Civilization may be so wonderful that we're even prepared to tolerate its use of a "z", but it's hard to imagine building on something that was already so complete. Hard for us, anyway, but then we're not making it.
Lead designer Jon Shafer and producer Dennis Shirk, however, are making it, so when we popped over to preview Civilization V we also took them to one side and interrogated them about hexagons, community, AI and The Gandhi and George Show.
Eurogamer: 2009 was a pretty quiet year on announcements from Firaxis. What were you doing?
Dennis Shirk: Just about the same thing we're doing now. We've been working on Civ V for a little bit over two years now. Normally we'd have something to talk about, but over the course of an entire year now, we've both had to keep our mouths shut.
Eurogamer: This interview won't be published for a couple of months, but it's recent news at the moment: how do you feel about Irrational Games getting their name back?
Dennis Shirk: [Silence.]
Jon Shafer: [Silence.]
Eurogamer: Do you have any opinions on that at all?
Dennis Shirk: I do not. [Laughs, pauses.] That's a tough one. I mean, we're certainly glad that we're still Firaxis. So if Irrational can be Irrational again, I guess that's cool.
Eurogamer: I suppose what I'm getting at is that for me, it felt wrong that a developer like Irrational, who are as established as yourselves, got this sudden 2K branding. Was there never any talk of you becoming 2K Baltimore?
Dennis Shirk: Of course. It always goes around the building. But 2K recognises that Firaxis is one of those brands that are known for a certain thing, and I think they realised that no purpose would have been served by changing the name.
Lovely marketing lady: Sid said eh-eh [makes a farting sound].
Eurogamer: I love the idea that this rumour went tearing around the building, causing panic, until it hit the solid wall of Sid.
Lovely marketing lady: Pretty much!
Eurogamer: So, to tie that into Civilisation as neatly as I can, BioShock was seen as the game that sneaks literary references and philosophy into gamers' brains under the radar - are you doing a similar thing for history?
Jon Shafer: Not necessarily. I think Civ is a game that uses history as the framework. But it picks very specific individual events. We really want Civilisation to be the game that everyone recognises, when they see part of it, and they say, "that reminds me of this book, or this movie".
To do that, we didn't want to get too specific. Because if you do that, you're taking a specific experience and showing it to the player, instead of letting the player make their own experience.
That's one of the differences between a game like Civ and BioShock. They present interesting experiences, and we let the player do their own thing.
Eurogamer: Well, yeah. Everyone knows how BioShock ends. I always thought of Civilisation as humanity's fan fiction, is that something you'd easily reject?
Jon Shafer: Well, everything is grounded. It helps to love history. The starting points of the nations, and the flavours of those civilisations [flavours refers to the preferences a given AI has in its approaches - Queen Victoria's fondness for naval combat and reconnaissance, for example, and also the powers you get at the start of the game]. We're saying this is how you are, this is how you think, but in a certain circumstance that approach might not make sense. That's why it's an awesome game - it lets Gandhi rampage across the globe.
Eurogamer: Well, I'm sure I could find a fan fiction about that, somewhere.
Jon Shafer: And we have the Civilopedia entries, which have been around for a while. We definitely like to encourage interest in history. It's not an educational game, but we do like to promote the educational aspect of it, by sparking interest.
Eurogamer: That's something I love about games. There are words I wouldn't know if I didn't play games, like whetstone, kindling, falchion and phalanx. It just sticks in there. There's probably a lot of people who know about Chicken Itza because of you lot. Speaking of cultures, you mentioned yesterday that different cultures had different tiles. Did I hear that right?
Dennis Shirk: We've got geographic flavours, but they don't necessarily tie in to the Civ. We just wanted it to look, as you explored the globe, that these tiles might have an earthy European tone, and over here you'd see redding Asian tone with brown mountains, instead of the white-capped peaks.
Jon Shafer: You might start as Japan on the European tileset, it's more about tying it into the framework, again without getting bogged down in specifics.