We’re Getting A Sci-Fi Civilization, And It Sounds Fantastic

We’re Getting A Sci-Fi Civilization, And It Sounds Fantastic

Civilization is going to space. The next game in Sid Meier’s iconic turn-based strategy series will take place on an alien planet, where you’ll explore, colonise and fight other factions as you attempt to navigate uncharted sci-fi territory.

Sound familiar? Civilization: Beyond Earth, as it’s called, seems very much like a spiritual successor to Alpha Centauri, the wonderful sci-fi Civ spinoff released back in 1999. Beyond Earth will be out this spring for PC, Mac and Linux, which should excite more than a few Civ fans. Strategy game addicts have been waiting almost 15 years for another sci-fi 4X game, and the next big thing from Firaxis is just that.

The Alpha Centauri comparisons can’t be avoided. But the folks at Firaxis — most recently responsible for XCOM, a much different kind of sci-fi game — say they want Beyond Earth to feel different than that 90s classic.

“This is going our own direction,” Beyond Earth designer Anton Strenger said in a phone interview earlier this week. “But that’s not to say that we have not, you know, drawn some inspiration from Alpha Centauri. When I was in sixth grade I played Alpha Centauri. That was my first 4X game, and I remember learning it over my friend’s shoulder and not knowing exactly what was going on but loving every minute of it.”

In Alpha Centauri, you’d pick one of seven factions and colonize an alien planet, fighting off nasty mindworms and workshopping new units as you negotiated and battled with your fellow human settlers, like the zealous Believers and the draconic Hive. It mixed the brain candy of a Civilisation game with some solid sci-fi fiction, and the results were engrossing and addictive. Fans spent years craving and demanding a successor, but that could never really happen — Alpha Centauri is owned by the publisher Electronic Arts, while Firaxis is now owned by one of their competitors, 2K Games.

(Full disclosure: I have spent many, many hours playing Alpha Centauri. Too many. I’m glad there’s no way to track that.)

So what about this upcoming game, Civilization: Beyond Earth? Well, for starters, here’s a CGI trailer, released by Firaxis today:

Let’s break down some of the basic features, as described to me by the Firaxis folks.

Pre-game preparation is a big thing here. “When you start a game of Civ: Beyond Earth, your choices start before turn zero,” said Strenger. “You’re composing your spacecraft on your expedition to this new alien planet.” So you’ll get to make some basic decisions — colonists, cargo, type of spacecraft — before the game starts. That, the designers say, will impact the outcome of your entire game.

“Even when you arrive you’re not just this kind of pre-baked factional identity, you’re this composition of different choices that plays out a little bit different every time,” Strenger said. “That goes for the human player and also for the AI players as well.”

Factions are a little different than they are in Civ. Instead of playing as familiar civilizations like, say, the Romans, or Russia, you’ll play as futuristic fictional factions — like the American Reclamation Corporation. Or the Panasian Cooperative.

“Factions each have distinct personalities,” said producer Dennis Shirk. “You might have an aggressive personality and they have a specific trait, but it’s going to vary greatly, because depending what they start out with, those loadouts are gonna mean that you’re gonna get a different experience each time.”

You can’t play as an alien race. Sadly. Maybe that will come in an expansion pack later, like it did with Alpha Centauri‘s Alien Crossfire. For now, aliens in Beyond Earth will be more like barbarians in a Civ game — you can ignore them or pick fights to clear them out of your way.

We’re Getting A Sci-Fi Civilization, And It Sounds Fantastic

The tech tree is non-linear. Really, it’s more web than a tree, the designers say.

See, in most Civilization games, you go through technologies by progressing linearly, moving from discoveries like masonry and writing to philosophy and mathematics and eventually working your way up to modern times, where you can learn how to blow things up. In Beyond Earth, you’ll be able to pick one of a few different branches — like chemistry or engineering — and head down that particular branch. As you progress through the game, you can either stick with the branch you chose, or switch paths to unlock other kinds of stuff.

“Once you go to ecology, for example, that can lead into technologies for terraforming, and for advance satellites, and for geoscoping,” said Strenger. “Whereas if you go down the engineering route, that leads to civil support, cybernetics, and other technologies instead. You can advance in many different directions, and at any point you can go back and say, ‘OK I’ve gone enough down this branch for now,’ and go back and focus on other things.”

You probably won’t be able to get every piece of tech by the end of a match, Strenger said. “Each decision you make, each thing that you wanna go for is gonna come at the cost of not being able to get something else.”

We’re Getting A Sci-Fi Civilization, And It Sounds Fantastic

Surrounding that technology web are big-picture decisions. Themes, really. The developers at Firaxis call them affinities. Based on how you choose to progress through the tech web, you’ll find your civilisation leaning toward one of three different “post-human identities”: purity, harmony, or supremacy.

“Purity is very concerned with maintaining the glory of old earth and the tradition and the culture,” Strenger said, “so they’re kinda rejecting these new influences on the alien planet. The harmony affinity embraces genetics and alien life forms on the planet and tries to integrate with the planet. And then supremacy does the same sort of integration and moving past what humanity was, but they do it in a technological direction. So they implant cybernetics into their own bodies, and they link up their minds to neural networks.”

You’ll also be able to…

  • Do quests and side missions while exploring the planet.
  • Negotiate with other factions, build trade routes, and do all the other little management activities that make a Civ game a Civ game.
  • Find alien relics, not unlike in Alpha Centauri.
  • Build satellites for different kinds of military, economic, and technological advantages.
  • Go insane and declare war on everybody in a mad attempt to take control of the planet by killing everyone else.

Hopefully they can capture what made Alpha Centauri so great. Anyone who spent long nights battling with Zakharov and Santiago undoubtedly has fond memories of transcending humankind and merging with the Planet in Firaxis’s sci-fi classic. It was a top-notch game, and though the Civilization series has been consistently great since Sid Meier programmed the first Civ back in 1990,Alpha Centauri always stood out, possibly because it could create its own story, unconfined by history or realism.

The folks at Firaxis seem to agree. And if anyone can pull off a great spiritual successor to Alpha Centauri, it’s Sid Meier and crew. Who else could do it?

“This is, for the whole team, just an amazing thrill to be able to cast off the shackles of historic context and work on something amazing like this,” Shirk said. “Because it’s been a while since Firaxis has gone into space, outside of XCOM. So just to go through the whole process, watch the designers go through the whole process, has been amazing.”


  • I love how every article I’ve read about this has started out saying something like THE SPIRITUAL SUCCESSOR TO ALPHA CENTAURI!!!!1 and then the rest of the article consists of the people at Firaxis telling us that it’s not the spiritual successor to Alpha Centauri…

  • This looks fantastic! Really looking forward to it. My only complaint though… mankind? Really? I hate to be that guy but come on it’s the future and stuff. Can’t we just pretend we’ve sorted out the patriarchy by the time we settle other planets? Sigh

    • Yeah and we shouldnt be referred to as HuMANS. It should be Hupeople. Oh the hupeoplity!

      • No, we should be referred to as humans. Unless of course you think we should be in the business of committing etymological fallacies.

        • It’s also an etymological fault to ignore language evolution. ‘Mankind’ hasn’t been gender-associated in centuries, and ‘man’ can also refer to humans of either gender.

          • You can’t commit an etymological fault by ignoring something. You commit it when you suggest that the meaning of a word should correspond to it’s historical meaning. People generally understand what you mean when you say mankind.

            My original point was not that mankind should return to meaning “all men” but that there are better words to use instead (humanity for example) that would be more amicable to a modern society. It’s a question not of the accuracy of definitions but of the ethics of language.

            The civ marketing people should be kicking themselves for not having a man and woman standing together as they look out into space and the narrator speaks of “a new beginning for humanity”. Such a trailer might be more effective in getting women interested in the game.

          • As most dictionaries will point out, ‘mankind’ referring to males is an archaic usage. Modern usage of the term, and its primary usage throughout most of the word’s history, has been synonymous with humanity.

            Redefining primarily neutral words into a gender or racial context isn’t a battleground in the war against prejudice, it’s a diversion that has little to nothing to do with the cause and certainly very little to gain. ‘Mankind’ is a neutral word derived from the neutral usage of ‘man’. Another pet peeve is the constant misuse of ‘misogyny’ these days as though it were a synonym for sexism. It isn’t, and misusing such a strong word dilutes its real meaning.

    • EXACTLY what I was thinking at the end. It’s like “wow this is such a nice ide- wait, ‘mankind'”?

  • Awh. This is very cool and all, I’m very happy… but not really thinking when I clicked the title in the link-box I thought I would be going to a gizmodo article explaining how civilization is going to advance to sci-fi stages and humanity WON’T be doomed to its seemingly inevitable terrestrial-bound extinction.

  • As much as I’m a fan of both Civilization and Sci-Fi, Looks a bit too much liked a reskinned Civ-V for my taste. There better be some real serious gameplay differences that make it more than just Civilization with a science fiction skin.

  • Super excited for this, but c’mon guys its 2014 not the 1960’s. It’s Humanity not Mankind.

  • I’ve spent WAY too many hours “playing just one more turn” – Looking forward to do it again.

  • I always say Alpha Centauri is my favourite game of all time. As far as I’m concerned, that earns Firaxis my money for the new one, even if for licensing reasons they have to insist it’s not AC or a sequel to AC or whatever. And that’s even though I almost never play PC games anymore… haven’t played one since Mass Effect 3 and The Secret World, actually. But I’d sit at a PC for this.

    I disliked what they did to the Civ series with Civ 5, but on the other hand it sounds like they have been working out some of the mistakes with that and hopefully learn from it. The greatest strength of Alpha Centauri compared to conventional Civ was always really in how customizable it was. It was the sandiest of sandbox 4X games.

  • At the risk of upsetting the people with more free time and PC money than me, any chance of this game showing up on anything other than PC?

    My PC is a POS (it runs Civ IV fine) and I would love to get a new Civilisation Revolution style take on this game.

  • I just hope that they improve the AI for this game! The AI in Civ5 was really lacking…

    • If the AI can at least go over bodies of water effectively it’d be an improvement. Seriously. Getting sick of getting War Declared by someone who can’t swim across the lake.

  • Since there’ll be mod support, it means it’s only a matter of time before someone does a total conversion mod for Alpha Centauri. 😀

  • “Strategy game addicts have been waiting almost 15 years for another sci-fi 4X game, and the next big thing from Firaxis is just that.”

    True strategy game addicts know this is not true. You obviously haven’t heard of Sins of a Solar Empire.

  • If I recall correctly – Bryan Reynolds is the man who designed Alpha Centauri (and a bunch of other “Sid Meier” games).

    It’s a shame that the guy who made some of the most memorable 4x games out there has had to have someone elses name on his titles, but he deserves the credit.

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