Oral History of Gaming
April 20, 2010 8:51 PM   Subscribe

On a snowy Valentine's Day weekend in Michigan Sid Meier creates a game in 48 hours called Escape from Zombie Hotel! He's there to judge a 48 hour game design contest at his alma mater, University of Michigan but decides to also work on a game alongside the student teams. He also talks about his career, focusing on his early days. This is the third installment of motherboard.tv's Oral History of Gaming series. The first profiles Ralph Baer, the inventor of the first home gaming console, and the second is about Eric Zimmerman, designer of Sissyfight. Sadly, the awesome-looking Escape from Zombie Hotel has note been released, but the oher games designed during the contest are available here. [via Rock Paper Shotgun]
posted by Kattullus (19 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
This was really cool. It was great to hear Sid's perspective on how he's built his amazing games. I've always liked the depth and the balance of his games.
posted by disillusioned at 11:59 PM on April 20, 2010

Sid sort of strikes me as a Jedi master of video game design: soft-spoken, but very wise and powerful. I think it would be tremendous fun to just sit down and pick his brain on game design. I also like how while the other teams were developing little 2D sprite-type games, he threw together a 3D isometric game.

I know that he probably has a huge collection of rapid prototyping libraries and whatnot laying around, but I like to think that he's so awesome that he did it from scratch.
posted by stufflebean at 12:07 AM on April 21, 2010

This was a lovely video, and my already-high respect for Sid has risen even further - he comes off as being very humble but also very much into the artistry of making a good, approachable, fun game.
posted by adrianhon at 5:51 AM on April 21, 2010

Alpha Centuari is one of the most balanced RTS ever and still enjoyable a decade later.
posted by The Whelk at 5:59 AM on April 21, 2010

Can you imagine being one of those other teams? You and two or three of your mates, working your asses off, not sleeping, not really eating, all to program a really, really shitty 2-d game that wouldn't be out of place on some flashing banner ad.

Then you walk over to Sid, working *all by himself*, (who seems to have slept in a hotel, showered, and generally not killed himself to make his game) creating this amazing *3-D* zombie shooter. Would that be demoralizing or awe inspiring?

I think my favorite part is very early on, where they're interviewing all the people about their games and everyone is giving a thumbnail sketch of their ideas ("You're a lion who eats zookeepers") or their lack of ideas ("We're ... uh... still hashing out what the game is all about") And there is sid, leaning back in his chair, talking about this and that, and on his monitor you can't help but notice that he's already finished a pretty sophisticated 3-d maze building toolset.
posted by absalom at 6:15 AM on April 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

It would be inspiring. Every industry needs its heroes.
posted by gilrain at 6:38 AM on April 21, 2010

Sid Meier and his company Firaxis are now working on Civilization Network that "includes solo, competitive and cooperative play to take advantage of the uniqueness of social networks". It will be a Facebook game.
posted by Nelson at 7:45 AM on April 21, 2010

This is such a great video! I am enjoying it so much.

Also I was thinking the same thing, Absalom. Everyone is like "we don't really have a solid... thing". Meanwhile Sid is leaning back, pontificating, and has already written a 3d engine. wtf.
posted by kavasa at 7:52 AM on April 21, 2010

Also, the guys were all pretty adorable. They love making games so much!
posted by kavasa at 8:09 AM on April 21, 2010

What I don't get is that everyone at the University of Michigan seems to know that Madonna briefly went here, but this is the first I've heard that Sid Meier is a graduate. I wonder if they just aren't too ashamed to take responsibility for the millions of hours of lost productivity that resulted from giving that man a computer science education.
posted by Schismatic at 8:19 AM on April 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

The Ralph Baer video is fantastic. His "impulse buying" presentation was amazingly far ahead of his time--essentially, he foresaw on-line shopping forty years before the fact. Here's a great interview from Gamasutra.
posted by joedan at 8:20 AM on April 21, 2010

I heard Sid Meier speak a year or two ago with a couple of his employees. It was fascinating, of course, but what really impressed me was how he made sure that his employees got more attention than he did.

Takes someone with a healthy ego, self-confidence and good leadership skills to do something like that.
posted by QIbHom at 10:21 AM on April 21, 2010

I kinda assumed Sid was using some kind of pre-written 3d engine with some canned art assets, presumably the Firaxis one, at least for his characters.
posted by snoktruix at 11:29 AM on April 21, 2010

I understand from reading about this elsewhere that he used Unity.
posted by feloniousmonk at 4:59 PM on April 21, 2010

Ah... that makes sense. That's still really impressive. Out of curiosity, do you remember where you saw that, feloniousmonk?
posted by Kattullus at 5:03 PM on April 21, 2010

Hm, what I remembered was just someone's comment, but there is more info in this thread on hacker news.
posted by feloniousmonk at 5:34 PM on April 21, 2010

Thanks feloniusmonk, that's exactly what I was looking for!

You can find a list of games from past competitions on the WolverineSoft website. It also calls out which library or platform each team used. But it doesn't list Sid's game, and I really wanted to know what he used.
posted by heathkit at 7:48 PM on April 21, 2010

Also, I hate to say it, but I don't really "get" civilization. I've had marathon play sessions in the past, because it exploits that "just one more thing" pill popping mechanic really well. But in the games I've played, I haven't had any sense of strategy.

It could be just because I don't know the game that well, but it seems like you just need to build up as fast as possible. You're likely to have a hostile neighbor, so devote some resource to defensive units, then go after whichever win condition you think you can hit first. What am I missing?
posted by heathkit at 7:51 PM on April 21, 2010

Also also, my favorite Microprose game ever was Covert Action
posted by heathkit at 7:52 PM on April 21, 2010

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