Sid Meier Talks Civ
28th Sep 2007 | 10:50
Sid Meier is a strategy guru who has been buried deep in game design since the early 1980s, and is today regarded as one of the best designers games have ever seen.
His career began when he co-founded Microprose and he then went on to form Firaxis where he's currently Director of Creative Development.
During his time in the games industry his name has become so big it's virtually evolved into a brand in its own right. He has, of course, numerous acclaimed intellectual properties stuck firmly in his belt, the most prominent of which is Civilization.
In our latest Creative Minds interview, we query Meier on Firaxis's new Civilization game, Civ's move to console and whether this marks a completely new direction for Firaxis, his love of strategy games and the conception of Civilization and the influences on its birth.
So, can you tell us about Civilzation: Revolution?
Sid Meier: Well, its full official name is Civilzation: Revolution (laughs). What's revolutionary about it is that it's Civilzation, all the great gameplay of Civilization, brought to the console. We're building it for Xbox 360, PS3, Nintendo DS and the Wii. So there's a lot of interesting console hardware there for us to work with.
When are you expecting to release, and is it the same game across all platforms?
Meier: The Xbox 360, PS3 and DS versions are coming out in spring next year, and the Wii version is out later in 2008. The gameplay is identical in all four versions, but the interface and presentation - the graphics, obviously - are different.
But we are really intent on making the game the same game, whether you're playing on your PS3, your DS, your Xbox 360 or whatever.
Has the game been built from the ground up for consoles?
Meier: The game has been redesigned for the consoles, it's not a port of the PC Civs. Certainly we've kept all the great Civ gameplay, the decision making, the ideas, technologies, wonders, the military, diplomatic, economic, all that exploration - those essential elements are the things we've really focussed on in the game.
But we wanted to bring them to life in a really new way and take advantage of the graphics power of the consoles, the ease of use of the controllers.
We've added a lot of new features to make the game move faster. We have a feature with armies, for example, that allows you to combine your units together and build one more powerful unit. The areas of the map tiles are larger so you can move really quickly from one area to another, you can explore more quickly.
We've added all-new effects to the wonders, we've added ancient artefacts, which are things that you can explore - you can discover them - we've got special cool stuff with the city of Atlantis, the Ark of the Covenant, the Knights Templar. There's some very cool places out there to discover as you're exploring.
The infrastructure's there for multiplayer, so we've added a lot of new functionality - head-to-head games, team games, ladders rankings, Xbox achievements, PS3 (whatever's going to be the equivalent to achievements).
We have what we call 'The Game of the Week' which is a single-player game but you download the information from the network to start the game, which means that you're playing exactly the same game as everyone else in the world. Your score can really be compared to others playing exactly the same game.
Every week there'll be one world's greatest Civilization player with the highest score in The Game of the Week.
It sounds like a massive undertaking...
Meier: It's massive, but it's a game we love, and game we understand and know how to get the most out of. But there are a lot of cool features in the game.
Why is now the right time to move to consoles with Civilization?
Meier: A couple of things are happening. We're seeing the hardware evolve and become extremely capable, we can do all the things we talked about, the multiplayer infrastructure, the ability to do incredible 3D graphics and special effects - all the cool stuff that makes the game look cool.
I think also the console audience has evolved to where it's not just hand-eye action games that we're seeing, there's a much wider variety of game genres becoming interesting on the consoles.
We think turn-based strategy is one of those things that needs to be there for the console. The audience is ready to step up to strategy gaming.
We'll have a built-in tutorial, advisors, all that stuff to help you get comfortable with the game and then start to create you own strategy as you play.
How have you tackled the joypad problem with a strategy game?
Meier: We think the advantage of Civilization is that it's a turn-based game. When you make a decision, the computer gives you as much time as you need to make that decision. You can play at your own pace, so there's only ever one thing to do at one time - moving units, select a new technology, manage a city. You're never really rushed.
The difficulty with real-time is you always have to be at a different place and the mouse is often a more natural way to manage 20 different things going on at once. Whereas with Civilization, given that it's turn-based, it feels very natural on the console controller, and that's our advantage.
Is this the start of a new plan to favour console development at Firaxis?
Meier: We're very interested in continuing on both PC and console. We're seeing the possibility for some crossover in some game ideas that could be both PC and console.
For Civilization, right now we have a separate approach for console versus PC because the PC version's really a fourth generation, it's really evolved to be a game that serves the hardcore, fanatic Civilization fan base.
We're certainly not abandoning the PC, it's a very important part of our development thinking, but we also want to include consoles as part of that because it's an area where there's so much energy and innovation.
How has your development approach to Civilization changed since the first game came out?
Meier: Civ I, II, III and IV were evolutionary. Each one built on the previous one. The modding ability is continuously growing, it's a bigger and bigger part of Civilization on the PC. And really a community has been created around Civilization and the players and the fans are an integral part of that - we get a lot of feedback, they've contributed a lot to the game's development.
With Revolution on the console we're kind of back to Civ I, where we're introducing the idea. We are making the ideas as accessible and attractive as we can. We're really at the beginning of the Civilization story on console.
It's more difficult right now to create a community on console because we're not in the wide open internet, we're on the more tightly controlled Live and things like that. But I think we'll have to see how it evolves on the console.
Why exactly do you love this sort of genre?
Meier: The fact, to me, that every Civ game is different, is exhilarating. It's the reason we start a game with this not knowing what's going to happen, but knowing it's going to be such an epic challenge that hopefully you come out victorious on the end.
There's an anticipation about sitting down and seeing that first screen and wondering what the future is going to hold for this game. That's very compelling. That's the vision of Civ and creating it again with this great new technology on the console has been incredible.
How did you come up with the original core ideas and formula for Civilization?
Meier: There were a couple of influences. Sim City had come out maybe a year or two before the original Civilization and established this building type of game - most games then were about blowing things up and destroying thing - and Sim City said "It might be fun to build something" as opposed to all that.
I played the game Risk as a kid, conquering the world, which is a concept that became part of Civilization. There was another game called Empire on the PC that had exploring the world. So we took some basic ideas that were floating around and really using this idea of world history to have it all make sense, hang together and feel important and feel real.
Everyone knows a little bit about the world, they realise that inventing the wheel might be a good idea, or gunpowder. And then it might be cool to have Napoleon or Caesar. Having these very familiar ideas in the game, but now having you being equal to these people or being possible inventors of these things, I think was part of the appeal of the original game.
It's like, here's all this history I've read about, but now I'm in charge of it.
Was the historical narrative something you wanted right at the start, or has that developed over time?
Meier: It was what we added to the previous ideas. We took a little bit of Sim City, a little bit of Risk, a little bit of other things, but we added the 'let's hang it on the frame of history'.
And that's really I think what pulled it all together. That levered the technology tree that creates this whole idea the game is easy to start playing, but more and more ideas gradually get added to it, so it's always fresh, there's always new possibilities.
Again, the great leaders, all that kind of stuff, made it accessible.
At which point did you decide to leave Microprose and form Firaxis?
Meier: Basically, I'm a game designer and I want to work in an environment work where I can work with great people and make great games. For whatever reason, the situation changed at Microprose and that was becoming more and more difficult.
We decided to start Firaxis as a game home, only game developers and not worrying about the publicity side, and work with some of the great publishers.
Companies need to meet financial quarters and have ups and downs and that can be very distracting when you're trying to work on a game... At the time it was necessary to be able to continue to be creative. We're very proud of the work we did at Microprose, and we're very proud of what we've done at Firaxis.
You must be very happy having been inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts and Science's Hall of Fame...
Meier: I couldn't ask for a better job, I couldn't imagine anything I'd enjoy doing more.