没有人能像Will Wright（《模拟城市》和《模拟人生》等大受欢迎游戏的创造者）那样清楚地谈论游戏。他在本周的Game Horizon Live中通过即时网络广播与我们讨论了未来游 戏的发展。在提问与回答环节中，他谈论了许多有关游戏发展方向的主题。
Wright 与别人共同创建了Maxis，并创造了像《模拟城市》等游戏。艺电在1997年收购了Maxis，而Wright也在艺电继续创造了《模拟人生》和《孢 子》等游戏。他在2009年离开 了艺电，并创建了一系列初创公司。他最新的公司名为Syntertainment，主要专注于创造性游戏和娱乐与现实间的 互动。
Wright得到了许多奖励，其中便包括Interactive Arts and Sciences学院颁发的“Hall of Fame”奖。Wright建议年轻设计师在一开始可以先研究非游戏领域，并从中获得更多创 造性灵感。以下是Wright在Game Horizon 2013年的Q&A环节中的内容。
Will Wright：实际上，你所面对的是2个平台。你需要应对计算机平台（即关于代码，技术等内容）以及人心。当你设计了一款游戏时，它将同时运行于这些平台上。我们也会在 计算机上运行我们于模拟中所执行的一些内容。但是也有一些内容是不适用于计算机上，所以我们最终选择在玩家的想象力中运行。
举个例子来说，在《模拟人生》中，当你听到人们在交谈时，你并不是真正听到他们在说什么。经过多次实验，我们决定让角色用英语或其它知名的语言交谈，但它们却很快变得 自动化且不断重复。如此真实的面纱便消失了。相反地，如果他们的交谈并不清楚，你的脑子里便会开始想象他们的对话。《模拟人生》具有有声语调。游戏角色拥有情感。你能 够感受到他们的愤怒与调情。尽管我们并未真正听到相关话语。从根本上来看，我们所做的便是将模拟部分分解到人们的想象力中。
当我在几十年前开始职业生涯时，那时候人们所关注的焦点还是计算机的快速运行。我们能在屏幕上呈现出多少像素？我们每一次都要与机器相抗衡，就为了呈现出更棒的性能。 但是从很大程度上来看，这些限制并未起到多大阻碍。我不认为面前存在着多少技术瓶颈或障碍。而现在，我们的关注焦点在于如何通过有趣的方式去利用人类的想象力，人心， 创造性。我们将尝试着把人类的想法带到一个特定的状态，让他们能够在此慢慢感受到乐趣。有时候这会是一种流动状态。他们将在挑战，成就和难度之间徘徊着。而其它时候则 是更加自由，富有创造性和表现力的状态，或者与别人进行分享的社交状态。
显然，我们不是很理解人心。从某种意义上来看，游戏设计便是一种应用心理学。我们一直在侵入人类的心理。我们一直在脑子里创造一些能够带给自己乐趣的机制。有时候是通 过挑战，寻找模式，有时候则是通过解决问题。而我们的大脑将与之连接在一起去享受这些内容，从根本上看来这也是一种学习过程。我们的大脑将意识到通过学习，推动局限性 并突破障碍将能让自己获得奖励。从某种程度上看来，游戏设计是扩展我们思维的一个过程。
Wright：这是一个很好的问题。我会毫不犹豫地说出任天堂的宫本茂。我之所以如此欣赏他是因为，他总是将玩家放在最重要的位置上。马上递给某些人控制器会呈现出怎样的感 觉？他所致力的触觉和动觉是怎样的？这是由内到外的影响。玩家最初5秒的游戏体验如何？而下个10秒的体验又是如何？他的游戏总是围绕着这些技能展开，这是非常让人惊讶且 独特的体验。加上他也会落实各种各样的工作，所以我才会这么钦佩他。
同样地还有Peter Molyneux，我认为他尝试了许多冒险。他的创造在某种方式上刺激着我的感受。我还很喜欢Sid Meier的游戏。他的游戏具有可玩性。它们就像是一把把舒坦的椅 子，能让你安心坐着。桌面游戏和战争游戏一直伴随着我成长。而Sid在这两大领域一直非常突出，所以可以说Sid及其游戏重新塑造了我们的青春时代。当然还有许多值得我们尊 敬的设计师，但是我却很难一将其一一罗列出来。
我所说的这三个人都属于我们这一代的游戏设计师。当然还有许多其他人，以及拥有大好前途的人正在进行一些很棒，且具有实验性的创作。我觉得，比起以前，我们现在拥有更 多技能型设计师，这对于游戏产业来说是个好消息。一部分原因是源自越来越多不同平台的出现。我们不再需要一个拥有100个人的庞大团队。一个非常聪明的小孩也能够与好友一 起创造一款应用并呈现在App Store中。有些非常优秀的设计师也才开始采取行动。
Wright：书籍对我的游戏创造产生了很大的影响。我总是会瞄准一些特定的主题，即关于一些学术性内容。最初我的灵感是源自Jay Forrester，即现代系统动力学（追溯到50年代 ）的创始人。我阅读了他是如何使用不同系统（包括城市，工厂和整个世界）并模拟这些系统。他想要将其分解成不同配件，并基于这些配件去创建模型。
同时，我不仅对创建静态实体模型感兴趣，我也很想知道如何去创建动态的世界模型。即创建内在动态世界以及如何运行。在模拟道路上，Jay Forrester带给我很大的灵感。还有 其它灵感是来自波兰作家Stanislaw Lem，他写了许多关于微观世界，模拟世界，以及处理这些事物的相关伦理学的内容。对于我所创造的不同游戏，我的灵感来源都是不同的。蚂 蚁专家Edward Wilson对于蚂蚁的研究推动着我们创造了《SimAnt》。而Christopher Alexander在建筑领域的观点激发了我去创造《模拟人生》。所以说我的大多数灵感都是来自 阅读。
Wright：我现在正致力于创造更多手机体验。从经济和业务角度来看，这完全不同与早前的包装模式。我认为早前的那些基于PC以及陈列在架子上出售的游戏将快速发生转变。我 们正处于一个新兴市场中。主机公司及其业务模式也是如此。其过去的业务模式是向用户出售主机和一堆游戏，并因此推断主机的开发。但是现在，人们只需要花费3至5美元，甚 至不用花钱（基于微交易）便能在应用市场上买到自己喜欢的游戏。
我们正在从局部最大值过度到一个完全不同的领域。对于许多业务模式而言，这是一种非常不舒服的过度。过去几年里在PC市场上出现了各种盗版行为。而DRM（游戏邦注：数字版 权管理）是一种解决方法。免费模式则是另一种解决方法。在我们能够判断消费者将会接受并喜欢哪一款游戏之前，我们将经历一个进化过程。这是关于你该如何在避免经济风险 的前提下将玩家带到游戏体验中的问题。
我坚信，如果游戏对于玩家来说具有价值，如果玩家真的喜欢游戏体验，那么他们便会愿意以某种形式去支付游戏。而这将在某种意义上赋予游戏更大的稳定性，如此便不再是关 于你拥有多少市场营销预算的问题了。虽然这一点仍很重要，但却不如之前那么重要了。过去我们需要考虑货架空间以及如何在有限的渠道中进行分配等问题。这是一个巨大的过 滤器，有可能导致发行商退却或不愿承担风险。而最大的销售策略一直都是游戏续集。发行商们总是愿意投入上百万美元于一些已经大获成功的游戏的续集中。但是却不愿尝试一 些初出茅庐的作品。
我们正转向一个全新的世界，在那里玩家从游戏中所获得的价值与你从玩家身上获得盈利的能力具有更加直接的关系。我便从一些亲身尝试的游戏中感受到这一点。我下载过一些 真的很棒的免费游戏，甚至能让我在几个月后仍然沉浸于其中。那时候我真的很乐意在游戏中消费。其实这主要是因为游戏向我证明了它拥有这样的价值。我是否真的想要反复玩 这款游戏？我是否沉浸在其中？如果答案是肯定的，我便会为它打开钱包。我认为，如果玩家从游戏中所获得的价值与你从玩家身上获得盈利的能力间拥有更直接的关系，便会有 更多人认可这个产业。没有什么比在游戏中花费了40美元但在玩了半个小时后发现它其实很无聊更糟糕的情况了。我们一直在避免这种情况。
Wright：这很难说，因为我们也发现游戏的目标玩家群体不断扩展着。我想，我们的一些游戏之所以能够取得巨大的成功是因为它们吸引了更广泛的玩家群体。但是它们却仍只能 出现在一些有限的平台上。也就是它们都是基于PC的游戏。而当提到我所创造的游戏的续集，如《模拟人生2》，《模拟城市2000》等，玩家们便更加乐意投入30美元或40美元去购 买这些游戏，因为它们已经拥有了一定的知名度。可以说第一个游戏版本起到了推广作用。这是口口相传的效果。人们会说：“你应该试试这款游戏”。你可能会在好友的家中接 触到这款游戏，并在后来自己也买了同样的游戏。
Wright：我拥有许许多多理念，甚至有可能超越我的寿命。我曾投入了数个月时间致力于一个理念，即一款战术模拟游戏。它基于3D流体动力学。我想要采取一些有趣的方式去抓 住空气并移动它。而现在，基于多触屏界面，我能够更轻松地实现它（相比之前用鼠标和键盘操作的方法）。不过还有许多理念是我因为技术或模拟难度等种种原因而未能付诸行 动。不过我觉得真正让我感兴趣的还是实践过程，即更深入地理解玩家，并且与一些特定的成员共同开发并完善一款游戏。
Ken及其作品带给我很大的启发。在开发《孢子》的早期，我们向他咨询了许多程序生成内容。很多时候我都能够很幸运地与自己所欣赏的一些人合作，如Christopher Alexander 和James Lovelock。他们不同程度地参与了我们的项目制作。而我的梦想便是让那些带给我们灵感的人参与其中，并给予我们适当反馈。
Wright：有趣的是，在我玩游戏的时候，我完全不觉得它们会成为灵感来源。我只是单纯地在打游戏，并享受着游戏乐趣。在生活中的某些时候，我会放下游戏设计师的身份，忘 记我是以此谋生，而只是坐着玩游戏。现在能够带给我最大的乐趣便是《World of Tanks》。在童年的时候我很喜欢“第二次世界大战”这段历史（游戏邦注：甚至创建了许多坦 克模型），而《World of Tanks》拥有许多不同于“第二次世界大战”的坦克。我之所以会觉得它很有趣是因为它很像第一人称射击游戏。玩家无需拥有快速的反应，反而更加需 要策略型思维能力。这些坦克的行驶速度较慢，炮塔的转向也不快。当我在玩第一人称射击游戏时，我还被一名14岁的小孩击中过。所以《World of Tanks》是像第一人称射击游 戏那样许多人都能够轻松获取胜利的游戏。
我也会在iPhone和iPad上玩许多应用。但是通常情况下我都不会陷太深。我之所以尝试这些应用是为了寻找一些真正有趣的内容。有时候是为了研究一个新奇的界面或者不同的方 法。它们对于我来说也是灵感的来源。许多基于回合制的策略游戏伴随着我的成长，所以我一直都很喜欢这类型游戏。就像我便连续好几年都在DS上玩《Advance Wars》。Sid Meier的《文明》以及最新面向iPad的《文明：变革》也是我很喜欢的游戏。我会花大量时间去玩这些游戏。
Wright（W）：许多人设计游戏是出于不同的动机。如果你跟不同的游戏设计师对话，你会发现其原因取决于他们所处的地位、任职公司（比如小工作室）等。有些人只想让公司成 功，而并不关心做什么游戏。他们努力研究成功的游戏类型。有些人的动机就比较艺术了，像独立游戏开发者就大多属于这一类人。他们希望推动游戏设计这门艺术，尝试新奇的 和有趣的东西。他们努力发明和发现新的游戏类型。有些人对某种游戏类型非常执著：“我想做出有史以来最好的二战FPS。”这更接近一种技艺的态度。
然而，玩家想的是坐下来好好玩一把游戏，管它是什么游戏。Sid Meier曾经说过，有时候游戏设计师为玩家设计游戏，有时候他们为自己设计游戏。对此，我有好几次都觉得愧疚 。回顾过去，我已经吸取教训了。
多年以前，我设计了《模拟地球》，当时我对模拟游戏非常着迷。我花了许多时间研究气候与地质之间的关系之类的东西。然而，玩家看不到这些深层次的东西。他们看不到零散 的部件协同运作是多么精妙的事。对他们而言，他们所看到的东西只是图像和物品。玩《模拟地球》时，玩家就像被丢进一个不断下坠的驾驶舱，面对各种旋转中的计量表，他们 不知所措，想不出输入与结果的关系。这种模拟太复杂了，玩家无法享受和学习。作为设计师，我完全沉浸于模拟中，却忽略了玩家。这段经历让我受益匪浅。这种事确实常常发 生。
W：我尽量与玩家保持联系吧。现在，对任何一款已发行的游戏来说，最重要的工作之一就是社区管理，包括倾听玩家的意见、了解玩家的需求和反馈玩家、关心和培养玩家社区。 如果玩家知道你有关注他们，玩家社区就不会衰落，而会变得更加活跃，甚至成为你的游戏传道者。此外，你还要知道，你的游戏吸引玩家的东西是什么？让玩家最受挫的东西是 什么？你反馈和修复问题的速度有多快？一旦你跟玩家社区展开对话，你就是在与他们合作，让他们帮助你改进游戏。我们有技术、指标和玩家社区，现在处理反馈和解决问题的 效率非常高了。
W：在某种程度上，游戏是从核心大脑，也就是爬虫类脑（游戏邦注：主管呼吸、血压、心跳等生理系统，也掌管反射性动作如恐惧、快乐等基本情绪反应）开始的。早期的游戏以 攻击、防御、生存为主题。最初，我们的游戏是针对爬虫类脑的，因为它容易且高效。现在，游戏开始以大脑皮层和更广泛的情绪反应为目标，使玩家进入不同的状态。现在有许 多游戏都非常强调思考、冥想和放松，这与导致肾上腺素分泌增多的早期游戏是相反的。
对于玩家，现在的游戏更加外化。也就是，玩家进入某些世界，应对周围的事物。我们研究得不多、我个人非常有兴趣的领域之一就是，我们如何让玩家感觉到更多的内心状态， 即他们自己的心理。他们的头脑中想的是什么？游戏可以把玩家个人的许多想法提取出来，让玩家看到自己在游戏中的有趣反应，而不只是一些外在的模拟现实或虚构的世界。对 我而言，这些自我反射的游戏暗示着某种自我意识的精神状态。我们在游戏中还完全没有探索过这些精神状态。
随着我们在模似现实的道路上越走越远，开发成本也上升了。结果，你需要百万美元投入才能与市场上的其他游戏打成平手。我认为，这种现象仍将继续存在，但在整个市场上会 越来越少。我不肯定这只是行业的问题。我们有这么先进图像处理器来产生逼真的画面是件好事，但玩法才是重点。而制作逼真的画面只是其中一个努力方向。谁知道我们还有 多少不同类型的玩法还没开发出来。这才是需要开拓的领域。
GH：现在有许多新的输入设备如Kinect、Google Glass和Oculus Rift等。你认为多触屏幕会将它们淘汰掉，还是这些新技术并驾齐驱？
再者，即使有了这些输入设备，无论是多触屏幕还是动作感知技术，或者只是鼠标和键盘，困难的部分仍然是玩家心理学。在这方面，输入设备还没成为大瓶颈。我可以想象围绕 几乎任何一种设备设计游戏中有趣的效果。不同设备各有优势。很难用鼠标和键盘玩跳舞游戏，但用Kinect就非常好。某种设备适合某种游戏。我认为不存在“以不变应万变”的 解决方案。多样化才是王道。
W：强化现实的技术还有很大潜力。从实用的角度出发，“头上戴这种东西会头晕吧？”仍然要考虑到许多非常现实的问题。但将游戏与现实相融合的相法确实让我很感兴趣，比纯 虚拟现实技术（头戴上设备后，真实世界就消失了）更吸引我。虚拟现实技术可能也有实用性的问题，毕竟仍然能感觉得到周围的动静。如果让我选择一种可能大大促进游戏的技 术，我想我会选择强化现实技术吧。
Game Horizon’s Q&A with Will Wright on the future of games
Nobody talks about games as lucidly as Will Wright, the creator of blockbuster franchises from SimCity to The Sims. He discussed the future of games at the Game Horizon Live event in a live webcast this week. During his Q&A session, he talked about a wide variety of topics about where games are going.
Wright said that he was inspired by the “Cambrian” explosion of games (as in the meteoric growth of life during that epoch in Earth’s history) that has come from indie game development on app stores for smartphones, tablets and other platforms.
Wright cofounded Maxis and created games like SimCity. EA acquired Maxis in 1997, and Wright went on to create titles like The Sims and Spore while at EA. He left Electronic Arts in 2009 and set up a series of startups. His latest company is Syntertainment, which focuses on creative play and the interaction between entertainment and reality.
Wright has won multiple awards and was inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences’ Hall of Fame. For young game designers getting started, Wright advised them to study nongaming fields so they can get more creative inspiration. Here’s an edited transcript of a portion of the Q&A with Wright at Game Horizon 2013. This is part one of the Q&A and we’ll run part two on Sunday.
Will Wright: Really, you’re dealing with two platforms. You’re dealing with the computing platform, which is code and technology and all that stuff, and you’re dealing with the human mind. When you design a game, it’s running on both of these platforms at once. A lot of the things that we can crunch numbers on in a simulation, we do that on the computer. But a lot of other things that the computer is not well-suited for, we actually run that in the player’s imagination.
For example, in The Sims, when you hear the people talk, you don’t actually hear them saying anything. You hear this kind of gibberish language. Through a lot of experiments, we determined that we could actually have them speaking in English or some other known language, but they very quickly became robotic and repetitive. That veil of reality disappears. On the other hand, if they speak gibberish, your mind naturally fills in the blanks and imagines a onversation.
The Sims have vocal intonation. They have emotion. You can tell if they’re angry or flirting or whatever it is. We don’t hear the exact words, is all. In essence, what we did is we offloaded that part of the simulation into the human imagination.
When I started out in my career many decades ago, it was all about how fast the computer can run. How many pixels can we put on the screen? We were always fighting the machine at every turn to get more performance out of it, to do more tricks. Those limitations, for the most part, have just fallen by the wayside. I don’t feel like I have any meaningful technological bottlenecks or barriers ahead of me. At this point, it’s about how we best exploit the human imagination, the human mind, human creativity, in interesting ways. We’re trying to get somebody’s brain into a certain state that they enjoy. Sometimes it ’s a kind of flow state. You’re at this border between challenge, accomplishment, and difficulty. Other times it’s more of a free-form, creative, expressive state, or something where you want to share, more of a social state.
Obviously, we don’t understand very much about the human mind. Game design, in some sense, is applied psychology. We’re hacking human psychology. We’re dealing with these mechanisms in our brains that give us joy, enjoyment. Sometimes it’s through challenge, or through finding patterns, or through solving problems. Our brain is wired to enjoy these things, which fundamentally is the process of learning. Our brain is wired to reward us for learning and pushing
our limits and doing things outside of our barriers. Game design is in some ways a process of getting us into that state of expanding our mind.
I can sit there and look at the specs of a computer and understand all the stuff that it can and can’t do. The human mind, though, we have no manual for. That’s uncharted territory. As game designers, this is one of the fundamental ways in which we’re exploring the human mind.
Game Horizon: Which game designers in the world do you most admire? Current or historical?
Wright: That’s a good question. Obviously, [Shigeru] Miyamoto and Nintendo. What I admire most about him is that he always takes the player first. Right off the bat, giving someone the controller – what does it feel like? How tactile and kinesthetic is what he’s working on? It works from the inside out. What’s the first 5 seconds of the player experience? What’s in the next 10 seconds? His games have this craftsmanship around them that’s amazing and unique. Plus, the variety of things he’s done. So I very much admire him.
Also, Peter Molyneux. I think he takes a lot of risks. He’s got this vicarious thing about dealing with little worlds full of little people, which very much matches my sensibilities in a way. Sid Meier, I’ve always enjoyed his games. His games are just playable. They’re like a comfortable chair you sit in. I grew up playing board games and war games and stuff. Sid did as well, so I think Sid in some ways is re-creating our youth, the kinds of games we would play back then. There are lots more. It’s hard to pick them out.
All three of these are from my generation of game designers. There are a lot of other people, up-and-coming people, doing weird, cool, experimental stuff right now. I feel like we have a much wider crop of very skilled, talented designers now than we ever have, which is great for the industry. Partially it’s the result of having all these different platforms. You don’t need the 100-person team. A really smart kid can go out there with a couple of his friends and put an app out on the App Store inside of a year. Some of the greatest designers out there are just getting their start right now.
GH: What were the biggest influences for the kind of games that you’ve created – the simulations you’ve built that are more than just mechanical, that simulate life in a way?
Wright: A lot of my influences for my games come from reading, from books. Specific themes and subjects usually are very targeted, coming from academic stuff. I was very inspired initially by Jay Forrester, who was the father of modern system dynamics theory back in the ‘50s. I was reading about how he was trying to take different systems – cities, factories, the whole world – and simulate them. He wanted to deconstruct them into component parts that he could
build a model of.
As a kid I spent most of childhood building models – planes, ships, plastic and wood. I started putting in motors and building tanks and stuff like that, which led me to the idea of robots. I bought my first computer to control my early robots. Doing robotics, I started realizing that most of the really hard problems in robotics and AI were software problems.
At the same time, I got very interested in not just modeling the world with static, physical models, but also how to model the world dynamically. Modeling the internal dynamics of the world and the way things work. I’d say that Jay Forrester was a big inspiration down the simulation path. Another inspiration was a Polish writer named Stanislaw Lem, who wrote a lot about micro-worlds, simulating worlds, and the ethics of dealing with these things. A lot of philosophical questions that these little worlds bring up. For the different games I’ve done, for almost every game there’s some major nspiration. Edward Wilson’s work with ants inspired SimAnt. Christopher Alexander’s work on architecture inspired The Sims. So I get most of my inspiration from reading.
GH: There have obviously been a few issues with the new SimCity. How has that affected you in the design of your new work?
Wright: What I’m working on now is going to be much more of a mobile-based experience. It’s in a totally different ballpark economically and business-wise from the old shrink-wrap model. I think a lot of the old titles, the old franchises that are PC-based and whatnot, are going to have to evolve very rapidly. We’re in a new market. It’s true of the console companies and their business models as well. Their business model used to be that you’d buy a console and they’d sell you a bunch of games and that would pay for the console development. Now people are being conditioned, in the app markets especially, that games cost three to five dollars, or they’re freemium, with microtransactions.
We’re going from one local maximum, in the business landscape of games, to a whole different one. For a lot of business models that’s going to be a very uncomfortable transition. There’s obviously been a lot of piracy over the years in the PC market. DRM is one approach to it. Freemium is another. There’s a Darwinian process happening right now before our eyes as to which ones consumers will accept and which ones they’re going to be comfortable with. It’s a question of how you pull somebody into an experience, without frontloading the economic exposure from the consumer’s point of view.
As far as DRM – and this is relative to SimCity and what happened with the SimCity launch – I wasn’t really working with Electronic Arts at that point, so I can’t say much about that specifically. But I’d say that kind of DRM issue isn’t really much of a concern for me on the new project working on. The business model that we do choose, whether it’s icrotransactions or subscription or however we try to monetize it, is a very big unknown right now. There is no established model. People are experimenting with all these different things and meeting varying levels of success.
GH: You talked a bit about all the changes that have come over the industry in the last five years. A lot of that is centered around the way the industry is structured, how things are sold. You mentioned microtransactions and episodic games. That’s all been on the business side of things. Do you feel that any of that has been a positive for the way games are designed, the way that design is approached?
Wright: As you move to something like a freemium model, what’s happening is, it’s really just an expansion of what we used to call game demos. I’d download a demo and if I liked it I’d go buy the game. We’ve granularized that process.
I am a firm believer that if the game has value to the player, if the player is enjoying that experience, then the player will be willing to pay for it in some form. I think that it puts games on, in some sense, a more even footing, in that it’s not so much about how big of a marketing budget you can put behind it. That’s still a large component, but it’s not as huge as it used to be. It used to be about things like shelf space and how you’d get distribution in very limited channels. That was such a huge filter that in some ways it was causing the publishers to fall back and be very risk-averse. The biggest-selling category was always sequels. Publishers were comfortable investing millions of dollars into the second and third versions of something they knew was successful. They were much less comfortable with trying something totally experimental.
In that sense, the new business models that we have are very good for game development. We’re seeing much more experimentation and risk-taking, because you don’t necessarily have to plunk down as much money on marketing and distribution as you did on game development. The platforms are such that I don’t just spend tens of millions of dollars to develop a top-level game on the platform.
We’re moving to a world where there’s a more direct correlation between the value a player gets from a game and your ability to monetize from the player. I ’ve experienced this myself with certain games that I’ve played. There are games that I’ve downloaded, freemium games, that I’ve really gotten into and that I’m playing months later. I’m willing, at that point, to put money into the game – significant amounts of money. In some sense it’s up to the game to prove itself to me first. Do I really want to play this thing again and again? Am I getting into it? Then I’ll open my wallet and start putting money into it. I think the more direct the correlation between the value a player gets from a game and the amount of money we take from the player, the more people will feel good about the industry. Nothing feels worse than dropping down $40 on a game that you buy at a software store, bringing it home, playing it for half an hour, and finding out that it sucks. We’re moving away from that.
GH: Do you think that any of your previous games would have benefited from this new system?
Wright: It’s hard to say, because at the same time, what we’ve seen is a huge widening of the demographics of our players. The reason why some of my games have been fairly successful, I think, is because they pulled in a much wider group of people. But still, they were on a very limited set of platforms. They were typically PC-based. When you get to the sequels to some of the games I did – The Sims 2, SimCity 2000, and so on – at that point people knew what these things were, and they were much more likely to drop the $30 or $40 to buy the game. In the first versions, it probably did mitigate the spread of these things. It was just word of mouth. People said, “You should check this game out.” You’d play at your friend’s house and then go order it.
Right now, there’s such immediacy to being able to try a game. If someone tells me about a game on my iPhone, I can be playing it in two minutes. I don’t have to find it in the store, bring it home, and install it. That immediacy allows the consumer to experiment with a much wider variety of things. Now, on the flip side of this, you have a thousand cool games competing for your attention. It’s about signal and noise.
GH: Are there any game genres or any design ideas that you’ve had and that you wanted to work on, but you never had a chance to do so? Now that development cycles are shorter and risks might be mitigated, is there anything like that you might have a chance to work on?
Wright: I’ve had so many ideas, some that could go way beyond my lifespan. There’s an idea I worked on for many months that was kind of a tactical storm simulator. It was based on 3D fluid dynamics. I wanted to be able to go in and grab the atmosphere and move it and manipulate it in interesting ways. By now, with a multi-touch interface, it’s probably much more achievable than it was with the old mouse and keyboard approach. But yeah, there are so many ideas that I got into at one point in time or another, and then for whatever reason – technology or simulation difficulty – they dropped by the wayside. For the most part, though, I think that the thing that’s interested me the most is the path that I’m going down, which is understanding the player very deeply and having a game that develops and evolves with particular people.
GH: A couple of years ago, we had Ken Perlin come and give a speech. I gather that you talk to him from time to time. If you had a dream team of people that you’d put together, who would they be?
Wright: It would depend on the project. I’ve worked with a number of great people over the years. Typically, in programming, it’s one of these fields where a great programmer is 100 times more effective than a really good programmer. But it also depends entirely on how motivated people are towards the project. That’s another huge multiplier. If you can come up with an idea and figure out who would be really into it, those are the people you want on the team. So it ’s hard for me to say that there’s one dream team.
Ken and his work have been a huge inspiration to me. He was doing a lot of the early consulting for us on Spore, the procedural generation stuff. At various times I’ve had the privilege to work with some of the people who’ve inspired me with their writing — Christopher Alexander, James Lovelock. I’ve gotten them involved to various degrees on projects. When you get the person who inspired the idea to come in and start giving feedback, to me that is the dream.
GH: What are the games that you are playing at the moment that you’re getting inspired by, or that you just love to play?
Wright: It’s interesting. When I play games, I don’t necessarily feel like I et inspired by them at all. I just sit and play them. I enjoy them. There’s some part of my life where I put aside the fact that I’m a game designer, that I do this for a living, and I just want to sit and blow things up. My current guilty pleasure is World of Tanks. As a kid I always loved World War II history — I built a lot of tank models — and World of Tanks has all these different tanks from World War II. It’s fun for me because it’s kind of like a first-person shooter for old people. You don’t need to have fast reflexes to play
this game. It’s much more about strategic thinking. These tanks go slowly and the turrets don’t turn fast. When I play first-person shooters I just get my butt kicked by 14-year-old kids. So World of Tanks is like a first-person shooter that someone like me can play fairly successfully.
I play a lot of apps, too, on my iPhone and iPad. Usually I don’t play them very deeply. I try a lot of them just to look around for cool things. Sometimes it’s a novel interface or a different approach. Those are probably a little more of an inspiration for me. I grew up playing a lot of turn-based strategy games, too, so I’ve always enjoyed those. Advance Wars on the DS, I spent many years playing that. Sid Meier’s Civilization, as well as the new one on the iPad, Civilization Revolutions. Those are the kinds of games I spend most of my time playing.
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Will Wright, the creator of blockbuster franchises like SimCity and The Sims, discussed the future of games at the Game Horizon Live event in a live webcast this week. During his Q&A session, he discussed a wide variety of topics about where games are going.
Wright said that he was inspired by the “Cambrian” explosion of games (as in the meteoric growth of life during that epoch in Earth’s history) that has come from indie game development on app stores for smartphones, tablets, and other platforms.
Wright co-founded Maxis and created games like SimCity. Electronic Arts acquired the company in 1997, and Wright went on to create titles like The Sims and Spore while at EA. He left Electronic Arts in 2009 and set up a series of startups. His latest company is Syntertainment, which focuses on creative play and the interaction between entertainment and reality.
Wright has won multiple awards and was inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences’ Hall of Fame, and in 2007, he became the first game designer to receive a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) award. For young game designers getting started, Wright advised them to study nongaming fields so they can get more creative inspiration. Here’s an edited transcript of a portion of the Q&A with Wright at Game Horizon 2013. This is part two (click here for part one).
Game Horizon: Do you think there’s a disconnect between the people who design games and the people who are playing them?
Wright: A lot of people design games for different reasons. If you talk to different game designers, it depends on where they are, what company they’re in, if they’re in a startup situation, and things like that. Some just want to build a successful company. They don’t really care what kind of game they make. They’re trying to figure out what the hot genre is. Other people are much more into artistic expression. These are more like your indie game developers. They want to push forward the state of the art in game design and try new, weird, interesting things. They want to strike out and discover new genres. Some people are very wedded to a particular genre. “I want to do the coolest first-person shooter set in World War II that’s been done so far.” It’s much more of a craftsmanship approach.
At the end of the day, as a player, you want to sit back and have a good time and enjoy whatever it is. I think that Sid Meier said once that sometimes game designers design games for players, and other times they design games for themselves. I think I’ve been guilty of that a couple of times. I’ve learned from that, as I step back.
With SimEarth, which was a game I did many years ago, I got really into the simulation. I spent all this time getting the climate connected to geology and things like that. From the player’s point of view, they didn’t see under the hood. They didn’t see all these bits and pieces moving around and how beautifully it worked together, this wonderful clockwork. For them, all they saw were these graphs and things. Playing SimEarth was like being put into the cockpit of a 747 in a nose dive with all the gauges spinning. They were pushing the controls around, trying to come up with some association between their input and the outputs. The simulation was too complex, I think, for players to enjoy and learn from. As a designer, I got totally into the simulation and forgot about the player. That was something I learned a lot from. So that does happen a lot.
Right now, the market is so immediate and so Darwinian. With the metrics that we’re able to collect from players, we’re able to discover within a few hours where players are getting stuck, what they’re enjoying, what things are surprising us about their activities in the game. We’re able to learn from players so much more quickly that it creates a much tighter iteration loop.
GH: Do you engage directly with your audience? Do people contact you and ask you questions and you reply, or is that just overwhelming?
Wright: [I engage] as much as possible. One of the most important roles for any game being released today is community management. Listening to the players, getting a sense of what the consensus is from the players, and responding back to them. Part of that is just care and feeding of the community. If they understand that you’re listening, you can spin it from going bad and turning into a flame war to bringing them on to your side and making them into your evangelists. Another big part of that is understanding what they’re enjoying about your game. What are the things about your game that are most frustrating to them? How quickly can you respond to that and fix it? As soon as you can start the conversation with your community, then you’re working with them. They ’re helping you develop the game. We have the technology and the metrics and the communications to do that now very effectively and very rapidly.
GH: You mentioned earlier the idea of player states, the different psychological states that a player can be in. Are there any particular states that you’d like to explore more? If you did that,would that lead to new game ideas, possibly?
Wright: Games, in some sense, started almost from the core brain, the reptilian brain. Early games were about aggression, defense, survival. The reptilian brain is what we were initially preying on because that was easy and effective. Now games are starting to get to the outer layers of our brain and a wider palette of emotions, and that brings the player into different states. A lot of games out there right now are very reflective or meditative, very relaxing, which is the opposite of the early games that were all about adrenaline.
Games are also more external to the player now. In other words, it’s about the player being sent into some world and dealing with things around them. One of the areas that we haven’t explored much that I’m very interested in is how we get players to get more of a sense of their internal states, their own psychology. What is it like to be inside their head? Games can extract a lot of that from individual players and allow players to see interesting reflections of themselves in the game, not just some external virtual reality, some fictitious world. These self-reflective games to me imply a certain mental state of self-awareness that I think we haven’t explored at all in games.
GH: Do you feel that narrative can get in the way of that kind of experience?
Wright: I think that there’s always going to be this tension between narrative and freedom or agency in games,. I could sit there and tell you a story. That ’s a very passive experience. The chief strength of a game, though, the thing that almost defines a game, is the fact that you’re driving it. It is interactive, and you get to steer the situation. What I’ve kept with me from gaming are the unique stories that players have told me about things that they did in a game, things nobody else did. So I think of games more as a platform for players to play out stories than as a medium for the game designer to tell a story. To me, telling a story is almost, right off the bat, putting the player in a passive role.
As a game designer, I think it’s much more interesting to get on the path of “how do we teach our games to recognize the story that the player is trying to play out and then respond and support that story?” The game itself can become something of a director in the background, watching the player drive the story forward, and then try to support and amplify that dramatically.
GH: Did you play Journey, which won lots of awards in the U.K. and the U.S. last year? I mention it because it found a very interesting balance between the narrative, which it tells you very little about – you discover it yourself – and this sense of emotion in the characters.
Wright: Yeah. I think Braid captured that as well. I’m not saying there aren’t ways to do that. It’s a very tricky thing, though.
GH: We see a lot of readers arguing among themselves about the danger of next-generation consoles delivering more advanced visuals but forgetting about the gameplay aspect – just giving us more flash. Do you feel like that’s a valid concern?
Wright: Historically, we’ve had this kind of arms race in the games industry. Graphics, pixels, polygons. If I look back to the games I was playing 20 or 30 years ago, when there were just a few little pixels on the screen that made up a character, somehow I still cared about that character. I was able to infuse that character with life. Looking at what we can do with modern-day equipment, we can build these beautifully rendered humans and creatures, but their behavioral range is still about that of an ant. We’ve gone way, way ahead on the graphics side, but on the simulation and behavioral side, we’re still many steps back.
At the same time, I see that people are playing these games in the app market that we could have done 20 years ago. They’re still fun, though. People engage, and they spend time playing them. You can go down this path of hyper-realistic graphics, and it’s impressive and nice to look at for a while, but at the end of the day, it’s gameplay that’s going to keep me with a game for 30 or 40 hours.
As we get on that more realistic path, it also makes development much more expensive. That’s where you wind up needing millions of dollars to put something on the market that’s on par with everything else. That world will continue to exist, I think, but it’s going to become a smaller and smaller chunk of the overall games market. I’m not sure that it’s even all that relevant to the industry as a whole. It’s cool that we have these advanced graphics processors to create these hyper-realistic images, but gameplay is what makes up the broad landscape. Making things realistic is just one path through it. Who knows how many different types of innovative gameplay are out there that we haven’t yet discovered. That’s the frontier.
GH: Going on from that, do you have any thoughts on the new generation of consoles in general or the different approaches between Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo?
Wright: Gameplay is one thing, but a lot of these people are also competing to become your media hub. That’s the battle they’re starting to fight. Gameplay is interesting because it’s becoming more ubiquitous. It’s starting to infuse our culture everywhere with this gamification movement. People are seeing gameplay send tendrils out into other forms of media. The way I browse the web, the way I think about music or movies, the social networks I use. Games could
potentially become the connective tissue between these things.
If you look at this next generation of consoles, they’re seeing that. You buy this as a game machine, but really it’s going to become your media hub. From a consumer’s point of view, there’s not a huge distinction between gaming and watching YouTube and listening to music. They’re all different forms of entertainment that I’m enjoying digitally. That’s probably the biggest role for these new consoles going forward.
With these other platforms, whether they’re social platforms or mobile platforms, I think we’re going to see those as maybe the larger frontier as far as new, innovative game development and reaching a broader audience. Mainstream America had been in this cycle of buying a console every five years, upgrading the Xbox or whatever. Nowadays people are spending more time on their iPads or tablets and things like that.
GH: There are lots of novel interface mechanisms being delivered these days – Kinect, Google Glass, Oculus Rift, and so on. Do you think the multitouch touchscreen is going to wipe them all out, or do you see those innovations flowering alongside each other?
Wright: There are so many different input devices appearing right now. It’s kind of nice because for the longest time we had all this growth in the output from your computer – higher resolution, better sound – and the input was pretty much still the same little straw. You had a mouse, a keyboard, and maybe a joypad. Seeing things like multitouch and 3D Z-buffer Kinect types of things, they’re opening up interesting new areas in game development.
I think one of the more interesting ones is going to be on the eyewear side of things, wherever that goes — Google Glass and so forth. That’s going to be something that feels fundamentally different, that’s going to be a whole new thing to explore. It’s going to have a lot of social stigma attached to it, which will be interesting and fun to explore.
Again, even with the input we have, whether it’s multitouch or gesture or just mouse and keyboard, the hard part is still getting into the psychology of the player. I don’t see that theinterfaces are that big of a bottleneck in that direction. I can imagine designing an interesting effect in a game around almost any interface. Each one has its strengths. It’s hard to do a dance game with a keyboard and mouse whereas a dance game with Kinect works pretty well. Certain interfaces will become the home of certain genres. I don’t see any one-size-fits-all solution. I see a sea of diversification.
GH: The Oculus Rift in particular has drawn a lot of interest. Virtual reality was a big thing in the ’90s, but it never quite worked out, but now it’s come back again. Do you see new genresbeing created specifically for this much more integral control method?
Wright: The augmented-reality thing has a lot of potential going forward. There’s still the pragmatic aspect of “how long can I wear this on my head without getting motion sick?” There are some very practical concerns. But the idea of blending gaming with reality is very intriguing to me. It’s more intriguing than the idea of pure virtual reality, where I put on the headset and the whole world disappears. It’s probably more pragmatic as well, to still have some awareness of what’s around you. If I had to pick one technology that I think is going to be a leap forward for gaming, it probably would be down the augmented-reality path.
GH: As a lot of games and genres migrate from a premium business model to free-to-play or free-to-try, do you see that reflected in the role of the designer and the way that you design a game using those models?
Wright: In some sense, it puts the psychology of the designer back where we were in the old arcade days. How do you get somebody, in the first couple of minutes, to enjoy the activity enough that they can’t stop? We’re giving them a bag of potato chips, so to speak. It’s a very Pavlovian thing. You have to unveil the value of a game progressively and get the player emotionally hooked.
Once you get them emotionally hooked, it’s a lot easier to get them to pull a dollar out of their pocket. It’s more than just the promise of “this is going to be really cool if you open the red door.”
In some ways, it frontloads a lot of the designer’s task. Right off the bat, if I can’t get the player past a certain point with this game, any other effort I put into the game is wasted. I’mgoing to spend a lot more time thinking about the initial user experience. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Then, once you’ve pulled somebody into the experience, it’s a question of how you keep them there. What’s the stickiness?
One of the most effective ways that we’ve found over the years revolves around community and social interaction. As soon as I’m interacting with other people — I have some reputation, I have a role, I see this as part of my identity — that’s as sticky as anything. It’s going to bring games into a somewhat more social space because social is one of those thumbnail methods for making the experience sticky.
On the business side, you’re going to see a lot of people trying things, to some degree, where you’re putting something out with a certain amount of development and waiting to see if people get pulled into it efore you invest too much on the back side of the experience. We’re not necessarily going to see games revealed episodically all the time, but I can definitely see games growing while they’re on the market. I come out with a first version, and when people get into it, I add more layers to it. It’s staged development, where you reinvest based on success. We’re seeing alot of that happen.