In this classic interview from the February 2002 issue of Game Developer magazine, one renowned game designer interviewed another renowned game designer.
In the world of game development, Sid Meier (pictured above) is as close as one can get to being a man who needs no introduction. Since co-founding Microprose in 1982, Sid has designed and programmed dozens of games that have been heralded as nothing less than revolutionary, ingenious, and influential to all who follow in his footsteps. Sid lends his experienced hand to Firaxis Games as chairman and creative director of the recently released Civilization III
and the upcoming Sim Meier's Sim Golf
This month's questions were provided by Warren Spector, who has designed numerous critically acclaimed games for Origin Systems, Looking Glass Studios, and Ion Storm. Warren is currently executive producing Ion Storm's upcoming Deus Ex 2
and Thief 3
Warren Spector: What are Sid Meier's inspirations? Do you play a lot of games? Do you look to the cultural zeitgeist? Do you specifically and consciously look outside the universe of games for fresh insights and ideas?
Most of my game ideas trace back to my child- hood, to things that I became fascinated with at some point during my childhood. Pirates, airplanes, trains, history, and the Civil War were all interests of mine at one time or another.
WS: How do you start the game design process? Do you typically have a moment of gameplay in mind? Or maybe a story or fictional context?
Maybe a single game mechanic you think would be cool? A particular fantasy you want to allow players to experience or an overall experience you want them to have? A mood you want to evoke or a message you want to convey? Where does a design start for you?
In starting a design I focus on two key moments. The first time a player starts the game, he or she needs to be quickly drawn into the game. At the end of the game, the player should have a sense of having come a long way since the beginning to a satisfying conclusion and be tempted to play again.
WS: How much documentation do you do before beginning to work? Are you a preplan-as-much-as-possible guy or a prototype and revise guy? I've always heard the latter, but I want details!
There's really no preplanning when we start a new game. We build the game using stuff we already know, with the idea that our players will already know this stuff too, and they'll be able to jump right in. Later we do research to add depth, create scenarios, and get the details right, but not until we have a fun game.
WS: How much "real work" do you do these days, and how much of your time is spent conveying a vision to a team, or melding various team members' spins on the game into a seamless whole, or just dealing with team and studio management issues?
Actually, I enjoy programming and I don't enjoy management, so I'm generally the lead pro- grammer on at least one project.
WS: How do you explain your success? You've probably worked in a greater variety of genres than anyone else in this business science fiction, historical sims, pirate games, espionage adventures. Do you think your greatest successes were driven by the appeal of a specific genre or fiction, or were there gameplay differences that made the difference, sales-wise?
I don't really know how to predict the success of a game. In hindsight, it might seem that doing Civilization
was a no-brainer, but at the time it was a real departure for Microprose. At the time, strategy games were considered boring and complicated. I write games that I think I would like to play and hope there are some other peo- ple out there who will like them as well.
WS: How tight is the link between genre and gameplay? In other words, can the same mechanics be applied to a sci-fi game as to a historical sim? Does genre dictate gameplay and game mechan- ics, or do the mechanics come first and then the genre?
We pick the game topic first and then worry about the mechanics. Civilization
started out as a real-time game and switched to turn-based. Pirates!
was a combination of storytelling, adventure, and action. I tried three different approaches to the Dinosaur
game - turn-based, real-time strategy, and a card game approach - before finally giving up.
WS A lot of folks in my studio look at some elements of Alpha Centauri in particular as a model for some of the things we hope to do in future immersive simulation games. Do you ever look at other people's games, regardless of genre or game style, and see some of your own ideas embodied in them? Conversely, do you ever ask yourself why more game developers don't adapt your ideas to their own work? In other words, how do you feel your games have influenced the development of games and gaming?
I think there is a continual sharing, borrowing, and building upon game ideas among the design community. As long as each game also introduces some new ideas and innova- tion, this is one of the strengths of our industry. Certainly the standardization of interfaces and controls has made games easi- er to play. I still love to play games. I hope other designers will continue to create great games so that I can play them, and occasionally borrow an idea or two.