在80年代早期，这名才20出头的程序员还在一家名这General Instruments Corporation的公司就职，当时与他共事的是一名由空军飞行员转业的商人John Stealey。Meier在个人计算机普及各个家庭之前已从计算机科学专业毕业，业余时间喜欢看点黑客杂志，在自己的雅达利设备上捣鼓代码，创建自己的更改版《太空入侵者》和《吃豆人》。他曾经制作了一款太空游戏，并将其上传到自己的办公室网络，吸引了太多同事导致老板迫使他删除该游戏。
这一模式催生出5款主要游戏，数款衍生游戏（其中包括专注于北美历史的《殖民》以及科幻史诗《半人马阿尔法星》），以及无数扩展内容包。它还令“Side Meier”成为游戏界家喻户晓的名字:该游戏官方名称并非《文明》而是《Sid Meier的文明》。这个名称带出了所有权、趾高气扬的特点。我们很容易得此结论——PC战略游戏之父是一个具有自我意识的人，他是那种会将自己制作的每款游戏贴上姓名的人。
Meier没有食言，在数个月之后，他为Stealey带来一个名为《Hellcat Ace》的战斗飞行模拟游戏的模型。于是Stealey就出去把它卖了。这就是这两者合作的开端，并在之后十年一直保持这种合作关系。Meier负责设计和编程，Stealey就去游说当地的商店推销游戏。在一年之后，他们的销售额达到20万美元。Stealey辞掉了他在General Instruments的工作，在他们现在称之为MicroProse的公司中做全职工作。一年半之后，Meier也这么干了。
在之后数年中，MicroPeose制作和推广了一系列针对雅达利主机的飞行模拟游戏和街机动作游戏，例如关于二战的飞行游戏《Spitfire Ace》，基本的平台游戏《Floyd of the Jungle》以及直升机横向卷轴游戏《Chopper Rescue》。与许多最早的电子游戏公司一样，MicroProse更是一种暴发户而非专业运营的公司。
Stealey回忆道，“我会打电话给电脑店要求购买《Hellcat Ace》。如果他们还没有这款游戏，我就会高声喊道‘你们到底是什么电脑店啊，这款游戏都没有？’然后就挂断电话。这种事情我每三周都会做三次，每次都假装是不同的人在问。在第四周我就会打电话说，‘你好，我是John Stealey。我是MicroProse的代表，我们有款游戏叫《Hellcat Ace》。然后他们就会喊，‘喂，喂，喂，大家都要这款游戏，你能不能帮我们弄到这款游戏？”
在1987年，MicroProse发布了《Sid Meier’s Pirates!》这款开放世界探索游戏，玩家在其中可扮演海盗，在世界中寻宝，制服暴动的船员，并赢取更多金钱。
Meier回忆起早期加州圣何塞的游戏开发者大会（GDC），当时他与Wright、《M.U.L.E.》设计师Danielle Bunten、大会成立者Chris Crawford以及其他50-100名游戏开发者齐聚一堂的情形。
由于厌恶裁员和办公室政治，Meier以及Reynolds、还有设计师Jeff Briggs决定离开MicroProse并组建新公司Firaxis Games。
过去15年中，Meier一直希望制作一款关于侏罗纪和白垩纪的游戏——“Sid Meier’s Dinosaurs”，但却没找到令其有趣的方法。这个主题可行，但他从未找到合适的玩法基础：恐龙会怎么做呢？只是相互斗争？游戏进程如何？
感觉良好，带有大量有趣选择的成瘾体验，这就是Sid Meier游戏的定义。也许这正是他们将其名字印在包装盒上的原因。当然也有不少人喜欢讲述关于道德挑战故事的游戏——去年由2K发行的《Spec Ops:The Line》就因为这一原因而备受赞誉，但Meier并不想制作这类游戏。他只想制作自己想玩的游戏。
但时至今日，Meier还没有创造出一款知名度堪比《文明》的经典游戏。在《SimGolf》之后，他重制了《Pirates!》，而后设计了第四款《Railroad Tycoon》——《Railroads!》。之后就是主机平台的《文明革命》，以及Facebook游戏《CivWorld》（已经停止运营），还有《Ace Patrol》。这些游戏虽然都很好，但并不像其杰作《文明》那样令人难忘。Meier告诉我他并没有什么遗憾——“除了没有先想到《俄罗斯方块》之外”。
Sid Meier已投身游戏制作近30年。这位传奇游戏设计师继续更新策略游戏题材，其中包括《文明V》扩充包和《Gods & Kings》。Meier的E3之行主要忙于两款Firaxis Games新作，即上面提到的《文明V》扩充内容和新版《XCOM: Enemy Unknown》（游戏邦注：游戏就1993年的经典回合策略游戏重新进行构想）。
自MicroProse Software时代以来，很多人就将Meier视作“电脑游戏之父”，如今他依然每天投身于游戏制作之中，目前担任Firaxis的创意开发总监。出自他手中的热门作品有《铁路大亨》、《席德梅尔之新海盗游戏》和《Sid Meier’s Gettysburg》，日前他接受采访，谈论当前的游戏行业态势。
这是除App store、Xbox Live Arcade、PlayStation Network及其他小规模项目推广平台之外的另一新机会。如果你能够在此顺利运作，这将是个很棒的机会。过去几个月来，平台涌现多个成功项目。如果你拥有在故事方面颇具趣味的构思，这将是个非常不错的选择。
然而，在他的职业生涯中，Sid Meier还提出过其他几条游戏设计的法则。在他的工作室Firaxis Games工作的7年间（2000-2007），我多次听到他谈起。因为他的见解对设计师来说是相当实用的经验，所以我认为值得探讨。
篇目5，《Sid Meier’s Pirates!》吸引人的六大原因
所以当我在War Sloop中作为一名荷兰人航行于加勒比海时，我遭遇了与《Archmage Rises》中完全不同的漂移。对于某些我需要做出的航线修改我真的感到很失望，但我却非常满足游戏的整体体验。
篇目1，Sid Meier: The Father of Civilization
Before Sid Meier was Sid Meier—the iconic video game designer whose name is stamped on classic titles like Pirates! and Civilization—he was just another computer hacker.
In the early 80s, the then-20-something programmer had a job at a company called General Instruments Corporation, where he worked alongside a gruff Air Force pilot-turned-businessman named John “Wild Bill” Stealey. Meier, who had graduated with a degree in computer science before there was a personal computer in every home, spent his spare time reading hacker magazines, fiddling with code on his Atari, and building his own versions of arcade games like Space Invaders and Pac-Man. At one point he made a space game and put it up on his office network; it hooked so many employees that his bosses forced him to take it down.
One year, as Stealey recalls, the two men went to an electronics trade conference. On the second night of the show, they stumbled upon a bunch of arcade games in a basement. One by one, Meier beat Stealey at each of them. Then they found Atari’s Red Baron, a squiggly flight game in which you’d steer a biplane through abstract outlines of terrain and obstacles. Stealey, the Air Force man, knew he could win at this one. He sat down at the machine and shot his way to 75,000 points, ranking number three on the arcade’s leaderboard. Not bad.
Then Meier went up. He scored 150,000 points.
“I was really torqued,” Stealey says today. This guy outflew an Air Force pilot? He turned to the programmer. “Sid, how did you do that?”
“Well,” Meier said. “While you were playing, I memorized the algorithms.”
A great video game, Sid Meier likes to say, is a series of interesting decisions: a set of situations in which the player is constantly confronted with meaningful choices. It’s an ethos that has served him well: the majority of Meier’s games are critically and commercially acclaimed. A 2009 Develop survey asked some 9,000 game makers their “ultimate development hero”—Meier came in fifth. (First was Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto.)
Meier’s games are all full of interesting decisions, and they’re always totally different. There’s the open-world pirate adventure game; the real-time strategy game set during the Battle of Gettysburg; the simulation game about railroad management. Meier’s most recent release, Ace Patrol, is a top-down strategy game in which you maneuver fighter pilots to take down targets across the battlefields of World War I.
And then there’s Civilization.
In a world full of eight-figure budgets and ambitious video game cinematics, the 20-year-old Civilization’s scope is impressive even today. Some games put players in charge of people, cities, or armies; Civilization put them in charge of world history. You’d pick a nation—Americans, Romans, English, and so forth—and guide them from 4000 BC to the modern age, year by year. Every turn, you could move your people across a 2D map of the world, build settlements and cities, engage in diplomacy with rival countries, research new technology, irrigate land, and wage war.
Sid Meier: The Father of Civilization
This formula has spawned five main games, several spinoffs (including the North America-focused Colonization and the sci-fi epic Alpha Centauri), and tons of expansion packs. It’s also made “Sid Meier” a gaming household name: the official title for Civilization is not Civilization; it is Sid Meier’s Civilization. The title implies ownership, arrogance, cockiness. It would be easy to conclude, then, that the father of PC strategy games is a man with an ego—the type of man who would put his name on every game he makes.
But Meier is amiable and soft-spoken, a friendly man who colleagues call brilliant, unassuming, and humble. “In the  years and all the people I’ve worked with at Firaxis,” said fellow designer and close confidant Jake Solomon, “there has never been anyone who’s had a personality issue with Sid, ’cause it’s not possible. He’s such a wonderful person.”
Last month, I met the legendary designer in a chilly meeting room in Manhattan’s Union Square. Meier was genial and energetic, with a warm smile and a dark grey cardigan. He was accompanied, as always, by his wife, Susan, who occasionally chimed in to help him remember important facts, or moments he’s forgotten. We talked about his games, his history, his triumphs and regrets.
A devout Christian, Meier loves music and plays organ for his church in Baltimore, Maryland, where he and Susan live. His job title at Firaxis, the studio he helped found, is “Director of Creative Development,” which essentially means he can do whatever he wants. Sometimes that means working on his own games; other times it means offering his considerable design acumen to other people at the company and helping out on projects like XCOM, the sci-fi strategy game helmed by Solomon.
“You can always drop in—his door’s always wide open,” said Solomon. “Anybody can stop in and talk to him about anything… he’s incredibly welcoming. He spends a lot of his time working. If you come in on the weekend, there’s a fair chance that Sid’s car’s in the parking lot, and he’s in the office working on his latest idea.”
Solomon: “If you come in on the weekend, there’s a fair chance that Sid’s car’s in the parking lot, and he’s in the office working on his latest idea.”
I asked Meier, who is 59, if he ever thinks about retirement. “I kinda feel like I am retired,” he said, laughing. “I’m doing what I wanna do—I’ve been retired for a long time. I still love making games, so I’ve really never thought of that.”
That’s good news for video game fans: Meier has a knack for making strategy games that are fiendishly addictive and consistently delightful. He’s fascinated by history, and he is particularly good at turning events that would seem quaint, dull, or old-fashioned to your average game player—like the battle of Gettysburg or a World War I air skirmish—into accessible interactive entertainment.
When I’m in the cockpit of a fighter aircraft, the last thing I want to do is slow down — I certainly don’t want to wait my turn. I need… Read…
“He just is brilliant,” said Solomon. “He has a gift that I certainly don’t have. It’s very rare to find someone who is able to look at the world in such a way that you could give him a topic for a game and I guarantee you in a weekend he could come up with a prototype centered around that theme that would make you go, ‘Oh man, that’s pretty fun.’ Sid just has a very insightful way of looking at the world. He can find the fun in almost anything.”
“He just thinks differently from us,” said Brian Reynolds, a longtime collaborator who designed Civilization II. “It’s an ineffable thing. His smartness doesn’t come off as, ‘I’m smarter than you, haha.’ You just have this really interesting conversation and it starts to dawn on you how much smarter he is.”
“I gave him a [Civil War] book for Christmas one year,” said Stealey. “And at New Years he gave it back to me. I said ‘Sid, didn’t you like the book?’ He said, ‘I’ve memorized it already.’”
After whupping Stealey at Red Baron, the young Meier told his co-worker that Atari’s flight sim was okay, but he could make an even better one. Stealey took the bait: “if you could, I could sell it.”
Meier lived up to his end of the bargain, and a few months later, he brought Stealey a build for a combat flight sim called Hellcat Ace. So Stealey went out and sold it. This was the beginning of a partnership that would last for the next decade: As Meier designed and programmed, Stealey would go out and pitch his games to local hobby stores. After a year of sales—$200,000 worth, Stealey claims—Stealey quit his job at General Instruments to work full-time at the company they were now calling MicroProse. A year and a half later, Meier did too.
Over the next few years, MicroProse made and marketed a number of flight simulators and arcade action games for Atari consoles: games like the World War II flyer Spitfire Ace, the rudimentary platformer Floyd of the Jungle, and the helicopter sidescroller Chopper Rescue. Like many of the earliest video game companies, MicroProse felt like an upstart gang of rebels more than a professional operation.
“We put [the games] in baggies,” Meier said. “Bill would drive around to stores and sell them. It was very bootstrap round-up work process. That’s the way things were.”
“I would call computer stores and ask to buy Hellcat Ace,” Stealey told me. “And when they didn’t have it, I would yell and scream at them, ‘What kind of computer store are you?’ and hang up.
I would do that three times in three weeks, each time pretending to be a different person. And the fourth week I’d call and say, ‘Hello, this is John Stealey. I’m a representative with MicroProse, with this game called Hellcat Ace.’ They’d say, ‘Hey, hey, hey, everyone’s been calling about that, can you help us get that game?’”
Sid Meier: The Father of Civilization
In 1983, a video game crash caused by market saturation crippled companies like Atari and Magnavox, but MicroProse still found success releasing a steady trickle of high-quality games designed by Meier: mostly flight sims, because that’s what the two were interested in making.
A few years later, as the company continued to grow—”It took three years to get to $3 million,” said Stealey—someone suggested that they make a game about pirates. Meier liked the idea, and he recalls one particularly important conversation with Stealey:
“Bill said, ‘When’s my next flight simulator coming out?’ And I said, ‘I’m not doing a flight simulator; I’m doing a pirates game.’ He said, ‘Well that’s crazy, ‘cause people want your next flight simulator… Wait a minute. Put your name on it. Maybe if they liked your flight simulator games, they’ll recognize the name and buy this crazy pirates thing.’”
Stealey has a different take: “We were at dinner at a Software Publishers Association meeting, and [actor] Robin Williams was there. And he kept us in stitches for two hours. And he turns to me and says ‘Bill, you should put Sid’s name on a couple of these boxes, and promote him as the star.’ And that’s how Sid’s name got on Pirates, and Civilization.”
Wherever it came from, the idea stuck. In 1987, MicroProse released Sid Meier’s Pirates!, an open-world exploration game in which players took on the role of glamorous swashbucklers who scour the world for treasure, stave off mutinous crews, and try to earn as much money as possible.
“We had created this graphic tool that allowed us to bring up pictures quickly,” Meier said. “Memory was limited. Everything was limited, so you had to be very efficient, but we found an efficient way to kind of pop up these pictures. We were able to kind of illustrate each scene in the story. That gave it a little bit of this adventure book story kind of quality that I think worked well.”
It worked extremely well: Pirates! won a number of awards from industry shows and magazines, and influenced a great deal of future games, including Will Wright’s SimCity, which would then go on to influence Meier’s Civilization.
Meier recalls early Game Developers Conferences in San Jose, California, where he’d get together with Wright, M.U.L.E. designer Danielle Bunten, conference founder Chris Crawford, and about 50-100 other early game creators.
“We would have fun and basically tell each other how much we like each other’s games,” Meier told me. “There wasn’t really any collaboration, because we just all wanted to make our own games. It was too much fun to let anybody else.”
It was the first generation of video game designers. And it felt like they were at the precipice of something big.
“We were trying to develop an industry,” Meier said.
If you play more than one of Meier’s games, you will notice certain common characteristics: there is never any blood, for one. Although Meier likes to cover violent historical periods, he does not like to show violence: battles in Civilization, for example, are represented abstractly, with two army tiles colliding until one disappears.
Meier’s games are also known for giving their players all sorts of options: instead of telling a focused, linear story, Meier prefers to create situations in which the player can create his or her own narrative. It could be the story of America wiping out every other nation and creating a global empire, or it could be the story of the most friendly pirate in the Caribbean. It’s totally up to the player. “I prefer games where the player can lead the game in the direction that they want,” Meier said. “And then they kind of end up with that unique story that only they can know.”
Meier: “I prefer games where the player can lead the game in the direction that they want, and then they kind of end up with that unique story that only they can know.”
No game epitomized this principle more than Civilization, which Meier and his team started developing after Pirates! and their next game, a business sim called Railroad Tycoon in which players could built and manage their own railroad companies.
“[SimCity] planted the seed in our mind about this kind of building, and that games don’t have to be about blowing things up—they can be about creating,” Meier said. “And so we kind of took some of the ideas from Railroad Tycoon, and some of the ideas from SimCity, and said you know what’s a bigger topic that we can tackle? And we ended up with the idea of Civilization.”
Today, it takes two or three years and a team of at least 100 to make your average blockbuster video game. Civilization, Meier told me, was made by a team of 8-10 people in under a year.
“Ultimately we had 640 kilobytes [of memory] in the computer,” Meier said. “When that was full, we were done. We couldn’t put any more code in there. So development time was a little less in those days.”
Today, Civilization is known as one of the premier turn-based strategy series, but funny enough, one of the game’s first iterations was actually set in real-time, like StarCraft or Age of Empires.
The unreleased prototype just didn’t pass muster with Meier.
“It was more like SimCity, where you’d kind of say, I wanna have a village over here and a farm over here and maybe I want to have some things happening over here, and then you could kind of stand back and watch your people gradually do things,” Meier said. “But it was a much more passive kind of process. There was more watching than doing. It was just not happening.”
So they switched gears. They gave more control to the player and changed up the pacing: now, instead of waiting for the world to change, players could change the world. Time wouldn’t progress until players made their decisions.
Brian Reynolds, who at the time had just started working at MicroProse, remembers early builds of Civilization keeping him and his co-workers up all night.
“It started to kind of go ‘viral’ within the company—not that anybody knew that term back then,” Reynolds said. “It was one of those things that suddenly everybody was kind of playing it.
There’d be a new version every few days. I would go in and just be this random 22-year-old guy stopping by and saying, ‘Here’s some ideas!’ [Sid] was very tolerant, patient of all my ideas for Civilization.”
“It was a very fun development,” said Meier, who was in his late 30s at the time. He remembers scaling down a lot—the game’s map was originally going to be twice the size, and there were two different types of tech trees—and he recalls lots and lots of play-testing alongside assistant director Bruce Shelley.
“Testing was a bit of a challenge because it took so long to play the game,” Meier said. “And we didn’t really have much in the way of testers, so I was one of the main—a lot of my time was spent playing and then fixing and changing.”
Civilization came out in late 1991. It took a few months for buzz to build—there was no Internet just yet—but as people started to discover the game, it spread like the Romans. Meier’s masterpiece won various awards, ranking #1 on a list of “150 Best Games Of All Time” compiled by the magazine Computer Gaming World. And it sold 800,000 copies, according to Reynolds.
Sid Meier: The Father of Civilization
When Meier finished the game that would make his career, he was eager to make something bigger. Better. More ambitious. But he also knew that would be ridiculously difficult—“I said if I continually get in this mode of trying to top the last game or do something bigger or more epic, I’m gonna drive myself crazy,” Meier said. So he decided to scale back. He gave Reynolds the steering wheel for the U.S.-focused Colonization and the Civ sequel, then went off to do his own thing: a music application called CPU Bach that allowed players to create their own music compositions. (It never really took off.)
Meanwhile, MicroProse was facing corporate restructuring as Stealey attempted to balance the company’s budget. In 1993, Stealey sold MicroProse to a company called Spectrum Holobyte. A year later, he left. “It was a great run. We should’ve done better. We had great people,” Stealey said. “I think all our people are still very proud of their MicroProse days. We had a family atmosphere. We had cash bonuses for everybody. I think it went very well for a long time.”
Sick of the layoffs and corporate politics, Meier—along with Reynolds and fellow designer Jeff Briggs—decided to leave MicroProse and start a new company. They called it Firaxis Games.
Sid Meier doesn’t like thinking about business, and he clammed up a bit when I asked him about MicroProse’s new ownership. “Sid didn’t want to be involved in that at all,” Stealey told me later. “No business—not at all.”
“Sid is happiest in his office writing code,” Solomon said.
Perhaps that was what made the idea of Firaxis so exciting for Meier: there they were independent, totally free to make creative decisions without worrying about meddling corporate parents. By then, Meier already had a reputation in the booming video game industry, and the company was quickly able to strike a deal with Electronic Arts for their next couple of games: Alpha Centauri, a Civilization spinoff set on an alien planet, and Gettysburg, a real-time strategy game set during the eponymous Civil War battle.
“Ah, Firaxis,” Meier said. “The convicts are running the asylum. It was great fun.”
For a while the company stayed small and nimble, making games with a team of 10-15 people, but over the past decade and a half, it’s grown closer to 120. In late 2005, Firaxis was acquired by Take-Two Interactive—the publishing company behind Rockstar (Grand Theft Auto) and 2K (NBA 2K).
Meier: “Ah, Firaxis. The convicts are running the asylum. It was great fun.”
“Everyone here is really nice,” said Solomon, who joined Firaxis in 2000. “We really value nice guys and gals. We don’t really put up with personality conflicts here, and that comes from Sid.
That is 100% because our studio grew out of Sid Meier, and his personality has a huge impact on how the studio is run, how people interact with each other. His vision is sort of our company vision.”
Over the past decade or so, Firaxis has gone on to make a whole bunch of Civilization sequels and spinoffs, including the console-driven Civilization Revolution and a remake of Colonization. Last year’s reimagining of the sci-fi strategy game XCOM (directed by Solomon) earned tons of critical acclaim, winning Kotaku’s 2012 Game of the Year. And now, with Ace Patrol, the ghoulish Haunted Hollow and an iOS port of XCOM, the studio seems to be diversifying a bit more.
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Ahab had Moby Dick. Sid Meier has dinosaurs.
For the past decade-and-a-half, Meier has unsuccessfully tried to spear a tyrannosaurus rex. He’s always wanted to make a game about the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods—”Sid Meier’s Dinosaurs” does have a nice ring to it—but he just couldn’t figure out how to make it fun. The theme worked, but he never found the right gameplay foundation: what would the dinosaurs do? Just fight one another? What’s the progression?
“I did three different prototypes,” Meier said. “One was real-time, one was turn-based, and one was a card game. And they were all kind of fun but just not fun fun.”
“How can you tell?” I asked.
I’d heard that Shigeru Miyamoto was really proud of his new game, Pikmin 3. Like, really, really proud. Like,… Read…
“I play the game,” he said, sounding very much like one of his legendary counterparts, Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto. “That’s how I develop it, by playing the game, tweaking it and changing it.
If other people play it, and they’re like ‘Oh, that’s okay,’ I ask, ‘But you’re still not playing it?’ If they say, ‘No, I put it away’ then I know it’s a problem. If they’re still not playing it, then it’s not as fun as it needs to be.”
Meier’s wife, Susan, chimed in. Susan has been with Firaxis since the beginning, first as the head of human resources, and now as “Master of Miscellaneous,” as she likes to call herself. “One of the reasons you knew you had something was that people at work were playing it long and often,” she said.
“Even when they didn’t have to,” Meier said, laughing. “That’s a good sign.”
Meier: “If other people play it, and they’re like ‘Oh, that’s okay,’ I ask, ‘But you’re still not playing it?’ If they say, ‘No, I put it away’ then I know it’s a problem. If they’re still not playing it, then it’s not as fun as it needs to be.”
But he just couldn’t nail down the dinosaurs. Solomon, meeting with Meier for the first time while interviewing for a job at Firaxis, recalls sitting down with the designer and playing one of his dinosaur prototypes.
“He fired it up and he let me play,” Solomon said. “I think he basically just looked at this as an opportunity to get feedback from somebody. I played the game and we talked about the game… and all he was interested in was, what do I think of the game? Did I have fun? What would I change? And it wasn’t an interview in the sense of—well, I suppose he might have been using it to gauge my personality—but really, it was an interview in the sense of, I played an awesome little prototype of Sid Meier.”
Solomon couldn’t make the game great, though. Meier likes to talk about the “valley of despair”—the moment in which a game designer, crushed by the weight of failed ideas and discarded prototypes, just feels like giving up. (“Sid’s famous for saying a game is a series of interesting decisions,” Solomon told me. “On Civ Rev one time he cracked and said, ‘Playing games is a series of interesting decisions, but making games is a series of heartbreaking disappointments.’”)
Sometimes, they get out of the valley. Other times it can be smothering.
Not long after Solomon joined the company, Meier told everyone that he was finished. He couldn’t make the dinosaur game work.
“So he goes home, and we don’t see him for two weeks,” Solomon said. “Then he brings everybody into a little room and he’s like ‘Okay, I’ve got the next game.’ And so he puts it up on the screen, and it’s SimGolf.”
It wasn’t a video or a bunch of words about SimGolf: it was a working prototype that Meier had just built. Players could design and build basic golf courses, just like they eventually could in the final product.
“At that time, [then-EA exec] Bing Gordon came out and went into Sid’s office, sat down, played the game for maybe an hour or two, came out and said ‘Yep, we’ll be able to sell that!’”
Solomon told me. “Anyone who saw it saw that it was pretty awesome.”
Sid Meier: The Father of Civilization
That prototype-centric mentality is how Meier has always made games, and it may be one of the explanations for his success: he doesn’t believe in design documents, or long, written descriptions of how a video game will work. While many game makers put ideas and concepts on paper before taking them to a machine, Meier’s approach is all hands-on.
“Sid’s never had to write a design document, because instead of debating with you about some new feature he wants to implement, he’ll just go home and at night he’ll implement it,” Solomon said. “And then tomorrow when he comes in he’ll say, ‘Okay, now play this new feature.’ And you’ll play, and then you can have a real conversation about the game, instead of looking at some design document.”
Meier is known for these types of rules and mantras, which he likes to share with other game designers as often as possible.
“‘Find the fun’—that’s Sid’s phrase,” said Reynolds. “Essentially, you have to make something in order to have any chance of finding the fun. Fun wasn’t going to be found on a piece of paper, at least fun in terms of a video game.”
To hear Reynolds describe Meier’s process calls to mind the old joke: “How do you carve a statue of an elephant? Get a block of marble and remove anything that doesn’t look like an elephant.”
How do you make a good game? Get a game and remove all the parts that aren’t fun.
“He told me a phrase I use all the time,” said Solomon. “Feedback is fact. That’s the way you have to look at feedback, as if it’s a fact. You’ve worked on this massive system or this game, and they come in your office and they go, ‘I played it, and I was bored.’ The worst thing you could do as a designer is start to defend your design or argue with that person. What you do is accept what that person told you as a fact. They said they were bored, so guess what? Your game bored that person. And you need to figure out why that is.”
There are other rules, too. Reynolds recalled one that stuck with him: if you are making a video game, and you’re having trouble with a number—say, the number of damage points a unit can do—either double it or cut it in half.
“He didn’t have any patience for, ‘Let’s try increasing it by 10%. Let’s try another 10%,’” Reynolds said. “Turns out that’s a pretty good rule of thumb to start with for a game designer, because the typical thing is to be really careful and try to inch up a little bit, and then you have to change it seven times to get it right. If you double it, you’ll immediately feel whether making it stronger was even a good idea.”
Meier: “I guess the next question is, ‘What would you do to try to make the game less fun?’”
The process works. Meier’s games are undoubtedly excellent, to the point where gamers often tell stories about them: “I started playing Civilization at 8pm and then suddenly it was four in the morning” is a common one. The word “addictive” is often thrown around—always with positive connotations, yes, but addiction can be a dangerous thing.
So I was curious, during a chat with Meier. Does he ever worry that his games could have a harmful effect on peoples’ lives?
“The responses we get on the forums, and interacting with players, and talking to people… our impression is that it’s a positive experience. It’s a way of using your leisure time that might otherwise be spent watching television or whatever. It’s a leisure time choice. So our reaction from players has been positive in terms of the time they spent, what they thought they got out of it, how they exercise their brains, and learn things about the world.
“I guess the next question is, ‘What would you do to try to make the game less fun?’ It’s funny—in some of the very early PC game designs, we used to have this ‘boss key,’ which you’d—you’d kinda hit a special key, and a spreadsheet would pop up on the screen so you could pretend you were doing your job. So I guess it’s been a consideration going back even 10 or 20 years. Games are just fun.
“It’s up, with any form of entertainment, it’s up to the player or parents to decide what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate. Our goal is to make the games as fun as we can make them. I think that seems to be what most people are looking for.”
Civilization doesn’t have slaves, and some have criticized the game for that glaring historical omission. It’s a common trend in Meier’s works: although they cover history, they tend to omit the nastier parts. That’s just how Sid Meier makes games. It’s been that way from Civilization to SimGolf to any of the games he’s worked on in the two decades since.
“There’s a conflict between an emotionally-charged topic and kinda giving the player this freedom of choice that really makes the game good,” he said. “One of the things we really try to avoid in our games is this kind of—’this choice would be the right thing to do, but this choice is gonna help me win the game’—put the players in those kind of moral dilemmas. That’s not what our games are about. We want you to feel good about yourself when you finish the game.”
A feel-good, addictive experience with tons of interesting choices: that has become the definition of a “Sid Meier” game. Maybe that’s why they put his name on the box. There’s certainly value to video games that tell focused, morally-challenging stories—last year’s Spec Ops: The Line (published by 2K, the label behind Firaxis’s games) was lauded for just that reason—but Meier doesn’t want to make games like that. He wants to make the type of games that he wants to play.
Yet… to this day, Meier has yet to create a game as memorable or as significant as Civilization. After SimGolf was a remake of Pirates!, and then Meier designed the fourth Railroad Tycoon game, Railroads! Next was the console-friendly Civilization Revolutions, a Facebook game called CivWorld that shut down earlier this year, and Ace Patrol. All of these games, while generally good, have not stuck with people the way his magnum opus has. And although Meier told me he has no regrets—”Except that I didn’t think of Tetris.”—I imagine he must sometimes feel like Civilization is lording over him, daring him to make something with as much of an impact.
“When we made Civilization, it was not with the idea that this was gonna be the greatest game that we’re gonna be remembered by,” Meier said. “It was the best game to make at the time and we thought it was a lot of fun. Each game we make, we kinda go into it with that idea: this is gonna be the best game we can make on that topic. Some of them resonate stronger with game players; maybe some not as much. I don’t have a formula for making a super-memorable game. It’s just that we keep making the best games that we can.”
篇目2，The Sid Meier Advantage
By John Gaudiosi
The Civ designer talks about the advantage of being a veteran game maker and understanding gameplay as a psychological experience
Sid Meier has been making games for nearly three decades. The legendary game designer continues to evolve the strategy game genre with the Civilization V expansion pack, Gods & Kings. Meier’s E3 was busy with two new Firaxis Games titles, the aforementioned Civ V expansion and the new XCOM: Enemy Unknown, a re-imagining of the classic 1993 turn-based strategy game.
Considered by many to be the “Father of Computer Gaming” from his MicroProse Software days, Meier remains entrenched in game development every day as director of creative development at Firaxis. The man behind hits like Railroad Tycoon, Sid Meier’s Pirates! and Sid Meier’s Gettysburg took a break to talk about the current game industry in this exclusive interview.
Q: What are your thoughts on how far the game industry has grown since you entered the business?
Sid Meier: I always felt that there was a great opportunity for growth as we figured out how to make games better and we’re seeing a larger audience today than ever before with social and mobile gaming and the gamification of everything. It’s something that I actually thought would happen over time. We would start off with our core audience and strategy gaming, but as we figured out how to make games more accessible and reach a wider audience, it would grow.
The challenge with this kind of growth is to keep these new gamers interested in games and sustain this momentum. We need to keep them coming back to new games and fresh ideas. Time will tell whether this growth is one cycle in the industry or if it is something that is permanent.
Q: What are the advantages of being a veteran game developer?
Sid Meier: Having worked on older games that had crude graphics, older designers like me actually have an advantage over younger designers because we have worked hard to make people believe things despite the graphics. Part of the unholy alliance is that you need to create a suspension of disbelief. It’s your part of the bargain, and it’s the gamers’ part, too.
Q: When you look at the game industry today what surprises you?
Sid Meier: I’m constantly surprised by the technology innovation that gets better and better, but on the other hand we always expect the industry to evolve and introduce new things. That’s the part that keeps it fun and really interesting for us.
Q: What impact do you feel Kickstarter will have on the game industry?
Sid Meier: That’s certainly a new opportunity to add to the App store, Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and all those places where the more reasonably sized games can find an outlet. If you can pull it off, then that’s a great opportunity. I think we’ve certainly seen in the last couple of months some successes there. If you have something that is really compelling in terms of a story idea then that is a very interesting way to go.
Q: What keeps you excited about coming to work every day at Firaxis?
Sid Meier: I really enjoy making games, it’s just fun. It’s like taking a lumpy piece of clay and turning it into something very cool. Every day is part of that process. Not knowing exactly where we are going and figuring it out step by step is just a challenge. It’s almost like the “one more turn” phenomenon in Civilization. It’s looking to that next thing we are going to add to the game and seeing how we can just make it better. The fun for me is really not knowing from week to week what cool thing we are going to add and getting a chance to play with it and tweak it and the constant process of seeing a game grow before your eyes.
Q: Where do you see the game industry five years from now?
Sid Meier: I imagine we’ll have different technologies to go through a cycle where they’re brand new and you’re experimenting with a lot of different ways of using this technology. That happened with the CD-Rom, with multiplayer on the Internet, and it’s now happening in the early stages with social gaming and mobile gaming. In five years we’ll have social gaming figured out with different genres. We’ll have different kinds of social games and everyone will understand the rules and the interface. Mobile is probably a technology we haven’t gotten the most out of.
Q: So where do you see opportunities for mobile games?
Sid Meier: Mobile games now are five minute quick gaming fixes. When you look at all the technology in a smartphone, the connectivity, the GPS, the camera, there are all sorts of things that could be integrated into a gaming experience that we haven’t thought of yet. I have a feeling that we will start to explore more of what’s possible in the whole space. Who knows what the technology will be. The iPad is a beautiful piece of hardware that does really cool stuff. We’re still trying to catch up in terms of game design and how to take advantage of it.
Q: What do you think is the key to a successful game?
Sid Meier: One of the key rules of game design is the first 15 minutes. These introductory minutes have to be fun, satisfying, and exciting. You are letting players know they’re on the right track, you should reward them, and let them know cool stuff will happen later.
In early Civilization games, I made Civ real-time, which meant everything happened in real-time: My first mistake was to make it real time. I modeled some elements of the game from SimCity, which was real-time. It was inspiring. But what we found was that in real-time gaming the player becomes the observer. Our mantra is that, “it’s good to be king.” When we made Civ a turn-based game, the player became the star, they made things happen.
Q: What’ something you’ve learned about game development that has remained true over the years?
Sid Meier: Gaming is a psychological experience. I base my games on things like railroads, pirates, and history, and I try to make the games I design true and real. The more historical, the more realistic, and the more factual, the better. During the early days of my career, I hadn’t taken into account what was in the player’s head. By acknowledging that simple concept-that gameplay is a psychological experience-it can make your games better.
Q: What impact has the influx of new gamers coming to the space from Facebook and mobile devices had on game development?
Sid Meier: I once gave a talk on how games should be split into four different difficulty levels. I was wrong. Now, Civilization V has nine difficulty levels. As players move on they continually get better and receive rewards. You want to feel they are above average. There is a basic dichotomy in games in that when you reward players for winning a war and give them 100 gold pieces, the player never really questions rewards. If something bad happens, if there is a setback to the player, they react much differently. They complain the game is broken.
Q: What role will PCs play in the future of games?
Sid Meier: If history is any guide, then PC will just continue to be a strong platform for gaming. We’ll see a new generation or two of consoles. Maybe your watch might play a game, I don’t know. I think gaming will continue to go wherever technology goes. It’ll be a fun five years.
篇目3，Analysis: Sid Meier’s Key Design Lessons
By Soren Johnson
Most game developers are familiar with Sid Meier’s dictum that “a good game is a series of interesting choices.”
In fact, my co-columnist Damion Schubert started his recent article on player choice (October 2008) by referencing this famous quote.
However, over the course of his career, Sid has developed a few other general rules of game design, which I heard him discuss many times during my seven years (2000-2007) at his studio, Firaxis Games. As these insights are quite practical lessons for designers, they are also worthy of discussion.
Double It Or Cut It By Half
Good games can rarely be created in a vacuum, which is why many designers advocate an iterative design process, during which a simple prototype of the game is built very early and then iterated on repeatedly until the game becomes a shippable product.
Sid called this process “finding the fun,” and the probability of success is often directly related to the number of times a team can turn the crank on the loop of developing an idea, play-testing the results, and then adjusting based on feedback.
As the number of times a team can go through this cycle is finite, developers should not waste time with small changes. Instead, when making gameplay adjustments, developers should aim for significant changes that will provoke a tangible response.
If a unit seems too weak, don’t lower its cost by 5%; instead, double its strength. If players feel overwhelmed by too many upgrades, try removing half of them. In the original Civilization, the gameplay kept slowing down to a painful crawl, which Sid solved by shrinking the map in half. The point is not that the new values are likely to be correct – the goal is to stake out more design territory with each successive iteration.
Imagine the design space of a new game to be an undiscovered world. The designers may have a vague notion of what exists beyond the horizon, but without experimentation and testing, these assumptions remain purely theoretically. Thus, each radical change opens up a new piece of land for the team to consider before settling down for the final product.
One Good Game Is Better Than Two Great Ones
Sid liked to call this one the “Covert Action Rule,” a reference to a not-altogether-successful spy game he made in the early ’90s:
The mistake I made was actually having two games competing with each other. There was an action game where you break into a building and do all sorts of picking up clues and things like that, and then there was the story which involved a plot where you had to figure out who the mastermind was and what cities they were in, and it was an involved mystery-type plot.
Individually, each part could have been a good game. Together, they fought with each other. You would have this mystery that you were trying to solve, then you would be facing this action sequence, and you’d do this cool action thing, and you’d get out of the building, and you’d say, “What was the mystery I was trying to solve?” Covert Action integrated a story and action poorly because the action was actually too intense – you’d spend ten minutes or so of real time in a mission, and by the time you got out, you had no idea of what was going on in the world.
In other words, even though both sections of the game were fun on their own, their co-existence ruined the experience because the player could not focus her attention on one or the other.
This rule points to a larger issue, which is that all design choices only have value in relation to one another, each coming with their own set of cost/benefit trade-offs. Choosing to make a strategic game also means choosing not to make a tactical one. Thus, an idea may be “fun” on its own but still not make the game better if it distracts the player from the target experience. Indeed, this rule is clearly the reason why the Civ franchise has never dabbled with in-depth, tactical battles every time combat occurs.
However, sometimes multiple games can co-exist in harmony with each other. Sid’s own Pirates! is an example of a successful game built out of a collection of fighting, sailing, and dancing mini-games. However, these experiences were always very short – a few minutes at the most – leaving the primary focus on the meta-game of role-playing a pirate. Each short challenge was a tiny step along a more important larger path, of plundering all Spanish cities or rescuing your long-lost relatives.
Another example of a successful mix of separate sub-games is X-Com, which combined a tactical, turn-based, squad-level combat game with a strategic, real-time, resource-management game. As with Pirates!, what makes X-Com work is that the game chose a focus – in this case, the compelling tactical battles between your marines and the invading aliens.
The high-level, strategic meta-game exists only to provide a loose framework in which these battles – which could take as long as a half hour each – actually matter. One doesn’t fight the aliens to get to manage resources later; instead, one manages resources to get to perform better – and have more fun – in future battles.
Do Your Research After The Game Is Done
Many of the most successful games of all time – SimCity, Grand Theft Auto, Civilization, Rollercoaster Tycoon, The Sims – have real-world themes, which broadens their potential audience by building the gameplay around concepts familiar to everyone.
However, creating a game about a real topic can lead to a natural but dangerous tendency to cram the product full of bits of trivia and obscure knowledge to show off the amount of research the designer has done. This tendency spoils the very reason why real-world themes are so valuable – that players come to the game with all the knowledge they already need.
Everybody knows that gunpowder is good for a strong military, that police stations reduce crime, and that carjacking is very illegal. As Sid puts it, “the player shouldn’t have to read the same books the designer has read in order to be able to play.”
Games still have great potential to educate, just not in the ways that many educators expect. While designers should still be careful not to include anything factually incorrect, the value of an interactive experience is the interplay of simple concepts, not the inclusion of numerous facts and figures.
Many remember that the world’s earliest civilizations sprang up along river valleys — the Nile, the Tigris/Euphrates, the Indus — but nothing gets that concept across as effectively as a few simple rules in Civilization governing which tiles produce the most food during the early stages of agriculture. Furthermore, once the core work is done, research can be a very valuable way to flesh out a game’s depth, perhaps with historical scenarios, flavor text, or graphical details. Just remember that learning a new game is an intimidating experience, so don’t throw away the advantages of an approachable topic by expecting the player to already know all the details when the game starts.
The Player Should Have The Fun, Not The Designer Or The Computer
Creating story-based games can be an intoxicating experience for designers, many of whom go overboard with turgid back stories full of proper nouns, rarely-used consonants, and apostrophes. Furthermore, games based on complex, detailed simulations can be especially opaque if the mysterious inner workings of the algorithmic model remain hidden from view. As Sid liked to say, with these games, either the designer or the computer was the one having the fun, not the player.
For example, during the development of Civilization 4, we experimented with government types that gave significant productivity bonuses but also took away the player’s ability to pick which technologies were researched, what buildings were constructed, and which units were trained, relying instead on a hidden, internal model to simulate what the county’s people would choose on their own.
The algorithms were, of course, very fun to construct and interesting to discuss outside of the game. The players, however, felt left behind — the computer was having all the fun — so we cut the feature.
Further, games require not just meaningful choices but also meaningful communication to feel right. Giving players decisions that have consequence but which they cannot understand is no fun. Role-playing games commonly fail at making this connection, such as when players are required to choose classes or skills when “rolling” a character before experiencing even a few seconds of genuine gameplay.
How are players supposed to decide between being a Barbarian, a Fighter, or a Paladin before understanding how combat actually works and how each attribute performs in practice? Choice is only interesting when it is both impactful and informed.
Thus, in Sid’s words, the player must “always be the star.” As designers, we need to be the player’s greatest advocate during a game’s development, always considering carefully how design decisions affect both the player’s agency in the world and his understanding of the underlying mechanics.
篇目4，GDC 2012: Sid Meier on how to see games as sets of interesting decisions
by Leigh Alexander
“Games are a series of interesting decisions,” says Firaxis’ Sid Meier. It’s a statement he’s made in the past – and he’s noticed (by Googling himself) that viewpoint of his has been a source of some debate. But it’s one of his favorite ways of thinking about game design, so in his packed GDC 2012 lecture, he explained the idea in depth – what makes decisions in gameplay interesting for players, and what do designers need to know?
“It’s easier to look at it as what is not an interesting decision,” says the legendary creator of Civilization. If a player always chooses the first from among a set of three choices, it’s probably not an interesting choice; nor is a random selection. While there are some types of games where the idea of interesting decisions isn’t the best way to look at things – say rhythm games or puzzle games based on different sorts of inputs — he generally believes the idea is a helpful way to look at the medium.
“It’s a useful concept during the design phase. One of the things I see often is that designs are kind of about putting together pieces of other games,” says Meier. There’s the idea that if some games are fun, then combinations of their elements will also be fun.
“Unfortunately, that doesn’t always work out,” he says. “And I think it’s a more useful way to look at a new game design in terms of, what are the decisions I’m presenting the player, and are they interesting?… Put yourself in the player’s chair.”
What Makes An Interesting Decision?
One common characteristic of interesting decisions is that they involve some kind of tradeoff – say, the opportunity to get a big sword costs 500 gold, or in a racing game the fastest car may have poorer handling. In Meier’s Civilization, the act of building a defensive unit has complex resource costs in exchange for protection.
“Good decisions are situational. There’s a very key idea that when the decision is presented to the player, ideally it acts in an interesting way with the game situation,” Meier explains. Civ contains complex systems that provide a number of situational choices, where the options presented to players and the factors therein depend heavily on what’s happening in the game world.
Some of these decisions are personal and tied to the player’s gaming style. A cautious player would choose to build a very secure base from which to expand; an aggressive player invests in its offensive units. “This interesting decision would allow you to express your personal play style,” he says.
Interesting decisions are persistent and affect the game for a certain amount of time, as long as the player has enough information to make the decision – when early choices can ruin the game experience down the road, developers need to present them in a fashion appropriate to that. “
One classic decision type is a risk-versus-reward scenario that asks the player to weigh potential penalties against the possibilities of rewards. “In almost any kind of game you’ll find opportunities for these decisions,” he says. Another decision category is short versus long-term decisions – like building a wonder in Civilization, which takes a long time but has a significant long-term impact – versus building a chariot, which is finished much more quickly but has much less effect on the overall landscape of the game.
When it comes to accommodating the player’s play style, “it’s very tempting as a designer to imagine that everybody plays a game the same way that you do, and it’s very tempting as a design and development group to feel that you represent all players,” he says. That’s why he finds it essential to good design to allow for as many choices and play styles as possible.
One of the strengths of Civilization in Meier’s own view, is that it has things happening on multiple levels at once in terms of short-, medium- and long-term events. The player’s task is to prioritize and to manage strategies for both near-term and long-term goals, and evolve the short-term goals to make the long-term goal more accessible.
Customization functions also create interesting decisions, even if it’s as simple as choosing a name for your city or a color for your vehicle. “It makes [the player] more connected to the game that they’re playing,” Meier says. “Think about ways of investing the player in your game by inviting them to make decisions that let them to express their personality or their gaming style.
Key to making decision meaningful is to ensure players understand the full scope of their choices; it’s not fun for the player to be in a situation where they have to pick something, and then marinate in that gnawing feeling of wondering what might happen as a result of their choice or how severe the impact might be. “It’s almost worth erring on the side of providing the player with too much information, or at least enough that they’re comfortable with understanding the choices,” Meier advises.
When it comes to making players comfortable and happy as they make decisions, genre conventions help – the fact that most shooters have something of a standard interface help players feel assured. When a player presses a button that in every other game in its genre does a certain thing and receives an unfamiliar result, “there’s nothing more disconcerting,” he warns.
One reason that many of Firaxis’ games involve historical topics is that the player can come to the experience with a lot of information that they already know. “It’s important to reinforce that information for the player – if you run into Genghis Khan in a Civilization game, you’re going to expect him to be kinda angry and aggressive… if you’re building a game about railroads or pirates, there’s a lot that the player can bring to a topic like that that they already know.”
Zombies are popular because they’re very clear – their motivation is basic and their nature is obvious and well understood. “It’s an example of a decision where you don’t have to add a lot of information for the player; they pretty much know what to do.”
On the other hand, once the player makes a decision the response from the game is enormously important: “The worst thing you can do is just move on. There’s nothing more paranoia-inducing than having made a decision and the game just kind of goes on. At least have a sound effect that says, ‘I’ve heard what you said and I’m going to do it.’” In Civilization Revolution, players were so pleased to get feedback on some of their unit moves when they negotiated with leaders from other areas, for example.
Feedback helps players feel responsible and meaningful within the game world. “It’s really important to let the player know that you know that they’re there, that you’re a partner with them, that you’re right there next to them all the way,” Meier explains. “That yes, ‘you are the leader of a great civilization’, or ‘you are a great race car driver’. Whether it’s a sound or text, a visual or graphic… really reinforce the fantasy the player is creating in their mind and really allow them to enjoy that.”
The Player Types
In order to create lots of interesting decisions for players, it’s important for designers to understand the many types of players there are. There’s the player that cares mainly about winning, who can offer feedback on tuning the game’s higher levels. There’s the genre fan, who is a fan of the specific genre and loves anything that resembles things they love already – and resents deviations. This player’s feedback is useful for understanding how to use the genre conventions, but hopefully doesn’t constrain new developments.
There’s the player the one who wants to understand all of the game’s algorithm and calculate the best possible scenarios. This player can help with game balance – within reason, as the player really just wants to unravel and own the systems. Then, there’s the paranoid player, who feels that everything is stacked against him or her, assuming that dice rolls are rigged or unfair. The history buff will criticize elements of the setting and complain about loyalty to source material or accuracy of a historical setting.
The player who Meier calls “Mr. Bubble Boy” is the one who dwells on the one unfortunate game experience he or she had. “You need to prevent setbacks in a very sensitive way, where the player understands why it’s happening and what they can do next time… one incident colors their entire experience.” And there’ll always be that armchair designer who focuses on every detail of why a given game isn’t like the one he or she creates.
It’s useful to understand all of these player types and to benefit from their feedback, but all of them can cause consequences if their views are too highly prized.
More Interesting Decisions
Once a game implements interesting decisions, what makes them more interesting? A strong balance of risk-reward choices; adjusting how impactful choices are, giving the player more or less information, providing time frame within which to make decisions, or adjusting how many choices there are in the game can all completely define and refine a design. There’s a flavor slider, too: “This is really a presentation issue,” he says. “Take advantage of those artists, those writers that are working on your game to really add flavor.”
“Be careful to manage that balance,” he says. “If you’re playing a game with complicated decisions that come at you one after the other the player is going to feel out of control. On the other hand, if you give your player some very simple decisions at a very slow place, they’re kind of bored.”
The last way to make a game more interesting through decisions? Get rid of ones that are not working. “You’ve tried all these things and they don’t work. Maybe the decision is just one you should take out of your game.,” says Meier. “Be ruthless in terms of cutting things out… probably a third of the things that we try, if not more, end up getting taken out of the game because they’re not fun and interesting enough.”
“You don’t want to forget that your game is more than just decisions,” he emphasizes. The detailed minutiae of developing interesting decisions ought not to take away from the production of a rich, vivid world that feels real and fun for the player. A strong fantasy environment coupled with empowering and interesting decisions is a key coupling that creates a long-term relationship between a player and a game, he believes.
“It’s the combination of this wonderful fantasy world that you create and the interesting decisions that the player gets to make in that world that really is the sum total of the quality of your game,” Meier concludes.
篇目5，Looting Game Design Gold from *Sid Meier’s Pirates!*
by Thomas Henshell
“Good artists copy, great artists steal.” – Pablo Picasso
Sid Meier’s Pirates! is arguably the most important game ever made . . . and it also ruined my week. You see, I’m working on Archmage Rises—and part of my elevator pitch is, “It’s like Pirates! but with mages and permadeath.”
“Live the Life” is exactly what this Pirate simulator delivers!
Pirates! and I have known each other a long time. It’s been 27 years since I slipped my 360 KB 5.25″ floppy into my Tandy 1000 and “Lived the Life.” Having not played it for a while, just this Sunday I fired up the 2004 edition to see what it could teach me. (I grew up in a culture that didn’t watch TV on Sunday, so I revel in the freedom of being a pirate on the Lord’s Day!) The 2004 edition by Firaxis is a great example of how an old game’s inner beauty can be recast for a modern audience. If you’ve played the 2004 version, you’ve basically played the ’87 version—and vice versa.
What I learned this week is valuable to me, and hopefully to you:
Like any creative project, a game design/concept is born in a lucid moment of inspiration. I can literally see the game I want to make before I’ve touched a keyboard. But like a ship on the open seas with wind and waves, the game development process includes drift. Programming, art choices, new features, all the little decisions along the way potentially introduce drift one away from the core concept of the game. And I’m one guy! I can’t imagine how AAA teams do it with dozens (or hundreds!) of talented developers.
So as I sailed the Caribbean as a Dutchman in a War Sloop, I was confronted in stark contrast with how much drift has already occurred in Archmage Rises. I’m disappointed in some of the course corrections I need to make, but I’m happy overall with the experience.
Like Neo, Sid showed us the way toward true open world design
I glibly wrote that Pirates! could be the most important game ever made. It is something a game developer friend said to me this week—and at first, I felt this was a ridiculous thought. Later on, I realized he may be right after all!
Pirates is one of the world’s first open world games and yet a mashup of four different types of games. I hear many people pay tribute to Grand Theft Auto III as the “first” open world game—but for all of Rockstar’s inventiveness, they’ve got nothing on Pirates. Let me explain why:
Gold Chest #1: Living World
The game world of Pirates! is alive and hums along with or without your involvement. A whole Caribbean economy is simulated under the hood. European powers go to war with one another. Towns grow or decrease in prosperity. Raiders or invasion forces decimate towns. Towns change hands through simulated battles. Governors get replaced bringing economic prosperity. Famous pirates (NPCs) travel the world, causing havoc. From the same starting point, no two games are the same.
One specific example: Should a trade ship traveling from San Juan to St. Kitts arrive, both the sending port and receiving port get a small economic boost. If the ship is lost at sea (or to you), they both suffer that loss. The economic prosperity of the towns determines how much money they have to buy your goods, and which items are available for sale/trade.
There are no neutral actions you can take in the sandbox. Whatever you do, the world will change accordingly.
Gold Chest #2: Emergent Behavior
Pirates! has a few very simple rules at play. But it has the right rules—so with all the simulated agents, you have the right ingredients for emergent behavior.
I was merrily sailing along and saw not one, but two separate French raiders sally up to a Spanish town and let loose their canons. No one, from me to the developers, could have predicted that two raiders sent from different towns would happen to attack the same town at the same time just as I was sailing by.
Similarly, I decided I wanted to attack a particular ship—but by the time I got there, it was close to town. So my sea battle became a land and sea battle—all because of the timing of when that ship left its port. Our paths converged, and I had to deal with the consequences.
Gold Chest #3: Permanent Presence
As you loot ships, the economies of the towns are impacted. If you favor one European power, it will dominate your version of the Caribbean. You can help towns permanently change hands from one nation to another by sacking the town or sinking reinforcement troop ships. Each action has a lasting consequence and a profound feeling of “I did that!”
Presence is reinforced through the map/log. It shows where and when every one of your actions took place in the world. This is your story in the Caribbean; it is personal. This is what keeps me coming back over and over again.
Gold Chest #4: Different Strokes
Given you can only play as a pirate, the game has a wide variety of play styles within a seemingly confining genre.
First, if you are more action-oriented, you can make money by looting ships and entering sword fights against ship captains. But if you are more merchant-minded, you can amass a large fleet of trade galleons and become a merchant trader of sorts sailing from smaller producing towns to larger consuming towns. In a small way, it has a bit of Railroad Tycoon in here.
Every ship in the game can be captured and controlled by you. So you can play a small fast raider in a 12 gun sloop, or a massive lumbering 48 gun Frigate. The battle tactics are entirely different.
You can staunchly play for King and Country of your starting European power. Or a heartless, opportunist smuggler playing all sides against each other. And anything in between.
Get estates and get married to a governor’s daughter. Even do it multiple times! It’s one of the only games I know of that allows polygamy.
Gold Chest #5: Procedurally-Generated Quests
The living game world is fully utilized as the game generates quests based on current conditions.
A barmaid whispers of a certain treasure laden ship traveling to a nearby island. Or a governor asks you to escort a new governor to his destination. A traveller is willing to sell a treasure map to buried treasure.
While I suppose these can become eventually repetitive, I find them far more engaging than Destiny’s quests. Probably because if I do successfully escort that governor, the world permanently changes. In Destiny, the Vex will still be there the next time I shoot them—and the next, and the next after that.
Gold Chest #6: Emergent Story
The 2004 version of Pirates! has a story of recovering/avenging your kidnapped family. You can complete this or completely ignore it.
I’m more interested in the stories I make myself. I play as a Dutchman with a score to settle with the Spanish. Sometimes I’m the scourge of the north, or the south. Sometimes I’ll pick on a town barricading it from all outside shipments, or spread my reign of terror evenly.
The game’s simple rules and living world allow me to make up my own stories and play them out to my heart’s content. This is where people smarter than me have identified it as moving from “game” to “software toy.” This seems to be a common thread in Sid’s games, and why they stand the test of time.
You can also play Pirates! on pretty much anything, which is awesome. If you haven’t played this gem, you are in luck!
Pirates! is available on just about everything except WonderSwan:
iPad, iPhone, Windows Phone, Windows XP+, Xbox 360, Xbox, Wii, PSP, Windows 3.x, Sega Genesis, Amiga/CD32, Apple II/IIGS, Atari ST, NES, Commodore 64, Dos, Macintosh, Amstrad CPC, NEC PC-9801
Steal Good. Copy Bad
What was Picasso talking about, really? He was referring to internalizing the concept or style of a work of art, not merely copying it. It’s the difference between a photocopy and a memory. In programming, we have a similar idea in the form of shallow copy versus deep copy.
So what do I mean when I say I’m making Pirates! with mages?
I do not mean having a 3D map with a mage running around attacking merchant caravans to impress governors and marry their daughters. To me, that would be a shallow copy.
I am implementing the six gold chests of design above in spirit. Most of my effort is focused on creating a plausible, living and breathing fantasy RPG world. One where nobles (my equivalent of governors) have personalities and ambitions. They procedurally generate quests based on what is happening in their territory and with their neighbors. You as the player decide which nobles you want to side with and which ones you want to use to test your new Fire Rain spell on. I’m taking what Sid did and going further with it. You have a home base (your mage tower)—and based on your fame (or infamy), nobles will send out raiding parties against you! So being naughty (or nice) has a lot to do with your personal security. This is one way the player will feel presence and permanence in the game world. Ultimately, I want to give players the ability to tell their own story. This, I hope, is what makes my game successful and keeps people returning for more.
In short, I’m stealing. In the best sense of the word