By Bruce Shelley
Our friends at Firaxis Games recently published Civilization VI, a turn-based strategy game, and over the past few years there have been a number of conference presentations looking back on the 25th anniversary of the first edition. It was a huge opportunity for me to be on the team that built Civilization I. We didn’t have many formal job titles then, but I did work that today would be tasks for a producer, writer, assistant designer, and test manager/lead (teams were much smaller around 1990 :).
Civilization I was the third game I worked on with Sid Meier, who did almost all of the design, programming, and art himself. At any time, he would have several games in some stage of prototype on his PC and Civilization was one that came together so well that he convinced the company to give it a green light. As I recall, he showed the prototype to me as he worked on it and we discussed how it was going. Then, on May 9, 1990, he gave me the first playable prototype to exist off his PC for me to try on my own. I saved that original disc, thinking even then that the game could become something special and the disc could be a historic artifact. Here is photo of that disc, which I recently returned to Firaxis.
For the next several months, he would give me a new disc to try in the late afternoon, I would play it the next morning for a while, and we would meet in the late morning and discuss how it was working. He would program changes and additions after our discussions and leave me a new disc at the end of the day, and the process would repeat. Eventually, the game reached a viable point and it went onto the schedule, the team and testing expanded, and it was published in early 1991.
Working with Sid on several games, particularly Civilization, greatly influenced how I thought game development should proceed, even though I had already been developing games of one sort or another for ten years. Development principles that firmed up for me at Microprose (prototype early, design by playing, fun comes mainly from player engagement dealing with interesting decisions/choices, the player should have the fun, etc.) worked for us at Ensemble Studios building the Age of Empires series. People exposed to those concepts at Ensemble now employ them at several new studios spawned in the Dallas area, including here at BonusXP.
That first Civilization prototype disc from 1990 is a tangible reminder of a terrific personal experience for which I will be grateful always. At work every day I see in our current projects the echoes of that experience.