Thursday, July 7, 2011

Sid Meier and 'Civilization World' set out to conquer Facebook


At long last, renowned game developer Sid Meier has brought "Civilization World" to Facebook. But is it a game that both casual Facebook players and seasoned "Civ" veterans can enjoy? And can it compete with the likes of "FarmVille" and "CityVille"?a

By Winda Benedetti

Legendary game developer Sid Meier — the man behind the long-running and much-loved Civilization franchise — has finally taken his empire-building strategy series where it has never gone before.a

To Facebook.a

Meier — founder of game development company Firaxis and a man often referred to as "the godfather of computer gaming" — took some time to talk to me via email about his newest project: "Civilization World."a

"CivWorld" just entered its public beta test this week. That means it is available for free to all gamers with a Facebook account ... though it's still being tweaked. (You can find it on Facebook here.)a

Certainly some veteran Civ players have expressed skepticism about seeing their favorite franchise move to Facebook. The Civilization games — the first of which launched 20 years ago — have inspired a passionate following and have sold more than 10 million copies around the world. And while much of Facebook gaming has a reputation for being as surface level as it gets, Civilization games are known for quite the opposite — complex and profoundly nuanced strategy gameplay that is prone to taking over extensive periods of your life.a

But I've had a chance to spend some time with "CivWorld" over the past few days and from what I can tell so far it seems to be doing a fine job walking that delicate, difficult line between casual games and hardcore games. That is, it’s accessible enough for the Facebook gaming crowd to jump into — even if they haven't played a Civilization game before — while it still offers a lot of depth, challenging strategy and unique social opportunities to keep veteran Civ players engaged.a

No, this is not "Civilization V," but this is certainly a Civilization game at its heart. Fire up the game and Civ players will find themselves faced with a familiar goal — building from the ground up a city and a civilization that will survive, thrive and, ultimately, dominate throughout the centuries.a

And those familiar with the more casual-friendly Zynga games like "CityVille" and "Empires & Allies" will find plenty of familiar elements as they get started. As with, say, "FarmVille" this is a persistent world that you will nurture and grow over time with some assistance from your Facebook friends. And there is a helpful in-game tutorial and wiki guide to ease you through the more complex matters of state and a dominating strategy.a

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Most importantly, both casual Facebook players and Civ vets will discover some truly unique gameplay twists they haven't experienced before.a

It should be said that Meier himself has been deeply involved in the making of "CivWorld" — he was the designer and programming lead — which is in itself a good reason to give the game a try no matter what background you come from. This is a developer known for his painstaking dedication to his products and for trying to ensure that his games are, above all, fun to play. And based on how much time I have unwittingly sunk into "Civilization World," I can say it is, indeed, fun to play.a

But here’s what the Godfather himself had to say about "CivWorld" and making the leap into the brave new Facebook frontier:a

What do you think it is about the Civilization franchise and the gameplay behind it that has clicked so well with players?a

Meier: Civilization is a game encompassing all of human history and we think these real-world ideas are interesting to players from all walks of life. The player is the central figure in each game and we offer them a chance to lead a nation to greatness by making choices and decisions during the game that will determine their fate. There are endless paths to achieve victory, so players have enjoyed testing out different tactics and strategies to find their own way to success, which is what keeps them playing over and over again.a

In many ways, your games are the predecessor to and seemingly the inspiration for many of the Facebook games out there. So why are you and your team bringing Civ to Facebook? Why now?a

In "CivWorld" you'll be tasked with designing and growing a city - and a nation along with - from the ground up.a

Meier: Facebook created a new place to play games and we were excited to explore the possibilities for a Civ experience on this new platform. In the past few years we’ve developed fun Civilization games on PCs, consoles and mobile platforms, and Facebook is something that intrigued us.a

We can tap into the existing connectivity with friends that Facebook provides to offer players a more social Civ experience. They will be able to partner with their friends to build empires and rule the world — which has not been offered in any Civ experience before. Also, we can continue to add to the CivWorld experience as the game continues to grow and evolve on Facebook, and we hear what players like and what more they’re interested in seeing, which is very appealing to us as game designers.a

What sets "Civilization World" apart from other Facebook games?a

Meier: CivWorld is a unique Facebook game in that it has a beginning, a middle and end and lives in a persistent world. When you leave a game of CivWorld, the game continues without you, meaning battles will be started, the market will fluctuate, technology will be discovered and so on.a

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It’s also one of the few truly collaborative games on Facebook. Civs can share resources among their citizens, vote on important issues affecting their nation, combine troops to better their chances in battles and generally work together for the greater advancement of their Civ. We think this blend of cooperative and competitive elements offers a very new experience to Facebook players.a

And what sets "Civilization World" apart from other Civilization games?a

Meier: "CivWorld" has the core Civilization elements such as building, research (tech tree), combat, culture, exploration and wonders presented in a way that delivers a fun experience on the Facebook platform. We’ve taken advantage of what the Facebook platform offers by delivering a persistent game world, offering players the chance (for the first time ever in a Civ game) to work together with their friends to build a powerful empire, new mini-games to help advance your Civ, in-game chat so players can work together in real-time and so on. CivWorld has all of the Civ elements fans will be looking for, wrapped in cool new features that will offer a very new experience to Facebook players.a

How important is the social aspect of "CivWorld" to playing it? Can you go it on your own successfully?a

Meier: Collaboration is key to winning in "CivWorld." You cannot win eras and start battles as an independent player, and you’d also lose the benefits of having a large pool of items to share. a

But for people still wanting to go it alone, you can enjoy building out your city, acquiring achievements and resources and visiting other players in the game, you just cannot win the overall game.a

Can you explain a little bit about how each game has a beginning and an end? How does a game end and about how long will each game last?a

Meier: Each game will start in the Ancient era and end in the Galactic era, the 21st era of the game. Each game’s length varies and is dependent on the speed of the players. If they are more actively playing, the game will progress at a quicker rate. Generally we’ve seen games last around two weeks’ time.a

I understand that "CivWorld" is to be the most broadly approachable Civ game ever. How did you go about making this game more approachable for the Facebook audience?a

Meier: We didn’t think of it as bringing Civ to the Facebook audience as much as bringing Civ to the Facebook platform. We designed the game to mirror past Civ games, incorporating similar strategies and gameplay options, but with the ability to tap into existing networks of friends to make the experience more collaborative. Also, we had to keep in mind the asynchronous nature of Facebook and design the gameplay to fit players’ different schedules. a

Do you think this is a game that even seasoned Civilization players also will enjoy playing? If so, why? What does the game have to offer them?a

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Meier: We think so. "CivWorld" is still very much a Civ game at its core. It offers a deep and robust gameplay experience with collaborative and competitive gameplay, and a systemic marketplace for trade and other features. CivWorld will let players employ the same strategies they enjoyed in past Civ games, but in a new form that offers a richer multiplayer experience.a

When you look at the trajectory of Facebook gaming, where do you see it headed and how do you see it evolving?a

In the combat portion of the game, you'll pit your military units against those belonging to players who have sided up with a competing nation.a

Meier: Facebook games are definitely a part of the future of gaming and that space is still being developed. We feel that games can be delivered in fun and meaningful ways on many platforms and that all kinds of games and gamers will continue to thrive and co-exist as we move into the future of gaming.a

What makes Facebook work well as a gaming platform? And what do you think could be improved about Facebook games?a

Meier: Facebook taps into people’s network of friends, which presents some very interesting design opportunities and allows for a very social gaming experience that spans generations — similar to the way we’ve always experienced board games or card games.a

Facebook games are still in the early stages of development, so over time we will see what works and doesn’t work on the platform.a

As the man who knows the most about this game, what tip would you give to a new player just starting up their first "Civilization World" game?a

Meier: You don’t have to be a hardcore gamer to enjoy "CivWorld," so just follow the in-game advisors and have fun!a

What tip would you give to a seasoned Civilization player starting up a "CivWorld" game for the first time?a

Meier: Veteran Civ players will be very at home in "CivWorld." Our hope is that they approach this game as another fun way to play Civ, and enjoy this version along with the PC, console and mobile versions of Civ that they already love.a

For more gaming news, check out:a

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Winda Benedetti writes about games for You can follow her tweets about games and other things right here on Twitter.a

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