LGF 07: Will Wright speaks

The high-profile developer, currently working on Spore, tells the audience at BAFTA headquarters about his favourite platform, why games are shifting into multiple genres, and that encountering opposition with a new medium is to be expected.

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Games industry veteran Will Wright has been making games since the 1980s, when he started work on Raid on Bungeling Bay, a game which was to become SimCity, on the Commodore 64. A Sims theme ran through his next games, which included SimEarth, SimAnt, and of course, The Sims. Bravely breaking away from tradition, his latest title--Spore--does not have the word Sim in its title.

Speaking at the BAFTA headquarters in London's Piccadilly, Will Wright addressed an audience of other games professionals, media, BAFTA members, and students in a talk titled "Interactive Entertainment--the Oldest Art Form." After he finished, he answered GameSpot UK users' questions, as well as those from members of the audience.

Wright kicked off his lecture by explaining that new forms of entertainment always encounter opposition and that the games industry is no exception. He read out comments that had been made about novels when they were first released, "The free access which many young people have to novels and plays poison the mind and corrupt the morals of many a promising youth and prevented others from improving their minds with useful knowledge." Next he read out similar comments made shortly after the introduction of the Waltz dance, movies, and rock and roll.

He added, "For most people, this is their preconception of what games are, and they don't see a lot of social relevance or value. If you look at other forms of media, we have trashy novels. We have action movies. And, of course, television is known for the amount of violence that's on it. But yet--and I have to admit at some point--games do have this kind of over-the-top thing. Like some movies, there are some very violent movies out there, but games seem determined to now kind of outdo them. This is unfortunate that games have this image to people, when in fact there are so many beneficial, interesting, socially relevant games out there, and we're starting to see more and more of those over time...but it kind of makes me ashamed that we aren't making more use of the medium."

In the future, Wright believes that games will diversify much more, away from the current genres he thinks dominate the marketplace: "Dungeons and Dragons, sports, and military history," and that eventually we will see as many genres as are available in a library, for instance.

He also revealed that his favourite platform, which will likely come as no surprise, is the PC. He explains, "I love the mouse. The mouse still is one of the most elegant input devices I've ever seen. Oh, and I do spend a lot of time with my DS. That's my favourite mobile platform by far."

Wright mulled over the fact that games are increasingly becoming multigenre, and that some genres have already started to die off, including flight simulators and graphic adventures. He thinks this is because of cost, "Nowadays with graphics and stuff and sound and whatever character action, when we're playing games, these things would be exorbitantly expensive. And there were very few people that really know how to do it. So even the people that did it well, like Tim Schafer, are moving into hybrid genres where Tim's taking what he learned in graphic adventures and like. Psychonauts is kind of a weird one between a graphic adventure and a platform because that was more economical for him to build. He couldn't really afford to build games like he used to at Lucas. So some of these things are falling by the wayside because the customer base is being dwarfed by all the millions of people playing Wii Sports."

Talking about games versus movies, Wright offered, "Games are still trying to be movies, whereas movies are innovating and trying to be games more successfully than games are being movies."

Wright also wanted to do some myth busting at the event, telling everyone the truth about two urban legends about him. The first is that Electronic Arts tried again and again to cancel The Sims. He said, "First of all, it's not true, and I try to correct this myth over and over. Maxis tried to cancel The Sims several times in development. I was fighting the board of directors and everybody saying, 'You want to make a game about cleaning toilets?' And so eventually, we had this little tools group that nobody was using the tools anyway, and so I said, 'OK, just give me these four guys and I'm going to take it off as my black project.' And they said, 'Fine. Leave us alone.'

"Later when EA bought us and all of a sudden they just started giving me resources and said, 'What do you need? What do you need?' And so in fact it was almost the opposite. EA kind of saved it from Maxis ironically. So that's the correct version of the story."

Wright was also asked how his tuba playing was going, as his Wikipedia entry proclaims that he is an avid tuba player. He looked bemused before saying, "I've never touched a tuba in my life."

When asked when Spore would be released, Wright laughed, "I don't think it's been released yet."

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