‘The History of Civilization’ Updates, 10 Years Later

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

Sid Meier's Civilization I for MS-DOS Screenshot

Ten years ago today — on July 18, 2007 — Gamasutra published my in-depth history of the creation of Sid Meier’s Civilization called The History of Civilization. (Here’s my original VC&G post on the topic.)

My article was originally intended to be part of a series of articles — conceived by Simon Carless, if I recall correctly — that would cover the histories of the then-recently announced “Game Cannon.” (I wanted to do a piece on Tetris next, but I could not figure out how to get an interview with Alexey Pajitnov.)

Treating video games as legitimate cultural artifacts worthy of preservation and study was a very novel idea at the time. My work, and that of others, over this past decade has made this idea far more mainstream, although there’s still a lot of work to do.

My Civilization article still gets a lot of attention. Gamasutra re-promotes it every once and a while, and it has been cited in books, other articles, and more. So imagine my embarrassment as I tell you, right now, that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing back when I wrote it. I was never formally trained as a journalist; I learned my craft and absorbed lessons as I went along.

The lesson I learned from the Civilization piece was to never make assumptions. The History of Civilization was only the second big history narrative piece I’d written in my career, and I remember being nervous about making a few assumptions about things that I did not firmly know to fill in gaps in the narrative.

I did not have the time or budget to interview more one person fully the article (Sid Meier, though I asked Bruce Shelley questions via email), so I wondered: How on earth do I fill in those knowledge gaps? I just went with what made the most sense, and I was lucky that it did not lead to any problems. Today, many journalists still do this, and it’s a terrible practice.

Since that time, I typically go way way way over budget with interviews and research so that I never, ever have to make any assumptions in the storytelling process. As we speak, I’m about three months late on a big feature because of this obsession of mine. It’s not an economical way to do business as a freelancer, but at least my editors know I can deliver an accurate product.

Does that make The History of Civilization a bad article? No. It’s still a good piece overall, although I would do things differently if I wrote it today.

…But there is this nagging issue, always in the back of my conscience, of a very long email that Bruce Shelley sent me about it just after it was published.

And that, my friends, will be the first of several updates related to this article that I collected have for you today, in three acts:

I. Bruce Shelley’s Notes on the Article
II. Sid Meier and Bruce Shelley in the Flesh
III. History of Civilization Translated into Chinese

[ Continue reading ‘The History of Civilization’ Updates, 10 Years Later » ]

Scott Miller Interview: On Founding Apogee, Shareware Competition, id Software, and More

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Apogee Software Logo

In early June, I conducted a lengthy telephone interview with Scott Miller, founder of Apogee Software (now known as 3D Realms). Today, the interview is up on Gamasutra. This is sort of a companion interview to my earlier talk with Tim Sweeney of Epic Games (another shareware heavyweight), although both stand alone quite well.

Scott Miller\'s HeadApogee is best known for publishing dozens of episodic shareware games, including Kingdom of Kroz, Duke Nukem, the Commander Keen Series, Wolfenstein 3D, and Rise of the Triad. The company later changed its name to 3D Realms and scored a monster hit with Duke Nukem 3D.

Through Apogee, Miller revitalized and dominated the shareware game industry, invented episodic gaming, pioneered the use of the freely distributable game demo, and provided the spark that inspired id Software’s founding.

During the interview, Scott and I went through his early days in programming, the founding of Apogee, the transition from simple shareware to 3D games, his interactions with id Software, his thoughts on shareware game competition in the early 1990s (including Epic MegaGames and Tim Sweeney), and much more. If you’re a fan of BBS or shareware history, you won’t want to miss it.

Bringing Shareware Out of the Closet

The concept of shareware has for too long been seen as the red-headed stepchild of the computer game industry. It has oft been relegated to the metaphorical back pages and footnotes of the history books — if it shows up at all — and frequently looked down upon by “serious” publishers who never deigned to give away any version of their work for free (until Apogee came along, anyway). I’d like to change that, and I’m hoping that my recent interviews with Miller and Sweeney will lay the foundation for a deeper understanding of shareware’s importance for future generations.

Although it might be a philosophy whose place in the sun has come and gone, shareware has not been an idea without merit or influence. As you’re about to read, the story of Scott Miller, his partner George Broussard, and their company firmly prove otherwise.

Tim Sweeney Interview: On ZZT, Shareware, Epic, and More

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Epic Games' Headquarters

You’ve probably heard of Epic Games by now — you know, the company behind Gears of War and the Unreal Engine. We read a lot about those blockbuster products these days, but Epic’s story stretches back much farther than that. For example, did you know that the very same Epic was once one of the world’s foremost shareware game publishers?

In January of this year, I had the immense honor of exploring Epic’s rich history in a sit-down interview with Tim Sweeney, founder and CEO of Epic. Over lunch at a local restaurant, we discussed his early programming years, the genesis of ZZT (Epic’s first game), Jill of the Jungle, Apogee Software, the shareware wars, his thoughts on id Software’s early work, the future of game graphics, and much more.

After some time on the back burner, this long, in-depth interview has finally seen the light of day over at Gamasutra. Shareware fans and general history computer buffs shouldn’t miss it. Heck, I did the interview and I’m reading it again. I hope you enjoy it.