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Designing User Interfaces to Simulation Games

Designing User Interfaces to Simulation Games.
A summary of Will Wright's talk to Terry Winnograd's User Interface Class at Stanford, in 1996.
Written by Don Hopkins.

Will Wright, the designer of SimCity, SimEarth, SimAnt, and other popular games from Maxis, gave a talk at Terry Winnograd's user interface class at Stanford, in 1996 (before the release of The Sims in 2000). At the end of the talk, he demonstrated an early version of The Sims, called Dollhouse at the time. I attended the talk and took notes, on which this article elaborates. I was fascinated by Dollhouse, and subsequently went to work with Will Wright at Maxis for three years. We finally released it as The Sims in 2000, after several name changes: TDS (Tactical Domestic Simulator), Project-X (everybody has one of those), Jefferson (after the president, not the sitcom), happy fun house (or some other forgetable Japanese placism).

At the talk, he reflected on the design of simulators and user interfaces in SimCity, SimEarth, and SimAnt. He demonstrated several of his games, including his current project, Dollhouse.

Here are some important points Will Wright made, at this and other talks. I've elaborated on some of his ideas with my own comments, based on my experiences playing lots of SimCity, talking with Will, studying the source code and porting it to Unix, reworking the user interface, and adding multi player support.

RSS 2.0 Sims Module, and MySim tool for Radio UserLand

Thanks to the guidance and patience of Dave Winer, I'm designing an RSS 2.0 module for describing The Sims objects [[Download mySims.root], which will make it easier to advertise and distribute Sims object online, and enable the development of automated tools for assisting in this process.

The first tool I'm developing for blogging Sims objects is the "MySims tool" for Radio Userland. It lets you drag and drop a Sims object into a directory to publish it on your blog. It automatically creates a preview and a description, pastes the text into a blog entry, and uploads the preview and Sims object to your blog along with the descriptive text, so people can see, read about and download your objects.

Naturally I will integrate this with the ShowAndTell ActiveX control, so you can view live objects on blogs, and other tools like RugOMatic, so you can easily create object by dragging and dropping text and images, then automatically publish them online!

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