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Game on! Sims creator Will Wright conquers the world of video games.

Tiny cyber people might be living inside of your computer--eating, sleeping, and going to school just like you do. But don't be alarmed: This miniature civilization isn't real. The people are characters from The Sims, the best-selling creation of Will Wright's.

Wright is the Willy Wonka of the video-game world. His games have a distinctive flavor, and they're more popular than any other games on the market. But Wright didn't always plan on becoming a video-game designer. As a kid, he was naturally curious. He loved to take things apart, and then put them back together. He wanted to discover how the world around him worked.

When Wright grew up and went to college, he couldn't settle on a major. First he tried architecture, and then he switched to mechanical engineering. All the while, he filled his spare time playing video games and building robots, which he learned to control using a computer. That gave Wright experience with writing code, or computer programs.

GAME PLAN

After graduation, Wright got a job working on a typical war-theme video game called Raid on Bungeling Bay. In this game, the player drops bombs on a city. Wright found that his favorite part of the design process was creating the landscape, not destroying it.

Wright's dream, like that of many of his friends, was to produce his own video game. He designed SimCity, but for years couldn't find anyone willing to invest the money needed to put it on the market. Then one day, he met computer-game producer Jeff Braun, who loved the idea of a noncombative game. Together they formed a small company--and a whole new genre of video games called "simulation reality" that allow players to build virtual societies. SimCity came out in 1989, followed by The Sims in 2000.

Today, Wright employs a large team of computer programmers, designers, and graphic artists to help him bring his ideas to life. He credits his success to three things: his curiosity, his persistence, and his team.

"We spend a lot of time doing research before we start making the games--usually about a year or two," says Wright. "For my latest game, Spore, I started the [research] process about six years ago."

Next, Wright's team made a lot of models. "We generated somewhere between 200 and 300 prototypes that focused on little parts of the game. We often used our summer interns to do the prototyping."

GOT GAME?

Wright is one of the few people in his field responsible for the overall design of games. Many more employees in this highly competitive industry specialize in the programming, graphic design, or writing aspect of the creative process. And many people now entering the profession have majored in one of those areas. If you're interested in joining his team, Wright recommends earning a gaming degree from universities such as Carnegie Mellon, Georgia Tech, or the University of Southern California. In the meantime, he suggests that teens find an internship in the field.

Did You Know?

* Here are some courses a student may need to take to earn a bachelor's degree in computer-game engineering: software engineering, computer programming, computer animation, and computer graphics.

* Besides creating video games, Will Wright also enjoys building robots. In fact, it was Wright's childhood interest in building models and robots that eventually led him into computer programming. Each year Wright--along with his daughter--takes part in Battlebots. This annual competition has the contestants' robots battle each other. Wright's robots have taken home top honors in the past.

RELATED ARTICLE: Ben Hayes.

FUTURE VIDEO-GAME DESIGNER

Sixteen-year-old Ben is a quality-assurance tester at a game-design company called Gamelab. He started there three years ago as an intern, playtesting games through the New York-based company's mentoring program Teen Gamelab.

For two or three days a week, Ben helps out with anything from changing light bulbs to sharing ideas at meetings. At first he found it challenging to talk with adults on a professional level, but relaxed when he saw that they took his input seriously. "I learned so much from talking to people about game design and programming," says Ben. But he says the most valuable part of the experience was "doing work that was important to the success of something larger than myself."

When Ben goes to college, he plans to major in game design. He also plans to take programming courses. "Everyone I work with at Gamelab recommends learning programming because you can create your own ideas," he says.

RESOURCES

* Read an interview with Will Wright at: www.gignews.com/goddess_wright.htm

* The International Game Developers Association has an academic information Web site. Visit: www.igda.org/academia/

* For more on schools that offer gaming degrees, visit: www.gamedeveloper.com/education/

* "Gamers Learning by Degree," by Brad King, Wired, February 12, 2002. Article available online at: www.wired.com/news/games/0,2101,50034,00.html

web extra

Read Will Wright's take on video games at: www.wired.com/wired/ archive/14.04/wright.html
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Title Annotation:career of video game developer
Author:Waugh, Rachel
Publication:Science World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 13, 2006
Words:832
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