At the 2016 DICE Summit, four minds behind the revered Civilization series recounted what it was like working on the franchise, its effect on their careers, and what they learned from their experiences.
Sid Meier, who created the series while at Microprose, said after the success of games such as Pirates! he and his fellow developers had a degree of freedom to try out new things. Dipping their toes into the strategy genre was one of their options.
"There was this hint that strategy might be something cool," said Meier, who took the DICE stage with Bruce Shelley (Civilization), Brian Reynolds (Civilization II), and Soren Johnson (Civilization III and IV).
Shelley, who was moderating the panel, asked Meier if there was ever a particular "wow" moment when he may have realized Civilization was going to be something bigger than he expected. Meier, who is known as a methodical game designer who advocates "finding the fun" in a game and going from there, didn't recall a particular "wow" moment.
"It felt good, it felt fun to play. You always like your game," said Meier. But that game designer instinct is always a bit biased. "Your kid's always cute, whether other people feel that way or not... We knew it was different and the fact that we could break so much new ground and have it still be fun was [so satisfying]."
Of course, Civilization launched a phenomenon in games, with today's franchise sales at over 20 million units across several titles. The designers who worked on Civilization after that initial game experienced that phenomenon in the same way any other Civ player might.
"I thought I'd play this for an hour or two and see what it's all about," recalled Reynolds. "Next thing I knew it was 2:30 in the morning and there was nobody left in the office."
Johnson was in college when he first experienced Civilization and was also a fan of Meier's work. "It took up a lot of my time, my first year of college," he laughed. "I kind of put it away so I could move forward."
Meier's work essentially created an army of informed fans who understood the inner workings of Civilization, many of whom had their own strong opinions on what is good and not-so-good about a certain Civilization game.
"Civ seemed to bring out the game designer in people," he said. Meier explained how developing a Civilization game is exhausting, and he was confident in handing it over to other trusted designers such as Reynolds and Johnson.
It's that trust in players as designers that has helped Civilization endure over the past 25 years. The introduction of modding in Civilization II was the start of letting players own a little piece of the series.
And working under Meier, it's clear that everyone on stage still carries with them lessons learned from working on the revered franchise. "[Civ II] is still kind of the standard that I hold myself to," said Fargo. He shared one of Meier's pieces of advice that he still sticks by: paraphrasing Meier, he said, "Whenver you're going to change a number you need to double it or cut it in half. None of that half-assed 10 percent stuff."
Johnson said one is his major takeaways is listening to your fans. "At a certain point, your community understands your game better than you," he said. "So listen to them, and take them seriously... I'm a big believer in that."
"The idea that players are right is key," reiterated Meier. That sounds like simple advice, but it's a difficult concept for a game designer to keep in mind, especially when a playtester stops having fun after 30 minutes. Meier joked that he would have to fight against his gut response of "No, you're still having fun!"