The lights are on
This year's GDC keynote was delivered by none other than the king of strategy himself, Sid Meier. Titled "The Psychology of Game Design," the Civilization creator proposed to the large crowd of developers that "Everything you know is wrong." The focus of his talks really centered around trying to figure out what works for the people playing his games. He also used key words like "egomaniac", "paranoia" and "delusion" and ended with a note about a player's self-destructive behavior. This was clearly some foreshadowing for the rest of the talk.Digging deeper into his observations about players, Sid brought up an interesting bit about what he calls The Winner Paradox. "In the world of games, you almost always win," explained Meier. No one has ever sent him an e-mail about winning too much. This also brought up the battle of reward versus punishment. Harking back to creating the battle system for Civilization Revolution, his team ran into play testers that would be excited if they won a battle with three-to-one odds. Upon asking them if that felt right, they would reply with an obvious yes. But when it came to winning a battle with one-to-three odds, Meier expected the player to question it. Instead, the player was just as excited as before. This lead to the realization that it cannot just be a math-based system. Things really got interesting when they observed the two-to-one battle. Upon losing with those odds, more often than not, the player was OK with the loss. But when the odds were pushed to 20-to-10 and the player lost again, they become upset. To Sid (and math) there's no difference between 20-to-10 and 2-to-1, but the player doesn't see it that way during the battle. "It's 20-to-10! I should win! It's a big number!" Clearly, there was more to it than simple odds, it was psychological.Even balancing a game for difficulty has been a long-standing question in game development. Previously, Meier has publicly stated that four settings of difficulty in a game is perfect. It covers beginner to expert. Of course, he admitted today that he was wrong and with some laughs pointed out that the new magic number is in fact nine difficulty settings (which Civilization IV does have). These challenges have been something Meier has been trying to figure out since the release of the first Civilization. Sid revealed that he originally wanted a rise and fall mechanic which would have the player almost lose everything in a dramatic disaster and then recover at the last minute. This just ended up forcing the player to reload an old save because they thought failure was on the verge. But players don't just need to be protected from the game design, but from themselves too. "How many of you remember the Cold War? Let's hear it for the Cold War." jokes Meier. Bringing up Mutually Assured Destruction, that balance between the two is critical design.Revealing more of what he called "My Bads," Sid brought up the upcoming Civilization game for Facebook. "This is a fun world to take Civilization to," says Meier. It was all different now because people's playing habits we're going to be totally different. Not only were they going to be playing with friends, but they also wouldn't be playing as long. The specific example brought up involved adding the ability to give gold to friends. Originally, he thought this would be a brilliant idea. People could give gold out of pity, just for fun or whatever reason popped up. But after watching the results of people playing, pretty much no one gave away gold.As he started to finish up, Meier pointed out some things that could save developers time and money. First and foremost, listening to the players is key. While not every specific issue can be resolved that way, it will help push a game into a good direction. Also important is to play off of the player's imagination. It's not always necessary to show everything on screen for the player o think it's there. Sometimes a text box is enough and can save millions. Replayability is also very valuable and sometimes quite easy to add. These things are part of what Sid calls the "Epic Journey" and the learning experience that comes along with it.When he was done, Meier got a laugh out of the crowd by simply saying: "Now you know everything."
For more on Civilization, check out our video interview with Civilization V's producer, Dennis Shirk.
A lot of these panels and keynotes would be interesting to see/hear in full rather than a synopsis. I'm always a little leery when game developers devote so much energy into focus testing and statistics for what "players like."
Nice shirt Sid
Great article. Civ II: Test of Time is one of my all time favorite strategy games. One thing about Sid Meier's games is that they always had a kind of logic, playing them through made sense. One thing I like about what he's saying is that he isn't giving player's what they say they want, but what player's don't even know they want. The idea that a player can lose track of math ratios when the numbers grow is understandable, we've all had those people in our math classes. Not to mention we all consider ourselves to be strategic geniuses that can overcome any odds, lol.
As far as the ratio's are concerned I feel it has the possibility to be taken a little out of context. No matter the ratio, losing ten guys is worse than losing one of your units. It makes me wonder what the 'concerned player' actually meant, or if they're really that bad at math.
I'm a huge fan of Civilization, but I don't think trying to play psychological games with gamers is a good idea... like his "disaster and quick recovery" idea. If your going to do that, give the player more control, especially with battles, almost like a total war sort of feel in combat mode.
Replayability is also very valuable and sometimes quite easy to add. These things are part of what Sid calls the "Epic Journey" and the learning experience that comes along with it.
Now companies like ubisoft could learn alot from this man
In a perfect world, Sid and Shigero would have collaberated by now.
What? Sid Mier has always been a face, don't you dare put him in the same category as Myamoto, that's insulting
This was a really intresting read...more so than some other recent posts. I have to say, listening to the community is key. That's how you can find some great gameplay things. Modern Warfare 2 did it, and the core gameplay is great!
...Lets just hope Civilization V doesnt fall prey to glitchers, nOOBs, and trash talk this currently IS Modern Warfare 2
i figured he would be taller.... and mabey stronger looking lolz hes a genius though... that man should be running microsoft he actuly give a crap about players.. can i get a SID MEIER?
I only read the first paragraph to realize he was making fun something
I'm so happy he spoke, good words Meier.
As long as he keeps making Civ great, I don't care what kind of games he plays with my head.
If the 20:10 vs 2:1 example is referring to units in the battle, then of course the 20:10 is worse... losing a stack of 20 units is a much heavier loss than losing 2, and to lose that much because of pure chance highlights the flaws in Civ's combat (like how archers can beat tanks sometimes).
I would also like to point out that text boxes suck when relied on too much, especially when they are used to explain the aftermath of a game.
Meier is still cool though
Wow, very nicely presented argument right there, sounds like somebody did his research/testing. Just thinking to my times playing Modern Warfare 2 online, egomaniac does admittedly describe me. Particularly in games where team play is involved, players (myself included) tend to get incredibly cocky and seem to think that they can defeat 3 or 4 players from the enemy team single handedly. While there are a handful of players out there who probably have wasted enough of their lives online to be able to accomplish such a feat, the average player (myself included) simply cannot do it.
In a memorable experience, I was playing Domination mode on Modern Warfare 2's online. The enemy had just captured a flag and my team was on its way to defeat because of it. Instead of rallying with my comrades, I rushed, thinking I could go in "berserker style" and quickly and efficiently push through anything my enemy had. Turns out there were 3 guys there. Not only did I fail to take out one of them, but had I stuck with my teammates, we could have greatly increased our chances of winning. My point with all this is simply to demonstrate that egomaniacs and illogical consideration of the odds reign supreme, particularly in online combat games such as Call of Duty.
I would love to hear and read the keynotes in there entirety instead of bits of it. But I feel like he might be on to something though.
Depending on what you actually mean.. soldiers DO come from barracks. (?)