With the release of the latest Sims 4 expansion pack, Discover University, TheGamer was given the chance to sit down and discuss all things Sims with Senior Producer of the franchise, Michael Duke, aka SimGuruDuke. Here's what we found out.
University At Last
University is a much-awaited pack theme, and the last big thing that Duke describes as "The Sim's greatest hits." Many fans were wondering, what took so long? It seems that the simple answer is down to balance. Duke says:
"As a development team we listen closely to our fans but we also want to avoid just making the same experiences every time. We try to balance a few new ideas with classic themes, or even remixes of themes we have done before but now want to try with a new angle. In the case of University, it just happened to be one of the later themes we got around to re-visiting."
We've had a chance to play the pack for a number of hours now and the volume of content is like nothing we've seen in a long time. We found it difficult to pick a favorite part but Duke managed it, just.
"Having been an engineer in school I’m partial to the robotics stuff, it brings back memories of working in the lab on a project. I also rather enjoy the pranks you can do in this pack. University needs to have some opportunity for a bit of mischief."
Being an engineer we thought it might be a simple answer when we asked which University Duke would attend but it seems that the choice is not quite so straightforward and both campuses appeal in different ways, something players are quickly discovering.
"If I were going back in time I would choose Foxbury Institute. I went to a more science and tech school having been both a Computer Science and Mechanical Engineering major. That said, If I just got to choose now, I would totally attend Britechester. It would be awesome to diversify my experience and study at more of a true liberal arts institution."
Where Are The Bunk Beds?
The other big question many Simmers have is the seemingly simple, where are my bunk beds? A staple of previous games, players have been using mods and cheats to create bunk beds for the past five years. Many hoped they would finally arrive with this pack but it appears that there's a good reason for their absence. Duke explains the process and how they were considered but later rejected.
"We did consider bunk beds as part of the pack and it was absolutely on our brainstorm list. When it comes time to start prioritizing and deciding what is in or out for the pack we often ask ourselves what is the focus of this packs’ experience? Then we ask ourselves how crucial is this feature to deliver on the experience we are aiming for."
Discover University has a set of goals that are centered around everything that comes with attending University, rather than focusing in on minor specifics. This is also the reason why classes are rabbit holes. The idea was to focus on the experience as a whole and use the resources available to pull together a more well-rounded pack. Duke explains:
"Our goal with Discover University was to capture the experience of attending University as part of growing up. We wanted your sim to have the chance to do all the things you might have done or will do at University.
We wanted you to deal with a roommate, join clubs, play sports, go or not go to class, and have fun. Through the journey we wanted to let you tell stories of self-discovery too. For us, that is really what a University experience is about."
This focus has worked well, with the pack offering an in-depth gameplay experience that feels more complex than anything we've seen before. Despite this angle meaning that bunk beds were "not core to the experience" Simmers shouldn't lose hope as Duke reassures us:
"We are well aware of our players desire to have bunk beds in-game and we will continue to look for the right pack to include them in."
Those Pesky Bugs
Looking backward for a minute, we wanted to ask about the elephant in the room, bugs in the game. As touched on in our review, Realm of Magic especially released with some pretty major issues in places. Many fans felt that this meant the team doesn't care and are getting lazy. We asked if they were are upset as we were:
"I hate launching a product with major bugs in it. That is very hard for all of us on the team. Everyone has worked so hard for many months to build this thing that we really want our players to love. Then a few issues distract from that enjoyment."
The obvious answer would be to delay the pack. For fans it feels like sometimes packs are rushed out then there's a drought. It turns out that the haphazard release schedule may be because delays have actually happened. Duke says:
"As for delaying a pack, we have done it in the past, and I will do it in the future if we are not happy with where our quality is at."
However, sometimes it's not as simple as just delaying a pack. The Sims 4 is now in uncharted territory, with more DLC than any previous installment. There are also so many different combinations of hardware running the game that even with an extensive QA team some things will slip through. Duke explains:
"The reality is that every year, our product gets bigger, and we have more and more permutations of software to test. People can have any combination of packs and content installed as they play. That creates a ton of possible combinations and outcomes for our QA team to validate.
The reality is I think we have an amazing QA team, and they have done an incredible job keeping up with the complexity of what we have built. That said, sometimes issues happen. Often, it is something that was tested, but then another fix went into the build, and it broke that thing that just worked yesterday but we did not catch the knock-on breakage.
This is something that happens to every game maker out there, but it is especially tricky in a non-linear sandbox game, where all of our content is built to mix together"
Addressing Realm of Magic and it's seemingly vast array of bugs specifically he goes on to say:
"I think it is a great pack. I’m glad we launched it when we did and we will continue to fix issues as we go. We see a lot of our players having fun with the pack and making some great creations on the gallery.
We will continue to refine our development and testing processes and we will continue to strive for releases that don’t have major issues. When you have millions of players, they often will find things that any QA team could not. So, we will continue to do our best to fix the issues our players are speaking up about."
The Future of The Sims 4
Finally, we wanted to know what the future holds for The Sims 4, now that the most common themes have all been covered. Are the team looking forward to the freedom of moving forward into uncharted territory? Can we expect some new and crazy ideas? Duke had some insights into what's next for the franchise:
"We have a very passionate community and they engage with us all the time. I know many things our players continue to ask us for. So, I think we will always be looking to provide some of those top requested things which is exactly what Discover University is.
That said, I like that we have more chances to surprise our players with packs they are not asking for but we think they will really love. One of the things we try to do when designing the game is to create moments of surprise and delight for our players. I hope we get a chance to start doing that with pack themes as well, as we move forward and have covered most of our greatest hits."
It seems that the future of The Sims 4 is very much assured with the game looking set to continue adding content well past its five year anniversary back in September and past the franchise's twenty-year anniversary early next year.
Discover University has set the gameplay bar very high and we look forward to seeing more packs with the same level of depth in the future.
Thank you to SimGuruDuke for taking the time to answer our questions.