This article will sadly have a lot of text and not (m)any images. But please bear with it, it is worth reading because the changes the The Sims 4 team made to the animations are impressive. Also some things we want, height slider, were explained why they are simply not possible.
The presentation was given by Marion who is the Technical Animation Director for The Sims 4 and has worked on The Sims series for the last 10 years.
We have her to thank for the kittens and puppies we got in The Sims 2, she worked out how to make them and the bottle battle of two toddlers in The Sims 2.
The goal of the animation team for The Sims 4 was to make the Sims less robotic and more human. This meant more smooth, natural and believable animations. Better routing, group socials, multitasking and emotions.
One of the animations that got most smoothed is side-steps. In The Sims 2 and The Sims 3 Sims had to fully turn and then could walk into that other direction.
The Sims can side step/turn around in any direction, the full 360 degrees. This means that especially in tight places Sims can maneuver around much better and will not get routing fail any more. There are like 60 animations that allow the Sims the full 360 degree range, one of them is the full 180 degree turn!
Before you think ‘oh but my Sims in The Sims 3 can do this too!”, most of the time the Sims will turn and walk. It also takes them a few seconds to realize they need to move out of the way.
You will see how long it takes for my Sim to walk around, it is much smoother and faster in The Sims 4.
There is much better routing in The Sims 4. Sims will walk by each other through a corridor instead of stopping, yelling, the game telling other Sims to get out the way and then having to wait on that.
We have all seen this situation, Sims are in a corrider with a door. Other Sim wants to get through the door and the next few Sim-hours are spent with Sims walking out of the way, now the first Sim just walks through the other Sims, that are standing in the way, with all the side step animations. I hope Maxis releases the video of this animation because it made us all gasp and squee.
In the garden if you make a path with floor tiles to your frontdoor, your Sims will follow those tiles to walk to the house instead of just over the grass with the shortest path. However if you make a long spiral of tiles your Sim will not follow those.
Take a moment to think of yourself in a group situation, at a party or just when you are talking to friends. You will notice you stand around in a circle talking, listening, interacting. People join the group or leave it and the circle gets remade each time.
They have done this now in The Sims 4 too! We might have had some group interactions in The Sims 3 but in the Sims 4 it just looks a lot less awkward or as Marion says “less stupid”.
At EA they have a party every other friday to celebrate it is the weekend. The animators placed a secret camera so that they were able to accurately observe human behaviour (in the wild) while socializing. The Circle thing I mentioned earlier was something they observed a lot, even when Marion (on purpose) walked to the other side of the circle the circle got back to its optimal configuration.
They even took the behaviour of one of the developers talking loudly with hand movements and put it in the game.
I love getting to know these little details from the developer team.
Social Groups apparently took a high level of math and a lot of work to make this work well. I will never be able to look at a social group in the same way again, I will always see the (almost) perfect circle.
And this works standing and seated and the other Sims are constantly engaged with the conversation (or my guess, bored too). There are no stony face Sims!
During a social interaction, like a scary story, the game will have points in the animation where the other Sims will react to it, intrigued for example.
At least 5 Sims will be able to be in a social group, but this is still being worked on. In Real Life bigger groups often break up to smaller groups.
When humans talk with each other (in a group or on the sofa) the body is not always facing (entirely) the other person, mostly the head is. In The Sims 4 the Sims are now capable of doing this. Can even talk to Sims who stand behind the sofa.
You have seen this in this screenshot:
Small detail but very powerful and probably a headache for the testing team! Every (conversation) animation has to be tested that it works like this!
The sitting down animation is very natural while in The Sims 3 it is quite well, unnatural is the word.
What is possible with the currently technology is to have almost every animation (where relevant) standing as well as seated. A Sim can tell a scary story standing, but also seated. On a regular chair, barstool, bed(!). Sims can even have conversations on the bed while sitting on different sides (facing different directions).
There are several ways that the Sims can now multitask. For instance a Sim can run on a treadmill and talk to a Sim nearby at the same time. They can hold a plate and a glass at the same time, funny thing is when your Sim wants to eat from the plate the glass has to go away (in their pocket ;)) to use a fork.
All this will make it faster to take care of our Sims’ needs.
Sims can have a conversation while cooking, it is not synchronous talking/stirring because you have to be focused while stirring (or at least your Sims do). But one Sim can talk to your Sim while he/she is stirring, then they stop stirring, talk back and go back to stirring!
It would be impossible to make a happy or sad version of every animation in the game (content explosion). So they put the emotion animation in the places where you could see it, walks for example is a very effective place for emotion animations. You will also see little emotional animations where appropriate (so not during socials or other signature animations), like a sad drinking animation.
With the painting screenshot you can see especially well how this would work in the game.
The Sims now have, almost, proper jaw movements when they talk. It is not exactly lip sync but its also not static/weird movement. It is based on the voice/simlish and how loud the voice is. So when your Sim talks the mouth/jaw mimics roughly what the sound is. It is not animated manually by the animators.
Proper lip sync was considered but that would bring down performance. So this in between state is a very good compromize.
Happy Sims will actually sound happy in the game, I think the voice recording group has been very impressive with this.
Hair is not animated, this is a performance concern.
There is a rumour floating around about hair growth, this was not discussed during Simscamp and I do not know to what extend this will be in the game or at all.
No Height Slider
The reason there is no height slider in The Sims 4 is that they would have to pretty much multiply every animation they have in the game by the number of heights that we want. Marion explained that The Sims games have a LOT of animations compared to other games, multiplying that by even 2 or 3 heights would be a lot of work.
This is not to say they will never have height sliders in future The Sims games but that at this point it is not possible with the technology they have. Right now it would mean hiring all of China to make it work.
As mentioned before, they did manage to make new technology to work so that all animations work seated and standing. I think that is 1 step in the right direction, however I am not a technical animator and I have limited knowledge of it all 😉
The Sims 4 animation upgrades seem like many small details, but the overall effect is just awesome. The animations feel so much more human/realistic and “not stupid”.
What amazes me is the blend of cartoony/stylized/vibrant appearance and realistic feeling to the animation. It just feels right, they could have made everything cartoony or everything realistic, but then it would not be a ‘The Sims’ game!
Hopefully maxis will release the animations we saw in Marion’s presentation, they were amazing