Interview: Will Wright talks Spore for DS, iPhone and mobile
And why augmented reality could be the future of mobile gaming
Why not go back to basics for your next project, and make it a 500KB Java game for mobile phones?
Will Wright laughs, leans forward, and - get this - actually considers it. For a couple of seconds.
Suffice to say, the man behind Spore, and before that The Sims, isn't quite ready to follow peers like John Carmack into mobile development.
"I know a lot of developers who've gone into mobile for reasons like having a smaller team, and projects that last four to six months," he says. "But y'know, I'm not attracted to things because they're easy! That's not to say there aren't challenges in developing for the mobile platform - there are plenty. But my main criteria isn't figuring out games that are easier to do."
Ah well, it was worth a try. As the only mobile media to sit down with Wright during today's Spore event in London, we thought we should try to bring him into the fold.
Still, the handy thing for Wright is that his publisher, EA, has other people to deal with handheld platforms for him, including DS, iPhone, iPod and, yes, mobile - all of which are getting versions of Spore this week, alongside the release of the core PC/Mac title.
Wright's a big fan of DS though. "I play with my DS a lot, especially Advance Wars," he says. "It's one of my favourite platforms actually. The thing I love about the DS is I can turn it on, play a game for a few minutes, save and turn it back off. I call it interstitial gaming: it's filling in the little blank spots in my life."
Indeed, one of those blank spots comes every morning, over Wright's first cup of coffee of the day, when he plays a quick level of Advance Wars.
"About a month ago, I misplaced my DS for a week, and noticed I actually felt groggier in the mornings!" he says. "I realised that it had become a key part of my waking up process - my brain's startup mechanism. It's interesting to me how these games can without us even realising make tiny little adjustments to our mental state."
So what about mobile and iPhone then? Spore Origins is due out on both platforms this week, focusing on the cell section of the main game. Wright says it was a logical choice.
"We knew we could take parts of Spore, like the creature editors and individual levels, and turn them into little mini-games," he says. "We realised we could deconstruct Spore into smaller experiences and put them on different platforms. That was one of the attractions of the idea."
That said, he's much more enthusiastic about iPhone than about regular mobile handsets as a gaming platform.
"I haven't seen too many games on mobile, with the exception of the iPhone, that really impressed me," he says. "It's such limited bandwidth, and the user interface usually sucks. But when you get something like iPhone, I start to see the power. With the CPU power, you can do some really cool stuff."
Perhaps suitably, given his current project, Wright is more interested in the future evolution of iPhone and the mobile platform, when it comes to gaming. Specifically, he's keen to see mobile games become less immersive, not more.
"It's hard to take a small platform like that and make it immersive to the same level as sitting in front of an HD screen and playing on my Xbox or PC," he says.
"On the other hand, you can make these mobile games include where I am - my environmental setting - in an interesting way, for example using the camera or GPS. It could be about making you more aware of your surroundings than you would have been without the game, rather than focusing on the game and ignoring your surroundings."
As a parallel, he talks about his love of photography, and how walking round cities with a camera has changed the way he looks at them - noticing cool light and interesting angles.
"I can imagine mobile platforms evolving in that way, in that they interact with the world around us in a way that changes our perceptions in a really interesting way," he says. "Games could increase our awareness of our immediate environment, rather than distract us from it."
Interestingly, Wright's views chime strongly with what Nokia has been talking about at recent mobile games industry conferences, with N-Gage executives talking up the prospects for mixed and augmented reality gaming. Perhaps they should give him a call.
Wright is understandably not keen to talk about his plans for his next project just yet.
But on a more general note, whatever idea he comes up with is likely - like Spore - to end up on different platforms. Will that affect the idea itself - will cross-platform thoughts come into his planning from the start?
"A little bit," he says, before explaining just how little.
"For me the core thing is still 'what's the subject?' I need to find a subject that really captures my imagination. If that fundamental concept is strong enough, it seems pretty natural and easy to move it to anything, whether it's phones, PC or Xbox. I just need to figure out that core thing."Update: We've now reviewed mobile, iPod and iPhone Spore Origins.