Will Wright started his game-programming debut in 1984 with the fairly straightforward shoot-'em-up, Raid On Bungeling Bay.
It was a little scrolling shooter for the Commodore 64 where you flew a helicopter and blew things up. But to win you couldn't just attack everything, you had to figure out the infrastructure and defeat that.
Here's a description from the game:
"An interplanetary reconnaissance team has discovered that the tiny, but dangerous Bungeling Empire is creating an awesome War Machine. Their plan: to conquer Earth! Civilization as we know it seems doomed. However, one faint hope remains: a surgical helicopter strike by a single highly-skilled and courageous raier-you, if you have the right stuff.
GAMEPLAY:As the game pak scrolls a huge playing field of 100 screens, your helicopter circles the world in search of the six secret factories of Bungeling Bay. You can use the control pad to fly in 16 different directions as your helicopter moves in its critical seach for the factories. Each is heavily armed, so you must plan your method of attack carefully. Riddle the gun turrets and tanks with machine gun fire. Pay attention to intelligence reports. Bomb the battleships and factories. And don't forget to protect your host carrier from marrauding fighter planes. It's you against all odds. Can you save Earth?"
The game is now free to download. Just google the title. Or see it in action on Youtube.
Wright presented his game to a software distribution company, which immediately agreed to distribute it. "I walked in the door and they said 'Oh great, we'll take it.' I didn't have to talk them into it, "Wright remembered.
While it didn't gain traction in the United States, it sold well in Japan (selling 800.000 copies) where it was released in 1985. It was also released for Nes.
The market response stunned Wright. "I was amazed I could make a living at this," he recalled. "It was something I was willing to do for free."
Though once Wright himself called this game "a really, and I mean really, stupid video game".
"To create this game I had to draw all these islands that the helicopter would go bomb," recalls Will. Normally the artist/author modeled the complete fantasy in minute pixelated detail, but Will got bored. "Instead," Will says, "I wrote a separate program, a little utility, that would let me go around and build these islands real quick. I also wrote some code that could automatically put roads on the islands."
By engaging his land-making or road-making module the program would-on its own-fill in land or roads in the simulated world. Will remembers, "Eventually I finished the shoot-'em-up game part, but for some reason I kept going back to the darn thing and making the building utilities more and more fancy. I wanted to automate the road function. I made it so that when you added each connecting piece of island, the road parts on them would connect up automatically to form a continuous road. Then I wanted to put down buildings automatically, so I built a little menu choice for buildings.
"I started asking myself, why am I doing this since the game is finished? The answer was that I found that I had a lot more fun building the islands than I had destroying them. Pretty soon I realized that I was fascinated by bringing a city to life."I wanted to add more behavior to it. I wanted to add traffic, and see the world kind of come alive and be more dynamic" At first I just wanted to do a traffic simulation. But then I realized that traffic didn't make a lot of sense unless you had places where the people drove to...and that led layer upon layer to a whole city; SimCity."