The game series known as The Sims has always offered an open-ended experience that lets you get as involved as you want in the lives of tiny, autonomous computer people. The series will take a step in a new direction with The Sims Medieval, a new game that will swap out the open, nonlinear circumstance of the traditional series for a directed experience that takes place in olden times, when kings and queens commissioned the aid of noble knights to protect their peasant population, under the watchful, watching eye of the Watcher--that's you, the player! In the new game, you'll be able to play as any one of the game's individual characters and perform discrete quests to win kingdom points, which will eventually count toward a victory condition. Yes, it's a big change for the series. Senior producer Rachel Bernstein explains.
GameSpot: Now that we've seen Medieval in action, let's go a bit more in-depth in terms of the roles of different characters in the game. For instance, just taking a look at all the different characters (monarch, knight, spy, wizard, physician, bard, blacksmith, merchant, Peteran priest, and Jacoban priest), there's clearly a lot of variety there, but how will, for instance, each character's place in society affect the way he or she relates? Will non-monarch characters always have to genuflect when initiating a conversation with the king? Will it be harder for a blacksmith to get a royal audience than a loyal knight?
Rachel Bernstein: There are a variety of ways that a sim's role in society plays out in the game. Sims kneel when they enter the presence of the monarch. Every hero sim has interactions that relate to their profession. In the case of the monarch, these include "call for food" and "send to stocks"--actions that reflect the monarch's position at the top of the social ladder.
Hero sims with higher class professions earn more than the other sims and, subsequently, can deck out their homes with a larger number of items and with more expensive items. For example, the knight earns more than the blacksmith.
The clothing options available for each sim reflect their role and profession. The merchant cannot don the ermine robes of the king.
GS: We understand that Medieval will let any character undertake quests with a "helper" character. Is it possible for any character to take on any other character as a helper (such as the unlikely pairing of the town blacksmith enlisting the help of the queen to fill an order of horseshoes)? Can you give some examples of how different characters at different strata of society will work together on quests?
RB: You could in fact, have a quest with both the monarch and the blacksmith, but they would each be doing activities that make sense for them. Here is how quest selection unfolds--more details about the roles of the sims emerge from this.
Step one: Select the quest by name--the name will hint at the overall situation the quest deals with. Some examples of quests are "The Philosopher's Stone," "A Wandering Prophet," "Tournament of Honor," "A Missing Child," "A Political Marriage."
Step two: Choose the approach--how you want to handle this quest. For the Wandering Prophet quest, you can either engage in a tournament of miracles to prove the interloper's faith is not worthy, or attempt to silence the heathen.
Step three: Choose the quest leader. If you choose to try to silence the heathen, you can choose either the Jacoban priest or the monarch as the leader.
Step four: Choose the other quest members. If you chose the Jacoban priest as leader, you can then choose either the knight or the spy as helpers. If you chose the monarch as leader, the only helper option is the bard.
The available combinations are chosen so that all the hero sims on a quest have roles to play that fit with their professions. The spy may engage in eavesdropping, or the bard may participate in a drinking game, while the monarch might send the interloper to the pit of judgment. That's why adding new hero sims to your kingdom unlocks new quests--if you don't have the Jacoban priest or the Peteran priest, you will not have this quest in your quest book.
GS: We've already seen what the physician character is like in action--using torture-rack-like devices and leeches to treat her patients--but we understand that there will be an actual wizard character. Tell us about his abilities and how magic will work in Medieval. Will we see Macbeth-like prophecies told over a cauldron? If caught, will wizards be burned at the stake for heresy if they weigh the same as a duck?
RB: Wizards research and create new spells. They cast spells (players have to learn the spell to help the wizard cast it). They can scry using the crystal ball to find out hidden information. They can craft potions and other magical items, which they use on quests or sell for income.
Like all the other professionals, wizards get better at magic with experience and unlock new spell options and more advanced crafting recipes.
Should a wizard need to meet an untimely end, it would not likely be burning at the stake. Being devoured by the beast in the pit of judgment would be a more common method of execution.
GS: We also understand that there will be two different priest characters from two different orders, which are at odds with each other. Tell us about these two characters and what they can do. How will their actions advance the agenda of their church? How will each be able to compete with the rival order?
RB: There was once an ancient religion. It splintered and then faded from memory over time. Two religions rose up from this ancient root. They share many of the same beliefs but exhibit those beliefs in different ways. They each lay claim to one small piece of land near the ruins of the ancient civilization, which puts them uncomfortably close to each other.
They both worship the Watcher, but they have different approaches to their faith. The Peterans tend to take a more humble and gentle approach, while the Jacobans are imperious and have amassed great wealth.
The two priests compete with each other for followers. They both gain converts with their sermons; the Peterans rely on popularity, while the Jacobans find that fear drives people to their faith. The Peterans evangelize, while the Jacobans absolve. The experience level of the priests helps them in their never-ending competition for the souls of sims.
GS: We understand that the merchant character can conduct trades with foreign kingdoms. Can you explain how this will work in practice? Is there any kind of in-depth economic strategy or playing with market prices?
RB: As your kingdom renown grows, you have access to more distant lands. As your relationship with those lands improves, more trade goods will arrive in the cargo hold of the ship. These foreign goods are rare and in limited quantities. The merchant buys those items from the ship and then sells them at a profit to the rest of the sims in the kingdom. The merchant can also act as a broker between different foreign territories.
The merchant also sells items that are crafted within the kingdom and sold to the merchant by the other professional sims. The merchant can haggle with customers, which can help him buy at a discount and sell at a profit.
GS: Tell us about the life of the humble blacksmith. What sorts of missions will this tradesman undertake? How will he interact with other members of the community?
RB: The blacksmith is a favorite supporting character for many different quests. Frequently, the quest leader will rely on the blacksmith to make unique items. For example, the knight cannot kill the dragon without having the blacksmith create an epic sword not normally found in the kingdom. In the hands of a skilled player, an experienced blacksmith can create surplus high-quality goods to sell for profit.
The blacksmith tends to use his particular abilities to create a unique way to solve a problem. For example, when a child goes missing in the kingdom, the blacksmith may make a gong to rally townsfolk to find the boy, or he may create traps to find the missing child.
GS: Also, tell us about the life of the bard. What kind of life does this character lead, and what sorts of quests can the character undertake?
RB: The bard is devoted to performing in front of audiences, writing new songs and plays, and researching how to create better musical instruments. As with other hero sims, the bard will bring his particular skills to bear to complete a quest. For example, the bard may write a poem to spread the word about the missing child or may play a song to rally the people to help search.
When dealing with a roosting dragon, the knight would run the dragon through with a sword, and the wizard would fry him with the fireball spell, and the bard might lull him to sleep with beautiful song.
GS: We know that Medieval will let you play as a single character and take on however many quests you prefer and then switch over to another character if you get restless, gaining kingdom points from quests and other activities before the game ends and your final score is assessed. How feasible is it to play as a single character throughout an entire game? Is there any advantage or disadvantage to regularly switching between different characters?
RB: It is possible to focus on the same character, or small group of characters, playing them for most quests and leveling them up maximally. That may be a good strategy for some ambitions, but not for others. It's not likely you would play the same character for every quest. Depending on which new hero sims you bring in and in what order, you may reach points in the game where the only available quests require you to branch out to some of the other characters.
GS: Could you give us a general update on the game's development? What aspects is the team working on now?
RB: The major systems are in, and most of the content is in. The big push now is creating quests and tuning the systems. Lots of new elements are coming in every week, so it's always exciting to get the latest build and play with what's new. When new user interface elements come in, that's always especially exciting because of their immediate impact on the player. New quests are another exciting element of each week and highlight new elements of each profession to explore.
The game is at the exciting stage of development where the systems are coming together and there is enough content in there that it's fun to play and easy to forget you are testing and just get caught up in the game.
GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about the game?
RB: The Sims Medieval is a different experience from all the other Sims games. We hope it will delight Sims fans and new players alike.
GS: Thanks, Rachel.