Sid Meier’s Memoir: A Life in Computer Games
© 2020 Sid Meier
Dear readers, I cannot tell you how much of my life has been spent in worlds of Sid Meier’s making – discovering his talent for historically-grounded but still-compelling gameplay in Gettysburg, becoming a convert in full with Civilization III, and then exploring more of his works with Pirates and Railroads. His name is a legend in the industry, for he was there from the beginning – and at least since the 1980s, that name has been used to sell games, a guarantee of quality. Although this wasn’t Meier’s idea, he’s apparently learned to live with it, using the convention playfully for the title of his memoir. The same playfulness is present throughout this chronicle of his life in the gaming industry, as the text is peppered with literary Achievements, like having read the word “Civilization” a hundred times.
It is as its subtitle declares, “a life in games”: the focus is on Meier’s work, not his personal life, though one inspires the other. We learn about how and why Meier and his coworkers were inspired to try a particular game or challenge, the difficulties of realizing their vision, and trivia about the games themselves. It’s at its strongest in the 1980s and 1990s, though, with increasingly little detail on later titles that he was linked to only in a supervisory role. The biggest disappointment is his lack of commentary on his collaboration with Will Wright, another gaming legend: the two have a similar interest in modeling complex systems like cities, train networks, skyscraper ecosystems, etc in computers, and making said systems fun to tinker with, so I would have loved more content about their joint project, SimGolf. Throughout the work, Meier comments on his approach to programming games – above all, make the player the star and their experience fun – and his thoughts on the creative process. Although I missed all of his early titles (not even being aware of computer games in the 1990s), someone who’s thoroughly enjoyed every title I’ve tried by him, this was an enormously rewarding book with surprising details – like Meier’s professional connections to both Robin Williams and Tom Clancy.
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