My Awkward Elevator Ride With SimCity Creator Will Wright

by Matt Helgeson on Feb 24, 2015 at 05:13 AM

You ever wonder what you'd say to a legendary game creator if you were in an elevator with him? Probably nothing.

This happened to me years ago at the annual DICE Summit in Las Vegas, which I attended with our editor in chief Andy McNamara. If you're unfamiliar, it's an annual conference devoted to presentations and panels on the future of interactive entertainment, and is much less PR-focused than any other major conference in the video game calendar. It's also a relatively intimate affair, so it's not uncommon to see well-known developers chatting at the bar after the day's sessions are over. It also plays host to the annual Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences Awards, the closest games have to an Oscar or Grammy Awards.

As a journalist, it's a great opportunity to learn – and gain access to developers that you might not usually be able to interview. This particular year we scheduled interviews with a bunch of top developers for a feature entitled "Visions of the Visionaries" in which we asked these leading minds about where they thought the industry was headed.

We were especially eager to secure an interview with legendary SimCity/The Sims creator Will Wright, who had long been considered one of the industry's most intelligent and interesting game developers. I don't often get starstruck in the course of my job, but I was particularly excited to speak with someone who, in my opinion, could be considered a genius.

I generally do a lot of research for my interviews and come up with a long list of questions I want to ask. Sometimes the conversation will diverge from my plan, which is fine, but being prepared allows me to feel less awkward and (hopefully) spare me the embarrassment of failing for words. I had prepared for my interview with Will Wright – but I wasn't as prepared for the possibility of small talk with a genuine legend.

I met him after a his photo shoot for the magazine, and started walking to the room where the interview would take place with Wright and a handler from Electronic Arts. I suddenly felt incredibly awkward – "This guy is a genius, what should I say?" "Okay, just don't say anything dumb!" "He's gonna think you're weird if you don't say anything!"

These feelings intensified in the confines of the elevator – but I still couldn't think of anything to say. At that point, I was committed to standing there like an idiot. As the old saying goes: "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt."

Perhaps sensing my discomfort, Wright finally turned to me and spoke, saying – and I'm not making this up: "You know, they are finding that there might be no such thing as true randomness. When they analyze strings of random numbers, they're finding that they are actually parts of huge patterns that humans can't really comprehend."

He continued, "A friend of mine is actually working on a program that converts readings of solar radiation into strings of numbers. He thinks that might be able to generate true randomness."

So, there I was, invited into a fascinating conversation with one of the most respected designers in game history – and perhaps the smartest person I'd ever met personally. So, I looked Wright in the eye, paused, and said, "Uh...that's cool."

Idiot. Seriously, that's the best I could do? One of the smartest people on the planet is trying to tell me about something truly groundbreaking and that's all I had to say? Good job, Beavis.

Epilogue: Thankfully, when I could stick to my prepared questions, the interview actually went well. Wright was remarkably down to Earth and open. Still, I've never forgotten how I fumbled that opportunity in the elevator.