The history of Sid Meier’s Civilization
A pioneer of grand strategy - read about how it all began
The Civilization games should always stand by the four X's - "explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate" - which have come to be the stalwart design focus of so many strategy games. The term was originally coined, not by Meier, but by Alan Emrich who created Master of Orion.
But those four Xs are the tentpoles of Meier’s strategy series, starting way back in 1991. Civilization was developed by Microprose with Sid Meier as production lead, and co-designer.
Meier teamed up with Bruce Shelley, not knowing at the time that their turn-based strategy title would not only impress legions of players and critics alike, but it would go on to spawn numerous sequels and spin-offs for the three decades.
Created for the home computer boom of the early-nineties, Civilization put players in control of real-world countries, leaders and notable icons. The aim was to become the most prosperous leader, battling it out with AI who reign over neighbouring countries.
Where Civilization differed to other strategy games, was through its paths to victory. It wasn't all about war, though there is plenty of that to be had.
Players were given a chance to ‘win’ via technological advances. In the first game, you win by conquering enemies, or outer space.
Starting with a large and empty map, the goalposts constantly shifted as time marched forwards. Building huts in the Bronze Age was followed by time racing through different periods of history, right up to Space Age.
Other countries would crash over your borders and attempt to steal precious materials, or maybe just because they are led by a megalomaniac. Along the way, should money and resources be of no issue, players could build the seven wonders of the world, or even spark chaos by developing nuclear weapons.
Possibilities were endless. Or so it seemed. After all, this was 1991 and the scope of the game was hamstrung a little by home computing power. Though this didn’t stop Koei porting the game to the SNES.
In the early nineties, the internet was in extreme infancy. People couldn’t play against each other in games of Civilization.
So, it was in 1995 that CivNey was created. Its aim was to remove AI from the playing field and let humans battle each other. Safely, from behind their keyboards.
The early life of ‘Civ’ was heralded by critics. Civilization is held up as one of, if not the most important strategy game of all-time. So, a proper sequel was inevitable.
Civilization II released in 1996 on PC. The creative team, no longer led by Meier, had implemented plenty of new ideas and mechanics. Combat now featured hit points, strengths and weaknesses.
The game featured new resources, new world leaders and new ways to win. It’s noted that the original focussed more on military prowess, while the sequel tried to offer other options. Including peace.
While Meier wasn’t involved beyond a sit down chat with the production team, his input on the original was so great, his name stayed in the title. Meier chose to try his hand at other projects, most notably, Alpha Centurai; a game like Civilization, but based in a futuristic sci-fi setting.
Meier stepped back into the world of Civilization with Civilization III, where he took up the role of director. The new game became a deeper experience and one that took advantage of better artificial intelligence.
Again, new leaders stepped up and the core gameplay was expanded in every area. Now, scientific research became a prominent feature, citizens had memory of their lives and previous countries, also different roles; cities now had a culture rating for being influential. Civilization had evolved.
The life of the franchise kept evolving. With Civilization IV a new graphics engine was put in place, unexplored areas were hidden from player view, world leaders now numbered eighteen. There were now five ways in which you could win a game, technology, sciences and culture now had sprawling upgrade trees for micromanaging your territory.
And Civilization IV also introduced a better system for players to mod the game. The future was being giving to new creators, who could develop new rules, new leaders. The possibilities were endless.
With the dawn of 2008, consoles could no longer be ignored. A spin-off, Civilization Revolution was created to simplify some of the controls, menus and options, in order to market the game to more players.
Many of the features that dominated the series were still in place, such as combat, but the game made for faster playthroughs and ease of replayability. The game was received well by all and suited the PS3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo DS equally.
Each furthered past mechanics, while ever expanding. Now we have more detail in the generated maps, more combat options, religion, espionage and, of course, more world leaders. Expansion packs had always been popular with the Civilization community, and now they were getting bigger, keeping players coming back for thousands of hours. Sid Meier stepped aside once again, and seemingly this time; he wouldn’t come back to the franchise. Of course, his involvement in the game and the genre is enormous and directors for Civ V and Civ VI have kept the ethos Meier instilled.
The most current version of the franchise is Civilization VI, available on PC, but also consoles. To date, Civilization VI has 54 leaders, an abundance of content that keeps growing through regular updates and expansions - including Gathering Storm and Rise and Fall.
Over the years, the series has grown and changed, but never has the quality slipped. Whether you're a new player or you’ve been around from the start, Civilization will always be one of the greats.
Check out the fantastic range of officially licensed Sid Meier's Civilization PC games available right here on the Fanatical Store.
Article by Daniel Lipscombe