Articles ~ Will Wright: Pioneer
Will Wright is a pioneer. A pioneer in gaming and the gaming industry for the past 20 years. Wright was born in 1960 in Atlanta, Georgia and graduated from high school at the age of 16. After high school Wright continued to further his education at Louisiana State University, Louisiana Tech and New School University where together he studied for five years, architecture, mechanical engineering and aviation. Although what did this future pioneer get after five years? No degree, although five years of experience which would later become crucial.
Aged 20, Wright became heavily involved in gaming, and became addicted to computer games. Later that year he taught himself how to program on his Apple II. Finally in 1984, the then unknown Will Wright released his first game, Raid On Bungeling Bay which was published on the Commodore 64 by Broderbund. Raid On Bungling Bay was a scrolling shooting game. While developing Raid On Bungling Bay Wright soon discovered placing roads and building using his building utility to populate his map for the game was fun in itself.
Hence Wright began to expand on his roads and buildings utility and transformed it into a unique game of its own. Sim City, as it would become know as later on, was an entirely unique simulation game, unlike no before it. After developing the game solely for a year Wright started to look for a publisher, although no publisher would accept the game, a decision some still likely regret today. Even Broderbund didn’t want Will’s latest game and believed that “without clear winners and losers, the idea would be a commercial flop.” With no publisher the game was left unreleased for four years. Finally Wright released Sim City on the Commodore 64 in 1985 on his own without a publisher, although sold few copies. Although Broderbund could not have been further from the truth with Sim City, as they would soon realize.
In 1987 Wright still unable to find a publisher for Sim City teamed up with Jeff Braun, a businessman who wanted to enter the gaming market. Together they formed Maxis and Wright and a small team of developers started to work on improving Sim City ready for release. Finally in 1989, the idea which Wright had been spinning in his head and slowly making headway on since 1984 was released. Sim City had become a best seller video game by the end of the year, and was to end up in over 5000 public schools to teach children about infrastructure.
Wright soon began co-designing Sim Earth: The Living Planet with Fred Haslem. The game was released under Maxis in 1990 and at the time was considered to have unlimited potential, although sales were not as high as that of Sim City. At this stage of his career Wright was also working on a new game with Justin McCormick, Sim Ant: The Electronic Ant Colony. It was released shortly after Sim Earth in 1991, although never gained much popularity, although is still considered today to be one of Will Wrights best games to date.
Sim Life, released by Maxis in 1992 was the next major game to add to Wright’s shelve. The game was often referred to as “The Genetic Playground,” in which players had the ability to modify the genetics and DNA of species, to alter the outcome of the planet. Sim Life was certainly ahead of its time, and never really got the praise it had earned.
A Train, a train simulation by Artdink, a Japanese company was released by Maxis in the USA in 1993. There is only one word capable of describing Sim Farm; ‘Classic’, a game released by Maxis in 1993 which you either loved or loathed.
Ever since Raid On Bungeling Bay, and then Sim City, Wright had been fascinated by architecture and the construction of dwellings. His latest project had the working titles of Dollhouse and Home tactics: The Experimental Domestic Simulator. It was 1993 when Wright started to become serious about a building architecture sim and developed a playable game. Although being the pioneer Wright is, he decided to take the game one step further, a step which would soon escalate. The aim of the game was to create an architecturally good house, although he had no way to score players. That is where little ‘sims’ entered the architecture game. The characters would live in the house and evaluate how good the dwelling actually was. This small addition changed the game and Will Wrights career drastically.
Wright began developing small sims to live in the game, and in doing so, created interactions for the sims, such as having a shower or cooking a meal. Gradually the focal point of the game shifted from an architecture and building sim to a full blown life simulator. Although Maxis executives failed to see Wrights vision and the project was shelved.
With a Sim City sequel desired by many, Fred Haslem set to work on Sim City 2000, when Wright wanted no part in it. However a good designer Fred Haslem was, it was decided during development that the game wasn’t working out. That is when Wright was called back in, and spent the next year working on Sim City 2000. Sim City 2000 was released in Q1, 1994.
Maxis had great success with Sim City and its spin-off Sim City 2000, although was quickly losing money and slowly coming to face the inevitable. Maxis executives wished for Wright and his team to produce four games by the end of 1996. A feat which many would consider impossible. So did Wright. Wright was currently working on his latest sim, SimCopter, where you would pilot various helicopters and complete rescue missions, etc. Although by the end of 1996 Maxis did manage to rush out SimCopter, SimPark, Full Tilt Pinball and Sim Tunes. Although Wright and his team met the deadlines, he was not one happy game developer; “To start off with, I didn't even have the resources I needed to do SimCopter!" But the company spread those limited resources across the four "must-launch" games: SimCopter, SimPark, SimTunes and Full Tilt Pinball.” SimCopter was a popular game that season, although was riddled with bugs and did not enthuse some players.
Wright and his team of developers started to work immediately on another Sim City sequel, Sim City 3000 after pressure from Maxis executives to rush out another sequel. Wright spent the next year working on Sim City 3000, although was unhappy with it and quoted; “My stress level was increasing exponentially.”
Maxis reported losses of 1.7 million dollars in 1996, and so in 1997 Maxis was acquired by EA Games for 125 million dollars. EA Games moved Luc Barthalet to Maxis with the task of turning the company around. After seeing Sim City 3000, he was shocked and quickly bought in another EA designer, Lucy Bradshaw (who still works with Will Wright today) to help improve the game. Bradshaw decided to strip the game back to Sim City’s 2000 roots and expand on that, obliterating the 3D aspect Maxis executives had previously been pushing for. Sim City 3000 was released in Q1, 1999, after Bradshaw’s input on the game for more than a year.
While Bradshaw was working on Sim City 3000, Wright was still busy at work working with a single programmer, Jamie Doornbos, on creating the engine on which Dollhouse (later renamed to The Sims) was to be based. By 1998 the team working on Dollhouse had grown to about 12 programmers and graphic artists. Finally EA Games saw Wrights vision of the game, and Wright had a full team and all the resources he needed. The Sims was already being highly anticipated when it was released in February, 2000. With many Sim City fans eager to get their hands on Wrights latest creative game, The Sims went on to become one of the best selling PC games ever.
After The Sims release, the community following behind it grew quickly and the Sims team expanded to nearly 400 staff. Wright began work on an expansion pack for The Sims titled The Sims: Livin’ Large. Although he slowly had less involvement in expansion packs for The Sims and began work on The Sims Online, taking The Sims and making it playable online with other players.
In 2001 Will Wright was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Game Developers Choice Awards. After a year and a half, The Sims Online was released, although failed to be as successful as The Sims franchise had become. In total seven expansion packs were released for The Sims, although Wright only had a large involvement in Livin’ Large. He advised mainly on The Sims: House Party, Hot Date, Vacation, Unleashed, Superstar and Makin’ Magic expansion packs.
The Sims had been a huge success for Maxis/EA games, and Wright was eager to do a sequel to The Sims, hence in September, 2004 The Sims 2 was released on PC. Although this time, Wright and Lucy Bradshaw (who is still with The Sims 2 today) had a team of nearly 400 programmers, animators, texture artists, meshers, songwriters and testers. The Sims 2 was another huge success, and like The Sims 1, it is sure to have a long life ahead of it. The Sims 2: University, Nightlife and Open For Business expansion packs have already been released, although without Wright’s direct involvement.
Why, what could Wright be working on which is more of a challenge than The Sims series? The game which has been quoted as superior to The Sims series, Spore. Spore will give the player the ability to simulate life, which evolves over time form a microscopic cell to how you wish, with every game being vastly different. It’s expected the work of the genius will be released in the second half of 2007.
Will Wright is not only a pioneer but is also an inspiration. From University drop out to one of the greatest game designers in the industry, everyone can learn from Will Wright. Everyone young or old can grasp the wise words of Wright, “I think by exploring the bad side you're really just mapping the envelope of the system... you're getting a sense of how far off you can go.”
Raid On Bungeling Bay, 1984
Will Wright and The Sims, 2000; Sim Copter, 1996
Sim Earth, 1990; The Sims, 2000
Sim Ant, 1991; The Sims 2, 2003
The "tide poo"’ stage in the unreleased Spore.
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