Civilization & SimCity

I have loved the Civilization game series since 91 – Civ 1 was my first truly engrossing game experience, at age 18.

I consider the latest incarnation, Civ 4, to be my all time favorite game.

Unlike so many sequels, its emphatically superior to all predecessors and derivatives (AFAIK), and displays a profound level of richness and subtle game balance. And its still really fun to play.

Follow Through

To me, Civ creator Sid Meier and SimCity creator Will Wright are both game design geniuses. But the diverging trajectories of SimCity and Civ 4 reveal some interesting differences in their characters and illustrates the great value of Follow Through (something I myself often struggle with, but are determined to improve through my life’s learning):

Sid Meier & Civ

Sid Meier created Civ in 90/91 and has continued to guide it’s evolution since. Each Civ title has been a refinement of the last without varying the fundamental formula.

  • Civ 2 managed simultaneously to be massively and incrementally better than 1.
  • Civ 3 introduced key new concepts Resources and Culture, both very cool, but strayed a bit with rampant Corruption.
  • Civ 4 threw away stinky features like Corruption, Civil Disobedience and alot of Micro-management, and added Religion, Promotions, Great People and better Displomacy.

Its amazing how the Firaxis design team stuck at the problem and got the decicions right time after time, so that the resultant game has kept evolving better and better. Sid could have gone and done something completely different (he did: Railroad Tycoon, Colonisation, Gettysburg), but he kept on following through with his original creation. A+

Will Wright & SimCity

Will Wright, on the other hand, didn’t follow through as well.

  • Simcity was brilliant, but a beginning, like Civ 1 was.
  • Simcity 2 was great, the highpoint of the series.
  • SimCity 3 felt like Simcity 2.1, technically better and yet a dissapointment.
  • And then, along came SimCity 4,which is a nice looking, but really awfullly designed game that is not much fun to play! Not much Will Wright left in it by then.

Wright was no doubt already consumed by Spore. Im sure Spore is going to be brilliant; it’s recently infected Civ4’s lead designer Soren Johnson, who moved over to EA from Firaxis. But surely Will could have spared a day a month to keep an eye over his firstborn, have ensured whoever led design on SimCity 4 was competent, and have taken corrective action when it became apparent the game was on the wrong track. Now it seems like there wont be anymore SimCity, which is sad because the idea of a City Simulator is still as awesome as ever. More Follow Through needed. A-

    3 Comments

    1. Phillip Somerville said,

      January 15, 2009 at 11:14 pm

      Dear Ben,
      Apparently, you are a programmer/designer with an appreciation of Victoria’s temperate rainforest as well as simulation games.
      I’ve sometimes wondered how instructive & educational it would be for school kids to have a “SimForest” type game to help them appreciate the need for responsible forest management.
      Sounds dull? Girls particularly love nurturing things, “discovering how their possum colonies are doing.Boys would naturally want to chop things down, drive timber jinkers etc. The game progress could be shown as the balance between these activities. Measuring how much carbon is sequestered in the forest??
      DNRE Vic or Parks Victoria might be interested???

    2. benhutchison said,

      January 16, 2009 at 8:33 am

      Hi Philip,
      You sound like you’re based in Victoria yourself?

      I think Simulation games can teach us about the world in a very effective yet fun way. Its the ability to interact and experiment with a “world-in-miniature” that makes it engaging. I do hope to move towards developing more simulations further on in my career.

      For any Sim game, Forest or otherwise, two questions arise:

      1. What gameplay activities does the player do in the sim? Is there a game score or series of objectives, or is it purely a sim? You discussed this a little in your comment.

      2. What is the underlying model running the sim? What are entities and processes need to model to find a balance between simplicity and interesting behavior.

    3. Phillip Somerville said,

      January 28, 2009 at 6:32 am

      Thank for the response Ben,
      Yes, East Gippsland, raised in them thar hills!
      Have only a general interest in simulation games so,
      SimForrest is yours!…
      Am researching the current directions/limits in A.I for my own education and somehow came across your blog.
      …Casual interest in how sims can help to break down our 20th.C, mechanical, diametric, linear understanding of the world, provide an appreciation of the dynamics of complex systems!
      ..Related investigations, researching Brian Eno (soundscape for Spore), and his approaches/theories relating to non linear composition in music!
      Best wishes,
      Phillip Somerville.


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