SXSWi: Will Wright Keynote Speech

Will Wright Keynote Speech

14:00 CST, 3-13-2007

Will Wright, creator of the SimCity and The Sims is getting ready to release new game called Spore that is a simulation of the universe.

Article by Will Wright in Wired on how games are unleashing the human imagination

Introduction by Justin Hall who I covered yesterday in the Beyond Play panel

Will runs the Stupid Fun Club in East Bay California. There was a video of a fallen robot saying, “help me, help me up” and the taped people’s responses to this homeless, helpless robot.

He has made it possible to experiment with the systems around us. Take The Sims and see what happens when you take out all the doors and toilets.

Will has a broken arm (skiing) and he said he had too much coffee. Ok, I better warm up my fingers.

He will be talking about storytelling and then about Spore.

Story has been the model, movies have been the example for games. I look at the world as a simulation. Certain things in the world influence other things. Everyone sees the same version of Star Wars, but everyone experiences games differently as it is an interactive experience. Every time we take away control from the player we mess up the game. It is like going to a movie and showing a blank screen.

Films are rich emotional experiences where games appeal to reptilian brain. Not that they don’t have depth. Never felt pride in a film. One time beat up characters in a game and I felt guilt, never feel guilt in a movie.

In games it is about agency, I am causing. In a movie I ask, what is going to happen next; in a game I ask, what am I going to do next?

games: agency building model
movies: empathy building model

A lot of movies start out with characters, but you don’t know what happens until you start watching the movie. Once Star Wars starts, the story keeps narrowing to less possibilities.

In linear storytelling the director knows the future. He knows what seemingly minor details are important to the outcome.

In interactive storytelling, very minor initial conditions can create dramatically different outcomes.

Linear drama has a storyboard, interactive drama cannot.

Memento, Timecode, Groundhog Day – examples of using time and storytelling in different ways. Timecode ran 4 stories in parallel and they sometimes interact. In Memento you thought you knew the story, but you had to keep going back and recreating your understanding. In Groundhog Day you know the past so you can keep telling new stories without retelling the old stories – very much like a video game when you “restart.”

“Maneki Neko” – Bruce Sterling, one of Will Wright’s favorite short stories about a karmic computer.

Ok, Will Wright is too smart and too eloquent to write down. Plus he talks to fast. This will have to be the first panel I attend that I don’t really cover with the live blog posting But you MUST watch this video podcast when its released. He understands games like no one I have ever heard, and his ideas are just fantastic and so imaginative.

The Truman Show and Groundhog Day are the two most relevant films to games

He is talking about giving players simple controls with concepts that the computer outputs as really high resolution characters or worlds that can be used in the video game. Can we basically extract an entire world from their imagination? The process of the gameplay is creating assets that work in the game. We want them to make their own experience more interesting and a basically.

Showing a demo of Spore right now when you start out as a single-celled organism in water eating and growing. Showing how you evolve into 3-D creature on land after 5-6 orders of magnitude of evolution.

5 minutes later…

Oh my, he showed how to create an entirely professional-looking character with pro-level textures, features and more. Will post some photos later when I get a chance on my Flickr site. Unreal.

I went to a school at a Montessori school and pretty much the rest of my education after that was all downhill

I think of my games as a Montesorri game, it is a philosophy tool. Playing Spore might make you think about life and how we got here. You don’t learn by someone lecturing you about it.

For everything you see in the game (characters, planets, ships) we have 3-D editors to customize. You can also see what other players have designed and choose those. We can change climates.

One of the biggest problems we have as humans is we can’t do long-term thinking. What will the world look like 100 years from now. We can have small 5-minute experiences in a game that gets us thinking forward in that way.

I don’t play video games, but this is the most convincing demonstration I have ever seen. I will have to buy this game when it comes out. Unreal concepts here.

One important point in the game was to explain how large the universe it. When you are in a planetary system how does that compare to the size of a Supernova? You can see this easily in the game environment.

He got excited applause at the end of the demo. He just sold the room.

Every now and then the world goes through a paradigm shift – hippie movement, Apple, 9/11 and we have political, social and environmental issues we are going to deal with.

his recommended book read: The SIngularity is Near – Ray Kurzweil

Hopefully games can evolve to give us ways to make better decisision in the future by experimenting in the games.

My thoughts: Stellar presentation. Also a fantastic example of how to use PowerPoint well – almost all slides were images explaining the concepts he was talking about, and some were funny and all were easy to follow. Almost no bulleted lists! (my PowerPoint ranting here)

Some quotes from around the room:

“There is nothing left, my brain is full”

“I can’t buy that game. I will disappear”

“I will buy a Windows computer just to play that game”

“That was like watching a drug dealer do a commercial”

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arvind s. grover

I am a progressive educator, a podcaster (, a blogger, and dean of faculty of JK-11 school (building a high school) in New York City.