EA sent out a brand new (well, it’s actually dated Jan. 30th) Q&A discussion with SimAnimal’s executive producer, Sam Player.  Read below!

Q:  What can you tell us about the “Hand” and the options players can use to interact with the animals and the forest?

A:  The “hand” in SimAnimals is the player’s tool for interacting with the animals, plants, trees, water… basically all the living things in the forest.  The hand is a three-dimensional representation of you that exists in the world.  The animals are aware of you, they can see you, smell you, accept food from you, run away from you… even attack you if they don’t like what you’re doing.   You control the hand with simple gestures.  Point either the Wii Remote or NDS Stylus at what you want to interact with, then either wave your hand or press a button to grab or learn about whatever you point at.

Q: In SimAnimals there are different locations/sections to visit. Can you describe some of them?

A:  The forest is divided into 11 different sections (10 if you’re playing on the NDS).  The game begins in a section that’s just on the outskirts of a small village, then as you complete each location, you venture deeper into the woods to encounter new environments and the animals that live there.  There are rivers, streams, grassy meadows, wooded areas, dry creek beds, and more.

Q: The player can feed the animals, build homes for them and let them make babies. But can you tell us something about the problems and the challenges?

A:  The game presents goals and challenges for each animal species.  The goals could be simple ones, like figuring out what that animal likes to eat and feeding it, or more involved, like getting a beaver to build a dam or create an environment that is hospitable enough for several new animals to want to move in.   As you explore the forest, you also discover that the water supply is being polluted somehow, and it’s up to you to figure out how you can clean that pollution to restore the forest to its natural, beautiful state.  Accomplishing these challenges will earn the players rewards like medals and unlockable items, like rare “special” plants that have magical effects on the animals who eat them, and new animal species to play with.

Q: Please tell us something about the needs of the animals. Will they have wishes and can you look into the mind of them?

A:  The animals, much like their human counterparts in games like The Sims and The Sims 2, have needs that need to be satisfied in order for them to be happy.  Each animal needs food, sleep, fun, love, and safety.  Since each animal has their own artificial intelligence that directs what they do, they will work on satisfying their own needs, but it’s definitely advantageous to the player to help each animal along on their path to happiness.

The animals communicate what they need to the player via a “thought bubble” that appears over their heads.  Those who have played other iterations of The Sims games will immediately recognize this.  The player can also view any animal’s most current need by choosing that animal while in what we call “Discovery Mode”, where in addition to learning what the animal is thinking, they can also learn what the animal’s favorite foods are, what kind of shelter they need, and some more interesting educational facts about them.  Discovery Mode is also helpful for learning about what each plant needs to thrive as well.

Q:  What can you do in the multiplayer mode? How does it work? Will the “Hands” of all connected players met at one location? What can you do then?

A:  While the game is primarily a single-player experience, we allow you to connect up to 4 Wii Remotes at once to the game for multiple friends to play together.  The game experience is not any different – you’re all still in the same world on the same screen.  The players will work together to accomplish the same goals that a single player would.  It takes a little getting used to at first, especially controlling the camera, as each player has the ability to do everything in the game.  It’s an exercise in teamwork and communication, and once you get the hang of it, it’s really fun and you can get much more accomplished in the same period of time.

Q:  The animations of the animals are very impressive! How do you make them for the videogame? Do you work with real animals?

A:  Thank you for the compliment!  We have a very talented team of animators that work very hard.

They definitely study the moves of real animals to start their inspiration for how to bring each character to life, but then they meet as a team to decide how they will go further to make the animals feel more unique.  We feel we’re creating a greatly enhanced realism – it is supposed to be a game, after all – and often re-creating reality isn’t as exciting as it needs to be.  So we take a few liberties here and there, and the end result is something that’s playful and fun.

Q:  Please tell us something about the development. How long does it take and which feature was very difficult to create?

A:  How long development takes varies quite a bit depending on what kind of game it is.  Simple web-based games can be completed in a month, and I’ve heard of games that have taken more than 7 years to develop.  SimAnimals was definitely somewhere in between those two.  🙂

The most complex thing about the game was definitely getting the whole forest simulation to work right.

We have 35 species of animals and 85 species of plants, each with their own needs and a complete life cycle.  There are running rivers, lakes, evaporating soil…when you get all those things working together, behaving correctly and interacting with each other, there’s a lot of activity going on, and lots of permutations and combinations that need to be tried, tested and debugged.  But the result is fairly astounding.  A full-blown, living ecosystem that could play itself.  If the player wanted, he/she could sit back and simply watch the forest grow and evolve without even touching the controls.

Q:  Are there any plans for other SimAnimals games? Maybe for PC?

A:  We haven’t announced anything about future SimAnimals products, but I hope so!

Q:  Which part of the game do you like most and what is your favorite animal in the game and why?

A:  What I like most about the game is the inter-species relationships that develop.  As you progress further into the game and get introduced to more and more new species, you’ll start to see very different kinds of animals interacting with one another in both expected and unexpected ways.  For example, it’s not uncommon to see a badger and a rabbit squaring off in an aggressive stance against one another, each interested in the same burrow to sleep in.  But 5 minutes later, you might see the very same two animals chasing each other through the forest, enjoying each other’s company.  The game allows adversarial relationships to exist, but also to have them morph into friendships.