MEET THE DEVELOPER
The Sims’ creator shares his secrets
Want to be a great game maker? Will Wright has some advice.
“If I was going to teach somebody video-game design from scratch, where would I start?”
That’s how Will Wright, the mastermind behind gaming’s most indelible fantasies, has embarked on an epic quest of his own: to help budding game developers transform their ideas into reality.
The Sims’ creator has joined MasterClass, the popular education app where extraordinary talents (director Ron Howard, writer Margaret Atwood, chef Alice Waters) teach the finer points of their crafts.
“I felt a little… what’s the word… overestimated or humbled” by being invited into the MasterClass fold, Wright tells us.
But he certainly has the stature. From the groundbreaking SimCity to the spacefaring Spore, Wright has long been one of the biggest names in game development. What fellow MasterClass teacher Martin Scorsese is to crime films, Wright is to simulation gaming.
Wright spent more than six months distilling his decades of experience into a series of videos. Through 21 lessons and a detailed workbook, he covers everything from the fundamentals of game design to the importance of prototyping and playtesting.
“I really want this class to be focused on aspiring or even very experienced designers,” Wright says. “For aspiring game designers, I think it would be a good starting point to get off on the right mindset.”
He avoids technical topics like coding and animation. “The technology side is going to be changing all the time,” he says, “so I didn’t want it to become stale.” Instead he draws on his own body of work when discussing tips and pitfalls of game design.
“One of the biggest challenges for me was not to make this a class about how to make a Will Wright game,” he says. “I think I have a fairly unique style, but I want this to be viable for any style, any type of games out there.”
One maxim that Wright repeatedly hammers home is that game designers need to look beyond the medium itself for inspiration. Zoology, architecture, gardening – anything can provide the seeds for an amazing concept.
“You don’t want to be insular and just look at other games and say, ‘OK, I want to make a better one of these,’” Wright says. “You want to expand the field. The way to expand that field is by looking outside the box.”
That’s exactly what he did with his blockbuster The Sims in 2000.
“It didn’t even occur to me, until we did a lot of playtesting, how much players were mapping their own story into what was happening in the game,” Wright says. While the simulation might say a particular character is hungry or sad, players will come up with their own explanations that go far beyond what the game is telling them, he adds.
“The player’s imagination and the simulator are together weaving this thing, this story, this experience,” Wright says.
Wright’s work has spawned franchises that thrive to this day, including The Sims™ FreePlay, The Sims™ Mobile and SimCity BuildIt. His next effort? Proxi, his first game since 2008’s ambitious Spore.
He offers a sneak peek into Proxi’s development in his MasterClass. Slated for release in 2019, the mobile game aims to map out your memories and subconscious mind, creating a personalised artificial intelligence avatar you can interact with.
Heady stuff, to be sure. But because Proxi is being built by a relatively small development team, Wright can afford to take bold risks. Compare that with the mid-’90s, when development budgets began swelling to many millions of dollars. “Which cut out a lot of creativity, a lot of experimentation, a lot of up-and-coming talent,” Wright says. “But then the App Store happened… and that, more than anything, democratised the whole industry.”
Which means a novice game developer with nothing more than a great idea and keen work ethic could become the next Will Wright. Especially with a little guidance from the master himself.