Sid Meier gets steamed up • Page 2

We follow the big man's train of thought on Railroads.

Eurogamer: You were talking earlier about Railroads being more accessible than its precursors have been, and it's the same with Civilization IV. It's a lot easier for a more novice gamer to grasp, if not necessarily master. Is that a natural evolution of technology, allowing for more intuitive interfaces, or is this direction a deliberate choice you've had to make?

Sid Meier: Well, I think technology has allowed us to make better interfaces. We can graphically show icons with more detail, show many things at once, show a world that you recognise at the screen with things happening that you can relate to. With 3D graphics, we can show mountains that look like mountains, show trains that look like trains.... You kind of understand it, without our having to explain what things are, because they're already familiar to you. We've learned a lot though. One example is mousetips - if you let the mouse sit over an icon, it'll explain what that icon is for. We're able to do tutorials now and things like that. We've learned as the audience of computer gamers has expanded from the hardcore to a more general audience, we've learned some things about being friendly and accessible to that kind of an audience.

Eurogamer: Is this motif you've gone with of a model, rather than a real railway, part of that approach?

Sid Meier: Yes, I think part of the fun of railroads is how cool they look and how they operate, the sound and the visual aspect of them. Model railroads is one approach that really focuses on that, so we wanted to use a little bit of that model railroad idea, especially in the visuals.

Eurogamer: Which single element of the game are you most proud of?

Sid Meier: I think the look of the game is very appealing and accessible. I'd have to single out that aspect, it just looks cool, even as static shots it looks great, and then when you're playing it and everything's moving, it's a lot of fun just to watch what's going on.

Eurogamer: That look has a cartoonish element to it, which we've also seen in your other recent games such as Pirates! and Civ 4. What's the thinking behind this?

Sid Meier: We tend to be optimists. We tend to be positive. We think games are about having fun, so we try and create worlds that are fun to be in and places you enjoy spending time. Our games tend to appeal to a wider range of ages and people, so we're definitely trying to convey the idea of having fun. There's plenty of realistic things there, but overall, the tone is one of let's have some fun playing this game.

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Eurogamer: So, a toughie. If you had to choose between making only Civilization games or only Railroad games for the rest of your life, which would it be?

Sid Meier: Wow, that's a mean question! Um.... Y'know, it's like choosing between your children. I couldn't do that, I'm sorry.

Eurogamer: Do you tend to think of yourself as being some kind of superstar, as you obviously are amongst developers, given the whole name-on-the-box thing?

Sid Meier: It is kind of a different person, the 'Sid Meier' who appears on the boxes. I enjoy designing and writing games. I realise that person allows me to do that, so I appreciate the freedom and the flexibility that I have given some of the games I've done in the past. But it's not that I'm especially interested in being a superstar.

Eurogamer: Is there a secret club of celebrity game developers you belong to?

Sid Meier: Actually, maybe 10 or 15 years ago, there was a lot more of a community of game design. The original GDC (Game Developers' Conference) started as 100 or 200 people. In those days we'd get together and talk about game design. But it's become such a large industry, and the fact that we're on the East coast away from some of the largest hubs of the game design. Game designers are individuals, they have their own style - it's not like we're all trying to write the same game and collaborate together. We do communicate together - I talk to Will Wright now and again - but we're kind of more focused on the game of the moment that we're working on, as opposed to some global philosophy of emergent gaming. We're friends and buddies, but there's not a lot of time that we spend together.

Eurogamer: You don't get any sense of there being guys like you, Will Wright as you say, or Warren Spector, of a certain age and considered so highly in the industry, who are versus the young punks? You're the Spielbergs and the Lucases to their Brett Ratners and Peter Jacksons?

Sid Meier: We appreciate the young punks! We like to play games ourselves, so when someone comes up with a new game idea that's fun to play, it just makes the industry stronger. There's not really a sense of a generation gap or an us versus them. I think we're hoping to maybe use some of our wisdom to teach lessons of things we've learned in the past. Younger designers have lots of energy and ideas and enthusiasm, and putting that all together leads to a better game.

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Eurogamer: What would you say the most important of those lessons you've got to teach is?

Sid Meier: One of them is that game design is very important. I think the fact that a game like Civilization or Pirates! or Railroads!, which really were ideas that were created 10 or 15 years ago, they're powerful game design ideas that can transcend technology and can still be fun and exciting years later. So it's not about having to redesign everything all the time, it's more about building upon the great ideas of the past with some new ideas, so I think we can provide that kind of continuity in the industry that the new technology and graphics and things can be added on to.

Eurogamer: Who else's work do you most admire at the moment?

Sid Meier: The guys at Blizzard have continued to do great things, going back to Warcraft and Starcraft, Diablo and now with obviously World of Warcraft. Very high quality games. We're also big Guitar Hero fans, we had a great time playing that and are anxiously awaiting the new version. There's so much great stuff happening, that's part of the fun of being in the industry. It's international - games from Japan, America, Europe. It's just a great time to be a game player.

Eurogamer: So, talking of Guitar Hero, what would be your dream track to be included in it down the line?

Sid Meier: I saw, actually, online yesterday a list of tracks for Guitar Hero 2, and Freebird is on there, which is great. But I think Stairway to Heaven [someone in the background yells 'Yeah!'] is the one that we'd love to see that didn't get in there. Maybe in Guitar Hero 3...

Eurogamer: I was playing that in Frets on Fire the other day actually, the free PC Guitar Hero clone.

Sid Meier: I haven't heard of that. That'll tide us over until Guitar Hero 2 comes out...

Eurogamer: You also talked about World of Warcraft earlier. Given its huge success, do you feel that gaming has to inevitably move into that kind of online space? Is that a goal for you?

Sid Meier: Online has become a bigger part of overall gaming. Railroads! and Civilization both had strong online components, though Pirates! actually was single-player, so we haven't totally converted over to multiplayer. But certainly it's more important, and a lot of genres like real-time strategy are very dependent on multiplayer. Now with massively multiplayer, we're seeing a whole new style of gaming. Each evolution of technology adds a new layer, a new type of gaming, a new group of players to the universe of computer games. But I think there's still a space for all of them. Certainly with consoles, we've seen a lot of single-player gaming, multiplayer is only just emerging now.

Sid Meier's Railroads in released on PC on October 27th via 2K Games. Check back during the week of release for the full review.

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About the author

Alec Meer

Alec Meer

Contributor

A 10-year veteran of scribbling about video games, Alec primarily writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but given any opportunity he will escape his keyboard and mouse ghetto to write about any and all formats.

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