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Three Moves Ahead Episode 136 – Franchises and Fumbles

September 29th, 2011 by Rob Zacny · 11 Comments · Podcast, Three Moves Ahead


Soren Johnson quits in a huff and leaves podcasting so he can try his hand at making games. But first, Soren, Rob, Julian, and Troy talk about franchises and how they develop, or don’t. Rob tries to make the case for considering Paradox-developed games as a single franchise, but Troy explains why that doesn’t work. Soren talks about the Civilization series, and why it has evolved the way it has. The panel considers franchise exploitation, and the Blizzard model.

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11 Comments so far ↓

  • Kalle

    Soren is a fine podcaster, it’s a shame he has to abandon his promising career to go back to his day job.

  • Jon Shafer

    Troy, you’re off the Christmas card list. That is all.


    (Enjoyed this episode and sorry to see the intern move on to other things!)

  • Tynan Sylvester

    Franchises don’t have to die, but I think it’s sometimes healthy for them to transmute. Switch out the game mechanics and keep the fictional universe.

    Star Wars is the ultimate example. That franchise covers basically every mechanics genre there is.

    StarCraft was going to have Ghost, Final Fantasy had Tactics (as did Fallout), Halo had Wars, and so on.

    I suppose the weird thing about franchises like Civ and Total War is that the franchise’s content is nearly all game-mechanical. They have no fictional universe, aside from the weird historical tropes they’ve inadvertently introduced over the years (e.g. Montezuma is a dick).

    So if the core of the franchise is a set of mechanics, what if we switched out the fiction instead? Is that a viable way of transmuting a franchise?

    I suppose in some sense SMAC already did this (as did Fall from Heaven and other mods). And I think those were healthy evolutions in the concept. Civilization: Mars, Civilization: Middle Earth, Civilization: Coruscant are pretty obvious places to take that.

    Anyways, that’s my ramble-on-a-ramble for the day. Great work gentlemen; I’ll miss Soren.

    Keep us updated on this board game event. I live in Boston, hint hint.

  • phunkee

    First you discuss if Paradox developed games are “one big franchise”, but when you come to Blizzard Warcraft and Starcraft is NOT considered the same franchise? StarCraft is a WC spin-off and certainly a part of the franchise just like SMAC is a part of the Civ-franchise. And while it took a long time between SC1 and SC2 the franchise was always kept alive with WC3, WoW and of course the e-sport community for SC.

    On Civ (a Civ-centered 3MA is never a bad thing!). It’s a bit pity that so little was said about CivRev and CivWorld since they make a great starting point for how franchises expand to reach broader audiences and new platforms.

    One of the most interesting chances in Civ5 for me when it comes to the future of the franchise is the fact that the tile management is hidden by default when you enter a city. This is strictly an interface issue and can be seen as completely minor and irrelevant. However tiles, and how you get their tile yields through cities is the core of the game. Now Firaxis have chosen to hide this core concept. That makes me wonder if it will survive. Because as you said, it also brings some huge restrictions on how you can design the rest of the game. I can really see how someone would want to come up with a new model.

    To me, the best sequel to Civ4 would have been “Civ4.5”. I never cared that Tropico4 was just a refined Tropico3, so what? It gives you a polished game rather than two flawed ones. For Civ5 a more evolutionary approach would have made even more sense since 2k was in need of money and forced a premature release. I’m having trouble to see why the Civ-franchise has to be so extremely progressive. They even ditched the Civ4-economy with the whole “specialists economy” thing. That was the biggest improvement to the franchise ever and one of the things that really gave Civ4 great depth. It really improved the game at a very basic level. Civ5 totally screwed up the economy in the series.

    It was said that with franchises such as Civ you “only got one chance every 4-5 year”. However, Firaxis launched Civ4:Colonization in 2008. So, a few years before Civ5 they released a game where they could have tried out how 1upt works in a cramped tile base game (or other ideas). It’s all about using the opportunities you got.

  • Enidigm

    Just FYI, but there WAS a Wing Commander Strategy game!

    It was called Wing Commander Armada.

    In a nutshell, it was Wing Commander on top of Star Control *1*. You captured systems in a 3d map, built fighters, and then piloted the fighters to attack the enemy fleet in a series of 1on1 duals ala Star Control.

  • CraigM

    Very interesting discussion today. There are a couple of things that really piqued my interest.

    One is the discussion on the one unit per tile (oupt) in Civ V. I thought this was a great idea, marred by AI. That said it really shone for me at times. I had a narrow border with France, with the ottomans sandwiching a 2 hex opening. I was allies with France, but doing a culture race, and had almost no military. Napoleon decides to attack. I quick buy a few units of archers and spearman (I was quite rich for this point) and move the rest of my army north to fortify my border city. The OUPT feature allowed me to stop a superior foe long enough for my superior economy and home defense to defeat his forces.

    In Civ IV he would have rolled up a stack of doom, and hit with his entire force at once. I would have been toast, not having the required 3-4 turns to stall at the gap.

    That said Soren is right about the small map size being a problem. In cramped quarters there is limited room for tactical maneuvers. That said granularising the map tiles for greater movement causes overflow in city management.

    Why not divorce the two? Keep the current hex size for city improvements, terrain detail, and production. Have a tactical tile size for military. Keep them linked, i.e. have the military grid be the hex grid, where the hexes are turned into 6 triangles for example. Play around with movement a bit to balance. There are obviously other things that would need tweaking, but it’s an idea that might help.

    The other cool thing you brought up is evolution vs revolution. I’m going to pull from a non strategy source, Nintendo. None of their new games are ever big revolutions. They are masters of taking a formula and refining it. Zelda games are consistently among my favorites, but they are also very set in a pattern. Thing is that’s what I want. Give me an adventure where I learn new tricks, get new tools, solve some puzzles, and defeat an evil overlord. Sure throw in new features and concepts, but you take out Link, Zelda, and the Master Sword and I’ll be unhappy.

    Did I care Civ IV didn’t have big new changes? Nope. Paradox? Nope. Take the Zerg out of Statcraft, fuggetaboutit. Point is, there are plenty of options. When I bought Shogun 2 it delivered exactly what I wanted. Real time tactical historical battles. Sure there were new little features, but little grand sweeping changes to the formula, and I couldn’t have been happier.

  • Tom Chick

    Hey, you guys chronoshifted the Achron podcast!

    And I’m totally going to steal Soren’s comment about Paradox being the Grateful Dead of strategy games. That was aces.

  • Tom Chick

    I’m also totally going to steal Rob’s “No one was really waiting for Duke Nukem. That’s like waiting for a funeral”.

  • Allen

    To Mr. Chick:

    Some rural Taiwanese funerals feature strippers on truck-based mobile stage and stripper pole.

  • MikeO

    The ‘waiting for a funeral line’ is gold.