Most video games have a beginning and an ending. An enemy to defeat or a goal to meet. The simulation genre is completely different, and the first game developer to popularize this genre was a man named Will Wright.
A high school graduate at the age of 16, Wright went to Louisiana Tech to obtain an architectural degree and later fell into computers and robotics after becoming interested in mechanical engineering. Wright also excelled in economics, military history and language arts. Plus, he dreamed of space colonization.
While designing his first video game, a top-down 2D shooter called Raid on Bungeling Bay, Wright enjoyed editing the game’s map more than playing the actual game. In addition to inspiring an interest in urban planning and system dynamics, it also led to the creation of the video game SimCity.
First developed for the Commodore 64 in 1985, SimCity’s innovation was that it was a game that could not be won. Only played.
The objective of the game is to build a city. Land can be designated as commercial, industrial or residential, buildings can be constructed, roads can be paved, you can set a city tax rate, and you occasionally have to deal with natural disasters.
The games were popular and there were countless sequels and spin-offs, such as SimFarm, SimEarth, SimLife, SimIsle, SimHealth and even SimAnt. These simulation games paved the way for games like Civilization, Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing.
The company Maxis was founded in 1987 by Wright and game producer Jeff Braun specifically to make the SimCity games. The company was bought by Electronic Arts a decade later.
The invisible inhabitants of your city were referred to as Sims, and in 2000, they got their own game.
The Sims is Wright’s most popular game. It basically consisted of interacting with Sims, designing your home, and visiting other Sims online. Just like SimCity, there was no end goal or way to win the game. It was just about building a life for your Sim.
It initially tested poorly and the higher ups at Maxis had no faith in the concept, but it was a fun life simulator with appealing characters that were easy to get attached to, and it eventually surpassed Myst as the best-selling computer game.
The Sims 2 (2004) refined the concept with fully 3D environments, more social influence between the Sims, more rewards and even bodily changes depending on your diet and health.
Wright’s most ambitious game may be Spore (2008), a real-time strategy god game released for Windows and Mac.
Spore allowed you to control the development of a species from its beginnings as a microscopic organism to a fully evolved creature to an entire space culture.
Will Wright likes to give players the freedom to solve problems in their own way, as opposed to many goal-oriented games with linear solutions. He also believes simulation games have the power to educate people.
He was inducted into The Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences’ Hall of Fame in 2002, and in 2007, the BAFTAS awarded him a fellowship, the first ever given to a game designer.
Wright left Maxis in 2009 and started the Stupid Fun Club startup company, which focused on games, online environments, storytelling media, toys and other home products. It lasted four years before Wright, and most of his team, founded the social media app and graphic novel builder Thred.
In 2015, the team at Maxis was restructured and moved alongside Electronic Arts’ mobile game division EA Mobile outside Emeryville. The company’s founder, Will Wright, currently lives with his family in Oakland, California. I don’t know if he will create any more games, but he has certainly earned a break after his enormous accomplishments in the world of interactive entertainment.
By the way, the Super NES version of SimCity features a green-haired mayor’s assistant named after Will Wright and referred to as Dr. Wright, and he has made several appearances in other Nintendo games such as ones from the Zelda and Super Smash Bros. series. For this reason, he is more famous than most game developers.