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Theodore Roosevelt casts a massive shadow on American history. Yet if you look at the 26th president in Civilization VI, you’d think the massiveness would be about him, not his legacy. Especially his face’s fat jowls.

Firaxis Games has a reason for this, senior producer Dennis Shirk assured me in a recent interview. And this plays into the mechanics of the upcoming strategy game, a series that’s 25 years old and has sold 33 million copies.

“He’s got a bit of jowl action going on, doesn’t he?” Shirk said after I asked about Teddy’s fat face.

“The leaders in Civilization V are a little more stylized, to bring out the personalities. He had a very big personality, so the art team was amplifying that. I’m not promising that’s the way he’s going to stay, because we’re in early code, but for the time being, each leader has that thing that brings out their personality and hammers that home,” Shirk said. “That’s one example.”

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Everything about Teddy is big — and this embodies America during his presidency. In Civilization V (which sold 8 million copies since its 2010 release), Firaxis livened up its leaders. This time, their historic agendas not only help them guide their nations, they also help shape their look.

“But with historic agendas this time, everybody has a very specific historic agenda. It’s not just a weighting. It’s how they view the game. Roosevelt, for example, doesn’t like conflict on his own continent unless he causes it. If you’re on a continent with him and you’re not starting wars, he’ll be your friend. It’s useful, because if you bait someone else into war with you, he’ll find it perfectly fine now if you go to war with them, and he’ll probably come in on your side because there’s a troublemaker on the continent. He doesn’t like that at all,” Shirk said.

“Each leader in the game has a very specific historical agenda attached to them. Qin loves wonders,” Shirk continued. “He wants the most wonders in the game. He gets very jealous if anyone else is doing as many wonders as he is, and he’ll go to war to take wonders from you, just to achieve that goal. His special units go along with that, too. His builders can help rush wonders. He’s actually the best at it in the game. If you’re on a continent with Teddy, and you don’t like China, and you decide to do a wonder push to make him mad, he probably goes to war with you, Teddy comes in on your side, you’ve got a great new ally now. You can take Qin’s city and the world doesn’t bat an eyelash because you’re justified. He attacked you. There’s all these little meta-game layers that are going on where you can exploit what you know about these other leaders.”

The idea for historical agendas come from Ed Beach, the lead designer of Civilization VI. He’s been at Firaxis since 2008 and was also the lead designer for the Civ V expansion Gods and Kings.

“That’s totally Ed Beach. It’s the board game designer inside of him. He really wanted them to come to life,” Shirk said. “He wanted to weigh them to play a certain way and give them a specific reason for why. I think that makes it a lot more interesting to the player to know what that why is. It’s a specific gameplay thing that makes it a lot more interesting. The way they’re doing it now, we’ve expanded that too. You’ve got a specific Civ ability. You have a leader ability. Usually you have two attachments to it, a unique unit and a unique infrastructure.”

Shirk then used Roosevelt as an example of how this works.

“America, I think their ability is called Founding Fathers. What Founding Fathers does for you is, when you do have a government, it’s called the heritage bonus. It multiplies twice as fast. The longer you keep a government, the same government, the more of a certain type of ability you get. If you switch it goes back to zero and starts climbing again. But it goes up twice as fast for America. Teddy’s ability himself is that all his units get combat bonuses for fighting on his continent. It goes hand in hand with his agenda, where he doesn’t like conflict on his continent unless he causes it. He’s got the Rough Rider. He also has an initial unit because it was historically significant. He has the P-51 Mustang. They have some unique infrastructure as well. They have the film studio. That’s part of the theater square. We wanted them to feel distinct, every one, distinct from each other.”

Of course, how does Roosevelt protect his continent when it’s the only one on the map? It’s something Firaxis looked at while prototyping and developing Civilization VI.

“When we were doing Teddy, of course we wanted to have a lot of his stuff come into play on a continent basis. But we’ve never tracked continents before. What do you do if you play on a Pangaea map and there’s technically only one continent? That’s not how Asia works, after all. It’s actually cut up into many subcontinents. Then we have to have map generation where you slice up and label the land and make it available to the player to see the different continents on the map. Then we have to have lenses with this too, so they can visually see the continents without mousing over everything on the map,” Shirk said. “Teddy’s historical agenda probably sparked the most latch-on effects that rippled out into having to do a lot of stuff just to make his continent-specific agenda work.”

And what about a world made up of just islands? How does that ol’ Teddy chap react to this?

“Well, islands are still part of different continents. When you’re on an island map, if you look down in Australia and the Philippines and everything, they’re still based on a continent. You still have a serious batch of territory that’s prelabeled as a continent. We name the continents and everything. It’s the same way,” Shirk said. “It’s just that his ability, where he gets combat bonuses for fighting in that area, it’s in that swath of territory you discover.”

So even on weird maps, Roosevelt’s historical attribute fits. Even if he does have jowls that are fatter than he had in real life.

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