Civilization 5: An Open Letter to Sid Meier

This post has not been edited by the GamesBeat staff. Opinions by GamesBeat community writers do not necessarily reflect those of the staff.

Editor's note: Although Daav is a long-time admirer of Sid Meier's, his love of the man won't stop his harsh, albeit constructive criticism. If your name is Sid, prepare to have your mind warped. If not, enjoy Daav's practical suggestions and opinions on the Civilization franchise and its newest iteration. -Omar

Dear Sid Meier (and everyone over at Firaxis),

I can hardly describe the anticipation I have for the newest installment in your Civilization franchise. In fact, my anticipation is so great that I'm prepared to finally throw out my Tyrannosaurus computerex (Latin for "really old computer") and save up for a new one. Crysis, BioShock, and other flaunters of insane flash be damned! I'll upgrade my rig for a static strategy game with little to no razzle dazzle. How is that for irony?

Civ 5 Logo


Your keynote address at the Game Developers Conference on virtual civilization and games in general only fueled this anticipating fire. It's clear that you acknowledge psychological considerations when making your games, on top of your already impressive technical efforts. With no fear of modern standards, you successfully debated your ability to omit certain elements in the game, to make room for others. As you said, the human imagination is a powerful tool, from the looks of things, you're putting yours to good use.

You've reminded me of days when everything was a simple square. Indeed, the only indication of what that square represented rested in the game title. I am a strong follower of your philosophy on simplicity, and I believe that it may help make your newest title the best.

Luckily, developers were paying attention to your keynote speech. We can now see a growing trend of developers who are willing to cut small details to accommodate more gameplay value. Don't get me wrong; the most recently released footage proves that Civilization 5 will still impress us with its visuals. My point was: Civ 5 won't add flash for the simple sake of it. Trust me, that's a good thing. Why? I like to play my games, not watch them.

My opinions have been reinforced ever since I recently completed Konami's Zone of the Enders. Sure, the game looks and feels amazing, but before you can draw a second breath, the ending credits grace your screen. Without any replayability, Zone of the Enders seems to strike the formula for what I believe makes a bad game. It's just too short. Why not redistribute some of the development resources away from the graphics department? This philosophy of gameplay over visuals has helped cement Civilization among the industry's most memorable titles.

Civilization 5

Despite my confidence in the skills of your team, I'm plagued by concern by the changes your studio has announced. For instance, a press release made it clear that the new hexagon tiles (pictured above) will radically change the game. I would have used the word "revolutionize," but this tile set has existed since the days of Master of Monsters. Regardless, I'm still very interested in seeing how this will affect the known world of Civilization! I anticipate that my most-relied-upon tactics will have to be discarded. Change is scary, but we'll have to bear through it.

Compound the new layout with other combat-oriented changes and it becomes clear that Civilization 5 will be an entirely new game. Yes, I know how that sounds. Of course it's a new game! But I meant to say an entirely new game, as opposed to a slightly altered edition in the franchise. I'm not sure if all these changes will sit well with me, but I hope they'll inspire fans in the same way your previous work has.

And here is where the real chatter begins, sir. I heard that you'll be making changes to some of the most beloved aspects of Civilization 4. It shouldn't be too hard, though, since we loved everything about that game.

To be more specific, I heard that random events won't be returning. I hope this isn't true because I patiently waited until the fourth installment for this feature to be included. I mean, be honest with yourself — is anything more refreshing than the possibility of random occurrences? No way! They keep you paranoid and on your toes at all times.

Just like nature itself, most things are out of our hands. Don't listen to purists who demand absolute control over everything that occurs in-game. The element of randomness sincerely reflects our own world. I mean, we can't control volcanic eruptions. We can't control seismic quakes. We can't control violent weather. But that's the essence of life. And hey, not all natural events are bad. We discover new and amazing things every day — things that improve our lives. Especially in the fields of medicine, agriculture, and energy. If video games have taught me anything, it's that spontaneity can be a very good thing. 

Good Event

Bad Event

A perfect example of a good and a bad event (click to enlarge)

To elaborate, randomness helps increase longevity in video games. In fact, my favorite games employ random elements to their advantage. In Diablo 2, the rush of finding new items and clearing new dungeons compelled me to return again and again. Civilization offered players entirely new outcomes with each match. You allowed us to create worlds with different outcomes, different leaders, and different balances of power. It was as though we started new lives with each game.

I'm glad we got that out of the way. Perhaps we should take a small break? Nah. Let's press on to one more change which you've announced! It might not be as important, but I feel we need to touch upon it.

Civilization 4 was your first game to employ the use of both religion and culture. Despite its novelty, I've read official reports stating that religion won't return. Why is that? You must've spent a lot of time developing the feature — why would you suddenly decide to jettison such a well-loved aspect? Do I sense some political intrigue here? Perhaps you struck a sensitive nerve among certain religious communities. If that's the case, don't listen to fanatics. Pretend they don't exist (except as generic characters in Civilization 2). 

A Taoist Missionary, ready for service

Compassion, moderation, and humility.

I, for one, enjoyed the inclusion of religion in Civilization 4. It may not have been my favorite feature, but it did introduce new methods of play. And this is my main concern at this point. You finally decided to represent religion — a very important social element — and now you're taking it away? It wasn't necessarily groundbreaking, but it was important to the game's appeal.

My brother and I went out of our ways to create societies under religious banners. Not because of the meager benefits but because of the added realism. We started out with one religion and eventually, if our civilizations would allow it, included new beliefs to strengthen our community and culture. It sounds like real life, doesn't it?

If you remove religion from the game, Civilization 5 may seem "smaller" than its predecessor, simply because it offers less. Sure, you could always install new, different features, but they would feel like replacements, rather than additions. I humbly advise you, Mr. Meier, to build upon the mechanics afforded to players in previous installment.

Civilization NetworkIn this same vein, I can only imagine the broadened appreciation you'll receive once Civilization comes to Facebook. Hopefully, your game will usurp Farmville's ill-gotten throne. The social network has an unfortunate reputation for offering petty, time-consuming games. With any luck, the introduction of Civilization to Facebook will usher in a new era of online, flash-based games. Who knows; it might even evolve the state of browser and social network games altogether.

It'll be like a real social network! Wait, we already have that….

It will be an actual civilization come to life! Yah, that sounds better.

On that note of flattery, I shall leave you to your business because I know you'll have plenty of busy days ahead. I hope I've done my part to influence your decisions in the future. Creating an entire civilization is hard work, and we all know Rome wasn't built in one day — get back to work!