At GDC last year, game designer David Brevik revealed Diablo was almost a turn-based game (opens in new tab) instead of a real-time one, the implications of which are strange to imagine. Here's a lesser-known twist (opens in new tab): at this year's GDC, designer Sid Meier said the opposite was true for the original Civilization, with it starting as a real-time game before finding its feet when they added turns.
In his Civilization postmortem talk this morning, Meier said the original Civ more closely resembled SimCity than the game we know today. You would zone areas of land for farms or other types of improvements and watch your civilization grow in real-time instead of slowly building it up. While this laid the groundwork of Civ's core mechanics, Meier said "it was really when we switched over to a turn-based mode that the game came together."
He also said that, at the time, the idea of making a strategy game at all wasn't exactly a popular one. Co-designer Bruce Shelley even said the "the company wasn't too excited about it, they wanted more flight sims," and that strategy games were seen as too nerdy at the time. Yet within a few years time, strategy games would dominate the PC market. Meier modestly joked that Civ made it OK for others to make strategy games, but that's probably more true than he is taking credit for.
In fact, when Shelley went on to make Age of Empires a few years later, he said the idea explicitly came from the question, "Can we do Civilization in real-time?" So the idea of Civ without turns stuck around. And while what Meier called the "one more turn phenomenon" seems like such a premeditated part of civ now, that addictive nature "just sort of arose" from the switch to a turn-based game. Shelley mentioned that he still has the original floppy disk Meier handed him with the first version of Civ on it all those years ago, so there's still hope we might see that real-time version someday.