It all started in the mid-1980s with a game called Raid of Bungeling Bay, which had Will Wright designing islands to serve as targets for an attack helicopter. "I found out that I had a lot more fun building the islands than I did flying around in the helicopter," says Wright. From that point onward, the seed was planted.
"About that same time, I really got interested in urban planning," he says, "especially the work of Jay Forrester." So Wright took his island editor, added elements such as cars and people, and used Forrester's theories to simulate the environment's evolution over time. After working on the project solo for a year, Wright was confident he had created a unique entertainment experience, although its open-ended design philosophy ran counter to typical computer games.
"Most games are made on a movie model with cinematics and the requirement of a climactic blockbuster ending," explains Wright. "My games are more like a hobby - a train set or a doll house. Basically they're a mellow and creative playground experience."
"My games are more like a hobby - a train set or a doll house. Basically they're a mellow and creative playground experience."
- Will Wright
Not surprisingly, game publishers had a hard time buying into the concept. As Wright remembers, publishers such as Broderbund "just kept asking me how I was going to make it into a game." However Wright resisted the pressure to change his creation and as a result, SimCity didn't have a publisher for the PC or Mac. Wright would go on to release a Commodore version in 1987, but the main gaming platforms were out of his reach, at least until he met self-dubbed "idea guy" Jeff Braun at a pizza party in 1987. Braun was so taken by Wright's innovative SimCity design that the two decided to immediately start their own company to help publish the game on home computers. They'd call it Maxis.
By 1989, Wright and Braun struck a co-publishing agreement with Broderbund. But they still weren't sure if the game would sell. "Jeff thought it would do really well, but I was less optimistic," Wright admits. "It was just a much more cerebral game than anything else out there, by far." Initially, he was right. Sales were sluggish, and for the first few months, Wright handled all the tech support for the game out of Braun's Orinda, California, apartment.
The original SimCity, released in 1989 for the PC and Mac.
However, SimCity would soon be greeted by a groundswell of word-of-mouth praise. SimCity was an open ended system simulator unlike anything else on the market, and people couldn't stop playing it. The dam would break when Time magazine wrote a full page article on SimCity at a time when computer games were considered fringe products at best. All of the sudden, the game Wright couldn't get published two years before had become the hit of the industry. Gamers and the press were taking note of it as well as a designer who would go on to use SimCity as inspiration for his game Civilization.
BEHIND THE GAMES
Success Begets Success