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Tuesday, 02 September 2014 16:03

Interview: The Sims 4 – an ideal world that we should all be aspiring to

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The 15th anniversary of the Sims is looming, we sat down with Maxis producer Graham Nardone to discuss the upcoming Sims 4.  The popular series is into its third reboot and the challenge for the developers is to please the legion of fans and at the same time introduce and refine the very personal experience of playing a Sims title.


We began our conversation with Maxis producer Graham Nardone by discussing the themes and maturity that we can expect in The Sims 4.  Often the next generation of a title might get darker or more adult in content; this does not seem to be the case as The Sims transitions between 3 and 4.

“Sims 4 will be consistent with the rest of the franchise in terms of themes we explore, the possibilities between the Sims and how they interact with the world.”  Says Nardone.

“I think the nice thing about the Sims is that in general we have always been socially progressive.  If you look at the conversations and topics that are coming up in real life now, we have been ahead of the wave in a lot of those things, so I think we are in a pretty good place on the Sims 4.”

Is Nardone referring to racial or gender issues?  “Yeah,” he confirms “in terms of the LGBT community and other possibilities in game.  It is interesting you mentioned sex or race as well, because the Sims has always been colour-blind, it doesn’t matter in game.”

Nardone remembers a recent article questioning the depth to which The Sims series could explore these themes:   “Why doesn’t The Sims delve further?  Why is not a topic of conversation between Sims?  Why don’t you see that scenario play out in-game?  To me that is a little puzzling, because I don’t know why we would introduce that into The Sims, The Sims is already an ideal world, that we should all be aspiring to [have] in society right now, everyone is equal, everybody is treated equal .  The Sims don’t recognise those overt differences between each other, they just treat each other equally, and I think that is a great thing.”

 Starting afresh with a new base release, what is the scope Maxis is going for ?

Nardone explains “Determining what will be in the base game was really bringing it back to what is the core of the game, the Sims themselves.  Getting into the fourth game in the series, coming up on our fifteenth anniversary in February, it’s easy to get lost in this wealth of content that we have built up over time. “

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“The Sims has been the one constant in all of that, so it was very important for us to focus on them, really increase the depth of possibilities when socialising with The Sims, have those emotions and making them feel like believable characters with real personalities.  And I think that comes through immediately when you first start playing the game and socialising between the Sims.”

We asked Nardone to give us an example of the step up in Sim socialisation.

“Yeah sure, the emotions all feed into that, so depending what emotion your Sim is currently in, when they start interacting with other Sims that can play out in a number of different ways.  If your Sim was sad for example, and they started chatting with another Sim who was in a good mood, then that Sim might try and cheer you up, and because they are in a good mood they have special interactions as well that are specifically about being cheerful with other Sims.  Alternatively, depending on how the conversation goes, because your Sim is sad, their sharing their sob-story with another Sim they might get that Sim feeling sad as well.”

“It can have this kind of ripple effect when you socialise with other Sims rather than being this one-off conversation that doesn’t really mean anything five minutes later.”

The other broad scope change in The Sims 4 involves the tools used by players.

“All our creative tools, the stuff with ‘Create-a-Sim’ and build mode have largely remained the same, from the first iteration.” Explains Nardone “Obviously there have been advances in tech, but the way players have approached it, hands on with it has always been an intimidating experience, especially with build mode, where you have all of these UI options thrown at you, and it’s hard for somebody to jump in, maybe they have an idea in their head, but no idea how to express that.

So, spending a lot of time focussing on our tools and how players interact with them was a pretty big important thing for us for The Sims 4, I think players can jump in and immediately start building something, or creating a Sim.  It is very intuitive because you’re interacting with those elements directly rather than clicking on different buttons in the UI.

I think the ultimate realisation of that is the new gallery mode we have put in the game, where players can share content with each other.” Says Nardone.


It is evident that the popularity of ‘creating things’ in video gaming is as strong as it has ever been.  In fact there is a noticeable decline in destruction style games in favour – as the demographic expands – of construction titles.  Minecraft, Little Big Planet and The Sims being the most prominent in this continued rise.

“The create-a-Sim demo we released two weeks ago already has a million Sim households uploaded.” boasts Nardone.   

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“We have something called ‘styled rooms’ , so the first thing you see when you go into build mode is these pre-built rooms made by the artists back in Maxis.  You can grab a full room, and within that room, pick out individual objects from it if you are just doing a bit of interior decorating.  Or you can purchase an entire room, it attaches to your cursor and you can place it wherever on your home lot you like.  

That is a quick easy way to start building a home and immediately have something that is playable so you can get a feel. “

That is great for new-comers; however there are hordes of experienced Sim designers out there.

“A lot of the in-depth tools that allow full customisation of whatever they have in their head,” says Nordane “that power is all still there in the back end.  All the advance tools that players are familiar with, you will have access to all that.”

“We have all new features that have never been in the Sims franchise before, things like the ability to change the height of your walls on each level, never been in a Sims game, players have asked for it.
Something as small as that add lots of different architectural styles that were not available previously.  We have lots of little details like that, that have not been in a Sims game before.”

Being the first in a new iteration brings a weight of expectation, particularly from fans.  We decided to ask Nardone of features that did make the cut for the base game.

“[laughs]That is an easy one,” Nardone chortles “because the community answered that for me, a lot of players are interested in seeing Pools and Toddlers, the two big things that a lot of people have been discussing with The Sims 4.”

“They are not in the base game and obviously we are very cognisant of what players are saying, because we do have this wonderful relationship with the community, a lot of what they say appears down the road in Sims titles.  Their feedback is critical where we develop and where we take the game in the future.” Nardone says.

“I don’t think the situation we are in is unusual for a Sims game, if you look back at past base games, it is always a mixture of features, stuff that is new to the franchise, there is stuff from previous base games and then we pull in stuff that was previously only in expansion packs.  Sims 4 for example has things like woodworking and bartending in the base game, those were only in expansion packs beforehand.”


“We have a greater depth of content in this game than ever before.”


“So players out there really looking for their Pools and their Toddlers, we are very aware of what they are saying, and we will see where their feedback takes us in the future.”

Even some creative people want structure and direction, will the Sims 4 bring a greater emphasis on goals and storyline ?  It seems the contrary will be true.

 “Story is interesting in general with The Sims, just cause we usually put a very light amount of fiction in the background and let player’s imaginations run wild from there.” Says Nardone “ Sims 4 in particular is a little bit of a reboot in terms of the lore, were we took a lot of the favourite fan families from the past and put them into the Sims 4.  Families like the Goths and the Caliantais, the Landgrabs, they are all back and together.”

“Then we took some personalities that players really latched onto, we have a character called Bob Pancake, he was one of the first Sims we showed for The Sims 4 and players really loved him, so we made sure he is living in the world in the final game.”

“In terms of goals, we have a little bit of that sprinkled in the game-play, but is really optional for players that want to take part in it.  If you are doing an event like a dinner party or going out on a date or having a wedding, if you want to have some goals during those events, we provide them, but it is entirely optional for players.  What we heard from our community is that they don’t want us as developers leading them down a path or trying to encouraging them to go a specific direction.  I think the magic of the Sims comes from being such an open ended sand box and really putting that power and control in the hands of the players.”

The Sims 4 will be released on PC this coming Thursday the 4th of September
 


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Mike Bantick

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Having failed to grow up Bantick continues to pursue his childish passions for creative writing, interactive entertainment and showing-off through adulthood. In 1994 Bantick began doing radio at Melbourne’s 102.7 3RRRFM, in 1997 transferring to become a core member of the technology show Byte Into It. In 2003 he wrote briefly for the The Age newspaper’s Green Guide, providing video game reviews. In 2004 Bantick wrote the news section of PC GameZone magazine. Since 2006 Bantick has provided gaming and tech lifestyle stories for iTWire.com, including interviews and opinion in the RadioactivIT section.

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