Game designer Will Wright appears on TED stage wearing a Dean Kamen-like robot arm, either a reaction to the fact that he broke his arm skiing, or that he’s always wanted to be a cyborg. The arm doesn’t look very useful – it’s more of a toy, which is one of the major foci of Wright’s talk.
Wright attended Montessori school until grade six, and sees it as the height of his educational experience. One of the aspects he finds most fascinating about Maria Montessori’s theory is the idea of learning through play. He sees himself less as a gamemaker, more as a toymaker, creating toys that gamers can learn from.
The lessons behind Wright’s new game, Spore, come from his fascination with SETI, the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence. He’s fascinated with the complexities of Drake’s Equation – an equation that spans physics, chemistry, information theory, sociology and other fields to predict the number of extraterrestrial civilizations we might contact. Spore helps us explore these equations as well as some of the ideas in the Charles and Ray Eames Powers of Ten project. It’s not just a game, but “a philosophy toy.”
Wright has been demo’ing the game at conferences around the world – I saw a demo a few months back at Pop!Tech. What’s remarkable is that today’s demo covers quite different ground, giving me a sense for just how rich an exciting this game is likely to be. Players start as single-celled organisms in a drop of water – as you grow, the camera pulls back, revealing more. Once you’re a land-bound creature, a powerful character editor lets you create uniquely shaped creatures. They’re colored and animated procedurally – this allows a totally novel character to walk, fight or dance.
As the game progresses, creatures develop intelligence, form tribes and cities and explore space. In this mode, players get to play with planets as toys, using a space ray to boil away the ocean (with dire consequences) or drop monoliths to bring intelligence to tribes. The richness of the game comes from detailed biological and geological modeling – not just food webs, but the physics of planetary geography.
The goal, Wright tells us, is for a game to be “an imagination amplifier.” Spore looks like it’s well on track… whenever we actually see it on shelves. Wright suggests we’ll see it in September, and someone near me asks, “of which year?”