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D.I.C.E: Will Wright & The YMC- Spore  Team
D.I.C.E: Will Wright & The YMC-Spore Team
February 8, 2007 | By Frank Cifaldi

February 8, 2007 | By Frank Cifaldi
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The final lecture of D.I.C.E. 2007's first day was a hive of activity, as Maxis co-founder Will Wright introduced the audience to his team of designers, each of which served a unique function - and took on a persona in Wright’s mind for this unique talk.

SimCity and The Sims creator Wright started by explaining: "I’m just one cog in this big team. I want to give people insight into how design gets distributed. I brought my main designers from the team, each looks at the game from a different way."

Each of the four designers gave their own mini-presentation on their design functions, showing early prototype designs to illustrate their challenges and iterative processes - we've listed some of the most interesting moments of their whirlwind speeches and conversations.

Ocean Quigley, 'The Scientist'

Designer and senior art director Quigley commented by way of introduction: "Content in games is really good now. If you look at state of the art characters, the texturing is beautiful, the animation is rich. We have to do something cleanly stylized that doesn’t require the player to be a modeler, an animator, a UV painter. That drove some of the stylistic decisions we made [on Spore.]"

He continued of Spore: “We did a lot of work on how muscles and tendons work, and we could kind of get the models, but the rigging just didn’t work. At one stage in our creature modeling you could model a pony that looked like a pony, but it didn’t move like one. So we made the parts kind of deliberately cartoony, abstracted, and simple.”

As for art directing for such a procedurally driven game, Quigley commented: “You kind of have the impression of art directing a million incompetents. You have to put in all these techniques and tools so when they do something, it looks good.”

Chaim Gingold, “The Toymaker”

Gingold, a veteran experimental designer, commented of Spore: “We wanted something fun to touch and play with, with the editor. A lot of that was finding how an artist does something, reverse-engineer their process and put it into a toy."

He particularly noted: "One of things we found that with all this content that the art team made, it had to be structured."

Gingold then went on to show a number of 2D and 3D prototypes for character creation, including experiments with user-generated textures and something Wright described as “Maya for ten-year-olds.”

Jenna Chalmers, “The Mastermind”

Chalmers is another long-time designer at Maxis, and designed the space-based game elements for Spore. To do this, the team put together a list of cool things to do with spaceships, and broke it down to five “meta games.”

Chalmers particularly commented of the tools and design process: “We took those core games and we broke down the tools that you would use in those games, and figured out where you get your biggest bang for your buck.”

For the diplomatic elements of Spore, Chalmers said: “I had this fantasy of not repeating the same game every time you wanted to befriend someone. One of the things I wanted to do was encourage them to play in styles they wouldn’t normally play.”

She continued: “On one hand, the space game is a sandbox. We want the player to have a lot of creativity and access to toys. On the other hand, it has to be structured. So we brainstormed tools, and focused on the ones that supported a lot of meta games.”

Alex Hutchinson, “The Cowboy”

Fellow designer Hutchinson had some of the final, and most notably atypical comments, grinning: “I was reminded last night that we’re challenging one of the core rules of game design, which is that you can’t mix genres.”

Yet Maxis is doing it anyway for Spore, and for 'The Cowboy' of the team, Hutchinson’s biggest challenge was changing the way gamers play. He commented: “Games usually say, once you learn something, it sticks, and we’re just going to add to that." But the Maxis difference? "We’re saying, oh, 50% of what you learn sticks."

This final rejoinder brought proceedings to an end. But after all these alternate personality definitions, what persona did Wright attach to himself?

“I’m more the traffic cop than anything else,” he said.


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