As of today, it’s been 15 years since we first became puppetmasters to The Sims. They’ve cried, they’ve loved, and all too often they’ve been locked in a dark room with nothing but a faulty oven for company. The Sims have evolved alongside us, getting cellphones and tattoos, turning into bloodthirsty creatures of the night, and developing a fetish for woohooing in elevators.
With The Sims 4, EA took the game back to basics, a move that disappointed some but, says senior producer Lyndsay Pearson, is all about building a strong foundation for The Sims’ future. The first step? A brand new expansion The Sims 4 Get to Work, which will be released in April. We spoke to her about that, and 15 years in which The Sims have played host to all sorts of strangeness.
PC Gamer: What are some of the most despicable things that players have done to The Sims in the last 15 years?
Lyndsay Pearson: I think the players have done some pretty funny stuff over time. In the development of the game, we’ve accidentally run into things that are pretty hilarious and unintended where we accidentally killed everyone. With The Sims 2, actually, we released this giant pair of scissors that was supposed to be this super, super fun object that your Sim could run around with, and it was super dangerous of course.
It was supposed to have a small chance of killing them. Unfortunately when we released it, it was basically a 100% chance of killing them. The fans thought it was hilarious. They thought it was an April Fool’s joke. We were like, “Yes, of course we did that on purpose.”
We later adjusted it, but it basically was this object that no Sim could resist because the fun was so high, but they would run around and kill themselves. We were like, “Oh no, that wasn’t the point.” It’s funny because The Sims is goofy.
There was a great bug we ran into while developing The Sims 4 where we unintentionally created a death trap for all of the elders in the game when they would go to the gym. The elders can get exhausted, and then if they continue to do anything too physically active, they have a chance of dying, but the gym is the place that Sims want to go and be active. What would happen is all these elders would show up, and they’d work out on a treadmill or lift weights or whatever, and then they’d get super exhausted, but then they would still be like, “I’m at the gym. I need to go use the treadmill,” and they’d all start dying. It was hilarious.
Do you guys have an idea of what people like to make most, in terms of celebrities or fictional people?
Twilight actually was a huge one for The Sims 3. There were a ton of Cullens everywhere because it was definitely in the mind share at that time. Our fans are so proactive about jumping on things as they happen, so they frequently will go and recreate Oscar dresses and Oscar poses when that event happens.
After The Sims 4 came out, there was a lot of people who rebuilt famous homes and apartments from TV. There was the Friends’ apartment. There was the Simpsons’ house. I think our top celebrity recreation right now might be the Beyoncé Sim. She was pretty popular for the Sims gallery. We love watching what they’re doing and being inspired by going, ‘Wow, if we just made this hair, that person would be so much better.’
Is there anything that people have really pushed for that you guys have ended up putting in?
There are things they’ve asked for that we haven’t been able to do over the years. Something that comes up a lot is sickness and injury and the harsher side of reality. It’s something I understand, because they want to be able to recreate more realistic situations from their own lives, but trying to figure out how to make that a compelling part of the game flow, and fun to play as someone with a broken leg, is a challenge that we haven’t really found an answer that we’re happy with.
We’ve been dabbling at where Sims have caught things like the guinea pig sickness and everybody would get sick because we were able to make that fun and make that a silly thing.
Why are you so supportive of the Sims modding community?
The more open we can be, the more supportive it is actually for both of us because they’re able to create mods that don’t conflict as much with the core game, and we’re able to make sure that there is not as much trouble when we provide updates.
It’s really great to be able to foster that relationship as much as we can and learn from them. I actually spent a lot of time a couple of weeks ago looking at our top mod sites and seeing what people are making and saying, ‘Oh, look. It looks like people are really into lace right now. Why don’t we make them some lacy underwear,’ which we’re going to be able to give out in one of our upcoming patches.
Is there anything that’s a no-no when it comes to modding The Sims?
We really don’t approve of the mods that people create that go beyond the bounds of what is appropriate for The Sims. When they get into some of the super graphic naked mods, those are not things that we tend to focus on. I know there is a community out there that wants them, but that’s not the kind of stuff that we would endorse or talk about or highlight here.
How did the Goth family and Bella Goth become such a part of The Sims?
We preserved the timeline for The Sims 2 with the idea of advancing everything 20 years or something, I can’t remember how far it was exactly, but we wanted to add a little more twist to it, which is why Bella had disappeared, and we didn’t know what had happened to her. Had she run away with Don Lothario? Had she been abducted? There were a lot of fun fiction around that.
The idea was Bella was supposed to have run away and ended up in Strangetown, and she was supposed to be a townie wandering around in Strangetown in The Sims 2, but I made a mistake in the neighborhood data so she never showed up anywhere. Everyone thought that was like this huge, ‘Oh gosh, where did she go?’ I was like, ‘Oh, that was a bug. Sorry, I didn’t mean to.’ It was fun. It actually fuelled this idea of, ‘Oh, what happened to Bella?’
The Sims 4 very much went back to the core Sims experience, and not all fans understood why you did that.
We were happy to see the things that people were recognizing about The Sims 4 that they were enjoying. You’re always sad when everyone doesn’t love your new, shiny baby, but I think we’re seeing people who justifiably have said, ‘Wow, this is a really, really cool foundation, but man, I really miss that thing, so I’m going to keep playing with that thing from The Sims 3.’ Or: ‘Man, I really miss this part of The Sims 2.’ That’s okay. That’s why we’ve created this big universe for them. That’s why The Sims has continued to expand. I am very excited about what The Sims 4 is because it’s a foundation that is going to offer us opportunities we didn’t have in The Sims 2 or in The Sims 3 that I think we’re really going to get to do some super cool stuff with.
And the first step in that process is the new expansion pack.
I’m super excited about our first expansion pack because it is called Get to Work, and it is about taking your Sims to their jobs. It’s something people have asked for for a very long time. I want to go to the hospital with my Sim, and I want them to be a doctor, and I want them to see patients and work on surgeries. That’s what this pack is about. You’re going to follow your Sim to the hospital and be a doctor. You’ll get to follow them to a science lab where they’ll get to be a scientist working on inventions and theorems and experimenting on various devices and what they might do, testing their potions out on other Sims.
You’ll also get to be a detective. Actually going to the police station where you can book a suspect and interrogate them or lock them up in the jail or going out on the town to investigate a crime scene and take photos and see if you can find your suspect. It’s actually about being an active part of that Sim’s day. Your Sims will also be able to run a retail business. You’ll be able to open up a shop and sell clothes that you designed off of a mannequin or sell some baked goods that you’ve cooked in your little café and set up an art gallery and sell the paintings that you’ve painted.
In the real world our lives take place online more and more, which is fun for us but not so much for our Sims. How do you balance keeping the Sims realistic, but not just have them playing Peggle all day?
I actually think I saw a mod the other day about taking out the ability to play games on their cellphone because their Sims were doing it all the time. You’re like, ‘Well, that is what real people do,’ but that’s not very visually compelling.
I think for us, luckily, The Sims always has this balance between being current and up to date with the real world, but then also adding those kind of crazy things that you might not necessarily see. Just like we have those cellphone games, we have motion gaming machines, so they step into that crazy machine and run around with the blocks and the torches and stuff like that. That gives us some ability to balance both of those things.
Ironically, just the fact that we moved them all to something like a cellphone, we still have a number of people go, ‘Where is my wall phone?’ You’re like, ‘Who even has a wall phone anymore?’ There’s still a nostalgia for some of the more physical things. I’m sure you saw comments about the newspaper, but we’re like, ‘Nobody gets newspapers anymore.’ People want that moment of the newspaper on their lawn.
There is still a hunger for some of those more visually nostalgic things even if it isn’t something in their normal day-to-day. I think we can leverage all of that like what’s the kooky version of something that would be fun to watch, what’s the actual version people might really do, and what’s the nostalgic picture you might have of what that would have been. We sample from all of that to make a very interesting and rich world.
The Sims 4 Get to Work expansion pack will release in April.