Massively Exclusive: Jake Song introduces Civilization Online

MJ Guthrie
M. Guthrie|08.07.13

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Massively Exclusive: Jake Song introduces Civilization Online
Massively Exclusive  Jake Song introduces Civilization Online
You might have heard about a little project called Civilization Online, a new MMO in development based on the popular Civilization series of turn-based strategy games. You also might have heard that XL Games CEO Jake Song, of ArcheAge and Lineage fame, is overseeing the project as Executive Producer. But chances are, that's really all you have heard. Until now, that is.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Song, XL Games Senior VP Jung Hwan Kim, and Producer Garrett Bittner from 2K Games to get the scoop on the project. Follow along for all the juicy details about building up civilizations in a new open world environment, including crafting, PvP, and more!%Gallery-195539%
With Civilization Online being such a departure from his previous projects, I had to ask Song why the switch in genres? His answer came easily: He's a big fan of the Civilization series. Actually, Song's first response was: "Because there are too many fantasy games!" Then after a chuckle he talked about how he enjoyed the franchise. According to Bittner, from 2K Games' perspective, Song was an obvious choice to ask to participate due to his high quality work as well as being a fan.

But even though the MMO is based on the series of strategy games, CO is not to be mistaken as simply an online version of turn-based warfare or a continuation of the canceled Facebook game. In fact, Civilization Online will definitely be a MMORPG, where players are a single character within the civilization -- as opposed to, say, a unit of armies -- and will influence a persistent and dynamic world by helping to advance their civilization through the ages.

Civilization Online
Defining the game

So we know what Civilization Online is not (a turn-based game), but what are some details of what exactly it is? A unique take on MMOs, this expansive seamless game world is comprised of a number of different civilizations -- starting with four at launch, adding more as needed -- and players will create a custom avatar to help to advance their chosen one in order through the following six eras: Ancient, Classical, Medieval, Renaissance, Industrial, and Modern. Each world is considered a session, and play in that session continues until the victory conditions are met and one civilization wins. Victory conditions include either one civilization conquering most of the world, or one reaching the pinnacle of the Modern age and creating space travel.

Bittner discussed how the development team keeps the core features of Civilization in mind and translates those into an MMO environment. "All those really core features that you'd expect the Civilization game to have will be represented in this game, just in slightly different ways." Kim added, "For example: In the package game it's mostly done conceptually, but in this game players actually have to do the stuff." In other words, whereas building a library in the package game is achieved with the click of a button, in the MMO, players have to gather the resources then actually build the structure.

Civilization Online
Instead of classes, a term Song doesn't believe fits, Civilization Online has careers. Players can choose from the available careers to fulfill specific roles in the quest to advance their society; they can research and develop new technologies, construct buildings and architectural wonders, wage war, or conduct espionage. Players can also move between these careers depending on their desires.

The game is a sandbox, and users will create the content in it. Players will be able to create buildings and other structures, including full cities. And while there won't be decorating inside the houses per se (as in personal dwellings), players will be able to affect the placement of external decorations and buildings within the cities. Weapons, clothing, transportation, and other equipment will also be made by the players.

Leaders will also emerge from the citizenry of each civilization, as necessary roles like mayor and military commander must step up to help create order and achieve objectives. There will also be mechanisms in place for players to oust ineffective or bad leaders. A civilization could forego working together to just be every man for himself, but then it wouldn't progress and most likely would be conquered by another more organized civilization. Song called the game "a big social experiment."

Civilization Online
PvP and death

Considering the crux of the game is all about conquest, how will PvP work? Song stated, "We are expecting that most people will spend their time killing other people." War will be "basically between civilizations," noted Song. "That's the core mechanic of the Civilization game -- you conquer other civilizations by military [force] or through technology. Even so, he continued, "We are planning to support various types of combat, like small 1v1 PvP stuff in the corner of the world, but you also can gather hundreds of people and invade Washington or some other city." The starting cities, however, will be safe from invasion.

All civilizations will start with neutral relationships, and the standing will change depending on how the civilizations interact. Chat will mostly likely be restricted between hostile civilizations, but enabled among neutral and friendly ones.

What happens when a player dies? S/he will resurrect in front of the town hall of his or her city. There will be no corpse runs and no losing items, but there will be a small penalty of some sort. Running an incredibly long distance back to where you were is definitely one penalty!
"We want people to be engaging in combat very strategically. You don't want to go out and run for a half an hour and fight and die because that's not very rewarding. We want people to work together and organize themselves so they can go out and set up advance outposts so they don't have to spawn all the way back at the city." - Garrett Bittner
This definitely brings more risk to attacking other civilizations, as a lack of advanced outposts would mean that anytime a sieging player died, they'd be effectively removed form the battle due to the long travel back. On the same note, supply lines will be crucial to war efforts.

Civilization Online
Exploration and progression

Civilization Online "is not a fixed world like traditional MMORPGs," explained Song. Each civilization starts in its own area, and players must explore outwards to expand their civilizations. Because of this, players will have no idea what level of advancement other civilizations are until they bump into them. New, full maps will be released each week.

Speaking on progression, Song described how careers can be advanced vertically throughout the ages (e.g. from basic farmer to genetic engineer) as well as horizontally through new skills. There will also be character levels, but leveling will be "easy and quick" according to Song. He does not feel people should be spending time grinding.

Civilization Online
Crafting and economy

Of course, with all this development, there has to be someone making the various technologies, gear, etc. And some folks just prefer crafting to battle. Bittner said, "We know that exists, and that's something we want to attract. We want to attract a wide variety of players and give them a large away of different gameplay options."

Song explains that anyone can technically make anything, but to be better at crafting players will need to their spend skill points there. Nearly all items will be either player-made or purchased from a merchant in the world. It is important, Song explained, that things make sense in this setting, so there will be no gear being pulled from a dead rabbit's ear. On the same note, there will be no bind-on-equip because that's just "nonsense."

Crafting stations will be located in front of the town hall, making it a place for players to congregate together for trade and socializing. As for the economy, there will be auction houses and possibly even personal storefronts to facilitate trade within each civilization. With the random distribution of resources throughout the world, it is expected that civilizations will either ally and trade or invade and conquer to take.

Civilization Online
Game over

Unlike most MMOs that plan on going indefinitely, Civilization Online is geared towards hitting an actual end. What happens then to a developed character after victory conditions are met and a session ends? Song indicated that money, items, and clothing will reset, but some aspects will carry over. Bittner added that the character doesn't just stop existing, and that some elements are persistent, allowing the character to start another session; "But we haven't decided exactly what those [elements] are yet."

And what if a player decides s/he doesn't want to play in the civilization initially picked? The best answer, according to Song, is to create an alt and go start life in another one. There might, however, be the option to change civilizations, but only through very hard work.

Civilization Online
Other aspects

Civilization Online was built for the PC, and utilizes CryEngine 3. Are there plans for other platforms? Bittner said, "Right now we are focusing on the PC launch, and we don't have other plans to discuss at this point." Song added that there might be some kind of mobile companion apps. The game's business model has not been concretely decided yet, either. However, Song noted: "We are inkling toward a free-to-play model."

And for those wondering about Sid Meier's involvement with CO: Song related that the two of them met once at the beginning of the project, where Meier looked it over and offered a general approval of the overall design. But there has been no other involvement since.

When readers want the scoop on a launch or a patch (or even a brewing fiasco), Massively goes right to the source to interview the developers themselves. Be they John Smedley or Chris Roberts or anyone in between, we ask the devs the hard questions. Of course, whether they tell us the truth or not is up to them!
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