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Will Wright's 'SIMple Tools' article in LA Times

Thursday, May 17, 2001 - 23:10

The LA Times chats with Will Wright about creating the original SimCity™, The Sims™ fan sites, and his favorite tech toys.

Click here for the Los Angeles Times article


Sim-ple Tools

The creator of the popular computer game series often uses pen and paper to develop his design ideas.
Will Wright is the father of the landmark and wildly popular Sim series of computer games, which began with 1989's "SimCity"--a title that simulated the development of a city according to political, environmental and budgeting decisions made by the player.
Key to the success of the games was Wright's development of techniques to bring realistic simulations, which previously had been available only to scientists and the military, to home computers.
Spinoff games have included "SimEarth," "SimAnt" (simulating an ant colony), a helicopter flight game "SimCopter" and two "SimCity" sequels. The latest is "The Sims," which allows a player to oversee a neighborhood of simulated people. An online version of the game is scheduled to be released next year.
There are almost 7 million Sim games in circulation, according to Maxis, the Bay Area company that Wright, 41, co-founded.

DESKTOP: At home, the main one is a Dell that I just got--I usually get a new system once a year or so. It's the 4100 model, not leading edge but fast enough. At work I also have a Dell, an XPS, and it's definitely too slow. I have to get around to getting a new one.
At work I run prototypes of the games--they give me very specific parts of them that are finished and I play with them to see how well they work and how much fun they are.

Q. What computer did you use to develop "SimCity"?
We started in 1985 on a Commodore 64. I wish I still had that computer--I lost it when our home in the Berkeley Hills burned down in the 1991 fires. When we did "SimCity 2000," I put a little sign that said "Will's House" on one of the houses. When I play the game I have firetrucks come and save the house from a fire that has broken out. But it didn't happen that way in real life.

Q. How many games are you working on now?
The company is working on six. I am involved with three, including "Sims Online."

LAPTOP: I have a ThinkPad that I use occasionally for presentations. But I don't like lugging it around. I find the computer bag is a lot more useful if I leave the computer out of it.

Q. What do you put in instead?
Graph paper and black roller-ball pens. I find that when I'm doing design work, my ideas flow so much more easily onto paper than on a computer--I can be much more expressive. And I can move from graphics to text seamlessly, while on a computer you have to jump back and forth.
When drawing an image on graph paper, it's really clear the resolution you intend. On the computer it's always precise, and that's not always what you want. On paper you can be more subtle.

HAND-HELD: I'm very dependent on my Palm V--I have my names and addresses and schedule on it. And a lot of games--Tank, Go, Chess, Solitaire and Taipan, which is a trading game. I also have a drawing program, one for learning kanji. I've got a lot of little hacks on it, like one to make it a tricorder.
The little games are great. I end up playing them in boring meetings with the sound off.

Q. Is there a version of "SimCity" for the Palm?
Yes. There is a company in France that did the conversion, and it's pretty good.

BOOKMARKED SITES: I go to a lot of the game news sites--http://www.gamespot.com is a good one. And the Battlebots site--my daughter and I have been building robots and competing for several years. We are competing soon with our latest robot, Chiabot, which looks like a big bush.
I also go to science sites like http://www.space.com and http://www.sciencedaily.com. And there are a lot of Sims fan sites out there and I enjoy going to them to see what new things people are creating for the games. Some of those people are very, very talented.

Q. Have you ever hired someone based on what they are showing on their fan site?
Not yet, but we are considering it.

SCREEN SAVER: The SETI [Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence] screen saver.

Q. The one that uses personal computers to help process radio telescope information?
Yes. We use them at home--I think we have a total of seven computers, in all, tied together in a little network.

FAVORITE TECH TOY: I collect robot toys and have a lot of them, including an Aibo [robotic dog]. In the office, I have an electric scooter, which is fun to use to get around. I had to put duct tape on the wheels to keep them from making marks on the carpet.

Q. Game consoles?
At home we have a Dreamcast and Nintendo.

Q. Do you enjoy playing any current games?
I play lots of games when they first come out. "Black and White" was interesting--there were a lot of cool ideas in there, but I like the creature more than the game. And I like "Tribes2" a lot.
One of the coolest things I have is a remote-control helicopter flight simulator that plugs into the computer. The controls feel just like they do on a real RC flight. I think it has saved me thousands of dollars by teaching me to avoid crashes of my electric helicopters.

--As told to DAVID COLKER

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