Wednesday, February 21, 2007

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The secrets of Sid Meier

The Weekly Standard's Victorino Matus has a cover story on Civilization and its creator, Sid Meier (I have previously documented how Civilization nearly crippled my academic career).

Read the whole thing, but here are two bits of interesting information:

Meier cites the strategy board game Risk as one of his major influences. "Conquer the world. All those cool pieces. You felt like you were king. It gave you a lot of power." What about the game Diplomacy? "You had to have friends to play Diplomacy so that kind of left me out."....

Civilization has a range of levels ascending in difficulty, from "Settler" to "Deity," sometimes known as the Sid level. Ironically, Meier has never won at this level. His excuse? "When we're developing, it's hard to finish a game. A lot of times, you play for a while and say, 'Oh, this or that ought to change.' People in the real world get better than us. I mean, there are people who are just so willing to spend the time."

Take, for example, WEEKLY STANDARD contributor and First Things editor Joseph Bottum, who has, in fact, won at the Deity level in Civilization III. He first began playing Civilization II in 1995 when he was a professor at Loyola College in Baltimore. "Among real aficionados," he says, "the goal was to see whether you could launch a spaceship before you reached A.D." The Deity level of Civ III posed more of a challenge, though Bottum eventually found a winning strategy--one involving an ancient civilization whose prime achievement appears early in the game, such as Egypt with its war chariots.

UPDATE: Matus provides some more details in this Galley Slaves post.

posted by Dan on 02.21.07 at 08:54 PM


"the goal was to see whether you could launch a spaceship before you reached A.D."


I was quite happy to pull this off in the 1800s once, and I was not playing on a high difficulty.

posted by: rosignol on 02.21.07 at 08:54 PM [permalink]

He names names at Galley Slaves

posted by: MKL on 02.21.07 at 08:54 PM [permalink]

I'm surprised Meiers don't list the boardgame "Civilization" as an inspiration for the computer game. I recall a few hours spent on this game with friends in college in the early 1980s.

posted by: Pan on 02.21.07 at 08:54 PM [permalink]

Civ caused more sleep deprivation than anything I can remember. Too many, "i'll call it a night once I build X, research Y or conquer the Romans."

Easily the best pc game I've played and I have intentionally made sure I don't have it installed due its ability to steal time.

posted by: Hederman on 02.21.07 at 08:54 PM [permalink]

I thank god everyday that I don't have enough video memory on my computer to play Civilization 4. I've played the new one a few times - god, that's a fun game.

posted by: Chris on 02.21.07 at 08:54 PM [permalink]

As an undergraduate, I'd be reading Waltz or Mearsheimer or some other theorist of IR, and I'd try to model various problems using Civ. It didn't work so well. I spent a lot of time yelling "don't make peace with me! I clearly have malign intentions!" at my computer. There was also a fair amount of "I wanted to coexist peacefully, but then you built that city on my only source of [strategic resource]."

I do believe that it is possible to accumulate enough data to make an interesting and plausible AI for Civ, at least for IR nerds. I also believe that if such an endeavor were successful, it might very well spell the end for IR as an academic discipline. [Either that, or they'd have to let us cite games as persuasive sources.]

posted by: Adrian on 02.21.07 at 08:54 PM [permalink]

Another quibble I had with Civ II is that, if I remember correctly, it was possible to get absurdly far up the tech tree without ever researching "the Wheel."

posted by: Adrian on 02.21.07 at 08:54 PM [permalink]

Maybe I am dating myself, but I played the original Civ a lot. I loved the simple graphics and the music. My favorite was the battle ship, it could do about everything you needed and looked cool as well.

posted by: bnemerov on 02.21.07 at 08:54 PM [permalink]


It's true that in some of the Civs, you could get pretty far without the Wheel tech. I have always thought that was intentional. The Incas controlled all of the Andes without having developed the wheel as anything more than a curiosity for children's toys. I think the Civ designers may have been aware of that.

posted by: Sisyphus on 02.21.07 at 08:54 PM [permalink]

There is an older game called Balance of Power. Originally a Mac game as far I remember but there is a PC version too. Basically you try to increase your prestige (play either the US or USSR) and avoid escalating the crises to nuclear war! Its 1990 version is more advanced. Search google and you'll find a copy of it and kill your valuable research time while mourning the good old days of Cold War :))

PS: There was also a game called Butters and Guns but don't remember the specifics honestly.

posted by: bismarck on 02.21.07 at 08:54 PM [permalink]

I loved the original Civilization so much, but it doesn't compare to the board game Diplomacy. The computer does not compare to playing against real people.

posted by: Kerim Can on 02.21.07 at 08:54 PM [permalink]

Adrian: try Europa Universalis II. I don't know about EU III, but EU II's AI models some basic balance-of-threat, reputation, and foreign aid principles. It also suggests that in an offensive realist world you'll quickly get regional empires/hegemonies, but in a defensive realist world you get balances of power.

posted by: Daniel Nexon on 02.21.07 at 08:54 PM [permalink]

Here's the Wikipedia page on the original Civilization boardgame.

posted by: Pan on 02.21.07 at 08:54 PM [permalink]

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