Civilization VI – How Will They Improve on the Previous Version?

Civilization V was released in 2010 and went on to be a big success story. The franchise has sold over 33 million units over the years with Civilization V being the best-selling version having sold around 8 million units sold worldwide.

And the gamer reviews for Civilization V were pretty good too. G5 gave it 5 out of 5. PC Gamer gave it 98 out of 100, and Game Informer 9.75 out of 10. And Civilization V took the ‘Best Strategy Game’ award at the 2011 BAFTA Games Awards.

That’s not to say there weren’t a few gripes with Civilization V though. One major quibble was the quality of the AI game opponents and their lack of smarts when conducting negotiations and diplomacy.

So how have Firaxis Games tried to improve on the success of Civilization V?

The latest version, Civilization VI, is due for release on October 21 2016. The same team that developed Civilization V have also worked on its successor. And it’s already been named ‘Best PC Game’ and ‘Best Strategy Game’ at the Game Critics Awards.

So what’s new? Well, the developers have suggested in various interviews that research found many gamers had come to find playing Civilization V one-dimensional.

The big aim with Civilization VI has been to create a game that makes gamers think on their feet a lot more. A more reactive experience is what the developers have tried to achieve.

And with that in mind they’ve made some big new changes for Civilization VI. For a start city development has been overhauled. Now when you’ve built a city centre you have to specialize the function of that city. It can become a specialist military, industry or science city, say – but it can’t contain elements of everything.

And that means terrain is much more important than in previous games. You have to think through and match up the function of your city with the landscape around it now for the best results. If you’re building an industrial city you’re going to need natural resources, for example.

That will impact on how you have to think about strategy too. There will cities that you’ll need to identify as being vitally important to your opponents’ infrastructure that you can attack, and cities that you’ll need to place extra emphasis on defending yourself.

The AI opponents have been upgraded too. So the historical figures like Gandhi and Teddy Roosevelt that you’re playing against will be more intelligent and cunning. Each has their own particular personality for you to read and monitor, but also hidden agendas that you’ll have to work hard to decipher.

And unlike in previous Civilization games there are much greater rewards to be had for developing the culture of your empire. In past versions of the game you will have found it much harder to succeed with an emphasis on cultural development compared to, say, science or your military. So for the first time developing drama, philosophy and poetry could be your route to victory.

The Top 5 Reasons We Love Retro Gaming

#5. Games Were Simpler Back In The Day

Video games have unquestionably become more ambitious and impressive in recent years. When you look at the likes of The Last Of Us, it’s impossible to overstate just how far video games have come since people were playing Pong forty-odd years ago. But for all the innovations within the medium, and for all the new fangled ideas and increasingly elaborate control schemes, there’s something to be said for how much more straight forward things were in the games we played as kids.

Gaming today can be difficult for people without the muscle memory that comes from years of dedicated gaming. Give your mum or dad a PS4 controller and if they’re anything like mine they’ll spend half the time playing the game looking down, attempting in vain to remember where all the buttons are. Use the left analog stick to walk, hold X to jog, or tap X to sprint. L2 is aim and R2 is shoot, but R1 becomes shoot if you’re driving because in a car R2 is the accelerator. R3 (that’s when you click in the right analog stick) let’s you look behind you, and to open the menu you need to hold down the touch pad. And that’s just part of the control scheme for Grand Theft Auto 5, one of the best selling games of all time.

Even for seasoned veterans the increasing complexity of games can become a turn off. Super Mario World is still as intuitive as it was back in 1990 because the inherently simple design and pick up and play nature of the game made it timeless. You can give a kid who’s never played a Mario game the controller and within seconds they’ll have worked out how to play. This simplicity is an attractive concept, which is almost certainly part of the reason that retro games like Shovel Knight and Axiom Verge are so popular today. The simpler a game is to play, the more inclusive and immediate the fun. Retro gaming has that in spades, and that’s the reason I’m still playing Super Mario World twenty-six years after release.

#4. Retro Games Have Better Music

As gaming production values have increased over the years, we’ve seen the medium change in many ways. We made the jump to 3D, we now have voice acting, and elaborate cut-scenes tell complicated stories that rival those seen in television or on the big screen. Games today feature fully orchestrated scores or soundtracks featuring popular music that are every bit as impressive as what we’d see in other mediums, but it feels like we’ve lost something along the way, too.

I can still hum the theme music to Treasure Island Dizzy on the Commodore 64. I was playing that game nearly thirty years ago and I haven’t played it since then (and I’ve still never beaten it, damn it) but I can still remember the theme music that plays in the background in its entirety. I played games last week and I couldn’t even tell you if they had music at all.

Because of the simplicity of early games, and without voice acting to tell a story, the music had to be good. Other than a few crummy sound effects, the music of the game was the only aural stimulation that the games provided. There are still great game soundtracks today, but they seem few and far between when compared to the games of my youth. Mega Man, Castlevania, the early Final Fantasy games, and iconic titles like Zelda, Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog – these all featured highly memorable tunes that stick with us long after the last time we played them. I still remember how the music for Commodore 64 classic Prince Clumsy changes when you save the princess at the end of the game like I was playing it yesterday. We can’t really say that about Shadow of Mordor, can we?

#3. Games Used to Work Right Out of the Box

One thing that games from yesteryear unquestionably did better than the games of today is that they, well, worked. You’d think that it should be a pretty fundamental aspect of any product released to the market, but it’s truly staggering how many games in 2016 ship broken, requiring either days or weeks of server tweaks to get the multiplayer working, or enormous day one patches to fix all of the bugs that made it onto the disc. Today, if you don’t have a decent Internet connection in your home, some games are genuinely unplayable, and many others severely hampered.

Street Fighter V released earlier this year, with Capcom promising that the single player Arcade Mode, a staple of the series, would be available to download in July. What if you don’t have an Internet connection? Well, then you’ve got half a game. That’s not a problem we faced when Street Fighter II released on the SNES in 1991. Back then, we had no Internet acting as a safety net for developers. Games had to work right out of the box.

Going back and playing Global Gladiators today is as simple as popping the cartridge into your Genesis and turning on the power. It works now as it did then; exactly as it should, and without any fuss. This is one of the many great things about retro gaming; if you’ve got the game and the hardware you’re pretty much good to go. You don’t need to download drivers, or updates, or patches. You put in the game, and then you play. Just like you should.

#2. Games Used to Be More of a Challenge

Today, anybody who keeps up to date with the latest trends in gaming will likely know of Dark Souls and Bloodborne, and the reputation these games have for punishing difficulty. Gamers flocked to the Souls series in droves, excited to play a title that challenged them and refused to hold their hands. There’s no extended tutorial sections. There’s little in the way of help. You can’t pause. And every enemy can make mincemeat out of you unless you learn their attack patterns and act accordingly. It’s exciting for a game to provide us with an uphill struggle like this, but then, I’m old enough to remember a time when every game was like this. And worse.

Modern games have a tendency to spell things out to the player, often to an almost insulting degree. Popping a disc into a PS4 in 2016 means waiting for the install, then the day one patch, and then when you finally get a controller in your hand you spend the next two hours being walked through the early stages of the game like a kid on his first day of school. Everybody likes a bit of help now and again, but there’s something to be said for just being thrown in at the deep end and being told to sink or swim.

#1. Nostalgia

Nostalgia might seem like a cop out answer; after all, looking back on the past with rose tinted spectacles is often what fans of anything retro are criticized with. It’s easy to dismiss nostalgia as a way of justifying the opinion that everything was just much better in your day, but the truth is that nostalgia is an immensely powerful agent and it shouldn’t be ignored.

Today, we watch rubbish movies and bemoan the use of obvious CGI, but we’ll happily sit through Raiders of the Lost Ark and not bother mentioning that the melting Nazi at the end looks like he’s made out of plasticine. We listen to the appalling pop music of our youths with a reflective smile on our faces while turning our noses up at Justin Bieber’s latest video. And we’ll talk about Final Fantasy VII as though it were second coming of Christ, completely ignoring all of the flaws in the game that we’d hang a modern game out to dry for. Nostalgia is a strong enough influence to make us believe that Sonic the Hedgehog was actually ever good. Now, that’s serious.

The reason a lot of us like playing old games is simply because of the feeling we get playing them. I’ve played hundreds, if not thousands of games in my time as a gamer. And I’m smart enough to know that in that time video games have improved in almost every way. But that doesn’t change the fact that if I load up Street Fighter II I remember the days of playing it during the school summer holidays with all my friends. I remember the day I completed Toejam and Earl with my brother every time I hear the first few bars of its ridiculously funky theme music. And I remember the giddy thrills we got when we first got the fatalities working on Mortal Kombat II.

Playing old games, just as with watching old movies or listening to old albums, transports us to a time in the past that we like to remember. Whether it’s memories of old friends, loved ones, people we may see every day or might have lost touch with, every old game we load up is a window to the past and that’s special. The latest Call of Duty is never going to compete with that.

Should Games Skip Cutscenes Altogether?

Videogames as a medium for storytelling have often taken cues from movies, and the clearest example of this is the use of cutscenes. Pac-Man is quite often said to be the first game that used cutscenes rather than transitioning directly from level to level with no intermission. After the player beats each stage, it would play a short vignette depicting simple scenes of Pac-Man and ghosts chasing each other.

Whilst these little scenes are quite obviously a long way from how modern cutscenes are used in games, the core concept is the same.

The game takes away control of the character from the player for a sequence to introduce some sort of new information. The duration of these sequences can vary widely – Konami’s Metal Gear Solid series is infamous for having lengthy cutscenes, with Metal Gear Solid 4 clocking it at more than eight hours of cutscenes – and can be used for a wide variety of purposes.

They are used to introduce characters, develop established ones, provide backstory, atmosphere, dialogue and more.

However, despite their ubiquity in modern big budget games, cutscenes are not necessarily the best way to tell a story in a game. There have been many highly acclaimed games that used few cutscenes, instead preferring to allow the player to control the character throughout the whole game.

Half-Life 2 by Valve Software is currently the all time highest scoring game for PC on review aggregation site Metacritic, and it only has one cutscene at each end. Control is rarely taken away from the player for more than a few moments – excepting an on rails sequence towards the end – and much of the background information that would be shown in a cutscene elsewhere is instead shown through scripted events or background details in the environment.

But are Half-Life 2’s unskippable, scripted sequences that different from cutscenes? After all, the player often cannot progress until other characters finish their assigned actions and dialogue – so why not just use traditional cutscenes and be done with it? To get truly unique experiences, we mustfirst look at what makes video gaming unique as a medium for storytelling. Unlike film, where the viewer has no control over the action, or traditional tabletop games, where players actions have very little in the way of visual outcomes, video games provide an unique opportunity to merge interactivity and storytelling. Games like Gone Home, Dear Esther and other games in the so called ‘walking simulator’ genre have been lauded as great examples of the sort of storytelling that can be unique to games.

However, to some gamers, these games are presenting an entirely different problem – although they rarely take control away from the player, they also offer very little in the way of gameplay themselves. Indeed, Dear Esther has no way the player can affect the world around them – the only action that can be taken is to walk along a predetermined path to the end of the game. There is no way to ‘lose,’ no interaction with the environment, just what amounts to a scenic tour with some overlaid narration. So, despite the lack of cutscenes in the game, the almost complete lack of player control and interaction in the first place means that there is little to differentiate it from an admittedly quite protracted cutscene.

As video games are currently exist, there seems to exist a sort of dichotomy between traditional storytelling and gameplay. For a game to tell a story to a player, there must be some degree of limitation in what the player can do – either a temporary one in the form of a cutscene or scripted sequence, or by limiting the players actions for the course of the game. Perhaps future games will be able to integrate a great deal of player interaction with compelling storytelling. But that won’t be accomplished by taking the players control away and forcing them to watch a short movie instead of letting them play the game.