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Ask Sid Meier 604

Posted by Zonk
from the why-do-i-lose-at-civ-so-much dept.
Sid Meier is a household name in gaming. Titles he's designed, such as Railroad Tycoon, Pirates!, and Civilization, are pillars in the history of PC gaming. This year the fourth chapter in the Civilization series of games is being released, and we have a great opportunity. Today we're asking for questions about design and philosophy to pass on to Mr. Meier. On Wednesday, we'll be asking for questions to give to the Civilization IV development team. That day you'll have the chance to ask technical questions about the moddability and design concepts that went into the game. For today, here's your opportunity to put questions to one of the most respected game designers in the industry. Keep them topical, and one question per post please. We'll pass on the ten best questions, his responses will go up as soon as we get them back.
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Ask Sid Meier

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  • Different Aspects? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Oculus Habent (562837) * <oculus.habent@gm ... minus herbivore> on Monday September 26, 2005 @01:55PM (#13652532) Journal
    What do think are the most important aspects of game design and do you think they vary greatly for different genres?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 26, 2005 @01:56PM (#13652538)
    ...on open source clones such as FreeCiv? FreeLoaders, or flatterers? :)
  • by Surt (22457) on Monday September 26, 2005 @01:58PM (#13652551) Homepage Journal
    What factors do you think help keep PC gaming alive when competing with consoles, and do you foresee that PC gaming will continue to survive when confronted with the next generation of consoles? Or from the reverse perspective, what prevents consoles from finally killing off PC gaming?
  • Originality (Score:4, Insightful)

    by thedogcow (694111) on Monday September 26, 2005 @01:58PM (#13652552)
    Here is my question... When is the gaming industry going to start introducing original games and not producing sequels just for the sake of production and/or profit? Take Doom 3 for example... yes the graphics are creative and great (that is when you can see them and you're not in the dark) but it is more-or-less the same game as Doom. I'd rather play something new even rather than rehash the same plot outline in a sequel.
    • You seem to be sure that the "originality" in the gaming industry is missing. So perhaps you could tell us what exactly you'd like to see. I mean, you must have some "original" idea that just isn't being implemented, correct?

      Perhaps if you tell us what sort of original game that you'd like, an individual or gaming company will run with the idea and create the sort of game you're thinking of.

      • You have a point, the reason why publishers love sequels and genre standards is because new original games are a risk that rarely pays off. Who's fault is this ?, its the consumer, the games companies are merely giving us what we tell them we want (with our wallets). Of course if you have an original inventive idea for a game and you are sure it will be popular and sell millions then with current online infratstructure it is easier than ever before for an independant to distribute their their own games.
    • Re:Originality (Score:5, Insightful)

      by goldspider (445116) <ardrake79 AT gmail DOT com> on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:08PM (#13652654) Homepage
      "When is the gaming industry going to start introducing original games and not producing sequels just for the sake of production and/or profit? Take Doom 3 for example..."

      Or take, perhaps, Civilization IV?

    • Re:Originality (Score:4, Informative)

      by TheRealMindChild (743925) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:18PM (#13652772) Homepage Journal
      Doom 3 is actually different in the whole scheme of things, in regard to "Sequels for money and profit". From what I recall, there was a big "gathering" at iD where the staff said "We make Doom 3 or else!!!". So the staff actually WANTED to do this addition to the Doom series.

      Here is a quote from a non-difinitive source (found via some googlin'): http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/encyclopedia/d/do /doom_3.htm [absoluteastronomy.com]

      "Kevin Cloud and (Click link for more info and facts about Adrian Carmack) Adrian Carmack, two of the id Software owners, were always strongly opposed to remaking Doom. This is after many old fans complained that id was going back to the same well too often. However, after the warm reception of (Click link for more info and facts about Return to Castle Wolfenstein) Return to Castle Wolfenstein and latest improvements in rendering technology, most of the employees agreed that a remake was the right idea and confronted Kevin and Adrian with an ultimatum: "allow us to remake Doom or fire us" (including John Carmack). After the relatively painless confrontation (though artist (Click link for more info and facts about Paul Steed) Paul Steed, one of the instigators, was fired in retaliation) the agreement to work on Doom 3 was made."

      Though, I THOUGHT someone DID get fired as a result of that ultimatum, I can't find anything to back that up
      • Re:Originality (Score:3, Informative)

        by squiggleslash (241428)

        Though, I THOUGHT someone DID get fired as a result of that ultimatum, I can't find anything to back that up

        Best to avoid Absolute Astronomy as, IIRC, it's essentially a mirror of Wikipedia, so you're getting out of date information. That said, the answer you're looking for is in the last sentence you quote.

        The Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] story confirms that one Paul Steed [wikipedia.org], a fairly forthright artist in the group, was indeed fired over the Doom 3 Ultimatum, at least according to John Carmack.

  • by SumDog (466607) * on Monday September 26, 2005 @01:58PM (#13652553) Homepage Journal
    This is just a general game design question. Have any of you worked on Adventure games (Kings Quest, Full Throttle, Star Trek: Judgment Rights, etc). Adventure games were my favorite genre and were part of the reason I started down a path that led to my computer science degree. Now days, it seems like that genre is dead with many games of that era that were scheduled for sequels in eternal limbo (the Tex Murphy series and Gabrial Knight are examples).

    My question is, what do you think led to the move away from this genre? Comsumer demand? Replay value? Do you see a return to the old inventory/pont-n-click/story driven games eventually in the future?
    • by bleckywelcky (518520) on Monday September 26, 2005 @03:13PM (#13653217)
      If you have half life installed, check out some TFC adventure maps. They are quite crude, basically finding ways to hit switches and collect items. But the whole idea of working together cooperatively to complete the goal is quite interesting. I think if someone took a game like Half Life 2, that plays well but requires a minimal amount of thinking, expanded the thinking end of it, and added in a multiplayer requirement (ie you HAVE to work together with people to be successful), it would revolutionize the gaming industry. You would see a whole new "Adventure Coop" genre sprout up and spread like wild fire. Even the very crude TFC adventure maps have a significant amount of replay value. These would probably have an even more significant impact on console gaming than PC gaming. PC gamers all over the place are perfectly content to load up their games in the evening and play a couple hours alone (but maybe online with others). Whenever I see people playing consoles, they always call their buddy over to play or have 5 or 6 friends over with a GC or two, or a PS2 or two. If someone tailored an adventure coop game to this environment ... man, watch out.

      I think we saw the beginning of this with games like Natural Selection (1.0, 2.0, they seem to have fallen back with 3.0). They weren't entirely adventure-based, but their cooperative team play caught on like wild fire. And each team member had a original role to contribute to the team.

      Someone needs to explore this and put some money into the idea. I'm sure it'll be a hit.
  • balance (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Quasar1999 (520073) on Monday September 26, 2005 @01:59PM (#13652559) Journal
    How do you balance great game play with actually creating a product and shipping it within a reasonable time frame? More to the point, how do you create an entertaining game without falling into the 'duke nukem forever' release schedule?
  • Technical questions. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CyricZ (887944) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:01PM (#13652567)
    Could you please describe some of the more technical aspects of the games you developed? Specifically, what language(s) did you choose when implementing your games. Why? Which compiler(s) did you use, and why did you choose them? Were there any compilers that either stood out in a very positive or negative way for you? What libraries did you use, if any, and why did you choose them?

    • by Screaming Lunatic (526975) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:22PM (#13652804) Homepage
      There has been a ton of interviews, developer diaries in the last few weeks covering this, along with an article in last months Game Developer Magazine.

      The game is written in C++, with an C++ SDK that is exposed for the MOD community. Tweakable data is stored in XML files. They use Python as their scripting language. They use Boost.Python for binding. Google for "Who's using Boost".

      http://www.dignews.com/feature.php?story_id=11457 [dignews.com]

      And they probably use MSVC. Everyone uses MSVC. They'd be on crack if they didn't.

      Technical questions are probably best answered by someone on the Civ team other than Sid Meier since he is a designer.

  • Why? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by codergeek42 (792304) <peter@thecodergeek.com> on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:01PM (#13652569) Homepage Journal
    I think the big question on a lot of our minds is: Why did you start doing game design and programming in the first place?
  • Balance (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Avacar (911548) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:02PM (#13652583) Homepage
    When building any strategy game, where do you start when you attempt to balance the game? Do you find that you personally need to play test and try new concepts to balance games, or do the inherent mechanisms of your games lead towards making balance easier for you to to achieve?
  • Question... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Chickenofbristol55 (884806) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:02PM (#13652585) Homepage
    Since the first Civilization game in 1991, how do you think the gaming industry has changed? And, is the change for the better or for the worse?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:03PM (#13652589)
    Dear Mr. Creator of Civ;

    Can I please have my softmore year back?

  • AI (Score:5, Interesting)

    by truthsearch (249536) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:03PM (#13652595) Homepage Journal
    I've been a huge fan of Civilization since it first came out. I've always thought the AI of the computer players is relatively good, especially how each has certain characteristics which differentiate them and give them strengths and weaknesses. But AI in strategy games doesn't seemed to have advanced drastically in the last 15 years. What do you imagine the next big advances in game AI will be? When will games really learn how you play? When will we not be able to tell the difference between a human and computer competitor?
    • Re:AI (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Surt (22457) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:57PM (#13653101) Homepage Journal
      Having done a lot of work in game AI, i'll give you one answer, we'll see if Sid agrees.

      Game AI needs a lot more computing power to be really interesting. There are fairly straightforward reasons for this:

      On the stupid end of AI, you have a flat scripted AI. Any scripted AI becomes entirely predictable when the player becomes sufficiently experienced.

      In the middle ground of AI, you have a tree scripted AI which goes down various branches in response to game conditions. This AI fares better against the player, but again suffers once the player learns the tree, or how to force the AI down a specific branch.

      Further up from here, you have an AI which manages and combines multiple branches based on game conditions, and randomly picks some branches to prevent itself from being forced into any one branch condition. This AI still suffers when the human player learns all of its tricks, and so no possible branch is effective.

      So this is basically where AI is stuck at today. Dynamic management of multiple pre-scripted strategies.

      The next level is where AI gets interesting: dynamic strategy development. Here we're orders of magnitude off in terms of the processor power needed to really do this effectively.

      And that's the basic problem. The obvious next rung in the ladder of AI is just way more computationally complex than existing methods.

    • Re:AI (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Inverse Icarus (825906) <moskij AT rpi DOT edu> on Monday September 26, 2005 @03:10PM (#13653194)
      I hope you don't mind, but I've taken the liberty of extrapolating on your question. It's a bit long, but I'm genuinely curious about this and really hope it makes it to Sid. 1. From a game designer's point of view, how much should you value game complexity against an effective AI? The new systems introduced in Civilization III, such as strategic resources and culture, add a new level to the game play, but also add another aspect of the game that the AI has to cope with.

      No offense to Soren or the other AI coders on the project, but the AIs in Civilization seem to lack the ability to compete on these new cultural and resource "battlegrounds". Sure, they'll make attempts to pillage a resource tile here or there, and they'll build temples, but by and large these new game concepts just produce another way the player can exploit the AI. There are numerous exploits noted, such as camping scouts or other non-combat units on un-roaded enemy resources, and these are things the AI just never do. And, if the AI did do them, the player would get quite angry. Which leads to my next question...

      2. Have you ever considered building in some sort of "frustration" level to the AI? One of the most common practices against the AI in Civ III was "herding" settler-stacks, by using multiple units to force the AI settler to move in one direction. Then, on the next turn, you would shift all the units in the same direction, forcing the AI settler to move back to it's original spot. This process could be repeated indefinitely, with the AI trying to head somewhere it will never reach. This problem arises because each turn is largely a whole new game to the AI, they have little if any memory of what the human did to them last turn. Wouldn't it make sense to have it remember such passive transgressions, and grow more and more angry at those behind the act? This same rule could be applied to remove the "exploits" known as "herding" and "oscillating wars". It's much like the existing reputation system, only driven by game actions, not just diplomacy.
      3. It's clearly obvious, and acknowledged, that the AI cheats in Civ III at the higher levels. Do you see this as a valid method for compensating for AI code that cannot win a fair fight against a seasoned player? Playing a game of Civ III on "Sid" was simply absurd. Sure, it presented a challenge, but the game was so horribly skewed it wasn't Civ any longer; it was just mass produce and sprawl. While it could be argued that current AI technology on a standard PC will never be on equal footing with the human mind, do you not see it as a slap in the face to simply give the AI a 200% production bonus?

      4. Have you ever considered having a "learning AI", much like that of Galactic Civilizations? I have been tinkering with the idea, and I really think it would be possible to create a sort of "game analyzer AI" that would accept some sort of "game history" file, which it could then analyze. From this analysis, it could extrapolate various patterns in human behavior, and add them to its heuristics when determining troop movement, production and diplomacy. I realize that it is not as simple as I have labeled it, "finding patterns", but in a finite environment such as any computer game is, a Neural Network could be devised to discover links between the actions a person makes. This could be done locally on the client machine, which would have the effect of making the AI adapt to the player's playing style. Conversely, players could upload their files to an online system that would analyze them and integrate the patterns found into a "collective AI", which could then be released through periodic AI-patches.

      5. I'm graduating from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in December, finishing a degree in Cognitive Science (Computer Science and Psychology) in three years. Want to put a good word in for me at Firaxis? :)
  • A Meier MMORPG? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tackhead (54550) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:04PM (#13652604)
    > Today we're asking for questions about design and philosophy to pass on to Mr. Meier.

    You've got a consistent track record of making some of the most interesting single-player turn-based strategy games ever to grace our screens. Civ and its descendants also make great turn-based multiplayer strategy games.

    On the other end of the scale, we have MMORPGs - which to date, have been the direct opposite of single-player turn-based strategy games: repetitive skill grinds, no story arc, etc. The problem tends to run down to the fact that not everyone wants to run an empire - but by the same token, not everyone is content to PVP or grind all day.

    It seems that many of the concepts that make a TBS great (IMHO the list includes, but is not limited to, a largish number of factions, shifting alliances between those factions, territorial control, resource management games requiring player allocation of resources between the generation of infrastructure and expendable units, a God's-eye view of history, and a story arc that emerges out of the economic, social, and political interactions between the factions) could be translated to the MMORPG genre - at least, given a suitably inspired design team and suitably-large time/dollar budget.

    To what extent (if any) can TBS aspects be translated to a genre as radically different as a MMORPG, and to that extent, what advice would you have for a MMORPG designer?

  • by c0l0 (826165) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:04PM (#13652611) Homepage
    Have you ever played FreeCiv? If yes, how did you like it? Do you believe in Free Software, and, more specifically, have you considered releasing (older) game engine sourcecode under the terms of the GPL, or "vintage" game content under a Creative Commons-like license?
  • by ziggamon2.0 (796017) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:06PM (#13652620) Homepage
    Some game producers, mainly id software usually release the source code for older versions of their games, have you ever thought of doing the same?
    What are your reasons for/against? How do you feel about current free software Civ "clones" like FreeCiv?
  • New genre (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ruprecht the Monkeyb (680597) * on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:06PM (#13652626)
    It seems as if the mass market has become rather stagnant for several years. The last 'big new thing' was MMORPGs, and they've become fairly mature and standardized. Civ (although not the first 4X game) certainly sparked an entire class of games, Doom kickstarted first-person shooters and multiplayer. RTS games are still doing well, but classic adventure and turn-based have been somewhat in decline, as have RPGs. What do you see becoming the next genre in computer games?
  • by Spaceman Spiff II (552149) <gabe@gabedurazo.com> on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:06PM (#13652634) Homepage
    With the unveiling of the Nintendo Revolution and its point-and-click interface, do you think Civilization-esque strategy games will finally come to home consoles? And with this new, entertainment-center, living room environment will there be new ways for you to expand on the genre? Perhaps, for example, with regard to teamplay and multiplayer, as these are big in the home console setting?
  • by Skyshadow (508) * on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:08PM (#13652646) Homepage
    Sid -- I've always been curious: In Alpha Centauri, how did your team come up with as many snazzy future quotes as they did? Several of them seemed downright smart enough that I was suprised to see them credited to in-game characters rather than historical writers. Thanks for all the great games; I just dusted off Civ 3 for my yearly week of nonstop obsession.
    • by Jeffrey Baker (6191) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:34PM (#13652925)
      Sid Meier didn't design Alpha Centauri. That game was designed by Brian Reynolds, who also designed Rise of Nations. That's why they call it "Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri" instead of "Alpha Centauri: a game by Sid Meier". They are just slapping his name on there for some market recognition.

      This also explains partly why Alpah Centauri was so much more fun and imaginative than Civ III.
      • by vitalyb (752663) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:56PM (#13653090) Homepage
        True. Which would make it a fair question:

        How do you feel about being used as a brand in "Alpha Centauri"?

        P.S For the first few years (of innocence) I was sure that Brian designed the menus of Alpha Centauri (because that's where "designed by" appeared). Got me really confused.

        P.S.S Can't wait for Brian's next game - He is about the only gaming person in the industry I truly respect (also Peter Melunuex(sp) but to a lesser degree as lately he gives way too much hype for his innovative, yet not too fun, games).

  • by TuringTest (533084) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:08PM (#13652657) Journal
    Good games (and specially videogames) entail a great deal of simulation of reality: they are bits of everyday life simplified for casual enjoyment.

    What do you feel is more important for a game to be great and/or successful: that the bits of reality captured in the simulation will create an environment with interesting and complex possibilities, or that the game mechanics are fun and easy to grasp?

    Is balance required between these two design forces? And which of the two do you enjoy most in your own experiences as game user? (provided that you actually enjoy playing games and not just design them!)
  • A Question (Score:4, Interesting)

    by American AC in Paris (230456) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:08PM (#13652658) Homepage
    Sid,

    Who or what is your muse? When and how did that first big 'spark' click in your brain for games like Pirates! and Civilization?

    Thank you,
    Tom Darby

    (P.S. If you feel that you simply can't answer this question properly in plain text, I'd be more than happy to drive on up to Firaxis...)

  • Question: Map Sizes (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Androclese (627848) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:08PM (#13652659)
    I found great joy in being able to play Marla's Earth map against 15 CPU players in Civ III. The game took at least a month to complete... partly because of the size of the map, but a great part of it was the game took up to 10 minutes to process the CPU Player moves. What changes, if any, have been made to speed up game play without sacrificing the CPU's ability to formulate a realistic strategy?
  • by Mick Ohrberg (744441) <mick.ohrberg@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:09PM (#13652660) Homepage Journal
    How would you respond if someone accused you as being the reason for hours upon hours of neglected work, laundry, yardwork, homework, pets, spouses, wifes, dental appointments...? *guilty of all of the above*
  • Sweep of Time? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Alkaiser (114022) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:09PM (#13652668) Homepage
    A two-parter. I had read before you were making Civ III that you were planning on merging the two worlds of Civilization and Alpha Centauri, giving the player the ability to play through a big "sweep of time". Was this idea just too ambitious, and had to be shelved for the design process, and will it be revisited? If so, what about the design specifically was it that put this idea on the back-burner?
    • Re:Sweep of Time? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by bclark (858016) on Monday September 26, 2005 @03:42PM (#13653461)
      There was a sort of expansion/reissue of Civilization 2 called Civilization: Test of Time. I remember that it introduced the concept of having multiple boards in the game, so you could play the regular campaign and when you launched your spaceship to Alpha Centauri, the game wouldn't stop. It would land on a completely different board, complete with some aliens, who would also come back and land on Earth. It was a little silly though, when you would get periodic rankings of all the civilizations throughout the game and the aliens would be listed along with their earthbound counterparts. It was a cool concept for sure. There were also total conversions of the game to a full on fantasy setting (a weird Tolkein/Norse mix) and a full alien world, all taking advantage of the multiple boards thing. I guess the package didn't sell well enough, or was too confusing with the expansion pack and Gold edition for Civ II also out, which it contained neither of.
  • by WhiteBandit (185659) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:10PM (#13652672) Homepage
    I admire many of the great game designers who have pushed the boundaries in gaming (yourself, Will Wright and Peter Molyneux to name a few). However, I can't help but feel that many of today's genres are stale and a lot of new games are mostly repeating past formulas as we see many sequels or derivatives of previous games being released. This appears to be a trend that will continue.

    Where do you think the future of gaming is headed and how hard is it to introduce radical new ideas into the industry (for example, Firaxis shelving Dinosaurs [apolyton.net] or Will Wright's bold idea in Spore [gamespy.com])?
  • by Amoeba (55277) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:10PM (#13652677)
    Sid,

    In any Slashdot gaming discussion invariably the debate between playability vs. graphics comes up. "This game is pretty but the game sucks!" "Nethack is all I need man."

    Of all the games you've had a hand in, the intricate strategies and complex ways one can enjoy the game have always seemed paramount, with graphics playing a backseat for the most part. Some of the most successful games in the past have been very simple on the surface but can have amazing depth, all without gee-whiz factor of purty lights and pictures of bleeding edge graphics engines (Tetris, Nethack, Civ series, etc). How much focus do you place on the graphical aspects of gaming and do you think there is a way to achieve a balance without sacrifices on either end and how do you tackle that problem? Nintendo's approach of focusing on "fun" and innovation in their games seems to be one example of how it can be done but sadly they are an exception to the rule it seems.

    Amoeba
  • Open game (Score:3, Interesting)

    by onyxruby (118189) <onyxruby&comcast,net> on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:10PM (#13652678)
    You were one the first to really allow people to easily go into and modify aspects of your game. The first mod work I ever did for a game was to take the units for Civ II and revamp them.

    At the time that prompted learning photoshop and my first real in depth look at the Internet. In retrospect that helped spur my career in IT, by making things accesible enough for somoene who wasnt a programmer to go under the hood and make changes, to play with it.

    Was it your intent to help spur interest in technology as a career, or was this just an easy way to make the game? Is making the game that easily modifiable in the future something you still plan on doing down the road?

  • Copyright terms (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bogtha (906264) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:11PM (#13652683)

    The first version of Civilization was released 14 years ago. With the original copyright terms, it would now be entering public domain. But copyright terms have been extended many times, so Civilization will not enter the public domain for many decades, perhaps not at all.

    As one of the more innovative game designers, I think your opinion on this is quite relevant. Is it necessary for copyrights on these games to last for longer than 14 years? Do you depend on revenue from the first Civilisation game? Do you even get any anymore? Would you still have created Civilization had the 14 year copyright term still been in effect? What is the rationale for longer copyright terms?

    What I'm getting at, is that Civilization is a landmark in gaming; it's part of our culture and I feel that you have already been duly rewarded by society for creating it, so the reason for you having copyright - so that you can create games as a profession - is no longer valid. Do you agree, and if not, why? If you do agree, do you think there are any situations in which a game company should have longer copyrights?

    Please bear in mind the distinction between trademarks and copyright - Civilization entering the public domain would not mean that people would be free to create their own games called Civilization.

  • Independence (Score:5, Interesting)

    by USSJoin (896766) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:11PM (#13652690) Homepage
    Mr. Meier,
    You've displayed a remarkable ability to keep yourself free of the major game publishers, even as groups such as EA begin fairly hostile takeovers of other game development companies. My question, then, is twofold: Is this simply an intent to wait for the right price, or is it instead a personal calling to stay out of the mega game houses? And secondly, what do you feel would be lost by allowing major publishing companies to acquire one (or more) of your original titles?
  • by deft (253558) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:11PM (#13652698) Homepage
    What is it in the brainstorming, design, implementation, or other stage you may find more interesting that YOU think sets your games apart from other games that have not done as well, had the same staying power, or popularity?
  • Technically (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Scrameustache (459504) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:12PM (#13652704) Homepage Journal


    How much of the design work deals with the technical aspects of a product, as oppposed to the playing itself?

    Meaning, do you start with what the machines can do, and design a game to fill those functions, or do you dream up a game and then design it so that it will fit the technical limitations of the machines?
  • Was your intent to release Pirates! with the final years of my College education a conincidence or were you attempting to have me fail out of college and live a life of squalor?

    Are you, in fact, my long lost arch nemesis?
  • Railroad Tycoon (Score:5, Interesting)

    by carlivar (119811) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:14PM (#13652725)
    You've been involved with all of the main sequels in the Civilization series. I was wondering if you ever plan on getting involved again with Railroad Tycoon in a similar way? I know two sequels have already been made without your involvement -- they were pretty good. But I felt that something was "missing" in those sequels. Perhaps it was the Sid Meier touch? I honestly had more fun with the original Railroad Tycoon! I know I'm speaking for many when I ask if it's ever possible we'll see a TRUE sequel to your original Railroad Tycoon?
    • Re:Railroad Tycoon (Score:4, Interesting)

      by jchernia (590097) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:54PM (#13653074)
      "Mod the parent up".

      There are many aspects that RRT touched on that could be revisited better with today's technology. Three that I can think of are

      1) Surveying - picking the best route through the mountains or otherwise optimizing the captial vs. train speed. With modern graphics you could greatly increase granularity.

      2) Cities - again, bringing things down to a smaller scale, how to run a subway system/commuter rail/etc.

      3) More advanced economics - fuel costs, city growth, and better AI could really make for a compelling challenge.

      RRT was a brilliant game in it's time. Have you thought about going back to an economic/transport simulation type game either via rails or airplanes?
  • The Square Grid (Score:5, Interesting)

    by VernonNemitz (581327) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:15PM (#13652737) Journal
    Why do you keep using a square grid (however distorted by perspective) when a hexagon grid is known to be more accurate for movement across a landscape? I do understand that this would influence a number of other things, such as the Local City Area would be 18 surrounding hexagons instead of 20 nearby squares, and that when surrounding an enemy you only have 6 ways to attack instead of 8, but those are not insurmountable issues. For example, if the SCALE of the grid compared to the map was shrunk a bit, you could "enlarge" the Local City Area by another ring of hexagons, for 36 total surrounding cells. Productivity in every cell is merely set a little lower than before. In combat distance weapons having a range of 2 cells could allow an enemy to be surrounded by up to 18 of your units (probably only after Cannons are invented). Alternately, simple construction of roads and railroads already allow distant units to engage an enemy; why can't building roads and railroads near a city extend the Local Area of that city? And other ways of accommodating a hexagon grid are possible, I'm sure. So, why not?
  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:16PM (#13652746) Homepage Journal
    How do you think multi-core/multi-threaded system will effect future games?
    What about asymmetrical systems like the Cell?

    Could the future of game design eventually lead to every unit being a separate thread?

    What about managed code? Will future games start using garbage collection to speed development?

  • by myc18 (77888) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:16PM (#13652750)
    Thanks for your contributions to computer gaming. Out of all the tremendous games that you have developed, which one do you feel is the most underrated? That is, the one game that you found very rewarding to develop, but didn't garnish the attention that it should have.
  • by DrEldarion (114072) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:16PM (#13652751)
    How exactly DO spearmen beat tanks?
  • Game modifications (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FooAtWFU (699187) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:17PM (#13652760) Homepage
    What do you think of user modifications of your games- patches, hacks, cheats users rebalancing the game and reworking it into something hardly recognizable, and playing the game in ways you never intended it to be? I know that some designers take a rather dim view of this; specifically I recall how in Roller Coaster Tycoon, some later versions had special checks so that if it detected you cheating, then it would not just delibrately crash the game, it would set a special internal flag so that it would keep crashing every time you started the game from then on (until you reinstalled or deleted/tweaked a special data file); what do you think of these sorts of practices?
  • by sudog (101964) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:19PM (#13652781) Homepage
    In the book "Hackers" by Steven Levy, there is an implication that Sierra, with Ken Thompson, implicitly tolerated drug and alcohol abuse in the early games development studios he commanded. There were huge parties, huge hangovers, and general debauchery on a regular basis. Obviously this kind of atmosphere wouldn't be tolerated today--if only for the potential liability, but I wanted to ask you whether or not you found, in your experience, addictive personalities being attracted to the game programming and design profession? Did you ever have any negative (or positive) experiences related to drug use in and around your offices, especially in the early days? Do you condone (or not) the use of mind-altering substances as a creative aid during the design phase?

    Putting aside their (potential lack of) work ethic for the time being and concentrating solely on the economic value of the artistry of game design, of those users you knew for a fact were using drugs, did you find them to be more or less creative than normal people?
  • by Chip Salzenberg (1124) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:19PM (#13652784) Homepage
    And a followup: Could you put the Loki ports of your older games up for download, or at least make them available for purchase somewhere?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:23PM (#13652814)
    I am your target consumer! I'm that crazy guy who bought Civ 1, CivNet, Civ 2, Civ 2 Multiplayer, Alpha Centauri, Civ 2 w/ all the expansions, Civ 3, Civ 3 w/ all the expansions, and Civ 3 Gold. I even own a copy of 'Advanced Civilization' even though you nor your company were in charge of that one. I have a problem, though I'm sure you could say otherwise. Alright, enough with the lamprey attitude... So, Civ 3 was not as popular or well-liked as Civ 2. Anyone who has played both tends to agree with that statement - Civ 3 may be prettier, and may actually RUN in a Windows XP environment, but it lacks a great number of the features that everyone liked in Civ 2. Varying unit hit points/firepower, useful artillery, units being forced to stop when adjacent to another unit, farms, unit-based spies and diplomats, movable aircraft, etc. At the same time, Civ 3 offered a number of new features that few can become annoyed with, such as the differences between 'workers' and 'settlers,' or the inclusion of the unique units for the different civilizations, or the loss of that stupid ability to poison a town's water supply. My question is: How do you decide what to keep from the original game, and what to axe? How do you balance innovation with traditionalism? A great many sequel-based games try to make each iteration completely different (re: the current run of Final Fantasy games), which others keep with what works (re: Unreal Tournament). Do you consider each game an experiment on your original idea, or a new method to express the idea?
  • Design tuning (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mrseigen (518390) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:23PM (#13652818) Homepage Journal
    How do you tune values for economics, damage, etc in your games? Is there a special rule of thumb to follow (other than the "double it, if it looks too small, double it again" rule)?
  • by fahrvergnugen (228539) <fahrv@hotmaCOBOLil.com minus language> on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:25PM (#13652832) Homepage
    Sid,

    Many of your early games for Microprose were built around the concept of taking several robust mini-game concepts and weaving them together into a coherent whole (I'm thinking in particular of Pirates! and Covert Action, although there are others that fit this description). Was this a conscious design decision? Were you looking for interesting play mechanics to build games around, or did you start with the concept (Pirates! Spies!) and then work from a list of pirate-like and spy-like activities?

    Conversely, when one of these mini-games doesn't work out like you'd hoped, do you cut them? A lot of people reacted negatively to the dancing game in the new Pirates! re-make, for instance, and I hear a general consensus among gamers that the mini-game build around sacking a city lacks depth. How hard is it to cut one of these games? What do you do when the mechanic just doesn't feel right?
  • Colonization? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Thai-Pan (414112) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:27PM (#13652853) Journal
    How do you feel about the largely unrecognized awesomeness of Colonization? Have you thought about making a new revision of it? What about open sourcing it so guys like me can fix it up to work on modern OS's?

    Like any programmer, I've spent ridiculous amounts of time playing Civilization, but in all honesty I've spent more playing Colonization and I always felt it was a better (but less-well-received) game than Civilization. I still find myself trying to run the original DOS game on my Athlon64, and I find it sad that I can't get the original MIDI music to work either.

    Not only was Colonization an incredible game, it was educational without cramming it down my throat. When I was a little kid studying history I knew all of the pioneers by name and accomplishments already.

    Kudos to you, and thanks for the memories.
  • Two questions (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PortHaven (242123) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:27PM (#13652858) Homepage
    QUESTION 1: Why do you think there are so few online strategy games for systems like the Xbox?

    If simply the cumbersomeness of controllers. Why is there no innovation? Do you think the Nintendo Revolution controllers might lend nicely to strategy games? Where one could easily draw a circle around their units and then hit a button to select an action option?

    QUESTION 2: With the advent of "multi-player" internet games...do you think we'll ever see multi-faceted intertwined games?

    For example: A hybrid of Civilization & Battlefront style games. Where certain players are playing strategically. And other players are fighting the actual battles?
  • Top Billing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eGabriel (5707) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:28PM (#13652862) Homepage
    How did you get your name on all of this software? We don't see "John Carmack's Quake", or "Rand Miller's Myst", but we see Sid Meier everywhere, making you one of the only household names in game design. When the first "Sid Meier's ...." title came out, did people know who you were, or just assume that you were an expert on pirates and the war between the states?

    By the way, F-15 and F-19 were two of the greatest games of my teen years.
    • Re:Top Billing (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ErikTheRed (162431)
      I don't know how he did it, but it was a hell of a brilliant move - establish a 'brand' that's your own name, so as you travel from company to company you can always keep your brand...
  • new modes of play (Score:4, Interesting)

    by VolciMaster (821873) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:30PM (#13652883) Homepage
    I enjoy Civilization a great deal, and find myself playing very differently from everyone else I've played with or against, as there are multiple valid paths to victory, or at least satisfaction: conquest, cultural, scientific, etc, and they have some overlap depending on the civilization being played, but they tend to be pretty distinct modes of playing.

    Recently, there have been a couple stories about World of Warcraft having a virtual plague outbreak, which apparently has evolved a new method of gameplay.

    Have you found any modes of gameplay in anything you've designed appear in 'the wild'? Not just different ways of using the existing, 'accepted' paths, but entirely new ways of playing, and winning, that you didn't envision in the design and implementation of the game.

  • by lilmouse (310335) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:31PM (#13652885)
    Strategy games always have every unit exactly following orders giving by the higher authority - ones horsemen will happily attack the musketeers, that far-flung city on an isolated island will happily build knights, and your cities always produce what you want them to. But for much of history (especially pre-1000AD history), an emporer would generally have a difficult time getting amries to actually go out into the field or the rulers of cities to listen to him. Rather, cities revolt requently, and even if they didn't, tax money might be non-existant, and getting armies into action could be problematical at best. Civ III certainly made world-spanning empires more difficult, but you still don't see armies rebelling, disbanding themselves, cities deciding to carve out their own empires, or barbarian invasions that actually matter. Even the highest level of barbarian threats in the game are hardly fear-inspiring. Historically, the near mid-east would see civilization overrun by a different group of barbarians every few hundred years - armies overcome, cities wiped out, the works.

    Granted, this takes away a lot of the simplicity of "Spearmen, go there" and "Knights, attack the city", but would provide a new challenge for players.

    Any thoughts on this? Any hope of less dictatorial powers? Will we ever see the end of perfectly loyal servents willing to die for your cause?

    Oh, BTW - they've all been great games so far :-)

    --LWM
  • by ewhac (5844) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:32PM (#13652899) Homepage Journal
    It is widely opined that computer games seem to have hit creative stagnation. All we seem to be getting are mostly technological advancements, not imaginative new games.

    Not so very long ago, computer games were simple beasts, relying on little more than text and simple rectangles. Nearly all of these games remain fun today. Advancing technology has made it possible to experience games in new ways, but do you believe the art of game creation itself has been much advanced by computers? As an example, conceptually speaking, Doom and Quake, though technological marvels, aren't so very far removed from paper-and-pencil role playing games. The computer merely automates the dice-rolling and map drawing.

    To put it another way, are there any new types of games that you've thought of or are out there that are simply impossible without computers?

  • AI in gaming (Score:3, Interesting)

    by thesandtiger (819476) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:32PM (#13652907)
    Turn Based games seem to always have "cheating" AI in order to pose a challenge to a human player - the Civilization games are notorious for some of this.

    What are your thoughts on this? Is it all about the gaming experience so, ultimately, "cheating" AI is perfectly OK so long as it provides a fun and challenging experience? Or would you ultimately want to see AI that could actually play by the same rules as the humans, and play well?

    Side question: Just as we have video cards optimized to provide better graphics, could you see AI cards in production to enhance the AI of various games? Is AI even really relevant, past the point where the "average" gamer is presented with a challenge?
  • Your Inspirations? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ramses0 (63476) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:33PM (#13652917)
    According to wikipedia's bio [wikipedia.org] you started designing games in the 80's, and there seems to be a common element of deliberation or strategy in many of them (less twitch, more think).

    What games or game designers inspired you? I've not played MULE [wikipedia.org], but I'd guess you might have played it. What about board games? Chess, Go?

    Since you make games for a living, what do you do "for fun"? :^)

    --Robert
  • Release the Source (Score:3, Interesting)

    by EnderGT (916132) <endergt2k@@@verizon...net> on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:37PM (#13652955)
    Civ II is considered by a lot of Civ gamers to be the best of the lot. That being said, the same gamers agree that there are a lot of bugs and other undesirable behavior in the game. Many of these gamers are also software developers, and many have expressed interest in obtaining the source so that fixes can be made for the benefit of the gaming community. Several forums have gone so far as to prepare petitions for the release. The most mature petition that I have seen included provisions for limiting the release of fixed code to existing owners of the game.

    Unfortunately, at least one claim has been made that the source code no longer exists.

    Can you tell us whether or not the code still exists, and if it does, whether or not there is any chance of it being released? Are you in any position to influence the decision as to its release, and if so, would you argue in favor or in opposition?

    Thank you for your superb contributions to the gaming scene.

  • by Lord Ender (156273) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:50PM (#13653042) Homepage
    I love playing Civ III on my laptop. It's great for on the plane. But as it is released, the game requires that the installation CD be in the drive every time you play even though none of the data on the CD is needed! This has the effect of annoying your customers by forcing them to search for CDs every time they play, unnecessarily wearing out the CDROM hardware on your customers' computers, and wasting your customers' power/battery life.

    Most people I know who play Civ III must resort to downloading a "No-CD Crack" to fix these problems. How do you feel about the use of cracks to fix the flaws in your software? Do you intend to include similar CD restrictions in Civ IV, despite the fact that copyright violators will still be able to get around it, while your customers will continue to be inconvenienced?
  • Portability (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Parity (12797) on Monday September 26, 2005 @02:53PM (#13653067)
    On my Linux box, I have two Sid Meier games: the original civilization, under Dosemu, and Alpha Centauri, ported by Loki Games. (As far as I know, Alpha Centauri is the only Firaxis game that runs on any non-Microsoft platform.) While any game could eventually be ported to any platform, choosing to use traditional sockets for networks and OpenGL for graphics and so on will make such action significantly smoother, and I believe is a strong consideration in choosing games for the Linux porting houses. Is there any thought going into portable design, any plan to release on any operating system other than Windows, and in particular, any plan - or thought of - releasing on Linux?
  • by Jurph (16396) on Monday September 26, 2005 @03:00PM (#13653113)
    Mr Meier,

    I greatly enjoy Civ, Civ II, and Civ III, and I will undoubtedly buy Civ IV, and its expansion, for the PC. However, I still cringe when I see a "sticker price" of $60, especially when I know there's a $30 expansion coming down the pike in less than a year, and a year after that I can get both of them together in a "Gold" or "Game of the Year" edition for $45 or $50 that you will still realize profits from. You're one of the few developers who makes great games that don't stress my hardware and force me to get upgrades, so I guess I should be thankful about that.

    My buying habits -- waiting until the games hit the discount bin with their expansion packs -- probably hit you in the wallet. Is there anything you can say to convince me I should buy Civ IV as soon as it's released?

    Thanks
    Jurph
  • My question (Score:3, Funny)

    by elgatozorbas (783538) on Monday September 26, 2005 @03:05PM (#13653155)
    Have you got any idea how many PhD's you nukes with these infernally addictive games?
  • by ta_relax (578894) on Monday September 26, 2005 @03:09PM (#13653187)
    My question is this:
    When I have recently read the books Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse by Jared Diamond, I was astonished by how closely the underlying concepts and ideas in the books match those in the Civilization series. (effect of environment, interaction between civilizations, making use of available resources, etc.)

    Have you read the books or corresponded with Mr. Jared Diamond? Could you comment on the similarities/differences between the games and theories of J. Diamond? Honestly, I am really very curious if he has played or has been affected by the game?!!!
  • by Ed Avis (5917) <ed@membled.com> on Monday September 26, 2005 @03:12PM (#13653209) Homepage
    I noticed in the original Civilization that the computer player would sometimes be able to 'cheat' or do certain things that humans could not. Presumably these worked around limitations in the AI, but they seemed to spoil the game a little once they became obvious. Was this part of the original game design, and do you think it's unavoidable, or do better AI engines mean that computer players can be subject to the same rules as humans?
  • by stlhawkeye (868951) on Monday September 26, 2005 @03:14PM (#13653230) Homepage Journal
    One of the few elements of the Civ games that I always disliked was the manner in which the game is made more difficult on higher difficulty settings. It seems like the game is made harder at first with smarter AI, but after a certain point, the game mechanics change and the AI just cheats. AI Civs are permitted to acquire techs they haven't researched or traded for, AI Civs cut ludicrous deals with other while gouging the player, they produce units units faster than is possible, field armies of economically ruinous size, overcome preposterous odds in battle, all while researching at a breakneck pace and beating the player to wonders with no civil unrest. Finally, when the player comes out on top despite all this, the AI civs simply all gang up on him and arbitrarily start wars when the player is close to victory regardless of how benevolent, honorable, and generous of a diplomat he has been. The difficulties in developing a good AI justify some such measures, but rivals such as Galactic Civilizations appear to have successfully created "smarter" AIs rather than just stacking the deck against the player. What kind of unique challenges do Civ and its cousins in developing "smart" AIs that can challenge the best of players? Is it clear when you've hit an AI wall and the only way to toughen up the difficulty is with rule-bending? Does the pressure to publish and realize revenue result in shortcuts in AI development? I've always been curious about how much development efforts goes into AI, it strikes me as one of those areas where it'd be easy to cut corners and still produce a game looks, sounds, and plays great.
    • by east coast (590680) on Monday September 26, 2005 @03:29PM (#13653352)
      Finally, when the player comes out on top despite all this, the AI civs simply all gang up on him and arbitrarily start wars when the player is close to victory regardless of how benevolent, honorable, and generous of a diplomat he has been.

      Amen! Yet, there is even a worse side to all of this... Just the other day I was playing Civ III, my Civ was on a small island and never had much of a chance to really get that early expansion of cities that seem to make most Civs thrive. Thru this I kept up diplomatic relations and only had one real war (resulting in the enemy losing on city and me extending the olive branch). Granted, I was left behind slightly in tech and a lot of wonders but at the age of retirement the game made me seem like nothing more than a sack of crap for not taking over 60% of either the land or the population. Does this mean that in order to win you HAVE to destroy other civs? It seems that way to me. There is no advantage in diplomatic play in the Civ games.

      It almost makes me think the game should be called "Kick the Auslander's Asses" instead. I'd like to see a fair and honorable Civ be judged better than "weak" for playing a decent diplomatic game.
  • by gcpeart (788373) on Monday September 26, 2005 @03:18PM (#13653268) Homepage
    There are a lot of issues in society today which have become extremely taboo. We can't avoid them, but to talk about them, or include them as game content runs a serious risk of being ripped apart by various extremist groups (who sit on the both extremes). Some of these things could apply to the macro-managed world of Civ, including terrorism, global warming, and bio technology. Also there are a number of older frowned upon topics, that are part of our history whether we like it or not, racism, genocide, and slavery.

    These are just to name a few issues that might make the game to hot to publish, but may be relevant content in the context of empire building/managing. Will CIV 4 have some of these aspects included insofar as they are relevant, or will the game pussy foot around the most controversial?
  • Lasting Legacy (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dweller_below (136040) on Monday September 26, 2005 @03:20PM (#13653287)
    How do you hope to preserve a lasting legacy of game design?

    In order to leave a legacy, future game designers must have access to your work. Future game designers will have to overcome both legal and technical obstacles to access your work. The legal obstacles are not going to go away.

    I have purchased copies of Xcom1, Master of Orion, Master of Magic, Civ 1-3, and so on. However, this is no longer possible. Several of these are not for sale anywhere. We have seen the Linux variant of the Planetary Pack totally disappear.

    These works (and yours) will still be copyrighted by somebody long after my grandson is dead of old age.

    How do you hope to preserve a lasting legacy of game design?

  • by achacha (139424) on Monday September 26, 2005 @03:27PM (#13653338) Homepage
    I've always thought that you had a very novel approach to games and created some of the most addicting games. Will you be doing any MMORPG games? (which are already addicting, but I can only image how addicting you can make them :)
  • by GerritHoll (70088) <gerrit@nl.linux.org> on Monday September 26, 2005 @03:49PM (#13653519) Homepage
    The Scratchware Manifesto is a manifesto written by a number of game programmers. It basically says: "Death to the gaming industry! Long live games." The authors mean by this: the production of games has become an industry. New games are designed by spending a lot of money on expensive special effects, rather than innovative ideas or creativity. Those are the games that can be found on the shelves in the software stores. But how about the games that are built by a small group of people, or an individual, using the resources they have? Written with blood, sweat and tears. Having a very original idea. And sometimes, becoming very popular. Is there still a chance for individual creativity in today's gaming industry? Or will the successor to Civilization IV be Civilization V, and then VI, until no new games are ever produced anymore?

    The Scratchware Manifesto [the-underdogs.org]

  • by Bohnanza (523456) on Monday September 26, 2005 @04:02PM (#13653617)
    It's clear that the old Francis Tresham boardgames Civilization and 1830 were major influences on your own games Civilization and Railroad Tycoon. Perhaps other boardgames inspired these and other designs.

    Do you still look to boardgames for inspiration? Have you tried any boardgames that have been released in the last decade, such as Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, or Puerto Rico? Do you see any aspects of these games that could be adapted to perhaps break some of the rigid stereotypes that PC games all seem to conform to these days?

  • by NerveGas (168686) on Monday September 26, 2005 @04:57PM (#13654003)

        Having quite a few of your games, one thing has always stood out: While the game concepts are out of this world, the quality of the programming is usually very lacking, most especially in the optimization area. As an example, Civ 1, 2, CTP, and 3 all ran much, much slower on my hardware than games which by all rights *should* have been much more demanding. Why has that been the case?
  • by Bill Privatus (575781) <last_available_id&yahoo,com> on Monday September 26, 2005 @09:54PM (#13655771)

    This may get lost in the noise (5 pages long now and still growing) but I would like to know what to tell my son.

    He plays games. He's never been interested in hardware. He doesn't know what an OS is, nor a programming language - yet.

    However, becoming a game designer may not depend on these things...in the not-too-distant future.

    Hearing about the feast-or-famine industry, where human resources are used up and discarded (to be replaced by the next eager candidate), I don't want my son to walk into this without a clue.

    I'm a J2EE guy, I don't write or design games. There's too little room here to really put my question(s) into context, but I feel you'll understand where I'm coming from.

    What would you tell my son?

    Thanks.

I am here by the will of the people and I won't leave until I get my raincoat back. - a slogan of the anarchists in Richard Kadrey's "Metrophage"

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