Sid Meier has been the master brain behind numerous smash-hit games and game series', not least the acclaimed Civilization strategy titles that have continually impressed. His latest project is Sid Meier's Railroads, a railroad empire-building experience that's due out on PC at the end of next month. During a recent press jaunt we managed to grab hold of the man himself for a little chat...
CVG: So what's Railroads! all about?
Meier: A couple of things came together to make us take another look at Railroads. I'd done Railroad tycoon in the late '80s, and I always thought railroads were cool - as a kid I had my model railroads so that was a fun memory for me. In 88, 89 we did Railroad Tycoon for the PC, at that time I remember we had 16 colours to work with and a kind of top down map. But at the time it was a fun game, and over the years people have continued to ask 'Will you do another railroad game? We like Railroad Tycoon' so I always had that in the back of my mind that it might be fun to revisit the railroad idea.
We've been very fortunate with Civilization and then Pirates! a year or two ago to take ideas we've been playing around with for a while and add new technology and rethink them and people seemed to enjoy playing them again. I was actually in Hamburg two years ago talking about Pirates and they had this incredible model railroad laid out there open to the public, kind of like a theme park based on model railroads. So we saw that and we started to think about making another railroad game that really used that idea of bringing the whole railroad thing to life visually where you could actually watch the steam engines and the steam coming out, things being loaded and unloaded - the same kind of sandbox world we try and create with other games so you feel like you are building and controlling this world, Civilization being a good example.
We started working with Take Two and they just happened to have the license to the original Railroad Tycoon. So about two years ago I began a prototype for a new game - 3D, a nice world with cities, the operation of the trains - just experimenting with what would be fun, what would be too much detail. So I put together this prototype using simple 'playmobile' graphics, with blocky shapes and bright colours, but it was just enough to realise that this could be a fun game.
We got our team together to make cool graphics and cool looking trains - all the pieces that go together to make the game - trying really to keep this balance between the model railroads and the history of railroads, the progression of different trains through time, different scenarios in different countries, an economic model that told you if you're doing well - do you have a poor railroad, should you be more efficient. We added multiplayer which is something we didn't have originally - all the modern features and interface etc. So basically we wanted to capture that essential fun of railroads with today's cool graphics and special effects, technology interface to make it even more fun to play than the original.
CVG: Would you say it's a remake, in the vein of Pirates!?
Meier: It's a lot of new elements but we are trying to keep some of the things that were fun about the original that people enjoyed - the empire-building aspect, where you start with something simple and then build it to your own unique design. Every railroad that everyone builds will be different, so you get the feeling that every game is unique. As with Pirates!, we try to focus on the fun aspects of all of it; it's not a hardcore simulation, but there's enough history that if you want to try something you've heard or read about it will probably work in the game. But there is no requirement to follow history; you can play however you want and make something that's uniquely your own.