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Gaming Gods: Will Wright

For Gaming Gods this week, I’m going to go across the pond from the UK to the states for American Born Game designer William Ralph Wright, creator of the marvelled Sim series. Wright was born on January 20th 1960 in Atlanta, Georgia, to English, French, Italian and Native American descent.

Will Wright

After graduating from Episcopal High School at 16 he enrolled in Louisiana State University, transferring 2 years later to Louisiana Tech. Beginning with a start at an Architecture degree, followed by engineering, he eventually fell into computers and robotics. He excelled in subjects he was interested in – Architecture, economics, mechanical engineering, and military history – but was held back by impractical goals such as language arts. After another 2 years at Louisiana tech he moved to The New School in Manhattan in 1980. He lived in an apartment over Balducci’s in Greenwich Village, and spent his spare time searching for spare parts in local electronics surplus stores. After 1 year at the New School Wright returned to Baton Rouge without his degree, concluding 5 years of collegiate studying.

During a summer break from college, Wright met his first wife-to-be Joell Jones, an artist living in California, on vacation to her hometown of Baton Rouge. In an interview published in February 2003, Wright claims that games were absorbing so much of his time that he deemed making games to be a suitable way to go forward. Wright’s first game was the Helicopter action game Raid on Bungeling Bay (1984) for the Commodore 64.

SimCity Gameplay

Wright found that he had more fun creating levels with his level editor for Raid on Bungeling bay than he had while actually playing the game. He created a new game that would later evolve into SimCity, but he had trouble finding a publisher. The structuralist dynamics of the game were part inspired by the work of the 2 architectural and urban theorists Christopher Alexander and Jay Forrester.

In 1986 he met Jeff Braun, an investor interested in entering the computer game industry, at what Wright calls ‘the world’s most important pizza party’. Together they formed Maxis the next year in Orinda, California. SimCity (1989) was a hit and has been credited as one of the most influential computer games ever made. Wright Himself has been widely featured in several computer Magazines – Particularly PC Gamer, which has listed Wright in its annual ‘Game Gods’ feature (no connection).

Following the success of Sim City, Wright went on to design Sim Earth (1990) and Sim Ant (1991). He co-designed SimCity 2000, (1993) with Fred Haslam, and in the meantime Maxis produced more ‘Sim’ titles. Wright’s next game was SimCopter (1996). Although none of these games were as successful as SimCity, they further cemented Wright’s reputation as a designer of ‘software toys’ – games that cannot be won or lost. In 1992 Wright and his family moved to Orinda, California.

MAXIS Logo

Maxis went public in 1995 with revenue of US $38million. The stock reached $50 a share and then dropped as Maxis posted a loss. Electronic Arts bought Maxis in June 1997. Wright had been thinking about making a virtual doll house ever since the early 1990s, similar to SimCity but focused on individual people. Originally conceived as an architectural design game called ‘Home Tactics’ Wright’s idea changed when someone suggested the player could be rated on the quality of life experiences by the home owners. It was difficult idea to sell to EA, because 40% of Maxis’ staff had already been laid off.

When Wright took the idea to the Maxis board of directors, Jeff Braun says, ‘the board looked at The Sims and said “What is this? He wants an interactive toy house? The guy is out of his mind.”‘ Doll Houses were for girls, and girls didn’t play video games. Maxis gave little support or financing for the game, but EA were more enthusiastic. Wright’s games are so different from EAs other released that was hard to imagine the 2 being united in the same enterprise. But the success of SimCity had already established Sim as a strong brand, and EA, which by then, 15 years after it’s founding, was becoming a Proctor and Gamble-style Brand-management company, foresaw the possibility of building the Sim franchise.

EA established The Sims I February 2000, and it became Wright’s biggest success yet. It eventually surpassed Myst as the best-selling computer game of all time and spawned numerous expansion packs and other games. He designed a Massively Multiplayer version of the game called The Sims Online, which as not as popular as the original. By November 2006, The Sims franchise had earned EA more than a billion Dollars.

Spore Cover Art

In a presentation at the Game Developers Conference on March 11th, 2005, Wright announced his latest game, Spore. He used the current work on this game to demonstrate methods that can be used to reduce the amount of content that needs to be created by the Game developers. Wright hopes to inspire others to take risks in game creation.

Throughout his career Wright was given many awards. He received the lifetime Achievement award at the Game Developers Choice Awards in 2001. In 2002 he became the 5th person to be inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame. Until 2006 he was the only person to have been honoured this way by both of these industry organisations. In 2007 he was awarded a fellowship by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. This was the first time this award was given to a Video Game designer.

I think it’s plain to tell that Will Wright is an immensely influential Game Designer. He created one of the most well-known and most popular games franchises of all time, despite struggling to find support from the company he started. This is why he deserves a seat at our Gaming Gods throne.

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