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  • Just One More Turn: Game Development Tips From Sid Meier

    - Darenn Keller
  • Sid Meier's most famous work is one of my favorite strategy games: Civilization.

    In Sid Meir's Memoir, he talks about the key moments of his career and shares funny and interesting anecdotes that make it a real pleasure to read.

    There are also a lot of Game Development tips and lessons throughout the book. I'm gonna make sure you can get them all in this article.


    If you need more details or want to enjoy a nice story, I invite you to get Sid Meir's Memoir.

    You can read the article on my blog if you prefer a version with more quotes from Sid -- and a table of content.

    Sid's long career (in very short).

    Sid started as an engineer in accounting programming. During a trip to Las Vegas, he associated with Bill Stealy to create the MicroProse game studio. He started creating flight simulation games in his free time.

    He worked more and more at MicroProse, only leaving his first job when money was not a problem anymore. They were making the copy themselves on floppy disks. They even sold them to the small stores across the country, one by one.


    In the beginning, Sid was doing everything. Visuals, programming, sound, music, game design. In later games, they hired artists and sound designers. This allowed Sid to focus on programming and game design.

    At some point, they sold the company, and both Bill and Sid quit. Soon after that, Sid created his game studio, Firaxis, where he still works.

    Game Design Tips

    Keep the player focus on what's yet to come.

    Like cliffhangers in series, tease the player enough so that he wants to see the next turn/level/corner. Reward him for getting there, but focus your attention on the next thing to do.

    There's a popular quote among Civilization's players :

    Just one more turn.

    Losing comes later, after the rewards have been established.

    In 1985, he released Silent Service, a strategy naval war game. He demonstrated it to a major buyer, the AI crushed him in an instant. As you can guess It did not let a good first impression. You must be sure any kind of player can win the first minutes of your games and get some rewards from it. Once that's done, the player can lose and not be disappointed anymore.

    Interesting Decisions are all about investment.

    Sid is very well known for the following quote : 

    A game is a series of interesting decisions.

    What we actually like in video games, are the interesting decisions, that you already take in everyday life.

    A decision needs to have some kind of impact (or at least the player should believe it has). The player needs to have some investment in the choice and feel like its his personal choice.

    A Game Designer does not create the Fun, he Finds it.

    We should have some knowledge about human psychology (humanity's flaws). Then, use this knowledge to find what makes our gameplay experience fun.

    For example, what makes the battle system in Civilization so compelling?

    The system is partly random, you can estimate the outcome, but you can't be sure of it. When launching a battle, you see the soldiers fighting but have to wait a few seconds to see the final result. Chances of winning are faked. If you're told you have a 50% chance of winning, then the game will let you win half the battles. If you have 90% of winning, you will lose very rarely.

    We know humans love surprises, it's a very strong feeling. The waiting of the result amplifies the effect. But they don't like unfairness, losing 2 fights in a row with a 50% chance of winning seems unfair to a human.

    We can say the system is fun because :

    1. The player can estimate the outcome and decide to fight -- Complete randomness is not an interesting choice.
    2. The pseudo-randomness adds an element of surprise to the outcome.
    3. The player has to wait for the result, creating some tasty suspense.
    4. The battle system seems fair.

    No wrong answers, and more than one right answer, but not too many.

    While working on Sid Meier's Pirates, he stumbled upon a common problem of textual adventure games. For a given puzzle, there is only one solution. For example, to open a door with a key, you have only one good answer "Unlock door with key" and a lot of wrong answers "Open door with key""Use key to open door", etc...


    Each decision we take consumes a bit of our willpower. An important decision consumes as much as an insignificant one. A scientific article seems to confirm this concept. We call this Decision Fatigue.

    I think we can agree that our goal is to limit decision fatigue and only propose important decisions to the player.

    Another phenomenon; The more choices are presented to us, the more it costs us. We don't want to miss anything interesting, and we got frustrated if we can't see the outcome of every choice.

    Nowadays, AAA is all about open worlds with endless places to be, dungeons to explore, side quests to complete, collectibles to get... endless choices. I observed that it's common practice to quit or ignore all side content and focus on the "main path".


    We need to control how much content is available at all times and guide the player. It's nice to have a lot of content and let the player choose his own way. It's not good to burden the player with endless small choices to make each time he's looking at the map for his next move. It's even more true in games that are more about action than mental skills.


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