Sid Meier's Memoir! Review

Photo of the hardcover of Sid Meier's Memoir!
I love how the cover bears similarities to the original Civilization

Quick Info
Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
Title: Sid Meier's Memoir!: A Life in Computer Games
Author: Sid Meier
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Number of pages (hardcover): 304 pages
Publication Date: 8 September 2020

Those who know me are probably aware how much I love the games by Microprose and Firaxis. In fact, at the last count I've played at least 19 of them from Sword of the Samurai to XCOM: Chimera Squad, and I'm not even including expansions or games published by MicroProse (such as Transport Tycoon and the original XCOM games). A big reason these companies were so successful is thanks to a video game programmer and designer known as Sid Meier. You've probably heard of him as his name is prefixed to over 20 games, a fact that is not lost on Sid as his memoir receives the same treatment!

I wanted to know more about this great of PC gaming and what inspired him to make some of the best games of all time, the Civilization series in particular. So, when I heard that he had released an autobiography, I was keen to grab a copy. After letting my family know of my desire to read it, my generous sister-in-law ordered the book as a 2020 Christmas present (so thanks again, sis!). It took me a while to finally get around to reading it as not only do I have a gaming backlog but a reading backlog too, but when I did start reading the book, it was hard to put down.

The book is over 300 pages consisting of an introduction followed by 25 chapters that spans Sid Meier's game development career from the early 1980s to the late 2010s. Each chapter revolves around certain games he developed during a particular era in his career and often delves into what inspired him to make the games in the first place. He also sometimes justifies gameplay design decisions, such as why Sid Meier's Civilization ended up being a turn-based strategy game instead of a real-time strategy game. Not only do you learn little bits of trivia with respect to the many games he worked on though; Sid offers his philosophical outlook on life such as the importance of being passionate or obsessed with a hobby since it acts as inspiration for other aspects of your life (such as new game ideas). Sid is a bit of a renaissance man when it comes to game development and encourages aspiring developers to try their hand at everything, including graphics (Sid has an amusing anecdote where the 3D models he designed as mock-ups for Sid Meier's Rairoads! somehow ended up in the final version). He's a firm believer in doing the art and the programming when prototyping new game ideas. Test new ideas by making the games instead of just talking about it.

Photo of back of hardcover version of Sid Meier's Memoir!
I wonder if Will Wright has actually read the book though...

Sid has been in the PC game industry for a long time and can definitely be considered one of its pioneers. Consequently, he's crossed paths with many famous game designers over the years which he briefly mentions in this book including Bill Stealey, Jeff Briggs, Brian Reynolds, Bruce Shelley and Will Wright. He's even crossed paths with other famous celebrities including the late author Tom Clancy.

The book also gives Sid a platform to address controversies and myths associated with his games. For example, he addresses the criticisms aimed at Sid Meier's Colonization concerning slavery being removed from the game or how "civilisations" that were victims of imperialism end up being imperialist themselves due to the way the Civilization series works. He acknowledged the games tend to have a Western bias but he's always tried his best to not trivialise these issues yet still make the games fun to play. He also tries to set the record straight with respect to the myth about a programming error causing Gandhi to be hyper-aggressive in the original Civilization, but he finds the story amusing nonetheless.

Finally, unlike any other book I've read before, Sid decided to add Achievements when you reach milestones in the book such as "Everybody but the Biker" which you encounter after visiting "the YMCA with a soldier, railroad worker, a police captain, Pocatello, and Blazing Saddles". While at first I thought it was rather gimmicky, they're actually quite entertaining and I'm glad he added them. Once again, Sid shows he's always willing to try out new things no matter the medium.


They often say never meet your heroes but after reading Sid Meier's memoir, I'm glad that the developer behind some of my favourite games of all time happens to be a pretty choice bloke too; he's relatable as he enjoys the silly humour of Mel Brooks and the hopepunk ideals of Star Trek and yet despite this everyman facade, he remains a juggernaut in the PC computer games industry. Through this book, you learn about his design philosophies and what inspired him to make the games he did. Sid manages to do so in a humble and entertaining manner which had me uttering "just…one… more… page" every time I read it. Recommended reading for fans of PC gaming history, Micorprose, Firaxis and obviously, Sid Meier.

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