We recently had a chance to chat about The Sims 3 with MJ Chun, associate producer at The Sims Division. Here she tells us how the development team took risks to push PC's bestselling franchise in a fresh direction, explains what's being worked on following the game's three month delay, and lets us in on its new community features.
There are so many Sims expansions and releases that, for non-dedicated followers, it can be a little hard to keep up. What's distinctly new about The Sims 3 and how does it push the franchise in a fresh direction?
Chun: I think it pushes the franchise along. One of the core things about it is that the Sims are smarter and have more depth to them. The personality traits are really powerful because for me it's where the gameplay, the storytelling and the customisation all come together.
So you can make a neurotic vegetarian who happens to be a perfectionist and is a computer whiz, or is childish. The other day I made an evil kleptomaniac who is a genius, ambitious and a hopeless romantic.
One of the criticisms levelled at The Sims 2 is that it focuses more on time management than character development. Is that something you've directly tried to address?
Chun: Absolutely yeah, and I think it came about in many ways indirectly when we considered what's fun about games, and Sims games in particular. It's less about managing needs as much, like I have to get my Sim to work on time or I have to feed my Sim because it's that time and hungry is at 20 percent or something, or I have to queue up six interactions perfectly or whatever, it was more like I should feed my Sim because they're cranky and they're not going to do as well at work if they're hungry. But the flip is, you know what, I'm going to have them do this other thing and be cranky, it's fine, that's a decision I want to make.
The Sims is designed as a family-friendly franchise, but if I wanted to go down an evil path when creating my Sim, how nasty could I be?
Chun: One of the Lifetime Wishes is gold digger and that Sim has a desire to see the ghost of a wealthy spouse. I was playing the gold digger and one of the wealthier Sims in town happened to be married so I became friends with his wife and invited her to my place. I kept my cooking skill low so I set a fire on the lot and she burnt to death, and therefore I got to move in on her [widow]. It's really as creative as you want to be.
There are other things you can do to torture your Sim. The classic drowning is still in effect.
The Sims boss Rod Humble has spoken of the studio's mission to make "games that innovate and take creative risks". What risks have you taken with The Sims 3?
Chun: One of the things that I think is risky is whether or not people will find that the town feels alive to them. I think it's a risk because you control your Sim and traditionally it has been about your home lot and now there's this open world.
I think some people are going to find that it's too much and that they want that level of control back, and that some people are going to be disappointed and want more. That's a little bit of a risk and I'm interested in seeing what the community thinks about it.
Can you elaborate on the geography of The Sims 3 and how it has been opened up?
Chun: Phillip [Chun's Sim] can just walk across the street now and that's actually a really powerful moment. You can peek in and see what you neighbours are doing and then walk over and hang out with them which you've never been able to do before. For me this is like, 'Oh my god, it's the town and it's all connected.' It has impact to whether or not he's friends with his neighbour.