Sid Meier on experimental development and Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies

You can hear it in his voice: Sid Meier sounds like he's having fun.

Over the last year or so, the mastermind behind games that begin with his moniker — titles like Sid Meier's Civilization, Sid Meier's Pirates and Sid Meier's Railroads and the sequels they've spawned — has been involved in a series of experiments in development. They represent a shift from how he's approached creating games throughout the decades.

He and Firaxis Games released the first result of those experiments, Sid Meier's Ace Patrol, on iOS in May. By late August, they'd ported the game to Steam for Windows PC.

Today, Meier and Firaxis are unveiling the second phase of their new, nimble and reactive approach to development. Sid Meier's Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies is a direct sequel to the first game, set in a different theater of war with a host of new assets for players to tinker with. It's slated for release this fall simultaneously on iOS and Windows PC.

"I just want to buy the whole game. Don't give me little piece here, a little piece there."

Polygon spoke with Meier recently about the game, its development and his new, invigorated approach to development.

Perhaps the biggest upfront difference between Ace Patrol and Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies will be the iOS price tag. Whereas the first game launched as a free-to-play title in the iOS App Store, its sequel will launch in both ecosystems with an as-of-yet unannounced price.

When we spoke to Meier just before Ace Patrol's Steam release, he explained that the Windows PC version would cost $9.99 while bundling in all of the paid content of its iOS counterpart and adding some additional features. Pricing the game differently, he said, seemed to fit players' expectations on each platform. The change to an upfront cost on both platforms for Pacific Skies is a reflection of what he and Firaxis have learned during the series' experimental development.

"A lot of feedback we got from players of the original game, especially on iOS, was, 'I just want to buy the whole game. Don't give me little piece here, a little piece there,'" he said. "And that's how we're comfortable selling games, but again we're exploring this new marketplace and trying out different things."

So the comfort cuts both ways, in Meier's estimation. Firaxis is comfortable selling a game with an upfront price, and he believes the kind of people who play the games he makes have good reason to be comfortable with with paying first, too.

"I think there's almost a natural suspicion when you get a free game that there must be a catch," he said. "That is almost as much in your mind as the actual gameplay. You don't want to let yourself have too much fun because you're afraid that you're going to run into that moment, all of a sudden, when you're really enjoying the game, something's going to pop up and say, 'Hey! Now you gotta do this!' So I think there's almost a game-within-a-game that's being played with the free-to-play-type titles, and our players are used to jumping into a game and expecting to play for an hour or two hours to reach this deep and rich experience, and you don't have to be kind of always worried as you're playing that something's going to come in and disrupt that experience."

To Sid Meier, that's the advantage of a premium title like Pacific Skies: uninterrupted play. In fact, though the series was born on mobile and later came to PC, he doesn't think of it as a mobile title. Rather, it's just a new type of game with a ton of gameplay that fits somewhere between a full-price retail title and a more casual mobile game.

"We need to have fun, I think, to bring fun to our players."

"We've been trying to define, 'What are these games?' he said. "'What's different about them? What is this category?' For us, it's kind of about a lot of gameplay - the same amount of gameplay that you'd get in a AAA title, perhaps, but not quite as much of some of the other stuff. You know, we don't have the full motion cutaway scenes that you might have in a AAA game. We can't afford an orchestra to record two hours of music for the game."

This fall, players will get to see the results of Firaxis' willingness to listen to and develop quickly. Sid Meier's Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies will include "all-new AI," according to Meier, and a host of new planes to fly into battle, alongside new maneuvers in a new setting.

And Sid Meier, who has decades of development experience under his belt seems as excited to talk about his newest project as he is to develop and release it.

"We need to have fun, I think, to bring fun to our players," he said. "It's certainly fun to make these game. We have cool jobs, and we look forward to coming in in the morning and seeing what new, cool things we can put in our games today."

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