Sid Meier’s Starships is the missing link between Civilization and Beyond Earth

12 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Sid Meier’s Starships’ Launches Today on iPad and Steam.

First announced back in January as an interstellar continuation of Civilization: Beyond Earth, Firaxis’ Sid Meier’s Starships today launches for iPad, PC, and Mac (via iMore).As I’m writing this Sid Meier’s Starships isn’t actually out yet, but I’m seeing a lot of people refer to it as “Civilization in space with more combat.” This is a fairly accurate assessment, although I’d say it’s technically more like the more streamlined Civilization Revolution in space. Developed by Firaxis in conjunction with 2K Games and Meier himself, Starships places players at the helm of a fleet of starships and tasks them with building a thriving interplanetary federation. That’s why we’ve taken it upon ourselves to cover some of the basics, a few of the things you won’t learn about in-game unless you dig through the menus, and some strategies that will hopefully keep your fleet mobile and allow you to dominate the galaxy.

Having made his first commercial video game in his late twenties that means he’s seen the evolution of video games from computing novelty to the multi-billion dollar industry it is today. Players will gather new technology, discover new planets, and wage wars in missions that will randomly generate combat, offering a degree of replayability to the main story thread. After starting out with MicroProse flight simulators he created the ground-breaking Civilization in 1991, with the series still receiving regular sequels and spin-offs to this day.

Check out our short list of games worth knowing about tonight (SPOILER: for the first time we’ve included a game purely on speculation and not facts. Although rather than picking a nationality you can choose between one of three factions (each with a different bonus that will give them an edge in certain situations), then between one of several leaders (also each with their own bonuses). The Purity Faction is the most beginner friendly – None are necessarily the best, of course, but Purity’s ability to earn double rewards will really come in handy for newbies. See if you have what it takes to rule the universe! • Diplomacy, Strategy, and Exploration: Expand the influence of your Federation and gain the trust of the citizens of new planets. Choose Bolivar or Fielding as your leader – There might be six other leaders to choose from, but these two are the most straightforward and will make the most sense to beginners.

We’ll have a review of Starships shortly but we used the opportunity to interview to him to discuss his entire career, including Railroad Tycoon and Pirates!, abandoned ideas for dinosaur games, and why his idea of an interactive movie is very different from everyone else’s. Make liberal use of the Advice button – The little “info” button to the far left of the row of icons at the bottom of the screen will be your only friend in learning how to play Starships – aside from this guide, that is. GC: I don’t wish to be rude in implying anything about your age, especially on your birthday, but I have very fond memories of playing Gunship on the Commodore 64 as a kid. Fight pirates, protect colony ships, destroy rogue AI, and more. • Multiple Paths To Victory: Will you win by conquering the greatest threat to the galaxy?

We don’t often put speculation in our “coming tonight” posts, but we’d also have a really hard time believing that FNAF 3 won’t be coming to the App Store tonight. The game launched on Android earlier this week, and on Steam 10 days ago… which is exactly how many days were between the Steam and iOS releases of Five Nights at Freddy’s 2.

Thankfully it works quite well, although I did have a few issues with the controls deciding to perform actions before I tapped a second time to verify. And I remember we were fighting with the hardware just to get 4 frames a second or something! [laughs] But Gunship was probably late ’80s I think, one of the first games I think that we actually wrote initially on the PC. Each choice you make carries consequences on your path to victory A few early reviews have praised the game for offering the complexities of the Civilization series without the huge time commitment, though simultaneously noting hardcore fans may have issue with the shorter, more “bite-sized” gameplay. Of course each system was completely different and we had to rethink everything, but I remember the 3D of Gunship and figuring out how helicopters work was kind of fun.

We learned a lot as developers with each game! [laughs] SM: We had done a couple of flight simulators before that and… it just seemed like a natural evolution, I guess, to do helicopters. We were still in the Cold War era in those days, and my partner at MicroProse, Bill Stealey, he was basically the business side of things and I was doing the design things. There are several things that simply aren’t explained at all – especially in combat – and it makes those first couple of campaigns a frustrating slog. Check all conquered planets for Wonders – Once you’ve taken over a planet entirely, you might see a little “starburst” looking icon next to the usual construction icons.

And I think people really enjoyed… the game kind of piqued their curiosity for whatever it was and then they could read a little more about it and have it actually work in the game. Not only will they give you special (and powerful) benefits for the rest of the game, but you’ll also win outright if you end up controlling seven of them. GC: And the other thing is the game was essentially open world, you had this big map and you could go anywhere you wanted and tackle the objectives however you thought best. SM: We never deliberately said, ‘This has to be an open world game’ but I think we, as gamers, just said that’s going to be the most interesting thing.

You want those decisions and options as different ways to play, the kind of thinking about the path you’re gonna take and have a cool map and things like that. It’s definitely… those games tended to feature this idea of planning your mission and deciding where to go – and having this world where you have all those options, as opposed to being on a set of rails.

Never underestimate Fighter squadrons – They’re incredibly flimsy, but they can do quite a bit of damage – especially when they’ve been upgraded a bit. Fighters make great distractions – Ships can only attack once per turn, so if you need to make a hasty retreat you might want to leave a trail of fighters in your wake.

Falcon kind of demonstrated the problem, because each version had to be more realistic, more accurate, otherwise the players would complain that it was not hardcore enough. And you had the keyboard overlay that told you what every key on the keyboard actually did [laughs] it just got so complicated that after a while we just said, ‘Okay Falcon, you can go down that road, we’re gonna do something else’. I don’t know how realistic it was, but Stealth Fighter was intrinsically interesting because you had to worry about all these stealth elements and carrying out spying missions and so on.

But there was no actual information and… actually shortly after we released F-19 the real stealth plane came out and it was called F-117, it didn’t look at all like…we had actually built [laughs] we had actually created our F-19 model from a kit, a Revell kit that also didn’t look anything like the real F-117. Except set them in a slightly fantasy world or something… SM: That was more of a turn-based, more of a squadron… not the 3D flying, but more manoeuvre cards, do a loop, do a roll.

And one of our programmers had developed this tool where you could take this piece of art and fold it into a font and show it very efficiently in a little spot. So we used this windowing technology to show vignettes of the governor’s daughter, the governor, all the characters of the games with a little menu: Do you want to talk to the governor? And then combining that with some action, the ship battles and the sword battles… I guess it was our version of a movie, kind of being inspired by how a movie would work. It’s kind of always been the way we look at our games is, what’s the most fun… the topics that we take on are often pretty large – civilisation – so who’s having the most fun in the history of civilisation and what are the fun and interesting things to do?

GC: It’s amazing to think your career has been long enough to see such enormous change, like the whole rise and fall of the Japanese industry… it must all just seem like a passing phase to you. And consoles and Steam… GC: What always amazes me is that when a new technology comes along the first thing that goes through most developer’s minds is to suddenly make games less interactive. GC: You get CD-ROMs and suddenly you’re watching pre-recorded video, you get photorealistic graphics and it’s hour long cut scenes… it just seems madness to me. SM: Not really, a movie style game actually needs a lot less design than a ‘real’ game. [laughs] And the design is the fascinating part for me, seeing the game evolve.

But then it got to the point where the graphics we could present were pretty close to something you would see in a movie, or close enough that all of a sudden the player is comparing them on level playing field. Which is often the hallmark of any game with aspirations of cinematic style storytelling: take an interesting and fun concept and make it as purposefully boring as possible. And if you’re the leader of the civilisation you’re thinking into the future and planning your next move, and you’re not trying to understand the mechanics or whatever.

GC: That reminds me of when they were making Jurassic Park and they completely made up the idea of velociraptors being as big as humans – they were really just turkey-sized. And then after they’d finished filming someone found a related species that was the right size and they just pretended that was their justification for it all. But it just didn’t seem dinosaur-y enough. [laughs] GC: Dinosaurs themselves are so cool, but it’s hard to make them work in a game without human interaction, but then you’re talking time travel or cloning or apocryphal cavemen. I enjoy strategy games, it’s probably where my heart is, so to do something different I kind of took this crazy detour but there’s so many topics like dinosaurs and everything available in strategy that there’s plenty more to work on.

Sometimes someone will say, ‘You have to check this out’ or something but it’s impossible to keep up these days and make new games! [laughs] I try to be aware of what’s going on. Either I designed it or I designed the original version or there’s some connection, sometimes a little tenuous, but it’s a brand, but there is definitely some Sid Meier DNA in there somewhere.

Back when Civilization came out you had gone to the store and taken a box off the shelf and put six floppy discs in your computer and loaded them up and by that time you were going to give the game an hour or two and allow yourself to be drawn into it. In that time we did Colonization, which is a similar kind of game, so it developed a momentum of it is own, that I think we’re very fortunate that it’s been something that’s kept us going for… we’re coming up on the 25th year anniversary of Civilization. [laughs] SM: [laughs] So it basically became the 500lb gorilla that people wanted more of.

GC: I’m surprised, especially with the 2K connection, that nobody came along and said, ‘Well, you can do your turn-based ugly game but we want amazing 3D graphics and cut scenes as well’. We play the game, we kind of think we understand what the core appeal is and during development we’re playing it continually, so anything that slows the game down or gets in the way of what you’re imagining is something that we try to take out.

GC: Especially with things like Kickstater, I often worry that the interference of fans can be just as disruptive and poisonous to a game as publisher meddling. And the graphic engine that we developed for Starships, which kind of focused on special effects and cool-looking space things, was done with a general purpose graphic library which also ran on the iPad. SM: We believe that strategy can work on other places, technically, but we’re not sure that that’s what the audience is looking for on those platforms.

But Beyond Earth had created this really interesting story arc with humanity having to leave the Earth and travelling to many different places and starting anew on a new planet. So, our story picks up where we’ve developed actual starships that can travel between star systems, with all the cool systems like lasers and shields and torpedoes and all the cool stuff you can add to a starship. And the answer is kind of given in the introductory movie, where we suddenly get a transmission from one of these other planets where the humans have also settled. I was inspired by Star Trek in a way, every episode has a problem to be solved and you take the resources you have and try to figure out how to solve this problem. So it’s this cycle of constantly adding more starships to your fleet, building your fleet, making yourself more powerful, and taking on more difficult missions.

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