The Legendary Sid Meier

The game guru discusses compatibility, hardware vs. software, and which console he can't wait to get his hands on

GameDaily BIZ: So what do you see as exciting in gaming right now?

Sid Meier: We're all excited about this new generation of consoles beginning with Xbox 360, as soon as I can get my hands on one, and the PlayStation 3 coming along. One year it's hardware that kind of drives us forward, the next year it's great new games... and we're here to kind of get a sense of what might be happening [in the industry] in the next year or so.

BIZ: Some developers would argue that better hardware doesn't necessarily make a better game; in fact, the opposite may be true. Do you find that better hardware enables developers to unleash their creativity, or does the new technology and focusing on better graphics get in the way?

SM: At the end of the day hardware is still a tool and it's up to the developer to make use of that tool or be mesmerized/hypnotized by it. I think nobody can argue that we want to go back to the technology of ten years ago or fifteen years ago; the best games take advantage of the great technology and create something that we couldn't have done even five years ago. I think the technology is a challenge for us, but again, at the end of the day it's something that help us all to create better games.

BIZ: What would you say is your favorite platform?

SM: I think they all have something to offer. We're kind of PC fanatics from way back because we used to do a lot of PC development, but when I play I might play an Xbox game or a PS2 game or a PC game, and again if I could find an Xbox 360, I'd like a 360 game [laughs].

BIZ: The PC seems to be sort of maligned or forgotten as a gaming platform in the industry, and yet there seems to be a lot of creativity and opportunity on the PC. What's your take on the future of PC games development versus the consoles these days?

SM: I feel that there's a lot of life in the PC arena. It's still the most online capable medium. If you want to play an online game or massively multiplayer game you're going to do it on a PC. I think even if you play a lot of games on console you're going to have your PC for Internet and e-mail and all sorts of things. As a game platform I think it will be viable for a long time. Certainly a lot of the energy you're seeing in the industry is coming out of the console, and I think that Richard [Garriott] said this morning, the more good games that are out there, the better it is for everyone. I think the energy right now that's being generated by consoles is going to wash over the PC part of the industry as well and kind of raise the level of all games.

BIZ: One of the criticisms leveled at PC gaming is that it's a "moving target" and gamers need to constantly purchase new video cards and upgrade their hardware just to be able to execute the latest titles. When you make a game do you try to push the hardware envelope or do you say, "I want this to be backwards compatible with computers for X amount of years?" How do you balance that and plan that out when you make a game?

SM: I think it's a tradeoff; we certainly want to be as inclusive as we can in terms of the hardware requirements of the games that we make, without compromising the type of game that we want to make. So a game like Civilization, which is turn-based, we have the advantage that we can include a wide range of hardware specs because we're not kind of squeezing every last pixel out of the hardware. On the other hand, we're trying to create a contemporary up-to-date presentation so we're going to use the hardware that's there to get the most out of it. But I think you're right that the PC's often a moving target, but it also means we're kind of seeing new innovations on the PC fairly frequently. So there's advantages and disadvantages.

BIZ: What do you think of the online gaming world? What excites you and what do you plan to take advantage of in your future projects?

SM: Certainly multiplayer even for games that are primarily single-player adds an extra dimension that we try now to include in all of our titles. Civilization IV, which we recently released, is a lot of fun to play in multiplayer. We added new modes, team modes and shorter games and things like that to really cater to the online player. In terms of massively multiplayer, I think we're still trying to figure out what the real killer application online is going to be and there have been a lot of interesting experiments. The World of Warcraft success has certainly been instructive, but again we're still trying to figure out (and Richard talked about this this morning) how to go about bringing people over to the online side of gaming.

BIZ: If you had never made Civilization and you went with the idea to a publisher in today's market, do you think it would get made?

SM: I would like to think that it had a chance today. It's in a genre that's had a fairly good reputation, the whole god game/building game, and I think turn-based is actually kind of making a comeback these days, on handhelds as well... And it's a game that you can put together fairly quickly in prototype form and you can have somebody play and hopefully get the idea.

So for a long time there's been that debate of "Are publishers too conservative? Are they stifling innovation?" And I think there's constant tension between publishers wanting to make the safer and perhaps a little less innovative game and the developers wanting unlimited budget and unlimited freedom to do whatever they want. And I don't think either approach is the right one; there's got to be a grown-up and a kid involved in all decisions [laughs]. So, yes I'd like to think that it would have a shot at being made today.

BIZ: What's your view of the handheld and mobile gaming markets? Can a "serious" game like Civilization be successful on a handheld platform?

SM: I think Civilization is a good candidate actually. I can imagine someone taking a 5-hour airplane flight, for example, and it's the kind of game you can lose yourself in. Playing on an airplane on the PSP or DS I think would be a good application for it. I've played some handheld games but if I had my choice I'd put it on the big screen and play Xbox or PS2. But for different applications, for traveling... the handhelds are made for that and they do a great job.

BIZ: Do you think the expectations are different for handheld, maybe the attention spans are shorter and the game needs to be more session based?

SM: I think it's certainly true that you have to expect someone is on the move and has maybe a limited amount of time. You don't necessarily make time to play with a handheld machine; you kind of do it because you have a break, you have a little time, so there's definitely a different pace for handheld games.

BIZ: Can you tell us anything about what project you're working on now?

SM: We are certainly working on some new things. It's been a couple months since we released Civ IV and there's always the cleanup and kind of gathering energy for something new. But we're definitely well into some new things and hopefully within a few months we'll be able to talk about some of those.

BIZ: What's your opinion of blogging? There seems to be a rise of blogs from within the game development community and among gamers. Has this had some impact on Civilization and your games? I can imagine there must be a lot of passionate Civ fans out there...

SM: Yeah, Civ has been supported, carried and kept alive by its fans essentially, and the blogs and the forums and the places where people gather to talk about it; that's been an important part of its life. So it's kind of a new medium for people to share an interest with others and share ideas, so it's something we take advantage of to add some extra energy to games like Civ.

BIZ: So you've been around the industry for twenty-something years, you're one of the icons of gaming, and your guess about future trends would be as good as anyone's. What sort of trends do you see for the industry in 3-5 years?

SM: Well what I see is, with the emphasis of online on the console platforms, we're suddenly going to have another 50 million (or I don't know what the number is) people with access to online gaming and somebody is going to come and fill that void with something different from what single-player gaming is, and take advantage of the connectivity, the community, the social aspects of it. So I think we're going to see some real innovation online, but I'm not sure what it will be. But it feels like that's the sort of fresh place where there's a brand new audience that's going to be looking for something to fill the void.

BIZ: Typically the PC gaming crowd has been pretty hardcore and tech-oriented. Do you see that trend perhaps broadening?

SM: It's possible but I think it's really application dependent. I think The Sims was an example of something that revitalized [the sector] and brought new people to the PC and PC gaming. I think we need a product to bring them in; it's not the technology that will get the new people in. So it remains to be seen... I think PC has a question mark over what direction it's going to go in.

BIZ: What are your thoughts on a service like GameTap? Would an older version of Civilization be appropriate for that?

SM: Well, we would prefer people play Civ IV [laughs]. I think certainly for many games that are out of print and are classics it's a great distribution medium. We've been fortunate to kind of take games live Civilization or Pirates! and redo them and bring them into the 21st century. For games like that, if somebody is interested in what Civ 1 or 2 looks like, it's an interesting experience but in general with all the advances in technology playing Civ IV or the new Pirates! is going to give you the best gaming experience. But there are many games that are out of print or are not available anymore on the shelves and it's a great way to kind of sample them or revisit them.

BIZ: Thanks so much for your time.

SM: You're welcome; good talking with you.

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