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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Although I know of Meier (obviously) I’ve never played much of his output. I *very* briefly played ‘Gettysburg’ and I think that’s about it. I didn’t play any of the ‘Civ’ games, not a one….
I’d say this is a ghastly oversight on your part, but you primarily play action games/shooters? Meier deliberately marginalized violence in his games…even in Sid Meier’s Pirates, the crewmen of defeated ships are/can be rescued by the victorious ship, and the baddies who are defeated in combat just surrender or fall off the boat. (And in the case of Baron Raymondo and Marquis de Malteban, they keep coming back again and again, like some career politician or televangelist…)
I think it was partly timing – there was a few years that I missed out on gaming because I didn’t have a computer until I borrowed one from work (one of the perks on working in an IT department). I did play a few ‘Civ’ like games but I enjoyed the more RTS styles better. These days I’m playing ‘Warthunder’ by myself and ‘Aliens – Fire Team Elite’ with the guys.
I somehow haven’t heard of either of those, but that’s not surprising…I’m just now starting to check into Command and Conquer, since it was remastered and made a little less ugly on modern machines. (This is the main reason I’ve not made any progress in Alpha Centauri, despite my interest in it….it’s too visually repulsive blown up on a modern monitor.)
We were BIG fans of C&C back in the day but I don’t think I’d like it now. Games have come on a long way since then – both in game play and graphics. A shame that most of them don’t seem to have the re-playability of the older games though. I doubt if we’ll get 20hrs out of ‘Aliens’, although I’ve had over 400hrs with ‘Warthunder’.
I agree to a point, but if I wonder if that”s not just the audience getting older? There was a time when I was happy to spend hours and hours learning the mechanics and strategy of a new game — but now, I stick with 2-3 that I know intimately. I could love Civ 6 if I was playing it as a young adult in college with no responsibilities — the age when I was creating a bunch of mods for Civ 3— but now I just don’t have time to learn it, and it’s easier to boot up RDR2, get drunk, and kick the sheriff.
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