Civilization did not spring fully conceived from the mind of Sid Meier back in 1991. It was an extension of his previous work such as Pirates! and more directly Railroad Tycoon. It was also influenced by the board game Civilization, it’s successors such as Advanced Civilization and to a lessor extent History of the World. Other influences came from the literary world. As Sid Meier’s Civilization game has evolved, there are a number of books that provide insight into how the game and AI function:
- Sun Tzu, “The Art of War“
- Niccolo Machiavelli, “The Prince“
- Carl von Clausewitz, “On War“
- Jared Diamond, “Guns, Germs, and Steel“
Several works of fiction likely influenced the various Civ games, Frank Herbert in particular definitely influenced Alpha Centauri.
- Frank Herbert, “Dune“
More science fiction books are listed as inspiration in Wikipedia. Absent are a few of the many ‘hell planet’ or ‘death world’ stories such as those by Harry Harrison. Also absent is Chung Kuo which is inferior to Dune, but fits the Civ game ethos of remaking the planet and imposing order and socio-economic and environmental policies on a planetary scale. That series may provide some insight but I can’t recommend reading the entire series, stop after the first two original books. Apparently it is being reworked and republished and expanded. I always thought the Hive was obviously influenced by Chung Kuo, complete with Chinese leader.
I have a theory that every Fantasy writer wants to be J. R. R. Tolkien and every Science Fiction writer wants to be Frank Herbert, this along with the ease of getting an advance on a sequel is why there are far too many substandard world changing, generational, multi-book tales in genre fiction. I’m now turned off by anything that is the first of a trilogy or book 5 of 9 in the bookstore. Usually the story drags on way too long, the quality of writing can not be maintained, and they are vastly inferior to the series they try to emulate which came before them. I also think the writers in lot of case, just can’t develop and sell a new original idea, so they just keep revisiting the same old, same old, in order to get paid.
Wikipedia lists a bunch more ‘future histories’ which may have influenced Alpha Centauri they certainly influenced each other. The sub-genre of SF known as “alternate history” may be more to Civ fans liking. I think it is long overdue for Alpha Centauri to get a proper sequel. Apparently EA owns the rights. It doesn’t run at all on the newest version of Mac OS X, but I also own a copy for Windows 98, not sure how well that will run on the modern Microsoft operating systems, it was unofficially patched as recently as 2010 according to research for this blog post. Alpha Centauri is still in print, and is compatible with “Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7” if you’ve never played it, do, it is very affordable. I already own two copies and the expansion, wonder if I can get it to run in emulation or on my old G4 tower. Alas most of my life is in storage and I’m not sure which box those old CD-ROMs and DVDs are in.
Maybe I should never feel bad again about spending too much time on Sid Meier’s Civilization after a ten year long game of Civ II makes the news on ArsTechnica. Civ V is definitely missing features that were in previous versions of the game and I still don’t know why they left out environmental concerns for the first time ever. I guess most players don’t worry about the environment and have no qualms about nuking their neighbors. One thing I like about the Sid games is they can be played differently. If you have ten years to devote to a single game, perhaps reading five books isn’t much work at all. If you want to win at all costs, why not actually study thought leaders? Maybe if more Civ players read Jared Diamond or say the English Patient, people would be less proud about earning the “I can has nukes?” badge.