Game Developers Recognized

Awards were announced for some deserving game developers.

The Walk of Game inductees for 2006 have been announced, and the two developers on the list (among games and characters) are Sid Meier and John Carmack. The Walk of Game is located in San Francisco, within Sony’s Metreon, and styled after Hollywood’s walk of fame. Sid and John join the first two (human) inductees, Nolan Bushnell and Shigeru Miyamoto.

It hardly seems necessary to describe the accomplishments of famous developers, nor does it seem fair to reduce their contributions to the game industry to a couple of sentences, but here goes. Sid Meier, now a partner in Firaxis Games, is most famous for his design work on the games Civilization and Pirates, both published by Microprose, of which he was also a founder. John Carmack is most famous for his programming work on the Doom and Quake series, developed by id Software, where he was/is a founding member. (The Walk of Game web site has somewhat longer biographies.)

This seems like a decent time to tell my only Sid Meier story

It was in Las Vegas in January of 1994, during CES (Consumer Electronics Show). This was back when CES was the biggest conference for video games, before its replacement with the launch of E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) in 1995. For context, one needs to know that Spectrum HoloByte, the company for which I worked at the time, had purchased Microprose, Sid Meier’s company (founded with “Wild” Bill Stealey, who had already departed the scene). It is also important to realize that the combined company was still marketed with two separate brands, and we were all anxiously awaiting the overdue announcement of the new name for the combined company.

I was at the conference as the Lead Programmer on Star Trek: The Next Generation, “A Final Unity”, the highest profile game at the booth, or just as a “red shirt” to man the booth; take your pick. Realistically, Sid Meier was at the conference because, well, he’s Sid Meier, though ostensibly he was there to promote his latest title, a non-game program related to music training that is now so obscure, frankly, that I cannot even find a reference. He described it to me at the time and it sounded interesting, though pretty far afield from his successful games. Of course, others confided to me that he was important enough to the new company that he would get to work on the occasional pet project.

Anyway, after our big ST:TNG event at the (then) brand new MGM Grand, all of the combined Spectrum HoloByte/Microprose people at the conference gathered at a local restaurant for a company dinner. I was seated near Sid and several of us were talking. When he found out where I was from, Sid Meier revealed that he was also from Michigan and had attended the University of Michigan. He also mentioned at some point that he was considering what he wanted to do next (a thought process that likely culminated in his co-founding of Firaxis). I suggested that we should get together to form a small division of the company based in Michigan; we could call it MicroSpec. Alas, he chuckled at the joke but missed the serious offer behind it.

I have many other stories about or associated with that trip to Las Vegas, but they will have to wait for a future date. I do not recall ever actually meeting John Carmack (though I may have), but I do have an id Software story for a future entry as well. However, to get back to the theme at hand…

It was also recently announced that Ralph Baer has been honored with the 2004 National Medal of Technology, which is “the highest honor awarded by the President of the United States to America’s leading innovators”, according to the National Medal of Technology web site. Contrary to popular misconception (see first Walk of Game inductees), it was Ralph Baer who invented the first electronic game, the Magnavox Odyssey, which inspired the game Pong (not the other way around).

No, that “2004” above is not a typo. President Bush is clearly a little slow.

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