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Sid Meier's Memoir!: A Life in Computer Games

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The life and career of the legendary developer celebrated as the “godfather of computer gaming,” and creator of Civilization. Over his four-decade career, Sid Meier has produced some of the world’s most popular video games, including Sid Meier’s Civilization, which has sold more than 51 million units worldwide and accumulated more than one billion hours of play. Sid Meier’s The life and career of the legendary developer celebrated as the “godfather of computer gaming,” and creator of Civilization. Over his four-decade career, Sid Meier has produced some of the world’s most popular video games, including Sid Meier’s Civilization, which has sold more than 51 million units worldwide and accumulated more than one billion hours of play. Sid Meier’s Memoir! is the story of an obsessive young computer enthusiast who helped launch a multibilliondollar industry. Writing with warmth and ironic humor, Meier describes the genesis of his influential studio, MicroProse, founded in 1982 after a trip to a Las Vegas arcade, and recounts the development of landmark games, from vintage classics like Pirates! and Railroad Tycoon, to Civilization and beyond. Articulating his philosophy that a videogame should be “a series of interesting decisions,” Meier also shares his perspective on the history of the industry, the psychology of gamers, and fascinating insights into the creative process, including his ten rules of good game design.


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The life and career of the legendary developer celebrated as the “godfather of computer gaming,” and creator of Civilization. Over his four-decade career, Sid Meier has produced some of the world’s most popular video games, including Sid Meier’s Civilization, which has sold more than 51 million units worldwide and accumulated more than one billion hours of play. Sid Meier’s The life and career of the legendary developer celebrated as the “godfather of computer gaming,” and creator of Civilization. Over his four-decade career, Sid Meier has produced some of the world’s most popular video games, including Sid Meier’s Civilization, which has sold more than 51 million units worldwide and accumulated more than one billion hours of play. Sid Meier’s Memoir! is the story of an obsessive young computer enthusiast who helped launch a multibilliondollar industry. Writing with warmth and ironic humor, Meier describes the genesis of his influential studio, MicroProse, founded in 1982 after a trip to a Las Vegas arcade, and recounts the development of landmark games, from vintage classics like Pirates! and Railroad Tycoon, to Civilization and beyond. Articulating his philosophy that a videogame should be “a series of interesting decisions,” Meier also shares his perspective on the history of the industry, the psychology of gamers, and fascinating insights into the creative process, including his ten rules of good game design.

30 review for Sid Meier's Memoir!: A Life in Computer Games

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jason Bergman

    Two things I should get out of the way: 1) I worked with Sid Meier for several years, and have credits in a handful of the games mentioned in this book. 2) Sid Meier is the single greatest designer in the history of video games. This should not be seen a terribly controversial statement, as it's an indisputable fact, an immutable law, like gravity. Anyway. Working with Sid (even at the level I did) was an honor, yes, but it was also an education. You can't intersect with him in any way without co Two things I should get out of the way: 1) I worked with Sid Meier for several years, and have credits in a handful of the games mentioned in this book. 2) Sid Meier is the single greatest designer in the history of video games. This should not be seen a terribly controversial statement, as it's an indisputable fact, an immutable law, like gravity. Anyway. Working with Sid (even at the level I did) was an honor, yes, but it was also an education. You can't intersect with him in any way without coming away with a better knowledge of game design. I quote Sid, his rules, or lessons I've learned from him, constantly (enough so that I'm sure my coworkers, family members, and random people at parties are all sick of hearing them). Thanks to this book, you can too. Many of those rules are in here, albeit in expanded form. Things like the Covert Action rule (never make two mediocre games instead of one good one), or when balancing, always half or double, never increment. Like Sid himself, these are legendary. What you won't get in this book, is a whole lot about his life. He goes into some of the key moments, but usually only through the lens of how it impacted the games they inspired. Sid's had tragedy and loss, but those are brushed aside. The subtitle is a "Life in Computer Games," and that's exactly what this is. A title-by-title look at his career and what he learned from each one. Unsurprisingly, it's pretty great, because even his failures imparted valuable lessons. If you have even a passing interest in the craft of game design, I highly, highly recommend this book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    Sid Meier's Memoir!: A Life in Computer Games, by Sid Meier, is an autobiography written by famous video game designer Sid Meier, creator of the Civilization, Railroad Tycoon, and other famous video game series. The book chronicles Meier's career in video games from his hobbyist pursuit of the medium in its earliest days in the 1980's, to it becoming a career in the 1990's, and the release of Civilization (and its subsequent five official sequels and numerous spin-offs) that would make his name Sid Meier's Memoir!: A Life in Computer Games, by Sid Meier, is an autobiography written by famous video game designer Sid Meier, creator of the Civilization, Railroad Tycoon, and other famous video game series. The book chronicles Meier's career in video games from his hobbyist pursuit of the medium in its earliest days in the 1980's, to it becoming a career in the 1990's, and the release of Civilization (and its subsequent five official sequels and numerous spin-offs) that would make his name a household name in the industry. Meier began his career in programming in its early days, with room spanning computers spitting out ticker tape, and learned about programming and its iterations from this point up. Meier seems to be an individual who gets intensely focused on subjects - possibly to the point of compulsion. He acknowledges this when discussing a game he made called SimGolf - a golfing green management simulator. This compulsion has allowed him the opportunity to become intensely focused on his area of current interest. The design and programming in the original Civ game allowed for the creation of one of the best games series ever made - and to this day still a series that is an absolute blast to play. Meier looks at much of the industry from behind the lens. Although his name is featured on his products, he says he was never really invested in this idea, and only agreed to it at the behest of others. His main passion is designing and programming games, and shies away from both the limelight and the controversies inherent in the gaming industry to this day. He acknowledges much of the corporate stuff here - the buy outs, the copyright issues and so forth, but really it seems he is not so keen on these things. Instead he talks about the principles and ideas behind the games he has made, some of it wistfully philosophical, and some of it deeply pragmatic. His love of Civil War history helped with his Gettysburg! title, his passion for management simulators went into Civilization and Railroad Tycoon, and his belief in low violence games and putting the player first when developing new ideas comes through in how he discusses his working life. This book was really interesting as someone who grew up playing the Civilization series, and indeed has just finally acquired the sixth title in the franchise. These games were extremely appealing to me, and I credit much of my voracious reading habits in history, politics and economics to the influence this series (and others like it, such as SimCity, Europa Universalis and Total War etc.) to this title. Reading about the design decisions, programming background, and underlying artistic philosophies behind this title and Sid Meier's other works was fascinating. The biography itself is even keeled, interesting and discusses the wider industry as a whole, while also focusing with nuance on the life of the writer. This was a very interesting book, and one I would easily recommend to fans of Sid Meier's and the video games series he created.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Vedran Karlić

    Sid Meier's Civilization series is one that shaped my life. I've spent so much time on every game in that series, so I was intrigued to find out what Sid himself is saying in these memoirs. If you are into the video games, I think you'll find it quite interesting. "Oh I know that name, didn't know that's how he started." or "Interesting inspiration for this project." It's all about his journey through the pioneer years of the video game industry. But the book is also quite factual that it can dra Sid Meier's Civilization series is one that shaped my life. I've spent so much time on every game in that series, so I was intrigued to find out what Sid himself is saying in these memoirs. If you are into the video games, I think you'll find it quite interesting. "Oh I know that name, didn't know that's how he started." or "Interesting inspiration for this project." It's all about his journey through the pioneer years of the video game industry. But the book is also quite factual that it can drag a bit, and if you are not into video games I think you should skip it. I enjoyed it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Koen Crolla

    Sid Meier is the normiest person in video games, boring and unremarkable to a fault. Most of these memoirs by or about video game industry "personalities" of the '80s and '90s tend to grab attention mainly because of how shitty the people involved were as people (Bushnell, various Johns) or how excessive their lifestyles were (Mechner, various Johns), but there's no attention-grabbing here: Meier went to an unremarkable university, got an unremarkable job, made games as a hobby, founded a very se Sid Meier is the normiest person in video games, boring and unremarkable to a fault. Most of these memoirs by or about video game industry "personalities" of the '80s and '90s tend to grab attention mainly because of how shitty the people involved were as people (Bushnell, various Johns) or how excessive their lifestyles were (Mechner, various Johns), but there's no attention-grabbing here: Meier went to an unremarkable university, got an unremarkable job, made games as a hobby, founded a very sensible company to make games professionally, worked (relatively) hard, spent his money sensibly and lived a very middle-class life (by '80s standards—definitely comfortably upper-middle by today's, even in the beginning), parted ways almost implausibly amicably with aforementioned company to avoid conflict (!), founded a second company, kept on plugging. No anecdote in this book is going to make headlines; the most outlandish ones involve Bill Stealey, MicroProse's co-founder, and even they are so forgettable (even the time he bought a company fighter plane) that I only remembered halfway into them that I'd heard them before. Even the founding of Firaxis, which seemed like a very dramatic and dynamic move to me while it was actually happening, turns out to be fundamentally beige. (I don't mean to oversell Meier's non-shittiness: the normieness cuts both ways, and this is obviously still the guy who felt and continues to feel happy to put his name on Sid Meier's Colonization twice (though that's Brian Reynolds' brainchild), thinks his many military games are basically apolitical unless they're about a conflict in living American memory like Conflict in Vietnam was, and thought working for a military weapons manufacturer for a few months (as a payroll programmer) "felt really cool".) If you're a particular fan of some of the games that have had Sid Meier's name attached to them (most of which he actually worked on, even), the book does cover most of the ground you would want it to cover, and it's certainly not an exercising read. As the years progress, details get scarcer, though: there's a lot about the games before Civilization—the boring flight sim games, the boring tactical war games, Sid Meier's Pirates!, Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon, &c.—but after that only the games that were particularly close to Meier's heart get much attention. There's still a good bit about Sid Meier's C.P.U. Bach, Sid Meier's Gettysburg!, Sid Meier's SimGolf, and that cancelled dinosaur game, but Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri (by far the most memorable thing Firaxis ever did, as far as I'm concerned) only gets a quick name-check, and some of the later ones only get a listing in the chapter heading, nothing else. Obviously there have been a lot of games, and Meier presumably wasn't as closely involved in the later ones as he was at MicroProse, but at 278 pages it's also not like they were running out of paper. Regardless, Sid Meier being who he is makes this memoir an important piece of video game history even if it has some gaps or is fundamentally unexciting, and I suppose it is good to be reminded that being unexciting is still actually possible. For me, its biggest contribution is that I now have an irrefutable thing to point to whenever some Redditor repeats that myth about the Gandhi underflow bug nuke thing.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mindaugas Mozūras

    We are surrounded by decisions, and therefore games, in everything we do. I finished this memoir in five days. If not for the side effects of a COVID-19 vaccine, I might've been finished reading the book even faster. Sid Meier's Memoir! was a fun and easy read, with occasional deep insights into the fundamentals of game design. If you've ever played a Sid Meier game, you should consider reading it. We are surrounded by decisions, and therefore games, in everything we do. I finished this memoir in five days. If not for the side effects of a COVID-19 vaccine, I might've been finished reading the book even faster. Sid Meier's Memoir! was a fun and easy read, with occasional deep insights into the fundamentals of game design. If you've ever played a Sid Meier game, you should consider reading it.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Geoff

    The first time I played a Sid Meier game it was the day after my last final in my first semester of my freshman year of college, My neighbor, an engineering student, had the still relatively rare luxury of a personal computer, and showed me his new computer game: "Civilization" a game where you explore, build cities, research science and technology, trade, and negotiate and fight other civilizations. I played it for the next 12 hours. This is an breezy personal history of the video game industry, The first time I played a Sid Meier game it was the day after my last final in my first semester of my freshman year of college, My neighbor, an engineering student, had the still relatively rare luxury of a personal computer, and showed me his new computer game: "Civilization" a game where you explore, build cities, research science and technology, trade, and negotiate and fight other civilizations. I played it for the next 12 hours. This is an breezy personal history of the video game industry, told by the man who has made some of the most fun and addicting games out there. It's most interesting for its look into his general design philosophy ("find the fun"), his discussion of game prototypes, the way he approached different genres, and his candidness in describing both his successes and the sheer number of things he got wrong about game trends and technology ("3D and multiplayer are a flash in the pan"). I liked how the book was structured by game rather than by year, but I would have loved to learn more about the design choices and processes he and his teams went through to make the games. While he does include some high level insights ("find the fun" & "good games are a series of interesting choices") he doesn't go very deep into specific games, the industry, or frankly himself. It was a fun memoir, but it was more like reminiscing with an old friend over a beer about good times past. I'm not sure that those who haven't invested countless hours in his games will enjoy it as much as I did. **Thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    A great look at the career of one of the most influential developers in video games. Sid takes us on a journey through not only his games, but how he grew as a person over the years, and how this personal growth then fed back into his career. There are ton of interesting anecdotes, like I had always wondered how Avalon Hill went from king of strategy board games to a Hasbro subsidiary, or how there's more (or less) to the infamous nuclear warlord Gandhi glitch than the story that routinely makes A great look at the career of one of the most influential developers in video games. Sid takes us on a journey through not only his games, but how he grew as a person over the years, and how this personal growth then fed back into his career. There are ton of interesting anecdotes, like I had always wondered how Avalon Hill went from king of strategy board games to a Hasbro subsidiary, or how there's more (or less) to the infamous nuclear warlord Gandhi glitch than the story that routinely makes the rounds online. This was a wonderful read and I highly recommend it not only to the gamers of the world, but to anyone with even the slightest interest in computing history.

  8. 4 out of 5

    SandyKay

    As a fan of history and memoirs, I found this book interesting. As a hobby reader, I found this book a bit dry and tedious. For anyone who is a big fan of Sid Meier and any of his many video games, this is a great book to pick up. Achievement Unlocked: Write book review!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kyle Erickson

    Thoroughly enjoyable memoir from a man responsible for a lot of games I've loved. I didn't expect to be so fascinated by all his commentary about the nature of gaming and how games have progressed. Definitely recommended for anybody who loves gaming, especially computer games. Thoroughly enjoyable memoir from a man responsible for a lot of games I've loved. I didn't expect to be so fascinated by all his commentary about the nature of gaming and how games have progressed. Definitely recommended for anybody who loves gaming, especially computer games.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Myles

    A very enjoyable read for anyone interested in the man behind civilisation. His passion and love of creativity shines through and is very inspiring.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Johnny

    Although I am not mentioned by name in the book, Sid Meier’s Memoir! was particularly fascinating to me because I lived it—our paths crossing many times. Unlike Sid, I have “cheated death” in the Miss Microprose with Bill Stealey, his longtime business partner. Like Sid, I was at the first Computer Game Developers Conference outside of Chris Crawford’s ranch. Although Sid was one of the Legends of Game Design at a later conference (p. 62), I was the one interviewing him in front of the crowd of Although I am not mentioned by name in the book, Sid Meier’s Memoir! was particularly fascinating to me because I lived it—our paths crossing many times. Unlike Sid, I have “cheated death” in the Miss Microprose with Bill Stealey, his longtime business partner. Like Sid, I was at the first Computer Game Developers Conference outside of Chris Crawford’s ranch. Although Sid was one of the Legends of Game Design at a later conference (p. 62), I was the one interviewing him in front of the crowd of that plenary keynote session. And, Sid was incredibly gracious with his time to Alan Emrich and me when we wrote Sid Meier’s Civilization, Rome on 640K A Day. In fact, I think Alan kept him on the phone for at least an hour every day. Sorry, Sid. And I can remember meeting with an atypically dispirited Sid Meier during the Magic: The Gathering development period (see why on p. 172). So, you can write off my high rating on this book as bias if you like. But if you care about computer games and how they evolved; if you wish you could get into a designer’s head as he performs summary (not detailed) post-mortems on both his great successes and great efforts; if you wish you understood how other elements in the industry and game technology drove release schedules and project choices; and if you wish you could have all of this delivered with Sid’s dry wit and low-key personal delivery, Sid Meier’s Memoir! is another of his major successes. Of course, just as Sid’s great successes have been tied to many collaborators over the years (Andy Hollis, Bruce Shelley, and Arnold Hendricks to name a few), this book has marvelous pacing and has not lost Sid’s voice in his collaboration with Jennifer Lee Noonan. At times, though, one gets the feeling that some of Sid’s notes were shoveled into the book in a bizarre historical present phase. For example, on p. 154, Sid talks about “still” having red caps around the office and wearing them for “good luck” just prior to going “gold” with a release, even though he had already established his own company different from Microprose by the time this volume was published. Yes, I could just hear Sid lamenting (on p. 157): “My entire philosophy of gaming was that the player should be the star and the designer should be invisible, yet I was the guy who kept ending up on the box.” He meant it, too. Throughout the book, he gives credit to Dan Bunten/Dani Bunten Berry (calling M.U.L.E. “…which many consider to be one of the best computer games of all time, …” (p. 95), Walter Bright and Mark Baldwin (p. 190) for Empire: Game of the Century and how the way it uncovered the map influenced Civ (p. 190), Will Wright for his influence on Sid Meier’s Railroad Tycoon (p. 110), as well as Brian Reynolds for doing the “real” work on Sid Meier’s Colonization and Sid Meier’s Civilization II. I also have to give Sid “kudos” for his extremely accurate praise of Bing Gordon, one of the earliest pioneers at Electronic Arts and one of the smartest guys I’ve ever known in bridging concerns between marketing and gameplay (I still give him credit for being the guy who saved The Sims when it was on the cusp of success vs. failure, but that’s a different story.). [Amazingly, as powerful as he became, Bing was always one of the nicest guys I met in the industry. Lots of great people! Bing at or near the top of the list!] There are so many jewels in this volume, even though I had a privileged seat through much of the history it entails, that I was delighted to find it and even had to take notes on many of the concepts. The ones I share here should not be taken as exhaustive or even thorough in any sense. These are just points that resonated particularly well with me. Indeed, I had only reached the bottom of page 2 when I wished that, when I had been teaching game design, I had been able to synthesize Sid’s approach to game design as well as he did when he explained that game design was an outward-looking mindset. As a result, “We are surrounded by decisions, and therefore games, in everything we do. ‘Interesting’ might be subject to personal taste to some degree, but the gift of agency—that is, the ability of players to exert free will over their surroundings rather than obediently following a narrative—is what sets games apart from other media, ….” Or, as Sid summarizes later in the book: “Good games teach us that there are tradeoffs to everything, actions lead to outcomes, and the chance to try again is almost always out there.” (p. 187) Again, “I think having a slightly obsessive personality is a useful thing. On the one hand, it keeps me focused on the quality of my work, but on the other, it provides critical sources of outside inspiration, which often contribute in surprising ways.” (p. 218) During the process of building Sid Meier’s Civilization, I once harassed Sid about some of his design choices (Yeah, I know—the gall!) and he responded that they had tried many more choices but, ultimately, “It wasn’t fun, so we took it out.” I may not have the words exactly as he said them, but that’s the story I’ve told to design students over the years. He puts it significantly more elegantly in Sid Meier’s Memoir! when he talks about the dangers of giving players too many choices so that they become frustrated and quit. “It was my job, I thought, to whittle down the options and present only the best ones to the player.” (p. 73) He goes on to say, “So then: no wrong answers, and more than one right answer, but not too many.” (p. 73) Speaking of “fun,” his brutal awareness of a flaw in one prototype where he had provided a key to automate a function reads: “…if you have to offload the supposedly fun part of your game, that’s a pretty good indication that you’re confused about what fun is.” (p. 202) I wish I had emphasized the “random” problem more vividly when I was teaching. I used to rant about “unfair puzzles,” but Sid cites the bridge problem in Sid Meier’s Railroad Tycoon where Bruce Shelley (yes, the same one who designed Age of Empired) kept complaining about his bridges being washed out. That was when, “The key difference between a gameplay challenge and a betrayal, I realized, was whether the player had a fighting chance to avoid it. So rather than eliminate the flooding, I introduced different kinds of bridges.” (pp. 113-114) And, having had many design students (well, design groups really) who tried to shoehorn too many different types of game mechanics together, I would loved to have been able to quote Sid as saying, “The notion that ‘one good game is better than two great games’ was such a revelation that it became known in m mind as ‘The Covert Action Rule.” (p. 121) he talks about it in terms of finding a game’s center of gravity today, but I’m old enough to love its old name. Interestingly enough, I had never really noticed an animation in Sid Meier’s Railroad Tycoon that was particularly important to Sid. Apparently, when trains are about to crash to their ruin because of washed-out bridges, the engineers and firemen always successfully bail out. I was probably so consumed by the disaster that I didn’t notice. But it is very consistent with Sid’s perspective on violence: “The world is often a very negative place, and I’d rather push it in the opposite direction whenever I can. There’s an argument to be made that by exposing the unpleasant reality of violence, you can inspire others to push against it, too, but this generally requires a removed perspective, rather than the inherent first-person nature of games. It’s hard to claim that our products are immersive, but somehow insist that the experience has no impact.” (p. 99) Of course, I loved Sid’s philosophy about technology: “I generally saw technology in terms of progress, rather than limitations, and lived in a nearly perpetual state of excitement over what we could accomplish.” (p. 181) Another clever, but insightful, quip comes shortly after Sid confesses that he had even been late to his own meetings on the game because of playing the game: “The spectrum from interesting, to compelling, to addicting is long and nuanced.” (p. 196) The other side of technology was reflected when Sid wrote, “Most bug fixes are not about broken code, they’re about closing design loopholes that players refuse to ignore.” (p. 161) One “bug fix” that wasn’t a bug is described in detail concerning development of Sid Meier’s Civilization: Revolution. Even though it is possible to lose battles where you outnumber your opponent considerably, the code reduces the randomness so that one couldn’t lose at higher than 2:1 odds. But, when people complained about losing 2:1 battles in a sequence, they ended taking the previous battle into consideration so that you couldn’t lose a 2:1 battle twice in a row. “We made it less random, so that it could feel more random.” (p. 247) I loved Sid’s admission that he thought Brian Reynolds was wrong when he opened up Sid Meier’s Civilization II for modding. Sid felt gamers would do a poor job of modification and blame the designers or, conversely, push the designers out of a job—limiting future possibilities. “I was so wrong, on all counts. The strength of the modding community is, instead, the very reason the series survived at all.” (p. 164) More importantly, he observed on the same page: “What I didn’t see at the time is that imagination never diminishes reality; it only heightens it.” Another great observation in this book is so true to the Sid Meier I’ve known over the years. “The truth is I never really give up on anything. The ideas just sit in stasis, sometimes for decades, until I can figure out the right way to make them work.” (p. 201). One piece of wisdom I had forgotten, though either he or another Microprose veteran seems to have told me. That was the secret to making sequels in a series of games. Since life often follows the “Rule of Threes,” it isn’t surprising that Sid uses a “Rule of Thirds” (though he didn’t capitalize it). “One-third of the previous version stays in place, one-third is updated, and one-third is completely new.” (p. 228) I hope those who read this little review summary find it to be both useful and entertaining as I did in reading Sid Meier’s Memoir! to begin with. Thank you, Jennifer Lee Noonan for putting Sid’s reminiscences together in such a delightful narrative, and thank you, Sid, for sharing some introspective thoughts and biographical anecdotes we’d never have otherwise known.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Erik Nygren

    Nice wholesome biography about navigating life as a creative and making a living of it. Obviously a lot of the book is about game design but I think a lot of Sid’s general philosophies about what makes ideas worth pursuing, what to cut back on, etc; are quite universal for any creative pursuit. This book spends an equal amount of time on successful ventures as it does on less successful ones, and comes across as honest and grounded because of it. It was fascinating to read about the creative proce Nice wholesome biography about navigating life as a creative and making a living of it. Obviously a lot of the book is about game design but I think a lot of Sid’s general philosophies about what makes ideas worth pursuing, what to cut back on, etc; are quite universal for any creative pursuit. This book spends an equal amount of time on successful ventures as it does on less successful ones, and comes across as honest and grounded because of it. It was fascinating to read about the creative process that resulted in the game Civilization. Which to me, is probably the greatest video game of all time, and conceptually so left-field. If I think about the idea on paper and if it had been up to me, I would not have funded that endeavour lol

  13. 5 out of 5

    Pete

    Sid Meier’s Memoir!: A Life in Computer Games (2020) by Sid Meier is an account of Meier’s life and his work creating computer games. It’s a very worthy addition to the growing number of books about game creators and their games. It is a ‘just one more chapter’ kind of book. Meier recounts how he started making games at University and went on to start making games he could sell. He then met “Wild” Bill Stealey and the two formed Microprose. They made various games and made the Flight Simulators t Sid Meier’s Memoir!: A Life in Computer Games (2020) by Sid Meier is an account of Meier’s life and his work creating computer games. It’s a very worthy addition to the growing number of books about game creators and their games. It is a ‘just one more chapter’ kind of book. Meier recounts how he started making games at University and went on to start making games he could sell. He then met “Wild” Bill Stealey and the two formed Microprose. They made various games and made the Flight Simulators that Microprose became well known for. Meier programmed and designed the games will Stealey sold them. Throughout the book Meier writes about his life and how he came to the ideas that inspired his games. The chapters in the book mostly describe a game or two that Meier was making at the time. The surprising and much loved Pirates! from 1987 is described as are the turns toward strategy first with Railroad Tycoon and then the superlative Civilization. Meier writes about how the various versions of Civilization have changed and how different people, with his advice, have changed each version of the game. There are also some chapters on some little known creations of Meier’s such as CPU Bach that few but the most hardcore of fans would know about. There are also some fascinating insights into what players expect from random number generators and the odds they face. Sid Meier’s Memoir is very satisfying for anyone who has played much of any of the Civilization games. It would also be well worth reading for anyone who is interesting in creating their own games. It’s a highly enjoyable read.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sebastian

    Entertaining read on the achievements of a great game designer. Good book no matter whether you're a video game enthusiast or just interested in the most popular strategy game franchise. Entertaining read on the achievements of a great game designer. Good book no matter whether you're a video game enthusiast or just interested in the most popular strategy game franchise.

  15. 5 out of 5

    David

    Touching, practical and rooted in practical game design, a pleasure to read with quite a few take aways.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Samarth Mediratta

    Take the time to appreciate the possibilities, and make sure all of your decisions are interesting ones.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jimmy

    Often funny, often wise, always a valuable look into a life of creative endeavor. No matter your art, there are lessons here for you.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mike Arvela

    A nice read, if somewhat shallow. Would’ve gladly read a lot more on the details and anecdotes, but there really weren’t many.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    Sid Meier, exclamation point or no, is one of the most celebrated and influential game designers of our time. From Pac-Man knockoffs, through Red Storm Rising, to the venerable Civilization series, this is his story. My earliest memory of a Sid Meier(!) game is playing Pirates! as a young lad with my cousin and the two of us howling with laughter as we foolishly took on a Spanish war galleon sporting several hundred soldiers with a Dutch sloop sporting a minuscule crew and pulled off the capture Sid Meier, exclamation point or no, is one of the most celebrated and influential game designers of our time. From Pac-Man knockoffs, through Red Storm Rising, to the venerable Civilization series, this is his story. My earliest memory of a Sid Meier(!) game is playing Pirates! as a young lad with my cousin and the two of us howling with laughter as we foolishly took on a Spanish war galleon sporting several hundred soldiers with a Dutch sloop sporting a minuscule crew and pulled off the capture as we spent long minutes circling it and peppering it with cannon fire. That was the magic of these games - the fact that your decisions could be foolhardy, but you could make them work and either way they’d be fun. Sid Meier lived and breathed the idea of interesting decisions, and continues to do so, when it comes to games and this memoir breaks down his own decisions made along the way and why he made them. It’s a delight of a story, especially at the start. Meier is a consummate storyteller, neither grandiose nor drunk on his own legacy, coming off instead as merely an affable guy who also happens to be a bit of a genius when it comes to game design. The founding of MicroProse, his original company, is the stuff of legend, probably because it features two of them - Meier and Bill Steeley. Steeley and Meier couldn’t be any more different than chalk and cheese, but the pairing turned out to be a peanut butter and jelly combination. Early gaming truly was the Wild West and Steeley’s antics and bravado inject fuel into the story, with his role as the one who dealt with the day to day while Meier did what he did best. Steeley always seems just that little bit extra, some of these stories are nearly beyond belief, so it’s no shock that the book slows down a notch when the two have drifted apart. As a memoir of what led to what and the origin of things like the infamous ‘Nuclear Gandhi’ meme, the book is top notch and, while not a comprehensive look at every game, it certainly gives depth to just about all of them and focuses very squarely on his biggest hits. It’s a fascinating look at how one man’s theories on game design evolved and took an entire industry with it. The reach of his influence can’t really be overstated, yet Meier himself would just shrug and say he did what felt like fun for the player. In a way, his modesty is a hilariously sharp contrast to another superlative book on gaming history - Masters of Doom. The biggest ding is that it does dip a little once Seeley’s gone, as I noted, but there’s always another story about Nintendo’s localization teams or how percentages work and then don’t work to liven it back up. It’s hard to match the crazy of those early days once corporate gets involved, which is practically alluded to in the book anyway. There is one other thing that could be an issue for some, in that noted transgender game designer Dani Bunten gets a number of very loving mentions, but is often referred to as Dan Bunten as well. However, Meier makes it quite clear that Bunten herself referred to her previous works and life with the masculine form, so it’s not truly dead naming, but the explanation for this should have come prior to the discussion of Bunten’s work rather than after, for readers who might be particularly sensitive to that. As a celebration of Sid Meier, this does okay, largely because the man does not want to be celebrated, but to instead spread praise to those who worked along with him and his contemporaries. As a celebration of his games, it’s a treat. 4 stars - a genuinely nostalgic and wonderfully charming look at the life and times of a self-effacing designer whose work not only contains multitudes, but inspired them as well. A great read, especially if you have any interest in the subject matter.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Petti

    I have spent hundreds of hours playing Sid Meier's Civilization IV. 515.6 hours, to be exact. And that's only according to my Steam account; I've probably played dozens more hours on my old laptop. Odds are, you've also played a video game created or inspired by Sid Meier. Strategy games, tycoon games, adventure games, games with minigames in them — Meier pioneered all of these genres. So when he published a memoir, I jumped at a chance to get inside the head of a man responsible for so much of m I have spent hundreds of hours playing Sid Meier's Civilization IV. 515.6 hours, to be exact. And that's only according to my Steam account; I've probably played dozens more hours on my old laptop. Odds are, you've also played a video game created or inspired by Sid Meier. Strategy games, tycoon games, adventure games, games with minigames in them — Meier pioneered all of these genres. So when he published a memoir, I jumped at a chance to get inside the head of a man responsible for so much of modern culture. It was definitely worth it, and I finished the whole book in a day. There was no "Eureka!" moment for Meier, only the slow accumulation of progress, a point he comes back to again and again. As a young adult, he programmed the machines in his university computer lab to play tic-tac-toe, and he distracted all of his coworkers by writing a rudimentary Star Trek game on company computers. Eventually, he realized he could make money designing games. But Meier didn't suddenly quit his job one day — first he started working on games nights and weekends, then left work to game design part time, and only turned gaming into a full-time gig once the sales started to come in. Similarly, modern video games developed over time, and Meier was there for a lot of it. The features we now take for granted (like 3D landscapes or split-screen multiplayer) were developed bit-by-bit, as computers got more advanced and game designers built off of each other's work. Meier started with Mario-style platform jumpers, then moved on to (very basic) flight simulators; gradually, the games focused less on combat and more on strategy. His games started to give players more control over the storyline, then began to center around building the world itself, most famously in Railroad Tycoon and Civilization. Meier himself comes off as a total nerd, a Baby Boomer par excellence, and a fun guy to hang out with. He approaches life with a real earnestness, and is having a great time making a living from creating games for other people. These days, white Boomer culture gets a bad rap, but Meier shows how its wholesome nerdy side — from model trains to pirate movies — can also shine through. And despite his Cold War upbringing, he is now fairly reflective about the purpose of his work and the kinds of narratives he pushes. The one thing that hasn't changed very much is Meier's philosophy on making games: "find the fun." Take something from life or history, extract the "interesting choices," and figure out how to present them as a challenge without being too frustrating. Again, all of this unfolds over time, as the game designer puts together a prototype, then refines it by slowly adding aspects to the game and testing them *a lot.* "There is no map before you've explored the wilderness, and no overriding artistic vision on Day One," Meier writes. "There's just the hard, consistent work of making something a little better each day, and being as efficient as possible in your discovery of what it's going to turn out to be."

  21. 5 out of 5

    Claudia

    First, thank you to W.W. Norton for providing copies of Mr. Meier's book for a GoodRead giveaway that I was fortunate enough to win a copy. When you mention Sid Meier, automatically the game of Civilization comes to mind. But Mr. Meier has created many more games that have been played over the decades of his career and he goes into not only his creative process but how computer technology and graphics have changed over the years as well. From Pong through the Sims through The Legend of Zelda to D First, thank you to W.W. Norton for providing copies of Mr. Meier's book for a GoodRead giveaway that I was fortunate enough to win a copy. When you mention Sid Meier, automatically the game of Civilization comes to mind. But Mr. Meier has created many more games that have been played over the decades of his career and he goes into not only his creative process but how computer technology and graphics have changed over the years as well. From Pong through the Sims through The Legend of Zelda to Doom. From arcade games to PC games to console games. Flight simulators and multi-players and learning how to create a golf course. Sid Meier was an enthusiastic computer game designer that has near-mystical status among game designers and this book goes into his thoughts and the mechanics of game development. And he makes it look easy. Well, as easy as the limited computer memory and RAM that was available on the earliest personal computers. It was his early partner that was an avid pilot that got him into many of the flight simulators but it was his own curiosity that led to releases on railroads, pirates, music, golf and taking our civilization to other worlds. It's also an insight into how internet/game intellectual property has grown, the every widening consolidation and merger of the once-independent designing companies, gaming addiction, the possibility of burnout and letting go of an idea that really, really doesn't work. Throughout the book are little "Achievement Unlocked" notices. Most are amusing while others will make you think for a moment. - "Everybody But the Biker - Visit the YMCA with a soldier, a railroad worker, a police captain, Pocatello, and Blazing Saddles" (connected with a memory of his youth and Star Trek). - "To Infinity and Beyond - Collect a piggy bank, toy soldiers, T. Rex, and Mr. Potato Head" (when talking about his failed dinosaur game) - "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - gather four moustaches" (pirate-land villains had twirlable moustaches) - "Life is Short - Finish a chapter in less than one page" (no explanation necessary) But it's the human connection that he feels is the most important. To find the fun in everything one does. To discover the joy, to appreciate possibilities and - as he said at the end of the book - "make sure all of your decisions are interesting ones." 2020-246

  22. 5 out of 5

    Brent Woo

    Unexpectedly solid. Civilization is probably the game franchise I've played the most after the Sims and Simcity-type games; I've been an "avid casual" player since Civ 4. This was a great read to get to know the personal life of the guy responsible for me spending hundreds of hours after midnight, building empires and usually going for Culture Victories. Sid seems like a nice guy. I say "unexpected", because there were several very pleasantly surprising chapters in the memoir. I didn't know much Unexpectedly solid. Civilization is probably the game franchise I've played the most after the Sims and Simcity-type games; I've been an "avid casual" player since Civ 4. This was a great read to get to know the personal life of the guy responsible for me spending hundreds of hours after midnight, building empires and usually going for Culture Victories. Sid seems like a nice guy. I say "unexpected", because there were several very pleasantly surprising chapters in the memoir. I didn't know much about the guy at all, so everything was going to be news to me, but i didn't expect, for example, his discussion on gamer culture and gender issues. He talks about how game and gamer culture is at once toxically regressive—at the male-dominated conventions and competitions—but also weirdly progressive—with legendary female lead characters like Lara Croft of Tomb Raider and Samus of Metroid. He also had a trans colleague early on (so, what, the 90s?) and he recalls among the professionals the colleague was accepted just like anyone else. The really big surprise was chapter 13: a chapter on BACH! Invertible counterpoint! Temperament! Apparently Sid Meier is a huge Bach fan and created "C. P. U. Bach", a music generator game. This is awesome. I have a side interest in the idea of A.I. mimicking human music composition. And this was a super early example of that idea, a video game that would perform some music you generated given certain parameters. It turned out to be a flop, but I loved the passion he had in this "side project". Aside from that, lots of nice life lessons from a life well-lived. As in most things, there is a lot of annoying politics and business in his industry, and he tells a lot of stories of buyouts and copyright lawsuits. Just because games are "fun" doesn't mean they're exempt from all that adult stuff. He doesn't like committees, for business or design. "Separately is how I work best with people". He encourages wannabe game designers to have interests outside of games, for you never know where inspiration will come from and its useful to draw on wide experience (e.g. his story was figuring out a good sound for plunking down tiles in one of his games -- a generic plunk sound would be repetitive and boring, so he had the tiles sound out Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring with every tile placed, and players loved it.)

  23. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    "Just one more turn." A breezy and nostalgic trip through 80s/90s computer games. For nerdy people of a certain age (read: late Gen-X ers), the name Sid Meier holds a special place in their hearts as the devourer of so much free time in the early 90s. Meier's design of classic computer games like Civilization, Pirates!, and Railroad Tycoon (and their various sequels) were instrumental in popularizing the notion of "just one more turn" where before long, a gamer would start to hear birds chirping "Just one more turn." A breezy and nostalgic trip through 80s/90s computer games. For nerdy people of a certain age (read: late Gen-X ers), the name Sid Meier holds a special place in their hearts as the devourer of so much free time in the early 90s. Meier's design of classic computer games like Civilization, Pirates!, and Railroad Tycoon (and their various sequels) were instrumental in popularizing the notion of "just one more turn" where before long, a gamer would start to hear birds chirping as dawn approaches when it was only 9pm just a few hours before. This memoir knows where its bread is buttered and focuses on the games. While there are more traditional autobiographical elements and snippets of Meier's personal life -- it's all in service of the development of the next game. Structurally and narratively, it's the right choice. The average reader probably doesn't care about the formative years of Meier's childhood -- but they do care about the decision to make Civ a turn based rather than real-time strategy game and why a spearman could inexplicably defeat a tank. Memoir! does a fine job of balancing the personal (as related to game design) with the professional. It also does a good job of not being hyper-technical on the professional side. This isn't a history of coding so we don't get overly technical descriptions of coding languages or errors or scripts. Coding and its challenges occur behind the scenes and it makes for a more accessible book. Memoir! lets Meier explain in some depth his philosophy of game design. His focus of always putting the player (rather than the programmer's tricks) first is insightful as well as his commitment to giving the player the chance to make interesting choices being what makes a game. Finally, Meier is clearly an artist who believes that games are art and that gaming can provide meaning and make a positive contribution to peoples' lives. Meier can be quite eloquent in these passages and it's endearing and refreshing. Overall, Memoir! is an enjoyable slice of gaming nostalgia that scratches just the right itch. Just one more page....

  24. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    Dear readers, I cannot tell you how much of my life has been spent in worlds of Sid Meier’s making – discovering his talent for historically-grounded but still-compelling gameplay in Gettysburg, becoming a convert in full with Civilization III, and then exploring more of his works with Pirates and Railroads. His name is a legend in the industry, for he was there from the beginning – and at least since the 1980s, that name has been used to sell games, a guarantee of quality. Although this wasn’t Dear readers, I cannot tell you how much of my life has been spent in worlds of Sid Meier’s making – discovering his talent for historically-grounded but still-compelling gameplay in Gettysburg, becoming a convert in full with Civilization III, and then exploring more of his works with Pirates and Railroads. His name is a legend in the industry, for he was there from the beginning – and at least since the 1980s, that name has been used to sell games, a guarantee of quality. Although this wasn’t Meier’s idea, he’s apparently learned to live with it, using the convention playfully for the title of his memoir. The same playfulness is present throughout this chronicle of his life in the gaming industry, as the text is peppered with literary Achievements, like having read the word “Civilization” a hundred times.  It is as its subtitle declares, “a life in games”: the focus is on Meier’s work, not his personal life, though one inspires the other. We learn about how and why Meier and his coworkers were inspired to try a particular game or challenge, the difficulties of realizing their vision, and trivia about the games themselves. It’s at its strongest in the 1980s and 1990s, though, with increasingly little detail on later titles that he was linked to only in a supervisory role. The biggest disappointment is his lack of commentary on his collaboration with Will Wright, another gaming legend: the two have a similar interest in modeling complex systems like cities, train networks, skyscraper ecosystems, etc in computers, and making said systems fun to tinker with, so I would have loved more content about their joint project, SimGolf. Throughout the work, Meier comments on his approach to programming games – above all, make the player the star and their experience fun – and his thoughts on the creative process. Although I missed all of his early titles (not even being aware of computer games in the 1990s), someone who’s thoroughly enjoyed every title I’ve tried by him, this was an enormously rewarding book with surprising details – like Meier’s professional connections to both Robin Williams and Tom Clancy. 

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jake

    I've been a fan of Civ since sometime in the mid 90s, when I decided the computer games I was playing were too simple for a third grader of my caliber and asked my dad to teach me how to play the one about world history that he would play into the night. Since then, I've played Civ 1, II, and IV extensively. When I saw that Sid Meier, the mind behind the series, was writing a book it intrigued me. When I saw that the cover was a direct reference to the intro scene of Civ, I knew I had to read it I've been a fan of Civ since sometime in the mid 90s, when I decided the computer games I was playing were too simple for a third grader of my caliber and asked my dad to teach me how to play the one about world history that he would play into the night. Since then, I've played Civ 1, II, and IV extensively. When I saw that Sid Meier, the mind behind the series, was writing a book it intrigued me. When I saw that the cover was a direct reference to the intro scene of Civ, I knew I had to read it. Reading about the early days of computer game design is very fun. I liked reading about the potential that different groups of people saw in the growing industry of computers. I also liked reading about the many, many non-Civ games Meier was involved with. I'm going to be spending a lot of time on the MS-DOS archive over the next couple weeks, I'm sure. Also, the book has "achievements." How cool is that?! Assigning a grade to this book can be tricky. First, I'm just gonna say, if you aren't into video games (especially strategy games) there isn't much in this book for you. But an interest in gaming isn't enough, you have to be interested in old games. If your idea of "retro gaming" involves Modern Warfare on the XBox 360, I don't think you're going to be interested in ancient history of transistors and ASCII art that Sid describes. Secondly, this book is extremely light on non-game content. For comparison: I just read Bruce Springsteen's book. He talks so much about his family and growing up, and with a really well-developed prose style, that I could recommend the book (or at least the first half of it) to someone who doesn't care for his music. Sid, on the other hand, is extremely light on personal details. Maybe that's how he wanted it. But I would have been interested in hearing more about growing up in Michigan as the child of immigrants, or getting a job in the tech industry during its infancy, or what Wild Bill and Bruce Shelley are up to these days. So I'm gonna rate it 4 stars. Turns out this really is a book you can judge by its cover. If you see it and "get" it, read it now and you won't be sorry. Anyone else can skip it. I read an ARC, which may differ from the final version.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Vicky Hunt

    To Write the Ultimate Strategy Game Sid Meier is known for his aversion to violence in video games and has built a legacy of games around the idea of a level of quality of games on which he feels comfortable having his name. In this well written memoir, Sid covers his own personal history of game development. In the process, he gets into a bit of the theory and psychology of gaming. Speaking of gaming and the lifelong gamer, he says, "The question 'When did you start?' would be better framed as ' To Write the Ultimate Strategy Game Sid Meier is known for his aversion to violence in video games and has built a legacy of games around the idea of a level of quality of games on which he feels comfortable having his name. In this well written memoir, Sid covers his own personal history of game development. In the process, he gets into a bit of the theory and psychology of gaming. Speaking of gaming and the lifelong gamer, he says, "The question 'When did you start?' would be better framed as 'Why didn't you stop?'" Sid's games come in a few different genres: Sims, adventure games, strategy. But, none of them are as overwhelmingly popular as the Civilization series, a historical simulation strat game which has that sense of aggregated simplicity that draws the gamer into hour after hour of 'one more turn.' "Imagination never diminishes reality it only heightens it." I enjoyed reading this tremendously, in Kindle whisper-sync. It is not narrated by Sid, but the narration is high-quality. I recommend this for those who enjoy Sid Meier's games, strat 4E games, and gaming in general. You will find much here to think about in the world and psychology of gaming.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    First half is a fantastic tale of what it was like to be developing computer games almost at the beginning of the industry. He toots his own horn a bit here and there but it's pretty clear that the guy is very clever. It is a shame though that he does not delve more into technical details of some of the problems and solutions he faced. Second half lags and meanders a bit. It also becomes less clear what input Sid had over the more recent games (though I am aware that in some cases it was very lit First half is a fantastic tale of what it was like to be developing computer games almost at the beginning of the industry. He toots his own horn a bit here and there but it's pretty clear that the guy is very clever. It is a shame though that he does not delve more into technical details of some of the problems and solutions he faced. Second half lags and meanders a bit. It also becomes less clear what input Sid had over the more recent games (though I am aware that in some cases it was very little). The highlight of this part is investigating the origin of the nuclear gandi meme. I wished there was more on Civilization 4 but then again I suppose no amount of discussion on that game would ever satisfy me, so there's no winning for the book there. It's not the best autobiography I've ever read, but for me Civ 4 was (and still is) quite an important part of my life so I can hardly rate it too badly. 3 Montezumas out of 5 The other 2 died in a suicide war against fake nuclear gandi.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Floris

    A fun whistle stop tour that takes you through the life of one of the most recognisable names in computer gaming! This is one of those books where the title perfectly describes the story, as Meier recalls the many games he has made throughout his professional career, occasionally using them as opportunities to delve into personal anecdotes and reflections on the philosophy of game design. He seems to have applied his "Covert Action rule" well though, never letting mini-episodes dominate the over A fun whistle stop tour that takes you through the life of one of the most recognisable names in computer gaming! This is one of those books where the title perfectly describes the story, as Meier recalls the many games he has made throughout his professional career, occasionally using them as opportunities to delve into personal anecdotes and reflections on the philosophy of game design. He seems to have applied his "Covert Action rule" well though, never letting mini-episodes dominate the overarching story. Looking past his relationships with his family, friends, corporate overlords, and fanbase, the story remains one of a computer geek dedicated to designing fun games and "interesting decisions"(TM). I'd recommend this to my friend whose father is also Swiss, whose mother is also Dutch, who also lives in the US, and who also loves to play Pirates! and Civilization. You know who you are.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Yury Lifshits

    Absolutely loved it 🤩 Not too deep on game design and business, but a hugely inspiring and uplifting story of a man who loves his work, keeps going through ups and downs, and eventually succeeds beyond his wildest expectations. Civilization was around 35th game Sid created, and all the previous attempts built the foundation for his monumental success. What surprised me most is that right after hitting the gold, Sid continues to build other original games rather than focusing on his biggest hit. Absolutely loved it 🤩 Not too deep on game design and business, but a hugely inspiring and uplifting story of a man who loves his work, keeps going through ups and downs, and eventually succeeds beyond his wildest expectations. Civilization was around 35th game Sid created, and all the previous attempts built the foundation for his monumental success. What surprised me most is that right after hitting the gold, Sid continues to build other original games rather than focusing on his biggest hit. Among many small stories inside, the "nuclear Ghandi" true story was particularly fun to read, nearly a complete reversal of the meme we all heard. And, of course, this was such a personal read, being raised on Civ 1 myself and never really stopped playing it ever since.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Roger Scherping

    This book was a great look back at the 1980's and 90's. While I'm not a gamer today, I vividly remember once, when my wife and kids were gone for the week, playing Civilization for 8 intense, uninterrupted hours. I remember bringing home boxed computer games like Roller Coaster Tycoon for my kids. And I remember the early days of the internet and the dial up connection that tied up the phone line for hours. This book has some really impressive writing. Two sentences stood out: "[As everyone playe This book was a great look back at the 1980's and 90's. While I'm not a gamer today, I vividly remember once, when my wife and kids were gone for the week, playing Civilization for 8 intense, uninterrupted hours. I remember bringing home boxed computer games like Roller Coaster Tycoon for my kids. And I remember the early days of the internet and the dial up connection that tied up the phone line for hours. This book has some really impressive writing. Two sentences stood out: "[As everyone played Sid's game] The network began to drag, and small beeps ricocheted through the halls as a sort of work-abandonment klaxon of shame." and "... ideas trapped in amber by a turnover in technology."

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