Why 2K Games Pulled The Plug On The Wii’s ‘Civilization Revolution’

These days, if a publisher’s not actively working on something Wii related, stockholders are asking why. With Wii’s momentum showing no signs of slowing, would a company actually cancel an in-development Wii title?

2K Games (and by association, their owners at Take-Two Interactive) did that last week, when IGN revealed revealed the console version of Sid Meier’s strategy series, “Civilization Revolution,” was no longer coming to Wii, but still on for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo DS.

What they didn’t announce was why they were canceling it, so Multiplayer got in touch with Firaxis Programmer Scott Lewis to figure out what happened.

Here’s the official line that 2K Games dropped to the media last week:

“Development for the Wii version of Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution is currently on hold. We are focusing our attention on creating the best possible Civilization experience for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo DS platforms.”

There has to be more to the story, though, right?

In a world of rapidly rising development costs, canning a potential money maker isn’t done on a whim. I’ve kicked off my new career at Multiplayer by catching up with a developer who is finishing up work on the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions, to learn why Sid Meier’s opus won’t have any waggle functionality in 2008.Read on for his response.

The Wii version of “Civilization Revolution” had been lagging behind for a while. During last year’s Games Convention in Germany, Firaxis programmer Scott Lewis told me that the Wii version was far off for a number of reasons: the game required a complete reinvention of the interface and completely new art assets. Unlike a great many other multi-platform releases that now have an obligatory Wii version, there was no PlayStation 2 or PSP version of “Civilization Revolution.” Consequently, there were no art assets for the team at Fixaxis to mine from, unless they’re actually made from the ground up for the Wii version.

What I learned last week from Lewis was that, like many Wii releases in the last year or so, the Wii SKU was tacked on after the machine became a surprise success. “CivRev was originally a 360/PS3 project and was in development for over a year before the Wii/DS platforms were added, largely because we saw the success of those platforms and a lot of people (including myself) were very excited about them,” said Lewis in an e-mail to Multiplayer. But there was a bigger challenge: working on a Wii version required a completely new set of graphics and a very different control interface.

“All of our assets were originally created with the 360/PS3 in mind. In order to bring them to the Wii, a great deal of work would have to go into making those assets look appropriate on Nintendo’s system. If we had started the project with all four platforms in mind, it is far more likely that we would not have put the Wii version of CivRev on hold,” said Lewis.

2K Games announced “Civilization Revolution” in a press release last June, but didn’t confirm any specific platform destinations, citing only “next generation consoles and handhelds.” Does that mean 2K Games doesn’t consider the PSP a worthy handheld, or is that a hint at another desired-but-abandoned SKU? Had a PSP version become a priority, however, the Wii version would have less of an assets issue (which another part of the Take-Two family, Rockstar, actually pulled off with “Manhunt 2″). But, as Lewis mentioned, the visuals weren’t the only obstacle for them to overcome.

“We’re using every button on the 360/PS3 controllers and are working very hard to make the player’s experience as accessible and usable as possible with those controllers,” Lewis said. “The Wii version came online very late and we think that the audience would not be happy with a simple mapping of the 360/PS3 controls. (It is particularly tough because the Wii has fewer buttons.). I think the Wii would be perfect for a game like Civ, but we’d have to throw out all of our interface work (and some of our game design decisions) to make it feel like it truly fits on the platform.”

Sales numbers have produced blurry evidence that Wii gamers want something like “Civilization Revolution.” Mini-game titles have unquestionably performed best. 2K Games know that; it’s why their parent company’s “Carnival Games” exists. Are Wii gamers not interested in sophistication, or has the industry failed to provide it to them?

“The simple truth is that we had too many projects going on and not enough people,” Lewis said “When we were stretched for resources and time, of the platforms [we were working on], the Wii version had the most question marks, so it got put on hold. If the 360/PS3/DS versions do well, obviously a Wii version will be more likely.”

“Civilization Revolution” is no longer coming to the Wii, but if (and when) it happens down the road, at least Lewis provides some hope to Wii fans that Firaxis isn’t interested in putting out a shoddy port.