Visiting Redwood Shores Studios

Last week I enjoyed the most amazing day a Sims player can ever have. I am so incredibly grateful to have been invited. I will try to share as much with you as I can, but we all had major info overload! While I might not hit every detail from the games I saw, I will give you as many details of the trip itself.

A few weeks ago, I was just having a normal day, applying for jobs, talking on Skype, playing Sims, working on Platinum Simmers. An email notification popped up, and I noticed it had Sims in the title, so I opened it. I read as far as " you’re invited to spend a day at EA’s headquarters in Redwood Shores " I squeaked excitedly and ran to my mom (who was only sitting 10m from me) and stammered, barely able to string a sentence together, "I got invited to a Sims event in California! San Francisco! Where they make the Sims!! I’m going to meet the developers!"

The rest of the day, and for that matter the entire weekend, seemed like a blur. It was my mom who read the email further on and mentioned I had to contact people immediately to confirm my attendance The next 3 weeks were hard, because EA told me I wasn't allowed to discuss this event yet, but I have so many friends in the Sims community that I wanted to tell about it, and find out if they were going. Turns out, none of them were, but I made some great new friends at the event at any rate.

On Tuesday 31st of July I arrived at the airport in San Francisco around a decent time of 1pm, got to sleep in the afternoon and meet Kristen at 7pm for our welcome packs, which included an awesome notebook and our schedule. Me, Jackie, Ruth and Curtis went to have dinner. We spent the entire evening talking about Sims. While we might have RL friends that play Sims, no one gets the intensity of our passion for this game, but other players that you meet at events definitely do. We talked about deaths, killing Sims, features we wanted like weather, building, and more for hours. For an outsider (non-player) that kind of conversation must have seemed pretty weird!

Then, finally, it was the big day. I was so excited I had trouble sleeping the night before. We met Kristen again (who was an awesome host, so much energy) and we walked to the EA campus. There are 5 buildings that surround a big grass field. First we went to the EA cafe and had breakfast there. Towards the end of the breakfast some more EA people joined us, including SimGuruKing, SimGuruHydra, SimGuruPoptart, SimGuruMegan and Aaron Conners.

Next up was a 30 minute tour of the campus. Sometimes we forget how long ago EA started making games, and how much it visually has improved. The best bit if the tour was to see the wall of history (it probably has a better name but this is what I call it) it chronically listed the games they made, from all their various studios. We also saw a basketball court; they have an actual basketball court at the campus. It is used in some of their EA Sport games. Another thing I thought was pretty awesome… every building quite literally has (several) areas where employees are allowed to play games (computer and pool tables) – for research. Right. In Uni research meant reading hundreds of pages of (chemistry in my case) papers and books so I definitely prefer EA’s definition of research. After the quick tour we went to the recording studio and saw an actor do some sounds right there. They do not have a strict Simlish script, it’s mostly improvised. How awesome is that! It is not something I could do!

After that the best bit started. We walked to a media lab and got a welcome from Lucy Bradshaw! Yes the one and only! I found it so cool to see her in person, but she has been with the SimCity/Sims/Maxis labels for so long that you genuinely think she might be too busy for just us fans. She also gave us a trivia quiz, the question I answered right was how to get rid of the tragic clown in TS1 (painting). Another question was what careers were portrayed at the cover of TS1 base game. I hope she posts all the other questions online because we forget that there is such a game before the current EP and only play what we have right now. Another question I remember, what inspired Will Wright to make The Sims? His house burned down and when he bought a chair, he realised how important a chair was to him.

Then we got a presentation of Supernatural by Megan and Aaron, it was a demo on some basic Supernatural stuff, what was in the game etc. I don’t have to say much about this because you all will have seen both live chats (if you haven’t, here’s the links: chat1, chat 2) and most likely have read a lot of previews too. After the demo and lunch we got a trip to the EA store. I behaved and did not hurt my credit card too much. There actually was not a lot of Sims stuff, which is a shame. There is such a market for EA to have a web shop of plumbob-related goodies. Me and Curtis went back early after the store, but interestingly enough we were stopped at the door to the media lab by Graham Nardone who was playing guard. They were doing something secretive that we were not allowed to see yet. I didn’t really give it much further thought at the time, but in fact they were busy setting up a special presentation for later.

After lunch and before hands on time we got another trivia quiz, this one written by Brooke, who works in marketing I believe, you can view that quiz here. We did not get much time for it and I felt a little under pressure to do well! I’d been invited to a special Sims event, if I sucked at answering Sims trivia that would be so embarrassing! Fortunately, I actually did alright, despite the really tough questions, and I scored 15.5 points. My Sims just Woohoo in bed – kind of boring I suppose but it does the job. I also only kill my Sims by drowning… fast and effective! I lost a lot of points there. Ellie won this trivia with an amazing 23.5 points!

Next on the schedule, it was hands on time! The bit we were very excited for, 3 hours of actually playing the game. I found many new things, most of them listed here.

The SimGurus and other Sims EA people (Marketing/PR) must have enjoyed our reactions, lots of that is awesome! So cool! Interesting! SimGuruMegan was on hand to answer loads of questions, though I wasn’t sure if she was supposed to “spill the beans” that a new death in Supernatural was death by jellybeans.

And a video showing snippets of gameplay:

And I’m sorry I did not ask all your questions, I didn’t want to take away from playing time. Those that I haven’t answered, I will still find out! I will ask them through Twitter and email, I promise! Moza also answered some with her playing time at the Manchester Gamerbase event.

What I also truly enjoyed and I know that friends on Twitter and the website did too, was that we could talk on social media while playing! I’ve very rarely been allowed to Tweet live from Sims events, and I’ve certainly not been allowed to share screenshots and pictures live from the event. There was a huge buzz on Twitter. This game still makes me laugh after 12 years, and I love to share the funny bits I come across, so this was really awesome for me. And also props to BlackGarden who stayed up late and reminded me to check all sort of different things, I would not have thought to check buydebug and find the ghost gnomes.

The EP is just awesome, amazing and huge. I went to look for funny cute things that I had not read about yet. There are so many new interactions, objects and details, Moonlight Falls is gorgeous and I’m going to immensely enjoy the alchemy set – it was how I hoped the chemistry set would be.
Kristen noted that during the hands on we all got very quiet and weren’t even leaving for bathroom breaks – we all used our time as much as possible!
After the hands on we had a bit called Q&A and had no idea what it was about, me and Curtis asked for hints/clues and got nothing from Kristen. We hoped of course for Seasons, because of the hints lately and it is definitely the most requested EP for The Sims 3!

So, Kristen was talking to us how it was now the Q&A bit, and meanwhile Brooke was holding a door open that goes outside, Kristen introduced Ryan, Mike and Graham. Mike and Ryan walked in with Sims umbrellas! I wish there was a video of all the fans’ faces. It must have been awesome and priceless to see. We were so happy!

Ryan gave us a short presentation that you have all now seen on the EA Summer Showcase, and a few glimpses of the snow in game, also like the Showcase. Then, we saw the announcement trailer, quite a few exclamation of excitement here and major (well deserved) round of applause for the team! Then, we got to ask questions!

My question was if the weather was going to work in all worlds, like all the EP worlds and the player created ones! And yes! Very impressed and pleased with that.

My other question was to Ryan, and the answer was kinda funny. I asked Ryan if he could talk about aliens, he then looked at Marketing/PR people with as if to ask, 'can we talk about aliens?' Well that is one way of confirming aliens to fans who will interpret your every move/gesture/word/tone as vital information! Thanks for that Ryan! In the trailer you are not 100% sure, but it does strongly hint at aliens, and it was great to get the confirmation in the Q&A, and also in the subsequent SuperSeasons live chat on Friday.

So, this is the secret project Ryan and Graham have been working on, and it is released in November, just a couple of months after Supernatural! Could this mean big things for 2013?

At this point we were all really excited, and the day was not over yet. We got to have dinner and more importantly have time to talk with the developers from the game, to my non-Sim friends I explained this as like meeting your favourite rockstar or actor, because that is how I felt about this. I know they are human and just do their job but it is one awesome game they make! I got to talking with an animator Yusun. Who explained that all the animations they make are reenacted first by people on the animation team. Sadly they have a pact that none of this will ever end up on YouTube; I asked/hinted that we would love to see it but we're out of luck.

Also got to talk with Trevor (SimGuruTrev) who was introduced to me as the bug fixer, but in actuality is a gameplay engineer, he explains here that he puts art/sound/animation together, on that team they all fix bugs daily. He actually asked me a lot of questions – do I play with CC, how do I play, and so on. He mentioned that they don’t always realise what they do affects millions of players. But as I told them both, the game is not just a game to us, it’s also a tool for us to tell stories, make funny moments that we then share online. Defining The Sims as just a game is too narrow a definition, in my opinion, it is something much bigger than that.

I also got to talk some more with Ryan, Graham and Mike, and profusely thanked Graham for being so awesome on Twitter, it makes us fans feel (even more) connected to the game with the glimpses he gives us into the game making process. Ryan mentioned that it’s horrible being on Twitter while they cannot talk about their current project, and said they should get more active again now. He also said that they prefer talking to fans over press, they don’t have to explain the goal of the game to us, we get why Sims having a snowball fight is awesome!

I asked the producers if they get nervous when they do the live chats, and they replied that they do! I do not think there is any need for them to be nervous, it’s not like we wish for them to mess up, and we want the info and love every snippet they can give us.

My only disappointment of the day was not meeting SimGuruJenn and SimGuruShannon, but sadly they weren’t there.

After such a long day, Kristen took us back to the hotel and I quite literally crashed from days of living on less than 6 hours of sleep and just having had such an exciting day. Some of the fans were up until the wee small hours, but I have no idea how they did it.

I hope you enjoyed this recap of my trip, I want to say a huge thank you to EA for inviting me. It was such an amazing experience and it’s something I hope EA consider repeating in future. If you have any questions you want to ask me about my time at the studio, including Supernatural and Seasons questions, please reply here or Tweet me @swwSims.

That we were invited did not spoil us enough, we got a LOT of goodies, these are all of mine including ones I bought myself (purple shirt, diesel and post its that are on the purple shirt):

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The umbrella is so very cool!

Author: sww

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