Characters, Nationalism, and Affinities

Discussion in 'CivBE - General Discussions' started by MysticWind, Mar 17, 2021.

  1. MysticWind

    MysticWind Chieftain

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    It's unfair to continuously compare BE to its spiritual predecessor, but I think such critiques do reveal some of BE's inherent weaknesses in terms of story and characterization.

    I think for me the setup of BE's flaws aren't simply because the writing leaves a lot to be desired, or even that BE is a shiny optimistic future compared to its predecessor's desperate struggle for survival. First, all of the sponsor leaders, and the nations behind them, are all presented as too nice and non-confrontational. As MandaloreGaming's review describes it, "Everyone is from a really clean, polite, refined, perfect future. It's hard to imagine any of them fighting[...]"

    It's harsh, but it's true. All of the characters' motivations are more or less the same- the bettering of humanity, specifically their nation- they just have different emphases on how to do it. But none of the emphases are really in conflict with each other. Nobody is trying to set up a dictatorship or a warlike society. No one seems to have ethics issues. The in-game tech quotes and diplomacy dialog options don't present anyone as possibly nefarious.

    Not even the Civilopedia/website teaser lore seems to indicate that Kavitha's fanatical theocracy has a dark side. Rejinaldo's military career is that of a peacekeeper! The lore goes out of its way to tell us that Chungsu has a bad rep, their secrecy is actually for the betterment of humanity! The most negative you could get is that Fielding is a power-hungry corporate stooge with a predilection towards industrial espionage (but not anything more problematic like, assassinations), and Hutama likes to rig trade deals, and Élodie is a snob for the classics.

    Second, the national differences don't matter in terms of conflict. There's no reason why one country would hate or like another country, since there's no backstory of conflict or cooperation that BE works off of. All are basically starting from the same place, so there's no past grievances, only realpolitik struggles over resources and material concerns, until Affinities kick in.

    While I get that Firaxis doesn't want to invent reasons for one future country to hate another future country- that could easily make things dated really quickly, and even though the game was made before 2015 I understand why the devs don't want to stoke national antagonism. But then what ends up happening is that the Sponsors are just hollow window-dressing, differentiated only by different palette swaps and sound bites and city names and stat boosts. Why even differentiate the factions as national blocs if that's all you're going to invest into making them compete with one another?

    So finally, the affinities should be a bigger built-in differentiator.

    Two good posts:

    People have probably harped on this before, so I'll just conclude on how important Affinities are emphasized in future expansions or if there's a BE 2. They need to not only change stats and gameplay styles, for immersion and believability's sake, the writing also needs to give us a reason to care. Why does Supremacy, which is about changing yourself irrespective of your environment, conflict with Harmony, which is about changing yourself so the environment is unharmed? What are the hybrid affinities about and why do they conflict with each other, much less with the non-hybrid ones?

    Most of all, how do the Sponsors fit in with the Affinities? It's easy to think of Élodie as a Purist, Sochua as a Supremacist, Lena as a Harmonist, since their emphases reinforce those affinities. But you're allowed to choose any for anybody without any sort of penalty or conflict. I think restricting some affinities for some sponsors based on characterization (of the leader or of the sponsor future-nation) would help provide some depth. Or at least penalties for choosing an affinity because it's against the character's motivations. To bring about more choice, sometimes you need to restrict some choices. Or at least to tell a better story.

    I think Firaxis put a lot of work into the story and writing of BE, as flawed and underwhelming as it was. The fact that Sid Meier's Starships! had the sponsor leaders as the transhuman leaders of interstellar empires weirdly rooted in old Earth nationalities shows that Firaxis cares deeply about the characters they made, or at least wanted to reuse their art assets. So I hope BE 2 will still retain the sponsors in some fashion, but make them more interesting.

    Finally, I also think it's interesting how avid the mod community has been introducing their own future-nation blocs that really fit the style of BE. But I think these fan works often go an extra mile at actually providing their fan nations with deeper motivations.
     
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  2. legalizefreedom

    legalizefreedom Inefficiency Expert

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    Sounds like a couple of good game modes in there, but I wouldn't want to limit the base game by forcing major decisions like affinity on the sponsors. I'm all for better writing and a more extensive quest system that ties into the affinities, but I'm not as excited about boxing people in for the sake of backstory. That is a different game. A game more aligned to SMAC.

    However, I do appreciate your ideas.
     
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  3. vorlon_mi

    vorlon_mi Just One More Turn

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    Responding to a couple of @MysticWind 's ideas:
    - National differences don't matter in terms of conflict: I agree with that basic approach. In the mainline Civ franchise, Japan doesn't always declare war on China, nor do England, France, and Germany always end up warring with each other. The games are up-front about the tendencies of the leaders, with attributes like "Agricultural" or "Scientific" (Civ 3), "Spiritual" or "Charismatic" (Civ 4), unique abilities in Civ 5 which parallel the unique personality trait in BE(RT), and the agendas of each leader in Civ 6. All of those games allow the player to rewrite history, not carrying over the specific baggage of geographical rivals. I like the idea of ARC and PAC potentially being allies, even if they were rivals on Old Earth.

    - How do sponsors fit in with the affinities? I agree with this wholeheartedly. Yes, it's possible to win a space victory with Montezuma (a notorious warmonger in Civ3 or Civ4) or a domination victory with a peacenik, but it's a challenge. Rowing against the current. In BE(RT), all of the leaders could win using any of the victory conditions. Brasil has a advantage in Domination by building up war score more quickly, but that is partially neutralized by the AI's unwillingness to negotiate peace even when it is losing the war score by hundreds of points. I think that sponsors should have certain preferred affinities and some should be naturally aggressive, pursuing the Domination VC.

    At this point, I'm remembering a comment from someone else -- @legalizefreedom ? -- that the AI seems programmed to:
    survive, thrive, and win .... in that order. Given that grand strategy, it's not too surprising that so few AI ever try to win by Domination, and stumbling into the Contact victory is always a possibility. During my few attempts at Apollo difficulty, I saw AI factions that were developed sufficiently to pursue one affinity aggressively and its associated VC.

    Given the small number of sponsors in the game when it first released, I could see the developers not wanting to "box in" players. Oh, great, I started next to XX tribe, they will always invade me. Allowing the AI sponsors to pursue any of the VC -- even Contact -- meant that the human player couldn't make assumptions they way that they do in the mainline games in the franchise. But then why not just add more sponsors, as they did in Civ 4 and Civ 5? Those games have multiple leaders who are aggressive, multiple leaders who like to build all the wonders, multiple leaders who grow their economies aggressively.
     
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  4. MysticWind

    MysticWind Chieftain

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    The thing about Civ: On Earth is that the nations/leaders are also an easy way to bring in flavor. They have unique units, they have everything we know in history. You can imagine hoplites fighting Zulu warriors. But in Civ:BE you have these amorphous futuristic blocs that you know something about, but it's not quite the same to see identical-looking units with different colored stripes and shading rushing each other. And these leaders have some backstory (all pretty blandly peaceful, positive, and refined) but it's not the same as imagining Gandhi whaling on Lincoln and Cleopatra.

    Speaking of which, someone said that C:BE should've been actually Civ in Space. As meme-y and unserious as that might be for a real game, it would at least inspire more interest and amusement to see the supernaturally immortal historical leaders we know and love on this new planet tussling with aliens. And it would at least be better than Sid Meier's Starships.

    Yeah, it depends on what they're trying to do. They weren't trying to make SMAC 2, they were trying to make Civ in space, so it means instead of hardcoding your characters to have specific predefined personalities, it means you're trying to make them all interchangeable, just with different buffs. I could speculate the truly challenging but also time-intensive thing could be to imagine each sponsor with several 2-4 predefined personalities that gel with their leader characterization and lore. "Ah, Kavitha is pacifist this time, really playing up the good karma/as-silm tenets." "Oh no, she's fanatical this playthrough and wants everyone to be converted."

    But, of course, that might be unrealistically hard to implement. Or maybe it's just a matter of having several generic attitudes that are randomized, just with custom dialog to support each personality. Maybe that would make the characters seem a little schizoid- but they already kind of are, since they're so undefined.

    Yeah, I get everyone who says that story-wise the leaders are meant to be the best of the best, much more stable than the SMAC leaders, much less prone to violence. But in the end, it's Civ and you're still declaring war or sabotaging each other with covert actions. So they should've committed to realism and given us leaders who are more ambiguous if not outright aggressive. And not just with violence- for all of Kozlov's love for rockets and infrastructure, or Hutama's preference for favorable trade deals, or Fielding being an ambitious beancounter, none of them are looking to economically dominate the others. So their personalities all seem fairly non-confrontational.
     
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  5. vorlon_mi

    vorlon_mi Just One More Turn

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    It's an interesting story telling challenge. On Earth (in the other Civ games), leaders arose in response to certain challenges in their own tribe's history. Cleopatra, Victoria, Lincoln, Napoleon, all climbed / rose / grabbed power because of factors in their own circumstances.
    Even in the preview / launch videos, we see factions on old Earth selecting colonists -- and presumably a leader -- to represent them on a one-way trip to the stars. The leaders *interviewed* for this job, and were chosen by the folks on old Earth as ambassadors, as managers, as mayors of a distant colony. It's unlikely that process would select a Stalin, or Mao Zedong, Montezuma or Shaka. Also, all the the sponsors start from the same historical period, leaving after the same Great Mistake, instead of the Civ leaders who are selected from centuries of history. It's fun to imagine Gilgamesh, Xerxes, or Hammurabi ordering their tanks, jet fighters, or Giant Death Robots into battle.

    Players like me are left wishing that H-J Moon would be the spiritual successor to Wang Kon or Ho Chi Minh, or that Hughes would the the spiritual successor to Adm Nelson or Winston Churchill, but they're not. Yes, I would enjoy Civ in Space. That's how I mentally play the game anyway.
     
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  6. jacky joy

    jacky joy Chieftain

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    thanks for the awesome information.
     

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