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#195 Sid Meier (Computer game designer)
July 31st, 2021 | E195

What I learned from reading Sid Meier's Memoir!: A Life in Computer Games by Sid Meier. 


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Sometimes it takes a misstep to figure out where you should be headed.

Each game taught me something, each game was both painful and gratifying in its own way, and each game contributed to what came after it.

We are surrounded by decisions, and therefore games, in everything we do.

If my gravestone reads "Sid Meier, creator of Civilization" and nothing else, I'll be fine with that. It's a good game to be known for, and I'm proud of the positive impact it's had on so many players' lives.

There was no such thing as a retail computer game, only free bits of code passed  between hobbyists, so it would have been difficult for me to harbor secret dreams of becoming a professional computer game designer.

"I could design a better game in two weeks." “Then do it," he insisted, "If you can do it, I can sell it."

At the time it felt like a fun project, but not any sort of life-changing decision. The big moments rarely do, I think, and the danger of retroactive mythologizing is that it makes people want to hold out for something dramatic, rather than throwing themselves into every opportunity.

As soon as the articles were published, Bill began placing calls to hobby stores that were farther than driving distance away.

"Hello, I'm looking to buy a copy of Hellcat Ace.

"Hmm, I don't think we carry that one"

"What?" he would fume. "What kind of computer store are you? Didn't you see the review in Antic?" Then he would hang up in a huff, muttering about taking his business elsewhere.

A week later he would call again, pretending to be somebody else. And a third time a week after that. 

Finally, on the fourth week, he'd use his professional voice. "Good afternoon, I'm a representative from MicroProse Software, and I'd like to show you our latest game, Hellcat Ace." Spurred by the imaginary demand, they would invite him in.

My appetite for making games was growing stronger. 

I never forgot that moment. My mother had become emotionally invested in this little game, so profoundly that she'd had to abandon it entirely.

Games could make you feel. If great literature could wield its power through nothing but black squiggles on a page, how much more could be done with movement, sound, and color? The potential for emotional interaction through this medium struck me as both fascinating and enticing.

Were there people who got paid for making games? Could I be one of those people? I knew by now that I was a person who would make games, probably for the rest of my life, but it had never occurred to me that it could be a source of income. If that were true, then being a game designer seemed like the ideal job.

I was cautious about giving up my steady paycheck, and still not convinced that this dream was going to last.

Quality content was the driving force behind it all.

All that mattered to me was that I got to make games for a living.

I don't think any of us could have imagined back then the kind of cultural domination that gaming would someday achieve.

Robin Williams pointed out that all the other entertainment industries promoted their stars by name, so why should gaming be any different?

A pirate's career would last about forty years between childhood and old age, and his goal was to accomplish as much as he could in that window-to have an adventurous life with no regrets.

Life is not a steady progression of objectively increasing value, and when you fail, you don't just reload the mission again. You knock the wet sand off your breeches and return to the high seas for new adventures. And if you happen to get marooned on a deserted island a few times, well, that makes for a good tavern story, too.

I'd always had a distaste for business deals in general, simply because it's not the kind of thing I want to spend my day doing, but I was starting to realize that there was potential danger in them as well.

People play games to feel good about themselves.

Age and experience may bring wisdom, but sometimes it's useful to be a young person who hasn't learned how to doubt himself yet.

Sid Meier makes a pathetic Arnold Schwarzenegger, but he makes a magnificent Sid Meier.

Deciding what doesn't go into the game is sometimes more important than deciding what does.

Conventional wisdom said a strategy title would never make the big money. (Sid sold 51 million copies)

They were interacting with the game as a tool, rather than an experience.

Good games don't get made by committee.

What I didn't see at the time is that imagination never diminishes reality; it only heightens it.

The dichotomy between someone else's talent and your own is a cause for celebration, because the further apart you are, the more you can offer each other.

This is not to say that my version of Civilization had no outside influences—far from it. Aside from the general "creating not destroying" concept I had first encountered in SimCity, there were two games that I very much respected, and blatantly took ideas from to use for my own purposes.

The ideas didn't start with us, and they can't end with us either.

Whatever it is you want to be good at, you have to make sure you continue to read, and learn, and seek joy elsewhere, because you never know where inspiration will strike.

A full 70 percent of Candy Crush Saga users have never paid a dime for the game yet it still brings in several million dollars a day.

So many of our wildest dreams have turned out to be laughably conservative that it's hard to write off anything as impossible.


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