I've heard of that "Civilization" board game by Francis Tresham. So you hadn't played that before? Or had you just briefly played it?
Sid: I had not played that before I did Civilization; I played it later. I remember there were some cards and trading. It was more ancient; it didn't really come into any sort of modern or medieval times. It was more of an ancient kind of game.
It's interesting because Tresham also created 1829, a railroad board game. We played the American version of it, 1830, before we did Railroad Tycoon. So there's definitely a connection in terms of the topics between board games and computer games. But the inspiration for Civilization was more SimCity, our railroad game, and Risk. Most kids play Risk when they're young, and the idea of conquering the world is pretty satisfying.
Did Tresham know that you were making a computer game called Civilization at the time?
Sid: Not that I know of. We didn't know the game was going to be called Civilization when we started it. As it came together, it just felt like the right name. We actually dealt with Avalon Hill, which owned the rights to that name in the United States, because they published the board game. So we didn't deal with Frances Tresham, or anyone in England. We dealt directly with Avalon Hill in terms of getting the rights to the name and things like that.
So MicroProse didn't have any legal trouble because of that?
Sid: No, we dealt with Avalon Hill. They owned the American license to it. And there were no legal issues. I know that, later on, there were some strange legal things that went on between Activision and...other things like that, but that was later.
It was out of your hands; it's the business people doing that stuff.
Sid: [laughs] Right.
Before we get off the Tresham / board game thing -- I read something on Wikipedia, the tome of all correct information (I'm saying that sarcastically, of course), that there was some kind of flier for the board game distributed in the box of your Civilization. Is that true?
Sid: I'm not aware of that. I wouldn't be surprised if there were some arrangement with Avalon Hill that we would put something in our computer game about their board game, and they would put something in their board game about our computer game. It's not unusual, but I would imagine that would have been done with Avalon Hill; I'm not specifically aware of it.
How old were you when you developed the first Civilization?
Sid: I was...let me do the math here. This was '89, so I would have been 35.
Can you give a little window in to what your life was like at the time, in general?
Sid: Sure. I was having a wonderful time as a game designer at MicroProse, my dream job. I mean, it was really what I enjoyed and loved doing -- still love doing. I was married at the time. My son was born in 1990, so he was on his way at the time. I was living in the Baltimore area, working at MicroProse just having a great time making games. Nothing really too unusual.
MicroProse had been in business for eight or nine years at that time. And we had assembled a pretty good group of designers, programmers, and artists. That kind of represented the golden years of MicroProse, where we had some good games and we really felt we could tackle new topics and give new things a try. So it was a great creative time, I think, in the industry and also at MicroProse.
You must look back on the era fondly.
Sid: Yes. It's always fun to make computer games, but I think in those days we really hadn't come up with the idea of a genre yet, so we would say, "Let's do a game about pirates!" "OK! There will be sword fighting and there will be ships!" or "Let's do a game about civilization." "Yeah! We'll have economics and diplomacy. There will be military..." We didn't say, "What category are we going to fit this into?" There was a lot more experimenting. The graphics and the sound technology were limited, so the investment wasn't so high to make a game.
You could only make it look so good, or sound so good. So we didn't have to spend the millions and millions and millions of dollars like we do today. It was a little less risky, so we could take a chance with games because they didn't cost as much money. That was fun; It was exciting.
It was more "anything goes" instead of having to fit into "first person shooters" or "real‑time strategy games."
Sid: Right. We just started with the topic, as opposed to the genre. We said, "Pirates!," or "Railroads!," or "Civilization," or "Civil War," or whatever. It was like, "It's a neat idea. Now what do we do to make it fun?" That's basically what we started with.
What computer platform was the first Civilization originally designed for?
Sid: It was created on the IBM PC. I remember discovering -- this is esoteric -- but I remember discovering a way to do overlays. At the time, a PC was limited to 640K of memory. I found this way to do overlays where we could bring in extra code from the disk to replace code that was already there.
So we could do all these reports like that by just bringing stuff in that you didn't need all the time. It opened up new possibilities -- allowed us to make the game, add more code to it, and do more stuff with it. And we were also transitioning from 16‑color EGA graphics to 256‑color VGA graphics, which were awesome! [Civilization] actually supported both EGA and VGA. That's really where the 16-civilization limitation came from, because we only had 16 colors from EGA. [laughs] It was definitely an IBM PC product to start with.
How much of the coding did you do on Civilization personally?
Sid: I did just about all the coding. I had some help with some tools and things like that. But I'd have to say that I did most of the coding in that game. And some of the art.
Did you draw the little settlers and things like that?
Sid: I did versions at the beginning. I'm not sure how many of them survived until the end. I think some of the original units were more mine, at least in the EGA version.