Wright went through many turbulent times at Maxis. The company went public, the product flow wasn't there, and Wright felt constricted. It was a tough sell at Maxis, due to the company's limited resources, Braun said. At the time, the company was feeling the pressure of pumping out new games on a frequent schedule. By contrast, the new game would be a large project that required more money, time and human resources.
Wright: "When we picked it up after SimCity 2000 and Simcopter, it was me and one other programmer, Jamie Doornbos, who was basically developing the behavioral engine. We spent around a year and a half, just the two of us developing that. Once we had a sense of what the behavioral engine could do, I could step back and I could imagine "oh yeah this is a simple structure that we can simulate almost any object we can encounter and the Sims would use it in an appropriate manner.
We actually took a very early version of the engine and used it in SimCopter. That was kind of the first test of it. But we knew at that point we could do it, from there it was more a matter of how we represent everything."
"We had an external group, a little office in San Mateo, where we had like four guys working there and it was our core technology group. We had some really smart guys doing tools, some next generation technology R&D for us. They were developing these cool ideas and things but the product teams were too busy in their own worlds to use any of them.
And so at some point I couldn't get enough resources on The Sims and we wanted to staff it as a project and I said 'well just give me the core tech team.' At that point they said 'sure ... we're not using their stuff anyway.' And so I actually moved Jamie Doornbos to a new office and turned the core tech team into the core Sims team. It was a small office building in San Mateo, many miles apart from Maxis in Walnut Creek and nobody really saw them. I would drive down there and interact with them several times a week."
Then Don Hopkins was introduced to the rest of the Maxis Core Technology Group and was recruited to join Maxis to work on Will's team. They then hired another programmer (Patrick J Barrett III), a lead artist (Charles London), and Will convinced some of the original SimCity artists (Jenny Martin, Susan Green) to come back in and make the first Sims characters (Edith and Archie Bunker). The designers (Claire Curtin, Roxy Wolosenko and Will Wright) had to commute a long way to work with the group in San Mateo.
2 More people deserve a mention; Eric Bowman's work on The Sims was very important: he pulled it all together, designed and implemented the intricate stuff under the hood, and polished the rough surface. Jim Mackraz is a manager, software designer and coder. He accomplished the task of putting together, motivating and focusing the diverse teams.
During development, The Sims went through more than 10 different interface concepts. Here are some of the rejected interface designs.
Soon after EA bought Maxis, they moved the team to one of EA's original office buildings in San Mateo. In 1998, they moved the team again, this time up to Walnut Creek where they could work with the rest of Maxis. Several other people were added, expanding the crew to about a dozen people, all with various backgrounds and ranging in age between 25 and 40.
"There was a lot of unrest at Maxis, post-acquisition. There were a lot of staffing changes and the company culture was being changed dramatically. Will wanted to make sure 'The Sims' in its embryonic state was protected from the craziness that was going on," said Charles London, who joined Maxis as a designer on "The Sims." Work started late in the morning and typically ran into the evening.
Even though Mr. Mattrick (former top EA executive involved in the acquisition of Maxis) encouraged Mr. Wright to continue the project, there remained considerable skepticism among sales and marketing types.The team had to keep wowing executives at Electronic Arts and Maxis to justify their existence. The executives felt that "The Sims" had potential, but did not think it was a guaranteed hit: Who would buy a game without clear objectives, about going to the bathroom and doing housework? "It was an uphill struggle," London said.
Some of the EA old guard didn't trust Will's vision, didn't 'get' the idea of Dollhouse, didn't think it would sell, wanted to inject it full of their old tried and trusted formula, and wanted to gut out the most interesting parts of the game (like the architecture tools) but Will had to stick to his guns to get it to happen.
Luc Bartelet who came in from EA was key here. He supported the Doll House project. Luc: "Here you have one of the top three game designers in the industry, and his product was not staffed. We came here and said, 'Hey, wait a second... this game is probably more important than SimCity!' Over the next few months, EA would search the world for the best talent to bring to work with Wright.
For Wright, his newfound comfort and isolation from financial pressure was a welcome change. Wright's enthusiasm was echoed across the board. He was an inspiration to the others and brought a sense of playfulness to the work floor. Employees would take a weekly Yoga class together at the office, and "Maxis Anniversaries" would take place to celebrate employees who had worked for Maxis through thick and thin.