Eric Johnson

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Six Questions for Sid Meier, Creator of Civilization Franchise and Mobile-First Ace Patrol

ace patrol

Courtesy 2K Games

When you think of mobile games, you probably think of titles like Angry Birds, Temple Run or Fruit Ninja — not the sort of micromanaging strategy games for which Sid Meier is best known.

And yet the creator of the hit Civilization franchise and his company, Firaxis Games (owned by Take-Two Interactive), are moving more troops into mobile after testing the waters with ported games like Pirates! and Civilization Revolution. Rather than just producing, Meier himself was one of three programmers on a new mobile-first Firaxis game, Ace Patrol.

Although the WWI dogfighting game — scheduled to launch on May 9 — will be iOS-only, Meier acknowledged that “there’s certainly a logic into looking into other platforms and seeing what the possibilities are.” He caught up with AllThingsD on the phone recently to talk about how he sees the changing landscape of games.

Sid_Meier_cropped

CC BY-SA 2.0 Antonio Fucito

AllThingsD: Your name is in many ways synonymous with a breed of strategy games, mainly on the PC, that demand an investment of time and concentration. How do you look at mobile games, which today are often short and relatively simple?

Sid Meier: The very early console games were very simple, twitchy hand-eye coordination games. And then, over time, strategy became okay to do on console. I think we’re going to go through a similar evolution with mobile, where initially the games are pretty casual and simple, but that’s not because of any restrictions in the platform or anything, it’s just that the market is gonna evolve and the audience is gonna evolve. There’s definitely a role for more strategy-oriented games on mobile.

And do you think that’ll go mainstream, or will that be a niche audience?

I think [strategy] is probably not going to be the predominant genre on mobile, but it will grow in the same way it has grown in the PC market and the console market. In a lot of ways, it’s more suitable to mobile than console because, on mobile, you could potentially be distracted, so you want a game that’s played at the player’s pace, and not at a pace that’s driven by the game itself — something you can start and stop, and put away for a while.

What about multiplayer? Depending on whom you ask, the future of multiplayer games could be asynchronous and turn-based, or all about playing live, either in the same room or on different devices anywhere in the world. Do you have a dog in the fight?

Since our game is turn-based, we chose to support two of those modes. One is the asynchronous mode, where you can have 10 games going on at the same time with 10 different people. The other mode, which we’re calling “hot-pad” mode, is where you’re playing on the same machine with the same player. Real-time multiplayer is suited to another type of game. I’m playing a lot of World of Tanks right now, and that works really well as a real-time multiplayer game. It might not work so well on mobile, where you might get a phone call, or maybe you’re traveling and you can’t guarantee that you’re going to be able to hang around until the end of the game.

What did you learn from the experience of heading up such a small team on Ace Patrol? Do you think you will do the same thing in mobile again?

I’ve enjoyed the small-team aspect — fewer meetings, and more time to actually work on the game. And I’ve learned really to kind of appreciate some of the unique features of the mobile platform: The touchscreen, the gestures, the swiping, the pinching. That tactile interaction between the player and the game really connects you more closely with what’s happening on the screen. We’re very impressed with just the raw horsepower of the platform. For a flight game, it’s fun to have a 3-D world to fly through … we actually weren’t sure whether we could do that when we started. Also, [we've learned] how many of our core strategy game elements that we’ve used on other platforms seem to work fairly well on iOS.

And that’s interesting because not all games are as mobile-friendly as others. Will Firaxis be doing more with turn-based games on mobile?

I think it works very well, yes. There are certainly some real-time games that work just fine. But the turn-based games that we’ve done, whether it’s Haunted Hollow or Ace Patrol or XCOM, later this summer, just all seem to be a natural fit for the mobile platforms. Is it part of our future? I think the answer is pretty assuredly yes. But we’re not giving up on PCs. They’re our bread and butter, and the new consoles are very interesting, but we definitely see mobile as a significant part of our future going forward.

What do you think about what Microsoft is doing with Windows? Obviously, they have the legacy title for being the home of PC gaming, and yet, in some ways, they’re making their main OS a lot more like a mobile operating system.

That’s a very interesting development. The PC market is splitting into tablet PCs and the traditional desktop PCs. These games that we’re doing cross over really nicely into tablet PCs or any kind of mobile format. That’s another reason why we’re looking really seriously at this market. I’m not sure what’s happening in the PC market, whether it’s going to go toward tablet or continue to be really strong in desktop. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.


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