The Urbz Q&A

We talk to Maxis about its new console-only spin on the Sims concept.

Maxis' Sims games have been one of the PC franchises to actually find solid success on consoles despite a necessary alteration to the gameplay. However, in the wake of the success of the last two console Sims games, Maxis is aiming to take the franchise in a new direction with the upcoming The Urbz game, which puts a unique and distinctly urban twist on the Sims concept. We had the chance to talk to Sinjin Bain, executive producer on the game, about this latest incarnation of the franchise to see what to expect from the upcoming multiplatform offering.

GameSpot: Where did the inspiration for the game come from?

The sims are heading downtown in EA's newest lifestyle simulation, The Urbz.

Sinjin Bain: As we were finishing up The Sims Bustin' Out on console, we brainstormed on where and what we'd like our newest Sims to do. We all agreed we wanted to go to a place that was new, and the city is the most expansive new ground to mine for this year's gameplay. After we chose the city setting, we started drawing on any urban and city images we could find--visiting San Francisco with cameras, scouring Web sites of other cities, etc. Then the artists took this reference material and sketched out the style for what our city-dwelling urbz should look like and where they would live and play with a city backdrop.

Our next goal was to set a new distinct visual style for the game, so our art team prototyped and concept-sketched characters, cityscapes, and objects. When we first saw the new character styles, our eyebrows started twitching...and we looked at each other and said...hmmmm...these look different than sims.

GS: There were a lot of directions you could have gone with the Sims concept. Why choose this one?

SB: A couple of key reasons: First, it was clear early on that taking The Sims into the city allows us to do new interactions between characters, cultures, and their environments in ways we've never done before. We kept seeing so many new ways to play in an urban world that we gained momentum rapidly. It became very clear to us that an urban jungle made sense when one wants to push fresh lifestyles and innovative social gameplay. Lastly, a 24/7 city-living environment lends itself better to the constant game interactions we feel console gamers expect and warrant, like faster-paced living and faster gameplay.

GS: When did development on the game begin?

SB: We started game design and prototyping late last year in November after The Sims Bustin' Out was in its finishing stages. Our art team was first into action...we just couldn't stop 'em! They started posting a lot of cool new images of city characters and street scenes. At the same time, the engineering team started creating our new graphics engine, which allows for new lighting systems, particle effects, and camera technologies that we've never had before. New animation techniques were explored and are being used to add new life and unique moves to our characters. Design continues to push on rewriting the core elements of the motives game, socials game, and job game to squeeze in all-new ways of playing in this new world. We were running at full speed in January of this year and never looked back!

You'll work to build up your all-important reputation to gain access to new areas of the city.

GS: What's different in the gameplay from the console Sims game?

SB: The gameplay is all new this year, and that's why we named this game The Urbz: Sims in the City (working title). We now have a metagame based on a reputation (rep) score that is brand new. The Urbz gameplay is about building your urbz's rep to get ultimate access and influence throughout the city. Players do this by succeeding at work locations in the game to get access to new areas in the city and new power social moves to influence other lifestyles. Of course, players need to gain access to new skill objects too, enabling them to succeed at work. For the first time players are able to directly control their urbz at work! Players also will have direct control with skill-building objects and with the new twitch mechanics we've added. We also integrated urbz customization into the game, so there are stores in the city you can access if your rep is high enough so you can get tattoos, new styles of clothes, and other such accessories. We are also speeding up the entire experience by completely redesigning and reanimating all interactions to be faster and more responsive.

GS: What kind of customization options will you have for your urbz?

SB: There are more customization options than ever before. Not only can you add tattoos, but we have new morphing technology that allows players to customize their urbz right down to the length of their nose, how large a chin might be, or how curvaceous their bodies are! Everything is new from the ground up...from the fact that customization takes place in-game at stores where you can update your look and at salons where you can update your hairdo, to the fact that clothes cost money. You'll have to earn simoleans to buy the latest fashions. Customization is based on the different lifestyles urbz have, which is dependent on the district of the city where they live.

GS: So what are your main goals in the game?

SB: The main goal of the game is to build your rep to be the biggest player in the city to gain ultimate access to the best places to work, play, and of course, the coolest places to live. To do this, you'll have to influence other urbz to build and destroy relationships. Some urbz will be more compatible with your urbz's lifestyle, so you'll have to make sure to perform the right social interactions.

GS: What can you tell us about the world you'll be living in?

SB: Players will visit and live in 12 distinct locations. For example, we have a subway area that, as you can imagine, might be a little dangerous at certain hours--you never know who might be there--but make sure you have the right skills and socials if you're there in the middle of the night! In each district of the city we have a unique set of urbz living a lifestyle players might recognize. In one district, the urbz seem a little on the shady side and the work is a bit sketchy, too. Urbz get from one district to another via the subway system, of course.

GS: Will the game use a new version of simlish?

SB: We will continue to use simlish as the language of The Urbz. However, we'll be recording all-new simlish to reflect the urban lifestyles and cultures in the game. In addition, the game will have all-new music and audio effects in line with our new environment and faster city beat.

The wacky simlish language is getting a hip update to fit in with the style of the game.

GS: On the technical side of things, what can you tell us about the game's graphics engine?

SB: We are focused on multipass texture rendering that enables us to create a gritty world that people expect to see in a city, including rain, city streets with reflections, and new lighting effects to enable neon signs. We completely rewrote our particle engine to give more spark, literally and figuratively, and life to every aspect of the game's effects system. Our animation engine is enhanced to enable multiple simultaneous walk cycles in the game, with new blending for better locomotion in the world. Urbz's walks reflect their lifestyles!

GS: Are you planning on any console-specific features for the game?

SB: Absolutely. Perhaps the biggest news is that we are incorporating support for Sony's EyeToy within the game. We are tying in this support right into the game as an integral part of the rep gameplay. We'll talk more about this at E3. Of course, our new graphics will enable even better HDTV graphics on the Xbox, and we're looking forward to seeing these results. There might be some special content included for the GC, but we're not talking about that yet. Can't tell everything yet!

GS: Thanks for your time.

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