Sunday, May 16, 2021

Book: Sid Meier's MEMOIR! by Sid Meier

Meier, Sid. 2020. Sid Meier's MEMOIR! Norton.

Sid Meier is, of course, the man who single-handedly took a point or two off of the GDP by designing the computer game Civilization! as well as Alpha Centauri and various other pleasing diversions of the screen. This is one of those books where once I learned of its existence by finding it on a bookstore shelf, I had to buy it and read it right away. 

Sid comes off as a super-nice, super-nerdy fellow. I learned a lot about the early days of the computer game industry, a lot about how Sid designs games, and a lot about the origins of many of his games in his childhood hobbies, travels and adventures. Do not expect any deep psychology, or settling of scores, or many personal details (or even as many details as you might want about some of the later games, such as Civilization Revolution!). Do expect a quick, entertaining, and informative read.

Two highlights: 

On page 246 there is a discussion of how the combat system for a game was altered away from simple random outcomes so that the playtesters would like it better. For example, the player will never lose two battles in a row when the odds are in their favor. None of this is clear in the game, of course, which presents as though combats resolve in the same way for the player and the AI and resolve via independent conditional randomizations for the player. 

And toward the very end, a bit of a philosophy: "I think that in life, as in game design, you have to find the fun." Words to live by, indeed.

I bought this at a delightful new book store / gift shop in an old house in downtown Verona called Kismet Books. The stock is not huge - I probably have more books in my house than they have in their store - but it is artfully curated. In particular, they have a lot of Wisconsin history books from the University of Wisconsin Press. I could easily have bought five or six books rather than just two. And the owner is very friendly and helpful. 

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