The Sims 2 University Designer Diary #3 - Going Gold

Producer Hunter Howe recalls some fun incidents that the Maxis team encountered while finishing this college-themed expansion.

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The Sims 2 University is the first expansion pack for last year's blockbuster PC game that lets you control the everyday lives of little virtual people. As you can probably tell from the name, University brings the focus away from the tranquil suburban setting of the original game to the hectic, fun-filled, and stressful days of college life. The expansion is due out early next month, and it will introduce a new young-adult age that will let your teenage sims transition to adult life the fun way. In addition to studying, your sims will be able to party, get college jobs, and buy lots of new and interesting furniture and objects. In the latest edition of our designer diaries, Hunter Howe, one of the designers on University, tells us some fun anecdotes about developing the game.

Ah, college. Where young sims go for an education and pull pranks.
Ah, college. Where young sims go for an education and pull pranks.

College Finals

By Hunter Howe
Designer, Maxis

Greetings from the front! A very tired Hunter Howe here, pleased to give you news that The Sims 2 University is hitting the presses and will be reaching you soon! I'm one of the designers here for The Sims 2. Our friends at GameSpot asked me to share a little bit about how the finalizing process has been over the past month, and how everything shaped up. It's been quite a ride making the first expansion pack to the The Sims 2 and we really hope you like it!

Invariably, the initial design documentation for a game does not cover every possible contingency. Things actually can go wrong in the way something is made. Amazingly, designers can make the wrong decisions in the first place. Hard to believe, but true. For all these reasons, the first time we manage to get our hands on the feature-complete game can be a bit of a shake-up to the natural order of things around here. All the features are done, right? It's good to go, right? Nope, not always. We plan on imperfections and buffer the schedule with some time to fix them up. Through a mix of Maxoids hitting the game and taking notes, bringing the game in front of focus groups, and sitting down outsiders for quick play sessions, we manage to get a solid list of things to address.

As you know, objects are very important in The Sims. In The Sims 2 University, we introduced more than 125 new objects. Sometimes, it's not until finalizing that we introduce a whole batch of new ones that we never expected to make. In playing University, we discovered a big problem with dorm life: throw together a lot of sims who don't have much cooking skill and you get fires and mayhem. Essentially, if a fire ever started in the dorm kitchen (caused by a late-night Ramen in the microwave, perhaps), every one of the 15 or so resident sims would rush to the kitchen and pile in. The fire would spread, nobody would be able to move, and the kitchen would turn into a blazing inferno of absolute death. So, our solution to this was to add an object at the last minute to help turn off fires and quell the mayhem. We decided to add fire sprinklers, a much more fun alternative. Now, sims can still pile in and panic, but instead of dying, they run around like morons getting soaked with water. It's especially funny when the evil cow mascot intentionally sets off the sprinkler with a lighter. She's a really big jerk.

A big part of the finalizing process is always tuning the gameplay. As the development process goes along, we never really know exactly how we want things to behave: how much an object costs, how many skill points are needed for a particular major's semester, or even what a zombie's personality is like when it comes back from the great abyss. If we got bogged down in all those details in the beginning, we'd never get around to making the game! That's when the tuning team, a group of us producers and designers, go into crazy number-crunching mode to make everything play just right. It's a process of setting goals for gameplay (how much money a sim should get on average from scholarships), tuning everything in order to hit our goal (scholarship requirements and cash payouts), and then testing to see if we meet our goal. If we fail, it's back to tweaking the numbers! Just imagine the sheer amount of numbers that go into a simulator as complicated as The Sims 2. It's easy for things to go out of whack. "Oops. I set one number too high, and now sims do absolutely nothing but talk on cell phones. Forever. Until they die."

You can choose dorm life or Greek life. Either way, expect lots of roommates, including zombie roommates.
You can choose dorm life or Greek life. Either way, expect lots of roommates, including zombie roommates.

And last but not least, the bane of any finalizing process: bugs! We generate thousands of bugs making a product, all of which are carefully entered and cataloged in our bug database. Pick any feature in the entire game and there's bound to be a nice bug history behind it. The titles of our bugs are precious: zombies can't fall in love; zombies walk on water; zombies have conflicting wants and fears; zombies come back from the dead with a D- grade; zombies stop limping during junior year; and zombies do not properly show thought balloons of brains. The list goes on and on. This is really when the team comes together most, pushing through and annihilating any bug that comes their way. This is the final step until we have to send the product through final approvals. It's also a time when we get to laugh a lot at the mishaps and bloopers!

Eventually, we get through all the bugs and stamp a big "DONE" on our dear and loved game and send it off for all you fans to enjoy. And now, of course, everybody here at Maxis is already hard at work on the next big thing. No rest for the weary! Go out and have a blast with Sims 2: University; we had lots of fun making it for you! Rock on, simmers!

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