As we shared with you earlier, The Sims has released a podcast on EA Community Team Cast.
In this podcast SimGuruGrant interviews SimGuruLyndsay about The Sims. For those that are unable to listen to it, for whatever reason, or just prefer to read rather than listen, we’ve made a transcript for you.
Please keep in mind this transcript was done by ear. The intention for SimGuruGrant is to do more of these Podcasts, with different SimGurus and team members, and, to be honest, we can’t promise to do a full transcript for all of them, but will certainly try if you would like us to do it.
In this podcast you will hear SimGuruGrant and SimGuruLyndsay
Grant: Sul Sul! Welcome to the first episode of the Maxis podacst. A show where we peek under the hood of the process, history and people of Maxis and the games we make.
Our hope is to record regular episodes where our host will invite members of the team to talk about how we design the games, how we create animations, how we translate to different languages and to tell funny stories about working on the game and more. The hope is to learn more about this game that you love and the people who make it. We’re really excited to see where this experiment leads.
I’m your host Grant Rodiek. This week we’re talking with The Sims General Manager, Lyndsay Pearson, about the characters and stories found in the Sims 2.
Buuut before we discuss the Montys and the Capps, a quick word from our sponsor.
Still Grant, but now in commercial mode: This weeks episode is brought to you by StrangerVille *Some sort of howling in the background*
Welcome to StrangerVille. This is an eerie, narrative driven simulation for Simmers who love to tell stories and be startled. It comes with a gorgeous new desert world, the all new military career, some fun new objects, and a conspiracy to unravel.
Take a possessed walk on the wild side with the StrangerVille Game Pack, available now on Origin for PC and MAC.
Grant, back to normal voice: It is my great pleasure to introduce today’s guest, The Sims General Manager, Lyndsay Pearson.
Lyndsay has been working at Maxis since 2002, having just graduated from the art school in Sunnyvale, California. Lyndsay began as a Quality Assurance tester on The Sims Unleashed.
And her favourite pack in the first Sims game is Making Magic by the way, for which she was a designer and producer. Lyndsay’s primary role for The Sims 2 was creating the world, houses and stories for The Sims 2 and we’re going to dive into that in just a second. Lyndsay was also the lead producer on The Sims 3, senior producer on The Sims 4 and is now the General Manager of the entire The Sims studio.
Grant: So I’ve used your title, I said you’re the General Manager, uhm we call that GM in shorthand. What does a GM do on The Sims?
Lyndsay: Yeah, that’s a good question. Uhm, I mean, most of my time is spent thinking about where should business go. Like what should The Sims do in the future? What do we know people like now, what do we think they’ll like later and how do we add that in to the packs that we’re designing, or the content that we’re designing and thinking about.
Grant: Yeah a lot what we have to think about is, is the games that come out next year or even the year after that. (Lynsday hums an agreement) How do we allocate the resources to do it, and like you said, how does that align with all of our partners throughout the studio and around the world.
Lynsday: Right, yeah. Well and it’s always fun, because so many of us on the team have different ideas of what we wanna build. So it’s great to kind of get all that in to a mix and kind of figure out, ok where are we going first.
Grant: And there’s a lot of, uhm, well this a cool thing we want to make but then we have to figure out, once we get all super excited about it, we have to figure out how to actually do it (Lyndsay: Right) Which is more, more sobering and a lot less fun. (Lyndsay *laughs*: yes)
So you went to art school and that seems a little distant from being a producer. So how did you go from art school to production.
Lyndsay: So it’s actually more relevant than you would think. But what I learned from art school, is that there are artists waaay more talented than me. (Grant laughs) And I liked helping them. I liked helping them figure out how to get further in their project, get something done that they couldn’t figure out and just brainstorming ideas with them. So when I started working with The Sims, I had the chance to do a little design, do a little art, uhm, on The Sims 1 I actually made walls and floors (Grant laughs). So I learned that I really enjoyed to being able sort of facilitate the artists and the engineers and the people who are sooo good at their craft. And that was a natural fit what producers do, all the time right. Producers are that sort of hub of how all the stuff comes together. And that’s really fun to be part of it and be in that mix.
Lyndsay: You also mentioned that art school seemed sort of far from production, but I think that’s one of the coolest things about producers, is that they actually come from a ton of different backgrounds. Some of them were scientists before they came into games, some have been business people or art people and I actually think that makes it a stronger team. It means we have this wonderful team of people that care about what we’re doing, from so many different angles and they all bring that to the table, and bring that to discussion. uhm, yeah.
Grant: Ok, so. Lets dive in to some stories. But before we get in to the specifics, lets set the stage for us. What stories existed in The Sims 1 when the game was shipped and how did our approach change for The Sims 2.
Lyndsay: So the Sims 1 had a few iconic families, that really set the stage for what the game was about. And we introduced them with a little backstory, uhm, but a lot of it actually came from what people made up about them. Using those Sims stories as a jumping off point for The Sims 2, we thought about what would happen if these characters had moved ahead in time a little bit. And where would we go with that.
Grant: So there were three neighbourhoods in The Sims 2. Strangetown, Veronaville and Pleasantview. What was the general gist for each? What was sort of the narrative backdrop?
Lyndsay: We really wanted to consider different towns for The Sims 2, because each one had a very different feel, a very different look. And that meant we could kind of illustrate different parts of the game for you. And introduce you to different mechanics that you were going to play with in The Sims 2.
Grant: Could you give us an example? Because like Strangetown was the desert with the military family and the area 51 vibe. Veronaville kind of had this Romeo & Juliet, so uhm, what was one of those key gameplay elements you wanted to highlight?
Lyndsay: Yeah, so Pleasantview was the introduction of the general game, right. Here’s some relatively normal families and a relatively normal suburban setting. With some of your favourites from the past. Uh, with Strangetown, we wanted to show you some of the weirder parts of the game. So that’s where aliens would show up, that’s where ghosts would show up, and we wanted you to know that that gameplay was there.
With Veronaville we really wanted to highlight the drama, that could happen between your Sims and the relationships you could build. So it really was about this romantic relationship, or this jealous relationship or this family fueding relationship. And it was fun to be able to play with all of those different story points and kind of push them.
Grant: What was your favourite story? And why did those characters stand out to you?
Lyndsay: Ooh, ‘such a good question. I REALLY like Strangetown. It was the second town, that I personally really dove into. And I really enjoyed setting up this kind of complicated back story of how everybody knew each other and was tied together. And I like the goofier sides of the gameplays, so I enjoyed being able to highlight all of them.
Grant: Wasn’t there like some weird lab guy… uh, like what was.. do you know? Do you remember his name?
Lyndsay: Yeah, his name was Nervous Subject.
Grant: Nervous Subject, yeah!
Lyndsay: He lived in the basement of some mad scientists. It was great. Uhm, and I grew up in the desert too so I was ooh, Area 51, it’s just like home.
Grant: uhm Reno right?
Grant: uhm, what are you.. Which story do you think resonated the most with the fans? Like just, over time, what you think people like the most?
Lyndsay: Well, everyone really enjoys the Goth family. It’s fun to see how they progressed, especially since they’ve been present in the game for so long. But I think the thing that stuck around the most is certainly, what happened to Bella, right? She was part of the Goth family, so everyone kind of knew who she was, but she disappeared. What happened? Where did she go? What played out there? And it was uhm, it was unintentionally more.. uh, fascinating than we thought it would be. We were like: “Oh, this is a good way to tie neigbourhoods together”. But it actually turned into this really great conspiracy theory for years honestly.
Grant: It’s something I get asked quite a bit on Twitter and I never have an answer for it because the absence of one is I think a bit more interesting.
Lyndsay: It’s true. I actually on the other hand have answered numerous times. *Lynday laughs*
Grant: I didn’t even know there is an answer.
Lyndsay: So well, Bella did disappear, in the little uhm, photos of her family history, she had been hanging out with Don Lothario, they were looking at this telescope and she was abducted by aliens. That is true. So she was supposed to show up in Strangetown. And due to a bug in the code (Grant is chuckling now) she never showed up anywhere. (Grant and Lyndsay now laughing)
uhm, which was extra mysterious and unintended. So um, what she supposed to have done was actually behind the scenes been added to like the townie families, so she would just walk around. They were all like in the same group. But I accidentally added her to nobodies family. (both laughing)
So she like, she didn’t exist. Uhm, but I actually think that made it better. It think meant it was much more interesting. And be like: “Oh? What happened?”
Grant(chuckling): I didn’t know that.
What um. Lets get in to the specifics a little bit. What is some of the work you had to do, in order to create these stories, to create these families, to create these households. Like walk us through some of the day to day, some of the work that had to take place.
Lyndsay: Yeah it was really one of my first big production jobs in The Sims, because I got to manage these neighbourhoods all on my own, which was super fun. I had a team of people helping and directing and designing. Uhm, it’s less glamorous than people think. So the building of the houses, the building of the Sims in CAS, was very much like how players do it. I actually used all the same tools, all the same things. The thing I got to do on the back end, was manage this giiiiaaant spreadsheat. With huuundreds of rows. That all the data about their careers and their levels and their skills and a table of their family relationships. Which was literally every single Sim in town against every other single Sim in town. And it was all these like relationship, little pieces of information. I probably have it on a hard drive somewhere.
Grant: And just to be explicit, what you mean is that for Don Lothario, you had to say is: “He’s level 4 of this career, and the relationship to these 50 people is this”. (Lyndsay: Yes) And you had to match it, align it (Lyndsay: yes) with what his skills where , where he lived, all of that had to be prescicely laid out in an Excel document.
Lynday: The where he lived, I got to do actually in game, but every other piece of, like his Sim info, like his Sim data, was this spreadsheet, that was absurdly large and broke all the time *Both chuckle*.
The building was interesting, cause I had to save it a really special way, to make sure it would load in a special way. And I would have nightmares about my lots burning down as I built them. Because the game was still happening, when I trying to like, put things in place and I had to push live mode for a second, but then the Sims would do something wrong and… it was chaos actually.
Grant: I remember when, uhm, I first joined The Sims team on The Sims 2, I was updating the credits file, which this ever growing file. And at some point, for whatever reason, it got so big, that every time I had to save it, it would retoggle these check characters from the check language, so I had to save it twice each time to fix the characters and it has a similar reminder on which save I was on, to reset the characters.
Lyndsay: Yeah, we had some great tools back then. *Both laughing*
Grant: Uh, Skin cat (I think… )
Uhm do you have any anecdotes about particularly challenging families to get right? Or any bugs or issues that sort of flummoxed you?
Lyndsay: Yeah, well uhm, if you rememeber, a lot of the Sims 2 houses started off with a few story moments. So you would load into the Goth house and there was going to be a wedding between Don Lothario and Cassandra within just a few hours of the loading.
And getting those to save in exactly the right state, was.. almost impossible. Because everyone kept choosing to do something else and similar to what you were just saying, I would have to turn off autonomy, to get them where they needed to be, but then remember to turn it on again before I saved. When they would not do when they were supposed to.
Grant: So it’s like everything had to be perfect, literally every time you opened it.
Lyndsay: Yes. So one of the hardest ones where any family that had to be pregnant. Because that data kept getting lost. so.. (Grant: The Broke family…?) The Broke Family, and actually the brothers whose name, the alien hunting brothers. Whose name is totally escaping me of course. Uhm, but one of them had been abducted by aliens and came back pregnant but didn’t know it yet. so.. We had to get everything in juuust the right state, which was a little nuts.
Grant: It seems here now that the grand conspiracy around Bella Goth was really… you making a boo boo. *Lyndsay chuckles*
Uhm, you have any other boo boo’s that we should just like, reveal now, that are like, kinda funny?
Lyndsay: Yeah, there are certainly a few things that did not go the way that they ought to. Uhm, one that I remember is that in the Broke family, the timing got a little mixed up, from when Brandy’s husband died and when Brandy got pregnant. So there’s a lot of speculation about what really went down. And uhm, I think I just messed it up *Both laugh* to be honest.
Grant: Ipso facto immaculate concepto (what?) uh great
So, do you have a, like a disastrous memory from The Sims 2, something that is just like tragically hilarious?
Lyndsay: Yeah, so, one of the first things I had to do when I was working on icons and updating stuff, was try to update some roofs in the catalogue, like for the houses. And my first check-in, despite clearing it with people, crashed literally the entire game, for everyone in the studio *Grant chuckles loudly* And everyone was sending frantic emails, like WHAT HAPPENED! And I’m just little junior producer: “Oh, I’m sorry”, I changed this text file and everything exploded!
Grant: That doesn’t sound like an ideal situation.
Lyndsay: No, but I remember it really clearly.
Grant: So back on The Sims 2, you worked on the neighbourhoods, but what else did you do?
Lyndsay: Yeah, I actually got a chance to do a lot of different things on Sims 2. One of the jobs I had before I moved to working on neighbourhoods, was actually working on the UI, the interface. (Grant: Oh cool), yeah, and uhm, I had to learn how to make all the buttons highlight correctly, and I remember, one weekend, late at night, I was asked to basically redesign CAS *Both chuckle*. Did not work! I broke everything. The entire thing crashed. But uhm, it was really cool actually, I got to learn how to use Illustrator and the Zodiac icons in Sims 2 were like my first icons I made myself. That have lived on forever.
Grant: Very cool.
With StrangerVille just coming out, we’ve sort of answered this in one way, but if YOU could remake from The Sims 2, in the future, what would you pick and why? And how would you change them?
Lyndsay: I really like the Specters from Strangetown. The grandma and her granddaughter, and the grandma story in particular I really loved. It was this woman who had these series of husbands that she had progressively killed off, for some reason. Or they died off, right? We weren’t really clear on that point. But she had this collection of like, ex-husband ghosts. And I just thought she was really funny, she was really interesting. And I liked that each on actually had a, a little story like, of what they meant to her. I would love to kind of bring her back, and build a little more about like, why did she have all these dead husbands? It feels a little weird.
Grant: Yup, and it work really well with the new basement tool.
Lyndsay: Yeah! For sure!
Grant: Uhm, any other stories or thoughts you wanna share? I don’t wanna take too much of your time.
Lyndsay: Well, one of the things I definitely miss from The Sims 2, was those little family albums, that kind of described each family. And uhm, they’re really fun to put together, because I got to do a lot of cool Photoshop editing, and little images that kind of tried to weave the mystery of who these people were, and I really liked.. uh… I got to have a lot of liberty in how I made those stories come together. Which was really fun, I got to feel like, I played everybody’s game before they did. And they got to like, start where I left off.
Grant: Very cool.
Well, thank you so much for joining me.
Lyndsay: Yeah, absolutely, any time.
Grant: Now lets move on to the question of the week. This one doesn’t come from a specific Simmer, but it is one we see a lot.
And the question is: “How do we decide which packs to make, and when do we make them?”
The short answer is, of course, it is complicated. But, I’ll walk you through the pieces.
We take feedback from a variety of sources. And in no order of importance, these include:
One: Reading the community’s requests, for new content, features and expansions. We have a dedicated community team that analyses the feedback from a leadership group.
Two: We conduct fairly extensive research, including dedicating focus tests evaluating a variety of themes. Some new, some weird and some revised from our past. And speaking of the past
Three: We look at our historical catalogue and how well these packs performed. For example, Cats and Dogs, is generally our best selling pack, and so we’re probably going to make it.
Four: We evaluate current trends in the marketplace and the culture. And this can be a bit fuzzy, but our research team provide analyses on society and other games, technology and consumer behaviours, to help us decide.
Finally, five: We ask the team what they want to make. We’re a creative group, and often we get excited to make certain features, or, tell certain stories.
So that covers roughly what we make. Now, lets discuss the when.
I’ll go back to a pack that I’ve mentioned previously, which is Cats and Dogs. If we know you want it, why does it take so long?
Well Cats and Dogs, and many other packs, often require new technology and changes to our engine, to allow us to make the game. Obviously, dogs walk on 4 legs, and behave quite differently than Sims. Which requires fundamental changes to our animation system, path planning and artificial intelligence. We also have to create Create a Pet and all the art content, fur in particular, to create hundreds of pets and that takes time.
For seasons, to give you another example, you have to update every tree and bush to work with all four seasons. That means they have to hold snow and change colour in fall. And the leaves need to disappear in the winter. And again, that takes time.
We also try to examine the overall ecosystem. For example, if we’re making a lot of series experiences, like Get to Work and Get Together, we try to then incorporate something different, like vampires. And if we’re focused too much on careers, well we try to include some family game play.
The Sims audience is global and incredibly diverse and everyone really wants to tell a different story or play the game a little bit differently. In reality, we try to balance, what we should be making, with the right time, and make as many people as possible happy.
That’s a bit long winded, and I apologize.
Grant: And that is it for this episode of the Maxis podcast. Thank you for listening, be sure to rate and review the podcasts and leave us a comment, so we can keep improving.
The Maxis podcast is written and produced by me, Grant Rodiek, engineering by Brianna Billows, Music is from The Sims catalogue, Community support is by Kate Olmstead and we would like to thank our guest, Lyndsay Pearson, for taking the time to meat with us.
Until next time! Dag dag!