Personality in The Sims and The Sims 2
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:
Inspiration and Philosophy for Traits
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:
Scouring the Personal Ads (For Science!)
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Seinfeld, The Simpsons, and Arrested Development
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 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!).
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.
Kleptomaniac. These Sims have the ability to steal objects when nobody is looking. We knew the gameplay for this trait could be fun, but had a hard time agreeing on whether it had a home in the Sims universe. Sure, we’ve had burglars before. But was it okay to give players the control to steal things with their Sims? We typically avoid dark subjects. In the end, we shipped this trait with the fiction that these Sims couldn’t help it. They weren’t bad people, they just needed to steal. And players couldn't tell them what to steal -- you could only tell them to Swipe Something, and they would grab something random in the room... it could be a stereo, it could be a painting, or it could be a used toilet! We also gave them the ability to return stolen items to make amends with the victim. Kleptomaniac ended up being an incredibly successful trait that helped tell some interesting stories and create funny conflicts.
Excitable. These Sims were in the same boat as Clumsy. All they did was get super-excited often, without gameplay benefit. But it was so much fun to have your Sims get excited about everyday things as mundane as checking the mail. (Excitable is actually my favorite trait.)
The Great Merge
Five Traits, Period.
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:
Looks Trump Character during Creation
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
We learned a strong lesson from seeing Great Kisser in the top 3. This was one of the traits surrounded by controversy about whether it had enough gameplay value to warrant its existence. All it did was give your Sims better chances of having their kisses go well with other Sims. It’s not actually a big advantage. In the world of strategy gaming, this would be a poor choice. However, Sims games don’t find their places in players’ hearts because of the strategy – instead, it’s all about the creativity, fiction, and storytelling power – and this is why Great Kisser is so popular.
Players are mostly picking traits based on the fictional character they are trying to make and not focusing on gameplay benefits as often.
A Case for Negative Traits
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
We couldn’t implement every trait we wanted, so I thought I'd share one of my favorites from that cut list. It's the Colorblind trait, which I thought would be super-neat (and educational). The idea is that the player would have been able to pick a type of colorblindness for their Sim, and then when that Sim was selected, the game would use a shader to render the screen as if through colorblind eyes. Similar to this website that renders any web page (like Google) as a colorblind person would see them. A new way to see through your Sims' eyes!
A Final Word on Traits
Character Traits ended up being a very fun, easily extensible system that we’ve had a great time supplementing with each expansion. (Even before The Sims 3 released, the concept of traits as an evolution of character was exciting enough that it inspired The Sims 2 team’s pet-personality system for The Sims 2 Pets.)
And they are The Sims.