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Combat in Civ 4 – Caudill speaks

August 24th, 2005 by Troy Goodfellow · 2 Comments · Uncategorized

Gamespot has an excellent interview with Firaxis’s Barry Caudill on some of the changes coming in Civilization IV. My own preview will be coming out in print in a few weeks, so I’ll save most of my comments until it is published and you’ve all had a chance to read it. For now, my opinions are still on the CGM dime.

One part of the interview did stand out as unusual. In a discussion of the new and improved combat model, Caudill said:

The main change is that we brought back a system similar to firepower from Civ II. That system was a bit too complex and many people struggled to understand it; so, like many other things in Civ IV, we decided to streamline the process.

How dumb do you have to be to find the combat system in Civilization “too complex”? In Civ II, units had hitpoints and firepower and the combat result was a function of those, taking into account fortification, terrain and veteran status. By and large, new tech beat old tech in most cases, so you didn’t have to be a math whiz to know that your archers would have some trouble taking out that musketeer fortified on a mountain. The manual even had a nice little example and a formula.

Have we gotten to the point where even casual strategy gamers want to know the precise odds before they take an action?

Apparently so. Civilization IV lets you know what the fortification bonus for your unit is. It lets you know what the odds of victory are. It lets you add +1 or +2 bonuses here and there to improve your chances.

Generally, openness is good in a game. Players shouldn’t stumble around wasting units because they don’t know what will happen. But Civ is one of the most intuitive games around. Even the much celebrated “phalanx beats battleship” experience was a once or twice a game thing – and no one made you attack that mountain phalanx. Generally, modern trumped ancient with some confusion in the middle stages.

Fortunately, Civ IV incorporates all this new information in a very user friendly and unobtrusive manner. But more on that later.


2 Comments so far ↓

  • Anonymous

    Good on Firaxis for making information available to players.

    The number of games I’ve played over the last five years where I did things because I was told to but didn’t understand, and couldn’t find out, precisely what I was doing has been astounding.

    To pull an example out of the air, Startopia. To this day, I have no precise knowledge what anything on the station did.

    Oh, sure, I can make a damned good guess that the health bar got replenished by the medical bay and so on, but what did the bar do?
    Probably it raised a “social contact” statistic of some sort, but I honestly couldn’t tell you at this moment whether there was one.

    In bigger stations, did you need a second security control? I have no idea.

    Okay, Startopia was certainly not the most demanding game in the world to understand, but to not have that information available in any form whatsoever is part of a worrying trend towards completely dumbed-down gaming where players just go with what looks good (or, as is the case with so many wargames these days, hit the game’s forums for suggestions as to what the hell we’re meant to be doing with one of any number of subspecies of spear-carrying troop).

    You mentioned not liking how the elephant had been turned into a historically inaccuate tank-type unit in a lot of games but with so many games these days barely giving you enough information to go with your gut instinct (and my instinct would be “oh, look, an elephant, I’m guessting that’ll be a big, grey thing that’s pretty heavy and hard to kill”), what else would you expect?

  • Troy Goodfellow

    Well, there was never a lot of secrecy in the Civ series. Attack, defense and movement stats were always available. But I can say that Firaxis has done an excellent job in Civ 4 of making everything you need to know available in one quick glance. Some of the print is pretty small, but it works. More on that later.

    But this is why interfaces are one of my big things. Despite my wargaming background, I have come to appreciate games that instantly let me know what is going on. Your points about Startopia are good ones. I’ll take instant information and a good interface over a 150 page manual anyday.

    Re the elephant power, I think you are absolutely right that it is an intuitive conclusion, likely encouraged by cartoons and childhood memories. Elephants look tough and when we see that they are fighting guys with sharpened sticks, why wouldn’t the big beast just trample them?