Late in September we gave you the chance to put your questions to eminent game designer Sid Meier, the man behind the Civilization series. Creator of a series that has squandered the spare time of many a reader of this site, he took time out of the Civ IV release window to hand us back some thoughtful responses to your queries. Read on for the results of "Ask Sid Meier".1. By Anonymous Coward:
What is your opinion on open source clones such as FreeCiv? FreeLoaders, or flatterers? :)
It's tough to make a blanket statement about all open source clones, but since developers and publishers rely very heavily on intellectual property rights, any infringement or dilution of those rights can be detrimental to companies, games, and consumers. In the case of Civilization, Take Two Interactive now owns all rights to the game series and fortunately, the franchise is still a mainstay at Firaxis...so we feel pretty protective of the IP.
2. By Surt (22457):
Keeping PC gaming alive:
What factors do you think help keep PC gaming alive when competing with consoles, and do you foresee that PC gaming will continue to survive when confronted with the next generation of consoles? From the reverse perspective, what prevents consoles from finally killing off PC gaming?
Believe it or not, I think the biggest thing PCs have going for them in the console war is the mouse/keyboard interface. So many game types are nearly unplayable without this simple mechanism. Real-time strategies, first-person shooters, point and click adventures, are all best suited to a mouse and keyboard. Another important factor is the innate upgradeability of PCs vs. consoles. The fact that you can still have a viable machine two years after it has been on the market, by simply adding RAM or a new video card is priceless. PCs also benefit from fairly cost effective high-resolution monitors. Finally, you can't ignore how easy it is to connect PCs to the internet (another mouse/keyboard must by the way). Being able to quickly, easily, and cheaply connect is a major plus, as it allows all sorts of flexibility - from finding opponents to downloading patches and content to browsing forums and FAQs.
On the reverse side, consoles offer many positives as well. They represent a known quantity so it is easy to take advantage of everything they have to offer without worrying about the least common denominator. They are inexpensive to buy and easy to operate. They work well with your home theater and your living room without requiring a lot of technical know-how. Even with all of that, they will never "kill-off" computers because they aren't competing for the same market in the same fashion. There will always be room for both and that's good for me.
3. By codergeek42 (792304):
I think the big question on a lot of our minds is: Why did you start doing game design and programming in the first place?
I caught the computer bug in college, but never imagined that one day I would have a career making games for the computer. As a kid I really enjoyed playing board games and card games, and was interested in reading books about history, pirates, airplanes...all of which have been the topics in the games I've created. Bill Stealey and I started Microprose on a dare really...we were at a business conference together and were playing a flight-sim arcade game. Bill was really impressed that I kept winning and I told him that I could tell what the AI was going to do each time, so it was easy to win...and I said that I could make a better game in two weeks. Bill challenged me to do just that and so began our game development company.
4. By Avacar (911548):
When building any strategy game, where do you start when you attempt to balance the game? Do you find that you personally need to playtest and try new concepts to balance games, or do the inherent mechanisms of your games lead towards making balance easier for you to achieve?
My whole approach to making games revolves around first creating a solid prototype and then playing and improving the game over the course of the 2-3 year development cycle...until we think it's ready for prime time. My experience in this area helps me to know what to do and where to start. I definitely spend a lot of time playing the game before I let anyone else look at it. I also have quite a code base that I've been using for a long time, so I know how certain systems will work before I even throw them in. Once the basics are in and I'm comfortable letting other people see it, I like to watch brand new players play it first. It's much harder to make a game balanced for newbies than for hard core gamers. I like to see where they have trouble and I try to eliminate things that are too troublesome or difficult to grasp... it's really important that players feel rewarded at all times, so this step is critical for that reason. Of course, once I have a good grasp on the new player experience, it's time to throw the game to the seasoned testers. For them, I just keep ramping up difficulty by factors of 2 until they beg for mercy - it seems to take longer than it used to for that to happen. :)
5. By WhiteBandit (185659):
Future Directions in Gaming:
I admire many of the great game designers who have pushed the boundaries in gaming (yourself, Will Wright and Peter Molyneux to name a few). However, I can't help but feel that many of today's genres are stale and a lot of new games are mostly repeating past formulas as we see many sequels or derivatives of previous games being released. This appears to be a trend that will continue. Where do you think the future of gaming is headed, and how hard is it to introduce radical new ideas into the industry?
The cost of making games has gone through the roof, so understandably, publishers want to invest in games that are sure to sell...and sequels for successful franchises are safe bets. It's very difficult to convince publishers to invest millions of dollars in a new game idea...it's too risky. And, fans certainly seem to want more of what they love...Civilization, AoE, Sims...we keep making those games because people keep asking for more.
The game industry will continue to grow and become a bigger part of main stream entertainment...and eventually take over the world J The constant advances in gaming systems will drive new ideas. I think we're just at the tip of the iceberg in gaming...there's so much more to come.
6. By Amoeba (55277):
Playability vs Graphics:
In any Slashdot gaming discussion, invariably the debate between playability vs. graphics comes up. "This game is pretty but the game sucks!" vs. "Nethack is all I need man." The games you've had a hand in seem to emphasize intricate strategy, with graphics taking a backseat for the most part. Some of the most successful games in the past have been very simple on the surface but can have amazing depth, all without gee-whiz factor of purty lights and bleeding-edge graphics engines. How much focus do you place on the graphical aspects of gaming, and do you think there is a way to achieve a balance without sacrifices on either end? How do you tackle that problem? When I got started, there was only so much you could do with graphics so we had to leave a lot up to the player's imagination. That was the beauty of those old games; the player filled in the gaps for you. If you put a green blob on the screen and called it a dragon, it had the tendency of becoming a dragon so long as you were engaging the player's mind. Times change, though, and technology marches on. People expect a lot more out of a computer or video game these days and we have to adjust. I still like to engage the player's imagination, but they don't have to fill in so many gaps themselves.
This is very cool because I don't have to use so many info screens to show players what they need to know - which is a dream come true for me. When we were remaking Pirates, it was very important to us that players be able to see the towns, discern their nationality, and see how large and wealthy they were all by looking at the screen. In Civ IV, the guys have taken that concept even farther and you can see at a glance everything you really need to know about a city.
On the other hand, it seems there are many times when graphics get the better of good judgment. I must say that I am a big fan of racing games like Gran Turismo, but sometimes it seems they are more focused on the replay than the race, which feels a little backwards to me. In fact, lately I've been let down by a bunch of racing games that looked amazing but were tragically flawed in some way. So, I'll stick with Gran Turismo 3.
One final note on this... Recently, I've been working on several prototypes and was surprised to find that I reached a point fairly early on when I just couldn't find any more fun in the concept - until I had some professionally created art. In the past, I was content to create my own art and never had any trouble envisioning gameplay, so this represents a fundamental change for me.
7. By truthsearch (249536):
I've been a huge fan of Civilization since it first came out. I've always thought the AI of the computer player is relatively good, especially how each has certain characteristics which differentiate them. But AI in strategy games doesn't seemed to have advanced drastically in the last 15 years. What do you imagine the next big advance in game AI will be? When will games really learn how you play? Will we not be able to tell the difference between a human and computer competitor? I probably shouldn't be telling you this, but in my opinion, the goal of AI is not necessarily to simulate a human response. The goal is to generate interest for the player by providing the illusion of a human-like response - or not at all human-like, if that's what it takes to engage the player. I'm not entirely sure that complex games like Civ could ever have true human responses because there is so much complexity that the AI would bring almost any machine to its knees.
Consider this: we have only recently been able to truly simulate intelligence that can compete with a human in chess. Chess is obviously a complex intellectual game, but it is ultimately fairly easy to define because there are only 64 squares and 6 types of movement. Plus, the rules of engagement are simple - attack and win. Add to that the huge amount of known strategy that has been collected and studied throughout the years and it is even more definable. In a game like Civ, we have over 80 units, all with different movement rates, strengths, special abilities, experience levels, etc. We also have to decide where to place cities, what to build, who to be nice to and who to make war with. We also have to decide what to research, what religion to spread, what Civics to adopt, etc. All in all, I don't expect to see anything close to true human intelligence any time soon, as long as games continue to get more complex.
9. By Chickenofbristol55 (884806):
Since the first Civilization game in 1991, how do you think the gaming industry has changed? And, is the change for the better or for the worse?
Obviously the gaming industry has grown exponentially since 1991. The cost of entry is much higher than it was when I started. The days of guys building a game in their garage and then selling it to a publisher are behind us, I'm afraid. To make a game today it takes more money, time, people, technology...which is why there are fewer independent developers and the big publishing houses run the show. Frankly, I liked it better in the old days, when things were less complicated (I'm showing my age here). We were breaking new ground, and it was really fun. Not to say that it's not fun now...I still love making games and have a bunch of new ideas for games I'd like to create.
The stakes are much higher now, but the quality of many of the games produced today is pretty impressive. The changes in the industry have definitely benefited the consumers - they have an array of game systems and games to choose from...and the competitive environment drives developers to strive to out-do each other...which pushes game design forward.
All things considered...there's nothing else I'd rather do for a living than make games. It's the best job in the world.
10. By TuringTest (533084):
What kind of game do you enjoy?:
Good games (and specially videogames) entail a great deal of simulation of reality; They are bits of everyday life simplified for casual enjoyment. What do you feel is more important for a game to be great and/or successful: that the mechanics create an environment with interesting and complex possibilities, or that they are fun and easy to grasp? Is balance required between these two design forces? And which of the two do you enjoy most in your own experiences as game player?
I like to play all kinds of games...on a variety of systems. My son and I play games on the PC, PS2, Xbox, GameCube...and they range from Warcraft, to Halo to Grand Turismo...to Civilization. :)
I definitely try to create, and most enjoy playing, games that strike a balance between depth/complexity and ease of use. My goal when making a game is to find the right mix of story and mechanics that will deliver many hours of fun to players. We try to put the player in a situation where they can be something great - King, Pirate Captain, Tycoon, Entrepreneur - and create an interesting world where they can have an adventure, build an empire, conquer the world etc. The game can be as deep as a player wants it to be. In Civ for example, a game can last from 1 hour to 40 hours, depending on what the player wants. I've watched kids play Civ on a very surface level and have a great time with it...and I've seen hard core gamers go as deeply into the game as possible...where things become pretty complex...and those folks have a fun experience too. We've tried to make Civ IV easy for anyone to pick up and play...and then created layers and layers of depth and complexity just waiting to be explored by those who dare to venture there. But...the interface remains familiar and easy-to-use throughout....and the visuals add a whole new dimension to the experience. Sorry for the shameless plug...but it's our baby. :)