I got to speak with David McDonough, a co-lead designer of Civilization: Beyond Earth – Rising Tide about the game and to get more details than we got during our preview, which you can read here.
So, why the ocean?
It’s just a really great opportunity for a game about the future, a game that is sci-fi themed meant we could do stuff that no Civ game has done before. Settling in the sea was actually the expansion to Alpha Centauri so when we were looking at expansions for Beyond Earth, my first aim was to open up the oceans and settle on them, make them fully playable environments and now 100% of the planet’s surface is relevant. You can play a completely aquatic civ and you won’t be weaker or penalised playing against a land-based civ. We wanted it to look beautiful and add new aliens and I am a fan of naval combat so we added more ships and the water cities bring new strategies to the game. It just felt like a huge win to open up the seas and make them a part of the game.
I guess this also makes more players want to go naval instead of playing Pangaea-type maps?
It changes a lot of things on the maps. When you play archipelago you will think of it as a water map, not a map of tiny islands. Even a Pangaea map has a huge land mass but it has a giant ocean making it a big side versus side. All the old maps are reinvented by this and you can then have completely oceanic planets that look completely crazy.
Tech-wise, how far into the game will oceanic exploration open up?
Immediately. We designed it so that there are no artificial barriers to playing at sea. We have four new factions in the game, and we have only announced one, of the three left, two are completely aquatic factions that will planetfall at sea. You can also set a game mode where everyone starts at sea. As soon as you have the technology researched to build colonists you can just drive them off the shore into the ocean and found a city immediately. You get patrol boats right away, like you would get marines, and there is lots to unlock to make the city stronger.
Can you tell us more about the new biomes and the improvements to biomes?
The first biome we talked about was the primordial biome, which is a relatively young planet. It is volcanic and hot and the creatures are primitive and savage. We also revisited the original three biomes – the lush, fungal and arid – and made it that they aren’t just ways for the planet to look, they affect gameplay. The aliens will behave differently in the various biomes and the game will get slight modifiers based on the biome. For example an arid pangaea and a fungal pangaea will have different challenges, but not so different that you have to re-learn things, it is more like stuff that is easy in one is difficult in the other and vice versa.
Will I be able to load up a previous save game of mine in the expansion?
No. That is a hard line tech wise as the engine is different for working out how water moves and things like that. There are just too many changes for things to be back-ported. There will be a substantial patch for the expansion to work with the base game including bug fixes and balance changes. If you play your old save with that patch your game will improve thanks to the changes but to play it in the expansion unfortunately won’t work.
On a more technical side, what kind of performance cost will all that water and transparent surfaces with reflections do to the late-game?
The performance is still within spec of the base game and we even compared a new oceanic map to the old basegame benchmark map called Vulcan, which is an all land map covered in rich lands and forests and other things that would suck down your performance. So we benchmarked against that and the water terrain set is actually less detailed down at the engine level. We use a lot of trickery and effects to make it look really good. If you played an entirely oceanic planet it would be no harder on your system than a land world and a combination of both should be fine too.
Tell me more about the new artifact system?
So there are three types of artifacts. There are old Earth relics which are things that were sent out long ago, there are biological artifacts and then there are progenitor artifacts which come from the mysterious race that you contact in the Contact Victory. The artifacts are in different places, you will find old Earth artifacts in human settlements and biological artifacts in alien nests and so on. Depending on which types of artifacts you put together you will get different rewards, similar to the sets in Risk. You can consume an artifact immediately for gains, like a quick shot to your economy. If you save several up though you could get a unique ability or unique wonders that you can then build. These wonders are only unlocked through artifacts. You will never be hurting for a particular artifact to complete a set, it is more a case of “Have I found enough variety to get something really cool?” The sets are really easy to make and shouldn’t take very long to unlock something worthwhile.
Can you detail the diplomacy overhaul?
So we basically took the diplomacy in the game, which is heavily based on Civ 5’s diplomacy and we took it out and put in a new idea for what would be suitable to Beyond Earth. You now have a number of agendas that allow you to express your leader’s character by choosing these personality traits. It is similar to what you would find in an RPG with these adjective modifiers that express your identity and what your civ is good at. Having them makes you better at those things, like power buffs and they will also govern what other civs are going to get along with you. For example civs that have traits that are related to wealth and trading will get along well with each other while militartistic civs might not appreciate your ideals. This allows you to see what motivates and what drives the civs in your game and it gives you ideas of what to do to make friends with them by making them happy. The diplomacy system works through two primary drivers which we are called fear and respect. Everything you do can move on or both of these. A big strong military will make civs afraid of you, a really high culture and they will respect you. If you can get one or the other really high you can get another civ to do what you want. You can now trade power with other civs by exchanging diplomatic XP to get something that another civ is really good at in exchange for something you excel at. You can have a friendship of mutual benefit where your military friend will make all of your military units fight better or build cheaper in exchange for your cultural traits to make his culture better. The nuts and bolts trading of resources or yields are in the trade route system now. Diplomacy is all about power now and competing with the other civs on an identity basis. There are a lot of moving parts to this and we are going to have a big expose on this in the summer but basically diplomacy is about making your leader express what your civ is good at and reinforce that at the same time and using those traits to make civs clash. The leaders talk a lot more and they are a lot more expressive and they play more character-fully, meaning that diplomacy has a huge impact on the game you are playing, right from the beginning.
So, can I domesticate a siege worm?
You can. It is a Harmony affinity unique ability. You can domesticate smaller aliens relatively quickly it is one or two techs out and you need harmony level 3. Eventually at higher affinity and deeper in the tech web you get the ability to domesticate colossal aliens, which includes siege worms and kraken. The explorers are the units that do it and it is a dangerous move that is hard to do. You have to go out and wait and hunt them and harness them.