Civilization 6: Gathering Storm designers explain why Māori are a 'perfect fit'

The addition of Māori to wildly popular strategy game series Civilization has been confirmed and what's more, its developers say the inclusion is "a perfect fit".

Sid Meier's Civilization VI: Gathering Storm is an expansion pack with additions including a focus on what effects humankind has on planet Earth, which its creators reckon makes it ideal to include the indigenous people of Aotearoa.

The Māori will be led by Kupe, with Toa as a unique unit, Marae as a unique building and Mana as a unique ability.

A previous Civilization game included Māori elements in a generic Polynesian people, but Firaxis Games - the company behind the franchise - understands the strength of specificity.

"We do a better job at telling a stronger story by representing a culture the way it really should be portrayed," Ed Beach, the franchise's lead designer, tells Newshub.

"Māori have an amazing history, an amazing story - and it's not well enough known, internationally. If we can do a little bit to help spread it, to share some awareness, then we'll be really happy.

"We started looking around Polynesia for cultures we could focus in on for a deeper dive. We looked at Tonga, Samoa, Fiji; but when we looked at Māori and how closely tied in their belief system is to respecting the environment, that was a perfect fit for Gathering Storm."

Kiwi fans took to social media to express their excitement over Māori in Civilization when it was first hinted at, with some especially keen to reverse history and have tangata whenua cross the oceans and colonise England.

The game's creators are happy that fans will be able to have that sort of fun in the game, but insist they aren't trying to provoke controversy.

"Altering history is one of the greatest things you've always been able to do in Civilization," says Beach.

"There's a lot of storytelling that comes with our series. If you know history, you'll see a lot of things in the game that strike you as funny juxtapositions; so you may have Poland invade Germany and Russia - some things get flipped on their head like that.

"This happens every time we introduce a new civilisation, especially when there's a brand new one we haven't had in the series before. We're used to seeing that and we're glad that people are going to be able to explore those alternate histories - but we're definitely not trying to stir up trouble!"

Of course, including Māori in something like a computer game must be done with respect and only after research and consultation has taken place.

Firaxis Games says it relied on the international team of its parent company, 2K Games, to find the right expertise in New Zealand to work with.

Dennis Shirk, Civilization lead producer, tells Newshub his team wanted to accurately depict Māori architecture and monuments in the game. Their research informed them that different tā moko have important meanings to their wearer's experiences and family, and they wanted to get that sort of thing right with Kupe.

"We were linked up with a gentleman named Arekatera 'Katz' Maihi. He helped us design the tattoos of Kupe, which was extremely helpful," says Shirk.

"When you have a character like Kupe and a civilisation like Māori, we want to dig as deep as we can. We don't often have the opportunity to work with someone as well-revered but little-understood as Kupe. So we wanted to work really hard to get it right."

How Māori will look in Civilization 6: Gathering Storm.
Photo credit: Firaxis Games

In Civilization, leaders get a powerful unique ability. For the Māori, Kupe's Voyage has been inspired by the hero's legendary discovery of New Zealand.

Unlike other peoples, the Māori will start at sea, rather than at land. They'll receive bonus science and culture each turn prior to settling their first city and once settled, receive a free builder unit and extra population in the capital, while the palace scores additional housing and amenities.

In Civilization VI: Gathering Storm, Toa are a special classical-era melee unit that can fortify hills with a Pā - a unique defensive structure that provides combat bonuses for allied occupying units.

And that's not the only recognisable aspect of Māori warfare they'll feature.

"Probably the most unique thing about the Toa is that we got our animation team to study the haka enough that they had a haka-like animation sequence," says Beach.

"The haka is their unique ability - it strikes fear in their opponents. Adjacent enemy units become fearful if a haka is performed and suffer a combat penalty".

The Mana special ability grants Māori special bonuses from unimproved woods and rainforest areas, along with additional food and culture from fishing.

"You can pick a different path through the game with the Māori. Most other civilisations can be destructive to their environment - they want to chop down woods, clear rainforest, harvest stone quarries and so forth, just so they can push ahead in the game faster," says Beach.

"All those things are either discouraged or blocked if you're playing as the Māori, because that goes against the way they like to interact with their environment. So we had to come up with different bonuses they should get, to make up for missing those normal paths through the game.

"So tiles that are in their natural setting are more productive than usual for the Māori. They're great at establishing fishing communities and using ocean resources. The idea is to force players to approach the game in a different way, to look at what happens in the game through Māori eyes."

How Māori will look in Civilization 6: Gathering Storm.
Photo credit: Firaxis Games

Among the environmental effects being introduced in Gathering Storm is climate change - making its first appearance in the franchise. Strategic resources like coal, oil and uranium can be used to power a player's civilisation - but eventually it'll push the global temperature up.

Coastal cities will be especially at risk, as when CO2 levels get high enough, polar ice caps may melt and the sea level could rise.

The focus on the environment is a big part of what led Firaxis Games to seeing Māori as a perfect fit.

"It's been a lot of fun to try and create an empire in the style of the Māori and have it compete with all the other historic empires. We're really excited about this," says Beach.

And so it is that strategy gamers all around the world will soon be helping Kupe discover new lands and captaining Māori warriors as they perform haka before vanquishing their enemies.

Oh, and one of the other civilisations in the game is the Australians... so Kiwis can now waste Aussies in the world conquest simulator as well as on the rugby field.

Civilization VI: Gathering Storm is set for release on February 14, 2019.