games™ chats to Maxis’ VP and general manager Rachel Franklin, senior producer Lyndsay Pearson and producer Ryan Vaughn about the evolution of The Sims
What have been the major developments since the game’s announcement almost a year ago?
Franklin: [The fans] have had pretty deep exposure when we ran the Sims Camp last year. We had about 40 people that were exposed to Build Mode (that wasn’t at Gamescom) and the purpose was to get them deeply into it. They loved the features, even the little enhancements like spandrels. It’s those details that they get very excited about. So really, we’ve been finding out how Build Mode felt, what it’s like to place a room down. We’ve been refining that experience and spending our time on making sure it feels great.
Pearson: In addition to that, it has been opening up that vibrant neighbourhood we’ve been talking about and all those opportunities out there. We’ve been looking at all the potential out there and we’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback. Pushing that forward was definitely something we’ve spent a lot of time on since the announcement.
How have you made the world more unified than in previous Sims games?
Pearson: We wanted these places to feel very real and believable just like the way we invest in the Sims themselves. You want the commercial district to feel like it could be just down the street from your house. You want to feel like that’s an actual believable place. So you’ll that theme throughout the different neighbourhoods that’ll tie that theme together. It makes it clear why you see that same guy down the bar that you saw in the park earlier that day – it feels like one connected place.
Vaughn: We had those really big open worlds in The Sims 3 and while they were great they often felt sparse and empty. We really wanted to hone on that experience and tie it back to The Sims. We wanted to make sure that those relationships you’re having – whether with your neighbour or the guy down the street – felt natural. You go across the street and meet the mailman and strike up a conversation and then later you’ll see him at the bar playing piano. It’s a lot of fun and bringing that sense of community has been a key push.
What sort of opportunities does this wider neighbourhood offer on a gameplay level?
Pearson: The fact that you could take your Sim out at any point and go to the park, you could get there and there’s a different person each time and that person is going to have a different emotion and a different story to tell. It’s something you see a lot in pop culture and in movies, that magic moment where someone meets and their lives change forever. It’s that kind of thing where Sims are going to run into each other and they’ll have things going on in their lives and bounce off them in interesting ways. That’s going to be different each time you go out into that world; each time you go into that park or into a bar. You’ll get to see that continuity. One day there will be a sad girl crying on the bench, the next day she’ll be strolling along happy or really confident and you can jump into that story and decide to learn more or just watch it happen.
Vaughn: In previous iterations you could have an interaction that was negative between two Sims and ten minutes later they are best friends. With emotions and then combine that with new neighbourhoods, you get into a fight with your neighbour one day and then tomorrow you head down to the park and they’re there too and they’re in that angry mood against each other. Their relationship state persists through the day and is reflected in a way that is much more natural and believable.
Franklin: I want to point out that the player control is all there. Even though we’re allowing for these wonderful situations to happen outside in the neighbourhood or in your home, it’s to give the player – who is actively driving their Sim – just different opportunities to story tell with.
What about for the insular players who like to keep things about their own creations. How have you catered for them?
Pearson: The combinations we’ve talked about, the way you set their personalities, set their traits, that for the people who want to play within their little story, that changes the way you strategise what you want to do there and the choices you make on that path. So if you want to tell the story of the tortured painter, you can make the gloomy Sim who is also a loner but very creative. You can spend his days refining his skills and getting him in the mood to make sure he’s painting the best possible paintings. Only inviting certain people to be his friends so they help him in certain ways; bringing in other artists that are highly skilled to mentor him – you can use all of those influences to tell any size story. If you want it to be the epic across-neighbourhood story you can, but if you want it to be focused on your Sim and its family then it’s about the dynamics between them.
How are you making sure that all these ready-made homes won’t inspire builder apathy, considering their depth and range?
Pearson: We see players inspiring each other regularly. In the forum they set daily challenges – it’s one of the most inspiring parts of our community. I think a lot of it will be them driving each other to try new things. We see them drawing inspiration from pop culture events and things going on in the world, so because it’s a game about life they pull inspiration from everywhere.
How would you guys say the simulation genre has evolved since the last game?
Franklin: As far as the simulation genre is concerned, when we were talking about those need states – creativity, humour and the escape – there really is no other game that satisfies those as deeply as The Sims does. We do put time and passion into making the best creation tools, the best life simulation and our sharing experience – all of these things together are a unique experience. I would venture to say that there’s no other game like The Sims.