Interview: Sid Meier

?You mentioned Facebook – what do you think social networks are bringing to the table?
I think of social networks as a new technology. We have access to friends lists in a way that we didn’t have before. We have spaces that people drop by very regularly, which is a defining characteristic of social networks and not true of other kinds of technology – even though we are talking generally about something people do through their PC. This is a new technology because people come to it with entirely different expectations than they do sitting down to play a game at their PC or console to play a strategy game. It’s very new in those ways, and very exciting to take some of our gaming ideas and thoughts and make them appropriate to that new technology.

We went through this before with bringing Civilization to consoles with Civilization Revolution, and that was a lot of fun. There were some really neat things we were able to do to make that work, and it’s the same way we’re looking at social networking as a new way of gaming that Civilization would be cool for – combining what’s neat about Civilization with what’s special about this new social networking technology is really fun for us as designers.

Brian Reynolds [a design partner of Meier's for Civilization II, and designer of Alpha Centauri] is now at Zynga. In a way do you see what Zynga titles such as FarmVille are a progression of the kinds of ideas that first appeared in games like Civilization?
Some of the social networking games have definitely tapped into this idea of building something, creating something, and adding this element of showing it off to other people, interacting with other players; that kind of fundamental "build something cool" idea that probably stems back to SimCity originally. But I think that’s not necessarily what it’s limited to. There are all other possibilities for gaming styles, gaming approaches to make them work and relevant to that environment.

More traditional gaming technology continues to progress, too. What does the new generation of PC hardware bring to strategy games?
I have to say that Civilization V is imminent, and has some really cool technology in it. One of the things we’ve really focused on is taking the technology we have and using it to bring the world to life in a new way. We had a different way of approaching the visuals, such as seeing armies and battles in a way that we hadn’t really before. That’s our way of taking current technologies and advancing and enhancing the solid play experience—by really responding to the loyal Civilization audience by bringing something new.

Our approach actually to dealing with any technology, new or old, is to respect our audience and fanbase and use our technology to bring something new to them. Beyond that it offers opportunities, but technological innovation has always been part of the story since I began in the industry, so it’s always part of what we need to be aware of and take advantage of.

Civilization V

Your career has been one of iteration upon several core franchises – you haven’t created a new title since SimGolf in 2002, Gettysburg in 1997. Is it simply that you’ve found your game ideas suit being revisited and refined rather than spending time on entirely new concepts?
I like making new things! However, I’d totally agree with this premise – SimGolf and Gettysburg are to me recent but perhaps not to as many others. But for me creating a new version of Pirates!, doing Civilization on consoles; there is a lot of freshness in those for me. When a game is fifteen years old, in the case of Pirates! or Railroad Tycoon, you have the security in that the idea is solid and there’s a fanbase out there for it.

I’m not willing to plead completely guilty to always iterating and sequeling, but if I can make what I think is going to be a really excellent gameplay experience by building on a previous idea I don’t feel bad about that. That’s a good decision. If there’s something new that would be fun to try and hasn’t been done before, then I’m also excited about that. There may be some new IP at some point in the future; there’s no master grand plan – "two old, one new" – it’s just whatever feels like would make the best game at the moment.

Day to day, what part do you play at Firaxis – and where do you want to lead the company?
The bottom line is that I like making games. So whatever I can do to create that environment and support the company, designers and people that work there is what I try to do, while carving out the space I have to work on what I’m working on.

My interest is in making sure we make the best games we can make, and figuring out what my role is in making that happen. We’re certainly at a point where one person can’t do it all – you can’t just sit down at a computer and start typing – so taking part in the big picture and doing the best I can in fulfilling that role is what I want to do.