I sat down this week with Sid Meier, the creator of Civilization. He declined to discuss the finer points of playing as Donald Trump. But he did discuss his own Civ playstyle, and he hinted at what future versions of Civ may hold as our real-world technology gets increasingly sophisticated. The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
How does Sid Meier play Sid Meier's Civilization?
I play the way you're supposed to play [laughs]. To me, the Romans are typically the — I won't say generic, but the civilization that's a little bit good at everything. What I enjoy is looking at the situation and determining what the strategy is going to be. This is an opportunity for exploration and conquest. Here, whoa, these guys are pretty strong — I better hunker down and try to develop science to get ahead of them. That's how I envisioned the game initially. So I'm not the best tester, because I'll go down the most common paths. But I like to play it like the way I think it was meant to be played.
Are you guys looking into virtual reality at all?
We're looking into everything [smiles]. But it has to serve the game. It can't be a gimmick or something that detracts from gameplay.
How might some gameplay elements work in VR? If you were to try and build a version of Civ for VR, what might that look like?
Right now, when you have combat, you're looking at little guys down there fighting. You might want to get in the middle of that with VR. That might be a cool time to involve yourself. But if you look at a game like Civ where it takes hours and hours to play, you don't want to wear a headset for that long. So you kinda want to find the key moments, the most interesting visuals and experience those in VR, but probably play the rest of the game in a different mode. Building a Wonder, I can imagine being in the middle of that. Picking those really key moments and VR-ing them. We haven't really talked about this, but maybe we should do it — wandering through your city and getting up close. That could add this element of, what you're already imagining in your mind, you can kind of see it alive.
I could envision at some point being able to walk over to one of my cities and take a closer look, or drag and drop my units by hand or something.
Yeah, that could be fun — but again, with Civ, you want to see the context, the different possibilities. And you're investing a fair amount of time. So those are things that VR isn't necessarily great at. Finding ways to do that well is a challenge.
Are there lessons about governance that policymakers can take away from Civ?
One thing Civ teaches is that it's not as easy as it looks. Everyone knows what the government ought to do. "Just put me in charge and I'll fix all these problems!" But the lesson of Civ is, it's more complicated than it looks. Yeah, you can raise taxes, but then my people are going to be unhappy. Or I can invest in my military but then I'm slighting science. …
I think Civ illustrates that decisions are trade-offs. And you need to understand both the upside and the downsides to make those decisions.
What technologies exist today that players might have researched as an abstract "Future Technology" in previous versions of Civ?
In terms of a current technology we might include in Civ, I would see self-driving cars being something we might consider — IF there were to be another Civilization game.
Are you saying there might not be?
We're not committing to anything at the moment. But that kind of stuff keeps the game relevant. We're certainly looking at those opportunities.