The Sims: Ask a Guru Q&A Session

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Earlier this week The Sims team resurrected the “Ask a Guru” thread, allowing players to ask a variety of questions for SimGurus to answer. The thread has since been closed, and multiple SimGurus have responded to many of the questions. Q&A Below.

Did any of your artists ever experimented with body hair on sims with the current art style? Would it work/look ok?

SimGuruKimmi: If we ever do it for real, it will definitely need some exploration like different thicknesses of hair, where is the hair located, and such. Translating photo references to our style can be quite the challenge! Just for fun, I tried drawing body hair in our art style once, and I gotta say… it is hard. lol.

 

For people who work on art and/or modeling, where do you draw inspiration from for the CASsets that you create? Do you look through fashion magazines? Through pictures of clothing people have modeled related to that theme? Or do you just let them develop as you work, eventually finding something that sticks and build off of that?

SimGuruKimmi: So at the start of a theme development for a pack, the art director shares their vision of how the pack will look like to the concept artists. Say for example, Get Together… We knew we wanted a European world, so the concept artists look up references that we can pull inspiration from. It can be anything from magazines, books, fashion blogs, instagram, pinterest, etc.

For CAS, we would draw A LOT of concepts ranging from 30 to over 100 concepts (depending on the pack). We would try to hit different age groups and different trends that fit into the pack’s theme. During that time, the art director would go through and pick out what they like, what fits into the theme, what fills any missing holes in the catalogue. When selections are done, we pass the concept art off to modeling. We try to stay on top of trends but it really depends on the pack theme and what’s the need. Also we want to make sure we have a variety of CAS assets so that way if you want to make a particular type of sim, you can. Like granny with the cat cardigan, or a teen wearing a tied tee (with a boat neckline) with a jeggings for example.

 

I was wondering how long does it usually take for you to create a stuff pack / game pack / expansion pack (from concept to release)? What are the factors that influence timing? Are delays common?

Also I was wondering why developing EPs seems to take longer with Ts4 than with TS3 or TS2. Is it a matter of resources? (Perhaps the former EP team has divided into EP and GP) or is it because you work with more flexible deadlines? Is it a matter of marketing perhaps (so that Gps and EPs don’t overlap)?

Finally I was wondering what kind of questions we can ask here…can we give suggestions too? Or ask about what would be technically feasible (eg. A difficulty slider)?

SimGuruLyndsay: 1) How long it “usually takes” can actually vary quite a bit. An EP, from idea to release, is somewhere around a year (give or take a few months); a GP, from idea to release, is closer to 9 months or so and an SP from idea to release is anywhere from 6 months to a year (depending on what other things we’re working on). Now something like a Nanny NPC, might be a month or two in the works where something like the Create A Sim Expansion was over a year. It’s actually pretty uncommon that we delay unless something entirely unexpected occurs. Keep in mind that a lot has to happen between idea and release. Nearly 2/3 any project is spent planning, designing and then making sure it all works after we’ve built it.

2) Why do EPs take longer? Resources certainly play a part in how long our packs take to create. We have the team split into parts supporting EP, GP, SP, Updates, & Live Services (fixing existing issues, gallery, stuff like that). The team is not structured the same way it was for TS3. On TS3 almost the entire team was focused on an EP, then when they finished would move to the next EP. The SPs had no gameplay so very few people had to work on them. Because TS4 is a constantly growing and changing Live Service through updates and packs, we’ve changed the way the team is structured quite a lot. We still run a very similar PROCESS to make games but we’re running it against many more packs/projects at one time. On TS3 we sometimes had maybe 2 things being actively WORKED ON (code being written, art being built); but usually we focused on 1 at a time. On TS4, we’re often working on 5 or 6 different things at once and planning 2 or 3 more. Marketing plays a much larger part in when we announce and discuss things.

3) I believe you can ask whatever you want! And there is a whole section of the forums for suggestions. I probably wont’ dive too deep into technical issues but you’re always welcome to ask.

 

Do you have an active Mac team working on the OS X/macOS version of Sims 4 or do you use a 3rd party?

SimGuruLyndsay: We do the work for TS4 Mac internally.

 

How many development stages do you have for The Sims 4 packs? Do you make a lot of conceptual art?

SimGuruLyndsay: Oh so many stages! We actually do make quite a lot of concept art for our worlds, furniture, clothes, UI… I love reviewing art, it’s one of my favorite things to do.

In brief our stages look something like this. This is definitely a high level abstract but gives you an idea.

  • Theme Selection – brainstorms, sometimes concept, sometimes prototypes, looking at past research or current discussions, talking about what the players are asking for or need
  • Pre-Production – design writing, reviewing designs with the team to figure out how we’ll build it, figuring out how to build the right things with the time we have allotted; more concept
  • Production – making stuff and starting to test it, writing code, building models, integrating art assets, writing text, and more!
  • Alpha* – a version of everything we planned against is in the game so we can start playing with it
  • Beta* – our first attempt at fixing ALL the issues we’ve found with what we’ve built, playing with the first pass game balance on all our features to make sure it feels good, making sure the game is running well on high and low machines, making sure we haven’t introduced any issues to previous packs or to the base game, making sure we didn’t miss anything important
  • Final* – last big push to making sure the game is as solid, stable and awesome as we can possibly make it
  • Release – we deliver it to you, in the wild!
  • Live Support – monitor what pops up and address it when possible

Overall, we spend roughly 1/4 of a pack’s schedule planning and preparing; 1/3 of the time building and the remainder bringing it all together and getting it to you.

Now, this can change a lot. Some types of projects spend more time building or less time in final or less time in planning. It depends on the nature of the project. Overall though, our schedules always look about like this.

There are also a lot of other deadlines along the way like Art Lock (when all assets are build & final); Text Lock (so we can send text out to be translated & tested); Audio Lock (when all music and sounds are in the game); and some more.

* You might find different definitions of Alpha/Beta/Final Online. This is how we use them. Beta for us is not the same as a “Beta Test” for something else.

 

How do you choose which EP’s, GP’s and SP’s to add next, from all the available suggestions and ideas? What goes into the decision-making process? Is it possible to give an example from already released content?

SimGuruLyndsay: There are a lot of factors that go into deciding what we’re going to make. When we start talking about a new EP/GP/SP we consider the following things (this it not a comprehensive list but a good sketch of it)

  • What do our players need or want? What does the game need?
  • What have we built for the Sims before? What worked or didn’t work?
  • What feedback are we hearing from players now? What did our surveys show?
  • When will this pack be released? Should we aim for something summery for the summer season?
  • What pack type will this be? An SP? GP? EP? Which size packs will the themes we might like fit into?
  • What technology do we already have in the game that we could leverage?
  • What new tech do we need to build next?
  • Is there something cool we’ve always wanted to do that we could try in this pack? Is this the right time?
  • Should we try a risky idea? Something new? Or something more expected?
  • Is this something we’ve never done?

We brainstorm a lot and start filtering our ideas through these types of questions. Sometimes we have an idea we LOVE but it’s too big for an SP and too small to fill a full EP but we already have a GP in the works. Sometimes we think of something that might be cool in an EP but we want to do something deeper with it like a GP.

As an example – we’ve always loved the idea of Camping. If we were to put “camping” in an SP, it would really only be a tent object and maybe a Firepit. That’s not a full camping experience. In an EP, we’d want to support something more broad than just camping, something more like vacation where you could go to multiple places maybe, so we also wouldn’t be able to do all the things that feel like camping. The GP size is perfect because we got to make the objects we wanted; build a single, new, small destination to visit; add collections; skills; a special lot and Hermit NPC and more. We got to make, what I feel, was a really nice, comprehensive camping pack. It wouldn’t have been the same if we’d put it into an SP or EP.

 

I’m asking this respectfully: Has the target audience for the sims 4 changed from the target audience of the sims 3 or the target audience of the sims 2? I believe the rating is still for teen gamers, but to older sims fans like myself (above 20 years old), ts4 seems slanted toward a younger audience who may not appreciate the nuanced humor, depth, and complexity prevalent in ts2 and ts3. Is this intentional?

SimGuruLyndsay: I have always loved that the Sims has such a varied and broad audience. We continue to have players of all ages and genders, from countries all over the world love being part of our Sims world. Nothing about that has changed. We still look at any feature or design through the lens of “how will a Sims player enjoy this”. We talk more about the different ways people play than different slices of the audience. We do take into consideration keeping things current, which might feel “younger” in some ways. What’s going on in the world today? What’s happening in pop culture? What do we see our audience seeing? And what feedback are we getting in surveys or online. t

The rating has always been T for Teen (and similar in other countries) and that does play a role in what we can do with the game, just as it always has. That has a lot more to do with how far we can push some of our features more so than the ones that we choose.

We definitely still try to put in as much humor, depth and complexity as we can and that feels appropriate for the experiences we’re trying to build. I know we can’t hit the perfect balance for everybody but we try to find the sweet spot.

 

As a black simmer with long hair I feel there isn’t enough hairstyles for us to choose from when creating a black sim. So my question is, would it be possible to add long or shoulder length hairstyle to the game? Right now the the only ones that we have to choose from is Afro and dreads.

SimGuruKimmi: We understand the importance of having diversity in hair textures/styles and definitely consider different types of hair when we are concepting hair for CAS. So far we have these hairs for longer African hair textures/style…

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but if you mean if it’s possible to have something like this, it may be possible but will need time and art exploration to make sure we get the hair texture in our art style and looking good.

 

What can you elaborate on what the production team does and why they need to be a different company that handles Sims decisions?

SimGuruLyndsay: I think LifeSimmer might have mixed up the chart we showed her (understandable, we showed A LOT of charts). There is a chunk of the entire team that is production but we have producers across all products. We are not a separate team. The producers facilitate the making of the game and there are producers on each pack. The best description of what a producer does is this video here.

What I was trying to explain is that EPs are our biggest pack. This means we want them to support as many ways of playing as possible. Sometimes it means we don’t to entirely deep on just ONE thing but that doesn’t mean we don’t make deep gameplay. I think Clubs and Retail are actually both quite “deep” in that they pretty fundamentally change the way you can play the game. I mentioned in a different response here that if we had put something like Camping in an EP, we might not have gone so far as adding an entire new camping specific collection or skill or Hermit NPC. Does that explain a little better? We strive to support as many playstyles as we can but you guys play the game in a LOT of interesting and different ways. We try to make sure there’s something to do if you like building or creating; something fun to play with making Sims; something new to try and progress through (aspiration or career for example); some new system that changes the way you play with something else and more. We’re trying to give a little something for everybody, but not at the expense of having meaningful experiences.

I wanted to talk about this because it’s one way to visualize some of the thinking that went into the Sims originally and that we have referenced as we’ve evolved. What I was trying to illustrate was that in each iteraction we’ve tried to move further up the pyramid without ignoring the underlying layers. So no, it doesn’t mean that TS1 and TS2 are the only ones that dealt with the bottom layers. Even though TS4 may be pushing up to the “transcendence” level and playing with emotion and accomplishment we still pay attention to the fact Sims need relationships, food, shelter, friends. It’s absolutely not a rule, we don’t use it that way. It’s one way to illustrate the additional layers added to the Sims over the years. It’s just a cool psychology tool that happens to explain some of The Sims. We have a lot of other things we take into consideration now that it’s a living game, feedback from players like you, that I think give us plenty of options beyond simply this model. It is definitely not a roadmap or rule book.

I hear about the TS2 studio fire all the time. LOL. I’m pretty sure there was indeed a fire in a server room somewhere but we have backups and backups and backups of backups so no, it’s not true we had to rebuild the game from scratch ;) At least nobody ever told me that. Ha! I did however spend many months as the worldbuilder on TS2 and had nightmares about in-game fires burning down my lots ALL THE TIME.

 

With being able to see what us Simmers are up to in our game; what’s something you see the most of Simmers doing within the game and what’s something you see the least?

SimGuruLyndsay: Very few Simmers use the VooDoo doll. And not very many Simmers use many of the color variants we offer on furniture. That surprised me. The most popular skill is cooking, but I think that’s because you HAVE to do it. You pretty much gain skill in it accidentally. We only get small samples of random information from a random smattering of data that players have chosen to share with us, and we can then project into patterns. I don’t know who uses the voodoo doll only that generally it’s not very highly used. And there is no way any of this data tells us WHY things do or do not happen or get used which is why we spend so much time reading feedback on the forums, twitter, and fan sites and listening to you talk about the game

 

 

In broad strokes, how does a pack come into being, from concept to announcement? Is there a method for deciding what becomes free content and what becomes paid content? If so, in broad strokes, can you describe? How do you decide which object goes in which pack?

SimGuruLyndsay: 1) What becomes free v what becomes paid. There isn’t a precise “method” in that we don’t have a flowchart to follow that ends with “free” or “Paid”. We want to provide something new in the game for you whether you come back the next day, the next month or even the next year and that means finding a balance of free stuff and paid stuff.

2) The objects that end up in a pack are decided based upon the overall theme of the pack. When we decided we wanted to create Get To Work, we then picked the careers to follow up on and figured out the objects you might need/use in those careers. Sometimes we make an object because it’s solving a problem for us – in Get Together we wanted you to be able to hang out on really cool, different types of lots like the Bluffs or Ruins but we didn’t want to make them look too built out with mini bathrooms or anything so we added the Bush. (that’s a silly example, but true). That’s a fairly high level way to look at it but describes what we do.

 

How do you come up with the story lines for premades?

SimGuruLyndsay: Our design team works with the world team, producers and other creative teams to come up with fun Sims to put in our worlds. We try to use the premades to help show off the new content or experiences in a particular pack.

 

How many people are part of the development team? 10? 15? 25? Lower? (Give me a number.)

SimGuruLyndsay: It takes an army to make a game. Just take a gander at the credits to get a sense of it. Definitely more than 25.

 

What is the role of a producer?

SimGuruLyndsay: The best description of a producers’ job I’ve ever seen is this: http://goo.gl/Qmn7do

 

Did you made any mistake which had lead to a funny situation or new idea ? (like the creeper in minecraft who was supposed to be a pig at first)

SimGuruLyndsay: This has definitely happened to us before. I can’t think of a good TS4 example off the top of my head but I remember on TS2 when we added Outerwear to the game with Seasons that we started seeing Ghosts switch their clothes when going outside.

 

How did you come up with the ideas for the dance moves in Get Together? They are super cute! Are there fx deer in Windenburg? This has seriously been plaguing me for ages! Who wrote all the relationship descriptors? Some of them are a hoot! “Sometimes your gut tells you it’s all wrong. And then you tell that gut to be quiet.” and Things started out friendly, but then it got weird…” in particular crack me up.

SimGuruLyndsay: Our animators are excellent and find or act out reference for stuff like Dance Moves. It’s really fun to watch them come up with new stuff. I don’t think there are FX deer, but now you are making me doubt my memory! Our producers and designers write most of the text, glad you think it’s funny!

 

So my question is really simple (I think hahaha). How many people are in the “Patch” team? And do they have a “limited budget” to produce new things to the game for free? Thank you for this thread, it’s really good to see that you guys want to increase the relationship with the players

SimGuruLyndsay: This is a good question but not actually a simple answer. We don’t have team members solely dedicated to the “patch team”. We do have a “Live Team” that helps sort out patch issues but also works on updates, gallery, website, origin and more. And we have multiple producers who spend part of their time on patches or updates based on what we need to do for any given patch or update, SimGuruGnome for example is the one writing patch notes and tracking fixes. However, the engineers or artists across the team all chip in to fix issues from time to time. Sometimes the best person to fix an issue is the person who built the feature in the first place rather than a separate team that only fixes issues.

 

1. Is there any difficulty in creating worlds in TS4? Producers use a similar tool to The Sims 3 Create-a-World?

2. Is there any reason for updates doesn’t focus on improving expansions content? I see the uniform system for employees of the Dine Out and I wish it to be extended to other community lots. Taking the opportunity to say that the work in Dine Out was amazing.

SimGuruLyndsay: 1. Creating worlds is quite complicated (probably worth a blog!) and we have a very different tool than the Create-A-World for TS3; it’s tied really closely with a lot of our internal pipelines.

2. We do fix content from all packs with our updates and there are often improvements we make to the game overall that touch on pack content too. Glad you liked Dine out!

 

Rating question, any reason The Sims Medieval still passed for the rating T while calling things their real name (AKA Alcohol was not Nectar and it had gambling in it) (and for that matter lady dancer cake from The Sims, even though that one also had a rating of T) and any way that you could introduce more mature themes into your games again?

SimGuruLyndsay: The Sims Medieval was indeed a T rating but had an additional disclaimer, Use of Alcohol, because of exactly what you say. It does matter in other countries though. The Sims Medieval PEGI rating is 14+ while The Sims 4 PEGI rating is 12+.

 

As a Simmer what feature do you miss the most from previous Sims games which isn’t in the Sims 4? What was your Favourite moments playing Sims 1,2 and 3? What’s your favourite features and moments in Sims 4? Do you like downloading builds from other simmers in your Sims 4 game? Do you enjoy reading the Creativity and ideas threads? Do simmers idea’s help inspire the team for Sims 4? Do you feel excited about Sims 4 future?

SimGuruLyndsay: I love so many features across Sims games I don’t really think of it that way. I love going back to Makin’ Magic and dueling; I love the aspiration fails from TS2, I love collecting gems in TS3 and I love travelling to secret lots in TS4.

It’s hard to pick favorite moments so here’s some random memories that pop up without thinking too hard:

  • TS1 – My very very first experience with the game was my Sim walking into the kitchen, trying to make breakfast, catching fire and dying. lol.
  • TS2 – I loved when I took a Sim on a date downtown with somebody that wasn’t her boyfriend (oops!) and when she kissed him every other Sim on the lot freaked out and started reacting jealously towards her!! (It turned out to be a development bug and we fixed it but it was HILARIOUS; they all came and kicked over my gnomes for DAYS)
  • TS3 – I recreated Jem and the Holograms and had them play music in the park for tips.
  • TS4 – I took my Sim for a jog, she ran by somebody sad, stopped and walked over to comfort her and it was so sweet!!

I actually do love downloading builds into my game at home (at work I have to delete too often!). I recently downloaded an Anna & Elsa to play with my daughter. We downloaded cool houses for them too. Then I downloaded a Buffy & Angel Sim :p I haven’t found a house for them yet. I just keep rebuilding my own house!

I love the creativity and ideas thread and all the feedback we see online. We are regularly inspired by you all and what you have done and want to do with the game. I’m very excited by the future because anytime we give you something new you do something completely unexpected with it. I’m not sure how many other games can say that and that’s pretty cool.

 

Well, isn’t it true that the surveys you send out only go to a selected group of people and on top of that they have an age limit? I, for one, never received a survey and even if I had, it wouldn’t allow me to take it if I would fill in my real age. So obviously you’re going to get only the feedback of a much more younger fanbase while keeping out the people that have been with you for over 16 years.

And yes, the sims franchise has always had a T rating but you can’t deny that the overall humor has changed greatly. The previous games were a lot “darker” and more mature while TS4 is more “happy” and has more of a frat humor (that is definitely not for everyone) with the “angry poop” and adult sims high-fiving each other before woohoo. For instances, I remember the grim reaper being scary in previous games, but in TS4 he just seems like a sim dressed up, randomly using a tablet and showing up at the gym (not sure if that’s a bug). I do wish you could introduce some maturity back to the game. Like how sims could die from diseases, the weird phone calls in the middle of the night, the steamy makeout sessions on the couch, and even the sexy cake dancer.

SimGuruLyndsay: We do not hand select people for surveys. We craft our survey questions and then work with a central team here to facilitate the distribution of surveys. We want to see input from all our players. That’s why we also come here and to other social sites in addition to any surveys still.

The humor and tone has changed, you’re right. There are definitely darker elements, in text especially, in some of the previous Sims games. We look for ways to keep the edge but are cognizant of the fact that ratings and the ratings process are different today then they were 15 years ago and there are different things happening in the world to influence how people respond to different kinds of humor that we have to be aware of. To your grim reaper example, we have actually always had a bit of fun with him. He played chess in TS1, he brought hula dancers for elders in TS2 and would hang out on your lot, stuff like that. Maybe we’re having too much fun with him now? I understand what you’re saying though, so thanks for sharing.