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Firaxis scored big with Civilization IV, selling millions of units since 2007. Now the PC-centric developer showed a real-time demo of this fall’s Civilization V today at the Game Developers Conference.

Civilization is deemed by many fans and critics as the ultimate game in the long-running strategy series, so the question many pundits have for Firaxis is why create another?

According to Firaxis’ producer Dennis Shirk, the team wants to introduce new mechanics to the game, explore hexagonal tiles (instead of square-based tiles used in the last game), provide more choice and flexibility to the overall gameplay, and explore different peaceful means of negotiating and conversing with opponent civilizations in the game.

Visually, Civilization V provides big, sweeping vistas with more detail across the entire landscape from beginning to end than its predecessor. Firaxis showed the Americas, Europe, and African continents as they competed for resources and territory. Unlike Civ IV, the new hexagon tiles–used to define a space on the turn-based world map–provide a smoother, more visually logical transition for characters to travel from geographical section to section; additionally, they permit players to better see whether boats can cross through a small river or vehicles travel over tough land structures.

To better personalize the game, Firaxis presents full character models of characters such as George Washington or the Bismark of Germany. You’ll see these characters when negotiating treaties, giving gifts of gold, or declaring war. The larger, more real-looking figures are designed to engage players to see their opponents as more real character.

During the course of building your civilization, messages that once appeared on screen– which became grew in pace and became difficult to manage in the latter stages of the game–appear in the right-hand corner, better indicate the message given, and take you to the part of the world the action is taking place, giving gamers more command.

Firaxis designer John Schafer, who grew up playing Civilization games and became such a good map designer that Firaxis hired him, wants modifiable maps to become a more intricate aspect to the core game. Creating better interfacing for browsing to search for modded maps, and communicating with map creators will also be more accessible aspect to the game.

Combat has changed the most, said Shirk. Military units can longer be stacked (as done in CIV IV). Instead, only one unit can stand in one tile. Long-range units have been introduced (archers, or archers with flaming arrows, for instance), and the results of each combat situation change more drastically each time someone plays. The military is also more expensive to build and maintain, but it survives longer as well. Shirk explained that unmanned cities will defend themselves with a fixed amount of hit points, and that players will now have to take every capitol in a territory before claiming it, instead of finding and defeating every city in that territory–which caused players a lot of grief.

Peaceful activities and negotiations have expanded too, an area that Shirk says adds new wrinkles to the gameplay. For instance, if your civilization communicates that instead of fighting George Washington’s territory, and decides to make a research agreement, then researchers on both sides receive a 15% boost to development, speeding up the process for both sides.

Civilization V will be a single and a multiplayer game. While the developer hasn’t revealed the number of people to play simultaneously, Shirk said the number of players is likely to be similar to CIV IV. Civilization V is due in fall 2010.

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