Bamboo Cyberdream

a panda wanders the electronic landscape

GDC 2010 Pt. 2 - Sid's Keynote and Rant Clarification

Before I get into the second part of my GDC reaction, I need to clarify my view of the rant after yesterday’s post. I definitely think they are a net good, getting people talking about these important issues. There’s a danger in catharsis, though — remember that it comes from the Greek word for “purge” or “cleanse.” When we cheer at the rant, it potentially triggers the “I did something” part of our brains, when in fact, all we did was cheer. I would actually advocate against catharsis in this case, since we should take these issues with us when we leave. Hence my suggestion for a structured self-examination.

Anyway, some thoughts on Sid Meier’s keynote.

I generally don’t take notes at the big sessions since they’re the most thoroughly covered elsewhere. But something Sid said made me rush to pull out my laptop and get a thought down.

Sid is at his best when talking about his failures (if you’ve never seen his talk on the three attempts to make a game about dinosaurs, it’s worth trying to track down), so his section entitled “My Bad” was fairly illuminating. The tidbit that interested me was his revelation that the original concept and implementation of Civilization was a real-time game, but they found that it made the player into too much of an observer. Switching to turn-based play lead to a higher level of player engagement.

Now, as he described a real-time Civilization, I was playing through it in my head, and 100% agreed that it was easy for the player to just sit and watch stuff happen. But the thing is, we typically associate real-time play with higher levels of engagement. So why was that not the case for Civ?

The oft-cited “one-more-turn” phenomenon associated with the Civ games comes from the basic notion of delayed results. I start building a unit; it completes in 5 turns. I research pottery; it completes in 10 turns. I have my workers build a mine; it completes in 2 turns. With enough plates spinning, I’m always just a turn (or two) away from something interesting happening. The game is thus always keeping you from finding a good stopping point. It’s really a mastery of interlocking sine waves that keeps it from having no pacing whatsoever.

If the game was in real-time, you’d lose that quantization of the play experience, but more importantly, you wouldn’t have to do anything to move it forward. Each turn in Civ, you have to do something, even if that something is just issuing “Wait” commands or slapping the spacebar to advance to the next turn. It’s impossible to just sit back and let things happen, and while you’re engaging to advance time, you might as well do something in the world, which sets more plates spinning, etc.

(There’s a similar effect at work in the player-NPC bonding during Planetfall, but I’ll save that for the love letter I plan to post about that game at some point.)

There’s almost certainly more to real-time vs. turn-based Civ; I’m not satisfied that I’ve gotten to the bottom of it. But at least I’ve now recorded my thought process on an interesting design problem after giving it a modicum of attention. Need to do that more often.

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  1. Jordan wrote:

    Ah, the exact opposite of Sim City, where I would get a city started, turn off disasters, and just let it run as fast as possible overnight so that I could have as much money and, therefore, progress as fast as possible (if only, of course, to fight off natural/unnatural disasters once my masterpiece was complete). But it’s amazing, I’d never thought of Civilization that way, but now that I do…

    Posted March 17, 2010 at 11:03PM