In this year's highly anticipated GDC game design keynote, The Sims creator and designer extraordinaire Will Wright offered insight into the research process followed in creating Maxis' upcoming title Spore, where he hopped from subjects from astrobiology, Drake's equation on the probability of life in outer space and the Russian space program to Maxis' recruiting policies and the design of coal-mining cranes.
In this extract, we discuss some of the extremely unique parts of the keynote:
"From a session structure standpoint, Wright decided to follow two parallel trains of thought, one (the “official” one) dealing with game design research methods, while the other (the one he actually wished he had talked about) focused on astrobiology research. This made the speech quite humorous, as Wright swapped subjects every few slides, advancing his two parallel lines until they fused in the conclusion. Obviously, the real goal was to discuss research methods, while using the astrobiology excuse to delve into the actual research done for Spore, and offer examples.
Wright began by discussing how and when research should be done: even before preproduction begins and, in his case, relying heavily on books about the game's subject. That's how he got into astrobiology, discovering the timeline of the universe, from a Big Bang some fourteen billion years ago, to the appearance of life on Earth around four billion years ago, and possibly on other planets as well.
For Spore, this initial research led to simulation prototypes, which were just simple apps showing some of the underlying science principles visually. Wright showed as an example, a galaxy simulation software, where he could actually “plant” seeds of life and advance time to see how life forms expanded through space with time. Interestingly, he commented, many science prototypes needed to be built in order for some of these to become interesting in terms of gameplay. Only these were then refined to experiment with control and gameplay mechanics for the game. Obviously, this frequently led to more research, so the basic research-science prototype-gameplay prototype loop was closed."
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