Software Development
Career development / Gaming

Show Notes: Gaming legend Sid Meier on the importance of fun

In an episode of Gula Tech Cyber Fiction, Meier talks with Tenable cofounder Ron Gula and ETC President Deb Tillett about the pre-Civilization days of Hunt Valley's MicroProse.

Sid Meier, "Civilization" creator. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

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The episode: Video game pioneer Sid Meier (as in, Sid Meier’s Civilization) sat down for a recent interview on early video game development and entrepreneurship with The Gula Tech Cyber Fiction Show, a recently debuted video interview series on cyber, tech and entrepreneurship.

Why it’s interesting: For one, you get to hear from Sid Meier. He’s one of the most influential computer game developers, and he’s doing it from Baltimore County’s Hunt Valley. Plus, it shows Meier speaking with other tech leaders in Baltimore: Host Ron Gula, who is cofounder and former CEO of publicly traded Columbia cybersecurity company Tenable, and Deb Tillett, president of the Baltimore incubator ETC. Tillett held senior management positions at Meier’s MicroProse Studios, and they share stories about the early days.

A few takeaways:

  • It started with fighter jets — Before the Civilization series, MicroProse created flight simulators in the 1980s. There was lots of hard work to get graphics and sound right that could create a game environment, but Meier found that just as important was the gameplay and decisions a player was making. This culminated with F-19 Stealth Fighter. “We discovered the secret, which was to make the game happen in the player’s imagination,” Meier said.
  •  Fun over everything — A simple but important test for any game: Is it fun? “Fun kind of solves every other problem that a game might have. Once the player is having fun, again, their imagination is engaged. They’re making those decisions. They’re thinking into the future,” Meier said. That can be applied to any discipline like history, or maybe a future cybersecurity game.
  • Local influence: In the early days, MicroProse didn’t have venture capital or focus groups. As Meier explains it, they built games they wanted to play. This meant they drew on what was around, including local talent from nearby board game company Avalon Hill Games. It led to a thriving video game industry in Hunt Valley. Today, that lives on with current Civilization publisher Firaxis, and other studios like The Elder Scrolls Online maker ZeniMax Online Studios and DomiNations creator Big Huge Games. As Tillett points out, it all traces back to Meier.

Further reading: Meier in 2020 published a memoir titled “Sid Meier’s Memoir!: A Life in Computer Games,” which has plenty more stories from his career.

Watch the episode:

Companies: MicroProse / Firaxis Games

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