Q&A: Sid Meier chronicles Civilization

Firaxis cofounder and legendary game designer reminisces about the evolution of the storied PC series--and whether it will come to portables and next-gen consoles.

by

In 1990, a little company called Microprose released a game called Civilization for the PC. The results were anything but small. With its combination of turn-based strategy, city-building simulation, and historical data, the game was an instant hit. It was also the beginning of a best-selling series, begetting (in chronological order): Civilization II (1996), Civilization II: Test of Time (1999), Civilization III (2001), Civilization III: Play the World (2002), Civilization III: Conquests (2003), Civilization IV (2005), and Civilization IV: Warlords (2006). (The series also inspired SNES and original PlayStation ports, mobile and N-Gage versions, as well as editions for the Amiga and Macintosh.)

Sid Meier.

With the exception of the semisequel Civilization: Call to Power (1999) and some ports, all Civilization titles have been developed under the direction of the series' creator, Sid Meier. The legendary designer--who was inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences' Hall of Fame in 1999--has stayed with the Civilization series as it bounced from publisher to publisher (except Activision, which published Call to Power). After being self-published at Microprose, the studio Meier cofounded, the series moved to Atari in 2001 and then 2K Games in 2004. 2K's parent company, Take-Two Interactive, was so pleased with the success of Civ IV that it bought Firaxis, the developer Meier cofounded with Jeff Briggs in 1996, this past July.

So how is the one-time independent Meier adjusting to being subsumed by of one of the world's biggest publishers? With the recent release of the retrospective boxed set Civilization Chronicles, which compiled all Meier-sanctioned editions of Civilization into a single package, still fresh in the gaming public's memory, GameSpot caught up with Meier to take a look back at Civilization's past--and its future.

GameSpot: Has it really been 16 years since the first Civilization came out? Feels like just yesterday I was hogging my parents' computer playing it in 18-hour shifts...

Sid Meier: Yes, we released the original Civilization in 1990 while I was still with Microprose. It is amazing that all these years later people are still playing Civ. It's a true testament to how time flies when you're having fun.

GS: Who came up with the idea of rereleasing all the Civilization games in a single package?

SM: The folks at 2K came up with the idea for Civilization Chronicles, and of course we were thrilled to help make it happen. I must say it's a pretty cool feeling to see all of those games in one box.

GS: Do you worry that the older Civs won't stand up to the newer versions of the game?

"All those games in one box."

SM: I think each version of Civ offers something fun and unique to the players. The older versions certainly don't have the visual "wow" factor of the more recent games, but in terms of fun gameplay, they truly hold their own.

GS: In your opinion, what is the single most compelling feature of the boxed set?

SM: Besides the presentation and the game content, I'd say the card game that Soren Johnson designed exclusively for this collection is pretty cool. He's a very talented designer and he created a really fun tabletop card game based on Civ. I also think the Chronicles of Civilization book is a great retrospective on the series as told by some of the folks who helped create the games over the years.

GS: The series has undergone some major changes in the past decade--what do you think has been the most important evolution in the series?

SM: Civ IV really took the game to a new level with 3D graphics and multiplayer options that were built in to the game from day one. We created the Civ IV engine from scratch, which made it easier to design it as both a great multiplayer and single-player game. Other things we've done throughout the series that have kept the game strong are to avoid putting too much in each new version; we would remove what didn't work in the last version and add new features. We've stayed true to the nature of Civ by keeping it a turn-based game.

GS: What's the next step for the Civ series? When can we expect Civ V?

SM: Well, we just released Warlords, the first expansion pack for Civ IV, and fans have been pretty happy with it. Our view has always been that if fans of the game want more Civ, then we'll give them more Civ. Civ fans are very vocal and we like to listen--as long as they keep asking for more, we'll deliver.

GS: Recently, EA announced that Command & Conquer 3 is coming to the Xbox 360. Can you see a Civilization game coming to next-gen consoles, given their processing power?

SM: Yes. I think the latest consoles have the processing power to deliver fun experiences with the bigger strategy games. It's definitely something we've been keeping our eyes on, and we'll let you know where we'll go from here.

GS: Age of Empires was successfully ported to the DS, but so far the only portables that Civilization series has touched are mobile phones and the ill-fated N-Gage. Could we see a DS Civilization some time in the future?

SM: Our goal is to deliver Civilization on any game platform that makes sense. If we can deliver a fun experience to the players on the DS, then we'll do it. We're still in the exploratory mode on all of this, but will definitely let you know our plans as soon as they're set. I believe the N-Gage version was a licensing deal that Atari made using the Civ II version. Firaxis wasn't part of the development process, so it was ill-fated from the beginning.

GS: 2K Games recently announced Pirates! for the PSP--how's that coming along?

SM: We've been working with Full Fat to develop the game for the PSP, and it's looking to be a really fun game. The overall gameplay is like that of Pirates! PC and Xbox, but we've added some features that take advantage of the PSP platform like wireless multiplayer, larger maps, treasure hunting, and a custom-designed user interface.

GS: It's been just over a year since Take-Two Interactive bought Firaxis--how has the transition from independent shop to internal studio been?

SM: The transition has been pretty seamless for us. 2K has a lot of confidence in what we do, so they're very supportive of our ideas and processes. There are the typical kinks in learning to become part of a big company, but we're working through those day by day. Our studio has grown from 60 to 85 people in the past year, so there are lots of new faces and loads of great talent in the house.

GS: Besides money, what's the biggest advantage of being an internal studio?

SM: Well, the obvious advantage of being owned by a publisher is that it eliminates the need to go out and negotiate a deal with a new publisher each time your contract runs out, which is a long and arduous process.

GS: And the biggest disadvantage?

SM: The disadvantage is that you do give up some control in the overall business management of the studio. But if you take the time to build strong relationships with decision makers in the parent company, then you become part of the team of people making business decisions, and that will ultimately lead to good things.

GS: In October, Civ III was made available on Valve's Steam Network--how has that been? Are you a fan of digital distribution?

SM: I think digital distribution makes a lot of sense for games. From what I've heard, we're selling a bunch of them that way. It gives gamers more ways to buy games, and that's good for all of us.

GS: What about episodic content? It seems to have worked well for the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Might we expect Civilization campaigns to eventually be sold a la carte online?

SM: It's definitely something we've been talking about. We like the idea. Actually, we have lots of ideas we want to act on. Now, it's just a matter of timing and human resources in figuring out how to make it all happen.

Discussion

65 comments
datniccah187
datniccah187

what exactly are we looking at here, because i have no clue.

_Sam_
_Sam_

I've liked the whole series so far. I hope they continue making them for a while

dandrae
dandrae

IMHO I dont like microtransaction if it's big changes it's ok but if little (mod type) i think no civ 4 great but too laggy i know one great mod for it fall from heaven (it's exciting) but maybe still beta :)

CheddarLimbo
CheddarLimbo

Anyone else think the lead in quote on the main page is pretty deceptive? This article isn't about putting Civ on the DS...he just sort of mentions that at the last minute.

GKBeetle
GKBeetle

I just checked the screenshots for Civilization IV, and I don't see anything that the Wii could not handle easily, graphics-wise.

GKBeetle
GKBeetle

I think Civilization for the Wii could be as good as something on the PS3 or Xbox 360. It doesn't seem like it would need huge amounts of graphical horsepower. It a turn-based game! Then again, the last Civilization game I played was the original, so maybe Civilization games need lots of graphical power to run now. It doesn't really make sense, but that could be true. Anyway, the Wii sounds like it could have a really good interface for a game like that. I hope they do it. I would buy it.

Kravyn81
Kravyn81

I'm not a big fan of this episodic content. It just seems too convenient that they can leave out content that they would normally have included, but now they got you by the nose and they can charge you extra for features that used to be included from the start. It's a scam.

franwex
franwex

Yeah, they are entertaining. You can probably pick up Civ3 for $10. Give it a try.

Re_ensurer
Re_ensurer

I never played any of the civilization series. Are they any good?

Squids-Ahoy
Squids-Ahoy

Pirates on the PSP, classy, also noted it's not a PS2 port.

adonis2109
adonis2109

Great interview with such a classy guy. Sid always gives and gives and never tries to pull the wool over the gamers' eyes. Straight forward, honest, and always putting our interests first. Great interview!

Blazer88
Blazer88

Great games,..nuff' said

EikoAtoride
EikoAtoride

I always liked Alpha Centauri more than Civilization no matter what number was behind, maybe because of the different setting... who knows. But Civ is a great series that "stands the test of time".

Lasafrog
Lasafrog

I never got the Civ bug, and I feel like I missed out on something great. I caught wind of the phenomenon long after it had begun, so I bought Civ 2 but just couldn't get into it. Bummer for me.

Tanith_Ghost
Tanith_Ghost

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

makemeweak
makemeweak

The most amazing thing about these games is how they transcend all the advances of video gaming. The first civ is just as fun as the rest.

Toadstool1969
Toadstool1969

I sunk so much time into the original Civ game... that was truly a unique experience among games.

Brain_Fart
Brain_Fart

Sid's stolen enough of my precious sleep time! But I'll gladly keep playing his games as long as they deliver the entertainment value him and his studio is known for. Looking very forward to the future of Civ.

Spaceoffz
Spaceoffz

Go CIV, though i think CIV3 and CIV2 were the only 2 that were REALLY addicting... 1 and 4 didnt seem to keep to me...

jamesjjjjj
jamesjjjjj

cool would love to lose my entire life. With these games on PSP I don't even need to be at home to feed my addiction!!

aramitz
aramitz

If gamers drop out in a FPS when they're losing in the space of say five minutes. Can you seriously believe that a XBL version of Civ would be workable?. All the same i'd love Civ4 to come to the 360 :P

Argama7
Argama7

Sid Meier owes me a couple of nights of sleep... :)

mark_unix
mark_unix

Mechakucha the wii is not next gen, it has no more power then a gamecube. with more CPU power he meant PS3/Xbox360...

mightybigs33
mightybigs33

While I thoroughly enjoyed the Civ games, I'm really, really hoping that Sid will revisit the Alpha Centauri universe again. I would still be playing Alpha Centauri if I could just get the darn thing to work right on XP.

Shaner258
Shaner258

the-very-best. Shut up. Shut up. Seriously. They are good, they are very good. I hope a Civ game comes to the 360. That would be awsome because I hate playing on a PC.

kmilo_rws
kmilo_rws

Never played Civ, but I liked Pirates a lot. Sid Meier seems to be a very optimistic person, for what I've just read.

RaiKageRyu
RaiKageRyu

RE:the-very-best Have you even played his games?

the-very-best
the-very-best

Yeah, meh... Why does he continue to put his name in front of these games? They're not even that good. I don't understand why he's proud of them.

Rokin1
Rokin1

GuardianX is right, Sid really told us what we wanted to hear, if not more. If only more interviews were like this. Good job, to GS and SM!

TheGuardianX
TheGuardianX

Is it just me or was this interview the best ever taken? He answered every question with a straight forward and direct answer. He didn't jump around or avoid the question in any way. Sometimes I don't know why people have the need to avoid questions. I understand that sometimes its necessary so they don't maybe mislead people or anything. But they can always say "We've been thinking about the idea or We've been looking into it recently". Nothing wrong with that response. Its not a promise or anything. But oh well. Great interview

imbacon
imbacon

So that's what he looks like!

Astral999
Astral999

Although I don't like the idea of microtransactions, I think that there is quite a big difference between offering single items such as horse armor for sale, and offering fully featured scenarios. If they are priced proportionally to the Warlords scenarios, and add something to gameplay and not just aesthetics or filler content, then I could see them as a reasonable expenditure. For instance, the Barbarian campaign in Warlords changed the gameplay for just the one scenario, which added diversity to the experience. If it had been released for five dollars, I would have probably bought it, considering that it was the only scenario I really play, and the gameplay improvements on the main game are not that significant.

toastycrumbs
toastycrumbs

"I don't like the 3D graphics of Civ IV and I didn't find Civ IV to be as addicting as Civ III. " I fell the exact same way! i played the demo of both those games ( i only have civ II my freind never played it and he let me have it.) and i was sad when the demo ended with civ 3 but i just took it with civ IV.

master_blue
master_blue

Alpha Centauri > Civ series, it must be said. I also think the 3d graphics on civ whilst they looked ok were so slow and made the game feel bloated

comthitnuong
comthitnuong

i just noticed that there are alot of games with sied mier's name on it

gerrad2003
gerrad2003

the compilation is more for collectors really...I personally would like to see a deluxe verson of civ4 before that

fissure_ocarina
fissure_ocarina

YellowPik "Why would you want to play Civ III when you have Civ IV?" IMO, CIv III is much better than Civ IV. I don't like the 3D graphics of Civ IV and I didn't find Civ IV to be as addicting as Civ III.

YellowPik
YellowPik

Why would you want to play Civ III when you have Civ IV?

mrbass208
mrbass208

One of the brightest minds in gaming delivering the best interview I've read on here in a long time. Seriously, is there anyone better connected to the pulse of the gaming world than Sid Meier. Everything he touches turns into a fun, immersive, and worthwile experience even if it's not a commercial success. I can't wait to see what he comes up with next.

CheddarLimbo
CheddarLimbo

Civ for the DS would be the end of my marriage... When Civ II came out, I played it constantly. It's a very addicitive series. After Civ II, I never played any of the sequels for fear of squandering the rest of my life. Sid Meijer's games have a knack for absorbing the player completely.

Generic_Dude
Generic_Dude

Ave Sid... creator of the greatest game of all time: Civ. Uhh... Civ IV for 360... ::drools::

smbius
smbius

I've dabbled a little bit on the Civ series since 1992 but for some reason I just couldn't get into the game.

darth-revan
darth-revan

if they make the jump to episodes i will cry.... not really.... but you get the idea. i think episodic content is just a way for people to put less work into thier games and just get more cash from it. i would rather wait another 6 years for a half-life 3, instead of the episodes and i would rather pay 30$ for an expansion to oblivion then pay all of these damned small charges that just add up more and more. but im getting ahead of myself here. i think sid miere isnt that kind of person really and he would probably rather just develop the game in a whole package and release something like that on steam instead but who knows at this point. however take-two has done this with oblivion so....

blackleech
blackleech

Oh no... please not episodic CIv V...