Another beautiful day dawns on...a ghost town? This isn't a deserted neighborhood in The Sims 2, but rather the offices of a game developer. Maxis' recently relocated offices on the Electronic Arts compound in Northern California are home to the team that created the most successful computer game in history, along with its sequel, but you wouldn't know it from the rows of mostly empty desks. It's the week before The Sims 2 hits store shelves, and only a handful of producers and other staff members are around, while the rest of the development team is off taking some well-earned vacation time.
Lucy Bradshaw, a Maxis vice president and the executive producer of The Sims 2, leads us through the office, past the team's surprisingly sparse game area, which consists of a television and a few consoles bounded by a lone chair and two beanbags. We settle into the nearest meeting room (called "Reticulating Splines" after the old SimCity/The Sims loading-screen message). "It's blissfully quiet," Bradshaw says, somehow managing to sound serene and timorous at the same time. Yes, the atmosphere is generally relaxed, though half of the team is still on call in case a serious, last-second issue appears in the game and needs to be fixed. Even at this late stage, EA's quality-assurance team is still combing over The Sims 2, arguably one of the most important game releases in EA's history.
We set down our camera equipment and prepare for an interview, and as we do, we can't help but notice that there's a very industrial feel to the Maxis offices--the cavernous rooms are dominated by concrete ceilings, exposed pipes, and ductwork. Yet the corridors and hallways are plastered with all sorts of posters, graphs, messages, and more. There's a giant wall (affectionately nicknamed "The Up-Against-the-Wall Wall") covered with sticky notes, each with a specific task that needed to be accomplished. All Maxis developers were responsible for checking the wall daily for issues they had to address--but they'd get the privilege of stamping an "It's done" note on it when they finished. Now, with the game on its way to store shelves, many have taken the opportunity to write victorious graffiti.
On one section of wall, there are clippings and articles from much of the mainstream press coverage that The Sims 2 has received. On another, there's a graph of the number of bugs in the project over the course of development. And there are already gaps in the walls--Maxis is preparing to make room for the next big thing. But Bradshaw won't reveal what that next big thing is. With a polite smile, the executive producer says, "There's so much territory that we can explore with The Sims." That's about as much as Bradshaw, or anyone else at Maxis, is willing to divulge at this point, though fans of the series can certainly expect that the sequel leaves room for future expansion.