Exclusive Will Wright Interview on "Bar Karma" TV Series

January 25, 2011

By John Gaudiosi

When it comes to the video game space, Will Wright has done it all. He’s dominated both the PC gaming space with franchises like SimCity, The Sims and Spore, and he’s watched each of those franchises successfully migrate to consoles, handhelds and mobile devices over the years. When Wright walked away from Electronic Arts and the Maxis studio he founded back in 2009, he set his sights on conquering new entertainment landscapes.

Come February 11, gamers can see just what Wright has been up to when his first television series airs on February 11 on Current TV. The 12-episode, half-hour program, “Bar Karma,” is a sci-fi series set in a bar at the edge of the universe. The show stars William Sanderson (“True Blood,” “Lost,” "Deadwood") as James, the 20,000 year-old bartender, Matthew Humphreys (“Obsessed,” “Big Love,” “The Forgotten”) as bar owner Doug Jones, and Cassie Howarth (“Deranged High,” “Deathclock”) as the waitress.

What separates “Bar Karma” from anything else on television is the Storymaker application, which allows fans to create actual storylines that can run in the series. It’s a new level of interactivity and fan site community not seen before. Wright talks about the show and recollects on video game creations like Spore in this exclusive interview.

GeForce.com: Looking back at your last Electronic Arts project, what are your thoughts on the way Spore was received by gamers?

Will Wright: I think my hardcore gamers were expecting more depth. While a lot of casual gamers liked it, which was a group that I didn’t really focus on. I mean, we were trying to get casual gamers to some degree, but it ended up that a lot of young people played Spore. That kind of surprised me. I mean, there were kids down to three years old sitting on a parent’s lap. But it seems like the group that Spore really kind of stuck with was generally younger than I thought. You know, it’s more like the 12 to 14 year old boys. Those are the ones that play it all the time.

Will Wright

We’re seeing The Sims Medieval coming out this year and more emphasis, overall, on storytelling in games. How have you seen the importance of story evolve in games?

Well, I think story has always been tremendously important. In video games especially, but I’ve always found the other side of the coin where I’ve never been – as a game designer in telling my players a story. I’ve been interested in giving them an environmental relation to create their own story, and so that kind of puts me on the other side of the fence from a lot of game designers that I think see games as a different form of medium for telling stories. For me, the most powerful stories I’ve ever heard from games are not somebody recounting the intro scene to Prince of Persia or a cut scene in Mario, but it’s been the things that they did to be unique. And then they go make a Youtube video or a Machinima. But those are the stories that they actually spend time sharing with each other. The ones they’re excited about are the ones that they actually told or created.

Can you talk a little bit about Storymaker and how the interactive nature of this show makes it something a little bit more like a video game?

In games, you are used to playing through a story line and exploring all of the options of a world. You actually get to try out what happens if I do this or do that. In television, you’re really at the whims of the writer. I wonder if the writer is going to do A or B? So I think Storyteller is really more about that. It’s about how we as show created work with the fans. In some sense really, interactive television has a long lifetime. Fans can become an actor in the sense that they actually can drive a series wherever they want it to go without a long lag time. It’s only several weeks between the time that they finalize a plot and the time they actually see it on the air.

The buzzwords in Hollywood have evolved from convergence to transmedia. What are your thoughts on creating an IP and having it go across all these different mediums simultaneously today?

Well, that’s pretty much why I wanted to go out and do what I’m doing with Stupid Fun Club. I mean, that’s really kind of our charter. I don’t think consumers of entertainment make a huge distinction between the Xbox, TiVo, their iPhone, their tablet, etcetera. They’re into electronics. IP makers today want to get people to experience their content across all of these platforms. Some of it might be interactive, some of it might be storytelling. Some of it might be very short little apps, while other ones might be very deep online experiences. And so I think if you’re routinely just diversifying across all these platforms, regardless of what it is -- publishing games, movies, what have you -- that’s exactly the space I want to be playing in right now.

And then does that change the way you think about creating something? For instance, when The Sims came out you weren’t thinking about a feature film, and yet Fox is developing a Sims movie today?

Oh, certainly. Yeah. In fact, the ideas that we really choose to pursue are the ones that we think works and have some storytelling potential, some interactive potential, and some social potential. So we’re actually at a very beginning of changes in IP not just saying it will make a great game or a great TV show, but this would be something that people could engage on different levels and different dimensions on different platforms.