I really like the Civilization series. I first came to the series with Civilization II on the original Playstation and sucked at it. Please understand I was probably around four or five years old at the time and pretty much completely blown away with what I had to do. I think I spent the majority of the game looking at the box cover which I still think is a elegant bit of art.
Through the years I would play different Civs, but only really got into the series with Civilization Revolution for the Xbox 360. While Civ Rev (as it is more commonly known as) is seen as a runt of the litter by fans due to its more simplistic design and streamlining due to being on consoles it still holds a dear place in my heart.
It is one of those special games that managed to connect with non-gamers I know, with its mix of history, politics, and geography (all helpfully illustrated with the Civilopedia). I loved the game so much I even went out and got an old copy Sid Meier’s Pirates!, created by the main lead designer of the Civ series, Sid Meier.
Today I wanted to write about something I find fascinating about Civ Rev that I don’t see much of, that is adaptive music and sound effects.
Introduction – Music in the Games Industry
Music has become a large part of the culture behind video games. What started out as what Melanie Fritsch described as, “…a ‘bip’ disrupt[ing] the silence…” (pg. 12, 2013) has transformed into an integral part of the system.
This can be seen with the rise of famous composers being brought it to do video games soundtracks, with notable examples being Hans Zimmer (Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, 2009), Joe Hisashi (Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch, 2013), and Tyler Bates (Rise Of The Argonauts, 2008).
There are even stars that are well known for their work on games. One of the high-profile creators is Jesper Kyd. Kyd is known for his work on the Hitman series as well as creating one of the most famous pieces of the seventh generation, Ezio’s Family, for Assassin’s Creed II (which has become THE defining piece for the entire series).
The music is so high profile now that games are picking up awards (Christopher Tin for Civ IV won the Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement with Vocalist(s)) and there are live performances for the music, for example, I went to the Tomb Raider Suite back in December 2016. In a similar vein Video Games Live is a major-selling show that plays famous video game music to sold-out venues.
But anyway, let’s move to focusing on Civ Rev.
The Silence in Between – Music and Sound in Civilization Revolution
A game of Civilization Revolution takes place over 6000 years. It starts in 4000BC with the game finally stopping at 2100AD if the player or AI haven’t reached a win situation.
The game is split up into four distinct eras, Ancient, Medieval, Industrial, and Modern. These rely on how advanced your civilization gets, with more technologies you discover your civ keeps moving forward.
The techs reflect this, with Bronze/Iron Working and Alphabet in the Ancient Era, Engineering and Banking in the Medieval, Gunpowder and the Railroad in the Industrial, and Electronics and Space Flight in the Modern.
As the game moves through time the music adapts and changes. It’s something that is so small but so engrossing. It would have been easy to have a singular “fight” sound, a continual loop that plays with every encounter, but for Civ Rev it changes based on your era.
Michael Liebe notes this as, “…linear music…” as it;
“…runs incessantly without any direct influence on the player’s action… [but] may change with different levels or milestones in the game.” (pg.47, 2013).
However, it also is part of what Liebe calls;
“…reactive music…[a] type of game-music [that is] is triggered by specific micro-actions… [such as] beginning a fight…” (pg. 47, 2013) because the battle music changes according to the era.
In the Ancient era, the player’s aggressive interactions with other civs or barbarians will produce woodwind and drums, perfectly evoking primitive instruments (4:23, 6:11, 12:24).
Moving to the Medieval era, there is a light accompaniment of brass into the mix, sometimes having an almost ecclesiastical quality (32:45, 33:23, 38:10).
The Industrial era brings with it strings, and heavier, lower-registered brass, hinting at the more expansionist, mechanized warfare as well as a more romanticized view of warfare that came with the age (1:04:24, 1:09:55, 1:10:28, 1:12:52, 1:15:57).
When a player reaches the Modern era, the sound completely changes with hints of synthesizers, metallic percussion, and even some electric guitar thrown into the mix (35:23, 35:39, 42:46).
The sound effects also follow this mode of changing although these can also be based on the unit (be it the ship, warrior, caravan etc.). While each has a “movement” sound effect, with marching boots, revving engines, or oars in water depending on the unit, it was the idle sounds that drew my attention.
Just hovering your cursor over a galley or galleon produces creaking wood and flapping sails. Hover over a warrior and your hear swinging swords, or pawing hooves on a horseman unit.
This even translates to the world. As you move over the ocean, crashing waves greet you. If you have built a city near the sea you hear crowing seagulls and shoreline swash. Build a strong market place and you hear barters conversing in shouts, or if you select a high profile mining and factory town, the sounds of hammers on metal and machines can be heard.
It’s not a subtle change, but it is somehow smooth. As we move through the eras not just the music changes but the visuals too, with our “advisors” (who look strikingly similar to Condoleezza Rice, Martha Stewart and Albert Einstein) taking on different dresses and outfits depending on the era. Roads adapt too, moving from dirt tracks, to cobbled streets, and finish as tarmac highways.
I previously mentioned Sid Meier’s Pirates! as being another game I picked up due to loving Civ Rev. Despite the remake of Pirates! being thirteen years old at this point its music is very much the same; always playing, but then reactive as to the situation, the location, and your reputation.
As you pass by ports of the different nations they each have their own theme. Even passing by the ports of pirate havens, Jesuit missions, and natives have their own musical accompaniments. Upon entering into the towns, the music seamlessly switches into different tones for the merchant, governor, tavern, and shipwright. But it’s the way the music adapts that got me again.
One of the gameplay themes of Pirates! is making money for certain nationalities. You can do this in many ways; become a pirate and plunder gold, trade professionally with merchants, or even send in some pirates or natives to raid towns.
This creates wealth disparity between ports with some being filthy rich (with the nation’s flag above being crisp and clean) while others are desolate (with the same flag being dirty and torn). The music reflects this with rich towns having beautiful renditions of the nations tune while poorer towns have maybe a single instrument with some notes being off-key. For example, here is the standard British theme and here is the poorer version.
All the parts I’ve talked about are small parts of the games. Most of these are not even needed as far as a minimum viable product; they are there as nice additions to the final published work. But that makes me love them even more.
They are so small but they create a much better product by having it adapt to the changing landscape and react to the player’s decisions.
It’s almost comfortable; a change that doesn’t jar you out of the experience but lets you settle into it. And with even the shortest Civ games taking place over a good few hours it helps aid that sense of progression.
Edit: This comes to an apotheosis with Civ VI, with the themes for the countries adapting and adding instruments as time continues. Similar to Civ Rev the themes are traditional songs from each civilisation, but these variations are excellent additions and aid that sense of passing time. My favourites are the Americans, Indian, and Greek.
[Back to original text].
We’ve all played games where the same two or three sound effects are used for battle sequences or playing over menus and load screens. Some of these soundtracks are great and I love them just as much.
But that reactive quality that I previously mentioned gives Civ Rev an extra quality that I never thought about let alone be able to vocalize a need for it.
It’s such a small touch and elevates Civ Rev in my mind to a much higher place for having it in.
Fritsch, M. (2013). History Of Video Game Music. In Moormman, P. (Ed.) Music and Game: Perspectives on a Popular Alliance. (p.11-40). Springer Fachmedien: Wiesbaden, Germany.
Liebe, M. (2013). Interactivity and Music in Video Games. In Moormman, P. (Ed.) Music and Game: Perspectives on a Popular Alliance. (p. 41-62). Springer Fachmedien: Wiesbaden, Germany.
Banner Photo Source: gamerati.com.