Part 4: A New Dollhouse
In a 1994 interview with Wired Magazine, Will Wright, hot off the success of SimCity 2000, discussed his next project. "I have a game in mind called 'Dollhouse,'" Wright explained to the reporter. "It gives grown-ups some tools to design what is basically a dollhouse." But Wright also mentions an important caveat: "But a dollhouse for adults may not be very marketable."
Five years later, Will Wright sits on a leather couch inside of a conference room at Maxis. On the floor, there's a dollhouse, and plastered on the walls are images of the entire Brady Bunch. Now Will's finally ready to show his dollhouse game to the world, a game he almost shelved years ago because he just didn't have the resources to complete it. Now, with EA behind him, Wright is hard at work bringing what is tentatively known as "The Sims" to life.
Ask him to describe it in a sentence, and Wright isn't really sure what to say. His banter is filled with a lot of "I guess" and "perhaps" idioms. He finally gives it a try: "I don't think people realize how much tactical and strategic forethought goes into their daily lives," he suggests in his first attempt to describe the experience. "There's a whole subconscious time-efficiency layer in our lives. In essence, real-time strategy is our lives."
"I don't think people realize how much tactical and strategic forethought goes into their daily lives."
- Will Wright on his next game, The Sims.
But as it is always the case with a Will Wright game, the foundation for his work is grounded in academia. "I've always wanted to do a game involving architecture," he admits. "It has a lot of design symmetry to the ideas of SimCity - you must look at traffic patterns in a house, land use, and pollution."
Wright's research for The Sims took him to an author named Christopher Alexander from Berkeley, who wrote a book about a functional rather than aesthetic approach to architecture. "He reduced a lot of design decisions into the functional aspects of relationships in space," explains Wright, eagerly searching for a copy of the book on his office bookshelf. Alexander's rules were those common-sense ones most architects don't think twice about: Don't make a balcony more than six feet deep or it won't get used much; and if a roof appears to be supported only by spindly posts, it'll make people nervous.
The architecture mode in The Sims.
Wright took the idea of architecture being a functional solution to life and coupled it with his fascination for 3D home architecture products. Then, he needed to somehow "score" the architectural design, and that's where the Sims come in: Individuals who live in the house you design and provide you with feedback on how well it's put together.
The family that lives in our house starts a kitchen fire in the Sims.
The New Dolls