SXSW Day Four – Will Wright Keynote

One of the highlights of the conference as a whole was Will Wright‘s keynote from Tuesday.

Wright mixed together a demo of Spore  with some reflections on the intersections of interactive media (specifically game design) and film, in the spirit of SXSWi and SXSWf.

He basically described how films are organized around empathy, and create in essence a single causal thread out of all the potential possible causal threads. The director has in essence complete control – knowing in advance how the story ends, the film experience is a manipulative one designed to elicit the appropriate emotional pattern in the viewer. (In this way films are a bit like the classic novel – and just as more modern films learned to break those sequences so did more experimental fiction).

In gaming, on the other hand, the organizing principle is agency – I as the user get to control the causal chain. The problem is that the emotional path rises, but hits dead ends, as the player gets killed and has to restart a level, etc. Games try to create the illusion of unlimited possibility but in most cases there are a limited number of possible paths, and typically a number of different gates (like levels, or episodes).

He basically talked about we should be able to create a better experience than this “choose which door to enter” type approach which takes a fixed set of outcomes and tries to make them look like they are endless – this is really what all of his games have been about.

Then he showed SPORE, which blew everybody away. Taking an organism from a single cell all the way up to and beyond space travel and galactic exploration. With ability to edit creatures, landscapes, create building types. All of it apparently shared – so you might run into my “species” on your planets, etc.

Anyway, go listen to the podcast if you weren’t there.