I used to be so jealous of people who played Civilization. I’d hear them talk about spending whole days or weekends engrossed in it, and how they wanted cultural victories by building great wonders for their people, about how they wanted to shape their worlds. It sounded like heaven. I wanted to spend all day in my pyjamas playing conqueror. Had I known I actually would be spending all day in my pyjamas in 2020, I might not have minded, but this was 2008. And there was something in the air back then.
It was the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 generation and for some reason it felt like a new age. I suppose it was to do with games going online into a bold new frontier. Old rules didn’t seem to apply any more. New things were possible. And it was with this spirit someone at Firaxis made a wonderful suggestion: What if now was the time to bring Civilization to consoles?
It wouldn’t be easy of course. PC players and console players like slightly different things. A menu-heavy, micro-managey desktop game doesn’t naturally translate to being played on a controller while slumped on a sofa a few feet away from a TV. To make it work, Civilization, Firaxis would have to redesign it.
It was wonderful, CivRev, to use a bit of the old lingo. It managed to streamline something complex without sacrificing the essence of what it was. CivRev was friendly, it was warm – it came out in the summer and I remember it feeling a bit like summer. It was bright and colourful, big and chunky. And it seemed like everything could be controlled by pressing A.
From the moment I chose a character, I was smitten. Would I like to be Cleopatra or Gandhi, Lincoln or Catherine the Great (while I’m on the subject: check out Helen Mirren’s Catherine the Great on Amazon Video, it’s good – saucy but good)? In this world, they all exist together. I can write my own history, I can cheat time and have the ancient Romans take on Queen Elizabeth. Who wouldn’t want to tinker like that?
Then, where would I like to create my empire? A bewitching question. Would I like to put down roots here, next to a beautifully unspoilt river and rich grassland, or there, next to a mountain range glittering with riches?
Next, what kind of civilization would I like to pursue? Is military muscle the focus of my research, or do I want to wow my people with cultural wonders instead? Decisions, decisions. Or how about science? Maybe one day I will take the Aztecs into space.
Now Genghis Khan wants to be friends – shall I shake his hand? I don’t want to, he’s a menace and I don’t trust his moustache, but maybe a truce will do for now. Then when I’m ready, I will tiptoe over his border and declare war. But will I be ready? I don’t want to do what I normally do and underestimate how strong an empire really is, and suddenly face a swarm of armies descending upon me. And I bet bloody Bismarck and the Germans attack me while I’m all-in elsewhere again.
And what about the temptation of starting over again – can I push through it this time? My empires tend to get awfully messy and unfocused as the game rolls on. It would be so much neater if I could just wipe the board clean and start again. But if I can just hold out the one day it will come… Victory!
I’ve done it. I’ve conquered the world, outmanoeuvred some of history’s best known leaders. But uh oh, did I do it using military might? It’s totally valid it’s just… It’s not what the PC players would do is it? And you know how they sniff at the streamlined console game. I don’t want them to think a cultural victory is beyond me.
No it doesn’t have anything to do with wanting an excuse to start again! No I’m not a bit lost now I have nothing to do! It’s a point of pride! I have to start again and accidentally engross myself for another day, and another day after that, and maybe a whole weekend. I have to.