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Will Wright on creating 'The Sims' and 'SimCity'

November 30, 2000
2 p.m. EDT

(CNN) -- "The Sims" is the latest installment in a series of personal computer games created by designer Will Wright. It's also the top-selling computer game for 2000, according to PC Data. Wright discusses how he created the successful games, what the future of "The Sims" is and how he feels about violence in computer games.

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

Will Wright: Thanks for showing up, everyone, and I look forward to some interesting questions.

CNN Chat Moderator: What was the first game you played? Which one made you want to be a game designer?

Will Wright: Actually there is a Japanese board game called "Go" that I've played since I was a kid, and it has an amazingly simple set of rules. But yet the strategies in it are so complex. And so from that, I've always been fascinated with the idea that complexity can come out of such simplicity.

Question from dan177: How much input from actual city planners went into the design of the "SimCity" series?

Will Wright: Quite a bit. The first two years I worked on "SimCity," I did quite a bit of research and read 20 books at least on urban planning theory. In addition to that, we did a fair amount of research into simulation techniques. And for the next version of "SimCity" (2000), I spent quite a bit of time talking and meeting with various people who had expertise, including city planners, police administrators, public works people, teachers, etc.

Question from strat440: Why do you think people are so drawn to Sim games?

Will Wright: I think the idea of having a game based on reality is compelling right off the bat because everyone has some experience with the subject of the game. I don't know anyone who has actually fought a dragon or flown a fighter plane in combat. But the themes our games are about, almost everyone brings their own experience to. Also, after people play these Sim games, it tends to change their perception of the world around them, so they see their city, house or family in a slightly different way after playing.

Question from Simguy: Are you working on "SimsVille"? How radically will it deviate from the current Sim titles?

Will Wright: I'm not working on that title -- that's a different team. The design of "SimsVille" is still somewhat changing at this point. But it's roughly going to be at a scale somewhere between "SimCity" and "The Sims."

Question from Have: Have you ever considered combining all the Sim games into one gigantic game that can be played on multiple levels/perspectives simultaneously?

Will Wright: Actually, yes we have. We did about a one-year study of the possibility that we called "SimWorld." And the idea was to have kind of an open standard through which our simulators could be plugged into each other. And in fact, the last game I did before "The Sims" was a helicopter game called "SimCopter," and it was basically an experiment in that direction. "SimCopter" was an action helicopter game that you could play in a city that you had previously built with "SimCity." The biggest problem really with that idea is the time scales are really different depending on what level you are playing at.

Question from Rocksaw: Out of all the games you've created, which one(s) do you play now?

Will Wright: Oh, I probably play "The Sims" the most by far. A big reason for that is that I am having so much fun downloading all the player-created skins, wallpapers, objects, etc.

CNN Chat Moderator: Will Maxis ever build games for console gaming platforms such as PlayStation 2 and the upcoming X-Box?

Will Wright: I think the likelihood of that is much higher now than it was in the past. The new generation of consoles has as much power to do the kind of games that we do as the PC does. And also, I think the demographics of these machines are starting to coincide much better with our core demographic.

Question from Bo: Is there going to be a multiplayer, online version of any other Sims games that people can play across the Net?

Will Wright: Yes. Actually, the main project I am working on right now is an online version of "The Sims." Of all our titles, this is the first one that I think has really made good sense, as an online game.

Question from Guest70389: Have you ever thought about adding cultural events such as Beatlemania or assassinations to make the players cope with mayhem and crowd control?

Will Wright: In various versions of "SimCity," we have had the people occasionally get very upset at things the player has done (i.e. build a nuclear power plant in their backyard). We really want to have most of the failure in a game be based on things that the player did, as opposed to things outside of the player's control.

Question from strat440: Why are there so many references to llamas in "SimCity"?

Will Wright: Good question. Actually, many years ago, we had a company-wide vote for our informal company-wide mascot, and the choices came down to the Boston tree fern, beef tape worm and a llama. And somehow the llama won the vote!

Question from Russ: How long before "The Sims" gets a version upgrade?

Will Wright: Probably "The Sims" online will be the next major change to "The Sims" franchise. We also have future versions of the single-player Sims currently in the works. It's really hard to pin a time to these projects right now, though, because rather than design them all up front, we are trying a lot of different things right now. We're experimenting with new ideas we can put into it, which makes it hard for me to say exactly when we will be done with them.

Question from billy: What do you say to those of us who feel this fantasy-type game often leads to violence by those who have trouble separating fantasy and reality?

Will Wright: I play those games myself a lot, and the same can be said of almost any other media: movies, books, television. For me, what's a more important question is how we get at least the option of more diverse experiences in this media. In fact, there are quite a few movies, books and television (shows) that are fairly nonviolent -- more subtle. They can deal with a wider range of issues than we are currently deal with in games. So it is more for that reason that I would like to see games broaden out to wider themes and a wider audience.

Question from Eaf: Have you thought of developing a lawyer-based Sim game that lets players fight about elections?

Will Wright: No, I've never once considered that. I would encourage the writer to make it, though, and I can try it!

Question from dan177: Are there any things you really wish you could put into "SimCity" that for some reason you can't?

Will Wright: There are a lot of issues that I hope we deal with at some point that we haven't up to now, for various reasons. Some technical, and some more political. A lot of the interesting issues and dynamics within a city occur over things such as socio-economic issues or ethnic issues. But they require a much more elaborate model of human behavior. Those are things I would like to see "SimCity" eventually address.

CNN Chat Moderator: What is your favorite part about what you do?

Will Wright: I definitely enjoy the research the most. I typically go overboard when I research new projects. There are several projects I have never ended up doing, for various reasons, but I still find myself researching them. Because I basically try to work on games on subjects that fascinate me. Even when I finish a game, I'll still keep up with the field, so I am still reading books on ants, after doing "SimAnt" many years ago!

Question from JJGauna: What happened to "SimMars"?

Will Wright: "SimMars" basically is not going to happen. It's kind of a long story. But we took most of the "SimMars" team, and reapplied them to "SimsVille" and future versions of "The Sims." But that's not to say that we won't be doing games in that area. We have spent quite a bit of time considering a good space game, and I can't really say anything at this point, but we are definitely still interested in that area.

Question from john: Will console gaming overtake PC gaming in the next few years?

Will Wright: I really don't think so. The console games, as they come out with this new generation, will have a temporary advantage in price performance, but there are still many things you can do on a PC, more conveniently than you can do on a console machine. This is especially true in the online areas, I think, where the PC has the tremendous advantages of a mouse, a keyboard and a high-resolution monitor.

Question from Lara: Do you see yourself still creating Sim games, say, 10 years from now?

Will Wright: That's a scary thought. Although if you had asked me that 10 years ago, I might have said the same thing. Beyond that, I really can't say.

CNN Chat Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts to share with us?

Will Wright: I want to thank the people who bought our products, and especially the fans of "The Sims" and "SimCity," who have built tremendously vibrant communities on the Web. It's gotten to the point now where I surf the fan sites everyday and download cool things the fans have created, which is really ironic in a way! Because now it's the fans out there that are entertaining us, the developers, with their creations! This is something I never would have foreseen five years ago.

CNN Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today.

Will Wright: Goodbye and thanks for showing up. Now you can start talking about the election again!

Will Wright joined the chat via telephone from California. provided a typist for him. The above is an edited transcript of the chat, which took place on Thursday, November 30, 2000.

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