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For Sid Meier, good game design is invisible game design

For Sid Meier, good game design is invisible game design

March 4, 2016 | By Alex Wawro

March 4, 2016 | By Alex Wawro
More: Console/PC, Indie, Design

"Our role as designers is to kind of fade into the background and let you express your ideas and strategies and personality in the game."

- Sid Meier, speaking to Polygon.

Last month veteran game designer Sid Meier took to the stage with some of his fellow Civilization developers to dish about the revered franchise's core design philosophies, and how working on it affected their personal and professional lives.

It was an intriguing panel discussion, part of the 2016 DICE Summit in Las Vegas, and after the designers stepped off-stage Polygon caught up with Meier to conduct a nice interview about (among other things) his approach to Civilization game design.

A key takeaway from Meier's comments is that he perceives strategy game design (or at least, Civilization game design) as an exercise in being invisible: giving players tools to express themselves with, and trying to create paths of progression that reward their use.

"You’re welcome to define winning any way you want," Meier said. "But what the game defines as winning may not match your play style exactly. That’s not easy. A game like Civilization, you’re going to expect progress, growth, building hugeness. Being better, that will be rewarded. But you’re welcome to define your own wins."

It's also interesting to hear his perspective on the design problems which have dogged Civilization games through the years, and how Civ devs have struggled to overcome them.

"We don’t really understand how people work, how to program that," Meier told Polygon, as part of a conversation about how the AI opponents have (or haven't) evolved over the series' lifespan. "The math of people. It’s a rough approximation. It’s one of the areas that has evolved, but there’s still room for growth there."

But what about the math of real people -- how does Meier feel about his name becoming a marketing tool, something that he remembers (to Polygon) as beginning when his idea for a pirate game became Sid Meier's Pirates! to make it seem less alien to fans.

"I guess I think of that Sid Meier as another person. It's another person that I run into occasionally at places like this here," Meier told Polygon. "I don’t identify too much with that person."

For more of his comments, check out the full feature over on Polygon.

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