The Design of Rising Tide’s Primordial Biome and Aquatic Gameplay

With Rising Tide, our team is looking to expand the Beyond Earth experience in new ways. The goal was simple: take the game even further. What better way to do that than introduce a feature never before seen in any Civilization title: aquatic gameplay!

The expansion’s Art Director, Todd Bilger, took some time to describe the process of creating the look of the Primordial biome while the Co-Lead Designer, David McDonough, described the new aquatic gameplay.

The Art of the Primordial Biome

Answered by Todd Bilger

What was the inspiration for the Primordial biome?

Todd: The original three biomes [Lush, Arid, Fungal] showed established alien worlds. These were planets that would remain unchanged for thousands of years. We played with this idea and wanted to show something completely different. The Primordial biome is a young and active world that’s still growing and forming into the planet it’s meant to be. It’s prime for volcanic activity and the climate is much more extreme than the standard planet.

We wanted the Primordial biome to stand out, which we thought was going to be difficult because we already had a “hot” planet-type in the Arid biome. The key difference is the Arid is a stagnant and dry terrain. There’s a lot of desert and inactivity. The Primordial biome is rocky, parts of the terrain are black from the cooling lava, and there’s a lot going on under the surface of the planet.

How did you come up with the look for the Primordial biome?

The first part was constructing the shapes of the terrain. These shapes go a long way in describing the look and feel of this biome. We wanted the shapes alone to tell the player that this planet is in a constant state of growth and activity. The mountain ranges, for example, have a more violent upward push to them than the other biomes. We then did a color pass where we looked for characteristics that would tell the story of the planet. It’s always interesting to watch these abstract things like simple shapes and color create a story and an atmosphere.

How is the Primordial biome different than any other biome from the base game?

I think the theme of the Primordial biome is taken further than any of the biomes from the base game. The ice caps on Primordial maps are smaller. We did a lot of research into the kinds of plants that could survive this environment. You’ll see that detail in the biome’s shorter and fatter plants. The water, coastlines, and the plant life on the ocean floor all tie into these themes as well.

What were the real world inspirations for the art style?

Some of the most interesting research we did was looking at Earth plants and terrain from a microscopic level. When you look at something that close, it describes growth in a completely different way than what we see with the naked eye. This helped us imagine something far different than something we would have here on Earth.

Are the biomes from the base game getting updated?

They are and in a number of ways! We went back and tried to come up with new details that really complemented each biome’s atmosphere. Since we completely redid the look of the oceans for Rising Tide, each biome’s ocean has a very specific look. The aliens have also been changed to further define each biome’s atmosphere. We wanted players to feel like the aliens belonged to each biome. It’s similar to what we see on Earth. If you look at the animal life in a tropical forest, you’ll see a completely different range of color and textures than if you were in a desert.

What new feature in Rising Tide are you most excited about?

For me on the visual side it’s the look of the ocean. It was a big challenge to try and visualize the depth and character of each biome’s ocean. The ocean has always been flat in Civ and now all of a sudden we have to visually communicate a number of important features. It was definitely one of our largest hurdles, but we got the tech and team together and achieved something that we are incredibly happy with.

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The Game Changer: Aquatic Gameplay

Answered by David McDonough

What made you guys decide to take Beyond Earth into the water?

David: It was an obvious opportunity too good to pass up. Aquatic gameplay is something historic Civilization games can’t easily do. But, it’s a perfect fit for Beyond Earth’s sci-fi theme and is a unique opportunity to push the strategy of Civ in a new direction. Outside of some custom scenarios, Civ has never had a 100% playable planet. The water has been a natural barrier between continents, and strategies are formed based on where the continents are. Everything is different when you can settle on any part of the map. For its thematic suitability and gameplay opportunity it was a great decision to pursue aquatic gameplay.

How does the aquatic gameplay change the game?

There are similarities in water and land gameplay, but they are different in some key ways. We wanted a level of familiarity so players would have an easy time integrating ocean cities into their established strategies. If you’ve played the base game, then you’ll have no trouble building an ocean colonist and settling them. On the other hand, there are a lot of new obstacles and opportunities specific to the ocean. There’s no terrain to stop your movement. Everything moves very quickly. Boats move fast. Cities can move around. Overall, gameplay at sea is a lot faster and more dangerous. The aquatic aliens also provide the player with new challenges. Aquatic aliens still have nests and a variety of forms, but their AI is set to do different things.

Is colonizing the ocean more difficult than land?

It’s a challenge in a different way. It’s no more difficult to get an outpost onto the ocean. There are no barriers to settling an ocean city or going between land and sea. But once you’re established on the ocean, you have to pay attention to different things to keep your city growing and safe. We’ve taken care to make sure ocean settlement is every bit as exciting and powerful as land settlement. We want players to be eager to explore their oceanic options and not be put off by it.

What are some of the things (units, resources, abilities) that only ocean cities can do or have access to?

There’s a whole catalogue of aquatic-themed buildings and wonders that only ocean cities can get. A lot of those have to do with improving the city’s movement or its attack and defense to make your city more like a floating fortress. There’s a whole set of aquatic resources that only occur at sea. The expeditions you can find at sea are very interesting. Players are going to find some weird things in the deep ocean.

What new feature in Rising Tide are you most excited about?

I’m most excited about water cities moving. Water in general is a collection of new gameplay features that I’m really excited about, but moving cities is number one on the list. It’s exciting to see players have to change their strategy. It almost hits them like a revelation. They start to think, “What can I do now that I move my cities around? What is the ocean like for me to play on with moving cities?” I’m very excited to see players explore this.

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Earlier today, we released our E3 gameplay demo for Civilization: Beyond Earth - Rising Tide. You can watch it in full below.