"This talk is about a really old, kind of mediocre game," Will Wright joked at a late GDC 2011 panel, the last vintage postmortem of the year. To a packed crowd, he described the environment in 1984, during which time he created his first full game, Raid on Bungeling Bay.
"It was interesting learning the ropes on this," he said. "I didn't consider myself a designer when I made this game," but he did everything on it, from code, to art, to design. "I worked on about 1 byte per minute," Wright said.
When he decided to make a game after learning BASIC and Pascal, "It was almost more of a whim," he said. At that point, a lot of people on the Apple II were on their second or third generation games, so he was worried about competing with them.
But the Commodore 64 had just come out, "so I thought I'll just buy one of these new computers, make a game on that, and level the playing field," said Wright. He actually programmed the game on the Apple II, then dumped it onto the C64.
"I remember I was 4 or 5 years old, and I went on a helicopter ride, and it was one of the coolest things in the world," he said, so he knew he wanted helicopters in the game, as well as some sort of clockwork world. And since the Apple II's games were all very simple screens, "I wanted a very large world that I could really get lost in, and feel like it was that large."
He made two tools to build the game world: Chedid was a character editor, which was "really primitive," he said. Wedit lets you scroll around the world and place the characters from Chedid. "Wedit eventually evolved into Sim City," he said. "I was scrolling around the world and having a lot of fun with it."
"I ended up going to visit all over the Bay Area, showing the prototype [of Bungeling Bay], saying what do you think of this game?" He wound up going with Broderbund, which. "At that time was 17 people, and they were running it out of an old liquor store."
He had a resource flow in the game, which leads into a repair hierarchy, but people didn't understand the resource flow. "I really should've made the resources visible," he said. "That one change probably would've been the biggest improvement I could think of."
The world is all accessible at any time, with the objective to destroy six factories. As you destroy each one, more enemies are thrown at you, which gives a "dynamic spring tension," and he figured you'd play it several times and not be able to get the last factory usually. "I wanted to establish this relationship with the carrier," he said. You always have to go back to it - and bombers can come attack it, which makes you care about it a bit more.
Piracy was a bad problem on computers, and he spent a lot of time fighting hackers, "which was a waste of time, because it just delayed them about 2 days," he said. On the Commodore, the game sold 20k units, but Broderbund also reprogrammed the game for the NES and MSX. "Because of the cartridge system, piracy wasn't really a problem," he said, revealing that on the NES the game sold some 800,000 units.
So what is he doing next, with his Stupid Fun Club? Aside from TV shows and toys, including re-designing the ant farm, "we're doing some game stuff, but by and large it's not the triple-a or XBLA stuff," he revealed, adding that he's going more for mobile web connected games, concluding: "I'm really interested in games that get people involved in the world rather than distracting them from it."