Civilization VI: Q&A with Brian Busatti, Art Director

Civilization VI Brian Busatti

In the run up to the much anticipated Civilization VI launching on 21 October 2016, I (Charlie) recently got the chance to sit down with Brian Busatti, Art Director at Firaxis Games to ask him a few questions about the game!

Brian was part of a renowned team of developers that worked on Civ VI and had previously worked on Civ IV as well as Civ VHere’s what we got talking about:

What makes Civ VI different to the other games in the series?

Brian Busatti: It’s the 25th Anniversary for the Civilization series so it’s quite a special time!

We’ve made some changes to VI, one of the biggest difference being stacking in the cities (Wonders no longer occupy the same single tile as the city). That creates a lot more interest in the strategy element of the game with the cities expanding out. We’ve also introduced certain advantages for the districts, like the science district can get bonuses for being near mountains and rainforests. As you’re exploring the map and placing your cities you’re paying a lot more attention to where you’re putting things down, it’s not just about special resources anymore.

What efforts have you made to make Civ VI accessible to a new audience?

We try and strike a certain balance, making sure we make the game still familiar to our fans, but we also want to expose the game to new people. We’ve spent a lot of time on the tutorials, trying to create them as if the user doesn’t know anything and they’re a lot more fleshed out than they have been in the past.

I just had a quick play of the game before this interview and having never played before I was surprised that within 5 minutes I had got the jist of what I was doing, so I think you’ve done a good job!

So what will you be bringing to the table that will keep the hardcore fans engaged with this series?

Keeping the game familiar is important, we have this rule; 33% of the game is the same, 33% has been tweaked, and 33% is brand new. So the biggest difference between V to VI, aside from stacking the cities, is we have an active research system. I think that’s my favourite thing about the game, because now instead of just going through the tech tree in a very specific way, which most players in Civ V could argue that there was a very streamlined way to get through things, the environment now plays an important factor in the decisions you make in the game. Settling your city on the shore will let you research your salmon a lot quicker than you could before, as opposed to somewhere that’s landlocked. So those type of things, depending on where your starting location is, depending on whether you have combat early on or what types of districts you make, you will go through the tech tree in a different way.

Just how much is going on behind the scenes when you hit that next turn button?

There’s a lot of things going on! We learned a lot from our past games, the God & Kings expansion was very popular, we wanted to get into Civ VI and keep all that stuff, which was very ambitious and certainly makes things difficult for us later on, expanding the game, but that stuff is all part of the core game engine so it’s a lot easier to integrate those and make the systems work together.

The graphics engine is completely new, as an artist that’s my thing! There’s a lot of new technology there, we have a much more realistic shading system so you can simulate all kinds of different materials, the lighting system has been overhauled – we have time of day now. One of my favourite things is we have wonder movies now. In Civ V we had paintings and a lot of people said they missed the timelapse of wonder movies from Civ IV, so we wanted to do that in real time.

Civ V has mod support built-in via Steam workshop, will this functionality come with Civ VI as well?

Absolutely. We’re very aware of the mod community and we’ve taken more strides on Civ VI to make sure that that’s accessible. Everytime we talk about the future we talk about how modders are going to be able to interact with the game. We’re very excited to see what they do, they always come up with very fun ideas.

There’s a lot of things they can do that are simple, for example our cities now have cultural attachments. In Civ V we just added a base drive, we didn’t have a lot of variety other than unique things, like Japan has a samurai, but their swordsman looked the same as everyone else. Now we’ve gone to the effort of making skin tones for everybody, very unique weapons and armour, and we started with a cultural set – we have a European set. We don’t have a French and English set but that’s the kind of stuff that’s really easy for modders to get into. They don’t have to do any new animation because the way the attachment system works, they just need the model to be attached to the basic elements and they’ll play well with what’s already there.

Sean Bean has starred in the trailers and is even in the game, have you ever considered a Civ game attached to Game of Thrones?

That would be awesome! We haven’t considered that before but thanks for the idea, that would be amazing!

How does the team improve upon a game so dense with mechanics?

That was one of the big challenges, we have a lot more stuff going on in the back end so we put a lot of effort into making things (look and feel) more real. That’s what really is in the style. We have to be very critical of ourselves when working on the next title and we looked at things and thought we really want to make things clearer for the player, we didn’t want them to have to zoom in to the hex to look at the numbers so the style let us have a lot more freedom with the world. When you’re dealing with a realistic character, there’s not a whole lot of range, the difference between somebody being angry and neutral is sometimes way too subtle, especially if you’re dealing with a more calm personality. We have some amazing animators that have really outdone themselves, it’s so exciting to start showing some of these animations, not only the leaders but the units and characters of the world’s.

What is your favourite Civilization to play as?

Recently I have been playing a lot of Japan. I like Japan because not only do you get your bonuses for placing your districts near mountains but if you have districts next to each other you get a bonus, so if you cluster your districts together you can get some really hot bonuses.

How do you feel now Civ VI is being shipped?

It feels good! As far as the artists, we’re wrapping up now and it’s nice to finally see the end. We’re very proud of the work our team has put into it and it’s been one of my favourite series to work on.