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Interview: 2K On Bringing Meier's  Civilization Revolution  To iPhone

Interview: 2K On Bringing Meier's Civilization Revolution To iPhone Exclusive

August 11, 2009 | By Chris Remo

August 11, 2009 | By Chris Remo
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

This week, 2K Games stealthily released an iPhone version of Firaxis Games' Civilization Revolution, which last year hit Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Nintendo DS.

The most recent full version of the Civilization series of turn-based world-dominating strategy titles, Revolution was stripped down from its more complex recent PC counterparts, and franchise creator Sid Meier took the lead design role, aiming to create a more approachable game.

Like the other versions of the title, the iPhone game, which 2K has priced at $9.99 after an initial sale at $4.99, is based on the same underlying shared code base. Only the custom interface layer distinguish it from its console cousins.

As 2K's first foray into iPhone development, the publisher has grand plans for Civ Rev, hoping to add further downloadable features like multiplayer, Xbox 360-like achievements, and even Twitter support.

In advance of the game's launch, Gamasutra spoke with then-2K producer Jason Bergman (now employed at Bethesda Softworks) about the game's development and imminent future.

Is this the same game core as the other versions of Civilization Revolution?

Jason Bergman: Like back with the DS version, Sid wrote this game core that didn't care what platform it existed on, and we just wrote an interface layer. For 360, we wrote an interface layer; for PS3, we wrote an interface layer; for DS, we wrote an interface layer.

I don't know how many people actually believed us that it was literally the exact same game. So we wanted to prove it. Civ Rev for iPhone, again, is the same game core. Nothing's changed. We just took that game core, and we got it up and running on the iPhone hardware in like two weeks, and then we wrote a new interface.

We didn't take the DS version and port it. We didn't create a new mobile version of Civ that's some kind of watered-down crappy version. It is a hundred percent the same game. We've got all sixteen civs, we've got all pathways to win, we've got every difficulty level, we've got all the scenarios. The only thing that's been removed is multiplayer, and we do have a pretty long plan for updates.

It's really exciting to be able to get this level of gameplay on a mobile phone. We have hundreds and hundreds of hours of gameplay. Sixteen civilizations, ten playable scenarios, four ways to win, five difficulty levels, full tutorial. It's the greatest thing ever, no question.

You were saying earlier it's going for $10?

JB: Yes. On paper, it makes no sense whatever. It was 60 bucks on [Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3], 40 on [Nintendo DS], and then here it's $10. [EDITOR'S NOTE: the game's launch price was, at least initially, an even cheaper $5.] Common sense would tell us we could cut [the size of the game] in half and still get away with it.

There was discussion at one point about taking out some of the leaders and making them as DLC, but we're including all sixteen. We are still going to do DLC.

What kinds of things are you looking to offer as DLC?

JB: At launch, we are going to have all the core gameplay features. Everything that was in the DS version minus multiplayer will be on the iPhone version. Post launch, we're going to add in DLC. On 360 and PS3, we did additional scenarios and wonders, so we're going to work those into the iPhone version.

We're going to bring over the Xbox 360 achievements. We couldn't do that on PS3 even because there weren't trophies when we did Civ Rev. I'm really excited about that. We're going to do Twitter integration.

How does that work?

JB: We're doing it because we can. When you win a game, it will say, "Chris has won a game as Caesar in 2000 AD."

Why not? It's not a big deal, it's super easy with the iPhone platform. We're going to do that. And we have a long list of potential iPhone features. One feature that has never been on any version of Civ Rev that we're potentially talking about is hotseat, where I do a turn, I give you the phone, and you do a turn.

We're totally open to stuff. We're really looking to see how people react to it, how it does, what they think. If people really want online multiplayer, maybe we'll do that. We don't know. We have no idea.

This is such an insane project because we're putting out so much gameplay to a platform where we're being constantly told, "You don't need this much gameplay." It's really exciting, and it's really weird. We'll just have to see how it goes. It's a really dynamic platform, and you can just make changes.

It's weird. We can just make changes on the fly. If people decide that they want something and it's not a big deal to put it in, we just put it in. Why not?

It's constantly live. It's not a big deal to push updates through Apple. We'll just roll out updates as we come up with them. We'll be looking at the iTunes store reviews and the press reaction, seeing what people want.

The only thing we won't do is a new Civ, because that would require balancing the entire game. At that point, Sid would have to get deeply involved. But he's been involved, he's been supervising the whole project.

So this was developed within Firaxis?

JB: It's split development. The engineering work was done by 2K China. They're the ones who got the engine up and running. The new interface was designed by Firaxis. Some things in this version, like the button to switch between science and gold [production], were just not in the DS version because we couldn't find any space for them.

The DS version -- I'm very proud of it, and I think it's a really great game, but it's very dark and muddy, which is something we need to get away from for the iPhone. We wanted to make it as bright as possible. The city screen is where I think the biggest improvement has come. It's a lot of information to cram into a tiny screen.

You have a demo version as well.

JB: It's a "lite version." You don't do demos on the iPhone. Apple doesn't let you do demo version. It's a "lite version."

But creating a demo for a Civ game is a design challenge as much as anything else. A demo, by definition, is broken according to Civ, because a Civ game requires you go from Stone Age to Space Age. In a demo, you don't do that, and so therefore you're not playing Civ anymore.

You had a demo like that for the console versions, though.

JB: We did. We're doing something different for the iPhone. It's a custom scenario that is being designed specifically for the iPhone. The reason that Apple wants lite versions is they want it to be playable indefinitely.

And so we're going to do this free version of the game, which is going to be limited in gameplay but totally satisfying, and you will be able to play it as long as you want. It will always be free, and it will change. It will be random. The Xbox 360 demo was actually fixed, so it was always the same.

Do you worry that people who are not already aware of anything offered in Civilization won't feel a need to buy the full game?

JB: That's the other argument. Because this is our first iPhone project, we're not sure. We'll see. One of the things we know from talking to Apple is that games that have lite versions sell much, much better. I think EA is the exception -- The Sims 3 doesn't have a lite version as far as I know, and it's selling like gangbusters. But we're really curious to see how it goes.

So you said Sid was still involved with this.

JB: Yes. The AI is the same. It is Sid's code, one hundred percent. Sid's goal when designing Civ Rev was being able to play, start to finish, on a New York to Los Angeles flight.

Oh, really?

JB: That was his time constraint, and it totally works. Obviously, on [the] Deity [difficulty level], it would take you longer depending on how quickly you play, but generally speaking, you should be able to do it in that time frame. I've done it on DS, and I've done it on iPhone, and that's totally achievable.

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