Q: So, 25 years! What is behind the appeal and longevity of Civilization?
Sarah Darney: Oh man. There is so much to the series, and so many options in how you play it. I think it has a broad appeal to different playstyles and different gamers – I think that's a big part of it. There's a bit of a universal appeal.
Q: What in your opinion are the pillars of Civilization - the non-negotiables?
Sarah Darney: The four X's – explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate!
Q: What were the things you as a studio weren’t happy with about Civ V?
Sarah Darney: So, when we're developing a title – especially something like the Civilization series that has that long history to it – we have the 30/30/30 rule at Firaxis: 30 percent of the last game that we love that's not changing (this is the foundation we build off of); 30 percent we liked that, that was good, let's mix it up, let's try something new; and then 30 percent brand new. It allows us to create a game that is familiar to people that know it and love it, but still add new things and continue that forward march.
Q: Broadly speaking, what changes have you made to the formula? What's in that 30-60 percent?
Sarah Darney: Unstacking the cities is a big important change for Civilization VI. This means we took all those buildings that used to live in the city centre, and they are now in districts surrounding your city. Because Civilization is such a layered game, this affects so much. The map is hugely important. City planning is very important. And it extends out to tech tree and everything.
Q: I understand the AI has seen an overhaul too.
Sarah Darney: A lot of balancing and testing goes into the AI because you want that genuine experience against something that's making intelligent decisions. But a big thing that I love about Civilization VI is that when we were choosing our leaders for example, when we looked at history we were trying to find big personalities, big characters that could lend themselves to specific playstyles. So that really helped us… Cleopatra for example, she likes a big army. Having that historical agenda, it creates a bit of a predictable character, and you understand them and they can make choices based on that. But we've also added hidden agendas to all the leaders, which mixes things up.
Q: How do you choose leaders for each civilization?
Sarah Darney: It's fun to look at history, and I love a good story. Getting out and seeing these characters in history and understanding them as who they were as a person… we can take that unique cool tangible thing about them and turn that into how they play the game. So that was a big part of the process – just looking for these larger-than-life characters. [As for the civilizations in the game], we're still rolling them out. It's really fun for us to see fan speculation about who is in and who's out [laughs].
Q: One criticism of Civ V is that it took several expansion packs to build in what should have been in the core game. Do you think that’s a fair assessment? How does Civ VI address this?
Sarah Darney: So Civilization VI has almost all the features of Civilization V. We've created a very big experience, and I think that people are going to be very happy with the amount of options they have and how big the landscape is.
Q: The art style has seen a fairly dramatic change. What was behind that?
Sarah Darney: Every art decision that we made was made to support gameplay. First of all we have the big leader personalities, so creating stylised leaders allows us to really show who they are and what drives them. but yes the map… I'm a colourblind player, so the map is so much easier to read for me, I'm not relying on tooltips. And just being able to tell what's happening in the game world at a glance is very valuable. Also the fog of war map style we've created is just stunning and beautiful.
Q: Will there be mod support?
Sarah Darney: We are supporting mods, and we will be talking more about that later.
Q: Can you talk about the new social policies?
Sarah Darney: Sure! The way it works is: the civics tree is a culture-driven tree where you can choose these different items through time. Think of the tech tree, but it is culture. So that unlocks governments and policies. Policies may be slotted into your governments, and there are four different types of policies: economic, military, diplomatic, and the wildcard. You can really create the kind of custom government for you. It's great because it allows you to react to the game environment as things are changing. In times of peace you might want to be a little more economically-minded – maybe you need more gold. In times of war you can put that aside and slot in more military policies. It's a great way to customise your experience.
Q: 'Producer' is a title with many meanings. What does a producer do at Firaxis?
Sarah Darney: It is a very varied role. There is the product manager side: we're making sure everyone on the team is talking together, speaking the same language, and that we're all moving towards the same end goal. But it's also filling in the gaps, making sure we can help out any way we can, even if that means ordering pizza for lunch.
Q: Sid Meier still works at Firaxis. Do you ever pull on his vast wealth of Civ knowledge?
Sarah Darney: Yeah Sid's door is always open, we can always go in and pitch ideas and talk to him. he is a very valuable resource at the company and we love him. It's the 25th anniversary of the Civilization franchise so we've got big shoes to fill, and a lot of people love the series. I think we've created an experience that the fans are going to love. It's very cool, and there's so much to play with.