Wondering what goes into developing The Sims 4? Want a deeper look at behind the scenes operations at Maxis? We sat down with Lyndsay Pearson, Senior Producer of The Sims 4, to learn more about ongoing (and past) development for The Sims 4. Check it out!
Introduce yourself to our readers, let us know how long you have been with The Sims team and describe the role you play in developing The Sims 4.
LP: Hi! I’m Lyndsay Pearson, the Senior Producer for The Sims 4. I partner with our creative director to drive the direction and vision of the game. Then I work with production and design teams and push for making the most enjoyable game experiences we can. I’ve been with the Sims for over 13 years now and even after all this time I love it.
How many talented people make up the development team at Maxis?
LP: Maxis is proud to employ several hundred developers here at the Redwood Shores studio.
What does the process of creating content for The Sims entail? Where does it all begin? What’s the full process from A to Z? Does everyone sit down in a big room firing ideas at each other?
LP: This is a pretty complicated question! I’ll try to boil it down and talk about how we developed Experimental food for The Sims 4 Dine Out Game Pack. We started by saying, hey, we want to make a restaurant. What’s something we would want to feature in this restaurant?
We brainstorm lots of ideas – new food types or food tricks or special behaviors. Then we narrow it down to a specific idea – experimental food. From there we brainstorm around that idea, what are some good experimental foods? What should they look like? How do Sims react to them? How do we make them extra special? We start talking to our development partners and get ideas from them – what if we could make the food move? What if it has special FX? What kind of food can our Sims eat? If they only use a fork or spoon what foods even make sense? If we wanted to add a new way to eat food how would that work? Once we have some pretty clear ideas of what we want to do we get together and discuss exactly how we’re going to do it. What new models do we need? Do we need new animation? What kind of FX do we need?
For experimental foods we wanted new plates so our modeling team came up with some ideas that would fit within the constraints of the existing food system while looking new and different. Once work begins we get to see models as they are made and start to see them appear in game. We get to make up fun text for each dish. We start tuning each dish, how hard is it for the chef to cook? How much hunger does it fill for a Sim? How much should it cost? Then we enter a period where we come up with other small improvements we think could make a design extra fun. What if we could take pictures of the new food! That’d be cool! We iterate, we test, we polish, we fix issues and soon enough we get to release it to the world!
What is the process of elimination with features and content? How do you prioritize what can and will be created for the game?
LP: The process of eliminating any feature or content is a very difficult one. Sometimes it’s easy because something just doesn’t quite fit into the experience we’re trying to deliver. However, in most cases, it isn’t that simple. There are lots of things you CAN do with any given pack so you have to focus on what you NEED to do and what you NEED to do well. There are literally hundreds of ways to approach this and personal opinions come up all the time. We have to carefully weigh as much information as we have at any given time and make the best decisions we can. In Dine Out we chose to focus on the experience of visiting a restaurant and the experience of owning & managing the restaurant. This gave us a really clear line to measure against.
Of the content that CAN be created, how do you prioritize what will be created first?
LP: You always need to start with the core. What is the key part of the experience you’re trying to deliver? You’re lucky if it’s one, clear experience but that is rarely the case. It can be a struggle to decide what comes first and you have to look at the whole picture the entire time. If you start somewhere and then learn something new you might change your priorities and that might change your plan. Have a goal in mind but be adaptable in how you achieve it.
Is there any game content or features that have been eliminated from the drawing board, simply because they could not become reality in the game? Any examples? (This can be for any series including The Sims 4)
LP: There are always ideas that just can’t happen in a game. Other forms of entertainment experience it too! There’s something you really love when you talk about it or put it on paper that just doesn’t translate into the medium. We have joked for years about Sims in Space but when you break down all the things you might expect to have happen if Sims truly lived in a space station all the rules go out the window. Do they float? Can they walk on walls? Do we care about gravity? If we don’t care about gravity does it feel like space? You can find solutions for any one thing but sometimes it doesn’t add back up to the thing you wanted to create.
What has been the largest inspiration for the creation of new objects in The Sims 4?
LP: We take inspiration from lots of places! Sometimes it’s from a book somebody read or a movie they recently watched. Sometimes it’s something the players have been talking about or something we did in a previous Sims game. I guess if I had to pick one source of inspiration it’s passion. What are we most passionate about making? Being passionate about your projects or an object always makes it better.
Approximately how long does it take to create a full stuff pack, game pack, expansion pack from start to finish, including drawing board phases?
LP: The amount of time it takes can vary widely based on what the pack is and when our schedules align. There can be many months of development as well as many years of exploration. There isn’t a one-size-fits all approach. Even within our team the time it takes to make one game pack can vary against another.
How do you find the right balance of content in an expansion, stuff pack, and game pack?
LP: I’m not sure I’d say we have! We are constantly exploring what the “right” balance is and there are certainly differing opinions. It depends a lot on the pack and the experience you are trying to build. Some packs need more clothes, some packs need more objects, some packs need more systems. There isn’t a strict formula we can follow. We have some tools to help us evaluate if we think we’re headed in the right direction and we use them often to drive conversation.
Game Packs were introduced as a medium between Stuff and Expansion packs in The Sims 4. What brought on this change to the way Maxis has produced games for The Sims, and has this helped the team release content that otherwise didn’t fit anywhere else?
LP: I’m really excited about Game Packs. It has given us a space that lets us go deeper on a feature we’d otherwise have to handle in an Expansion Pack but something too big to fit into a Stuff Pack. When we’re building an Expansion Pack we like to offer a number of new experience, we want to create many ways to engage with that content. With a Game Pack we can be really focused. This means get a chance to add more detail and more flavor than we might get to in an Expansion. We’re just starting to scratch the surface of what Game Packs can be and I find that exciting!
How has the ability to multitask made developing The Sims 4 easier or harder?
LP: Multitasking has made the biggest difference in how the Sims feel. They seem more human, they seem more relatable. I love that we have this technology at our disposal and can use it in cool new ways. It’s changed the way we work but not the kinds of experiences we want to deliver.
How important is implementing gameplay from other DLC into the new DLC? (i.e. Clubs Rules moving forward)
LP: We keep an eye out for this all the time. We want all the content to complement and enhance each other. We proactively look for ways to enable this but honestly the most creative gameplay comes from our players. For something like Club Rules, we actually have a checkbox in our designs now that reminds us to ask “Can this be a club rule?”.
How difficult is creating new animations for all of the ages/lifestates? What determines whether or not a certain age group can use an object or feature?
LP: As with many of the things I’ve said about design above it has a lot to do with the gameplay experience we are trying to create. This is another very subjective conversation on any particular feature. There are many cases where sure, any age group COULD use an object, but should they? How would a different age use this object? Is it something that age would typically do? Is the focus of this object on one age over another? Why? We have some tools that help share animations between adults and children but often we want to see a child interacting with something in a very different way than an adult might. We talk about this case by case, there’s no standard answer or solution. In Dine Out we actually designed the color on menu interaction for children only. We thought it was so fun though we decided we wanted to expand it to let Adults do it too.
What are the most challenging things you’ve ever worked on and why?
LP: User Interface always poses some of the most complicated challenges in our game. How do we show you what you might want to find exactly when you want it? How do we build a flow that everybody can understand? How do we explain things about the game without using too much text that somebody won’t read? I’ve worked on a lot of Sims games and there is so much iteration and flux that goes into even the smallest piece of UI. It’s one of the most challenging pieces of development.
And finally, just for fun, who is your favorite pre-made character in the game, and why?
LP: I’ve always had a soft spot for Bella. She’s pretty, she’s got attitude, she’s mysterious. She’s been with us through so many games and was one of the first Sims my Sims ever met when I started playing the original Sims.
Gotta love Bella! Thank you very much Lyndsay for taking the time to give us an inside look at development on The Sims 4! Sul Sul!