For Will Wright, story time is all the time

Spore's creator discusses the art of interactive storytelling during his keynote speech at South by Southwest Interactive.

AUSTIN, Texas--Legendary game designer Will Wright looks at the world as somewhat of a simulation, where many things cascade into the next, creating a causal chain of events.

"Story, really, is following one causal chain and presenting that to the viewer," said Wright, designer of games like The Sims, SimCity, and Electronic Arts' forthcoming Spore, in his keynote speech at South by Southwest Interactive on Tuesday. In his hour onstage, Wright spelled out--in a coffee-fueled frenzy--his personal view of interactive storytelling.

Wright led the crowd through his usual demonstration of the Spore creature editor, which allows players to quickly build fantastical little animals in mere moments. He is particularly fond of how fast players can color their new creations.

"We've taken something that would take a texture artist a couple days," Wright said as he automatically filled in the colors on a new Spore creature, "and reduced it to a couple hundred milliseconds."

Wright also explained that for him and his Spore colleagues, the game--which is expected sometime in the second half of 2007--is akin to a very elaborate Montessori toy. He said that because of the scientific theories it is based on and because the game is designed, to some extent, to predict what would make the game world more interesting, it is in fact an elaborate philosophy tool.

"You walk away thinking about the meaning of life," he said. "How did we get here?"

He also showed how artificial societies in Spore can be quickly turned into representations of human behavior. For example, by dropping a monolith into a populated area, he created a religious icon, and local creatures quickly began worshipping the monolith.

Wright used the rest of the demo to showcase Spore's additional features, some of which had not been seen before. Those included the ability to change climates, such as quickly raising the temperature of an area on a planet so seas recede or even disappear altogether. He then joked that Spore could be a sequel to the Al Gore documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, as he melted a planet with his cloud ray. Essentially, he argued, Spore can give players a toy version of evolution.

For about half an hour, Wright led the audience on a whirlwind tour of his philosophy of interactive storytelling and how it differs from that of movies. He said that the most important property of storytelling for him is empathy, which is something movies do a good job of establishing.

"So if we know the player has failed at the same miserable level three times, why not just let him skip the level?"

But he also said video games can instill a sense of pride and guilt in ways movies cannot.

"I've played (the video game) Black and White and beat up my characters to see what would happen," Wright said. "I've never felt guilty watching a movie."

The point, he said, is that games provide more proactive agency: "I am causing what is going on on the screen." Still, he also said that any kind of story can open up the "possibility space" for those watching or reading.

For example, he pointed to the famous scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indiana Jones is running away from a giant rolling stone.

"What if he trips there or falls down the hole?" he asked. We're "imagining all these little possibilities that don't happen in the film."

And what some interactive storytellers struggle with, Wright suggested, is offering a causal chain of events, presumably one that leads viewers to experience the richest possible palette of emotions.

Wright then turned to what he said was one of his favorite types of stories, the kind where the storyline is "going along and going along and then all of a sudden it takes a (major, unexpected) turn." He used several films as examples, including Memento, which he said had an interactive method of playing with the causal chain.

"At some point," Wright explained, "each future point in the (film's) chain caused you to re-evaluate what you'd seen before. It was kind of an interactive puzzle game."

Another one of his favorite stories, he said, is Groundhog Day. "It's an interactive sequence (the Bill Murray character is) going through," Wright said. "All of a sudden, it's 6 a.m. again. Basically, it was a game (and) he had to restart."

Every succeeding day in the film, Wright said, the audience sees the Murray character skipping over more and more of what he spent his time on because they already know most of what he does.

"And that's something that we really should be doing, over and over again," he said.

After the Spore demo, Wright talked about how computers can expand our imaginations and become powerful tools for self-expression. He also talked about how every once in awhile, the world goes through major paradigm shifts. That's happening more frequently than in the past, in part because of political issues, in part environmental issues.

Games, he said, are sometimes perceived as meaningless toys, but they can be much more important and allow storytellers to build much more elaborate models of the world.

"These things will allow us to change the world," Wright said, "and (people's) awareness of these models, for the rest of their lives, hopefully."

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75 comments
wlindelof
wlindelof

looks crazy. is there a release date floating around?

DeviousBrute
DeviousBrute

Will didn't mean that religion, or the meaning of life will be explained in the game with his comment he just ment that it will get people to think more. Rather than doing something that is just complete repitition, which is what life is half the time! P.S. Will is promising a lot and i hope he can deliver because so far what he has shown will get him game of the YEAR HANDS DOWN!! Unless Halo 3 makes it bigger than it is going to be already! WHEN IS THIS GAME COMING OUT!!

HestlerX
HestlerX

I think this game is going to dominate me

omosier1
omosier1

Let's hope this game doesn't make everybody so guilty they no longer want to play.

Alcotamaysees
Alcotamaysees

Will's a great guy, but he can get a little carried away sometimes.

LoWpS
LoWpS

Great philosophy, good for game-making. But cmon, the game's supposed to "make u wonder about the meaning of life"? speak for yourself, will. I've got mine.

aligon42
aligon42

Woohoo! Can't wait for release! This game is going to be awesome.

Cesb02
Cesb02

IM TH MEANING OF LIFE

cliffo1992
cliffo1992

the meaning to life IS GETTING THIS GAME!!

ntnimara
ntnimara

Life doesn't need a meaning... We do...

BIGboss600
BIGboss600

sorry will there is no "meaning" to life

sieg6529
sieg6529

interesting, but I bet this will be one of those "great games that nobody played"

fionndruinne
fionndruinne

My instruments seem to detect, bizarrely enough, a certain level of political awareness in this game. Heaven help us, and save me a frag grenade.

YukoAsho
YukoAsho

wild_world_girl : It's not just Gears. Unreal and UT are also Epic's work, and the Unreal Engine has emerged as the top engine in next-generation development, with clientele including Square Enix, Capcom and UbiSoft.

Gordeni
Gordeni

AWWWW.... you can change the weather? i was looking forwarrd to having global warming problems! lol

camarinox
camarinox

Will Wright isnt just "another game programer", he is a gamer too, so he knows what he is doing. I would like to be a game developer too..

cjcr_alexandru
cjcr_alexandru

It sounds like Spore will change the way we play games... We will see if that's the case...

ChitoKiryoku
ChitoKiryoku

I doubt I'll get the game, but considering how good this guy is I have no doubt it'll be great

ufopuller
ufopuller

Story line can make the games

wild_world_girl
wild_world_girl

I am so sick of seeing Clifford Blezinsky listed with other icons like Miyamoto John Carmack and Will Wright. Because of Gears? Great game, but COME ON - he needs some more time in the oven to be grouped with those names.

Oni
Oni

I love everything Will does. He's truly a genius.

Lord_Bafford
Lord_Bafford

hopefully it will live upto its hype when its time to deliver.

tacoman567
tacoman567

kooool lol i can not wait until that game comes out.I will proudly create a monkey fish frog.LOL

selbie
selbie

I'll laugh if I see an article in in the future calling Will a modern day version of the Wright brothers :P

thefjk
thefjk

Ten years from now we'll all look back at this game and remember where it all began. "The Turning Point In Games "... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... maybe not!

-Squirrel-
-Squirrel-

cools. I like it when a developer/director has a gaming philosophy and doesn't just want to sell games. And a reference to their icon status, I think they can and will become as famous or important as film directors. Some care about who directs what, some don't. Idea, lets take Will Wright, Shigeru Miyamoto, Suda 51, John Carmack, and Hideo Kojima and throw them in a room and see what kind of game they create. It boogles the mind...

YukoAsho
YukoAsho

Will Wright is already an icon among gamers, as are John Carmack, Cliffy B, Shigeru Miyamoto and Hideo Kojima. No developer will ever be an icon among non-gamers, simply because it's not as glamorous as acting or athletics.

joeythemachine
joeythemachine

I don't think the man needs the fame, but I think the industry needs some kind of icon, Will Wrights or Todd Howards, or whomever, for people to attach ideas to. With all the hype it's getting, it would be very strange for it to actually surpass some of our expectations, but then some people believe everything they read, even when they've got the evidence in their hands.

ko_threat
ko_threat

This game looks VERY promising.

YukoAsho
YukoAsho

Considering the guy is responsible for one of EA's most successful franchises, I'd say he's got the goods. But you are right, KKD, that this game cannot possibly live up to the impossibly high expectations Wright himself is heaping upon it.

KingKongofDeath
KingKongofDeath

Spore is bound to disappoint. This game is seriously being blown way out of proportions and Will Wright does not deserve all the fame that he gets.

YukoAsho
YukoAsho

Dude, uncram head from rear end, please. Your game isn't going to be some enourmous cultural event.

wild_world_girl
wild_world_girl

And InfectX: It's not - but even if it was, we *NEED* some athiest propaganda right about now - considering all of the religious propaganda that is crammed down our throats daily in the U.S.

Borney12
Borney12

wow i really can't wait for this game to come out! i keep checking every other week to see if there's a release date haha.

wild_world_girl
wild_world_girl

Here we go with the religious crap again - I posted in re: to the Pope article last month and got banned for 3 days from GS forums. Tread lightly folks - the mods here are not very athiest-friendly.

Axe_336
Axe_336

I like that more game developers are talking philosophy, it makes the field seem more legitimate.

joeythemachine
joeythemachine

Maybe he'll become a champion for all of us invalids. Then we can look forward to an intense wave of interest, and then an agonizing absence of proliferation, and then a new golden era where video games are released from stigma and accepted as a universal media. Or maybe the terrors explained in Al Gore's documentary will ironically manifest themselves and we won't have time to worry about it.

Archon_Rouge
Archon_Rouge

I don't get it, it seems like if there were a game where the main character was a religious fanatic, non-religious people would still play the game if it were fun. But when it turns to something like evolution, oh no, blasphemy! The game is work of the devil, spreading lies and corruption! Perhaps that's not quite how it is, but it seems to me to be like that.

trav_have
trav_have

I want some more info on Spore and a release date :(. This is some good news though...climate change? Excellent.

Mam00th
Mam00th

If they don't miss it it's a GOTY, I they manage to do it the way Wright speaking about it, it's one of the greatest game of all time

Lilac_Benjie
Lilac_Benjie

[quote="infectX"] sounds like a bunch of atheist propoganda...[/quote] Dude. You are typing on a computer. Thanks to the process of [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_method]scientific method[/url], which is the process science takes in order to eliminate concepts such as creation through observation.

jdr589
jdr589

Will Wright is a Genius (Were not worthy)!!!!