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The Sims 4: your own personal soap opera

Wednesday, 11 September 2013 08:08 GMT By Dave Cook

The Sims 4 was unveiled last month and with it, an emphasis on emotion and relationships. VG247′s Dave Cook speaks with Maxis to understand just how dramatic things will get.

I cannot stand soap operas, I’m not sure I ‘get’ them. The cast of Hollyoaks look like a bunch of mad shaggers cast from the Argos catalogue’s home section, the lack of chin on Coronation Street’s Gail Platt keeps me awake with fear at night, and the name ‘Ian Beale’ reminds me of a local family butchers.

But there’s something endearing about the that particular blend of drama isn’t there? Can we safely say we’ve never become even an iota interested in what’s happening during a soap when they happen to be on the TV? I’ll admit that even I peered up from my laptop and watched in awe that time Phil Mithchell burst on screen with a wooden bat and started trashing some poor sod’s flat like some crazed roast potato. Many of us can’t escape the daily soaps, while others welcome it.

Even with a soap on as background noise, there’s something engrossing about the dirty little secrets and personal dilemmas faced by characters who are supposed to be ordinary people like you or I. That seems to be the emotional connection many of us can relate to in soaps, and this is the exactly what Maxis is looking to replicate in The Sims 4.

Dismal wallpaper will give your Sims a case of depression, knocking ten shades of shite out of a punching bag will help them unwind after a crappy day, while attraction towards other Sims can send their hearts racing in a whirlwind of emotions. I spoke with Maxis producer Grant Rodiek to find out more how these changes in attitude will create dramatic situations in your Sim’s home.

“Emotions have come about through a lot of iteration,” Rodiek told me. “We’ve done three Sims games in the past, we’ve been making games for a while now, and we had to really sit back and think about ways to make our Sims more interesting, make our strategy more interesting. The emotions came about because we realised our Sims have pretty much always been on this very binary line of they’re either happy or not happy.”

This sliding scale of generic emotional states was key to Rodiek and his team. How could Maxis take that spectrum of feeling and fan it out into something less predictable, more tangible and most importantly, dynamic? Different things impact our mood and see us through those difficult moments in our day, just like a great day can spoiled by some unexpected bad news. We’re complex beings, after all, and in the new SmartSim engine, Maxis was able to translate those feelings into gameplay.

“We realised we’d accomplished a lot of things,” Rodiek continued, “but we hadn’t really tackled that issue yet. So for us it was just a natural step to take it, and as we prototyped it, experimented with it, it really just came to life and there’s a lot of natural design there that we don’t have to reach for. It just sort of makes sense, and people understood what we were talking about.”

It all makes sense when you see SmartSim running. The scenario we were shown involved a love triangle between a dating couple and a jealous flatmate. Both of the guys entered into a war of emotions to try and get the girl, starting with the single bloke playing some woeful violin to try and make his competitor upset and lethargic. In revenge, the sad boyfriend stabbed a voodoo doll of his mate to turn him into an unattractive ball of rage, ruining his mojo and his chances of a date.

The system seems complex, and Rodiek explained that while the mechanic took many years of iteration and discussion – pretty much from when The Sims 3 first launched – emotion was always the area of improvement that came out on top. Now it’s finally in place, the fun can really begin at Maxis. “We put in a lot of technology, a lot of foundation work, “Rodiek explained, “and now, basically our design team is just going wild. They’re like kids in a sandbox.

“We’re now thinking about, ‘how can we represent this emotion?’, or ‘how can we make this trait effect this emotion?’, ‘what happens if I come home from work like this?’, ‘what happens if I succeed at this? It’s finally paying off. We finally get to just play with it and make some fun stuff, and this is just sample.”

It gets deeper too. Say you plonk a sad painting into your Sims home and have a resident look at it. Some of them might be saddened by the image, but that sadness may inspire them to get artful and create a masterpiece, while others might just sulk around in a mood for a bit and have a pretty crappy day.

Rodiek explained, “We want to give players a lot of ways to mitigate and manipulate the emotional content of their Sims. The one thing that’s really key for us is that being an negative emotion like sadness or depression or boredom is not negative gameplay-wise. I know in previous games if you’re Sims were happy they succeeded more, and if you’re Sim was not happy they succeeded less.

“We realised if we went down the path of exploring these deep emotional states, and that if we just made it so that sadness is frustrating and not fun, that game would be terrible and nobody would ever want to be sad. Sadness now is not negative, it’s a different palette of choices. We change your choices like – for example – if you’re really sad you can’t ask someone to go ‘Woo-Hoo’. You may not be able to propose to someone but you’ll have other options.

“You might be able to create a masterpiece you wouldn’t be able to create otherwise. So we have all these other stories you can tell, but you can also – like you saw with the boxing on the bag – find ways to solve it. It’s almost like a goal where you say, ‘right, I don’t want my Sim to be angry because I really want to have this date go well.’ So you can go and solve it. It’s a challenge you can work through and that will create a story on its own. As you get more objects, you’ll find more strategies to go about it. But we want that to be an exploration and to be fun while you’re doing it.”

Make no mistake; this is a deep, complicated system that adds a random element into what has largely existed as a rigid patch-work of linked, understandable mechanics. It could be a real game-changer.

Speaking of rigid: it’s natural that games like The Sims come with an array of HUD markers and progress trackers, but with SmartSim, there’s no need to blatantly shove mood meters in your face whenever your resident enters a certain mental state. You can visibly see an upset Sim slumping as they walk with an upturned mouth and sullen eyes, just like you’ll see an enraged character stomping around in a fit of fury. It’s both hilarious and at times, a little bit sad to see.

What I found most important here was the way the room full of press I was in let out various ‘awws’ and ‘umms’ whenever emotions flared on screen. They got invested in what they saw. They rooted for the sad, ousted boyfriend to cheer up and get his revenge on the conniving singleton threatening his relationship. They cheered when he finally got the girl and blasted off into space with her in their rocket for some interplanetary ‘relations’.

They become emotionally invested in what they saw, just like a soap opera, and that is quite interesting to see.

The Sims 4 hits PC in 2014.

Disclosure: Dave honestly can’t stand soaps despite knowing – through third-hand knowledge – who a lot of the main characters in UK soaps are. He feels dirty but no matter how much he scrubs, the stain of Eastenders and its brethren just won’t wash out. Send help.

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4 Comments

  1. NinjaHart

    Love the way Sim creation and building works in this one. Looks like it’s going to be easier, faster and a lot more fun. Looking forward to it. :D

    #1 1 year ago
  2. domnage

    Looking good

    #2 1 year ago
  3. AngryConsumer

    it dont get stupider than this…

    #3 1 year ago
  4. IMFrellingWonko

    AngryConsumer: Are you talking about the game or your horrifyingly improper use of the English language?

    #4 1 year ago

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  • Transistor, Yakuza 4, Thief headline February PS Plus offerings

    Sony has announced your free PlayStation Plus games for the month of February. Come February 3 in North America and February 4 in Europe, Plus members on both side of the pond will be gifted with the following: Transistor (PS4) Apotheon (PS4) Yakuza 4 (PS3) Thief (PS3) Rogue Legacy (PS Vita|PS4|PS3) Kick & Fennick (PS […]

  • Life is Strange launch trailer and final dev diary released

    With the first episode of Life is Strange releasing tomorrow, Dontnod Entertainment has released the last developer diary for the title as well as the launch trailer. Titled Creating Arcadia Bay, the video provides more information on the licensed soundtrack as well as the voice actors behind Max and Chloe. It also touches upon how […]

  • LEGO Jurassic World and LEGO Marvel’s Avengers out this year

    LEGO Jurassic World and LEGO Marvel’s Avengers have been announced by Warner Bros., the former was outed by Toys R Us and then teased at the end of LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham, if you recall. LEGO Jurassic World encompasses all four Jurassic Park films and will be made available in June for 3DS, PC, […]

  • Pokemon, Super Smash Bros. top Nintendo’s million units sales list for Q3

    Nintendo has posted a list of titles which have sold millions of units as part of its quarter three earnings release. Global unit sales of 3DS titles for the nine months ending December 31, 2014: Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire: 9.35 million (life-to-date, same) Super Smash Bros.: 6.19 million (life-to-date, same) Tomodachi Life: 2.11 […]

  • How to take a screenshot on Xbox One: a lesson in frustration

    Trying to do just one simple thing seems to have 360 steps with Microsoft – why is the Xbox One’s functionality such a car crash? “The Xbox One’s definition of usability is in fact the exact opposite – this is a console designed to make life inconvenient for its players unless they sign up for […]

  • Game of Thrones’ Westeros is being made in Minecraft by 125 people

    WesterosCraft, the project dedicated to creating the entirety of Game of Thrones’ Westros has resurfaced. There are more than a few ambitious Minecraft projects, but hardly any as impressive as WesterosCraft. We first came across it all the way back in January 2013, but it looks much better now. “I would say the world is […]

  • Dying Light exploit gives you unlimited money and items

    Dying Light has been out for just over a day and an infinite money and item exploit is already out there. A simple exploit has been discovered in Dying Light that lets you duplicate weapons, all of which you can sell for profit. Win/ win. YouTuber PowerPyx lays out the steps in the handy video […]

  • Sunset Overdrive concept art is as jovial as the game itself

    Sunset Overdrive is a colourful game which is partly due to its concept art. The concept art featured below is created by Vaughan Ling, one of the concept artsists who worked on Sunset Overdrive. Anyone who’s played the game will immediately recognise the locations, weapons, character designs and general atmosphere of the game through these. […]

  • Get an extended look at the PS4 version of Project CARS

    The PlayStation 4 version of Project CARS has been shown in 1080p 60fps. The video below is captured by racing game enthusiasts Team VVV from a preview build. You can see different racing disciplines being demonstrated here, on different circuits. The game’s impressive visuals get even better when the weather gets worse.

  • Battle Pod is the Star Wars arcade game you’ve waited your whole life for

    Star Wars: Battle Pod is an arcade game that lets you replay the battles of the original trilogy, and features an incredible cockpit. If you’ve never played a game at an arcade before, Star Wars: Battle Pod will definitely be the one to change your mind. It’s an arcade cabinet out of a classic Star […]

  • CoD Exo Zombies: how to unlock the Ride of the Valkyries Easter egg

    To no one’s surprise, Exo Zombies mode in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare has some Easter eggs. The first Exo Zombies Easter egg, of surely many more to come, has been discovered. It’s a musical one that involves Richard Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries. How you unlock it is not as convoluted as you might […]

  • Dying Light is sub-1080p on Xbox One, full 1080p on PS4 – report

    Early analysis of Dying Light on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One has revealed a few technical details about both ports. Digital Foundry has produced some analysis of both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One ports of Dying Light based on some early testing. Both versions manage a solid 30 frames-per-second, only dipping below that in […]

  • Battlefield 4 Second Assault DLC free to all EA Access members

    EA is offering Battlefield 4′s Second Assault expansion free to anyone with an active EA Access subscription. Anyone with an active subscription to EA Access can download the Second Assault expansion pack for Battlefield 4 starting January 29 and through February 28, free of charge. All you need to do is find it on the […]

  • The Witcher 3 is getting optimised, but no visual downgrade

    The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is in the final stages of development and developer CD Projekt RED is making sure optimisation work doesn’t impact the game’s visuals. The Witcher 3 art producer, Michal Stec, spoke to Eternity in an interview and was asked whether the team will downgrade the visuals to get better performance. “No. […]

  • Can’t download Dying Light on PS4? Here’s a fix

    If you’ve bought Dying Light on PS4 and you’re having trouble downloading it, you’re not alone. Here’s how to beat the bug. Techland’s Dying Light is stumbling out of the blocks a little this week, with many PS4 users experiencing problems with their full-game downloads. A bug’s to blame. Your console thinks you’ve already installed […]

  • What The Witcher 3 owes to Skyrim – and how it surpasses it

    The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt owes more than a nod to Bethesda’s Skyrim. I went to see The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and had a great time. I went in a fan of the books but not very experienced with the first two games. I came out with The Witcher 3 top of my gaming […]

  • Dragon’s Dogma Online has great monsters

    Dragon’s Dogma Online looks pretty rad – an undesirable quality in a game unlikely to come west, from our perspective. The first Dragon’s Dogma trailer was released this afternoon; admire its beauty below. The free to play online RPG was announced for PC, PlayStation 3 and PS4 overnight, but Capcom doesn’t intend to bring it […]

  • Xenoblade Chronicles X map about five times the size of last game’s

    Xenoblade Chronicles X is not a small game. This week’s Famitsu has a feature on Xenoblade Chronicles X giving some details on Monolith Soft’s next RPG and first Wii U game. According to Siliconera‘s translation of reports on the feature, the game’s map is about five times the size of that in Xenoblade Chronicles. The […]

  • Take on Mars expected to hit beta in April

    Take on Mars, the space sim from Bohemia Interactive will soon be reader for wider consumption. According to a new Take on Mars development roadmap, the sim will go into beta at the start of April, with full release expected in June. The project is currently available via Steam early Access, but between now and […]

  • Can you guess the next Mortal Kombat X character reveal from this fatality audio clip?

    Mortal Kombat X will have at least one very liquid-sounding fatality. NetherRealm is revealing Mortal Kombat X’s cats one character at a time, and has promised a new reveal during a community Twitch stream tomorrow. It also provided the following teaser video – it’s audio only, and apparently taken from a fatality sequence. What’s your […]

  • Nintendo Creators Program now recruiting YouTubers – PewDiePie, others weigh-in

    Nintendo has opened a Creators Program designed to ensure creators get a slice of ad revenue from videos featuring Nintendo assets, and some prominent YouTubers aren’t pleased with the company. Update “What Nintendo are missing out on completely is the free exposure and publicity that they get from YouTube,” wrote Felix Kjellberg (PewDiePie) on his […]

  • Xbox Live issues under investigation

    Can’t sign into Xbox Live? Microsoft is on the case. Xbox 360 and Xbox One users report being unable to sign in to Xbox Live. Microsoft is already aware of and working on the problem. “Our team is hard at work right now trying to get this resolved. Thank you for staying patient while we […]

  • Make money from your non-Valve mods with Steam Workshop

    Valve has opened the money-making side of Steam Workshop to third-party titles, giving enterprising modders more ways to make money. Steam now hosts curated Workshops for Dungeon Defenders: Eternity and Chivalry: Medieval Warfare, the first non-Valve games to support the scheme. What that means is that community members can create, vote on and eventually even […]

  • Check out DmC: Devil May Cry’s new manual lock-on

    DmC: Devil may Cry developer Ninja Theory has released a video showing off the new, controversial lock-on mode. The new manual lock-on is causing quite a stir, although its reception is probably better than the white-wigged Dante who makes fans even more upset than the original makeover. “The primary purpose of this video is to […]

  • Dragon Quest Heroes looks pretty fun

    Dragon Quest Heroes is yet another Omega Force take on an existing property – like Hyrule Warriors or the One Piece games. And it looks pretty sweet. We haven’t heard much from Dragon Quest Heroes here in the west because it hasn’t been confirmed for release outside Japan. This isn’t terribly surprising as we still […]

  • Square Enix to reveal new PS4 game this weekend

    Square Enix is doing something pretty mysterious right now. The Final Fantasy publisher is teasing something called Project Code Z. The project, which Square Enix is tweeting about in Japanese, English and German, is due for reveal at Tokaigi 2015 on Saturday. It’s a PS4 game, but that’s all we know. There’s a website you […]

  • Tetris has crowned its first known western Grand Master

    Tetris fans have a new western champion. Tetris is one of those gaming obsessions that goes much deeper than you might expect. For example, did you know that some versions of the game assess your performance and over you the chance to become a “grand master”? Turns out that’s a thing, and according to Polygon […]

  • Ken Levine’s next game teased as “sci-fi-ish” small, open-world RPG

    A series of tweets from BioShock creator Ken Levine has shed a sliver of light upon his next project. According to Levine he and his team are considering something a bit sci-fi and contemplating first-person mode. The team is developing the game for PC with a large in scope, expandable, systems-based narrative where more can […]

  • Become a lynx in new Shelter 2 trailer

    Shelter 2 casts players in the role of a lynx, which makes for quite a different experience to the badger of the first game. The first Shelter game had you evading predators, but in the second, you becomes one yourself. That doesn’t mean there are no dangers to face, of course. Judging by the trailer […]

  • Why King of Fighters 13 isn’t coming back to Evo

    Evo, the premiere western fighting game tournament, has dropped support for a few previously favoured titles. King of Fighters 13 had a loyal following, but isn’t featured in the Evo 2015 line-up. “Many things go into what games makes it to Evo, but the most obvious one is, ‘Is the community playing this game?’” Evo […]