The Sims 2 Designer Diary #6

The designers of The Sims 2 explain how the sequel will let you get a bird's-eye view of your little computer people's lives.

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Maxis' unusual strategy game The Sims is reportedly the best-selling computer game of all time, but the team has since stopped making expansion packs and has moved on to develop the sequel. Like the original game, The Sims 2 will let you create a family of computerized people, or "sims," and take control of their lives, their career paths, and their social interactions with other sims. But The Sims 2 will attempt to improve on the original game with a number of intriguing new features, including sims that retain memories and actually grow and change over time. The original game lent itself to many different and unusual situations--some completely absurd, others eerily realistic. The sequel will attempt to give you an even better way to use the game to experience these situations.

The Sims Exposed


By Lucy Bradshaw
VP PC development

In this scene, sims attend a barbecue.
In this scene, sims attend a barbecue.

Perhaps one of the most surprising things about The Sims is that, besides being a fantastic strategy simulator, it has become one of the most powerful storytelling tools ever created. Even we were taken by how fast people gravitated to this aspect of the game. In retrospect, I guess we should have figured it out. The game had all the classic elements you would need to tell compelling stories: actors, sets, props, and the ability to add your own written thoughts and dialogue to put context to the images you would capture in the game. When we set about designing The Sims 2, we knew that all these elements, and more, had to be available to players so they could bring their stories into the present and future.

Part of compelling storytelling is the ability to immediately take the audience into the action. In the original game, you could do quite a lot to support the stories you created, but you were never completely free from the limitations of the game's camera angles. In The Sims 2, the camera is enormously flexible and cinematic, so you can smoothly rotate and navigate around the scene. You can change the camera angle and zoom in to view sims at eye level. This allows for a great balance between the playability that is crucial in setting the stage and the immersive views necessary for the story to resonate.

Once we initially experienced it for ourselves, we felt we needed to take one more step for those players who really make storytelling the center of their play experience. It was for those players that we decided to completely blow away the old limits and introduced a new way of viewing the game: camera mode. In the camera mode, you can now travel all over the game environment as if you were a sim: run up and down stairs, get behind or under objects, and even get right up into the faces and see the expressions and emotions of the sims who are the stars of your stories.

You'll be able to capture every moment of this sim embarrassing himself.
You'll be able to capture every moment of this sim embarrassing himself.

Playing The Sims 2 in camera mode is a revelation. You feel like you are there. It reveals how much work has been done on the little things in the game, like facial expressions, gestures, and textures on objects. Camera mode is all about freedom. Combined with the pause button, it's an immensely powerful tool for creating stories that, for the first time, have a true cinematic and dynamic quality. Lighting, angles, and even the focal length of the camera can all be manipulated to support exactly the right image and to create exactly the right scene that you envision. Instead of observing the game from a somewhat removed perspective, you can now place your viewers directly in the heat of the action. Genres of storytelling within the game that weren't authentic before are available now to the player: horror, suspense, voyeurism, sitcom, and many others we might not have thought of. Hide behind a potted plant to shoot a tender love scene. Position yourself right under the sim as he or she flubs a dive and belly-flops into the pool. Shoot your sim's reaction to being dumped from over the shoulder of the sim that is dumping your sim. There's actually more freedom in setting up the right shot in The Sims 2 than there is in the real world!

A part of telling stories that has never been possible before in The Sims is a true first-person perspective. Despite all the freedom in camera mode, there's nothing that can replace the air and impression an image has when it is shot through the eyes of a living sim. I must point out that while in this mode, the camera is not under player control, and traditional object selection is locked out. As a trade-off, the images that result come alive with the personal energy of the sims themselves. You can see exactly what your sims see, go where they go, and do what they do. The pictures that come from this mode are sometimes unpredictable, but they have a palpable excitement and a candid quality that make them a rich and vibrant element to the mix of the stories that are being told in the game.

One thing we did know from experience was that great images alone aren't enough to make great stories. Our players needed better tools to capture these pictures and also better tools to manage the pictures, once they were taken. In The Sims 2, we've introduced something called storytelling mode. It has all of the functionality of the family album from the original game but with much more robust story management and display abilities. In storytelling mode, you'll be able to add whatever text you desire to the images you capture and more easily edit these images to fine-tune the tale you want to tell. Using the snapshot bin, you'll be able to browse through whole collections of images and select the one you want to place into your story. You'll even be able to see snapshots that were taken in other houses in the neighborhood so you can create complex stories with numerous locations and plotlines. As in the original game, images that have been retouched in paint programs can be mixed into these stories with ease, so the only limits on the visuals are the ones you set yourself.

The Sims 2 will let you create a virtual picture album, complete with wedding photos.
The Sims 2 will let you create a virtual picture album, complete with wedding photos.

Once stories have been created using storytelling mode, The Sims 2 will make it much easier to share it with the world at large. You'll be able to upload and update your stories on TheSims2.com effortlessly and from right within the game. In addition, you can now choose between a traditional filmstrip-style storyline or the ever-popular "blog" style of display, where readers can see multiple entries at once alongside the text that brings those stories to life.

Creating and sharing stories in The Sims 2 is ultimately a more powerful and compelling experience than ever before. What makes us most excited is to think how much more fantastic it will be once the community of our players finally get their hands on the game and its new capabilities. There are extraordinary stories out there that no one but the storytellers can possible imagine. All we have to do is make these tools available, and we know that crazy, outrageous, dramatic, hilarious, and moving stories will start being created and shared.

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