Team-Wide Content Creation on The Sims 3
Updated: Sep 1, 2019
One of the quandaries we had on The Sims 3 was a goal of making a deeper and more interesting game than The Sims 2, with more content to explore, but without an infinite budget and schedule (go figure).
I ran up against this wall when designing the painting skill. The Sims 2 had 12 paintings your Sim could paint on the easel (right).
I was emotionally attached to the easel because I’d programmed it in The Sims 2. It was a great object. I may have been in love with it. So I wanted to design an easel and painting skill worthy of players’ lofty expectations in The Sims 3.
To add variety, there were 3 different canvas sizes. To add depth and collectability, some paintings were uncommon and rare (known as brilliant and masterpiece paintings). To add character, certain personality Sims would paint unique variations of paintings.
And I wanted players to barely ever see the same painting twice.
By now you’re thinking, Holy Bella. That’s a metric dumpload of content… sounds insane. And you’re right. A few dozens of paintings were within scope, but each one had to be painted by a digital artist, so it took a lot of time. Here’s one of my favorites:
But a hundred or more? Out of the question. This was where I either had to scope my design, or get creative.
Creativity won out. Looking around, The Sims 3 team was filled with people that loved to make things, so why not tap into that?
We set up an invitation for everyone on the team to submit personal artwork with only a few guidelines. (1) It must look like art, (2) you must have rights to it, and (3) photographs are okay but only if they’ve been highly filtered and didn't have human figures.
The response was fantastic.
We had submissions from artists, modelers, producers, designers, gameplay scripters, world builders, and engineers. And the variety was wonderful!
For example, one gameplay scripter submitted some of his own childhood watercolors:
This was perfect, because we needed art that spanned all Sim skill ranges, from scribbles on paper, to oil masterpieces. He also submitted higher skill pieces like this nice city boat scene:
One of our world builders painted a triptych. This added another element of collection to the painting skill because you will only randomly paint one segment at a time. Based on your skill and luck, it may take a long time to get all three. (Collectability can do wonderful things for engagement, especially when you craft your content and systems for this purpose.)
And our localization producer submitted some Photoshopped photography as chic modern art:
In all, we received more than 65 submissions. I also used an incredible painting program called ArtRage to make 30 more to fill in the gaps in skill areas, from childish on up:
In the end, we had over 150 pieces to work with. Far more than originally budgeted. And here’s the best part about it: everyone who contributed was super excited. They jumped at the chance, and then spent their free time working on or gathering submissions. They didn’t view it as work because it wasn’t work. It was a chance for them to immortalize their art in a game that millions of people would play.
It was self-actualization.
Then to get variations for different personality Sims, I ran all of these through Photoshop filters. All Sims could paint the “normal” version of a painting, but if they had a specific character trait, then there was a chance they’d paint the modified version for that trait. Here are some examples:
The full set gave us 1,580 paintings, a seemingly endless number to find that helps players project onto their Sims and tell interesting stories about why their Sims paint what they paint.
And there are some art critics out there who have taken the time to replace the entire set of 1580 paintings with works from the web and deviantART. I love our community, and I’m constantly surprised about how much time and effort they put into modding The Sims 3.
This approach of appealing to the team worked so well that in our World Adventures Expansion Pack, we had everyone submit fortunes for the fortune cookie machine. It led to some gems like, Help me! I’m trapped in a game development studio! and Never trust rugs.
So if you could find one feature in your game that everyone on your team could contribute to, what would it be? If you can find something, you’ll get plenty of creative content, your game will be richer, and your team will be happier.
Your team would love the chance.