Remembering Civilization 2, 20 Years On

Most people might be aware that Nintendo are doing a major celebration for Pokemon later this month, which is only appropriate given it’s the 20th anniversary since the release of Pokemon Red and Blue.

But while it’s not quite as large a property as something with Pikachu’s face on it, another game was released that same month that was just as important. That game was Civilization 2, a game responsible for occupying many childhood hours.

If it wasn’t for his wife getting a Fullbright teaching scholarship, Civilization 2 — or Civilization 2000, as it was called internally — may never have seen the light of day. But that’s what happened to Brian Reynolds, lead designer on the iconic game, who relocated from the United States to London to support his partner.

In an interview on Civfanatics, republished from the Sid Meier’s Civilization Chronicles collectors edition, Reynolds said the main focus and hope for the studio at the time was on CivNet.

“I think most of the company’s management sincerely believed that CivNet was going to be a much more important product than a solo-only sequel and that the so-called “Civilization 2000”, our working title for Civ 2 at the time, was just a weird idea “cooked up by Brian and Jeff” which they let us try partially because Sid thought it was a good idea and partially because they wanted to find something for me to do while I was living in England during my wife’s teaching fellowship,” Reynolds said.

It wasn’t risky just because the studio was focused on CivNet. Civilization 2 was designed to work with Windows 95 from the off, and given that new computers would be sold with Microsoft’s upgraded operating system it was imperative that games ran without a hitch.

Working on a sequel was also new ground for the studio, with Reynolds saying that attempted sequels of Railroad Tycoon and Pirates didn’t come to fruition. But retreading old Civ ground allowed for plenty of opportunities to add more content, fix bugs, correct AI quirks (like Phalanxes holding off Aegis Cruisers).

I remember Civilization 2 exceptionally fondly, as it was one of the first video games my brother purchased. It’s still probably my favourite out of the entire Civ line, save for Alpha Centauri. That’s mostly because the prospect of future history and the focus on ideology has so much more appeal to me than the retreading of history in a video game.

That’s not to say I didn’t have fun, of course. I still remember how I learned what alchemy was: it was thanks to the Civilopedia. There was so much information embedded in the in-game encyclopedia that could you get a very rudimentary knowledge of technologies and their origins from Civ 2.

And the manual. Oh my word, the manual. It was this rectangular beast with hundreds of pages, covering every aspect of research, combat, government, wonders, the various blights that could befall your city, morale, diplomacy and more. I still think of the Civ 2 manual whenever I think of classic manuals of yesteryear, partially because of its size but also partially because it was made in a style that was quintessentially MicroProse.

But if Reynolds wasn’t able to spend day after day, whittling away time on his own in England testing prototypes over and over again, Civ 2 may not have become the classic that it was. Sid Meier’s name was on the project, but in an interview in 2000 Reynolds said that the legendary designer “discussed Civ 2 for about 2 hours at the beginning of the project and that was pretty much it”.

“On Civ2 management would occasionally look over our shoulders to make sure we were heading in “the right direction” with the Civilization license, we effectively had a free hand,” he told IGN.

Most PC gamers from yesteryear will have very fond memories of Civilization 2, so I put it to you: what were your favourite stories and memories with the classic game? And how many hours do you estimate you lost into the classic title?

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