Civ V's Shafer: Context, Not Historical Accuracy The Goal

Civilization 5 lead designer John Shafer explains how the team balances its focus on gameplay with historical context -- historical accuracy "is not really a goal," he says, but having period context helps "draw you in."
The Civilization series of strategy titles is practically an institution in gaming, with its spiritual traditions of empire-building and historical context. But how thoroughly does it incorporate actual history -- particularly with the newest installment, upcoming Civilization V? "Historical accuracy, per se, is not really a goal," says Civ V lead designer John Shafer in a new Gamasutra feature. "We definitely try to use history as a framework. One good example of that is the social policies tree, which are part of the game for the first time." Instead, the game structure is contextualized in branching paths, where each is themed: "There are ten pathways you can take, and each of them is roughly historical in the time that it appears," Shafer explains. "So, late in the game, there's the autocracy branch, which is focused on the rise of fascism and dictatorships. That was something that we knew we wanted to put in the late game, because it doesn't fit earlier." "It's something that draws you into the game," he says, when players can correlate ideas and events with specific periods in time. "It draws you in, and you say, 'That seems familiar. I remember hearing about that.' It's not historically accurate per se, but it does draw upon the history to be interesting." But the historical context isn't any less important for the removal of specificity, Shafer says. "You know, if you took out all of the history of Civilization, it would be a very bland experience. You might have great gameplay, but it's just not going to be the same as when you recognize things." "That's one of the reasons having the leaders is great," he continues. "You recognize the characters. 'Oh, that's George Washington. I know George Washington.' If you just had nameless, faceless characters, it would be a very different experience. History is very important, but not the most important element. You need both." Our full feature interview with Shafer, who at 25 years of age is leading the title's design for the first time, is now live at Gamasutra.

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