Will Wright never really saw himself as a game developer, he is, he believes, more of a toy-maker. Now the man behind The Sims, SimCity, SimAnts, and countless other seminal titles, is ready to teach his unique game design approach through an online course through the education-start-up service MasterClass.
The course, spread out over 20 video lessons of about 10 to 20 minutes each, will delve into the design aspects and psychology of making video games as taught by Wright.
“It’s not so much about getting started as a game designer or about programming or the technical aspects, it’s more about the design aspects,” he told Variety in a recent interview. “How do you approach developing a game from a designer’s perspective? How do you integrate systems? How do you gauge a person’s interactive experiences?”
Wright said MasterClass — which offers online classes from a wide range of creators including famed photographer Annie Leibovitz, chef Gordon Ramsay, and “The Handmaid’s Tale” author Margaret Atwood — approached him about the idea of teaching a class through their service and he was intrigued with the idea, instantly approaching it from the perspective of a designer.
“I’ve given a lot of talks over the years, but it was an interesting challenge for me to try to create a class about my approach to game design,” he said. “Everytime I give a talk it forces me to sit down and think about the process, how I create games.”
While still at Maxis and EA, Wright’s talks at events like the Game Developers Conference were often highlights of days packed with entertaining, thought-provoking presentations. During those years, he often interrupted his own talks with brief snapshots of Russian space history that he called the Russian Space Minute. While he said his MasterClass won’t include any of those, he said he might still make some references to the Russian space program.
His hope is that game developers in the middle of their careers take his course, those, he said, are the sort of developers who will likely get the most out of it. The course is mostly videos, with some workbook stuff thrown in for good measure. While it’s a video-focused course, Wright said it isn’t just his head talking at you. There are a lot of visuals and he even critiques other game designs with game design students, on camera.
Wright’s work as an online teacher, doesn’t mean he’s done with active game development. He’s still working on “Proxi” an odd sort of creation that promises to build a game of sorts out of a player’s memories. The smartphone app is a “simulation of an Artificial Intelligence based on your memories and interaction with the game,” according to the official website. While the app was initially set for a 2018 release, the website now shows a 2019 release.
“The idea is that you enter memories from your life and it tried to build a map of your id,” Wright said.
It doesn’t sound a lot like a game, but most of Wright’s biggest hits never did, from “The Sims'” take on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, to how “Spore” was in some ways the gamification of documentary “Powers of Ten.”
“They don’t sound like games,” he said. “I think maybe toys are a better term, because games have a win state. That’s my style, the sort of games I tend to be attracted to.”
Wright said his studio, Gallium Artistic Services, has about ten people working on “Proxi.” “We’re targeting releaser for about a year from now,” he said. “We’re getting many parts of it working right now, and stuff like that.”
As for the class, Wright seems happy with the shape it ultimately took.
“It was very interesting and challenging for me,” he said. “I was very pleased with how it turned out.”