The past few weekends, I've been lucky enough to be invited to guest host on a pair of episodes of PolyCast, the Civilization podcast series. Both episodes were dedicated towards first impressions and thoughts about the release of Civilization VI (which I've already reviewed).
The first episode (episode 268) was recorded the Saturday following Civ VI's release. In this episode, a bunch of people in the Civ community were invited to briefly discuss their first impressions of the game, including things we like, things we'd like to see improved, and things that are just plain bad. About a dozen guests (including myself) offered our first impressions of the game, and a lot of good insight was given.
I invite all my readers to listen to the full episode. This episode of PolyCast was recorded on October 29th, and can be streamed in its entirety at civcomm.civfanatics.com/polycast.
The following episode (269) was the more involved one. I was a guest host (along with Alpha Shard) for the duration of that episode.
The biggest topic of discussion in this episode was the news that eSports team, Team Liquid, is attempting to recruit competitive Civ players to join their team. We discussed the possibility of Civ entering the eSports arena, as well as our reservations about it.
A big point of concern was whether or not the game is "balanced" enough for such competitive play. We all agreed that any league that would play Civ competitively would have to agree on certain settings (and probably on specific maps) that would be exclusively used for competitive games. The variation and randomness of maps, resource distribution, civilization uniques, barbarians, goody huts, and so forth would probably not be welcome by many competitive gamers, as there are admittedly many games of Civ in which a player lives or dies by the map conditions - which are wholly outside of the player's control. In single player, you have the luxury of being able to simply restart the game on a different map. But in multiplayer (and especially in formal, competitive multiplayer), you can't simply mulligan the game because you got a bad roll for where you start and what's present around you.
TeamLiquid's Civ leader is recruiting members.
I went on a bit of a tangential rant about how I feel online gaming has hurt another of my favorite game franchises, Madden NFL. I was trying to be as brief as possible, since I didn't want to talk too much about Madden in a podcast about Civilization, so I'm not sure if I made myself entirely clear, or if I really explained the connection between Madden and Civ that I was trying to make.
I was trying to make a point about how designing and balancing the game for online play can hurt the single player experience for those who don't play multiplayer. One of the problems with Madden is that online games tend to be short. In the most recent iterations of Madden, online ranked matches are locked to 6-minute quarters with the accelerated clock set to ON so that users can complete games in roughly thirty or forty minutes. Remember that a real football game has 15-minute quarters and takes roughly three hours to play. This shortened time frame severely limits the way that players can play the game.
Strategies associated with wearing down an opponent with a power running game and playing good defense become less viable when you only have twelve minutes in a half. A long, methodical drive can easily eat up an entire quarter - maybe even an entire half - using these settings. This leaves little time for users to make up for score-less possessions if they use a run-heavy team. It thus, forces users into more aggressive play-styles. Because of these short play-times (as well as the preferences of many online players), the deep passing game has become the defacto strategy for online matches of Madden. A user's ability to utilize receiver catching exploits can often be a greater determinant of victory than the user's football knowledge or play-calling ability.
Madden used to be a game that strived for emulating NFL football as closely as possible. But since broadband internet has become ubiquitous, more and more effort has been put into "streamlining" Madden for casual players who want to be able to pick up and play the game in short bursts. I railed against the Ultimate Team feature in my reviews of the previous two Madden games for the way that they encourage and train users into these unrealistic online multiplayer strategies. The scenarios present in these Ultimate Team challenges often force the player into making two-minute comebacks in which throwing the ball is the only viable strategy and special teams is completely ignored. I once played a multiplayer game in which my opponent quit after failing to convert a fourth and twenty-something in the opening possession of the game. I feel like that is exactly the kind of player that Ultimate Team and casual online gaming are creating.
Madden 17's Ultimate Team and its challenges prioritize fast,
aggressive play that isn't necessarily representative of football as a whole.
So how does this relate to Civilization? Well, I don't want to see short, competitive online games become the metric that Civilization is designed for in the same way that Madden seems to be more and more designed for its casual and competitive demographic. What is the most prevelant strategy for online games of Civ? Probably domination. So if Firaxis starts designing the game for competitive multiplayer, then it's likely that the design will progressively favor early-game unit rushing and military strategies. Science, culture, diplomacy, religion, and maybe even city-settling and development could all gradually become less and less important to the game (except as a means towards military domination). It's comparable to how special teams and the running game of Madden always seem to fall to the wayside, since other areas of gameplay that are more prevelant in online matches take priority for the development staff.
This isn't to say that I'm necessarily opposed to Civ becoming an eSport game. It could also necessitate that the devs pay closer attention to balance and fairness, which could result in a better game overall. It all depends on what competitive players end up prioritizing, and how much Firaxis decides to cater to those players.
As for me, I'm not going to be playing the game competitively. I'm not that good of a player, and I don't necessarily play the game to win anyway. I like the journey, and the process of creating a civilization. I rarely finish games to a victory screen.
Anyway, other topics of conversation included our thoughts on some developer videos. In one video, the developers play multiplayer against each other, and in the other video, the developers showcased an A.I. battle royale. I had only watched some of the battle royale, and so didn't have much to say about these videos.
I always enjoy my time on PolyCast, and I hope that DanQ, TheMeInTeam, Makahlua, and MadDjinn invite me back again soon.
Episode 269 of PolyCast was recorded on November 12, and can be streamed in its entirety at civcomm.civfanatics.com/polycast.