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EA talks with us about everything from delays to character customisation, and modding to expansion packs...
We know you were all a bit hurt by EA's delay of The Sims 3 (just take a look at the comments board below to witness readers venting), but rest assured the delay was a worthy one. The game's development team have been working hard to produce a title with the kind of scope and scale that The Sims 2 could only dream of as Associate Producer, MJ Chun, explains.
TVG: The Sims 3's open world will be a vast expansion on what we saw in The Sims 2. Obviously there will be expansion packs in future, but what's your mission statement with this open world going forward?
I think one of the things that's going to be awesome from a challenging perspective, but also rewarding, will be how you expand the open world - how you open it up even further - and also how do you add to being outside? Just more reasons for the player to not spend time at home.
That poses a bunch of design and technical questions for us because also it's The Sims; it's Maxis. There's a long tradition of allowing the player to create their own content and supporting that, so how do we support player created content in an open world? We want the community to tell us what they really want and what they really need.
TVG: With The Sims 2, something of a modding community was built up with user generated content, but this time around you're really embracing user created content. Will you have a marketing strategy for that at all, or are you planning to serve up all that sort of content for free?
Yeah, absolutely. For The Sims 2 we did Body Shop, so we released a separate program that allowed players to customise their sims and stuff like that. In The Sims 3 we're actually incorporating a lot of those tools that we released into the game itself, so you do all of the uploading, sharing and alike in-game. What we would love to do is make it even easier, allowing the player to customise even more. They can then post it to the exchange and see what other people have made but all within our standard, so there's nothing too graphic - no decapitations.
TVG: One of the great elements of The Sims has always been how individual sims develop their own personalities, and it looks like you've really pushed the envelope in that respect for this next game. Even things as simple as life goals become ever quirkier when a sim's personality traits affect those goals. You must have quite complex algorithms going on behind the scenes to make that happen...
Our designers are amazing and it's really interesting because they have different tools to help them visualise these different tuning trees. Ultimately, it's how things relate to each other - how one wish or one context relates to another - and they're very complicated, so we've got people who are part of our dev team that are amazing at testing the game because they can push it in all the different ways and check to make sure things are happening.
What's really funny is that all the different designers (who're tuning all of these trees and things) have different patterns, so you can tell one of them was tuning because they tend to look like geometric shapes, and then another guy tends to have these very organic looking floral things. It's really interesting how people spatially represent relationships of things that are ultimately just tuning in the game - you can see their personality in the work itself.
TVG: We had one sim up earlier called Monty who was doing some very peculiar things. There was a good mix of him not necessarily following orders - obviously they essentially follow commands, but the sims kind of do what they want a little bit as well. There's sort of a peculiarity about it, even down to the life goals and traits...
Yes. Robot-animal crossbreeder is one of my favourite life goals.
TVG: Yeah, it's a long way from just choosing to be in the army or becoming a scientist...
Yep, or be an Astronaut. It's kind of like that feeling when you were a kid of 'What do you want to be?', And then the child responds, 'I want to be a cowboy-ninja civil engineer.' You want that level of exploration, or if you've got someone who's like, 'I just want to be a world renowned surgeon,' then you can still be that.
TVG: And obviously you've streamlined everything with the new moods system, which leaves people a lot more time to create personalities and to browse the game world more. Do you think that's a move that's come with a change in game environment, with people now wanting a more easy-going experience?
I actually thing that what people will be doing instead of balancing needs will be much more strategic. It's no longer a plate spinning game - you can go and play Diner Dash if you want to - it's not really that anymore. There's more strategy and tactics. If I make my sim do too much at work, they'll be stressed out and cranky; they won't be able to socialise and they'll just be a sad sim. Maybe they'll just want to go to the spa, so I'll send them to the spa. And if you do have a stressed out sim then the game helps you; your sim will say: 'I want to go to the spa,' and you're like, 'What a good idea.'
TVG: The game has obviously been delayed until June 5th now. Have you been glad to get that extra development time?
Absolutely, just for the sheer amount of bugs that we've fixed and the amount of polish that we've been able to apply. We've been able to take feedback from customer content users, change the game, play the game, and find bugs. It's something that the development team is very grateful for and you can feel it in the way that everyone works, because you want to proud of what you work on and it's awesome to work on something and be like, 'Yes! What I do makes a difference.'
TVG: In many ways, The Sims 3 is what we'd always dreamed The Sims 2 could have been. Do you feel that The Sims 2 achieved everything that it set out to, or are there things in The Sims 3 that you've been wanting to do for a long time and now you finally have the power to do it?
I think the open world - not necessarily the 'open, open world' but the concept of unified time - is something that we really wanted for The Sims 2. But we were unable to deliver that to the extent that we wanted to - that we've done with The Sims 3. Some of the expansion packs that we brought out started bringing the pieces together.
I don't think The Sims 3 would be what it is today without what we started with The Sims 2. There were generations and genetics, and for me that's the biggest leap from The Sims 1 to The Sims 2. Genetics and generations are huge - the concept of grandchildren was mind-blowing and now, in The Sims 3, you can have entire towns with entire families, which is made possible partially because The Sims 2 took those first steps.
TVG: The character creation options seem to have moved forward a lot too...
It's interesting because in The Sims 2 it was all sliders but kind of tweaky. The customer content people were amazing at creating these faces that the average user wasn't able to create, which is why in The Sims 3 we want it to be easy. Straight off the bat; if you feel like making something really different, you can. And if you want to sculpt and mould, and really take a face in new directions, you can do that too.
TVG: The Sims is famous for its expansion packs. Have you looked forward to what sort of things you might feature in future expansion packs, or is that not even on the radar yet?
We've got to finish this one! That's what we're focused on but you get a lot of ideas on how to make things easier, especially towards the end of development. Things like better pipelines and ways to make features more robust. This is coming from everywhere; everyone is having post-mortems. There are ideas like, 'We could totally leverage this tack or add this feature,' so that's where we are.
TVG would like to thank Associate Producer, MJ Chun, for taking the time to speak with us about The Sims 3, due out on PC this June 5th.