You read that right: it's been five years since The Sims exploded onto the PC gaming scene. A mainstream success almost overnight, The Sims and its subsequent sequel and expansion packs have sold tens of millions of copies worldwide. But the man behind the magic is no stranger to success: game designer Will Wright has been wowing gamers with classics such as SimCity for over 15 years.

But for me, personally, just sitting down to chat with Will is almost as much fun as playing one of his games. Wright's mind is always turning, always looking at possibilities, always examining gameplay from both a scientific and artistic perspective. This recent five-year milestone for The Sims gave me an opportunity to sit down and pick his brain about the history of the franchise, the rocky road leading to the game's development, and his thoughts on why there aren't more open-ended games on the market.


Will Wright

Dave 'Fargo' Kosak: First question for you.
Does it really feel like five years? Has time flown?

Will Wright: Feels like a lot's happened in that time frame. It doesn't feel like five years -- it
feels more like three. I guess for me this whole Sims thing was a lot longer cause the very first prototype I built of it was '93 ... so that would
be 12 years.

Fargo: I understand it was kind of a maverick project at first. It was just you and a dream.

Wright: Yeah it was kind of low-level at first. I put it down for a few years while I was doing SimCity 2000 and Sim Copter. I picked it back up and it was still pretty low level, and that's when it was kind of very hard to sell everyone else on the idea.

Fargo: How many people did you have on the team?

Wright: Well initially it was just me. Around '93 I did the initial prototype myself. When we picked it up after that, it was me and one other programmer, Jamie Doornbos, who was basically developing the behavioral engine. We spent around a year and a half, just the two of us developing that. Once we had a sense of what [the behavioral engine] could do, that's the part when the design coalesced in my mind and I said "This is doable." We had to make sure the behavioral simulation was doable.

Fargo: So when did you first get the idea that "I'm gonna make a game about people?"

Wright: I had a rough idea in '93 and I did a prototype of the building game and moving the person around and having them interact with objects back in '93. Then as it became more focused around the people I started thinking about having them talk and interact, to have moods and relationships. It became real clear that we needed a pretty robust behavioral model, especially since the user would be designing the entire environment.

Most games the designer who designs the environment. You know, 'This guy has to hide behind this box and shoot at me when I go in front of him...'

Fargo: It's all scripted.

Wright: Right! But in this environment all of a sudden the user can build anything. He can put the guy in a room with nothing but a chair or he can put him in a mansion or have 10 people come over to party. It has to be plausible across an extreme range of situations. That's an entirely different type of AI. When I came back on the project I understood that was going to be the strength. Could we build a robust AI that could deal with all these situations? I had a clear idea of what the game was going to be, and I just wanted to mitigate the technology risk. To me the one thing keeping me from building my game was the behavioral engine.