What is it about John Conway’s work that caught your imagination? WW: It’s so extraordinary, because the rules behind it are so simple. It’s like the game Go. A lot of people I know lost major chunks of their life from both of these endeavors. From an outside person’s point of view, it might seem totally pointless, but there’s some underlying aspect I think they capture, both Go and Conway’s Life or cellular automata in general, of reality and complex systems.
That they can arise from fairly simple rules and interactions, and that became a major design approach for all the games: “How can I put together a simple little thing that’s going to interact and give rise to this great and unexpected complex behavior?” So that was a huge inspiration for me. (via Gamasutra – Features – The Replay Interviews: Will Wright)