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The History of Civilization

July 18, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 10 Next

An Interview With Sid Meier

What was the first computer you ever used?

Sid Meier: Well, that would be in college, I guess. It was an IBM 360 mainframe. We would submit batch jobs to the mainframe and learn how to do FORTRAN programming. That would have been in the early '70s.

What was the first personal computer you ever used?

Sid: The first personal computer I had was an Atari 800. 16K of memory.

Do you remember the first computer game you ever played?

Sid: An arcade "Pong" game would probably have been the first computer game.

Did you every play anything like Hunt the Wumpus on mainframes back in the day?

Sid: I'm trying to remember. I actually wrote games. I did a "Star Trek" space game, and I believe a tic‑tac‑toe game. I was fooling around with games even when I was supposed to be doing real work, back in the early mainframe days.

What was the first computer game you ever created for personal computers?

Sid: When I got my 800, probably the first game I wrote was very similar to Space Invaders. It had little creatures coming down and you shot them from the bottom of the screen. It was written in assembly language. I didn't have a disk drive, so I saved it on a cassette tape, and I had to hand‑assemble it in assembly language.

Did it ever get distributed or published anywhere?

Sid: I think I sold maybe five copies. I took it to my local computer store and they had very little software for sale. I put it on a cassette tape and into a plastic bag. I remember they bought five or ten copies of it.

What did you call it?

Sid: That's a good question. I don't remember the name of it, but it would have been "Alien Invasion," or something like that.

What was your first game that was widely published and distributed?

Sid: Shortly thereafter, Bill Stealey and I started MicroProse Software, and the first game that I wrote was called Chopper Rescue. It was sort of a side‑scroller. You had this helicopter, you had to rescue these people and, of course, people are shooting at you all the time. That was the first game I published. It was for the Atari 800.

I believe I've played it; I'm a big fan of the 800. Did you ever play M.U.L.E.?

Sid: Yeah, I played M.U.L.E., Seven Cities of Gold, Archon, the early Chris Crawford games like Eastern Front and that nuclear power game. I played a lot of the early games. Jawbreaker -- remember that one? That was a Pac‑Man type game.

I remember it well. Do you think playing those Atari 800 games had any sizable influence on you as a game designer later on?

Sid: I think they were all fun to play. And we'd always look at the technology and say, "Well, how are they doing that?" and "How can we use that? How'd they get that to do those graphics?" So we were learning the technology, because that was one of the big limitations, the technology. I was always interested less in the arcade style games and more the strategy type of stuff. It was fun to play the games and see what you could do with the technology, but we tended to go in our own direction in terms of game design, I think.

When did you first get the idea to create Civilization?

Sid: I think a couple of things led to the original idea for Civilization. The game I had done before Civilization was Railroad Tycoon. It was the first game that I had done that was more of what now falls into the "god game" genre -- less about flying an airplane, or a tank, or submarine, and more creative: you know, create something and take a map and make something of your own. So that was part of the inspiration.

That was a fun game to make and I was looking for an even more interesting topic to do a "god" type of game. I had played quite a bit of SimCity at the time. And again, it was a really good example of how it was fun to build something. I think the board game, Risk, that I played when I was a kid was a little bit of an inspiration there. You know, conquering the world.

I can see that.

Sid: So those things stirred together. There was actually a board game, a Civilization board game, but I hadn't really played that. It had a different approach. [My Civilization] was kind of like Risk brought to life on the computer. That was the original idea. And then when we added the technology and the whole sense of history to it. Putting all that together was the inspiration for Civilization.

So it just took on a life of its own once you started rolling.

Sid: Yeah, it did. A lot of the pieces fell together nicely. I think we were really impressed with Railroad Tycoon, how you could have a game that included an economic component -- actually building something, actually operating the trains, and some competition with other rail barons. We were ready to try a game that combined a lot of different pieces in an interesting way: the diplomacy, the economics, the military, and the building. Putting all that together was, I think, really where the fun of Civilization appeared. You were doing all these different things, and you felt you were this great leader.

Article Start Previous Page 5 of 10 Next

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