The Sims 2 Designer Diary #7

In this installment of GameSpot's The Sims 2 Designer Diary, Maxis' Lucy Bradshaw tells us all about an exciting new moviemaking feature in the game.

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At this point, you probably already know that The Sims is reportedly the most successful PC game ever made. The highly popular people simulator and its multiple expansion packs, which let you control every aspect of your virtual sims' lives, have sold millions of copies and have dominated the sales charts for years. Part of the reason for this is because the games have managed to achieve critical crossover appeal with traditional nongamers, including women and young girls. Now, Maxis is readying the highly anticipated sequel to The Sims, called The Sims 2. The sequel will introduce a beautiful new 3D graphics engine that will let you experience the game's action up close and personal. And, as Maxis Vice President Lucy Bradshaw tells us in this edition of our designer diaries, the new 3D engine will also allow you to indulge your inner movie director.

This is an example movie made using The Sims 2. Double-click on the video window for a full-screen view.

Making Movies

Lucy Bradshaw
VP PC Development, Maxis

The Sims 2 team is excited about a cool new feature we have added to The Sims 2, called "Sims Movie Making." Basically, while you play The Sims 2, you can direct your own sims' sitcoms, and it's quite easy. But let's start with what inspired this new feature.

Talk to anyone who has played The Sims, and they'll invariably start telling you the story of their sims. The interesting part is how many different stories they tell--all incredibly unique and sometimes really out there. It's clear that The Sims has unleashed the inner storyteller in all of its players.

So how did this happen? Well, it was quite intentional.

When we were making The Sims, we often found ourselves building specific setups and ad-libbing the sims' dialogue during play sessions or demos. Some of these sessions were funny and often became even funnier as 2:00am rolled by during those crunch weeks--when we were working nonstop to finalize the game. I'm sure you can picture us all gathered around a computer at those hours, riffing on what we had going on in the scene. Believe me, much of the ad-libbing was not fit for prime time.

We knew that what the player brought to The Sims experience was an important element of its appeal and eventual success, which, in fact, we wanted to happen. Playing The Sims is a uniquely creative and individual experience, but even more interesting is how easy and fun it is to share this experience.

In the original The Sims, we intentionally put in the album feature, thinking players would want to capture the stories of their sims lives just as we did. We made this a component of the original Sims Exchange, but even we were surprised at how much this feature took off. Quickly we found that we needed to upgrade the album exchange on the Web site to improve access to more than 85,000 imaginative stories that our players were sharing.

Part of what made the album feature take off was the enormous amount of custom content that players were creating. Players were developing their own sims skins that were unique, taking events from the game and editing the sequences into storylines. Even more interesting was how much players were using the game to generate content that they then enhanced or modified to tell their stories. Just check out The Sims Exchange on The Sims Web site, and you can browse players' albums. One of my longtime favorites has been the "Chronicles of Llama Man." Another is one of the earliest, "Grizzly Adams and the Indian." It started to blend elements from the game with ingenuity from the players.

Eventually, experimental filmmakers started to use games or game technology to create films; then they distributed them via the Internet. This was dubbed "Machinima." While this is still an emerging art form that is picking up steam, it truly lowers the bar of entry into the filmmaking space. Check out the Machinima.com site to download some of these films. Another fun site to check is Red vs. Blue, a team that produces weekly serials in the Machinima style. And then we've also seen things like digital shorts offered as downloads on Web sites, like Atomfilms or Ifilm, as well as the introduction of digital camcorders and editing software.

Lights. Camera. Action.

So here we are making The Sims 2. We knew that we wanted to update the graphics engine to take players closer to their sims. In fact, one of the most compelling advantages to taking the game to full 3D is that we can move the cameras around more liberally. This led us to enabling camera placement within the house or neighborhood, and this led to us implementing a new camera mode of play where you can get extremely close to your sims, and you can move around. We employed interpolation between camera positions so that when you decide to move from one camera to the next, the camera path is very fluid. Playing the game became like creating your own playable sitcom, and then we had one of those "Aha!" moments. Why don't we make it possible for players to create their own sims' home movies?

The photo album in the original game was the inspiration for moviemaking in The Sims 2.
The photo album in the original game was the inspiration for moviemaking in The Sims 2.

The Sims 2 has a feature where you can tape your sims' gameplay. Set up a scene, get your cameras ready, set them in motion, click on the video camera, and you are filming! What you get is an uncompressed video file that you can play back or that you can take into any movie editing program to "produce" your own sims sitcom. Cut between scenes, add dissolves, add a personal soundtrack or dialog, and you become your own sitcom director.

We decided this feature has so much potential that we will leave some interesting cheats in for the final product, such as slow motion, for those players who want to increase the drama of their works. As we near completion of the game, we have not only been using this feature ourselves, but our testing team has come up with some really entertaining examples and great suggestions. Some of us have really become addicted to cuts, dissolves, and fades, while others are hooked on dubbing in ad-libbed dialogue for the sims and setting musical scores to the creations.

We had a lot of fun creating the movie attached to this diary, which was inspired by the ever-popular reality dating shows found on TV these days. We thought: "Single Sims. Who would be the chosen from a group of single guys? That could be fun." But, in keeping with the humor of The Sims, we wanted to add an element of surprise to the outcome. We chose one of the single guys to be our hero character, and, well, let's say we gave him a means of reducing his competition. Check the movie on the first page to see what we mean.

We created the "Sneaky Single Sim" movie by following a few easy steps. First, we created our set and cast of characters. We wanted it to be a bit of a formal affair, so we had them all change into formal wear. Next we set our camera positions on our set. Then we selected the output format for our movie in the camera options, and, once everything was in place, we basically yelled, "Action!" (Oh yeah, we did remember to have the camera set to "record," which is sort of like remembering to have film in the camera.) We then played out our scenario, selecting different sims and actions while making sure we got the right angles. You can elect to hide the entire user interface while you record so you don't see some of the mechanics going on behind the scene. Once we played through our situation, we had an uncompressed movie. We decided to use basic movie-editing software to edit our little film. You can capture the game sounds, right along with the action, and we put in a music track and dropped in a few special sound effects to make it even more dramatic. This movie was saved in a Web-friendly size, which is small enough to e-mail to your friends.

As we develop The Sims 2, we continue to make entertaining, interesting movies. It is great to see what the team comes up with. We have seen all sorts of strange movies from various team members and can't wait to see what you come up with. The possibilities are endless, and the creativity is in your hands.

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