Gamespot has published The Endless Hours of The Sims Online by Geoff Keighley, and if you are interested in the future of simulation, you must read it.
Will Wright's latest creation, due to be released in a week or two, is not a game so much as an environment. This massively multiplayer online world will be populated by real players who pay $10 a month for the privilege. (Gratutitous ghouls with machine guns need not apply.)
The scale of The Sims Online is unprecedented. We're talking several years and hundreds of designers, among them the top game designers in the world.
I've worked with physicians who thought they were "playing God," but they were only messing with one character at a time, not an entire society. Chief designer Will Wright worries about the moral and psychological aspects of The Sims Online:
The only way to test something like The Sims Online is to release it to thousands of players to test. Last month the programmers had to delete and restart the alpha version. Players were shook up.
Its developers expect The Sims Online to live forever:
As Wright walks the halls, you get the sense that he is just beginning to realize that The Sims Online is a project that may never be done. Ask him whether the official release of the game is just the starting point, and he smiles. "Yep, that's right," he says. "Welcome to my hell. I'll be observing and working on this game for the rest of my life."
Obviously, The Sims Online is a radical departure from the typical closed-end simulation we are accustomed to. Professionals in the learning industry are having a tough time wrapping their heads around eLearning where the learner is in charge. (I think of learners as the ultimate "learning management system.") The Sims is the ultimate expression of gaining control by giving control.
With The Sims Online, Wright believes the community will form in a way similar to the one formed around Slashdot.org, the popular technology news site. "There's no central editor on Slashdot, but it's a collection of readers who have evolved it into a great site for news." Ultimately, The Sims Online could turn into a similar self-governing world, and Wright and his team could sit back and watch it evolve over time. "I can't wait to be surprised by what people do in the game," says Trottier.
Monolithic Corporation has started a clean copy of The Sims Online on its intranet. Among the game objects are its product line and that of its competitors. Monolithic's ERP has generated a working input/output model of the company online. The cityscape is peopled with customers and competitors.
Monolithic's employees learn by doing -- in the game. Players can run "what-if" scenarios for various behaviors. The sim environment supports experimentation with different courses of action in the same way that the spreadsheet made what-if financial tinkering viable.
Instead of dumbing down reality to program specific interactions, tomorrow's instructional designers will build artificial environments and delegate the heuristics to the humans.
I won't be surprised if, like in Stephen Wolfram's construct of reality, a few simple inputs generate complex, lifelike behavior.
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