Under the Sea to Over the Clouds: The King of Sims

The King of Sims

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Few game designers are ambitious enough to even contemplate a game in which you get to control the entire evolution of a species, from the bacterial level all the way up to the galactic. Then again, few game designers are as quietly ambitious as Will Wright, creator of Sim City and The Sims, the best-selling PC game of all time. Wright's evolution game, Spore, has been in the works for three years already (and has two more to go). It was inspired in part by his favorite movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey--which he saw growing up in Atlanta at the age of 8--and will, he hopes, have a similar kind of effect on his audience: "I want them to emerge with a computer-induced drug epiphany about the nature of space and time."

If all this makes Wright sound like a geek's geek, well, that's because he is. He loves making fictional territorial maps of the galaxy. He can tell you how many extraterrestrial races have been featured on Star Trek. His latest hobby is collecting outdated Soviet space equipment. But his inner nerd is hardly humorless. Wright's cartoon-like sense of the ridiculous--familiar to all Sims players--is still much in evidence in Spore. The opening stages of the game, in which a player must eat or be eaten by other microbes, is a deliberate homage to Pac-Man. Later, after your amphibious creatures have acquired enough limbs to drag themselves from the ocean, they find one another on land and decide to mate--and a sexy, smooth jazz riff starts playing in the background. Millions of game years after that, you will find their descendants zipping across interstellar space in absurd 1950s-style UFOs.

Ambitious as all this is, Wright and his brain trust have taken pains to make the game as fast and easy to run as possible. It will also be interactive: all players' species will coexist in the same galaxy, via the Internet. The game itself will decide, say, which planet to place them on, going by what will make the most interesting combinations. "Until now, we've used the computer as an automated opponent," says Wright. "Now we're trying to give it the intelligence to run the show." The result, Wright believes, will hook in an even wider circle of players than The Sims did. So cue Also Sprach Zarathustra and let the computer-induced epiphanies begin. --By Chris Taylor