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Will Wright on Game Design 62

Torill writes "Celia Pearce interviews Will Wright in the article "Sims, Battle Bots, Cellular Automata Gods and Go", in Game Studies, volume 2. Wright talks about the philosophy behind his games, one of which is The Sims: 'What are you trying to do with this thing that you're creating? To really put the player in the design role. And the actual world is reactive to their design.'"
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Will Wright on Game Design

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  • by Blue Screen Windows ( 602191 ) on Thursday August 22, 2002 @08:25AM (#4117765)
    What's wrong with just playing MineSweeper?
    • This is an issue that is always on debating. People have different philosophies, some believe playing games should like taking a rest, so games would better be made easy to learn, easy to play (and maybe easy to win), after all, why spending time on a games that is as hard as their daily jobs (but no incoming on that)? Some other people may look for something intellectually challenge, something that has "depth", something that gives them a feeling of experiencing a totally different career. Those games maybe hard, but at least when they lose, they won't lose their job. People's interests are too diverse, many different types of games can all find space to live.
    • minesweeper is way too complicated.
      try a google search on minesweeper and "np complete".
  • by jukal ( 523582 ) on Thursday August 22, 2002 @08:34AM (#4117794) Journal
    We once designed a somewhat "smart" software controlled character for Ultima Online. The idea was that it would be thought the basic available possibilites: what you can do, and how. And then give it a goal and see if it achieves it and if it learns anything new.

    Well, this was one of the things that was never done. Anyway, it would be really nice to see a MMORPG in which it would be allowed to create your own software controlled androids - and see how they survive and mix with real -human controlled -players. Not just "bots" that complete simple routines, but something that tries to learn, evolve and survive in that world.

    Is anything like this happening already?

    • by Martin Spamer ( 244245 ) on Thursday August 22, 2002 @09:02AM (#4117910) Homepage Journal
      Is anything like [Learning Bots] happening already?

      Two examples:

      1) Technosphere
      2) RoboCode

      • Similar to RoboCode is 'Terrarium', from Microsoft. Only it uses 'bugs' which are teleported from one terrarium to another over a network, where they battle it out. Seems to be a bit more advanced than robocode, though Id love to see a mix of the two.
    • Is anything like this happening already?

      Looking for BotMud, the MUD which should only be played by Bots :), I found out that it's apparently dead, but also found this list [] which contains lots of interesting pointers.....
    • )Is anything like this happening already?

      Actually, here's a page that has (or had at one time) several links [] to AI contests a-la "bots". "Robocode" is probably the most well known. For Microsofties (not many around here, I know) they have a peer-to-peer persistent world of organism-bots called "Terrarium". I prefer "Robocode" because it's easy to get a bot up and running, quick to see the results of a contest, and potentially deep if you start getting into cached events and stuff like that. Alas, I digress offtopic.

      The interview was really good, but really thick. In my opinion, someone who puts that much thought and analysis into games seems to take some of the fun out actually playing the game. As for my behvaior during games, if a game is fun, I typically play it lots. If something isn't fun, I leave it alone. And that's I'll I care to analyze about my game-playing behavior. *grin*

    • The WorldForge Project [] (an open-source system for making MMORPGs) is being designed with the philosophy that scripting players is not only legal, but that is also a part of the intended gameplay.
  • Will - do you play on either KGS or IGS at all?

    Please don't mod offtopic

  • I'd much rather see Jeff 'Yak' Minters reply to 'What are you trying to do with this thing that you're creating?'
  • []
    Another recent Will Wright interview
  • by Wind_Walker ( 83965 ) on Thursday August 22, 2002 @08:41AM (#4117829) Homepage Journal
    I pray to God that Will Wright never names his kids after himself. After reading the article, and its constant

    CP: Question
    WW: Answer

    I just have to wonder what a question would be like to his child, Will Wright II.

    CP: Question
    WW2: Answer

    And God help us all if he has a WW3...

  • by ianscot ( 591483 ) on Thursday August 22, 2002 @09:06AM (#4117925)
    Layer on layer, isn't it?

    Right now I'm doing some pretty serious data mining of all those families that have been uploaded to our Exchange--looking at the average family composition, what they tend to do in the game on a daily basis. I'm actually graphing kind of a gameplay landscape.

    CP: So you're making a model of the model.

    WW: (Laughs.) Yes. I'm trying to basically chronicle the average model that the players have made in their heads. It's like cultural anthropology.

    How many layers of self-reference are involved with my friend Dave? His Sims characters always end up in a destructive loop in which they only get gratification from staying home and playing computer games. Their social skills deteriorate until they get so satisfaction from other people, so they have to resort more and more to the games... Art imitates life imitates art imitates life...

    The references to Pinball Construction Set -- had it on the C64 -- and old Avalon Hill-style wargames made a lot of sense. That Pinball title from EA was way ahead of itself; you had the sort of "how does the ball bounce" physics model to work around in a nonstructured way. Anyone who's ever made a map for Myth II would recognize the exercise.

    And yeah, Sims games are sort of a natural (side)step from the "rules lawyer" problem everyone had playing Squad Leader. Even "real time" tactics/strategy games basically just use the processor speed of the cpu to grind through the "rules" better than we could with those 40-page booklets: think of the whole "fog of battle" premise for unit visibility in something like Warcraft or Myth, and then think of the impossible "hidden unit" scenarios in Squad Leader.

    But the open-ended quality of the true Sims game is special, and we owe this guy. Or Dave does, anyway. It's the only satisfaction he really gets any more...

  • the editors should know better than to post to an article this long.

    It is bad enough trying to get posters to read 1 page articles before responging.

    This interview is long... have read half and am tired now.

    how many people have actually read the entire article.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Have you heard about something called "books"?

      Some of them are actually several hundred pages long!

      Weird, huh?

      Please be careful if you see one, for those things will really make you tired!
      • I have indeed. In fact, I have written a couple myself.

        What I was alluding to was that
        1. most people read slashdot for a digest of the news for geeks.
        2. Most people want to respond/discuss the article before it moves off the front page
        3. There is a history on these boards of people posting on the boards before actually reading the article. aka early worm ahem ahem early bird syndrome.

        Now given the above, how many people would take the more than 10 minutes required to digest the very long interview before posting response.

        Perfectly valid question if you ask me??

        It really would make an interesting academic study.
        i. people would read short articles and then post
        ii. people will skim through longish articles and still post
        iii. people will not read extremely long articles and will not post.(only 54 posts a day later!)
    • by hexxx ( 546462 )
      I read it and it was one of the most interesting articles seen on Slashdot for a long time.
    • I agree it's a long article but even more exhausting is the range of topics:

      • AI
      • games and metagames
      • social models
      • anime
      • the development of hobbies into a spectator sport
      • unification of creator/audience
      • deterministic creator god vs. experimental creator god
      • co-variable time and space

      *gasp*, what do I comment on first?

  • What are you trying to do with this thing that you're creating? To really put the player in the design role. And the actual world is reactive to their design.

    Real good game design means _exactly_ not to put the player in the design role. That's whats just all the computer stuff for everyday work is all about.

    Good game design lets you slip in a role of an actor, not a designer, thats what all the arcade stuff was all about. Gaming is adrenaline (defender, robotron) not administration(warcraft, sim xx) and should be not to time-consuming indeed.

    Also i don't want to have a copy of the real life, i want computer games with unique styles and independent rules (role playing games in an middle ages style are not meant here;)).

    And by the way: the disrespect of the pure gameplay aspect leads to an ignorant attitude against the need to rock-solid framerates, as you can see in nearly all pc-ego-shooters.

    Am i really the only one with this opinion?
    • Of course you're not the only one who believes games should be as you say.

      However, that's why there's a number of different genres, as well as game developers, so that theoretically you should be able to find a game in the style that you like.

      Some people actually enjoy the challenge of design and management, think of it as the videogame equivalent of advanced lego.

      Others would prefer to play the virtual equivalent of 'cowboys and indians' and pick up the latest FPS.

      There's no one "right" way to game.
      • ok you are right, we are talking about will wright, not about all game designers. i have to admit i didn't read the article, instead i just aroused myself about this quote.

        But in the mainstream "my" kind of gaming is no more very well represented. i just don't understand why a game should be as complex as possible (and many people like that). Instead it would be fine to develop input devices to put you into it for the real next generation of gaming ;).
        • by Lemmy Caution ( 8378 ) on Thursday August 22, 2002 @10:50AM (#4118624) Homepage
          Gaming is growing up, fitfully and slowly. There are those of us who believe that was is now called gaming will become the definitive media of the 21st century, the way that film and television were the definitive media for the first and second half of the 20th. For this to happen, the media will have a number of explosions past its existing boundaries and expectations. Did you know that film got its start as an amusement park curiosity and as an arcade amusement? If you began with the early history of film - Lumiere, Melies - you would have had virtually no way of predicting it would become a social institution in which hundreds of people sat together in dark rooms watching 2 hour long narratives.
          • "If you began with the early history of film - Lumiere, Melies - you would have had virtually no way of predicting it would become a social institution in which hundreds of people sat together in dark rooms watching 2 hour long narratives."

            "If you begin with the early history of gaming - Pacman, Galaxian, Zork, Doom, and the like - you would have had virtually no way of predicting it would become a social institution in which hundreds of people sat in front of computers in dark rooms playing 40-hour long shoot-em-up marathons."

            The scary thing is, this could actually happen.

    • by mborland ( 209597 ) on Thursday August 22, 2002 @10:15AM (#4118344)
      Good game design lets you slip in a role of an actor, not a designer, thats what all the arcade stuff was all about. [...] Am i really the only one with this opinion?

      Lots of people share your opinion, that's OK--we all play differently. ;-) For example, I enjoy the kinds of games he's talking about. There's something voyeuristic and interesting about playing a game -similar- to reality, but not quite. I was constantly making up games as a kid. Card games that played like strategy board games, acted-out games, computer games that vaguely operated like arcade games...and what was fun was that given a very loose rule set, you eventually created a good game, with rules of your own creation. Typical toy soldiers scenario--take a hundred green plastic men, an unkempt bedroom, and anything can happen! One group defects. There are spies. A dog suddenly kills off a dozen of your country's best. This is great fun (for me)!

      Strategy games, and also games like the Sims, are a foggy mirror on reality, and although there are sometimes 'better' ways to play each game, the rules are not limited to those in the book/code. For example, say in Civ I have a really successful Swordsman, who has had numerous victories under his belt, but now is becoming outdated. Instead of upgrading/scrapping him, I will usually send him to either the capital city, or the city last conquered, and station him there for eternity as a reminder of their courage. This action -definitely- doesn't affect the gameplay much, but it means the world to my gaming experience. With something like the Sims, the experience (like life) is composed almost entirely of those kinds of experiences alone. 'Oh, that's the guy who peed in my kitchen...ew.' 'I tried hitting on her once...didn't work.' These are experiences, which for me are a little more memorable than, for example, 'how damn high my resolution was.' Note that I enjoy FPS' as well, and you can build the same sorts of experiences playing those...I just meant to speak to the notion that open-ended games are interesting, at least to some.

      • I do the exact same thing (about the swordsman).
        In starcraft, I'd have one marine left from a horrific battle because the infantry hit the target before the battle cruisers got there, and he would be hurt real bad (before brood war, mind you, no healing). He would have like 6 or 7 kills and I would build a transport, just for him, to bring him back as sort of a "hero".
    • Yeap, it was a real bad design that made The Sims most selling PC game ever!

    • Good game design lets you slip in a role of an actor, not a designer, thats what all the arcade stuff was all about. Gaming is adrenaline (defender, robotron) not administration(warcraft, sim xx) and should be not to time-consuming indeed.

      I see, thats why mod'ability is becoming more and more of a standard feature on games these days. I guess all this time I've been having a blast designing a Warcraft III map, I really just been proving how bad the game is ... mmm hmm

    • by Anonymous Coward
      What they're not saying is that their Sim games don't put the player in the design role. Not at all. Sim City takes about an hour to master. The only real trick is to space the roads 6 squares apart. After that, its a solved problem, and everything else is just doodling. Most people who play it consistently just drool and look at the miniature graphics of buildings and push the feeder button when they want stimulation. It's really an exercise in behavioral training. The new Sims is moving towards ringing bells measuring saliva, but more than that, its about rewards for certain behaviors and punishments for others. It isn't being used for it now, but it makes a great focus group, and an even more powerful training tool.

      The most revealing part is the bit about "Sim Health", how it came down to the rule assumptions. If you want to prove hospitals are understaffed, you set the slider bar to "more nurses per patient" or whatever. Same thing with Sim City. If you want prove that inner cities always turn to crime, set a #define. If you want to show that higher taxes means a cleaner environment, adjust a properties file. Of course there's less at stake, it's just a game. But there are billions of dollars going into scientific studies that predict the weather or something else based on simulations with slider bars labelled "political agenda" and "funding level".

      The creators are going to be in for a shock, though, when the new Network Sims comes out and people just stand around and chat or tickle each other and talk dirty. They'll realize pretty quickly though, and put the pellet dispensers in. That's something the Ultima/Everquest designers never really learned. Maybe its too small a segement of the population yet to care about.

  • Really good, nice to know someone takes the initiative to entertain us :). Keep up the good work and keep those games comin
  • he's right about Go (Score:3, Interesting)

    by GoNINzo ( 32266 ) <> on Thursday August 22, 2002 @01:35PM (#4120047) Journal
    I like playing Go, and i think he's dead on about when people ask how you're doing. Unless you are playing in the game, it's very hard to see who's going to win till mid-game. In fact, you need to sit down and watch a bit before you can make that determination as well. I just wish the Yahoo games version of Go wasn't so badly done with scoring. `8r/ The idea of 'taking pieces' is what most americans assume, and so it makes for very poor games. `8r/
  • by Anonymous Coward
    In the middle of the article it was talking about a future version of the sims. This proposed version would periodically download what you were doing to the main server, and based on that would decide what your experience was going to be.

    Maybe I should stop the "Murder and Mayhem" version of the sims where I invite people over then seal them into small rooms where they slowly starve to death. I might get a visit from the pre-crime unit (Homeland defense)
  • I'm trying to basically chronicle the average model that the players have made in their heads. It's like cultural anthropology. Already it's having a huge impact on what we do with our expansion packs and the next version of The Sims. We're getting a sense of when people like to play the house building game vs. the relationship game, and what types of families they like to create, what objects they like the most. Eventually, in the not too distant future, we're working towards having this be dynamic on a daily basis so the game in some sense can be self-tuning to each individual player based on what they've done in the game.

    So Will is playing a game where he has to make sure that a million Sims players are happy playing their Sims game. I guess you could call him the only Sims player who is getting paid for playing. :)

  • Games like the Sims, Sim City, and collectable card games (deck construction) allow the player to become the game designer.

    Isn't it both more fun and rewarding to actually design your own game? I know it is for me and I doubt that I'm alone in this opinion.

  • So the first part of the article says how much Mr. Wright has enjoyed playing games in which he created things, and this has helped shape his career. Then he describes how the Sims may take ideas from users to change the game. Does anyone else notice a problem with this?

    A child playing The Sims today may have his ideas stolen and used by someone else. All it takes is one clause in the Sims EULA which claims ownership of ideas presented for content generated within the game for this to be a huge problem.

    I doubt this is what was intended; Mr. Wright et al only want to make their games better. But in doing so this way, they have made their lives irreproducible. It's like Pinball Construction Set taking your "work" and putting it into Pinball Construction Set 2. Imagine if a company with an evil agenda automated gathering and analysing its users' data. Bad news!

  • I'm suprised no one has commented on his Time Slider idea for a game (near the end of the article). Where he suggests a game where you can move backwards and forwards in the time scale and check out the results of your actions. This interview is about a year old I wonder if he's made any progress on it. That would rock Checking google, it looks like there's another interview with him on gamasutra [] (free but registration required) but that's only talking about the Sims. Has anyone else seen anything on this?
  • It's been a long time since I've seen such a bad page layout. A 200px wide column with shitty font, and no visual clues between questions, answer and the next. J. Nielsen please come and help.

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