his fellow lead designers, you can still trace a lot back to the original Civilization, decades later.

Civilization VI was unusual in that, before development had even started, the team not only had a clear idea of several systems that they wanted to implement, they even knew that they worked. A great deal of the experimentation happened earlier in the process. You can see the origins of the district system, for instance, in 2010 with Civilization V’s Spain and Inca scenario pack, but placing buildings outside of cities was suggested as far back as the beginnings of the core game. 

“The earliest notion of unstacking cities was before the Civ V base game even shipped. We were wondering how the wonders were going to be visualised, and there was a push internally from a team to move them outside cities, making them seem powerful and magnificent. There were a number of people that tried to get Jon Shafer to do it, but I think he made the right call then. We had a lot on our plate already for Civ V, with the tactical combat and moving to one unit per tile.” 

It was an idea that wormed its way into the minds of Beach and his team, however, inspiring the occasional special building like the Incan terrace farms and the Polynesian statues, which needed to be constructed on specific tiles, such as mountains and coastlines, respectively. When Beach started work on Civilization VI, it was the first thing that the team got working. He now considers it the game’s groundbreaking achievement, transforming cities into these sprawling metropolises that expand across the land through specialised districts. 

“I’m a board game designer on the side,” Beach explains, “and there are a lot of board games that I like that are very focused on positional play and using or creating the map as you’re playing through it. That was the big stamp that we put on Civilisation VI, trying to make sure that you take advantage of the map, not just as this place you have to explore early in the game, but by putting your mark on the map, tile by tile. That’s why we unstacked the cities and included adjacency bonuses and districts.”

Unlike the other entries in this history of the series, Civilization VI isn’t finished yet. The game launched in 2016, and new civilisations and systemic changes are still being planned by Beach and his team. Religion, diplomacy and espionage will all be getting a new look before he’s done. 

“There are six of us who are working actively in either game design or AI development, and I remind the team all the time that this is a marathon and not a sprint,” Beach says. “I’ve only run one marathon myself, so I only have a little bit of an idea of what miles 15 or 16 of a marathon are like, but that’s where I feel we are now. We’ve still got quite a way to go.” 

But then Civilization is never really finished. Since the first game appeared way back in 1991, hardly any time has gone by where a new entry wasn’t being developed, or at the very least a prototype or piece of DLC. As familiar as it is, Civilization is always moving forward.

PC Gamer
The Eternal War 1

James ‘Lycerius’ Moore played a single game of Civilization II off and on for ten years, extending far into a dystopian future that he described as “a hellish nightmare of suffering and devastation”. The story caught fire, spreading from reddit to the specialist games press and national media before returning to reddit as /r/theeternalwar, where fans trade fiction, music, and art.

Last week, I spoke to James about his experience of the game, the rationale behind playing the same campaign for a decade, and what it’s like to have your cool gaming anecdote capture the imaginations of so many people. You can check out our previous coverage of The Eternal War here.

You said in your initial reddit post that the campaign is about ten years old?


Do you know exactly...?

It’s about nine and a half, something like that.

Presumably there must have come a point when you decided that you were just going to keep on going. How did that come about?

Well, I’d played the game far into the future, and there were some issues and I was just curious to see how long I could keep going. There’s this misconception that I’ve played the game non-stop for ten years, that’s not the case - I play it often, but over the years it’s every other day or so.

I play lots of games, do lots of other things, but this game - it just kinda kept going and going. I noticed that, over time, nations were swallowing up other nations and there were these environmental factors and it was just really fascinating to muse on where it was all going. I just wanted to see what the eventual endgame would be. It was for my own edification, I never imagined that so many people would take interest in it.

Was there something specific about the way this campaign went that allowed you to get into the kind of situation you got into?

I imagine that you could start up any Civ II game and do this. The thing is, Civ II was a little bit more balanced than the other games, and you’re able to prolong and enjoy the world around you a little bit more, and in a little bit more detail - for example later games don’t really have global warming. Well, they do, but it’s maybe a single tile that’ll turn to desert instead of four.

In Civ II, things like that had enormous consequences. All of the coasts would flood and farming would be useless, and it happened over and over again - it happened two or three times before I started questioning, well, what would it be like if this kept going on? Eventually all the world’s land - the mountains and tundra - became flooded swampland. It was really neat.

Image: m00nnsplit's 'Celtania Archives' newspaper.

You found yourself in a fascinating situation at the end.

It was just morbid curiosity, you know, and I think that’s why it was so popular with all these other organisations. I think people in general have this morbid curiosity about the world and where it’s going, and I think they saw this and just kind of latched on. You know, it’s by no means an accurate simulation of world affairs or anything like that, it’s just a game roughly based on such things, but I think it really captured a lot of people’s imaginations.

You ended up in a situation with the three superstates, and people immediately said “oh, it's 1984” - this Eternal War thing. How much of that basically came from the mechanics of Civ II?

Oh, almost all of it. As time goes on, in most Civ games - well, Civ II and Civ V, now, that I’ve noticed - over time, throughout history, larger countries will envelop smaller countries until there are a few remaining superpowers. That seems to be a pattern in Civ II and Civ V in my experience, so the longer you play the more likely that outcome is going to be. Whether or not that’s part of the game design - whether they had that in mind, I cannot say - but it’d be pretty neat if that was their intention.

You said that it only maps onto real politics to a very limited extent - but it really has captured people’s imaginations because they see, for example, the story you told about having to shut down democracy. That’s interesting in and of itself. Am I right in saying that the AI factions are both theocracies?

Yeah, I believe so - a fundamentalist type of government.

Would that have been a more practical decision for you as well, that you didn’t take for other reasons?

Some people had argued that that might be the best way to go, but the person that was able to complete it in 58 years was able to do so with the communist government. In fact, the communist government worked out very well for them.

What was the key in the end, to beating it?

A mixture of units - for example, the Howitzer unit. I was primarily throwing tanks at the situation, and people who had a bit more tactical depth as far as the game is concerned were able to amass armies that my economy... well, I was concerned about saving but they just spent the entire treasury on one big push and rebuilt from there.

It’s not a particularly optimistic message, is it?

Yeah, precisely. It really wasn’t my intention to conquer the world, necessarily, but it appeared that this was the only way that peace was going to be a realistic option. There was a glitch I believe when playing on newer operating systems that the AI became much more aggressive and I believe that was what was causing my issue with the Vikings. Because of that it seemed like the only possible solution was total conquest. Were I able to vent that then I would.

Image: GildedDuke's Civ V Eternal War scenario.

The reaction to it has clearly been way and beyond what you were expecting.

No kidding!

What was that like?

It blew my mind. It was only on reddit for two or three hours before I was getting all these calls, seeing it online - it was incredible, absolutely incredible.

People have really taken to it, creatively. Solving the puzzle is one thing - thinking “how do we fix this” - but the fiction and the art, what’s that been like?

It’s a very strange sort of vindication. I’ve been playing this game for ten years. This game was very important to me personally - it had this nostalgic, sentimental value because I’d been playing it for so long. I’d been playing this one game of Civ II since I was in high school and it just grew on me. I had this narrative in my mind about how this world went and I was really content for the longest time just seeing where went. Then to have this happen, to have so many people show interest in something I had so much value and so much time invested in - it just felt really good. It was a really good experience.

Have you played any of the Civ V scenarios people are putting together?

I have not yet. I’ve seen two so far, and I do plan to play them. That in its own right is also great, that someone will do something like that.

You said that you had your own sense of what that world was like.

Yeah, after a certain amount of years of playing this it, I was just like, “wow... I had to do away with democracy”. There were so many things that happened, I couldn’t help it.

Did you document it as you were going, or was it just in your head?

It was just in my head. It was like, well, yeah I’ll return to this cool game I’ve been playing for a while. I just kept on playing, I suppose, and I thought it was pretty neat and I’d share it with reddit - and wow, the response was incredible.

Do you feel like it belongs to that subreddit community now, or are you tempted to do something else with it yourself?

I’m really not sure, but I put it on reddit and people have created art out of it - that’s incredible, and it’s the community’s at that point.

When I play Civ, my civilisations are always modelled after how I would like the world to be. But I’ve also got friends who play these games mathematically. They’re not worried about the connotations of turning to fundamentalism, say.

I’m on the opposite end of that spectrum, I would argue.

In what regard - that you play mathematically?

No, I play... romantically, I suppose.

How much do you feel like you had to break down that romantic approach to Civ to keep surviving beyond a certain point?

I think that, in its own right, was somewhat romantic. The democracy that I’d strived for was becoming a liability and the best course of action was to switch to a communist state. My ultimate intention was to restore democracy when the war was won, but that was romantic and adds to the narrative of the whole thing. Tragically so.

Image: 'Neo-Viking Spec Op', by Gauntes

Turn-based grand strategy is having a bit of a resurgence at the moment. Civ V: Gods and Kings is doing very well, Endless Space is doing very well - do you think there’s untapped potential for narrative in that genre, given your experience?

I would certainly argue that there hasn’t been enough attention in grand strategy games, or at least the ones I’ve played - Civ, GalCiv. I haven’t played Endless Space, that’s the new one, isn’t it?

Yeah. They’ve got an interesting approach to narrative, where their factions are really asymmetrical. You can be regular space dudes, but you can also be omniscient amoeba people that can see the entire map the entire time.


Your Civ story reached the point it got to because of the hard balance of the game. Would imbalance ultimately break that, or does it create better stories?

I think it can go both ways, depending on your interpretation of it - for example, in Civ IV I played as the Holy Roman Empire, built the Apostolic Palace in my capital, was the Pope, was able to set policies to have different Christian countries vote on it. That was great, because I was playing the role of the Vatican and that was a wonderful game, I really enjoyed it even though I was probably the weakest militarily. Because of my influence in the dominant religion I was able to be quite successful. I think that’s a great example of imbalance working in my favour. I think Civ IV was really great for that.

When I’m talking about balance I’m talking about the mathematical balance of Civ II, where empires were so enormous at that stage of the game where each country has at least fifty cities and taking three or four cities is nothing. In Civ V, if you take three or four cities you’ve likely destroyed the enemy empire.

Is game design something you’re interested in taking further?

I’d love to take it further, certainly. It’s an art form, and ultimately that’s where my interests lie. My day job is as an insurance agent - dare to dream, right? So yeah I’d love to take it further, see what comes along.

You mentioned the roleplaying element of playing as the Holy Roly Empire in that Civ IV game...

Yeah, it was incredible. I have an enormous love of history - I’m an enormous history buff. Of course the Holy Roman Empire was neither Holy, nor Roman - but you could play as the Vatican in Civ IV and that was as close as I came.

That drive to - not recreate history, necessarily, but to re-enact certain parts of it - do you find that makes the experience more satisfying, to have certain elements that you know you’re doing ‘right’?

Yeah, absolutely. You’re following these historical tropes that seem to play out over the course of human history. When you see them repeated in the game, there’s a wonderful sense of accomplishment.

Image: infectedmanz's 'Celtania Propaganda'.

Do you think there’s anything developers could be doing to encourage that kind of creative engagement? It seems to be the thing that creates all the best stories.

Absolutely. In fact, I think there’s a lot they can do. I’ve really enjoyed what they’ve done with Civ V in bringing back religion and espionage. If they pursued that further, and implemented internal politics - I remember in GalCiv II, if you were a democracy you had to choose a political party, and there would be an element of internal politics which was incredible. Civ II had something like, if you took over the enemy capital there was a chance their nation could fracture into two opposing factions. There was also an interesting element like that in Civ IV where if you founded cities on another continent you could grant them independence and they’d become a colony - a vassal - of your empire. That was beautiful. If they reintroduced those elements - things like vassalship, colonisation - a little bit more complexity, perhaps, when it comes to running your empire.

I understand that they’re focused on conflict and making warfare as interesting as possible but things like inflation, interest rates once you’ve built a central bank - I can understand why that might put off some more casual players, I understand that completely, but I think it should be an option. You should be able to increase the complexity of the game.

I guess the deeper and more technical mechanical aspects of these games, despite sounding really dry, really enhance the game’s potential narrative depth.

I think it really does. There’s also things on the other end of the spectrum. Perhaps the game could write its own history. The war between Egypt and Arabia in, say, 1770AD - that could be recorded somewhere in the game for you to review, for it to somehow affect relations or policy in the future just as diplomacy between the West and the Middle East today is still marred by the Crusades - a thousand years later! I think that’d be really interesting. Keeping track, every game of Civ having its own timeline, it’s own story tell - just as real history has.

This kind of story is great for Civ and Firaxis. You can expect developers to be thinking, “how do we get this to happen, how do we get a guy to drop a story on to reddit that just blows up interest in the game.” The key to that seems to be including storytelling within the game itself - so it doesn’t need to be something that people only share on blogs and reddit. Making it something that the game keeps track of.

Yeah, exactly that. And if you go to there are people who have done this before, who have written stories based on individual games. If the game itself did that, and rewarded you for doing so, for creating this real history - I think it’d be incredible. The storytelling potential is just totally untapped in that regard.

Many thanks to James for his time, and a tip of the hat to the /r/theeternalwar community for their excellent work.
PC Gamer

Steam are throwing a Civilization sale this weekend. Civilization 5 is available for £17.99/$29.99 and the Civilization 4 complete pack is available for £3.75/$7.50. The Complete Pack comes with Civ 4's three expansions, including Beyond the Sword, Warlords, and Colinization, which is a massive slice of top strategy gaming at an excellent price. If you've always wanted give Civ a go, now's as good a time as any. The games are on sale on Steam now.

Recently, Civilization 4 became the first game to win Grammy with an award for its theme music. For more on Civilization, have a look at our pick of the ten best Civ 5 mods, and our guide to making your own maps.
PC Gamer

It’s surprisingly easy to play god in Civilization V. Creating a compelling and carefully balanced scenario can be almost as addictive as playing the game. The good news is, thanks to the slick world editor, making maps in Civilization V is surprisingly easy as well. You don’t need to know how to code, and you won’t need to sacrifice your firstborn to the cyber gods to create your first map. Follow these six easy steps and you could be playing Civilization on a planet of your own creation in no time at all.

1. Tools of the trade

First of all you’ll need to download the Civilization V world builder itself. Open up Steam and head to the ‘Tools’ section of your games library, find Sid Meier’s Civilization V SDK and install it. Once the small download has finished you can launch the SDK at any time straight from this menu.

On launching the SDK a pop up menu will offer you several options. Specialised editing tools for artists and modders can be found here, but the one we’re interested is the ‘WorldBuilder’. Select this and, once it’s loaded up, select ‘New Map’.
2. Brand new world

This is the first screen you’ll be confronted with when booting up the SDK. The two sliders at the top left represent the x and y axis of your map, use these to change the size of the world and then press the ‘Generate Blank Map’ button to see your resized map in the main view.

Now you have two options. You can take your naked, oceanic world forward into the main editor, and lovingly hand place every tile, or have the editor randomly generate some terrain for you to work from. To do this, use the drop down menu at the bottom left of the screen and select the type of world you want the editor to create. You can choose anything from ‘Archipelago’ to ‘Ice Age’. The drop down menus below will let you edit other aspects of your world, such as how old it is, the amount of rainfall and the sea level. Select the options you want and then press the grey ‘Generate with…’ icon to see what the SDK spits out. Once you’re happy with what you’ve got, press ‘Accept Map’ to head into the editor proper.
3. Mould the earth

This is where the magic happens. On this screen you’ll be able to fine tune every aspect of your map. The first thing we need to do now is create some terrain.

This part’s really fun. You can raise mountains, throw down jungles and sew rivers into the terrain by simply painting tiles onto the ocean. At the top right you’ll notice a series of tabs under the heading 'Map Editor Tools'. The fastest way to create your world is using the ‘paint’ tab. First, set the size and shape of your brush with the top two options, and then make sure the ‘Terrain’ pip is checked in the list of options below. In the drop down menu below ‘Terrain’ you’ll be able to select anything from grassland to mountains. Now simply paint your map into existence in the main view.

If you want to add rivers, go to the ‘River’ tab. Clicking this will turn your map into a horrible mess of blue dots. Click on the dots and link them up to add bubbling brooks into your world. To add ruins for players to discover, head to the ‘Plopper’ tab and select the ‘Improvements’ pip. The attached drop down menu will let you place special tiles such as encampments, ancient ruins and ready made mines in the world.
4. And then there was man

Good work. You’ve created a paradise. It’s a quiet and peaceful place that belongs to nature alone. There’s no war, or death, or squabbling politicians to trouble your idyllic new Eden. In other words, it’s boring. Let’s add some civilizations to the mix!

Look to the top of the screen and select the ‘Scenario Editor’ tab. This will let you set the general parameters of the game, including the speed of the game, the starting date and win conditions. At the bottom left of this window there’s a blank box with a ‘Players’ tab at the top. Hitting the small plus sign will add a nation to your scenario, and open up a series of options in the centre of the screen. These will let you tailor choose which nation you want to add, their policies, their starting relationship to other players on the map and even the technologies they start with.

I have decided to create a small single player scenario that will sandwich the player between two warring states. The first nation I’ve added is America. Here I’ve made sure that the ‘Playable’ tab is checked, and that the nation belongs to ‘Team 1’. Then I’ve added the two antagonists, the old foes England and France. To spice things up I’ve given them a series of military policies right off the bat, set them to belong to ‘Team 2’ and ‘Team 3’ respectively, and then made them hate each other using the diplomacy options on the right. To do this I selected ‘At war with’ from the diplomacy drop down menu, and then made sure ‘Team 2’ (England) was at war with ‘Team 3’ (France).

To place cities belonging these nations into your map, select the ‘Cities’ tab from the now familiar ‘Map Editor Tools’ section at the top right of the screen. Select the nationality of the city you want to place and then simply click a tile in the main view to plop down a city. Checking the ‘Edit’ pip in the ‘Cities’ tab will then let you rename the city, set its health, population and add additional buildings.
5. There’s Uranium in them hills

We’re nearly done, but there’s something very important missing from our map. Our civilizations won’t last long without resources. These are probably the most important element in creating a successful scenario. You can manipulate the nations in your scenario by giving them technologies and policy tendencies that will cause them to want one type of resource, then you can stick that resource somewhere dangerous or hard to get to encourage conflict, and add some strategic depth to your map.

If you want a straightforward, even scattering of resources to work from, select the ‘Misc’ tab in the Map Editor Tools, and then press ‘Scatter Resources’. You can press this a few times until you’re happy with the overall layout, and then customise the most precious resources from there.
6. Play your map

There's one final thing you need to do before you can dive into your creation. Exit WorldBuilder and start up the Civilization V SDK. This time, instead of the WorldBuilder, select ModBuddy. Once in Modbuddy, select File > New > Project, then select 'Map Pack' from the two options and press 'OK'. Enter the title of your mod and a description, if you eventually publish your mod, this is the part that players will see before deciding whether they want to download it. Finally click 'Add Map' and add your creation from the list. With this done, head to the taskbar at the top of the screen and select 'Build' and build your map pack. This should install your map in the Civ V directory. If you want to make any future alterations to your creation, be sure to rebuild it in ModBuddy.

Phew, with all that done all that's left is to boot up Civilization V and actually play your map. Select 'Mods' from the main menu, head to 'Single Player' choose your scenario from the list of installed maps. Make sure the scenario box is ticked if you want to play according to the rules you set up and you're away.

Congratulations, you have become a virtual deity! All that's left to do is play your map, fine tune your scenario and share your creation. If you're inspired to create more complex mods for Civilization V then check out this superb guide, put together by Civilization Fanatic community member, Kael. Even without Kael's huge manual, it's perfectly possible to create a brilliant scenario in about half an hour, using nothing more than Worldbuilder's paint tool and a few drop down menu. Happy mapping!

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