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Three Moves Ahead Episode 96: Shafer, Patches, Holiday Wishes

December 24th, 2010 by Troy Goodfellow · 10 Comments · Podcast, Three Moves Ahead


On the night before the day before Christmas, Troy and Rob and Julian sit down to talk about Jon Shafer leaving Firaxis, mega patches for turn based games Civ 5 and Elemental and then we wrap up with seasonal reflections including New Year’s resolutions for the podcast.

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10 Comments so far ↓

  • Josh

    Just listened to this podcast and thought it quite interesting. For a start Troy, it is good to see you jumping in there with your own thoughts and opinions – a lot of the TMA podcast I remember, you seemed to barely get an opinion in edgewise, but that has since changed.

    I have to agree with the panel regarding Civ V’s release timeframe. It was too soon. The Civ IV moddability, and by extension, the Civ community spoiled players with what could be done with Civ. There was always some new and interesting way to play. Even the base game under Beyond the Sword did a lot – while espionage sort of screwed the expansion, the leaders managed to bring a whole new experience with each game started up. And of course, leader personalities could be varied – Montezuma might actually be a pacifist in a game with random personality while Gandhi cackles with glee as he launches yet another nuke. Or then there is the ability in game to have unrestricted leaders – how would Isabella and her attribute play if given access to the Russian unique building and unit. And all the mods of course.

    Talk about a game spoiling the player base for choice.

    Of course, Civ V was going to be difficult to one up I reckon. I get the feeling that it changed too much within one iteration, the tree was shaken too hard, and so it wasn’t just good apples that fell to the ground, but a few rotten ones also, and subsequently packed into the game unknowingly. And considering some diehard Civ Fanatics were anti Civ IV when it was released (with Civ III being “teh best”), it isn’t suprising that the same thing happened with Civ V. Some people just don’t like change. Humans will be human after all.

    But for a guy like Jon to be given the task of leading a team into the development of such an important gaming franchise is amazing, the guy, from what I’ve noted online shows maturity beyond his years (the guy is my age for goodness sakes), and I hope he finds his feet with another game studio to continue to do some awesome work with as much creative freedom as he desires.

    I can not say I absolutely love Civ V, but some of the changes really make me happy. I love how the science is now handled, to allow smaller civilisations to thrive and keep pace with the big boys. Now there is no real need for an early land grab. Obviously, the military is the biggest change of the game, and I enjoy the way it works, even if the AI struggles a bit with those changes. But in Civ IV, I hated end game stages, where military battles would drag on, and the victor was whoever had the biggest stack at the end. Now, provided my system can still get there without the game crashing, wars in the end game are actually a lot of fun. If Firaxis overhaul diplomacy next to make actions more meaningful in the world, and less vague, then I think they will be well on their way to a more polished gem of a game.

  • Josh

    Oops, and sorry for the essay, got a little carried away there :(

  • Quinten

    Schafer should look into Ubisoft and making a Panzer General Online. I would go broke, but it would be awesome. There is a lot that could be done with the Panzer General license that hasn’t, and I think Schafer has some good ideas and years of design left in him.

  • skshrews

    I do think that Civilization V has been a disappointment to some degree. And, yes, the opinions of the “grognards” who adore Civ IV do matter, as this is still the predominance of the market the game has to appeal to to be successful.

    The problem is that Civ V comes across as “Civ IV minus”, without any real innovation. Lost is espionage, religion (yes, religion is part of history). Diplomacy is an inexplicable “black box”, despite the recent patch. Invade a city state in 400 BC, and your neighbors will remind you in 1920. “Friends” attack/denounce you without any explanation. It’s as if Canada attacked the USA without reason.

    The central premise of the game, that population growth is inevitably associated with “unhappiness”, is more a foisted game gimmick than a historical fact. There are many examples of societies that grew larger due to increased stability, health, economic growth, etc. Addressing unhappiness means a ceaseless production line of circuses, colosseums,theaters.

    My experience is the end game still, like Civ IV, degenerates into a swirling maelstrom of ceaseless warfare, always directed towards the human player.

    There is not enough new to make Civ V more approacheable to the “newbie” and there is less to make it interesting to the “grognard”

  • Rob Zacny

    Anytime you begin arguing the merits of weaknesses of a Civ game from the standpoint of history, you’re on shaky ground. Yeah, unhappiness is a foisted game gimmick. So is building a library to have “researchers” invent the wheel. The question is never whether Civ gets history right, but whether or not the ways it reimagines it make the game more interesting and rewarding.

    That said, the happiness thing drives me a little crazy. Civ definitely pressures players to run a small, tidy empire, and the costs of expansions generally outweigh the gains. That’s not how I like to play. But if you limit your ambitions, happiness isn’t a big problem at all, and you can usually turn it to your benefit. The interaction of policies, culture, and happiness can make for some great strategies and tough choices.

  • Troy


    Civ grognard opinions certainly matter, even if I disagree with them at times. This is a community that is highly invested in the series and has thought about it in great detail. Sulla’s rather cranky AARs, for example, posted out a lot of problems with the design and AI – though it’s arguable that anyone with his level of skill would find a lack of challenge in pretty much any design.

    Whether these opinions matter to 2k is another thing altogether. Despite the size and importance of the Civ community, for example, there were no community preview days – something that a lot of companies are doing now for titles that might need a push from the player base.

  • Ryusei

    I think a lot of the disappointment with Civ 5 is that unlike Civ 4, a lot of the broken stuff is out in the open. Making horseman to conquer a continent is easier for players to understand than maximizing whipping efficiency to produce maximum axemen/turn.

    As for Sulla, it’s a little hard to take his opinion seriously when a) He was hating on Civ 5 for months before it came out b) He never criticized Civ 4 for the same problems as Civ 5. I don’t imagine that Civ 4 would have been so popular if Cuban Isolationists had him wipe out the AIs before 900 AD.

  • Mauricio

    FYI… for some reason this episode is not showing up on iTunes right now. (I never had an issue with that before.)

  • Gunner

    Great episode and certainly one of my favorites! As Josh mentioned, it was so nice to have Troy come out of his host shell and really present some extended thoughts.

    One interesting observation about the happiness system in Civ 5 is that while it takes a big departure from previous titles in consuming happiness on a global level, happiness is still generated mostly on a local level. This means that having more cities should in general mean more overall happiness and therefore population for you to use. Furthermore, if you manage your empire right by taking social policies such as Meritocracy, getting the Forbidden Palace, and building Colosseums everywhere it is quite possible to reach a break even point where you can have as many 3-5 size cities as you’d like, each with a nearly neutral effect on your happiness. This type of arrangement has defensive benefits as you guys pointed out, but somewhat sacrifices your ability to get social policies.

    Just something to think about since you seemed pretty unanimous in supporting the idea that Civ5 strongly encourages the player to only have a small core of cities. I’d say it supports both styles of play, so it’s worth trying them both out to see which you enjoy more.

  • Shafer and Stardock

    […] experiences. Firaxis has a wealth of talent and a rich history beyond Civ to pillage. As we noted on the podcast a few weeks ago, it could be that they are stuck in an Ensemble situation where other projects are starved to keep […]