IGN Interview With The Sims Console Design Director

donderdag, maart 13, 2003 - 22:10

IGN interviews Michael Perry from The Sims console team. Find out about Monkey Butlers, hot tubs and more.

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Speaking Simlish

We talk to design director Michael Perry about the importance of hot tubs and monkey butlers.

IGN recently had a chance to sit down and get our filthy hands on a copy of EA's upcoming The Sims for GameCube and Xbox. Those freaky Sims creatures have a longstanding history with the PC, but gamers who prefer the comforts of couches and console controllers might not have a clue what the heck a Sim is or why you'd even want to bother playing such a nutty game on your Cube or Xbox.

Because we love you, we at IGN decided to take matters into our own hands and ask development studio Maxis the tough questions: what's a Sim, do you like hot tubs, and how truly important are monkey butlers in life? Find out these answers and more, as we corner The Sims design director Michael Perry with our nonsensical questions. Enjoy.

IGN: Could you please introduce yourself and give a little background on your history working with The Sims franchise?
Michael Perry, Design Director, Maxis: I started working at Maxis back in 1992, when I produced and designed SimFarm with Eric Albers. Since then, I've had the privilege of working on several Sim games, such as Will Wright's SimCity Classic, Yoot Saito's SimTower, and even a multiplayer version of SimCity 2000. On The Sims PC, I was a designer and programmer for The Sims Exchange on, where tens of thousands of players have published their Sims family albums. Most recently, I was the Design Director for The Sims on the PlayStation2, Xbox, and GameCube.

IGN: The Sims has traditionally been PC-based. For those console gamers who aren't yet familiar with them, what's the point of these games?
MP: The Sims is a truly unique game, where the player can create their own Sim and guide them through the successes, and failures, of their daily life. Every Sim is like a virtual person who, like you and I, has basic needs to fulfill, such as hunger, comfort, fun, and even bladder! How the player chooses to satisfy those needs is the core challenge of the game. Should you buy a better bed so your Sim gets better sleep, or should you spend the money on a bigger TV to have more fun? Do you have enough money to build a better bathroom, or does your Sim need to get a better job? Maybe if your Sim got married, someone else can do the housework? ...

IGN: Like Fran! Let's forget that mental image. What makes these games so wildly popular with the PC crowd?
MP: Will Wright, designer of The Sims, thinks that one reason The Sims is so popular is that it is easy for people to identify with the Sims and their environment. For example, players don't need to know what magic sword to use on a monster, or what kind of spaceship to build. Instead, everyone intuitively knows that food comes from refrigerators, sofas are comfortable, and if you need to use the bathroom, you should run to the toilet!

Pimp or poser? The Sims lets you decide. (GameCube screenshot.)

IGN: Now, for the first time ever, the series is heading to consoles in The Sims. Was this a scary decision?
MP: Yes, bringing The Sims to the console was a bit scary, because looking at The Sims on the PC, with its high-resolution 2D graphics and mouse-based interface, it was very hard to imagine how we could ever make it look good and play well on the console. We also knew that console gamers are smart game players who would not appreciate simply getting a straight port of the PC game. We decided right away that we wanted to make The Sims on the console much more than just a port.

IGN: In a nutshell, what makes this new console version of The Sims unique from the previous PC titles?
MP: The Sims on the console has many new features that make it stand out as a whole new way to play The Sims. The graphics have been entirely re-done in 3D - you can smoothly zoom in and rotate around your Sim's house in full 3D. The controls have been completely redesigned to take advantage of the native console controller - you don't need a USB mouse or keyboard. We greatly expanded the Create-A-Sim feature - now you can make hundreds of thousands of different Sims. We added a whole new gameplay mode called "Get a Life" which has levels and unlockable console-exclusive objects. In "Get a Life", you can actually win The Sims! And we even added two-player split-screen support, so you can bring your Sim over on a memory card and play with, or against, your friends.

IGN: How many different ways are there for console gamers to play this new Sims title?
MP: We give players three ways to play The Sims on the console. First, we have an all new level-based "Get a Life" mode, where the player's goal is to start off in a small house living with Mom (yikes!), and move up from level to level, house to house, unlocking new objects, "scoring" with new Sims, and trying to win the mansion at the end of the neighborhood. Along the way, the player can unlock new two-player competitive challenge locations, which is our second way to play. In locations like dance clubs, a park, and even a frat house, player's can compete to get the most friends, the most lovers, the most money, or even the most food! And finally, we include the entire open-ended free-play mode from the original PC game, where players can create their own Sim families and houses in both single-player and two-player modes.

IGN: How much energy was spent on redesigning the gameplay to better suit console play mechanics?
MP: Our very first priority was to design a new graphical look and new control scheme for the console. With our developer, Edge of Reality, we built fully functional prototypes of a 3D house with 3D Sims, and tested a variety of control schemes with real console gamers. We polished and tweaked the controls all the way through the development process to make sure we delivered the most intuitive control scheme we could.

We don't need no water.
Teach your Sim to cook, lest you set the roof on fire. (GameCube screenshot.)

IGN: When substituting a controller for the keyboard and mouse, would you say that the controls are now simplified in comparison?
MP: Believe it or not, nearly all of the original controls and information panels from the PC version are included in The Sims on the console. Today's console controllers are fantastic - we were able to use every button and analog stick to give players full control of their Sims, and get immediate information about their Sim's mood, job, and relationships.

IGN: From a design or technical point of view, are there any strengths of console hardware that you've been able to take advantage of here compared to the PC versions? Or did the hardware present other development challenges?
MP: It was a joy to take advantage of the power of PS2, Xbox, and GameCube. The 3D capabilities allowed us to make The Sims look completely new, and the memory cards allow players to do something we've always wanted: to take your Sim over to a friend's house. We've become big console fans at Maxis.

IGN: That's good to hear. What's a typical working day like in the life of a Sims design director? Are there any hot tubs involved?
MP: Oddly enough, the Jacuzzi headquarters is in the same building as Maxis, and I'm still trying to trade a copy of The Sims for one of their hot tubs. Do you think they'll go for it? As a design director, I get to interact and get ideas from everyone on the development team. Our team is so creative -- every one of them contributes important pieces to the overall game design. My job is to track all of their ideas and maintain a consistent vision for the game.

IGN: What's one of your personal favorite things featured in The Sims?
MP: I love the autonomy of The Sims. I have tons of fun setting up a house with four Sims with completely different personalities, and watching them try to co-exist. It's especially fun to do this in the new two-player mode, laughing and bickering with your friend about who should unclog the toilet.

IGN: We typically make Fran do it. Now without giving too much away, how much secret stuff is there for players to unlock?
MP: Hmmm, well, why don't I just say that we created over a dozen console-exclusive objects that are hidden, as well as lots of classic objects. Did I mention that you can unlock new skins?

IGN: New skins are always a good thing. Would you say that The Sims is funny?
MP: It's very hard for me to play The Sims without laughing out loud at some point. Every Sim has his or her own personality, and trying to "score" with one of them in "Get a Life" can make for some great moments - especially if your Sim is about to pass out from an all-night party.

IGN: We hear that there's a monkey butler in there somewhere. Specifically, what type of monkey, what's he good for, and what inspired such a brilliant concept?
MP: Ah, Major Domo, our monkey butler and a Sim's best friend. Major Domo is the essential housemate. He'll clean the dishes, take out the trash, wash the bathtub, and even entertain depressed party guests! Because he is a "mandrel" type of primate (a little like an orangutan), he even has a pink -- well, you'll just have to see. [Ed's note: We'll go ahead and spoil it for you: his ass.] Credit for the design of Major Domo goes to our own monkey producer, Fred Dieckmann, who literally walked in one morning and said, "Two words: monkey butler."

IGN: God bless him. Now for many console gamers out there, the closest thing that they've played to The Sims might be Nintendo's Animal Crossing for GameCube. How are these games different?
MP: I love Animal Crossing. I think its open-ended nature has a lot in common with The Sims, and both games allow players to express their creativity and unlock new items. However, I have yet to see my character in Animal Crossing pee on the kitchen floor. The Sims is certainly unique.

IGN: You're right, Animal Crossing could have really used that. The Sims has recently released for the PS2 and will soon ship for the Xbox and GameCube later this month. Why the PS2 first?
MP: Because this is Maxis' first major console game in many years, we wanted to focus all of our energy on delivering the best game possible. We felt that we could focus better by working with only one console at first, then bringing it to other consoles if we thought the game turned out great. The game turned out great!

IGN: How do these later versions differ from the PS2 version? How do the Xbox and GameCube versions differ from each other?
MP: We brought everything that made the PS2 version of the game a success intact to the Xbox and GameCube, and we remapped the controls to work naturally with the Xbox and GameCube native controllers. On the GameCube, we were able to double the resolution of the texture graphics, and the ATI graphics chip gives the game a very smooth look. On the Xbox, we quadrupled the texture graphic size, and even added 480p progressive scan support. And yes, you can save your game on the Xbox hard drive.

Never too early for a dip.
Don't try this at home, kids. (GameCube screenshot.)

IGN: Was online support ever considered for any of the consoles? Would you consider it in the future?
MP: At Maxis, we've been focusing all of our online design and development energies towards The Sims Online, so we never considered it for The Sims on the console. In the future, however, online support for the console looks very interesting. Play The Sims Online and give us some ideas!

IGN: Aside from any other Maxis or EA games, what is Michael Perry currently playing when he's not hard at work on The Sims?
MP: Aside from other EA games? Sheesh, that means I can't tell you that I'm a Madden football nut. I'm completely hooked on Animal Crossing, and I've been playing Yu Gi Oh on the GBA. I also just got my Zelda: Ocarina of Time bonus disc in anticipation of the new Zelda game, and, of course, I'm playing a ton of Grand Theft Auto.

IGN: Do you have any ideas locked away that you're saving for future Sims projects?
MP: Wow, all of the creative folks on our development teams at Maxis have so many new ideas for Sims projects that we'll be able to make new, exciting Sims games on all of the platforms for many years to come. Personally, I wonder what would happen if the monkey butler met Servo the robot?

IGN: Thanks so much for taking a break from the hot tub to answer our questions.
MP: Thanks! I'll run down and give the Jacuzzi product trade another try now. ...

The Sims for GameCube and Xbox ships later this month on March 24th. Stay tuned to IGN in the coming weeks as run our own monkey butlers around the block and deliver our full review.



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