Will Wright, the creator of “The Sims,” may be most accurately described as a cross between Stephen Hawking and Willy Wonka. He has a quirky and ironic sense of humor and a large and loyal following in the gaming world.
And he is an authentic genius.
During the recent Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, Wright agreed to sit down and discuss his work.
As the interview began, Wright held out a small baggy filled with old lapel pins commemorating the Soviet space program.
“Take one,” he said.
“I’m uncollecting,” Wright said. “I buy collections on Ebay, and I disperse them out to people again. I have to be like an entropic force to collectors, otherwise all of this stuff will get sorted.”
He is also uncollecting dolls, dice and fossils. Of course, the mere fact that he is uncollecting has not stopped him from acquiring things on his own.
For nearly a year now, Wright has been collecting relics from the Soviet space program, including a 45-kg hatch from a space shuttle, a seat from a Soyuz and control panels from the Mir space station.
He is also a member of the Stupid Fun Club, a California-based robotics workshop.
A former Robot Wars champion, Wright has retired from the ring to follow a more peaceful pursuit — the interaction between human beings and robots.
“We build these robots and we take them down to Berkeley (California) and study the interactions that people have with the robots,” Wright said. “We built this newer one that has a rapid-fire pingpong cannon. It will fire about 10 per second.
“So we give people this plastic bat and we say, ‘It’s set up to play baseball. Do you want to play baseball? It’s going to shoot a little ball and you try to hit it.’ And all of a sudden it’s like da-da-da-da, and it’s belting them with balls.”
Wright’s “uncollecting” movement is . . . unique and his homicidal robotic pitcher is amusing, but it is his game ideas that earned him a cover story in Newsweek.
With 8 million copies sold (plus another 13 million expansion packs), “The Sims,” published by Electronic Arts, is the best-selling PC CD-ROM game of all time.
Along with the interview, Wright provided a firsthand look at the followup, “Sims 2.”
First a word about “The Sims.” It is the kind of game you might expect from a man who uncollects space pins and assaults people with a robot that spits pingpong balls.
If other games are like professional wrestling matches or Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, “The Sims” is like an episode of “Seinfeld.” This is a game in which players run virtual characters’ lives by balancing work, rest, eating, hygiene, and social and romance needs.
Compared to its predecessor, “Sims 2” is both simplified and specialized. In short, you do not need to make your Sims go to the bathroom, wash their hands and flush their toilet. Much of the mundane activity has been stripped away.
Instead, you must concern yourself more with depth as the latest Sims specialize in romance, a career or other pursuits in which they have great needs.
In the past, “Sims” games have been played from an eye-in-the-sky, top-down perspective. With “Sims 2,” players will be right in the heart of the action. No one would ever mistake the game for real-life action, but the new 3-D Sims world created for “Sims 2” has everything from poolside barbecues to swank dinner parties.
Since much of what made “The Sims” so successful was the feeling that players were watching a soap opera gone wrong, “Sims 2,” with its “you-are-there” camera angles, is in eminent danger of becoming another huge hit. The game is certainly more intimate than ever before.
In addition, Wright is turning his attention to other projects.
“Right now we are working on a (new version of) ‘SimCity,’ ” he said. “It’s in early planning stages, not active work. We’re about to come out with a new direction for it.”
Asked what direction that might be, Wright said, “We haven’t figured out what it is.”
“SimCity,” the pioneering game in which players try to plan, build and nurture a functioning virtual city first appeared on Macintosh computers 15 years ago. Since then, it has been updated as “SimCity 2000,” “SimCity 3000” and “SimCity 4,” becoming steadily more complex.
” ‘SimCity’ kind of worked itself into a corner,” Wright said. “We were still appealing to this core ‘SimCity’ group. It had gotten a little complicated for people who had never played ‘SimCity.’ We want to take it back to its roots where somebody who had never heard of ‘SimCity’ can pick it up and enjoy playing it without thinking it was really, really hard.”