One of the highest rated PC games of all time
Coming off of Railroad Tycoon, Meier wanted to start another project that would expand on some of the previous game’s ideas. Meier liked the exploration system found in Empire, a turn-based war/strategy game. In that game, the player started in a small area and more was revealed after exploration. He also liked the open-ended fun and building of SimCity.
Sid Meier’s Civilization of 1991 was definitely a hit in the world of PC strategy games. It is the game responsible for the growth and popularity of the 4X genre (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate). It is also the game that made MicroProse a common name in gaming.
Sid Meier said about making Civilization:
Railroad Tycoon had this sense of being a large-scale game, but we were bold and wondered what’s a bigger, more epic thing we can do? Well, how about the history of civilization? We were young, and we had no fear. The expectations in terms of graphics and team size were different in those days. We did the first half of the work on Civ with just Bruce and I, so we could try things with less risk. It was definitely not something we knew was going to work, but it looked like it would be fun to try.
Part of the magic of Civlization was that Meier concentrated on the fun parts of simulating an empire and did away with everything else. A civilization cannot fall on its own. Black plague, famine inducing volcanic eruptions, nuclear winter, and world-ending asteroid impacts do not occur, and this was intentional. During development, Meier noted that people would just reload from a save if things like that occurred.
In the early 1990s, Brian Reynolds was in graduate school at Berkeley majoring in Philosophy. It was expensive, and he was attempting to live on a $9000/yr fellowship. The difficulties of this situation only exacerbated a feeling he was having that he didn’t quite like what he was doing. He left the Bay Area, moved to Baltimore, and set about starting over. Reynolds remembered liking programming and computer games, and he decided to explore that interest a little more. He went to a store and bought some books on MS-DOS, and he bought a copy of Microsoft C 6.0. His next step was to recreate some of the graphics and sound he’d seen in Ultima VI and Populous. The result was a little demo with VGA graphics and Adlib sound. This served as his electronic resume, which he sent over to Origin and MicroProse.
He got the job with MicroProse, and after Sid Meier gave him a copy of Civilization he recounts:
I played until 2 AM. It combined the city, units and ‘one more turn’ of Empire with the experience of Civilization the board game. Avalon Hill games were the gold standard, and I didn’t realize computer games could do that.
Arriving at MicroProse, Reynolds was tasked with making adventure games to compete with Sierra. This wasn’t the most successful avenue for MicroProse, and Reynolds began working on a prototype game that would become Colonization. After showing this to Meier, Reynolds was reassigned to work on that game full time.
When SimCity 2000 was released and was successful, the folks at MicroProse realized that iterative sequels could work. This made yet another new job for Reynolds. He was to make the sequel to Civilization.
How do you make a sequel to a game that covered all of human history?
Well, Reynolds decided to ask the folks on usenet what they’d like to see in a sequel. Other ideas were Reynolds’. He wanted to have more focus on non-war wins. Doing this meant that the diplomatic AI had to be expanded. According to Reynolds, this quadrupled the amount of code that was needed. Despite focusing on peace, war was upgraded too. CivII’s combat was far more tactical than that of CivI. Windows 95 had just launched and this gave Reynolds the ability to have a modular UI with multiple different screens. It allowed higher screen resolutions, which meant not only better graphics but also denser presentation of information. The result of all of this was Civilization II.
In 1993, MicroProse sold to Spectrum Holobyte.
When they took over, they didn’t have confidence in the game, so they did very little marketing for it. In the end, word of mouth saved it.
Spectrum Holobyte was expecting poor sales. Following it’s release on the 29th of February in 1996, Civilization was among the top sellers for the entire year. By year’s end, the game had earned $21.1 million (roughly $40.2 million in 2023), selling roughly half a million copies in the USA alone. Civilization II sold millions of copies over the following years. After the take over by MicroProse, however, the Civilization team left MicroProse to start Firaxis.
Civilization II is a good game. It is, indeed, so good that one chap played a single game of Civilization II for 10 years. In 2012, he posted to reddit.com/r/gaming about this 10 year game. The in-game-year at the time of posting was 3991 AD:
The world is a hellish nightmare of suffering and devastation.
There are 3 remaining super nations in the year 3991 A.D, each competing for the scant resources left on the planet after dozens of nuclear wars have rendered vast swaths of the world uninhabitable wastelands.
This was enough of a story to get picked up by CNN. Sid Meier commented on it:
There’s no way we could have tested for this, so it was a surprise to us. I can’t say that we ever thought anyone would play a game of ‘Civ’ for that long. It’s exciting that a fan of the series would dedicate 10 years to playing one continuous game. We should probably send him a copy of ‘Civ V’ and ‘Civ V: Gods & Kings.’ Maybe in 10 years, he can create a similar scenario. We applaud you for playing what’s sure to be the longest-running game of ‘Civ’ ever.
Naturally, this one game spawned another subreddit.
The year is 3991. The war along the borders of Celtania, New Vikingland and America has been raging for 1700 years, and now we find ourselves at a stalemate. The world, ravaged by over 20 nuclear winters, is as good as dead. We can't feed our people, we can't farm our land, we can't afford to do anything but strengthen our military. Supreme Commander Lycerius has lead us for as long as anyone can remember, but his time is past, and a new ruler is needed to try to end this [expletive deleted] fight. Time to step up...
Getting Civilization II installed took some time:
I spent almost as much time with Civilization II as I did with SimCity and Civilization. I imagine many people did. Gaming at this time was a unique experience. People were doing things that had not been done before because these things had not been possible before, and thus had not been thought of before. It’s amazing to see these now and realize both how far we have come and how much of this DNA is in more modern titles.