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Interview: Soren Johnson - Spore's Strategist
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  Interview: Soren Johnson - Spore's Strategist
by Chris Remo, Brandon Sheffield [Design, Programming, Interview, PC, North America]
3 comments Share on Twitter Share on Facebook RSS
July 11, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 7 Next

CR: I was kind of curious about your thoughts generally on the strategy genre and how much of a future there is for it. Do you think it's running into a wall with what it's doing there? I was encouraged by the Civilization Revolution demo, which got a lot of positive comments from people on gaming forums who have never played that type of game before. They seemed to be fairly accepting.

SJ: Yeah, it's an important product, because Civ Revolution is a significant notch down in complexity compared to what Civ would normally have. This is a battle we were fighting with Civ III and Civ IV, where we knew that this was a sequel to the main franchise, and we've got to make it more complex. There's got to be new stuff in there, otherwise people would not be interested, but how do we do that without making the game too complex and unwieldy?

In Civ IV we had to solve that by taking a lot of stuff out, like corruption, pollution, city riots, and a whole bunch of the fiddly parts. But eventually, it's hard to know how much farther you should go down that road. So I think Sid really freed himself up a great deal by going to the console.

There are definitely going to be some people who are like, "This isn't for me." These are the people for who, when they play Civ IV, they're like, "Civ IV is okay, but I'm going to go to CivFanatics and find a mod that adds a hundred more techs and two hundred more units."

CR: And those people are going to keep doing that - for that matter, they're not expecting to get what they need out of Revolution.

SJ: Exactly. But if that was Civ V, it would be like Armageddon. It would be trouble. So I think that Civ Rev gave him a good chance to reboot parts of the franchise, which is great. I thought it was a great move for them. It's cool to see, because Civ Rev is like... Sid's doing the design, he's writing the game code, he's writing the AI code... I mean, you're playing Sid's game when you play Civ Rev.

In many ways, it's the first true sequel to Civilization, because various other designers have done the other iterations in the series. People will really find things in the game that hearken back to the first one, because in many ways, that's what he's building off of.

2K/Firaxis Games' Civilization Revolution

CR: I still, to date, mainly by virtue of how long the games have been out, have played the original Civ more than any of the other ones, because when I found it, I was like, "This is amazing." I played it for years, literally. Rev reminds me of it a lot.

The thing that I think is so interesting is that people who, as you say, play Civ IV but then say, "Well, if it's any less complex than this, it's worthless," I think that gamers often forget the thing that they originally were interested in. There's a reason the original Civilization was so successful. It wasn't because people thought, "Maybe fifteen years later, this will be eighty times more complex."

SJ: Oh yeah, it's a huge problem. I always call this the "flight simulator problem", because that whole genre is completely based off of that. I think what will hopefully save strategy games is the DS, downloadable games, and the web.

I think limitations, in many ways, are very good for design, and I think the best strategy games - or the ones that are going to be the most significant over the next four or five years - are going to come in those formats. I think your classic triple-A RTS game is going to become less and less meaningful to most gamers, and when we look back in fifteen or twenty years in the future, aren't going to be the games that helped move the strategy genre forward.

Civilization was originally an RTS game when Sid first designed it. He was inspired by SimCity, which is also sort of an RTS. He discovered something - which I don't know if everyone else has kept in mind - which is that on the scale of complexity, from not very complex to very complex, the more complex you are, the more you need to move towards turn-based.

RTS should be on the less-complex side. That's the problem right now. RTS games are going for the more complex side. When you have that real-time factor, there's only so much you can keep track of in your mind at one time. I'll have to try that game to see how that goes, but one that pops into my mind off the top of my head is... have you played Desktop Tower Defense?

BS: I haven't, but I've seen people play it. It seems awesome.

SJ: Yeah, you should give it a try. It's an RTS, it's fun, and it's great. It's exactly the kind of game that will bring people back to strategy games.

Article Start Previous Page 5 of 7 Next

Raymond Grier
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Can anyone define "german-style board game", I don't understand the reference. Thanks.

Johnny Tilson
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A "german-style board game" is one that requires a bit of strategy and thought, more than those of party games. Generally along the lines of "more strategic and less random" Risk would be a somewhat good description.


As far as Spore, I'm excited that its going to be a game that spans so many styles. It sounds the ultimate in complexity - if it walks the player through all the styles it will do very well and will be just massive.

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I played with the Spore character creator for awhile and I was very disappointed by the complexity it allows. I had a multi-armed creature and by the time I had created the creature's body I had no complexity meter left to add anything else. I don't know if this is how the actual game is supposed to be, but to me there wasn't enough complexity allowed in the creation of your creature, and it really turned me off from the game. As a player if I'm given this blank slate piece of clay to mold into my own creature I expect to have no complexity meter stopping me from creating anything I want.

As for CIV Rev I've played the demo and my thoughts from a person that is familiar with the civ games on PC, but that never was a hardcore player of them was that I felt Civ Rev was too simplistic, so simplistic that it led to boredom.


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