Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.
"Don't be afraid to borrow.."
Published on January 24, 2006 By Draginol In GalCiv Journals

Before Civilization 4 came out, we were kind of on our own in terms of turn based user interface.  I don't want to say that no turn based strategy games came out since GalCiv I back in 2003 but I hadn't played any extensively.

So when Civilization 4 came out, there were a bunch of very innovative user interface tweaks.  I also really liked the Civpedia.  The Civpedia stores a lot of information that is presented to the user at the time of execution. But there's a lot of good stuff in there that I'm sure users would like to have access to from a single place.

But it always brings up the issue -- if we borrow too much from Civilization 4, would users complain?  What many gamers don't realize (and in fact most non-gamers as well) is that the game industry isn't like other industries.  Game developers don't *generally* see other games as "competitors".  We're all part of the same team -- trying to make good games.

I talked to Soren Johnson about this very issue (designer of Civilization 4).  One of the features we wanted to put in was something to indicate that there were no more units to move.  In Civilization 4, when you finish moving everything that can be moved, the turn button changes color letting you know that you could press turn and not miss a unit getting its move in.  Soren's response was "You shouldn't be afraid to borrow interface elements. If you don't people will just complain!" 

I think something as obviously good and logical as color-coding the turn button would be one of those things.  It was one of the things Soren suggested we changed based on his beta experience with the game.  There were numerous other UI tweaks like this.

In the real time arena, there are certain user interface conventions that have become standard.  When games come out and don't make use of them, many gamers (myself included) become frustrated.  As much as I enjoy Age of Empires 3, there are a number of UI conventions from Rise of Nations I wish they had borrowed. It would have made Age of Empires 3 a better game.

But I suspect many game designers feel trepidation about borrowing ideas and suggestions from other games.  I know I do.  I don't have a lot of shame. I believe in the "Great artists steal" but I do feel some shame.  I love how you can look at a city in Civilization 4 on the map and see what it's building.  We actually tried to do something like that but it didn't work out as well with our UI.  After release, I'd like to come up with something like it still for the bonuspak.

Another thing from Civilization 4 I liked (and Soren brought up) was how you can look at a unit and tell if it has moves left.  A little green dot appears if the unit has all its moves left. Yellow if it has some moves. And red if it's out of moves.  This was another one of those things that I'd like to put in as a bonus pak option.   The issue is how to do it cosmetically.  In Civ4, you have a fixed camera (unless there's an option I'm not aware of).  In GalCiv II, the camera is free form. So we want to make sure what we put in looks okay regardless of the angle and direction. 

I think in time many of the innovations in Civ4 will become "Standard" in Turn-based strategy games.  If you don't have Civ 4, you can get it here: http://www.civilization4.com.


Comments (Page 2)
on Jan 26, 2006
I second the comment about don't be afraid to borrow. Especially if it makes the gameplay better or improved. I actually stopped myself before making a post about comparisons to Civ 4. I didn't want to hurt anybodys feelings since everyone is working so hard at Stardock. I would tell myself its "Apples & Oranges" but still apples and oranges are fruit. Meaning there are some things in common.

Since we're on the topic. Can we look for a min at how Civ 4 does mods? Meaning - you can have multiple ones in your mod directory the game asks you to pick one. Whereas GC1 loaded up everything in the mod dir. I think auto-explore was already brought up and answered in another thread.

Yes, no use re-inventing the wheel. Good features are just that - good features, they make and break games.
The best reason is 'to make the game better' or 'make it more fun'.
on Jan 26, 2006
Thanks Yarlen. Haven't had much time to play with the GC2 betas and I guess I'm forgetting all the shortcuts from GC1. Brad's AI posts are making me very eager to see the final release!
on Jan 26, 2006
Little bit of info about the Civ4 camera:
as someone else said, you can zoom in and out with the mousewheel.

You can also rotate it to an extent by pressing control + left arrow/right arrow. So it's not totally fixed.

Also can't wait for Galciv 2, ship design and multiplanet systems yay!
on Jan 28, 2006
I think you're giving Civ4 too much credit for some of those UI innovations. I'm pretty sure that I've seen both the "light up" end turn button and the "can tell from appearance that units have no moves left" features in multiple turn base strategy games through the years. I'm pretty sure that Conquered Kingdoms by the long-deceased QQP back in '92 or '93. IIRC, units "greyed out" when they had no move left and you could pass on a units move and the end turn button would behave as it the unit had moved. I think Fantasy General and the other SSI "General" games also had these features in the early-mid 90's.
on Jan 29, 2006
Civ IV may not be the 1st to implement some of these concepts, but that game is certainly one of the best representations of their inclusion; and perhaps more importantly, they included a large number of such improvements.

Of course you can never please all the people; and that's doubly hard when someone has already had experience with previous incarnations and liked what they saw.
on Feb 01, 2006
True. Civ 4 may not be the first to implement certain features that it is given credit for, but it is fresh in people's minds and it does have some good gameplay features.

IIRC even MOO III had something of a 'civpedia' I think it was called galactic encyclopedia but it was the same kind of feature an in-game reference library.
on Feb 27, 2006
It looks like quite a few players don't know about the flying camera mode in Civilization IV, which allows you to view the game in any camera angle and to zoom in real close.

To use it, you need to first activate it in the CivilizationIV.ini file, which is located under "\My Documents\My Games\Sid Meier's Civilization 4". Open the file in notepad then look for these lines:

; Allow Camera Flying
AllowFlying = 0

Change the value to 1 and save, then in the game, just press ALT + CTRL + F to enable flying camera. After that, you can use the mouse to adjust camera angle and the arrow keys to navigate. To return to the normal mode, just press ALT + CTRL + F again.
on Feb 27, 2006
I havnt played much GalCiv II yet, but I would like to add some praise for CIV IV. Its the best strategy game for years
on Feb 27, 2006
engine glow/trails is a good idea for the moves left concept. Implementing it could be difficult though depending on how the game engine is set up. Having to rewrite sections of their graphics code is probably not a task to look forward too when the idea could be implemented easier in another way.
on Feb 28, 2006
Drawing from an existing game innovation seems to be a double edged sword in the world of game development. As seen by the consumers that if a feature from one strategy game is so popular with the fans that it becomes a 'must have' feature in the ongoing strategy genre. For example, left click to select a unit and right click on an item (say an enemy unit) for it to perform an attack action. This wasnt always the way strategy games were. The point is that if you dont copy to some extent the good and innivotaive popular parts of gameplay and integrate them into your own title you risk being at a disadvantage when competing against titles that do utilise these sortof informal new industry standards.

However if you draw upon an existing game too heavily and make it obvious that your title did draw a lot of inspiration from someone elses work then you are seen as simply copying, freeloading and not innovating off the success of others for your own gain.

Take the good parts of existing works, then add to a variation on a theme, to legitimise them as your own.
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