Can you make an anti-imperial empire game? The 4Xperts behind Civilization, Syphilisation and Victoria 3 discuss eXperimental 4X design

By | July 29, 2023

Eurogamer has published a new article with the title “Can you make an anti-imperial empire game? The 4Xperts behind Civilization, Syphilisation and Victoria 3 discuss eXperimental 4X design“.
The mentioned “4Xperts” are Civ5’s Jon Shafer, along with Nikhil Murthy, the designer of Syphilisation, and Ryan Sumo, who is working at Paradox for Victoria 3 and Europa Universalis IV. And as it turns out, these three know each other and are friends, as it is not uncommon in the game dev scene.
In this interview, they talk about the challenges in 4X games, how some of the concepts are intertwined with ideology (especially of imperial/colonialist idelogy), and how 4X games don’t only have to be about strategy, but can also tell a story (not necessarily the Civ games, but e.g. the Paradox games, or as we know, Alpha Centauri).

An excerpt from the interview:

Jon: Edwin, you mentioned Endless Legend, and I think to compare that to Civ – in Civ, there are expectations for what a game about history should be. And if you start changing the script a lot, then you’re not really delivering on that, in the same way. Whereas in a fantasy game, or a science fiction game, as a designer, you can go wild with the rules, especially from the base Civilization formula. You can push that in certain directions, but making it so that, say, only certain civilizations can declare war, for what Civilization is trying to do, it doesn’t really make sense.

It definitely feels like on the historical side, there’s a lot of potential to explore human relationships and politics and the tensions between people trying to compete and cooperate, how that plays out. If you’re trying to stick to a more traditional formula, being a little bit more interesting in your setting or your themes, can kind of open up the space there. It’s interesting with a historical game, you get a lot ‘for free’ in a way, but also the expectations for what you’re going to do are more specific.

Nikhil: I’m actually gonna push back a little bit there. When I started making Syphilisation, I made it a group report instead of having you actually decolonize India, putting you into the game as the Indian National Congress or something. Because all of our history games are like alternate history games, right? It’s not like there’s a 6000 year old Gandhi, watching over you from 4000 BC, choosing everything the country does [as in Civilization]. The reason I didn’t implement it as decolonizing India directly is that then there’s a possibility space I didn’t feel qualified to implement. I don’t have an answer to the question of what if the Indian independence movement was more violent? What if Jinnah had taken over the ANC leadership in the 1920s? I just don’t have answers for this.

You can read the whole article here, and discuss it with us here.