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Rob Zacny

Three Moves Ahead 507: Sid Meier's Sid Meier's Memoir

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Three Moves Ahead 507:

Three Moves Ahead 507


Sid Meier's Sid Meier's Memoir
Troy and Rowan are joined by Paradox's Johan Andersson and Mohawk Games' Soren Johnson to discuss the august Sid Meier's recent book, Sid Meier's Memoir.

Sid Meier's Pirates!, Sid Meier's Civilization, Sid Meier's Other Games

 

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Thank you for this one. It was a joy to listen to the discussion (as well as a temptation to fire up Pirates etc. again).

 

A couple of comments:

- "A series of interesting decisions" ... Not having read the book myself, this may have been discussed by Mr Meier, but there is an almost matching phrase in the Civ1 designer's notes: "a mix of interesting decisions".

- "People just don't understand probabilities" ... I actually blame Civilization for my poor intuitive understanding of probabilities. Civ1 translates the ratio of unit strengths directly into the odds of winning a combat. Intuitively a unit twice as strong as its opponent should have a much better chance of winning than just 2 : 1, all other things being equal. The game never explains that the odds of combat represent not only the strength ratio, but also the fact that in warfare all other things are very often *not* equal. Some flavour text popup when a combat result goes "against the odds" could have given generations of players a better sense of probabilities. Instead, beginning as early as Civ2, they started fudging the math and actually reinforced the false perception that a high probability equals certainty.

- "Design documents are the abomination of evil" ... Maybe they are, but game manuals for users are not. User interfaces are designed well enough these days to need little explanation, but the concepts and rules of a strategy game still deserve to be set out in a concise body of text. "Tutorials" that feed us game rules one popup at a time, online wikis and (worst of all) youtube videos are poor substitutes. There were occasionally criticial comments about the quality/lack of game documentation in past 3MA shows (for example for the HoI4 release). Maybe it's time for a show to celebrate excellent manuals of the past like Bruce Shelley's Civ1 manual, Chris Stone's manuals for EU3 und HoI2 and the Imperialism manuals.

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22 hours ago, Verrucosus said:

Maybe they are, but game manuals for users are not. User interfaces are designed well enough these days to need little explanation, but the concepts and rules of a strategy game still deserve to be set out in a concise body of text.

 

Now that players basically expect strategy games to have a long lifespan with a lot of transformations manuals don't seem relevant to me. With Age of Wonders Planetfall or Imperator Rome - both are relatively recent games! - reading a manual today might give me info about the setting, maybe explain developer intention and stuff but even the very basic definitions would all be wrong today. 

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Yes, games are no longer seen as (at least potentially) finished products, but as works in progress. If that's the model, is it really absurd to ask that a game manual is kept up to date as the game gets "improved" over the years? When Civ5 came out without a printed manual, they were not only saving the rainforest, but also pointing out that the pdf-manual could be kept in line with patches and expansions. It would be great. Of course, that never happened. Most players don't expect it any more and by now they don't expect any documentation at all. Many players never have ... there was even a joke about that in the Civ2 manual from 1996. I'm not sure why players of strategy games have always been so proud and vocal about not reading/needing manuals, so I'm just glad that they lasted as long as they did and I appreciate pleasant surprises like Troy Goodfellow's manuals for the EU4 expansions. The passion that the manuals for Pirates, Railroad Tycoon and Civilization showed for the theme of these games and the concise language they used to describe the mechanics has rarely been matched. I miss both in current strategy games and I am happy to reminded of the "good old days" by an episode like this one.

 

 

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On 10/11/2020 at 9:01 AM, Verrucosus said:

Yes, games are no longer seen as (at least potentially) finished products, but as works in progress. If that's the model, is it really absurd to ask that a game manual is kept up to date as the game gets "improved" over the years? When Civ5 came out without a printed manual, they were not only saving the rainforest, but also pointing out that the pdf-manual could be kept in line with patches and expansions. It would be great. Of course, that never happened. Most players don't expect it any more and by now they don't expect any documentation at all. Many players never have ... there was even a joke about that in the Civ2 manual from 1996. I'm not sure why players of strategy games have always been so proud and vocal about not reading/needing manuals, so I'm just glad that they lasted as long as they did and I appreciate pleasant surprises like Troy Goodfellow's manuals for the EU4 expansions. The passion that the manuals for Pirates, Railroad Tycoon and Civilization showed for the theme of these games and the concise language they used to describe the mechanics has rarely been matched. I miss both in current strategy games and I am happy to reminded of the "good old days" by an episode like this one.

 

I grew up with RTS like WC 3, Age of Empires 2 & 3 and AoM.  I'd always take the time to read through the manuals while the game were installing both as a way of killing time and learning how the game worked. Another part of the joy of reading them was seeing the alpha-beta screenshots that were included with them that had precisely 0 to do with the finished product (WC3 when explaining itens shows a print where all the icons are wholly different from the finished product; AoM when explaining the interface has wholly different icons, age names and units models, just to give you an example). This is what the historian in me misses from modern games more than anything else -- glimpses into the game development that used to be released alongside the finished product.

 

Nowadays we do have manuals, of sorts. Instead of the Good 'ol books that came with the game we have either in-game documentation -- which leaves a lot to be desired, like with the Total War encyclopedias -- or wiki pages that were either created and maintained by the players or the devs -- like how it is with EU 4's documentation. The problem now is that, with games being ever evolving, the wikis by default erase older versions of the game out of existence and maintain only the newer versions (yes I know you can see a page's history but to me that is more akin to archaeology and cataloging changes). 

 

This may be related to the change in documentation or not but I distinctly remember having to smash my head against many brick walls in EU 3 where important mechanics weren't explained in-game at all and I had to go hunting for them in one of the manuals (which only superficially explained them, but tat least they did.) while EU 4 does a much better job os explaining stuff in-game, while at the same time omitting vital information for the player that can either only be found on the wiki or is only presented in very specific situations.

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