With the success of SimCity 3000 and The Sims, you could forgive Maxis for sitting on its haunches while it basks in the glory of its two latest strategy games. But the Walnut Creek, California-based developer, headed up by Will Wright, isn't taking any breathers. Already, the company has started development on two new games centered within the Sim universe.
One of those two games is SimsVille, a strategy game that combines the macromanagement gameplay of SimCity 3000 with the micromanagement of the more recent The Sims. Instead of creating cities or maintaining households, you will be able to design and manage your own personal suburban town complete with homes, businesses, and shops. The game stresses visual feedback, and more than any other Sim game before it, your town's prosperity or dire straits will manifest through a number of onscreen changes. We spoke with Maxis' Christine McGavran, executive producer for SimsVille, to find out more details about the game.
GameSpot: In SimsVille, the player will be able to impose direct control over an entire neighborhood at once, and not just a single household. Will the game be a micromanaged version of SimCity 3000? A macromanaged version of The Sims? Detail SimVille's basic gameplay mechanics.
Christine McGavran: It's definitely a challenge bridging these two products, but it's exactly the type of challenge we love to take on at Maxis. What we've focused on in our design is defining the set of interactions that is the most engaging and relevant for a village setting. While it's not practical to control every decision of each of your Sims at this scale, we're now able to explore a larger story involving the Sims' behaviors as these relate to the community they live in - investigating where they work, where they shop, community events, and politics. And because a village is much smaller than a city, we are able to provide a level of interaction that is more detailed and personal than would ever be manageable in a large metropolis.
The game focuses on a general goal of creating a successful and happy village for your Sims. Your most immediate objective is filling the basic needs of your Sims - these being a place to live, money, food, clothing, and friends. Your tools for doing this include giving them land to live on, successful businesses to get jobs at, stores to shop at, and other Sims to befriend. Once your Sims' basic needs are fulfilled, they begin the natural pursuit of happiness - a larger challenge for you, the mayor. Items factoring into happiness include, of course, worldly possessions, specialty stores and restaurants, community events, clubs, town services, and a quality neighborhood.
GS: Since players can create both residences and businesses, will they be able to follow their Sims to work as well?
CM: Your Sims will find their jobs at the businesses you create, so yes, players will be able to follow the work lives as well as the home lives of their Sims. Jobs in SimsVille have a different and more complex role than in The Sims. In SimsVille you are working towards the success of both businesses and families - managing the whole town economy. If there are not enough businesses in town, some of your Sims will be out of a job. If a business does very well, it will be able to afford to pay your Sims a higher salary or employ more Sims. Some Sims may have an entrepreneurial spark and will ask you if they can start their own businesses. So, to make your Sims happy and wealthy, you need to make sure they have success both at home and at work.
GS: Since Sims will need to travel to and from work, will you be able to buy your own transportation, or will you still have to rely on carpooling?
CM: Sim families will indeed own and use their own vehicles. Cars play two major roles in SimsVille: First, they provide an essential means of transportation around town - for example, to work, to shopping, and to their friends (Sims can also walk to their destination, especially if it is close by). Second, cars are material possessions that indicate personality and wealth. For example, a family with kids might drive a minivan, and a single 20-year-old might drive a sports car. And a richer Sim would buy a much nicer car than a poor Sim.
GS: How many families will players be able to control at once?
CM: You're really controlling a village of families, businesses, and other institutions - the mechanic here is much different from The Sims. As the game progresses, you will be able to choose from a list of potential families desiring to move to your town, as well as businesses that want to establish themselves. If you do well, your town will be very popular, and many families and businesses will want to move in. You can choose to grow your town to have a hundred families, or keep it as a small, intimate community of just a few. It's up to you.
GS: Will SimsVille use a real 3D engine, or will you still use 2D sprite tiles?
CM: We are using a real 3D engine. It's quite beautiful and allows for some very nice special effects.
GS: How many career paths will players have to choose from?
CM: In SimsVille, the job focus is not so much on a general career path, but around where your Sims work and how well they are doing in that business. So the only jobs available in SimsVille are at the businesses you have helped to start. Sims will start their career based on available job openings, their interests, and where their friends work (a slight nepotism). As time goes on, they may be successful and be promoted within their current job, seek a better opportunity at another business, or, if they are very ambitious, start a business of their own.
GS: Will Sims be able to age? In The Sims, babies turned into kids, and that was it. Kids never turned into adults, and adults never became seniors.
CM: I'm going to put off answering this question for now....
GS: We've heard that Livin' Large will have a SimCity 3000-style castle, as well as alien abductions and roach infestations. What other sorts of SimCity gameplay elements, such as random occurrences, can we expect to see in SimsVille?
CM: Of course, in the Maxis tradition, we will continue with the level of comedy and surprise that is characteristic of our products. Don't be too alarmed if your Sims start talking about little green men in SimsVille.
GS: Will SimsVille have any kind of multiplayer component?
CM: Following in the footsteps of SimCity and The Sims, SimsVille will definitely have a strong Internet and Web component, though not specifically multiplayer. Maxis is currently developing multiplayer Sim game prototypes now, so you should see something from us soon on this front.
GS: SimCity 3000 Unlimited gave players the ability to change the surrounding landscape. Will SimsVille go one step further and feature changing seasons?
CM: Oh yes! We'll [be showing] you something cool [at this year's E3].