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Computing Chat

Will Wright

A chat about the "The Sims" and "SimCity"

January 20, 2000
Web posted at: 8:20 p.m. EDT

(CNN) -- Will Wright, chief game designer for Maxis, creators of "SimCity", joined the chat room on January 20, 2000, to discuss his new game, "The Sims." "The Sims" allows players to create and computer simulated control people. Wright joined the CNN chat room from California. The following is an edited transcript of the chat.

Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Will Wright, and welcome to chat.

Will Wright: Hi, everyone.

Chat Moderator: Please tell us a little bit about your background.

Will Wright: I've be making games for about 18 years. I usually make games about real stuff and try to make it fun, but it doesn't always work out.

Chat Moderator: What was your inspiration for "The Sims?" Did it come from the Tomagotchi craze?

Will Wright: It really started more as a game about architecture. But I started going down that path, and I realized that we needed to simulate people living in the house to determine how cool the houses were. At that point the people became the focus of the game because they were so much more compelling.

Chat Moderator: How big is the world you can explore in The Sims?

Will Wright: Well the game occurs in a neighborhood of 10 houses. Some of the lots are large, some small. Each house can have up to eight people living in it and a web of relationships is developed between all of these people.

Question from Enphagy: Will, since the core of your games are based on simulation, do you think any work you have done, or eventually will do, will have any real world applications? Or do you think you will stick with games? Do you foresee some part of your game logic being used by real city planners?

Will Wright: We actually had a division of Maxis which did these types of simulations. We did a project for Chevron to simulate one of their refineries. It was called SimRefinery.

We did a few others, but eventually decided to get out of that business. We were spending more time negotiating contracts with these clients than developing the software.

Anyway, I think the educational aspects of the games that we do will have a bigger impact on society in the long term anyway.

Question from SimSusie: Is The Sims compatible with SimCity and other Sim software?

Will Wright: We thought about that for a while, but since the time scales are so different , we decided to keep them separate for now. But at some point I can foresee The Sims and SimCity merging into one product.

Question from TimDoyle: What about multiplayer? I'd love to see virtual worlds colonized by real users, along the lines of Ultima Online or EverQuest.

Will Wright: I'm spending most of my time right now trying to figure out the best way to do that with The Sims. We also have a few other major projects here at Maxis along those lines. I can't really say much more than that right now though.

Question from HUGESimfan: When will a demo be out to download?

Will Wright: We're spending most of our efforts right now on making cool downloadable tools for the Sims. I'm not sure when we'll get around to making a game demo. Some of the tools we're making are so cool and fun to play with it almost seems ashamed to stop work on them to go and make a demo for the game. The tools will be free to all and on our site.

Chat Moderator: What do you think is still lacking in the SimCity series? What would you like to model next?

Will Wright: That's really hard to say. There are so many subjects out there that are really quite fascinating once you get past the arcane language and the typical academic approaches.

I've got about three subjects that I've been researching in the background. One of my favorites is the life in the universe question. Are we unique or are aliens really out there? What's cool about that is it forces us to really come to grips with what life is and who we are.

Question from Hiya: Have you ever made a "Sim" of yourself in the game to see what happens? Boy, I can hardly wait to try that.

Will Wright: All the time. That's been my benchmark test in The Sims during most of the development phase. I would run my family, then later inform my wife of what happened in the game.

"We broke up today," or "you had affair with the neighbor" or "we had 2 more kids."

Question from JasonWilson: Is Maxis even considering a Mac version of the Sims?

Will Wright: Yes, we're considering it. We want to make sure it's done well if we do it. The really the hard part, right now, has to do with our free tools. I don't think we can afford to convert them all to the Mac, but if we don't the Mac users will get upset.

We're seeing this right now with the BAT tool for SimCity. It would almost upset them less if we didn't release it at all for the Mac.

Question from Fred: I wanna know if there will be a patch to have a dog or a cat ?

Will Wright: We can make new objects that can be easily downloaded into the game. A cat or dog would be downloadable just like anything else. I'm sure we'll get around to it eventually.

Question from Craig: Is there a new version of SimCity in the works?

Will Wright: Yes, several in fact. I'm afraid that's about all I can divulge right now, though.

Question from TimDoyle: Were you ever reluctant to make the game TOO real? I notice you censor nudity and impose some limits on what people can do.

Will Wright: Yes, there were several things we decided to avoid. We wanted to keep the game appropriate for children, for the most part, so certain topics we punted on (child abuse, etc.).

Question from Simfreak: When is the game Sims due out.

Will Wright: It should be in most stores by Feb. 4. We're doing a simultaneous release in 14 languages, which means it should be available in most countries around then, give or take a couple of weeks.

Question from Hi: Can you sim a real society with "real-people?" I meant there are different personalities or different groups of people. I think it would be fun "Sim-Society."

Will Wright: That sounds like The Sims with just more people. Perhaps you're envisioning something more like a SimCulture, where the cultural beliefs become the focus of the game. That would be cool.

Question from BethN: How long did 'The Sims' take from start to finish, and about how many people worked on it?

Will Wright: That's a long story. I first started on this in 1993. I worked on it for a while and then got pulled into SimCity2000, which distracted me for about one and a half years. Then I got back into The Sims, only to be distracted once again by SimCopter.

To make a long story short, I probably worked on the Sims about four and a half years. Over than time, over 50 people have been involved on the project. I'm really just a small part of the entire team.

Question from Marsh: Anything (un)official on a Linux port for sc3k or The Sims?

Will Wright: You know, I have no idea on that one. I thought I did hear something about a Linux 3K but I know there's nothing on The Sims at this point. The SimCity fans probably know more about this than I do. I did download the PalmPilot SimCity though, it's cute.

Question from Triptych: Any possibility of TV show tie-ins like a "Friends" or "ER" set of skins?

Will Wright: We're checking that out right now, actually. It's probably going to be more likely with older syndicated series. But the fans can always create their own.

There are several great fan sites for The Sims that already have large libraries of skins, wallpapers, floors, and other stuff.

Question from Sim18: How is the family photo album gonna work?

Will Wright: We saw early on that players were naturally weaving these elaborate stories as they played the game. Creating funny, tragic, dramatic and twisted stories are really what this game is all about. Each game you play spins off into a different direction.

We want to make it very easy for players to create their own stories and share them/compete with them on our website. So we added a feature allowing the players to record the things that happen to their families, and then, post them onto our website to share with other players.

Question from Grizzly: How "dysfunctional" can a family of Sims get?

Will Wright: Quite. Depends on which direction.

They can end up hating each other, in which case, they'll fight frequently and can end up kicking members out of the family (disowning them). They can let their house pile up with trash. The plants can all die, as well as the fish. They can die from hunger, or perhaps burn down the kitchen.

Question from SimPlistic: Will, I know you have a mean streak in you, how many ways can we kill off our Sims?

Will Wright: We have about four obvious ones, but there are others hidden deeper in certain interactions. A few are very rare. I won't mention them here because I want to see how long it takes for the players to find them.

Besides, it's best if you never quite know, and the possibility is always lurking somewhere. Also we can imbed new ways in the innocent objects that we will have for download on our site in the future.

Question from Rpgamer: Can Sims gain skills?

Will Wright: Yes, that's critical for their job advancement. The skills are cooking, mechanical, charisma, body, logic, and several others

Question from Fordpj: How easy will it be to have a Sim who uses a wheelchair?

Will Wright: That would be quite hard because of technical reasons. The routing code, which allows them to walk around, was some of the hardest code in the game. We tried to allow as much diversity as possible though aside from that.

Question from Dan: Can Sims express their sexuality?

Will Wright: To a degree. We have different levels of romantic involvement. At the highest you see very passionate kissing, sharing of the hot tub naked, sharing a bed together, and sharing of the bathrooms with no modesty.

But as I said we wanted to keep the game accessible to kids. The Sims make babies by very passionate kissing.

Question from MaxSteele: Will, did you ever play "Little Computer People Research Project" from Activision, and did it influence you at all?

Will Wright: Yes, a long time ago. I've since gotten to know several people who were involved with that project, and many of them gave valuable feedback on The Sims, especially Rich Gold.

Question from SimJob: Does it surprise you that people would rather spend all their free time in a simulated world rather than doing "real life" activities?

Will Wright: Well, as a species we engage in play for reason. The reason play evolved as a behavior was as a learning mechanism where we could experiment with real-life problems in a safe, hypothetical environment.

The Sims is all about experimenting with the crucial balances of life. The balances between work and family, how to spend free time between friends, skills and personal space.

So I see The Sims as just a caricature of real-life in order to bring these time and balance issues more into the forefront of your conscious thoughts in the same way that SimCity brought many aspects of urban design, which people were unconsciously aware of, into a more obvious light.

Question from Pinky: Is homosexuality addressed in the Sims?

Will Wright: We wanted players to be able to roughly model their own family structures whenever possible. So we allow the players to develop homosexual relationships in the game, though they won't happen automatically unless the player is directing it in that direction.

Question from Cibo: How do you feel about the state of the gaming industry as a whole? Overall sales seem to be down and many games are delayed or out right cancelled. Also, there have been a few mergers/buyouts recently that have affected the industry.

Will Wright: What concerns me the most is that most large companies seem a bit too risk adverse when it comes to developing new ideas outside of the mainstream.

Everyone is getting very good at milking their cash-cow sequels but very few are putting substantial investments into developing new genres, or taking bold risks. That still comes mainly from the smaller developers.

Question from What: What are the bare minimum system requirements for this awesome looking game?

Will Wright: Our stated spec is a P233 32 Meg RAM. It will actually run on a lower platform, if you don't try to have any large parties at your house. If you do, the game just runs at a lower frame rate.

Question from JasonWilson: Are there any future games, you or Maxis are considering developing?

Will Wright: Of course. We're always thinking about three years ahead, which is about how long it typically takes to bring a game to market. The hard part is deciding what will be state-of-the-art three years from now, especially with the Internet becoming a larger component of our industry. That is quite a tricky bit of prediction.

Question from Yur: How fast does the game go? In other words, to which time period is one day of human's life mapped?

Will Wright: In typical play, one Sim day goes by in about 15-20 minutes. If you crank up the game speed and let the characters behave autonomously, then you could probably do a day in less than five minutes.

Chat Moderator: Any final thoughts you want to share with us?

Will Wright: Well, in my mind, this game is about creativity. Rather than imposing a pre-scripted story on the players, we're trying to hand that task over to everyone.

Our website will be set up to share these stories and families. I can't wait to see what everyone does with it!

Chat Moderator: Thank you for chatting with us today!

Will Wright: Bye all, thanks for showing up.

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