Gaming legend Sid Meier shows college students how its done

Sid MeierCivilization creator Sid Meier returned to his alma mater, the University of Michigan, in early May to help future game makers learn the ins and outs of game development. Along with some well-known industry names like Brian Reynolds from Zynga, Nick Laing from EA and Matt Gilgenbach from Binary Creativity, the man behind one of the most successful real-time strategy (RTS) games of all time spent two weeks teaching students how to make games. Meier talks about his love of game development and looks to the future of games in this exclusive interview.

How did the Sid Meier Boot Camp at the University of Michigan come about?

It started with my son becoming a college student — he just graduated this past December from my alma mater at their computer science program. I’d go out there once a year to talk to the game design students. They would do things through the Wolverine Software computer gaming club like 48-hour Game Jams. A lot of students wanted more time than two days, so they could focus on a game and iterate and see the idea evolve. We decided to take two weeks to allow them to develop games and also provide lectures and discussions and other activities to work in groups and exercise their game design brains. We had 22 students this May and I think we learned something from the students and hopefully they learned something from us.

What are the opportunities for graduating students today compared to when you entered the games industry?

The industry is constantly evolving, and that’s part of the fun of being in it. It’s an interesting time to be a developer. You have this wide range of opportunities from indie games and social games from these very small teams, all the way up to the Blizzards who have hundreds of people working on games, to studios like ours that have a moderate size team. All of these types of games are evolving and we’re still trying to figure out social gaming and the free-to-play model and what’s going to happen with mobile gaming. The young designers are often more informed on these kind of things than those of us that have our heads down working on one or two games at a time. It does actually remind me a bit of the early days because there are these opportunities for very small teams and designers to get their games up on the App store or on a mobile platform somewhere and have the possibility of getting exposure and being successful.

Civ 5From a game design perspective, do you teach things in a boot camp like this differently today than you would have when you were in college?

I think so. So many games are copies of other games and that is not really what the industry is looking for. If you have a special interest, make a game about something personal, something that’s going to be different from every other game out there. We focused on that on our first day. We don’t need another first-person shooter or platformer or a game that looks like other games out there. It’s about what’s unique about you as a person, that you can bring to game design to make a game that reflects something that you’re really interested in. One student thought that fireworks were cool and he made a game about fireworks with interesting gameplay mechanics that played with gravity. Over two weeks they were able to try some things that were more innovative and more risky.

What opportunities do you see today specifically within the strategy genre that you’re so well known for?

Strategy in some ways works really well on a mobile platform because so many of them are turn-based games. There are certainly opportunities in that genre on the iPad.

What advice would you give to someone interested in getting into game development?

If you want to work at a big game company there are certainly play testing positions. A lot of people we talk to are in the mod community that are making mods and updates for games and posting them. If you have a game that you designed and you show us, that is also really helpful. If you have one of the traditional skills like programming, art, sound design and things like that, that will help you. I think the decision for most young people is to choose between going the indie route, where you have a lot more creative control and flexibility but not the support of a large corporation, or going to an established company and having that stability but being part of a bigger team and maybe not having the ability to control the game design. It’s rare that you can step into a company as a game designer. Most of those people have worked their way through the process to become designers.

Xcom Enemy UnkownWhat’s E3 going to be like for Firaxis this year?

We have the new Civilization: Gods and Kings expansion coming out and there’s a bunch of cool stuff we’re doing there. We’re also showing our new X-COM: Enemy Unknown, which is a really exciting to bring the classic game back to life with modern technology.

What do you think it is about Civilization that has allowed it to evolve and continue to be popular over all these incarnations to this day?

I wish I knew the exact answer to that so that I could bottle that and do it over and over again, but I think it had a pretty fundamental appeal with people. I think it’s a nice balance of being easy to start playing, but it unfolded the more you played it and the more you found different strategies. Turn-based turned out to be a topic that most people were familiar with and it’s a great mechanic with that “one more turn” quality, where you’re always working on something that you’re looking forward to that’s going to happen soon. We’ve only done a new version of the game when we had really good ideas to add to it. We’ve listened to the community and by enabling modding we’ve actually included them in the design process through the evolution of the game. We started off with a strong idea, which is still alive and vibrant, and we’ve added our best ideas and the best ideas from our fan base. For this game to thrive for 20 years now is pretty amazing.

Computing

Nvidia’s new GPUs look amazing, but that doesn’t mean you should buy one

Nvidia's GeForce 2080 is a powerful graphics card that supports ray tracing to deliver real-time cinematic renderings of shadows, light, and reflection in games, but unless you were already planning on upgrading, you'll probably want to…
Gaming

The N64 was an all-star console with a line-up of all-star games. These were the best.

The Nintendo 64 introduced a long list of top-tier games, but which were the iconic platform's best? From Mario Party to Ocarina of Time to NFL Blitz, check out our picks for the best N64 games.
Photography

These point-and-shoot cameras make your smartphone pics look like cave paintings

If your smartphone camera just isn't giving you the results you're looking for, maybe it's time to step up your game. The latest and greatest point-and-shoot cameras offer large sensors, tough bodies, and long lenses - something no phone…
Gaming

Get your first look at ‘Royale’ mode in the latest ‘Battlefield V’ trailer

The latest trailer for Battlefield V, released in time for Gamescom, gives players a taste of what to expect from the game's battle royal mode. The mode will release after the game's initial launch.
Home Theater

They’re not just for gaming: Watch Blu-rays on the Xbox One S and Xbox One X

While the Xbox One S and Xbox One X boost the visuals of your games, they also can pull double-duty as Blu-ray players, but there's a bit of set up needed. Need help? Here's our guide on how to watch Blu-rays on the Xbox One S and X.
Deals

Relive the glory days of arcade games with hot deals on Arcade1Up cabinets

Looking for a way to enjoy classic arcade games the right way? The new Arcade1Up machines have you covered. They're surprisingly affordable, too, with an MSRP of $400, but if you pre-order now, you can score one for only $300.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: inflatable backpacks and robotic submarines

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the Web this week. You can't buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Computing

Here’s how to watch Nvidia’s GeForce event at Gamescom

Today is August 20, and that means Nvidia may showcase its GeForce RTX 20 Series of add-in graphics cards for gamers. We’re sticking with that name rather than the previous GTX 11 Series brand due to today’s date.
Gaming

‘Hitman 2’ will include enhanced versions of all of the previous game’s missions

Hitman 2 will give players the option to replay the first game's missions, complete with gameplay enhancements, and they'll be free to anyone who already purchased the original game.
Gaming

Want to use Steam's library for all your games? Here's how to add any program

Steam is a useful portal for buying games, but it also keeps all your PC games organized. Here's how you can add non-steam video games to Valve's online portal, to keep all your games in one place.
Computing

Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 20 Series starts at $500 and features real-time ray tracing

Nvidia revealed its new GeForce RTX 2000 Series of add-in desktop graphics cards for gamers during its pre-show Gamescom press event. The new family is based on Nvidia’s new “Turing” architecture focusing on real-time ray tracing.
Computing

Nvidia GeForce RTX GPUs are coming to Alienware and Predator gaming desktops

Dell and Acer have both announced support for Nvidia's new GeForce RTX 2000 graphics cards in refreshed gaming desktops, including Predator Orion series systems and Alienware desktops.
Gaming

‘Battlefield V’ beta with new multiplayer experience kicks off September 6

Battlefield V's open beta comes to consoles and PC on September 6. If you pre-order the game, you'll get a two-day head start on September 4 to try out the story-driven multiplayer experience Grand Operations.
Gaming

‘Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice,’ next game from ‘Dark Souls’ dev, coming March 22 2019

Activision has announced that Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, an upcoming game from the developers of Dark Souls and Bloodborne, has finally earned a worldwide release date for next March.