'Spore' creator inspired by intelligent design, social networks

Based on his design of the SimCity games alone, Will Wright would have left his mark on the evolution of computer and video games. But the co-founder of game development firm Maxis went on to create The Sims, a game released in 2000 that has since has sold more than 100 million copies in its various iterations including The Sims 2 and The Sims Online.

Wright was inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences in 2002, joining legendary designers Shigeru Miyamato (Mario, Zelda), Sid Meier (Civilization), Hironobu Sakaguchi (Final Fantasy) and John Carmack (Doom).

But Wright is far from finished. His long-awaited game Spore (for Windows and Macintosh PCs) engages players with a variety of gameplay features from first-person shooters, strategy games and, of course, simulations. Recently, Wright talked with USA TODAY's Mike Snider about Spore.

Question: Spore just launched. What are you doing now?

Answer: I'm spending a lot of time looking at what players are doing with the game. At this point, the transition for me is to become an anthropologist. We knew players were making a lot of things with the Creature Creator (a separate slice of Spore software released in June). Now they are starting to make other stuff in the game like vehicles and airplanes and spaceships.

Q: How many creatures have people created?

A: About four million.

Q: Does that meet your expectations?

A: The numbers are way beyond what I was expecting. As far as creatures, I thought we would have 100,000 by the time we launched. That was based on what I saw happen with (2004's) The Sims 2.

Q: How much does this say about people's interest in generating content and how much of it is people's comfort level with technology? Or how much of it is people are just interested in the game?

A: It's a bit of each. A lot of what we had modeled in terms of social features of Spore was based on social networks. In multiplayer games there's not a lot of expressiveness. Spore is much more about what you create. No two players will create the same thing.

Q: User generated content has been a part of PC games for a long time, but it's not been easy for users. What led you to the decision to create Spore so that players could easily contribute to the overall game content?

A: We saw when people were playing The Sims, they really got into what we called "the metagame," which was creating unique characters and houses and sharing them. Generally, for all the stuff they had to go to an external tool outside the game to make it. The tool wasn't very advanced. We wanted to make the creation fun rather than laborious.

Q: Each creature that a player creates is transmitted to publisher Electronic Arts' network. Then it is sent out into the constantly updated game universe, correct?

A:You opt in to it, which the default of the game does. But you can turn off that feature and your stuff stays in your machine. Most players are going to have that feature enabled and then anything they make in any of the editors will automatically go up to our database.

Q: There has been some discussion online about whether the game promotes evolution or intelligent design. What would you tell people interested in either side of that discussion?

A: I think the game is really trying to give an overview of evolution in a way that is very toy-like and caricature-like. We put the player in the role of an intelligent designer. When we first started the prototypes (of Spore) that wasn't the case. We had the game carefully mutating things and it just was not emotionally engaging. When we put the players in the role of intelligent designer then people were much more emotionally attached to what they made.

But if you step back from it, you see creatures over many generations get more advanced. All this happens over billions of years. So, however you slice it, is definitely not a creationist universe. You might say it has aspects of intelligent design.

Q: Do you plan to move the game to console systems such as the Microsoft Xbox 360?

A: We are definitely looking at consoles. One of the things about the content in Spore is it is platform (agnostic).

Q: What's next for Spore?

A: We're looking at bringing people into the Spore franchise who maybe never even played the PC version of the game and want a different experience. It is going to be driven by what the fans do with the game. That was true with The Sims. We watched what the fans were doing and that had a lot to do with what expansion packs we added. So in a sense the fans led us all the way to The Sims 2. I think that Spore will be the same way. Fans will have a huge vote in the direction we expand it.