Former creative director of Maxis / The Sims hosts AMA on Reddit

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Former creative director of Maxis / The Sims, Ray Mazza, hosted an AMA (Ask Me Anything) post on Reddit today.  While the man is well experienced in other areas of game development, many fans were more curious about his ten years at Maxis as an engineer, designer, lead designer, & creative director on Sims games.

Q: What mark did you have on the Sims franchise that you are most proud of?

A: In The Sims 2, it was the coding that made the service Sims real people. In TS1, the maid, cop, firefighter, etc, would all do their jobs, but that’s it. In The Sims 2, if you struck up a conversation with them you’d be able to make friends with them, and invite them over, get romantic, even marry them. It was always so much fun to make a cop part of your family, and have them change into their uniform, etc.

In The Sims 3, I had a broader influence on the game, and I’m very proud of the open world aspect that the design team worked on together. It fundamentally changed how the Sims was played — being able to walk across the street and visit your neighbor.

For something that I was solely responsible for, it was a lot of the build mode advancements — being able to work on a free form placement mode outside of the grid, adding lots of “clutter” objects and locations to put them, being able to freely rotate objects, etc, and officially support it. Even being able to drag walls back and forth without having to demolish your home! It gave builders such a great leap in their tools to make better looking homes and I was quite proud of that.

One smaller piece that I’m proud of that I feel like mentioning even though it’s tiny is that you can collect meteorites around the landscape. I made sure that the bulk of them were named after real meteorite types (e.g. Carbonaceous Chondrite or Eucrite, etc) and had similar relative rarities to what’s found on earth. I always loved how games could teach you things in a fun way, and this was one of those aspects.

Q: What was the initial inspiration for a game like the Sims?

A: It’s funny, The Sims was kind of an accident…

The Sims was originally intended to be more of a feng shui simulator. You’d build a home and decorate it, and then the Sims were only added as a way to score you and let you know how you did by walking around and reacting to the home. But then they ended up being everyone’s favorite part, so the dev team leaned into that aspect. The Sims was born!

Q: Who at Maxis is responsible for the character canon in The Sims and which characters cross over to new editions of the game?

A: That has evolved over time, and there have been different people on each title responsible for that, usually on the world building part of the team. There are enough people involved that I can’t really give names. It’s not just a single genius toiling away. On The Sims 3, it was mostly driven by producers and writers, and a ton of thought goes into where the game fit into the timeline of the universe, and which characters could be part of that continuous universe story thread.

Q: Now that Maxis imploded on itself what is your opinion on the Sims 4 questionable launch and lack of features?

A: My opinion is that making a Sims sequel is incredibly challenging.

As a designer, it hurts, because you always want your game to be better than before in every way, but in order to make new things, we had to make compromises on features established from previous games. Also, if it were up to the design team, we’d just keep working on the game until it blows all previous base games out of the water, but the schedule (and budget) do not allow that to be possible. In the future, I’d personally like to see development that can re-use a lot more of what came before without having to remake it all.

As for Maxis, I don’t think it has imploded on itself, and I think we can expect great things from them in the future. I know they’ve learned a lot from developing TS4, and they have some great talent that has recently returned to the company from TS2 days.

EDIT: I previously had a statement about how fans compare a new base game to previous base game plus expansions, and that wasn’t accurate and was an over-generalization. The Sims community let me know I was wrong there, and I don’t want to perpetuate that, so I removed it.

Q: Do you know about the dozens of ways there are to kill your “creations” (Sims)?

A: I can’t keep track of them all — burning, starvation, drowning, scared to death, devoured by flies, old age, electrocution, eaten by a cow plant (yup), various emotions… and there’s also becoming the undead (mummy, vampire, werewolf, etc).

I like that the way you die affects the color of your ghost in some of the Sims games.

There’s a story about Will Wright, the creator of The Sims, wanting to add a giant pair of scissors to the game (like the size of a person) just so that it could have a Run With Scissors interaction on it that would kill you.

Q: Do you play the Sims games on a regular basis? Which one is your favorite and least favorite?

A: I used to play Sims games a LOT. The Sims (1) came out while I was in college, and I remember picking it up with my then-girlfriend (now wife) and then playing it for endless hours. The checkout clerk told me, “be careful, or you won’t sleep.” He was right.

So I developed a love of Sims games before working at Maxis, and I remember playing them alongside Diablo II : )

I loved The Sims 2, but I probably played The Sims 3 the most. What was great for me about The Sims 3 was that even though I was a co-lead designer and I knew so much about how the game operated and I had written so many of the designs, it still managed to surprise me time and again. My favorite aspects were the creative ones — filling out a town with Sims that I’d made, painting screenshots on the easel from images I’d taken in game, writing novels and naming them, etc. I also loved the first expansion, “World Adventures” for the exploration aspects of going through tombs.

For least favorite, I would say the console games, just because I found the control schemes prevented me from becoming absorbed.

I played Sims games right up until I left Maxis in January of 2014. At that point, I basically devoted most of my free time to working on Merge Dragons. In fact, I have played what I would consider very few games since then, as I’ve put almost all my free time into developing Merge Dragons.

Even though Ray Mazza says he loved working at Maxis, he has moved on to spend most of the time on his new game called Merge Dragons. There is plenty more to learn from Mr. Mazza so read the rest of the AMA over on Reddit.