[When 2.0] Will Wright

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Will Wright (Maxis/Electronic Arts, and the creator of Sim City)

Models are a good way of abstracting data to make it understandable – building physical models is a good way of starting.

The idea that there could be a whole world living in your computer is fascinating. He showed the first version of Flight Simulator and the latest as a comparison.

One of the interesting things about games is that you can restart games from the begining – an iterative way of experiencing time. Games are a good way of understanding chaotic systems because you can see how small changes can create large differences in outcomes.

Possibility space – the shape of the landscape of possibilities is how you model the difficulty of achievement. Tried to model the Sims so that people needed to balance material and social success – but people tend to go for one side or the other. Now they’re doing dynamic tuning of the game based on data from real players and how they negotiate the space.

A story is a way of how to displace someone’s experience in time and space to apply it to another person. While you’re seeing one linear path of events, the drama is created by imagining all the other things that didn’t happen (“what would’ve happened if he had tripped here?”).

Kids will mash all the buttons, look at what’s happening on the screen, and build a model of the cause and effect relationships – kids are great at building a mental model of arbitrarily complex systems. Hey – just like science!

Games are doing the same thing – looking for simple compact rules that can create large spaces of possibilities.

Dynamics – the change of structures through time. We tend to think in terms of topologies, which are the parts of the systems, then there are the dynamics that occur to these things, then there are paradigms (network theory, adaptive systems, chaor theory, etc). Game player intuitively understand topologies within two or three minutes of playing.

A unique property of time is nested interaction loop with success and failure at each level. First you have to learn basic control, then you can deal with their needs, then you can get to the next level. The most intereseting side for most players is the failure side – that’s where people spend the most time. As long as people understand why they failed they are willing to go back and try it again.

Interesting book – the User Illusion. Most of our intelligence is pre-conscious.

When players look at games a similary thing happens – use visuals in the game to tell the player what the nouns and verbs are. In first-person shooters you discover things by going around and bashing everything with the noun you have.

Games run on two processors – the computer and the player’s imagination. A lot of what gets built in games is scaffolding for the player’s imagination. A lot of the trend lately in games is to go to more open-ended games where the player has a role of authorship.

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