September 16, 2013

How Maxis is simulating more of what makes us human in The Sims 4

Everybody knows that The Sims expands. It’s one of the most continually iterated series in history, each main title receiving more add-on packs than the last.

What is less obvious about The Sims is that, at key intervals, the series contracts. Next year, Maxis will release The Sims 4 – and all that accrued expansion content will reset back to zero to allow the studio to make fundamental changes to the way its life simulation operates.

Producer Lindsay Pearson has been working on the series since the original game. “We hit a point during The Sims 3 where we wondered where the Sims were going to go next – what was the next evolution of what a ‘Sim’ means?” she says. “For The Sims 4, that was going back to the Sims themselves. [The decision to create a full sequel] is triggered by an idea, and then we have conversations about whether it is the technology that has to change or the content. This time it was both.”

Pearson began work on the sequel almost three years ago. Individual groups of developers move from the previous game to the new one as they become needed, starting with the engineers responsible for the base-level simulation and moving up through concept artists and content designers.

For The Sims 4, work has been done to rebuild the game’s pathfinding and animation engines from scratch. Previous Sims games have given the impression of being tile-based, with characters moving in stiff, fixed patterns between context-specific actions. In The Sims 4, characters dynamically adjust their positioning relative to what they’re doing and the social environment they find themselves in. Maxis has studied footage of crowd behaviour – filmed in EA’s Redwood City headquarters – in order to accurately represent the way, for example, a group of people chatting will respond to a new person approaching their circle. In The Sims 4, a character’s awareness is visible: their head and upper body move to acknowledge the new person, and they smoothly step back to create space in a way that is far more fluid than in the series’ past. The new animation framework has reaped other benefits, too – Sims can now pass each other on the stairs and walk through doorways as a group without causing a logjam.

Read more at Edge-Online
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