Whether youre referencing The Sims, SimCity, or any of the other simulations Wright has developed, he notes that youre essentially talking about a toy that represents interpersonal relationship dynamics, urban planning, or other systems in a way thats fun, engaging, and, ultimately, enlightening. You map different instincts to a system when you see it sped up, he continues, so our goal is to find a cleaner way to map those instincts to a complex system. You can calibrate instincts with a toy.
A Process of Discovery and Exploration
Wrights own instincts began with model making as a child and led him toward robotics during his teenage years in the 1970s. He bought an Apple II for the purpose of programming and controlling his robots, eventually getting the chance to play some of the earliest computer simulations and strategy games. Those experiences, along with the Montessori education he received through sixth grade, formed the foundation on which he built his career.
Montessori affected how I thought games affected people, Wright recalls. You give people toys and they go through a process of discovery and exploration, rather than having things handed to them.
While his first published game, Raid on Bungeling Bay (1984), featured conventional, straightforward play, Wrights interest in system dynamics revealed itself in the little details, such as the Bungeling Empires ability to develop new technology and use it against the player. His enjoyment of creating levels for the game sparked an idea: What if players could do the same?
That notion fueled the development of SimCity. Wright teamed up with Jeff Braun, who had been working on a jet fighter simulation, to found Maxis Software and publish the game in 1989. Its success allowed Wright to expand the initial concept, leading him to SimEarth (1990), SimAnt (1991), SimLife (1992), and many others. In 1993, Maxis even developed SimRefinery for private use by Chevron Corporation.
Enter The Sims
Some of Wrights Sim games were more successful than others, although the SimCity series was largely well-received and continued to drive Maxis growth. In the mid-1990s, however, Wright began work on a virtual dollhouse that would become bigger than anything he had previously created. Executives at Electronic Arts, which purchased Maxis in 1997, were skeptical, but they allowed development to commence.
The Sims was published in 2000 and eventually became the top-selling computer game of all time, with 50 million copies sold, plus another 20 million copies of expansion packs. Focusing on the day-to-day lives of the people inhabiting SimCity and all of the drama contained therein proved to be a willing formula, since it allowed players to engage in open-ended activity.
When you have one conclusion to a game, everyone goes on the same path, Wright observes. Its more interesting to get them on many paths, so they can play aggressively, socially, economically, or however they want. In The Sims, people think the goal is to make their characters happy, but the end is different for everyone: Do I want them to be rich, or fall in love, or be successful in their careers, or what?
He adds: We found that a lot of people playing The Sims think they should exchange long-term gains for short-term happiness, just like many people do in real life. We have a saying with regard to SimCity that also fits here: Roads dont solve traffic, they breed it.
The Sims grew out of a house building simulation Wright began working on after losing his home to the 1991 Oakland hills fire. One of his research sources was the 1977 architecture book A Pattern Language, which posits a series of rules for designing everything from rooms and houses to cities and regions. Other works that informed his creation of The Sims included Charles Hampden-Turners Maps of the Mind, which synthesizes the concepts of Freud, Jung and others into a cohesive explanation of the brains inner workings, and Marvin Minskys Society of Mind, which explains how minds are what brains do.
Such deep thinking has always been a major part of Wrights career. He cites biologist Edward O. Wilson, cognitive sciences professor Don Norman (in particular, the book The Design of Everyday Things), philosopher David Kelley, and statistician Edward Tufte (The Visual Display of Quantitative Information) among his many lifelong influences.
Designing Systems, Telling Stories
As Wright tosses intriguing concepts back into our society through his games, the ripples they leave behind often strike him in unusual ways. For example, hes heard about many mothers playing The Sims with their daughters and having life discussions. And he found that the ability to create content and tell stories, which became a key feature in The Sims 2 (2004), was important to The Sims players. Content creation is also key to The Sims 3s robust tools for personalizing Sims, their things, and the world they inhabit.
Storytelling is also a crucial element of his science-fiction simulation SPORE, which he says is the culmination of lessons learned from the development of many past games, in particular SimCity, The Sims, and SimEarth. It will be interesting to see what comes out of the ability to share stories with SPORE, Wright says. That sort of thing is a yardstick for measuring a games success now. At the end of the day, Id like to see a diverse range of tales.
SPORE begins with a unicellular organism and challenges players to guide its evolution into a race of intelligent creatures that build societies and eventually embark on interstellar travels, encountering other aliens along the way. While its an ambitious project, it begs this question: Could we someday simulate something as complex as our planet?
Wright, of course, is intrigued by the idea. Whether or not such a thing is possible, he muses, depends on how much quantum phenomena play into it.
Will Wright Media
You give people toys and they go through a process of discovery and exploration, rather than having things handed to them.- Will Wright
Mac OS X Games List
- SimCity 4
- SimCity 4: Rush Hour
- The Sims Castaway Stories
- The Sims Life Stories
- The Sims Pet Stories
- The Sims 2
- The Sims 2: Bon Voyage
- The Sims 2: Nightlife
- The Sims 2: Open for Business
- The Sims 2: Pets
- The Sims 2: Seasons
- The Sims 2: University
- The Sims 2 Family Fun Stuff
- The Sims 2 Glamour Life Stuff
- The Sims 2 Happy Holiday Stuff
- The Sims
- The Sims: Hot Date
- The Sims: House Party
- The Sims: Livin Large
- The Sims: Makin Magic
- The Sims: Superstar
- The Sims: Unleashed
- The Sims: Vacation
- iPod: The Sims Bowling
- iPod: The Sims DJ
- iPod: The Sims Pool
- SPORE Creature Creator
- SPORE Creepy & Cute Parts Pack
- SPORE Galactic Adventures
- iPod: SPORE Origins
- iPhone: SPORE Origins