PolyCast logo

Earlier today, I served as a guest host for the Civilization podcast Polycast, episode 295. I joined regular hosts DanQ, Makahlua, MadDjinn, and TheMeInTeam. The episode covered a handful of topics, ranging from the new religion mechanics introduced by the fall 2017 patch, to a proposal for athletes to be a type of great person, the new Civilization: A New Dawn board game, to the issue of micro-transactions (or "Recurrent Consumer Spending" as Take-Two Interactive CEO, Strauss Zelnick calls it), and more.

If you missed the live broadcast, then the edited archive version will be released on PolyCast's website next Saturday (December 2). I'll update this post with a link once the archive is updated.

"Recurrent Consumer Spending"

"Recurrent Consumer Spending" was one of the primary topics of the previous episode (PolyCast #294), and so we discussed it again as part of a discussion on feedback from last week's episode. Micro-transactions (and loot boxes in particular) are a hot topic in gaming of late, especially after the fiasco that was EA's launch of Star Wars: Battlefront II. Games pundit Jim Sterling has made micro-transactions an almost weekly issue in his Youtube podcast The Jimquisition. Sterling has been comparing loot boxes to gambling for months, and recently, some European regulatory agencies have started to evaluate whether loot boxes should legally be classified as a type of gambling. As someone who has previously worked for a gambling company, I am aware of how compulsive impulses are used to keep gamblers addicted to a particular game, and I definitely believe that the current implementation of loot boxes in games like Shadow of War, Call of Duty, and Star Wars: Battlefront does try to capitalize on those same addictive impulses, and so should probably be regulated similarly to gambling. I don't want micro-transactions in my games at all, but I don't necessarily think that such things should be illegal per se. But they should be regulated, and I do think that the game boxes should clearly indicate to parents that the game includes "gambling-like elements" (or some other warning).

Jim Sterling has been making a fuss about micro-transactions and loot boxes for months.
WARNING: May not be appropriate for younger or more sensitive viewers.

More importantly (for me), however, is the concerns for what micro-transactions do to the actual game. Just last night, I spent something like 4 hours in Shadow of War grinding my character and orc captains up to a point that I could siege the castle in Act II. I played every side mission available in the chapter, and then still had to do some Nemesis missions, in order to get Talion up to level 20 and unlock the ability to assign a third uruk captain to my siege assault. That third captain was essential to get my siege level up above the level of the defenders. I'm not sure if that was necessary, but I didn't want to risk having my captains killed during the attack. I actually happen to really like Brûz The Chopper, so I didn't want him dying because my siege was under-leveled. This is just Act II! I can't imagine how grindy the game might become during the later acts! And all this extra grind in the campaign is a direct result of the inclusion of the game's War Chest (i.e. loot boxes). You can spend real-life money to buy random orc captains to use in your sieges or to defend your captured forts. So the whole game is balanced such that it's just enough of a grind to encourage people to spend money to speed things along by buying the War Chest.

Well, Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick has said that he wants every game in 2K's library to include "recurrent consumer spending". That would include my beloved Civilization...

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Sid Meier's Civilization

I recently wrote a post describing some unique abilities that I'd like to see for some of the common civilizations that are likely to appear in the eventual Sid Meier's Civilization VI. Most of the concepts were very vague, or they were based on the mechanics and features of Civ V, since we don't have any idea what the eventual feature set of Civ VI will be. So in this post, I'd like to expand upon that previous post by talking about some of the features and mechanics that I would like to see implemented in Civilization VI.

Most of these features age going to involve more complicated and advanced political and empire management mechanics. Civ V made a fundamental change to the structure of the series by introducing tactical combat on a hex-based grid. So it makes sense that unit movement and combat was the focus of that game, and the vanilla game played more like a tactical war board game played out over a larger scale. Empire management and simulation features were mostly absent or simplified. The expansions, then, focused more on the empire management mechanics that were absent from the vanilla game. Gods & Kings brought back a full religion mechanic and enhanced city state mechanics. And Brave New World added trade routes, ideologies, and completely rewrote the cultural victory condition.

So since Civ V already went down the "warfare first, empire-management second" design philosophy, I hope that Civ VI goes in the opposite direction. I hope that it puts more of its focus on being an "Empire Building Game" rather than a "Tactical War Game".

This post was featured in PolyCast episode 244: "Not just a lame clip show XVII". I encourage readers to listen in on the great feedback that was provided, and to contribute to the discussion.

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PolyCast logo

Over the weekend of March 7, I was once again invited to participate in the Civilization podcast "PolyCast". It's always enjoyable to participate in this show. DanQ and the others always do an excellent job (even though Dan wasn't in this episode).

I particularly enjoyed this one because I felt that I had more to contribute than on some of the other episodes that I've been invited to. Part of that was because I actually reviewed the topics in advance and prepared for the episode. But it was also advantageous that one of the topics discussed was my own blog post about Civ VI ability ideas. I don't think that discussion made it into the edited episode, but it will perhaps make it into a clip show later in the year. Even so, I felt like I had valuable commentary on the other topics, and there were some good discussions.

The episode can be streamed in its entirety at thePolyCast.net.

The first and most significant topic of conversation was about a video posted by Errant Signal that takes a critical look at the meta-themes of Civilization and what they say about our perception of what it is to be "civilized".

His primary criticism is that the game unnecessarily puts civilizations in competition with one another, rather than fostering a spirit of cooperation; and that the various victory conditions in the game are very "American", "Western-centric" ideals. So our PolyCast panel discussed these criticisms and different game mechanics that contribute to them, as well as ideas for ways to alleviate them (particularly on the topic of victory conditions).

Another significant topic of conversation was whether or not we really want the different civilizations to have unique units and powers in the game. The question was posed on the Civfanatics forums by user Naokaukodem, who seems to be arguing in favor of removing the unique units and making them accessible to any civilization that techs to them. I think it is safe to say that the panelists on PolyCast were not in favor of such a change, and some good arguments (both mechanically and thematically) are made in favor of keeping the uniques as they are.

There were also some other discussions of various Beyond Earth topics and some other discussion. I'm not sure if all of it made it into the final edited episode, as we went well over the allotted time. So some of the discussion might have to be rolled into one of PolyCast's future clip shows. After listening to the full episode, all the topics discussed in the live podcast did make it into the edited version available on the site.

Thanks, as always, to the PolyCast hosts for the invitation. I hope to participate again soon!

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Sid Meier's Civilization

With Civilization V apparently at the end of its life cycle and unlikely to receive any more major updates or expansions, it's time to start looking to the future of the franchise: Civilization VI. Civ V was successful enough to spawn several spin-offs: Beyond Earth, Civilization Revolution 2 on mobile devices, Civilization World, and even a Civilization MMO. So it's reasonable to assume that if work hasn't already started on Civlization VI, then it will begin soon.

One of the things that I most love about Civ V is that each civ has unique powers that give them their own playstyles and flavors. The expansions (especially Brave New World) showed a lot of creativity with some of the civilizations. I hope that these design philosophies continue, and that we'll see some even more interesting gameplay variations in the new civilizations of Civilization VI.

To that end, I have a few ideas and suggestions for designs and themes for some of the common civilizations that are likely to appear in Civilization VI. I'll provide at least a unique abilility and at least two unique units / buildings / improvements, but I may also provide additional or alternative unique suggestions in case Firaxis decides to include even more variety and specialization. Since Civ VI will likely be a whole new game on a whole new engine, I can't give specific examples of the mechanics of these ideas. Instead, I'll try to focus on more broad concepts and maybe include examples based on Civ V's mechanics and features if relevant.

* NOTE: this post is a work-in-progress, and will probably be revised as I come up with additional ideas or clarifications.

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PolyCast logo

Over the weekend of May 24 (Memorial Day weekend), I participated in a special edition of the bi-weekly Civilization podcast called "PolyCast". It was the two hundredth episode, and in celebration, the hosts (DanQ, MadDjinn, Makahlua, and TheMeInTeam) invited as many of the guests hosts from the previous seasons as they could track down. First, however, listeners were treated to a special Q&A session with some of the Firaxis staff, in which Civ V was discusses, as well as the recently-announced Civilization: Beyond Earth!

The episode can be streamed in its entirety at thePolyCast.net.

Among the notable points of Civ V discussion was the Firaxians' response to the question of whether Civ V would receive any more patches. Although a straight "no" was not given (leaving the door open to the possibility of one more patch this summer), they made it seem like [to me] that support for Civ V has effectively ended. This was no surprise to me, but it was still a bit of a disappointment, considering that there are still a few annoying bugs (lingering auto-annex issues, broken promotions, and multiplayer bugs) as well as some in-game descriptions that are outright misleading (such as Shoshone's Great Expanse trait description). There is also still a great deal of concern on the forums about the balance of the initial policy trees (Tradition feeling much stronger than Liberty, Honor, or Piety). So it's a shame that these issues are not likely to be addressed.

Civilization: Beyond Earth - title

The bulk of the conversation, however, was focused around the upcoming Civilization: Beyond Earth. I'm excited about this game, but also a bit skeptical, considering the poor quality of Civ V's initial release. However, I'm hopeful that Firaxis has learned their lessons, and will release a much more stable and compelling game this time around, so that we won't have to wait for six-to-twelve months of post-release support to get a decently-playable game.

The remainder of the show was brief discussions with many of the guest hosts who have participated in the show during the years. My segment was the first such chunk. I used the opportunity to thank the PolyCast hosts for discussing and publicizing my strategy posts, and talked a little about my future plans for Civ V and Beyond Earth strategies before they had to stop me to allow others to speak. I hope I didn't come off as too self-promoting or inconsiderate...

Anyway, I look forward to PolyCast continuing to provide great material, and the release of Beyond Earth should give them plenty to talk about in future podcasts. I hope I will be invited back soon, as I enjoy the discussions with my fellow Civ-heads.

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A gamer's life...

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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