“I think people are always intrigued by life, and experimenting with life,” begins Rachel Franklin, executive producer on The Sims 4. “I think there is a reason why reality TV is so big, I think there’s a reason why YouTube is so popular – everything from people falling down, to little kids singing and doing cute things – we’re intrigued by what other people are doing.
“They call it rubbernecking when people wonder: what’s going on over there? It’s a phenomenon that is universal. The Sims gives you a playground to experiment with it. It’s a life sandbox that’s universal and fun.”
The Sims 4 represents the latest stage in an important evolutionary drift for the series. When legendary developer Will Wright first conceived of The Sims, it was supposed to be about building a house. He put people inside the house as a feedback mechanism to let players know how they were performing. It quickly became apparent that manipulating the people in the house was far more entertaining than building the structure itself.
“When we set out to create The Sims 4, it was really to fulfill that original promise of creating and controlling people to the best of our abilities,” says Franklin. “It meant going back to the Sims themselves, and technology, and all of our experience has illuminated all of the different ways that we can make that relationship between the player and the Sim that much more fulfilling.”
That starts at character creation, and giving players a real sense of ownership and investment in their Sim.
“From that very first moment that you sculpt by pushing and pulling, and making them yours – all of a sudden you’re like, I have a relationship with this because I’ve created it,” says Franklin. “As soon as you get to choose their walk style, all of a sudden that storytelling begins: ‘Oh they’re snooty.’”
After tinkering for a few minutes with The Sims 4’s creation tools I was able to create a fairly compelling rendition of a friend and select character traits that endowed him with a personality to match.
“I think that crafting their personality and what goes inside – and having that be meaningful, truly meaningful was huge for the Live Mode,” says Franklin. ”We didn’t want it to be an empty promise, we wanted it to truly mean something. If you make a Sim that is gloomy, that’s going to be reflected. If you make a Sim that hates children and has a kid, boy is that going to play out in an interesting way!”
A second key innovation included in The Sims 4 is the Gallery, a portfolio of player-created content that can be downloaded and added to a player’s world in-game. To do this in The Sims 3, players had to visit an out-of-game website called The Exchange, download content, and then reboot the game.
The Exchange is immensely popular, says Franklin, accumulating more than 500 million downloads over its lifetime, and 15 million in the last quarter of the year.
“We have players come in all the time to play the game, and when we asked people if they knew The Exchange existed, something like 80 to 90 percent had no idea. These are Sims players – people actively playing.
By putting the ability to share and download into the game itself, Maxis hopes to foster more creativity.
“When we looked at our approach, we wanted to do something fresh and in the way people interact with media today,” says Franklin. “I want to be able to share this with my friend, and you should be able to, and then your friend should be able to grab it and put it right into her game.
“We made sharing make sense. I think there’s so much potential for players to tell us how they want to use the gallery and then we can expand how they want to play with it and how they want to share with each other. It’s an area that’s just kind of new and can be taken in many different directions.”
The Sims 4 comes to PC on September 4.