First expansion for The Sims 2 announced

The Sims 2 University is due next March; management cites "players' desires" as motivation behind the release. The game's executive producer answers our questions.

With seven top-selling expansion packs released over the past four years to support the original The Sims product, it won't surprise anyone that the game's sequel, The Sims 2, is about to get its own library of expansion packs. The first "in a line" of add-ons for the recently released sequel was announced over the weekend.

The Sims 2 University is due from EA's Maxis Studios sometime in March 2005. As the name suggests, University lets gamers enroll their sims in college, where they can attend classes, settle into a dorm room, party like it's 1999 (if they choose), and generally live out the life of an everyday virtual college student.

Sinjin Bain, an executive producer at Maxis, readied the industry for additional add-ons: "This title is also the first in a line of expansion packs that will address our players' desires, further develop The Sims 2 franchise, and continually expand the world of The Sims."

The franchise has already driven sales of more than 41 million units.

For additional insight into The Sims 2 University's gameplay, we spoke with the game's lead producer, Kevin Hogan.

GameSpot: So, what was the appeal of college as the first expansion pack for The Sims 2?

Kevin Hogan: We've wanted to send our sims to college for a while--ever since the first The Sims, actually--but the technology didn't really support what we wanted to do. The Sims 2 affords us the opportunity to deliver on this experience. We also like that this is a fresh and new experience for The Sims, and something we think our core fans will be into.

GS: How will the expansion fit into the regular The Sims 2 experience? Let's say you have a family with a teenager, and then the teenager hits college age. Will the rest of the family "pause" while you play the teenager at college? Will you be able to switch back and forth between the college kid and the rest of the family easily?

KH: This will work similarly to having a child move into another house in the same neighborhood. Time progresses for the sim who lives in the active house. You can make either sim's life, parent or child, progress by running the house (or dorm) he or she lives in.

GS: How long will the college experience last? After all, aging is a big part of The Sims 2, and the major life cycles last only about two game weeks each. Will you prolong the college life to get the most out of the expansion?

KH: We expect the college experience for a single sim to last about double the length of the teen life span. But a single sim won't necessarily be able to experience all that college has to offer, so we anticipate that players will bring multiple sims to college and play them in very different ways.

GS: Aside from the usual partying, what are your ultimate goals at college? Can you choose a degree, and will that help you get a better job after school? Can you improve your character's skills faster by going to school?

KH: You can choose a major, which will affect your career options and success, assuming you earn a degree. If you earn a degree with honors, it will help you in your career even more. We are adding four new career tracks to the game that are available only if your sim has a college degree. These careers will have higher skill and friend requirements than the career tracks that shipped with the base game, which makes the extra time you get in college critical.

GS: How will studying work? Do you have to devote a certain amount of time to doing homework? Can you enlist tutors (like you enlist parents to help you in the regular game)? If your grades slip, do you get kicked out of school?

KH: There are many strategies for getting passing grades. The dedicated student will study frequently, complete all assignments, go to lectures regularly, and take advantage of tutors. Others might spend more time socializing and choose to cram at the last minute. Still others might cheat. But, in the end, if you don't get passing grades, you can get expelled.

GS: Will the neighborhood map be replaced by a college campus? Will it also include a college town? What are some of the locations in the expansion? Libraries? Coffee shops? Classrooms?

KH: Colleges will exist in college towns--separate neighborhoods that are linked with the base neighborhood. Each base neighborhood can have multiple colleges, and the relationships between people in the base and college neighborhoods are, of course, maintained. The college neighborhoods will have many cool locations such as lounges, coffee houses, arcades, student unions, libraries, and much more. Plus, these college towns are fully customizable so that players can create any university environment they want, even creating new terrain using SimCity 4.

GS: What are some of the new props and items in the expansion? We've heard that we'll have kegs, but anything else?

KH: Juice kegs are definitely a part of the pack! We won't be unveiling it just yet, so be on the lookout for it! Also, stay tuned to hear more about the other objects that will be available in the pack. They are great. There are also a host of new furniture pieces and build mode options, as well as reward objects for the new careers.

GS: Do you live in a dorm, or can you eventually move into off-campus housing, like an apartment? And a lot of the weird fun of college is the random roommate you always get stuck with, so will this be in the game?

KH: When your sims first arrive at campus, they are housed in dorms with a bunch of other freshmen. They can eventually move out into either a Greek house or private housing.

GS: Will you have a cast of memorable characters at school? Like the crusty old dean, the college quarterback, and the resident nerds?

KH: We are definitely introducing a set of new characters that you might see around town. More on this to come in the upcoming weeks!

GS: Money's always a big deal when you're at school. Will you be able to hold a part-time job, or will you have a weekly allowance? And, of course, can you call home and hit mom and dad up for more cash? That last one is always fun.

KH: Not only can you hold part-time jobs, but you can also actually see your sims at work. Jobs are available at the lounge, dining commons, gym, and coffee house. You can earn money as a musician or street performer, and can even print your own money if you hook up with the right people. Jobs aren't necessarily a requirement, however, because you earn grants through the university based on your grades. The higher your grades, the more money you get.

GS: College is a hotbed of romance. Will you be able to meet someone and then take them home to meet the parents? Can you get married and have kids while in school?

KH: You need to graduate and return home before you can get married, but while you're in school, you might meet the sim of your dreams. More to come on romance in the upcoming weeks!

GS:? Maxis has a fun and slightly twisted sense of humor, so what's its take on college? Is it Animal House, but weirder? What are the fun things that we'll see in this expansion?

KH: An important aspect of any expansion pack is that we deliver enough content to let the user create his or her own fantasies. If players want Animal House but weirder, they'll be able to do it in The Sims 2 University.

GS: Finally, any interesting stories from campus that you'd like to tell so far?

KH: Beware of strange sims wearing embroidered blazers. Intrigued? Stay tuned.

GS: Thank you, Kevin.

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