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Will Wright Talks Research, Astrobiology 44

Yesterday saw Will Wright give a keynote ostensibly called 'The Future of Game Design'. The creator of the Sims took the opportunity to address two of the topics that went heavily into the background work on his current title: Spore. Mr Wright was attempting to make the point that lots of research in the pre-production phase of the project is one of the best ways of knowing what it is you're setting out to do. Folks at Kotaku, The Game Chair, and Game Girl Advance have some notes from the talk. Read on for my own brief impressions from the event.
The key idea I took away from the event is the level of intelligence Wright possesses. I always knew he was *smart*, but the man went almost a full hour, racing from topic to topic, at a speed that was almost breathtaking to behold. I initially started taking notes but the man just moves so dang fast, I eventually gave up and enjoyed the experience. He went from the Fermi Paradox, to Drake's Equation, to Panspermia to the Rare Earth theory in a series of four slides, only pausing very briefly to explain what he was talking about. Rather than confusing the audience, lots of the elements he brought up were totally understandable just within the context of his talk. He really hit his stride after the thirty minute mark, and actually managed to talk even faster than he'd started off. It was sort of like watching a manic college prof teach an entire semester-long class in an hour.

He did talk about Spore a good deal in there, detailing how all of the Astrobiology and research were distilled down into usable ideas for game environments and creatures. This was a talk, though, less about games and more about the joy of learning. Will Wright's gift as a speaker is to make his audience excited about something they may never have considered before, simply by the sheer amount of enthusiasm he exudes. I heard some shifting in chairs towards the end of the talk, but despite the highly technical nature of the presentation the Civic Auditorium was still packed when the event ended. Like the Battlestar event, Wright's talk only peripherally talked about games, but it managed to be all the more valuable (I think) to the audience as a result.

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Will Wright Talks Research, Astrobiology

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  • Re:smells like I.D. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Spaceman40 ( 565797 ) <`blinks' `at' `'> on Friday March 24, 2006 @03:06PM (#14989807) Homepage Journal
    Astrobiology (the study of the potential of life on other planets) is more statistics than testable science; the idea being that if you can figure out exactly what is required for intelligent life, you should be able to figure out the probability of each requirement occurring in a large system (like the universe). From that probability, you should be able to estimate the number of intelligent alien societies (using Drake's equation). Interesting stuff.

    Guesses for this galaxy range from 1.25 (including our own) to over a million. Of course, we haven't found any yet (that I know of, anyway), and that's the [Fermi] paradox: if it's so likely, why haven't we seen any? The Rare Earth hypothesis (capitalized because it's the name of a book) is that this isn't really a paradox at all, because it isn't that likely. The general take is that we'd only be here to think it was unlikely if we were actually here to begin with (if Earth didn't have life, nobody would ask the question "why not?").

    Panspermia could either be in reference to alien seeding of life on Earth (pretty unlikely, IMHO), or some other way of life getting to Earth besides it just emerging from natural elements. Neither of these is very provable at this point from the available evidence (you'd need to see absolutely no evolutionary evidence before a certain level of life), but interesting ideas, nonetheless.

    That's what Will Wright might have been getting to: when developing games, you turn to the interesting ideas you have at hand, and bring out the coolest parts of them for people to play with. Spore uses the ideas of panspermia (whether or not it's true) and lets you take life to other planets, a really cool idea. Wright took Drake's equation and ramped up the probabilities, making it really likely that there are other civilizations nearby, and actually produced these civilizations from data grabbed from other players (what if the Fermi paradox didn't exist, because intelligent aliens were all over the place?).

    So, whether or not you think these ideas have any explanational merit, they're interesting enough to make a really great game (if Spore turns out to be what it seems).

Our business in life is not to succeed but to continue to fail in high spirits. -- Robert Louis Stevenson