A Computer Game's Intelligent Design

2 min read

It was one of those ’Oh, wow’ moments,” says IEEE Spectrum Contributing Editor David Kushner [right], recalling his first encounter with the new computer game Spore . Due to be released this month and featured in Kushner’s article in this issue, Spore is the brainchild of legendary game designer Will Wright [left]. Kushner has been a devoted fan of Wright’s ever since 1993, when he began playing SimCity 2000 .

What sets Wright’s work apart, Kushner says, is his ability to conjure up those ”Oh, wow” moments—lots of them. In SimCity , players explore the dynamics of what makes a city thrive, creating uncannily believable and compelling scenarios. ”You wouldn’t think urban planning and laying down pipe would make for a great computer game,” he says. But they did. The game even became part of Kushner’s courtship of his wife, Sue: ”We spent months having fun building this city together as we were building our relationship.” They battled bad plumbing and broken roads, which served as good practice for life in Brooklyn, N.Y. Eventually, their virtual city’s inhabitants got to live in a big space tower, so the two won’t complain if life continues to mimic art.

When Kushner visited Wright’s studio earlier this year, he got a sneak peek at Spore ’s Creature Creator, the game’s built-in editing tool, which lets you sculpt a fanciful new life-form out of a featureless, bean-shaped blob. Kushner was instantly hooked. ”Wright’s riffing on some basic themes of play, going back to Silly Putty and Play-Doh and Mr. Potato Head,” he says. ”It’s at once new and yet really familiar, with that whimsical quality he’s known for.”

In the coming months Kushner fully expects to spend many happy hours creating creatures and playing Spore . And that’s okay, because as a veteran computer-game writer, he actually gets paid to play.

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