Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Spore creator interviewed reports: [massively edited from a 7 page interview]

Although gaming is a multibillion-dollar business rivaling the movie industry, the creative talents behind it slave away in near anonymity. Will Wright is the rare exception, a 47-year-old superstar developer responsible for the creation of millions of virtual cities and people through his best-selling Sim titles (Sim City, The Sims and The Sims 2).

He’s poured seven years into his next project, the ambitious videogame Spore, due to ship this fall, in which players pilot the development of life from a single cell to an intergalactic empire. We joined him for lunch in New York City to chat about his magnum opus, evolution, and why videogames of the future will play us as much as we play them.

There must be hundreds of thousands of words written already about Spore, but can you describe the game in 50 words or less?

The core of it is, we want the players to create their own worlds, all the way from the microscopic scale up to the galactic. At every level of the game there is a simulation of life, society, civilization, exploration, the player's kind of pushing back against, but as they create each level of this world it's automatically shared with other players, so that the players playing are also creating the game worlds for everybody else.

Going through the Spore demo, it seemed almost like a boxed set of games on a related theme rather than a single game. Do you see it as a series of separate experiences or are they tightly linked together?

I always thought of it kind of almost as a T, where the base of the T is you working your way up the levels, where there are goals from cell to evolution to tribe to civilization. Once you get to space, though, the game opens out - that's the top of the T - where now there are these different metagames, different kinds of metagoals you can pursue, and it becomes more of an open-ended sandbox up at the space level. So it's kind of a combination of directed gameplay at the base of the T working your way up and opening up into a sandbox at the top that's more Grand Theft Auto-like.

But the experience of that initial level where you're building your critters at the cellular level seems very different from what you're doing later in the game.

Each level, in fact, is in some ways a different genre of gameplay. And one of the challenges of Spore is how do we take all these different genres and bring them together with one control scheme, one set of UI, kind of a singular goal that you're always working towards. So it's a blend of genres coming together to create a singular experience. So you can kind of say what are the rules of my genre. but then you can say what is the experience and the overall goal for the player on top.

How do you think the audience for Spore may be different from your other games?

I think we're probably going to be capturing some more hardcore gamers, just because of the scope of the game and the unusual nature of it. I'm looking hopefully at a big overlap with The Sims players, though – I want to make sure the game is not too hard or complex for the average Sims player.

If you can make weird, cool goofy creatures that show emotion and have societies and do dances and stuff, I think if you look at the graphics for Neopets and Pokemon – Neopets especially is actually quite gender balanced. So I think really we're looking at those two groups as probably the first core groups, half Sims players, half hardcore competitive gamers looking for something novel, and maybe a third, people coming from totally outside.

I've had a lot of people, when I've demoed Spore coming up and saying "I've never played a game before, but I want to play this one." And I think those people are attracted by the empowerment of the tools, they would really like the experience of creating a Pixar character and having it come to life.

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