Sid Meier And The 48 Hour Game

Here’s proof positive that uncle Sid isn’t just a figurehead these days. In the fun mini-documentary below, the god of Civilization pops back to his old university to encourage and judge a group of wannabe developers in a 48 hour build-a-game contest. Which seems to frazzle their minds in and of itself, but then he goes and designs a game in 48 hours too, which pretty much blows their efforts out of the water. Who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?

As kindly submitter Chris W observes, Meier rules himself out of the judging, despite coming up with a working shooter called ESCAPE FROM ZOMBIE HOTEL in less than two days. That may simply be because it’s monstrously unfair to pit his decades of experience against these young’uns, or because he went 3D whilst they stayed resolutely 2D. One of the flabbergasted contestants wonders if he’s got a button marked ‘build game’ sat on his desktop…

It’s fascinating to see him with his design hat fully on instead of being the cheery man of soundbytes we’ve perhaps come to know him as. Hopefully it’s a sign that this founding father of all we hold dear is currently cruising confidently to Will Wright status.

More importantly – where can we get a copy of ESCAPE FROM ZOMBIE HOTEL from?

Via Motherboard.TV. Motherships!


  1. realmenhuntinpacks says:

    oh sid. Why can’t you be mine?

  2. Rinox says:

    I will respond in the same manner that I always respond to any Sid Meier related information or news:


    Ahem. Sorry. ;-) Cool Sid vid!

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      Careful… don’t ask for remakes these days. You might end up getting an FPS in turn.

      But, this being Firaxis IP, I think we are safe. SO WHERE IS OUR ALPHA CENTAURI REMAKE?

    • Flimgoblin says:

      A-Centauri combines the strategic core of the groundbreaking franchise with a suspense-filled narrative and distills it into a tense and unique first-person shooter experience

    • Army_of_None says:

      Oh god yes. I’ve put so many hours into Alpha Centauri, I’d preorder a remake the day it was announced.

    • Dain says:

      RE: Alpha Centauri Remake

      Hey, whenever this comes up I do my best to point people to the rather excelent Civ mod:

      link to

      Not perfect, but pretty good!

    • RedFred says:

      Careful now. You all seem to have forgotten Sid Meier’s Pirates! from 2004. It was bashed by most fans, I however thoroughly enjoyed it.

    • DrazharLn says:

      There’re a lot of people still playing and modding Alpha Centauri. Why, (the most active of the SMAC communities, I think) produces a regular GotM with surprisingly high production values.

      The latest is called Jihad and can be found here: link to

      No, I couldn’t be arsed to write XHTML code, it’s traumatic after so long using [BB].

    • Jesus says:

      Maybe you should ask Brian Reynolds, you know – the guy who actually made the game.

      Not the guy who just put his name on it so it would sell.

    • sfury says:

      …so he can turn it into a Facebbok game? No thanks.

      Friraxis have the franchise and have been prettty good at developing their other games so they are the ones we have to bug for a sequel. (and it not being a Wii or Facebbok one)

  3. MacBeth says:

    Hurrah for another Macbeth reference ;-)

  4. Schaulustiger says:

    Watched it a few days ago via Kotaku and it was definitely worth sitting through. Sid Meier is still one of my all-time favorite game designers and that is for Civilization 1 alone. Such a masterpiece!

  5. TCM says:

    Sid Meier is in the kind of position I have aspired to since childhood.

  6. Quintin Smith says:

    The story Sid tells of being a game designer “Even when it was illegal” is wonderful.

    • Sobric says:

      Very much this. In fact, all of Sid’s reminiscing was excellent.

  7. stahlwerk says:

    How did he go from empty levels in T-45h to 3d-animated player character and zombies in T-42h? Is he a maya/3ds/blender fiend? Or are they part of the XNA SDK (which i guess he used?)?

    • Sagan says:

      They used an SDK like XNA, and that gives you a lot of functionality. Sid probably already knew how to use all of the XNA stuff, or the concepts were familiar to him, so that he could start using them straight away. That doesn’t take anything away from how impressive the stuff he managed to pull off in that time is.
      edit: I got your question wrong. He probably got the models from some website. The XNA stuff I wrote about above explains how he got his models moving and animated so fast.

  8. DMcCool says:

    Made me smile. Actually facinating watching Sid Meier’s programming brain at work. Sort of wish it was just half an hour of Sid whittling on about the design process and his story.

  9. Jimbo says:

    “Oh no, yours is good too, honestly…. but I just made Pirates!”

    Thanks, Sid.

  10. Uhm says:

    It would be awesome to have a 48 hour game thing with some professional designers, randomly paired up. Has this been done?

  11. Auspex says:

    I really want a professionals’ 48 hour game competition!

    Here are my dream competitors
    Sid Meier
    Will Wright
    Hideo Kojima
    Chris Avellone
    John Carmack
    Roberta Williams
    Tim Schafer
    Gabe Newell

    • DMcCool says:

      Chuck in Warren Spector and we have a deal.

    • Devrey says:

      And George Broussard of Duke Nukem Forever ‘fame’ as well.

    • Auspex says:

      Spector is an excellent pick, can’t believe I forgot him…

    • James G says:

      Chris Sawyer would be an interesting addition to that list, although I’m not sure how his tendency to write in assembly would help with getting the basics in place quickly.

    • Kaltano says:

      Kojima wouldn’t have enough time to finish the games cutscenes in 48 hours.

    • Bhazor says:

      I’ve always felt that success and the resulting self confidence was a terrible thing to have happened to him. I think that we’d be seeing much better games from Lionhead if he was just tucked away somewhere not even knowing what was happening to the games he made. I think a two day competition is the closest we’ll get to that now. I’d love to see Molyneux go back to his bedroom coding days and do a two day game.

      link to More of this.

      link to Less of this.

    • sbs says:

      “Kaltano says:
      April 20, 2010 at 7:19 pm

      Kojima wouldn’t have enough time to finish the games cutscenes in 48 hours.”

      The player wouldn’t have enough time to watch the games cutscenes in 48 hours, more like.

    • DMcCool says:

      Kojima’s game would be the best. No, really. If you look past the films that get shipped with his games he’s done as much for narrative in real-time gaming as any of them other than Gabe. And in 48 hours he wouldn’t waste time on cutscenes :p As much as I prefer the others on the list, it’d be between Carmack and Kojima. Actually come to think of it Carmack is the programming genius and would top everyone in that time limit.

    • Hex says:

      David Braben / Ian Bell.

    • Auspex says:

      @DmcCool: Part of my thinking of having Kojima on the list was that I thought it would be interesting to see what he’d do if he didn’t have time for cut scenes.
      Re Carmack victory: he would almost certainly make the most polished game but I think he has proven many time that he may suffer from a lack of ideas (something which he would appear to not be bothered by).
      In my competition originality would be rewarded as much as polish and efficiency.

      Incidentally I think it’s rather worrying that I’m talking about this competition as if it were an actual possibility.

  12. Daniel Klein says:

    Sid is my personal hero. I remember being 9 years old and looking at the starting title of Railroad Tycoon, seeing Sid’s name there, and going: wow, I wanna do this do! Game designer was my childhood’s version of astronaut.

  13. moyogo says:

    My home town!

    This was fun.

  14. august says:

    Still waiting for Sid Meier’s Will Wright Simulator.

  15. AtkinsSJ says:

    This weekend, there’s a 48-hour contest called Ludum Dare going on. Usually has about 150 entrants, IIRC. It’s good fun.,and worth entering if anybody has the time.

    link to

  16. P7uen says:


    After about 15 years I now know how to pronounce his name.

  17. Amqz says:

    What was Will Ferrell doing in there?

  18. Scott says:

    Sid Meier: An Un-Shit Molyneux.

    • Petethegoat says:

      I already said that about Will Wright, but I think Sid deserves the title more.

    • DMcCool says:

      Its saddens me how angry people get at Molyneux. Of all the great designers people seem to show him no respect whatsoever. Oh well, I guess its the internet, where vitriol rules.

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      Peter Molyneux is among the greatest game designers. He indeed should deserve a little more respect by those who prefer to put his antics ahead of his achievements.

    • malkav11 says:

      The thing about Molyneux is that with most (if not all) of his recent games, he’s promised the world and we’ve gotten something quite different from the promises. I don’t think either Fable is -bad-, for example, but they’re not all that exciting compared to what he claimed they’d do. (Black & White on the other hand really is pretty bad.)

      I gather that he’s also behind quite a few of Bullfrog’s best games, so I’m willing to give him props for those, but I think relatively few people even remember those, much less associate him with them.

    • vagabond says:

      The problem I have with Molyneux is that he stated that fable had a whole bunch of features that it didn’t end up having, and then continued to assert that those features existed after the game had been released and it was patently obvious that they didn’t to anyone that played the game for a few hours.

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      Hmm… I remember false (more, hyped) promises. But I don’t remember anyone lying. Care to elaborate?

    • skinlo says:

      Black and White was a great game!

    • MadMatty says:

      think Molyneuz has been promising a bit more than he and his team could deliver, as of lateley (Fable excepted).
      His list of brilliant, and i do mean brilliant, games is:
      Populous 1 & 2
      Magic Carpet 1 &2

      If you´re to young to have played these, i do understand.

      Think hes been trying hard to push the envelope in whats possible to do, but sometimes setting the goal a little too high and ending up with something half-working like Black & White (which failed coz of horrendous creature AI, which had its moments of genius, but generally worked really badly and buggy.)

  19. RobF says:

    48 hours? Blimey. What’s wrong with these people?

    Real developers only need 2: link to

    Also, Sid is great and a thoroughly enjoyable watch thanks to his presence. I’d have definitely liked a lot more of his story than the game jammery but hey ho, good stuff all the same.

  20. Tei says:

    “Which seems to frazzle their minds in and of itself, but then he goes and designs a game in 48 hours too, which pretty much blows their efforts out of the water. Who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?”

    There are bad programmers, and good programmers, but not old programmers. You get old learning programming, and by the time you are something like a “master”, your stamina is much lower, so you can’t do 14 hours long programming, or stuff like that. But you can do some “burst of programmaing” that can nuke junior programmers efforts. Is not strange.
    Programming is not for old people.
    Another reason, is that most old programmers move up, into management positions, where the pay is better :-)

    • Thirith says:

      Programming != design, though.

    • Skurmedel says:

      Knuth kind of contradicts your theory.

    • jalf says:

      It’s not about “stamina”, it’s about having learned the hard way that staying up all night to code doesn’t actually get you anywhere. You spend 7 hours adding bugs to your code, which you can then spend the morning fixing… Which is a lot less constructive than *sleeping* those 7 hours, and then adding something that *works* in the morning.

    • RedFred says:

      @jalf: Perhaps you should get on the phone to John Carmack…

  21. DMJ says:

    Curses, I’m still not Sid Meier.

  22. 12kill4 says:

    just what I needed… doing an all nighter to bang out a presentation and end up wasting 20 min watching this! Well perhaps wasting isnt really the best word, but this doesnt really have much to do with post-behaviouralism and the design and implimentation of studies :P

  23. Tweakd says:

    Fantastic! It’s great to see such a well produced mini-documentary on gaming. From tic-tac-toe to Civ in one lifetime. He is up there with Carmack in my books.

  24. colinmarc says:

    +1 to (still) wanting to be him when I grow up

  25. Fee says:

    SimMeier will be the first game developed within Sid Meier’s Will Wright Simulator

  26. Megazver says:

    Sid is my favorite celebrity game designer.

  27. Mario Figueiredo says:

    This is so wrong!

    I don’t think anyone, not even Sid, should wear that t-shirt. You don’t wear a Firaxis t-shirt. You display it, goddammit!

  28. Mungrul says:

    He really is a lovely bloke isn’t he?

    • Terraval says:

      Never seen him interviewed before, he really is a nice guy.

  29. Ziv says:

    streaming doesn’t work properly (doesn’t buffer when pausing) is there someplace I can download the video from?

  30. bv728 says:

    Sid’s an amazing designer – if you ever saw SimGolf, that was basically a 48 hour project – he created it while on the beach on vacation, came back, and handed it to the art team 90% code complete. He’s not only got SDKs, he’s got hyooge chunks of re-usable code lying around that he reuses to prototype constantly. For every game we see with his name on it, he develops at least 5 that don’t pan out.

  31. Mo says:

    Not-all-that-well-known fact: Sid Meier *personally* programmed all of Civilization Revolution, the console Civ game for Xbox/PS3/DS/iPhone. He wrote the underlying code to be platform agnostic, and of course, did all the game design, programming, tweaking and AI by himself. The rest of Firaxis was responsible for the rendering and network code.

  32. Tei says:

    Achievement unlocked!

    Getting owned by Sid Meier in a programing contest.

  33. Dan says:


  34. edosan says:

    “Hopefully it’s a sign that this founding father of all we hold dear is currently cruising confidently to Will Wright status.”

    What? Why would Sid aspire to Will wright status? Do we need a “pets” and “Ikea” expansion to Civ 4?

  35. Mr. Versipellis says:

    It’s almost had to look at him as a regular dude after all he’s accomplished XD what a guy

  36. Schmung says:

    Best thing I’ve seen on the intertubes today. What a completely top bloke. I’d love to take part in one of these things, but not been a student for yeeeears.

  37. Seol says:

    “blows their efforts out of the water” ? Sorry but I didn’t see any better gameplay design from Sid than from some of the kids. The only difference is that Sid used a preexisting 3d engine and premade art assets…

    • Schmung says:

      Have to disagree you – Sids game looked far more rewarding – you couldn’t see the zombies until they were in your line sight, there was a mechanics there that restricted you to playing a certain way and it was very solid. By contrast, a lot of the other games had very limited mechanics or huge glaring flaws – like running far too quickly. ’tis the little things that make a lot of difference.

  38. piphil says:

    I’ve spent a fair few hours in the last week playing Civ 2 on my aging laptop – the fact that it’s still playable and makes me think many years after it was released speaks volumes for this guy.

  39. KilgoreTrout XL says:

    @Scott- Are you too young to have played populous or powermonger? They were excellent.

  40. Coins says:

    Awesome video, no doubt. Sid Meier is a hero.
    But! Is it just me or does he seem on the verge of crying in the beginning, and for the rest of the video, looks quite sad. I could just be seeing things, though.

    • honolululu says:

      @Coins says: April 20, 2010 at 9:48 pm

      I teared up just watching it. Awesome video, great story with the alma mater and all.

  41. Demo says:

    To be fair Molyneux was just being open with Fable’s entire development process. He admits it was a mistake for obvious reasons, but you can’t really fault the guy for believing gamers were knowledgeable enough to keep their expectations in check.

  42. mbp says:

    No fair!

    The students seemed to be writing their games from first principles in C++ but Sid was using some kind of high level tool that allowed him to drop in animated characters and such at the touch of a button.

    • medwards says:

      As a programmer I have to say that at a certain age you want to do it all yourself. Partly because you think thats how its done, but also because you want to do everything and customize everything.

      Then you realize that its totally ok to use a library, or SDK, or whatever and that its ok to work at that level of abstraction. You slowly get more and more bored of the tedium of low-level whatevers and better/more APIs/SDKs/libraries is less and less ‘cheating’ in your mind.

      I imagine by Sid’s age he’s found the exact right balance. Or, as someone else mentioned, he just has huge libraries of his own that are perfectly conformant to his programming style which is like “I’m going to use this SDK to save time” but on steroids.

    • LionsPhil says:

      You cannot correctly use a tool which you do not understand, not least as no abstraction is bombproof.

      Doing things from first principles when learning is worthwhile even if it is “wrong”. And then you need to learn which tools aren’t red herrings, because Sturgeon’s Revelation applies as always.

    • jalf says:

      The students didn’t *have* to start from scratch. If they made a bad decision, that’s not “unfair”. It’s their own fault then.

  43. KBZ says:

    The only of the old greats who still retains his sanity.

  44. geldonyetich says:

    12:10 reveals the answer why he didn’t need a “make game” button: he slept at a Holiday Inn the night before.

  45. Joof says:

    Actually, many of the students there were using the Zenipex game development environment to make their games, which at the very least obfuscates any graphics programming you have to do, outside of feeding it models and images.

  46. Michael says:

    He reminds me of comedian Rich Hall. Anyone else? No, thought not.

  47. Twigg says:

    aww , i feel all warm and fuzzy inside now

  48. ChadyG says:

    If you don’t have time, make some!

  49. supaLink says:

    that was great watch, thanks!

  50. MadMatty says:

    cool. I like Sid even tho i not a complete Civ fanatic.
    Spent countless hours on the original Pirates and Railroad thinghy on my amiga :)
    Cheers Sid !