The Sims 4 Dev Talks City Living’s Missing Content, Open World, and Expansion Pack Value

It's the most difficult Sims world Maxis has built yet.
How Long to Beat The Sims 4 City Living

The Sims 4: City Living, the game’s latest DLC pack released a few weeks ago, takes the focus away from suburban home life and into city apartment life. In a recent conference call with reporters, Maxis Producer Grant Rodiek told us all about City Living’s new content, why certain elements were left out of the pack, how this expansion pack fits in with previous ones, and more.

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This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

With all the available ideas and different ways to do expansion packs, why a city? What was your inspiration?

So we always try to look toward the past, like we look toward the expansions that we made in the past that were ones we enjoyed making and that our fans tended to like. We sort of have a rough stack ranking of things that our fans like, and then some of those have longer technical investments they require, some of them have different – basically have different tech requirements – and we were ready and able to do the city around this time. It was also something that – players have been playing The Sims 4 for a couple of years now, and the apartments were a really cool way to sort of shock the day-to-day lives of Sims.

The Sims, really, it’s all about the day-to-day life, and if we don’t shock that, if we don’t change that every now and then it can get a bit repetitive. So the apartments and everything we put in there was a really nice fundamental change to how people play.

The other thing is that, we were inspired by Late Night, which also happened to be the third expansion for The Sims 3, and it tried to do a city as well, but it didn’t do a city very well at all. It didn’t even really look remotely like a city, and we were sort of – we were hoping that we could one-up ourselves, and I really think we did this time. So it was sort of a mix of something that our fans like, something that was the right place in the ark for the technology, something that spiced up the day-to-day life of our sims, and also something that was a really cool challenge that we thought we could succeed and beat, and all those things aligned and it was just sort of the right play.

The other thing is we’re a very global game, and I think something in the past that we haven’t done as well as move past is the sort of Americana of the game. And something we’ve really tried to do better at with The Sims 4 is to better acknowledge and represent the world that is our players. And so the last pack we tried to make sort of a European-style world.

This one we went more toward the urban setting. We were really inspired by all the cultures and ethnicities that kind of make up a city. And then we were looking more toward the East for inspiration, cities like Japan – oh, not Japan. Cities like Tokyo or Taipei, Shanghai, San Francisco, Vancouver, really cool cities. And so it was another opportunity to sort of sample from the rich culture of the world and our player base, and the city was a really great place to put all that effort.

the sims 4 city living

You’ve mentioned how the expansion is full of dynamic street life. Can you talk a bit about how it’s more dynamic than what players have encountered to date in The Sims 4?

We did this in a couple ways, some a little bit more simpler [sic], some a little bit more headache-y. On the difficult side, we added in a system we call Festivals, and effectively what this does is a Festival will pop up, usually a couple every week, and it will just appear in the street outside your window, and you can leave your apartment without a load if you live in the same neighborhood. If you don’t live in the same neighborhood you could load to it, and you’ll have friends who’ll call you to go visit, and you’ll have all sorts of notifications to go there.

But in the past, where a sim had to go visit like a bar or a museum, we have suddenly a food festival that appears with different food carts, and different activities, and competitions, and things you can buy, and things you can discover, and it’s right there outside your window. And we have five different festivals in three of the four new neighborhoods. So that’s sort of the more complicated tech version that we did.

The simpler solution is that we designed a lot of our content to be good on the street and on the outside, and so we have a lot of cool content [inaudible] apartment life, but outside the window, once you leave that apartment, we tried to fill it with a lot of content that encourages you to go out into the streets. We do this a lot of times and get together and we designed a lot of content specifically for large groups of sims, which is why we have like foozball and the bonfire and cool interactions.

Well, here we designed things like basketball, the basketball court where you can go play on the street. We designed the ability to go have a cart where you could sell paintings and crafts and goods. That was inspired by like artists you see in the city in Paris where they’ll be out in the street selling their paintings. We’ve got murals, where you can go sell your graffiti. We’ve got protests, which supports our new career, which is something you do out on the street. We have a new buster stand where you can go out there or we have the electric piano that you can take out. We’ve got the – we’ve got weird new characters that walk around, we’ve got tourists that walk around, and so we have sort of like the bullet point, back-of-the-box features that appear.

But we also just have a lot of subtle gameplay design focused toward ‘We want you to leave your apartment. We want you to go to the streets and see what’s there and just have a lot of fun.’ So it’s sort of a mix of those two features.

A lot of simmers would say they would think about celebrity status and reputation when they think about a city. Why didn’t that fit into this pack?

It’s a few things. First off, it’s a sort of an inside thing. It’s a little bit of a boogey man for us. We were talking to our players last week, and we just did a European tour a few weeks ago, and we asked them about this, and we got some clarification. But players had some frustrations with some celebrity elements in The Sims 3, and without really understanding why they didn’t like it, we didn’t want to jump in and do it again, because you don’t want to do it wrongly if you know people didn’t like it. So that was one of the reasons.

The other thing is that, I think celebrity mostly makes sense for the city because it’s something that we’ve done in the past for Sims, but I don’t necessarily it has a whole lot to do with the city per say. Like, I don’t ever see celebrities in San Francisco, and I’ve lived here 11 years. Really, unless you live in like LA or certain parts of New York, you probably don’t see celebrities too often. It was one of those things where we really wanted to focus on what it means to live in a city, day-to-day, why are cities special and different from living in a residential neighborhood in, say, Willow Creek or Oasis Springs.

You know, a lot of us aren’t native to San Francisco but grew up in small towns and rural towns and moved out to California and San Francisco – a very urban environment – and we tried to capture that sense of leaving your home and moving your way up from terrible apartments and terrible landlords and finding the opportunity that the city provides that, say, a small town in Texas might not. And that was more of our focus.

We wanted to make the normal feel exciting and aspirational. And we also didn’t quite understand fully why our players were sort of frustrated by this celebrity stuff in the past. And so, we wanted to do something different, and we didn’t want to step into a landmine of making a mistake that wasn’t going to make our players happy.

Something we’ve really tried to do with Sims 4 is – we don’t want to just repeat what we’ve done in the past that’s boring for the creative team, but it’s also harder to get players excited about something we’ve just done. We’re trying to take… We’re trying to do that always borrowed… We’re trying to do that something borrowed, something blue, something new type thing, although we’re not getting married here.

That was one of the areas where ‘Well, we don’t necessarily use celebrities this time. Maybe we could do it differently elsewhere, but for now we’re going to focus on the festivals, the culture and just that city lifestyle.

the sims 4 city living no celebrities

Considering all the new content, how long do you think it takes to experience it all?

You know, I’m really not sure. And it depends on how much you cheat. A lot of our players do not play without cheats, and it’s really funny when I’m at press events they’re always asking about cheats, and I sort of made a pact with myself when I started 10 years ago that I don’t use cheats, but it quickly distances me from the way the game is played by some of our players. A lot of players only play with cheats.

You’ve got five festivals, several of which have competitions that you can try to max out and win. And it will take you a couple of weeks in the game just to visit all the festivals, and then fully taking advantage of all the stuff ahead. You know we watched our players in play test and then on the final version, and a lot of times in the festival, they didn’t know that ‘Oh crap, I’m not done yet!’ And then they would have to wait until the next week to go back and tease out all the other stuff you can do with the festivals.

Something we’ve really tried to do this time is that in the past we basically said ‘Hey, go buy a new crappy house.’ But eventually you can just build up on the house and turn that small lot into a huge mansion. And something we tried to do here was actually have a sense of progression and aspiration with the apartments themselves.

how long is the sims 4 city living

I think there’s a lot of game here, and I think players – something we do, and we have sort of weird, semi-goofy mechanisms for which we do this – but something we’ve implemented in Sims 4 development is the notion of making sure our players get the right value for what they buy. We’re sort of obsessed with making sure they get more value than what they pay for, because we want our players to be happy. We want them to be playing the game for a really long time, and when we come up with more expansions, we want them to say, ‘Man, that last one had so much great stuff in it. This next one’s definitely worth my money.’

We’re definitely not trying to do the quick cash out. It’s definitely something that we’re obsessed with.

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Nick Santangelo
Nick has been a gamer since the 8-bit days and has been reporting on the games industry since 2011. Don't interrupt him while he's questing through an RPG or desperately clinging to hope against all reason that his Philly sports teams will win something.