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The Sims turns 20: Creator Will Wright reflects on the battle he waged to get one of the best games of all time made

You’re surprised when you consider that the best-selling PC franchise of all time, The Sims, was almost never made. Its creator, Will Wright, ran into a battle when trying to develop the idea, and no one at Maxis agreed with the vision. In Wright’s own words, it was “a struggle.” But it was something he wanted to play, and he knew everyone else should feel the same way. What did they end up doing with SimCity. But how did such a unique concept of video games come about, manipulating tiny avatars and their everyday lives?

“I’ve always been interested in architecture and architectural design,” explains Will Wright. “After SimCity, I started thinking I wanted to do something more related to structural design. So initially it was intended more as a Architectural Design. Version SimCity As I went down this path I started to think I needed a way to “score” what you’re building, so I knew I needed to live in these buildings you’re building Little People I spent a lot of time thinking about how to make these people behave robustly, interestingly and reasonably, no matter what environment you put them in.”

The creation of these little humans, AI characters that will interact with structures built in the simulation, took about two years of Will’s life, along with various other projects. SimCity was a huge success, so Maxis had a bit of freedom to come up with ideas they wanted to see. For Will Wright, this will eventually become The Sims.

Making The Sims

But Maxis didn’t believe it. Although Wright detailed the project and what he expects from it, the company was stunned. Why play games that mimic real life when video games can help us with our wildest fantasies? “While I’m Describing” [Maxis] – Even with the focus on people – they listened to a game about taking out the trash and cleaning the bathroom, but they didn’t find it interesting compared to saving the world or flying a fighter jet. ”

However, Wright persevered, knowing he had to do something. “But I understand that people are obsessed with people,” he said. “I knew it was fun for me and I had to fight for it internally. At first, nobody backed the project. We had some programs in a tool group. We didn’t really use it, so I made a black box project myself and said ‘Can I hire these four programmers?’ and nobody really cared, so they said ‘yes’.”

It wasn’t just his fellow developers that he had to convince, as the concept of what would become one of the greatest PC games of all time struggled to attract even dedicated testers in the early stages of development. “I think we even had a focus group in ’93,” Wright said, “and we focused on trying out five different game concepts. Memory [with] The four other Focus testers said, “Oh yeah, that’s pretty good, we’ll play that,” but when it came to The Sims, we described the idea to them, and everyone was generally like, “Oh , it’s a really stupid idea, we’ll never play that, we hate that idea. It’s a complete failure in focus groups.”

“In my head, I have this concept of how it feels, but it’s kind of hard to expect other people to understand and have that concept. And I’ve been in the same situation before someone told me what they thought and I was Don’t get it, sounds a bit silly” but, when they describe it to me in the early stages, I just can’t get it. ”

As development progressed, it became clear that Wright needed to flesh out these ideas, and the main way to emphasize them was through these avatars. The Sims themselves are cartoons of real life, representing how we act like almighty creatures with higher-order thinking abilities. Quaint, maybe simple, but fun. While this was partly due to the limited resources available at the time, there was also a conscious decision to keep The Sims surreal, creating a realistic impression for people, but still enjoying them.

“We realized that at some point we needed a certain level of abstraction,” Wright said. “Part of that has to do with how much detail we can get into the simulation. I always thought of it as a people flow simulator. I think the level of behavior we can achieve is like looking out the window on a balcony and seeing people in the street, you Might sense when they’re shopping, when they’re arguing, or something. To understand their behavior, but not necessarily every little detail. That’s my goal, try to simulate at that level these characters.”

speak simple words

“We could have had them say pre-recorded lines or something, but it would quickly destroy the illusion of reality because we couldn’t provide that level of artificial intelligence,” he continued. “By having them say this kind of gibberish, your human imagination will fill in the gaps and envision the conversation. This is really an example of how we can transfer parts of the simulation to the human imagination, part of which computers are very bad.”

But how did Wright begin to create an entirely new language? The first test focuses on more exotic languages ​​as they try to perfect the voice of The Sims. “We even had Ukrainian programmers working for us, and I tried getting some of them Ukrainian speakers on board, which was too obviously Slavic, and then I started experimenting with different languages. Navajo was ok, but we found Less than any Navajo voice actors. Estonian is very interesting because it’s so hard to find. It sounds interesting and exotic, like a real language, but you can’t really relate it to a geographic area, But we only found one Estonian voice actor. In the end I found these two improv voice actors; they came in and we told them we wanted something that sounded like real language but wasn’t real. They developed it together and later became Something called Simlish.”

Will Wright, Creative Director

If they hear Simlish dialogue, most people will recognize it, and a large part of it is the language’s signature and unique approach. The Sims proved to be a huge success, largely because of its ability to attract people who weren’t interested in the game. The sisters and moms jumped in to try the game for the first time, which was unusual in a media that was primarily a teenage stronghold at the time. “Actually, I was a little surprised,” Wright said of The Sims’ success. “I thought The Sims would either be a big hit or a fiasco, and I don’t think there’s going to be much in between. Really, the key is to get players into the right spaces to see this game as being more creative and An exploratory game, not a little bit about winning.”

Released in February 2000, The Sims had sold more than 11 million copies two years later—the video game’s reach has officially expanded to a wider audience of gamers. Globally, the series has an estimated lifetime revenue of more than $5 billion, with the original games accounting for a large percentage. And for good reason, even now, 20 years after its original release, The Sims’ appeal remains as strong and compelling as ever.

It has long been speculated that Maxis is developing rapidly The Sims 5† While little is known about the project, one thing is for sure: the foundation Will Wright laid 13 years ago has a timeless appeal that won’t fade and will undoubtedly be at the heart of any The Sims game. In the future.

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The Sims turns 20: Creator Will Wright reflects on the battle he waged to get one of the best games of all time made

It’s surprising to consider that The Sims – the best-selling PC franchise of all time – nearly wasn’t made. Its creator, Will Wright, had a battle on his hands as he tried to develop the idea, and no one at Maxis shared that vision. It was, in Wright’s own words, “a struggle”. But, it was something he wanted to play, and he knew that others must feel the same; they did about SimCity after all. But, how did such a unique concept for a video game – namely the manipulation of tiny virtual people and their everyday lives – come to be?
“I was always interested in architecture and architectural design,” Will Wright explains, “and after SimCity I started thinking that I wanted to do something that was more around designing structures. So originally, it was more meant to be an architectural version of SimCity. As I went down that path I started thinking I needed some way to ‘score’ what it was that you were building, and so I knew I needed little people living in these structures that you were designing. I spent a lot of time thinking about how to make the behaviour of these people very robust, interesting and plausible no matter what kind of environment you put them in.” 
Creating these tiny people – AI characters that would interact with the structures built within the simulation – took about two years of Will’s life, in between a variety of other projects. SimCity had become a huge success and, as a result, Maxis had a little freedom to create ideas that it wanted to see made. For Will Wright, that would end up being The Sims.
How The Sims was made

But Maxis wasn’t convinced. Though Wright detailed the project and what he hoped it would be, the company was nonplussed; why play a game about emulating real-life when video games could help us live out our wildest fantasies? “When I was describing it to them [Maxis] – even with the focus on the people – they were hearing a game about taking out the trash and cleaning out your bathroom and it just doesn’t sound very interesting to them compared to saving the world or flying a jet fighter.” 
Wright persisted, however, knowing it was something he needed to make. “But I kind of understood that people are fascinated with people,” he says, “and I knew it was interesting to me and I kind of had to fight for it internally. At first, nobody was behind the project. We had some programmers who were in a tool group that we weren’t using really so I turned it into a Black Box project on my side and said ‘can I have these four programmers’, and nobody really cared so they said ‘yeah’.”
It wasn’t just his fellow developers that he had to convince either, with the game concept that would turn out to be one of the most important PC games of all time struggling to even appeal to focus testers in the earliest stages of development. “We even did a focus group back in, I think, ’93,” states Wright, “where we were focus testing about five different game concepts. I remember [with] the other four the focus testers said ‘oh yeah, it was pretty good, we would play that’, but when it came to The Sims and we were describing the idea to them, they were all universally like ‘oh that’s such a stupid idea, we would never play that, we hate that idea’. It totally bombed in the focus group.”

“In my mind I had this concept of what it would feel like, but to expect somebody else to understand and have that concept, it’s a hard thing. And I’ve been in the same position before, where somebody told me some idea they had and I just didn’t get it and it sounded kind of stupid. I know the guys who made Myst and they were showing me one of the early versions and I was like ‘what is this? It’s just a slideshow’, but once I saw the final version I played it and loved it. But when they were describing it to me in the very early stages I just couldn’t wrap my mind around it.” 
As development went on it was clear that Wright needed to flesh out these ideas, and the key way to highlight what it was all about was through these virtual characters. The Sims themselves were caricatures of real-life, representatives of what we might look like to an almighty being capable of a higher level of thought. Quaint, simple perhaps – but entertaining all the same. While part of this was down to the limited resources available at the time, there was also a conscious decision to keep the Sims sub-real, to create a real impression of people but to ensure that it was enjoyable all the same. 
“We understood that at some point we wanted a certain level of abstraction,” Wright tells us. “Part of that had to do with the amount of detail that we were able to go into in the simulation. I always thought of it kind of as a human flocking simulator. The level of behaviour that I figured we could achieve was like if you were to look out of a balcony window and see people down on the street you could probably get a sense of when they’re shopping, when they’re arguing or some level of understanding their behaviour but not necessarily every little detail. And that was the target for me, to try and simulate these characters at that level.”
Speaking Simlish

“We could have had them speaking pre-recorded lines or something like that, but it would have destroyed the illusion of reality pretty quickly just because we couldn’t provide that level of AI,” he continues. “By having them speak this kind of gibberish, your human imagination actually fills in the blanks and will imagine the conversation. That’s really an example of us offloading a portion of the simulation to the human imagination – the portion that the computer is very bad at.”
But how did Wright set about creating a whole new language? Initial tests focused on more exotic languages as he tried to hone in on the sound of The Sims. “We actually had some Ukrainian programmers working for us and I tried recording some of them speaking Ukrainian and it was a little too obviously slavic, and then I started experimenting with different languages. Navajo was nice but we couldn’t find any Navajo voice actors. Estonian was very interesting because Estonian is very hard to locate. It sounds interesting, exotic and like a real language but you can’t really associate it with any geographical area – but we only found one Estonian voice actor. And eventually I found these two improv voice actors; they came in and we described to them that we wanted something that sounded like a real language but not really. Together they kind of developed what later became known as Simlish.”

Will Wright, creative director

Most would recognise a conversation in Simlish if they heard it, and a large part of that is its iconic – and unique – approach to language. As it turns out, The Sims was a pretty big success, most notable for its ability to attract people who weren’t otherwise interested in games. Sisters and mums were jumping in to try out games for the first time, an unusual occurrence in a medium that was, at the time – primarily, at least – the bastion of teenage boys. “I was actually kind of surprised,” says Wright of The Sims’ success. “I figured The Sims would either be a pretty big success or a miserable failure, I didn’t think there was going to be a lot of in-between. Really, the key to it was getting players into the right mindspace of seeing this game as something that was more creative and about exploring and a little less about winning.” 
The Sims was released in February 2000, and two years later it had notched up over 11 million sales – the reach of video games had officially grown to a much broader group of players. Worldwide, the franchise is estimated to have surpassed $5 billion in lifetime revenue, and the original game accounts for a large percentage of that. For good reason too, because even now – 20 years on from its original release – the appeal of The Sims is still as powerful and persuasive as it has ever been.  
It has been long speculated that Maxis is hard at work on the development of The Sims 5. While little is known about the project, one this is for certain: that the foundations that Will Wright laid 13 years ago have an everlasting appeal that is unlikely to disappear, and will no doubt be at the core of any games bearing The Sims branding that may arrive in the future.

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