GDC 06: His Spore-ness addresses adoring throng

Sims creator Will Wright brings in capacity crowd, then gets academic during his keynote; says research, obsessiveness, prototypes are all key to the design process.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--Legendary game designer Will Wright capped off the 2006 Game Developers Conference's keynote speaker series on Thursday, treating conference attendees to a one-hour talk entitled "Why I Get Obsessed with My Game Design Research."

Wright--the brains behind the popular SimCity and The Sims franchises--was originally slated to discuss "What's Next in Game Design." Instead, the frenetic, fast-paced lecture addressed a host of subjects that ranged from the intellectual to the whimsical.

Conveying his passion for game design research, Wright not only discussed the creative process behind his upcoming "evolution game" Spore, but also interspersed his design wisdom with several minilectures on astrobiology--the study of possible extraterrestrial life.

The juxtaposition of the two topics made for a talk that was at the same time captivating, hilarious, and somewhat schizophrenic. Wright himself joked that he planned to "interweave the two [subjects] for maximum confusion."

"Most of the games I've done were inspired by one particular book I've read," Wright remarked, later adding that he had read over 100 books in researching Spore. Wright also cited several interviews he conducted with experts like Stanley Miller (a noted biochemist) and David Brin (a sci-fi author).

Drawing from his experiences, Wright stressed that game designers need to "enjoy being obsessive." Wright pointed to filmmaker Stanley Kubrick as a major influence and "creative hero." "[Kubrick] was totally obsessive about his research," Wright remarked, describing his admiration for the director's attention to detail in films like 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, Wright also warned that game designers need to know "what 90 percent [of the research] to leave out" of their designs.

Perhaps more than any other take-home point, however, Wright emphasized that "games have the ability to change our players at a very deep level." Wright argued that games motivate players to learn, even if they fail to teach specific subjects and facts. Focusing on his fascination with aliens and robots, Wright explained that such humanoid sci-fi fixtures "give us a better understanding of who we are," letting us explore "the boundaries of humanity."

Wright more generally described how entertainment such as television shows, movies, and games can be used to subversively convey important messages. For instance, he pointed to Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove as a film that used black humor to spin serious political issues in a fresh, more palatable way. Examining his own work, Wright remarked that he hopes Spore conveys scientific lessons such as "galaxies are large" and "space is a wonderfully three-dimensional, dynamic thing," as well as broader messages such as "life is diverse" and "anyone can be creative."

Wright's lecture itself was not without subversive messages. In a segment that he called "a side rant," Wright argued that NASA can accomplish more scientific finds with missions manned by robots than with humans. He then proposed that, given the amount of money already spent on the war in Iraq, America could buy a Hubble Space Telescope for "every member of the UN."

In a more light-hearted digression, Wright spent several minutes telling the dramatic survival story of Russian spacecraft Soyuz 23. The story, which he called his "Russian Space Minute," was typical of his frenetic, humorous lecturing style.

Nonetheless, Wright's forays into astrobiology and astronomy gave the lecture an unmistakably academic vibe. Wright addressed a variety of topics such as Drake's Equation (which attempts to predict the number of extraterrestrial civilizations), the chronology of Earth's development, and Rare Earth theory (which argues that stable, Earth-like planets are very rare).

Linking the two strands of his presentation, Wright repeatedly described how his astrobiology research ultimately influenced Spore. In particular, he demoed one complex simulation that explores where life best propagates and evolves in a spiral-armed galaxy. Wright also documented several failed prototypes, such as autocatalytic chemistry and cellular process simulations that "were not that compelling."

In general, Wright stressed the importance of simulation prototypes in the ideation process. He argued that prototypes provide a way to attack design risks early. For example, he described how the Spore team addressed the technological risks of pollinated (shared) game content and procedural animation to prove that the ambitious game concept would be feasible. Wright also suggested that games made by other people can serve as useful game-concept prototypes. In regards to Spore, Wright mentioned his own experiences with existing space games like Homeworld and Microsoft Space Simulator.

In closing his lecture, Wright reiterated that computer games have the ability to "change your players," and that "eventually you're going to become a teacher," even if only through the filter of the game. He ended, "That's something we shouldn't squander."

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42 comments
rcacace
rcacace

I was at the GDC and listened to his keynote. I was pretty hyped to hear him but I have to say it was a very weird and mostly boring speech. He definitely covered everything Douglas Wilson said, but he just kept rambling on, jumping from one topic to another to another and back again. He could've made his point in half the time. I practically fell asleep! I know the man's a genius and I'm positive Spore will be amazing, but personally, the keynote was a waste of time.

vagrantcharly
vagrantcharly

Spore is an intriguing game, but what's with all this "Will Wright is God" vibe...? Maybe I'm just being apathetic... Hmm...

j14rk1n
j14rk1n

gdctv will have it in a week or two.

zdiddy85
zdiddy85

youtube.com has a bit of this speech on video, but it gets cut off. Does anyone else know where to find the full thing?

mjson
mjson

What was the title of that old animated (possibly checkoslovakian) robot movie Wright mentioned during his talk?

YEPEE00
YEPEE00

**does the avoid getting jinxed dance** agreed, procedural content greater then hi-def & audio clips. that is two people, two. Ahahaha! *lighting cracks* **shrugs his shoulders & wonders off**

YEPEE00
YEPEE00

**does the avoid getting jinxed dance** agreed, procedural content greater then hi-def & audio clips. that is two people, two. Ahahaha! *lighting cracks* **shrugs his shoulders & wonders off**

jaefrmbk2k
jaefrmbk2k

Hi, you might remember me from the year 3000. I've been everywhere and done everything. In fact, Will has peed on me several times.

Macho_Man_Max
Macho_Man_Max

I remember seeing a video of the game a couple of days ago. I dont know if it was from GDC but if you go to google video and search for Spore it should be the first few.

Lumox
Lumox

I'd love an actual transcript of his lecture. I'm sure it is an interesting read, plus it can't take longer than an hour, since that's how long the lecture took.

m68k
m68k

Thanks to all the developers trying to make the world a better place through games.

DeesPlease
DeesPlease

Hell yes. Procedural content > Hi-def cutscenes and audio clips

ShinMikeGod
ShinMikeGod

lol the pee is crazy, but this guy is a genious, I remember the firts sim city when it came out OMG such a great game, when the sims were out was awesome too. So maybe is his next gem (and next franchise to blow).

MyLegAlta
MyLegAlta

From the sound of things, it sounds like Spore is gonna be a truly intelligently designed and a very deep experience that any hardcore gamer or devoted scientist can enjoy. Honestly, this thing looks awesome!

Sonicgod
Sonicgod

Nice talk cool guy but I want to see more of Spore now I have been waiting for it. it's on my top ten.

davahsa
davahsa

great artical....makes you want a transcript!

Raz3000
Raz3000

On the officcial GDC website they'll put the videos of the keynotes up eventually. Can't wait to see 'em.

wokisan
wokisan

Cool....now can I please have my Sim City 5?........PLEASEEEEEEEEEE?!?!?!

GyRo567
GyRo567

The day Will Wright steps beyond games to take over the world is the day I head for the hills and live out my days in the wilderness... >_>

Oni
Oni

He's such a geek ... but I love 'em :)

Kaji-Oni
Kaji-Oni

I can't wait for spore, the idea of creating a sentient race from a micro organism is amazing. I also would like to see a SimCity 5

cjek
cjek

Yeah space simulator was an old (1994) simulator game, I still have it on floppy disks which no longer work- damn their short life spans. Anyway, this guy is amazing, he brings to life all the games I have always wanted to be games- like I always wanted to feel in control and have god like powers, and games like The Sims and Simcity did just that. But those games are feeling old, and in the case of The Sims, rather immature now so im now looking forward to Spore

Lasafrog
Lasafrog

He's of the fathers of what's great in this industry . It's always a pleasure to hear what the man has to say, and it's inspiring to know he's out there helping my hobby stay fresh and relavant. Thanks, Will.

EqualPlatinum
EqualPlatinum

Microsoft Space Simulator? I didn't even know that game exsisted. I wich they brought out an updatded version! ... I'm such a loser.

NeoJedi
NeoJedi

Will Wright = God. That man is simply brilliant. I cannot wait for Spore.

SpArTucUs
SpArTucUs

i love that he mentioned Stanley kubrick.....cause that guy owns. mr Wright is a genius and a pioneer

blackIceJoe
blackIceJoe

I really hope Spore will be going on the PS3 that game looks awesome.

CleptoPots
CleptoPots

Incredible.... Will Wright should be the leader of his own country or something... what a visionary. Can't wait till this game comes out.

mtouchprod
mtouchprod

Will Wright is a genius and a visionary, but it sounds like he was pretty stoned when he gave this talk.

Legir
Legir

I was wondering what he said when I read the poll. I couldn't find it for a while. Good to know. I look forward to see how Spore turns out.

kapadiajatin
kapadiajatin

Wright's Studies are really impressive, especially about designing GAMES

Jharper
Jharper

That was an interesting read.