Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Where are they now? - Will Wright

Will Wright's mugshot at ACADIA 2014

As you know, Will Wright was picked as #1 on a list I compiled last year containing who I believed were the top 10 PC Game Developers (or developer duos) of all time. The PC gaming community owes a lot to him thanks to revolutionary games such as SimCity, The Sims and even Spore. But what do we know about his life before Maxis and what's he up to nowadays?

Will Wright (born in 1960) graduated high school at the young age of 16 (at least I'm assuming that's a young age - since it's definitely young here in Australia) in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. After school, he enrolled himself at Louisiana State University before transferring to Louisiana Tech two years later. Wright started off with an architecture degree, followed by a mechanical engineering degree and then fell into computing and robotics. In 1980, Wright moved to The New School in Manhattan and lived in Greenwich Village. After one year at The New School, Wright returned to Baton Rouge without his degree.

Wright enjoyed playing computer games so he decided that he would get into programming them. His first work, Raid on Bungeling Bay was published by Brøderbund in 1984 for the Commodore 64 and it was a helicopter action game. Wright had so more fun building the levels for the game than actually flying around in them that he decided a game concept like SimCity wouldn't be such a bad idea.

In 1986, Wright met Jeff Braun, an investor interested in getting a foot in the computer game industry. In 1987, they formed Maxis in California and eventually self-published their first game SimCity but it wouldn't be until 1989 that Brøderbund would take over publishing, even though they declined the first time Wright and Braun asked. Despite naysayers thinking the game would be a flop due to it being a mere "software toy" instead of a game that presented an actual goal or challenge, SimCity was a huge success.

Many other sandbox or "Sim" games were developed at Maxis, with Will Wright being responsible for games like SimEarth, SimAnt and SimCopter during the 1990s.

Maxis went public in 1995 and was eventually acquired by EA in 1997.

During the late 90s, Wright got his chance to make a "dollhouse simulator" aka as The Sims and it was published in 2000 by Electronic Arts. The Sims was an even bigger success than SimCity and is one of the best-selling franchises of all time (over 175 million units sold according to figures last year and probably much higher than that now that the Sims 4 has been released).

During the 2000s, Wright won several awards and honours including a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Game Developers Choice Awards in 2001, being inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences' Hall of Fame in 2002 and being the first game designer to be awarded fellowship by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

Wright's final project at EA was grand in scope and was based on a wish of Wright's to make a game that bridged the gap between the macro-style of play with SimCity and the micro-management style of play in The Sims. The result was 2008's Spore, a game about evolving an organism from a tiny amoeba into a space-faring civilization. Unfortunately, the game didn't really match the hype and it may have had something to do with the many removed features especially from the earlier life stages of the game - or possibly the draconian DRM.

In 2009, Will Wright left Maxis and formed his own think-tank (or as Isaac from Deus Ex would say, "a thunk tunk") called Stupid Fun Club with EA making an equity investment of 50% in the company, along with the right to develop game concepts that spring from its projects.

In 2012, Will Wright formed a new company called Syntertainment and is currently developing a new cross-platform game experience that will debut on mobile and will eventually spread to other platforms.

Also, Will Wright gave a presentation only yesterday at ACADIA 2014, which is apparently some Association for Computer-Aided Design in Architecture. Go figure.

So will we see any more awesome games from Will Wright in the future? Will Wright is a bright guy and considering his past successes with SimCity and The Sims, the world is his oyster.

LINKS:
[ Wikipedia: Will Wright ]
[ Fortune: Design genius Will Wright wants to make a game of your life (25 June 2013) ]
[ Archinect: The theory of everything in sandbox city (5 Nov 2014) ]
[ MobyGames: Will Wright ]
[ Official Syntertainment website ]

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