The story of Sid Meier - the creator of the legendary Civilization


They say that the canvas lives separately from the artist - and there are plenty of examples of this in the gaming industry. For example, Shinji Mikami has long been not associated with either the Resident Evil series he created, or Capcom, but "Resident Evil" to this day remains one of the most popular franchises that generate multimillion-dollar profits. A similar story is observed by Sid Meier, who gave the industry several iconic games, including the true landmark CivilizationThere is hardly another Western series that has grown to such proportions over the 30 years of its existence. And even if Sid himself in recent years has been associated with her only formally, the impending anniversary of "Civilization" Is a great occasion to remember the creative path of a talented game designer.

The first steps

The youth of the future game dev legend fell in the seventies. Then the gaming industry was still infinitely far from what it became in the nineties and later. No matter how rich the imagination of the developers of that time, all creativity had to be squeezed for the sake of the technical limitations of the hardware. Therefore, the games were entirely arcade, and the gameplay was mostly on one screen. Because of this, gamers had to use their imaginations and think out the entire background on their own. Meyer himself stated this in an interview: he was painfully impressed by Space Invaders, dedicated to battles with alien invaders. Sid's childhood passed in an embrace with the board, toy soldiers, and Lego constructors- according to him, you could always go to the nearest library and, say, read about the greatest wars in the history of mankind, thereby building a complete picture in your head. And here is a fantastic setting, which everyone is free to interpret in their own way.
Sid Meier (left) and Bill Styles (right)
It is not surprising that one of the first games of the future game designer was a Space Invaders clone, of which only the author's memories have survivedBut game development has long remained a common hobby for Meyer: after graduating from university and receiving a degree in computer science, Sid began to make a living creating checkout systems for retail chains at General InstrumentThere he met Bill Styles, a former military pilot. Colleagues are interested in the arcade game Red Baron(1980), dedicated to air battles during the First World War. And, despite all Styles' experience in real life, in virtual battles, he constantly lost to Sid on points. "How do you do it?" The startled pilot asked. “It's simple. While you were playing, I memorized the algorithm of the computer's actions, ”Meyer replied.
It would seem that they laughed and forgot, but no. By that time, Syd had already become adept at making simple games (mostly variations on the theme of famous hits) and decided that he could program something more complex and interesting than Red Baron. Therefore, in 1982, Meyer founded MicroProse with StylesAccording to the second, this name perfectly reflected future activities, because the goal of the friends was to create prose for computers. And the game that could wipe the nose of Red Baron, Sid wrote in literally three months: it was a military flight simulator Hellcat Ace... Since the company was just born, distribution had to be handled by copying the game onto floppy disks and making photocopies of the manual. While Meyer was making games, Styles took over the vendor contracts.
Hellcat Ace and Floyd of the Jungle
The early 80s were a wild field for the gaming industry. On the one hand, one could become a reluctant revolutionary, having successfully shot one interesting idea. On the other hand, feedback from journalists and players reached the developers at a snail's pace. And Sid was just interested in improving further in order to please the opinion of the audience. Nevertheless, word of mouth did its job: both the lack of worthy alternatives among games for home platforms, and Meyer's talent as a programmer, had an effect. Later, in one of the podcasts, he talked about how he managed not only to cope with technical limitations but also to turn them to his advantage. In particular, the accidentally found effect of a flickering horizontal line made it possible to implement in the Hellcat Ace and her spiritual heirs, the animation was pretty smooth for those years.
Several other important achievements also fell during this period. For example, the platformer Floyd of the Jungle, created by Meyer inspired by the movie Tarzan the Ape Man, was equipped with a multiplayer mode for four players. As trivial as it seems now, it was just as impressive then, despite the secondary gameplay that largely echoed with Donkey Kong in 1981.

No longer micro, but not yet macro

The first truly major commercial success of MicroProse was the simulator of a submarine from the Second World Silent Servicereleased in 1985, where the player had to not only give orders but independently perform all actions. Sid counted that it would be more fun, and he made the right decision: the success of the original version for 8-bit computers was so great that over the next two years the game was actively ported to almost all platforms that were relevant at that time. MicroProse at this point was no longer some kind of small studio, but a rather large company with an expanded staff. The authority earned was enough to entrust most of the ports to third-party developers. Plus, the company acquired more experienced artists, and this delegation of authority allowed Sid to finally fully concentrate only on game design.
Even more, success awaited Meyer with the release of Sid Meier's Pirates! - one of the first games to fit several genres at once: adventure, action with role-playing elements, and strategy. The project was fundamentally different from the studio's past creations, at least by targeting a wider audience. Some players liked the harsh battles between pirates, others liked puzzles in the best traditions of adventure games of those years, but the majestic spirit of adventure conquered everyone in general. Sid Meier's Pirates! was enthusiastically received by both the audience and critics and subsequently received two whole remakes: the first, Pirates! Gold was released in 1993, and the second was released 11 years later.
Sid Meier's Pirates! and well known to Russian gamers Pirates! Gold for Mega Drive
By the way, the name of the creator appeared in "Pirates" for a reason: it was the idea of ​​Robin Williams, with whom fate unexpectedly brought the game designer together at one event. The famous actor and comedian were always fond of games (the best proof of this is the name he gave to his daughter: Zelda), and he also loved Meyer's projects, which is why he suggested Styles should not be shy and write the name of the creator in the title: let, they say, everyone knows that they are dealing with a game from a great game designer.
But before we move on to the most important success in Sid Meier's career, I would like to mention two more iconic creations of the turn of the 80s and 90s. First, the game designer continued the theme of submarines in Red Storm Rising, based on the work of the same name by Tom Clancy. This was the first and last game under license in Meyer's career: despite the warm attitude towards the book and its author, Syd was not satisfied resultAlthough the game designer was distinguished by a reverent approach to detail, he still did not strive for the perfect authenticity of every aspect of his projects. Clancy, on the other hand, wanted maximum reliability, and under the terms of the contract, Meyer was forced to comply. Therefore, Red Storm Rising, although it received critical acclaim, was still not as dynamic as Silent Service. Largely because there was practically no graphics in it, and the gameplay was just focused on commanding the submarine and giving orders.
Original Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon vs. 16 Years Later Remake
Second, Sid, who went on vacation in the late 80s, was so inspired by the trip (and the just-released SimCity ) that he decided to create something on the same topic as soon as possible. This eventually became the economic strategy of Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon, dedicated to the construction of railways. Subsequently, Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon received two sequels developed by third-party studios, and in 2006 a remake was released by Meier himself. Curiously, the game was created in close collaboration with Bruce Shelley, who joined MicroProse in 1988. After leaving the company, he will create a not so successful and large-scale, but hardly less iconic series of Age of Empires strategy games.

Magnum opus

With all due respect to Meier's talent, it cannot be said that Sid Meier's Civilization was invented from scratch. Syd took many third-party ideas as a basis: this is the board game of the same name, the same SimCity, and even Populous by Peter Molyneux. All these titles had at least one important factor in common: big starts small. Similar to SimCity, where it was necessary to create a flourishing metropolis from literally nothing, in Civilization, it was required to develop a primitive society to the level of modern civilization. Each era left its mark on planning because managing a tribe of Neanderthals is much easier than keeping an industrial society under control. The player had to make decisions at several levels at once: to engage in the development of new territories and the development of the economy and to participate in battles.
Sid Meier's Civilization did not offer ready-made scenarios - it was possible to act both aggressively and diplomatically. In the context of a procedurally generated map, which Meyer ultimately reduced significantly compared to the original concept, this promised dozens of hours of fun and incredibly (at least for those times) variable gameplay. Now it is generally accepted that it was “Civilization” that became the founder of global strategies based on the “rule of four”: study, expansion, exploitation, and destruction. The game also became one of the popularizers of the so-called technological tree, where the user himself decides in which direction to develop certain parameters, and the path he has chosen opens access to completely different elements. This freedom of choice is designed to adapt the gameplay to the personal style of each player.
Sid Meier's Civilization and Sid Meier's Colonization
As a result, Civilization, released in 1991, was even more successful than any of Sid's other creations. One would assume that the game designer will milk this cow for many years to come, but in reality, everything turned out differently. Moreover, even before the game was released, the game designer had a conflict with Bill Styles, who was more worried about the studio's revenue than Meyer's creative quest. Styles offered to expand and start creating projects in different genres: for example, arcades. In response, Meyer, accustomed to a more relaxed work environment, sold his stake in 1990 and distanced himself from active development. A few years later, he embarked on an adventure with the CPU Bach for the failed, as time later showed, the 3DO gaming system... The game was a kind of music editor designed to create compositions in the Bach style. It was only required to combine the parts of the instruments in the desired sequence and enjoy the result. Alas, the idea did not gain popularity among gamers, for the most part, they ignored the expensive and deprived of hits console.
Around the same time, Sid, although not as a lead game designer, was involved in the development of Sid Meier's ColonizationThe game can be considered a simplified version of "Civilization": here you need not go through the thorny path through the eras, but just achieve independence from the empire before a certain deadline.

Leaving MicroProse and further destiny

The last game that Sid Meier managed to work on within the walls of the company he founded was an adaptation of the popular board game Magic: The GatheringMoreover, as in the case of Colonization, he was far from playing the first roles. The policy followed by the MicroProse management was contrary to the vision of the game designer, therefore, without waiting for Magic: The Gathering to hit the market, Meyer, along with several colleagues, left the company and founded a new one - Firaxis GamesAnd immediately switched to wargames. It is noteworthy that in the same 1996 MicroProse released Sid Meier's Civilization II already without Sid - however, this did not prevent success. Yes, and Meyer himself this time did not go wrong with the chosen direction, creating one of the best examples of the genre at that time: Sid Meier's Gettysburg! Taking real events as a basis, namely the Battle of Gettysburg, Sid allowed players to rewrite history in a series of separate scenarios or a single campaign. The success of the game was also facilitated by online multiplayer, which is completely different from most of the previous works of a game designer. Later, two sequels were released, also based on real events.
Sid Meier's Civilization II and Sid Meier's Gettysburg! 
The beginning of the 21st century coincided with the release of Sid Meier's Civilization III, developed by Jeff Briggs, a former MicroProse employee and co-founder of Firaxis Games. And here it is necessary to clarify that the rights to the series, despite the name of its creator in the title, remained with the original publisher. Only now MicroProse repurposed to release everything horrible, began to experience financial difficulties, as a result of which it merged with Hasbro InteractiveThe latter, at the beginning of the 2000s, was bought by Infogrames, which agreed to become the publisher of the third "Civilization". Actually, this is how the rights to the series, albeit indirectly, returned to their creator - who, as noted earlier, trusted his colleagues enough to try his luck again in new genres.
As a result, Sid Meier's SimGolf was born in 2002 with the help of Sid and his companyThe game was a symbiosis of strategy and sports simulator, making it possible to first equip a golf park, and only then pick up a golf club and start directly with the game itself. Despite its confusing name, Sid Meier's SimGolf is widely considered to be an offshoot of The Sims seriesAnd only after the release of "Golf" Syd finally lost interest in radical experiments and concentrated on the development of the main work of his life - Civilization. True, Meyer last played the role of game designer more than ten years ago, having developed Civilization World for the Facebook Platform service... The game, which was a compilation of simplified ideas that were implemented in the previous parts of the series, did not have much success and was closed in 2013 without changing the OBT status.
Sid Meier's SimGolf and Civilization World

Game design rules from Sid Meier

Finally, let's briefly talk about the postulates that the creator of "Civilization" adhered to throughout his career. The most famous phrase that caused many colleagues in the workshop to reconsider their attitude to development, was uttered by Syd even before the release of Civilization - at the GDC in 1989.
"The game is a series of interesting decisions of the player"
This phrase is more about balance. Meyer is convinced that there should not be a single correct solution to any problem. For example, in a duel, you can use a heavy firearm that can send the enemy to the next world with one well-aimed shot. But if the projectile flies into milk, then in the process of reloading you can become easy prey yourself. Or, on the contrary, you can use a weaker, but rapid-fire weapon with a bunch of cartridges in the store. At the same time, when it comes to improving the characteristics, the gamer should immediately receive comprehensive information about what he will receive after installing this or that upgrade.
"Double or Halve"
Meyer came to this conclusion during the creation of Civilization. The large size of the map, according to the game designer, greatly slowed down the gameplay, so he reduced the size of the space in half. In a development context, especially when deadlines are tight, this means you shouldn't waste time on minor changes that don't have a tangible effect on the output. If the developer thinks that the character is weak, then it is better not to increase his attack power by five percent at a time, but simply double it. And if the character customization system seems too cumbersome and not intuitive, then it's easier to abandon it altogether.
"One good game is better than several great games"
Shortly before the release of "Civilization" Sid released a spy simulator Sid Meier's Covert Action, too, in his opinion, oversaturated with mini-games. In retrospect, the game designer called this a serious mistake, because such an abundance of gimmicks simply distracted the player from the main gameplay. Great ideas clashed with each other, because each deserved to be its own game, and within the framework of one project, none of them managed to develop to their full potential. At the same time, Meyer clarifies that if the mini-games are easy to learn or are united by a common idea, then this approach can be considered justified.
"Collect material after creating the game"
Many successful games in one way or another are built either on historical events, such as strategies or on generally accepted rules of real life, like simulations and even action games like GTA... The advantage of such projects is that the user comes into the game with all the knowledge he needs: no need to explain to anyone that the police are catching criminals, the sims need to be fed, and demand creates supply. But game designers still want to show how well they figured out the theme of the game, and then voluminous pages of lore and endless windows with dreary explanations of how one or another mechanic works. Meyer warns against overloading the player with information. The user should absorb all the key knowledge about the game universe during the gameplay itself, and not reading the manual pages, and even more so, one should not expect from the players that they will understand the topic at the same level as the developer who has read five volumes of material. The game designer advises creating the core of the game first,
"The pleasure should be received by the player, not the game designer and not the computer."
Quite controversial, albeit an expected statement in light of how Meyer subsequently spoke about the collaboration with Clancy. According to Sid, even if you set yourself the goal of creating a true simulation of something, you should not go to extremes trying to make the game as realistic as possible. An example is the complex weather system that was planned to be integrated into Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon. Since the elements were not subject to the player, and the computer got all the "pleasure" from calculating multistage algorithms, Meyer considered that such a mechanic was not needed, and abandoned it.
While no new Civilization portions have been released since 2016, Firaxis Games hasn't forgotten about the fans. Over the past years, they have been regularly delighted with either the console ports of Sid Meier's Civilization 6 , or additions to it, the last of which was released in March 2021. Nevertheless, I want to believe that this is not the end of the history of the cult series: it's just that the time for a spectacular return has not come yet. In the meantime, tell us in the comments which of Sid Meier's games was the first for you - and how it hooked you.
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