I am doing an AMA today on reddit, and it is now live here:
Update 11/27/2016: I have randomly selected and contacted the winner! I am waiting to hear back about whether the winner would like me to keep their identity secret, or make an announcement.
There were many entries, and I was overwhelmed with the wonderful support you all gave me for Merge Dragons, and I love seeing how much fun you're all having. Thank you for tweeting to #mergedragons!
Technical details... I used this formula to generate a number that indexed a single row in a Google Spreadsheet I'd been using to keep track of all the entrants:
On Black Friday 2016, I will give away one of my copies of The Sims 2, signed by 22 of the original TS2 dev team members, circa 2004.
Pictured bottom center:
You probably have 2 questions:
1. Why would you give such a treasure away?
I’m giving it away for a couple reasons. First, I have two copies, one of them framed, which I will keep on my wall as a memento of the first game I ever published – what an amazing game to have as a first project! I really don’t need the second copy. I would be far happier to know it’s in the hands of another true Sims fan – someone who will appreciate it each and every day!
Second, I recently released a new game that I self-funded and developed independently: Merge Dragons, for iOS and for Android, and I want to raise awareness! It’s incredibly hard to get players as an independent developer with few resources. So I would love your help spreading the word!
2. OMG, what do I have to do to have a chance to get this copy of The Sims 2 that's signed by the dev team?!?!??!111!?
Are you a Sims Fan? Love The Sims? Great, you qualify! Do this:
If you end up playing a lot of Merge Dragons, feel free to keep tweeting screenshots. I would love to see what you’re up to in the game! Also, feel free to tweet suggestions for new dragon names for me to add to the game.
NOTE: If Merge Dragons is not available in your country yet, simply retweet my original tweet (here), and then direct message me on twitter to tell me what country you're in, and I will include you in the giveaway -- I want all Sims fans to have a chance, regardless of where you live : ) (Merge Dragons will eventually be available in all countries, but I'm currently working on getting translations for certain locales.)
Details about Winning
Details about the Prize
Happy Simming, and Happy Merging!
Nearly 3 years ago, I left Maxis, and I left The Sims. A piece of my heart remained behind, with all the wonderful people and with the games I loved working on for 10 years as an engineer, a designer, then a creative director. I strode out on my own to follow a calling -- one to make a game of my own.
I worked full time, then part time, and eventually nights and weekends as I explored a game idea that grew and flourished into Merge Dragons, which I've dubbed a “merge 3” game. What does that mean? Well, Merge Dragons immerses you in a fantasy world where you can grab almost anything directly from the land and drag it near similar things to merge them into better things. Think match-3, but better and smashed right into the game world. For example, you can merge eggs to hatch helpful dragons, which harvest useful things for you to merge -- like "life flowers" which you use to heal the dead land that plagues Dragonia.
Here's a 30-second gameplay teaser video so you can see it in action:
The experience has been transformational. Appolicious interviewed me, and I shared with them thoughts on my struggles, my philosophies, my inspirations for Merge Dragons -- including how The Sims has influenced my design approach -- and I also talk through how Merge Dragons stands out as unique and fun in a world where tens of thousands of games are released to the app store each month. If that interests you, please check it out.
Here's a snippet of the interview:
My experience on The Sims has been invaluable. It is such an incredible series of games and I was surrounded by veritable swarms of highly intelligent people at Maxis.
In The Sims 3, we made many additions and improvements to the lovable and quirky beings we call Sims. By far, my favorite of those is our character traits system, and I know I’m not alone – it has captured the hearts and minds of our players, too – often even more than our largest feature: the seamless, living neighborhood. So I wanted to describe the thinking that led us to the traits design, and some of the interesting choices and observations we made along the way.
Personality in The Sims and The Sims 2
First, a little background. In The Sims and The Sims 2, personalities were chosen on a ten-point scale along five different personality characteristics:
In The Sims, personality affected the choices a Sim made on their own, affected rates of skill gain, and also altered the speed a Sim’s needs would deplete. For example, a Sim with a high playful score would have their fun drop quickly, causing the Sim to do more fun things than normal.
In The Sims 2, we expanded the system to add special behaviors for specific ranges of personality. The 0-3 range was considered “low” and 8-10 points was considered “high.” Both came with unique animations and interactions for the Sims. Anything in between (4-7 points) was considered neutral, and usually did not have any special animations or interactions. For example:
All personalities worked this way. As you can see, we bundled the special content toward the extremes.
Inspiration and Philosophy for Traits
The problem we found as we were implementing personalities on The Sims 2 was that we couldn’t reasonably create enough special animation and interaction content to make each notch of the 0-10 scale feel interesting.
Additionally, players didn’t understand that there would only be a nominal difference between, say, a 2-point and a 3-point Sloppy Sim, but a huge difference between a 3-point Sloppy Sim and a 4-point Sloppy Sim. We didn’t make that clear in the UI, so players had to learn this from strategy guides and Sims wikis.
Around the time we began designing The Sims 3, I’d been reading a lot about screenwriting, and noticed that in screenplays, characters often have a few glaringly distinct traits. There’s no fuzziness about them:
We used this approach as inspiration on The Sims 3, and developed a philosophy of doing away with the continuous aspect of personality. Instead, we wanted to take the extremes from The Sims 2 and package that fun content into discrete bundles of behavior, which we dubbed Traits.
Scouring the Personal Ads (For Science!)
Now, how would we begin to figure out which traits we wanted? One of the first days we brainstormed traits, my boss called me into his office (Matt Brown, now of Blizzard). Quirky genius that he was, he sat me down and pointed to his monitor, which was littered with personal ads and dating websites. The idea was to see exactly how people described themselves. People said things like the following, which are from real personal ads:
If you play The Sims 3, you’ll notice some of these from the game with slightly altered names: Loves the Outdoors, Hopeless Romantic, Athletic, Friendly, and Loner. And although Mid Life Crisis didn’t make sense as a trait, we used it as a lifetime happiness reward which could be used to swap traits mid-game.
Seinfeld, The Simpsons, and Arrested Development
Then we locked the design team in a room and made a list of the interesting characters we knew from TV, movies, and books. We filled entire whiteboards with names, then scrawled the prominent traits of those characters in any whitespace we could find. Due to the wonders of technology, I was able to dig up a piece of one of those brainstorms. I know it looks like we had an angry chimp scribbling these down, but hey… it’s hard to keep a chimp happy all the time:
In the end, a handful of fun traits in The Sims 3 were inspired by some of our favorite characters. Here are four:
Traits for Gameplay Systems
As we fleshed out the designs for the rest of the game, we continued to add traits that enhanced the gameplay of those systems.
As we designed Fishing Skill, we added the Angler trait – these Sims are natural fishers and have lots of fun while fishing. When designing Gardening Skill, we added Green Thumb – these Sims are great at gardening, and can even revive dead plants. And as we developed the food system, we added Vegetarian – these Sims get special versions of recipes, like Tofu Dogs, and they enjoy longer lives… but be careful: force them to eat, and they’ll start throwing up (players always enjoy new ways to torture their Sims!).
Then, there were some traits that were hard to agree upon. Do we want them? Do they fit the “Sims” style? Do they provide enough value? Here are the stories of three troubling traits:
Clumsy. These Sims drop food, trip over their feet, tumble into pools, and generally lack coordination. The trouble with Clumsy was that it had no gameplay value. Some designers wondered why anyone would pick a trait that had no benefits. On the other hand, the argument was that Clumsy would be worth it just for the humor and storytelling aspects. In the end, we shipped it, and many players loved it, often saying that they themselves were clumsy, and so they felt a special attachment to it.
The Great Merge
Eventually, we had a list of over 100 traits. Far too many. It would have been an overwhelming list for new players to wade through, and also too much to implement. First, we ruthlessly cut the weakest traits. That left us with traits that we liked, but many of them didn’t have enough gameplay, or were too similar. This led us to “The Great Merge,” where we combined a lot of our proposed traits into fewer, stronger traits with more gameplay. This eventually got us to The Sims 3’s shipping set of 63 traits.
Five Traits, Period.
We limit each Sim to a maximum of 5 traits. Early in pre-production, this wasn’t the case. We originally had a system where each trait had a point value, and the player had points to spend. Positive traits cost points, but negative traits returned points as an incentive to pick them, thereby allowing players to choose many traits as long as they balanced negatives with positives. But we quickly realized this approach was far too geeky and inhuman for a Sims game.
Next, we tried removing the points, and just letting players pick to their heart’s content. And that’s just what people tended to do – pick lots of traits. There’s a reason movie characters only have a few big traits – too many and it waters down their identity. We found the same thing happening in our prototype. Ultimately, we settled on a maximum of 5 as a number that was still large enough to give virtually unlimited interesting combinations, yet was small enough that each trait felt like a meaningful choice.
Also, it’s easy for players to remember 5 traits, as opposed to 7 or 10 or more. When a player can remember a Sim’s traits easily, they are more likely to change their play style in accordance with those traits – e.g. My Sim is a Virtuoso, I should practice guitar today or play in the park for tips! That’s the kind of trait-based motivation we want to see!
We settled on this number even before production. You can see the space is limited to 5 trait slots in this screenshot of our 2D prototype. Testing these variations in our prototype saved us plenty of UI re-work we would have had to do if we’d learned these lessons later in production:
And in the final game, it looks like this:
Looks Trump Character during Creation
We wanted to emphasize character, so we considered having traits as the very first part of Sim creation, even before the appearance of the Sim. It was a well-intentioned, but ultimately doomed idea.
We quickly learned that most players don’t even think about the internal character of their Sims until they can see the visual character. If we gave them a random Sim and opened up the traits panel, they wouldn’t pay attention to the traits – they’d feel like they needed to change the look of that Sim first.
In the end, we ordered Create-A-Sim from the most prominent physical characteristics to the least (first gender, weight, & skin tone; then hair; then face & makeup; then clothing) followed by traits. It’s interesting to note that the hair step is even before face; this is because hair makes such a huge difference in visually defining a Sim – more than setting any aspect of a Sim’s face (especially from a larger viewing distance).
The Most Popular Traits
Here are the top 4 traits:
A whopping 8% of created Sims have the Friendly trait -- yes, 8% is a considered high when there are 63+ traits to choose from, and not all Sims leave Create-A-Sim with 5 traits (younger ages get fewer). Almost as many Sims have Athletic, Great Kisser, or Family Oriented. I love the uplifting message this sends about our Simmers – our community idealizes positive, wholesome qualities in humanity! (With a little smooching tossed in.)
In other words, they’re picking the words that best describe themselves, their ideal selves, or the people they are trying to make. Great Kisser sounds awesome. Traits don’t have to have large benefits (or dev time sunk into them), but rather, they need to appeal to a player’s imaginations and aspirations first.
A Case for Negative Traits
Here are the 4 least popular traits:
It’s no surprise that the negative traits were the least popular. Unflirty was chosen less than 0.25% of the time. After seeing this data, I often get the question about whether we should have not had negative traits. After all, what was their use if so few people pick them?
There are a few good reasons. First, they are necessary to create a diverse and challenging set of personalities for the NPCs in the town. If everyone was easy to flirt with, what fun would that be? So there’s the occasional Unflirty Sim to throw a wrench in things.
Second, they can be useful in describing people we know and want to make.
Third, it allows advanced players to create more interesting challenges. Try the Legacy Challenge with a Sim who Dislikes Children, is a Loner, and Insane!
And as much as possible, we tried to add benefits to the negative traits in case players decided to check them out. For example, an Unlucky Sim may burn her home down more often and get the short stick in life, but if she dies by accident or malpractice, the Grim Reaper will feel sorry for the poor Sim and resurrect her.
A Lost Trait
The movement from an analog personality system to discrete bundles of behavior gave us and players a creative toolbox to make millions of inspiring, deep, dramatic, and entertaining characters.
And they are The Sims.