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I loved the juxtaposition there, but I see where you're coming from. On another note, what do you think it is about Civilization that attracted you to it in the first place? What is it that attunes you to that franchise?
JS: There's one big thing, I would say. The biggest reason is that it allows you to control everything. You're in charge of the whole scope.
One of the games I first played on the PC is called Panzer General -- you may have heard about that -- and it had a really cool combat model. I enjoyed it, but it was very disjointed. You played through a single mission, and then you would win that mission, you go to the next mission, and they have all your units in different places in a completely different front. And that was something that kind of turned me off to that game because I like the idea of everything on one play space, I guess you can say.
The cool thing about Civilization is that you take something from the very beginning -- you build it up completely from one or two units, through all of history, you make the military decisions, you make the economic decisions, you make the diplomatic decisions, all the way until the near future. Covering the whole scope and getting to see something grow from nothing into something amazing was the coolest thing to me.
Civilization is about as open-ended as it gets in terms of historical strategy. What do you think about the sort of partially-directed games, like the ones from Paradox? Hearts of Iron, Europa Universalis, and so on.
JS: I love those games. Hearts of Iron was actually one of the only games that was able to pull me away from Civilization for a little while, and I really enjoyed it. In some ways, it captures that same sense of being in charge of everything. You kind of have a pre-made setup, but from there you're in complete control up until the end.
That also touches on the same desires, I think. They're a little bit more hardcore and a little more focused on the historical side of things, but it's still something that I think is great. And I still play it, so... [laughs]
Do you think much about historical accuracy in your game? Sid Meier is known for saying that gameplay always comes first.
JS: Historical accuracy, per se, is not really a goal. We definitely try to use history as a framework. One good example of that is the social policies tree, which are part of the game for the first time.
There are ten pathways you can take, and each of them is roughly historical in the time that it appears. So, late in the game, there's the autocracy branch, which is focused on the rise of fascism and dictatorships. That was something that we knew we wanted to put in the late game, because it doesn't fit earlier.
It's something that draws you into the game: "Oh, this is what happened in that time period. It's 1880. It's 1920, and these are the things that that are happening." It draws you in, and you say, "That seems familiar. I remember hearing about that." It's not historically accurate per se, but it does draw upon the history to be interesting.
You know, if you took out all of the history of Civilization, it would be a very bland experience. You might have great gameplay, but it's just not going to be the same as when you recognize things.
That's one of the reasons having the leaders is great. You recognize the characters. "Oh, that's George Washington. I know George Washington." If you just had nameless, faceless characters, it would be a very different experience. History is very important, but not the most important element. You need both.
One of the funny things about Civ is that often that ends up creating amusing historical dissonance, where things are just so far from what would actually happen in the United States or India or wherever. That entertainment value is still reliant on history, but in a different sense.
JS: Gandhi nuking people. Yup. That's always the good one.
In Civ IV in particular, I also really loved when you had situations that actually do mirror real-world events, in ways that are clearly by nobody's intentional design. Is that something you ever have in mind as a designer?
JS: In a lot of ways, it just comes about by accident, but it's also tied to the mechanics and the framework that you create. That's kind of what I was talking about. If you have the characters, if you have these mechanics, and if you have those social policies that are based in history, they can weave together in a way that is familiar.
A couple a months ago, I was playing a game as Rome, and near me was the city-state of Venice. It's like, "Oh yeah, that makes sense. Venice is near Rome." And then it turned out Florence was nearby as well. "Oh, that's cool. Maybe I should go conquer them. I mean, it makes sense."
JS: Yes. [laughs]
There you go.
JS: They loved it, though.
We don't set out up front trying to craft those experiences, but they do come about by way of the mechanics that we're trying to add. If there's something that you recognize in that manner that does occur, we're definitely aiming for that. But we don't have focus tests for that, where we're saying, "We need this to happen or else we have to change something."
We try to make it open enough that people can see a lot of different things in their games that maybe somebody else wouldn't if they had different experiences or a different view on history.