September 19th, a handful of bloggers and fansite owners were invited to EA’s Redwood Shore Studio for a Bloggers Day event. Many sites showed up (didn’t get an invite, but I’d love to cover such an event): MySims Questionnaire, WiiWii.tv, GearDiary, British Gaming, Loot Ninja, Kiwibox.com, GameZone.com, LadyMpire, Nintendo World Report, That VideoGame Blog, Infendo, NintenDojo, BrainyGamer, Girls Don’t Game, and BreakingWindows.
This thread is to gather their information from their fanday experience. Check back often as it should be constantly updated!
The garden is where the multiplayer feature takes place. When you are in your garden, you can invite friends to join you. These friends are people you’ve exchanged names with outside of the game. There are no servers to host this garden; it’s done on your own computer by IP connection. Once your friend joins your garden, you can chat and play games like tag.
This puzzles-first ethos was clear during our hands-on time. We were presented with challenges that required some sort of puzzle-solving before we could progress. A path to another section of the island, for example, was blocked by a thick stone door. Observation highlighted a broken gear system to the door’s right; explore the island, find the materials required to build gears, solve the puzzle and continue.
You’ll encounter this simple puzzle early in the game, but each island is filled with similar dilemmas that depend on your ability to build and design for solutions. Other puzzles we were confronted with include building bridges, creating a system of watering pipes for a garden and designing an open-air living room for a caveman.
You use your god-hand (I’d like to refer to it as a pimp-hand and keep it way strong) to grab and move the world around. At the beginning of the game, you won’t have any animal inhabitants since the lot is new and no one trusts the strength of your pimp-hand. You can lure in some creature, such as giving beavers some food, and also use your pimp-hand to pet and pick up animals and even toss them across or out the lot if you so choose. Throwing squirrels is a good time, write that down. Once you get a couple animals in the world, you have to keep them happy or they’ll leave your little land. Some will leave to die, some will just move elsewhere.
But hoooooold on thar, Baba Looey. I’ve seen an early version of SimAnimals, and guess what? I can’t wait for the game. I’m genuinely excited about it. Of all the games I saw last week at EA, SimAnimals surprised and delighted me the most. If the developers can make good on their promises – always tricky, but this game has rather modest and attainable ambitions – SimAnimals could be the game that best connects with the original Sims Maxis design principles of creativity, open-ended play, and relationship building.
Our demonstration took place around a conference table and Mitch went through the dynamics of the game showing us as much as he could in an hour. Having played SimCity 4 myself I was familiar with the game play and this game stayed pretty true to the original. Mitch started the demo by drawing a smiley face with roads and then building the city around it.
Once the roads were built he then added zones and painted the landscape. I was surprised when he added some city advisers that they were none other than the MySims characters. What a cool way to incorporate one game into another. There are 54 to choose from not only as advisers but as assistants to help you run portions of your city.
About 15 bloggers were invited to this Sims-only blogger’s day, including four or five from the U.K. We saw four games in total, and got to play them too, with the exception of MySims PC. We broke off into groups of five to seven, just to make everything fit into a eight hour day (it was really hard work!). My group started with SimCity Creator; the demo was led by Senior Producer Mich Ueno.
SimCity games are PC games. With the exception of the surprisingly successful SNES version, SimCity has lived and thrived on the PC, and as the game has evolved, its reliance on a point/click/drag input system has only increased. Too often lost among the Wii’s waggle and accelerometer features is its natural and intuitive use as a mouse-like input device. Yes, it’s too touchy in SimCity Creator – and I wish the sensitivity could be calibrated by the player – but this game lets you draw roads, including curvy ones (a series first), zones, railroads, power lines, etc. all by hand. This feature alone makes laying out your city more intuitive than it could possibly be on any other console (with the exception of the DS, I suppose).
There is a strong RPG feel to MySims Kingdom, which really drew me into the game. Non Playable Characters (NPC’s) have yellow exclamation points over their head if there is a quest they can give, very similar to some MMO titles on the market. By completing various tasks, you’ll be rewarded with King Points which allow you to level up. There are also many loot drops in the form of Essences (which will automatically come to your character now instead of you running around to pick them all up). Because of this questing, the game has a very non-linear feel, even though there’s only one way to go through the story.
One of the goals of the development team at EA was to create many types of locations in one place, similar to the multiple themes at DisneyLand. This is accomplished through the game’s various islands, each of which has a different style. One island is a cowboy land, one is a Elf forest, and another is a Italian style island with gardens for Gino the Pizza Maker. Because you can go from island to island completing quests in the order that you choose, Kingdom never ends up feeling repetitive.
The build we saw of the Wii game was about a month old so no judgements on the graphics could be made and the glitches we saw have most likely all been ironed out. The early build looked a little bland to me and kind of sparse graphically. Animals were cute and all, but the environments were kind of simple. This may be a choice that the developers went with to keep the game simple, but it made it a bit harder to get excited for it. Again, we weren’t seeing a final build of the game so can’t really judge yet.
Creator looked like a whole lot of fun, mixing silliness with all the depth you’d expect of a SimCity title. The only complaint I could muster was that, visually, it was a little drab despite the wacky buildings. This may be a necessary evil to allow the relatively underpowered Wii to cope with a teeming city, but it was hard to ignore. Still, with Creator’s extensive toolset and seemingly intuitive controls, players with enough talent and imagination will be able to create a beautiful metropolis. No lack of graphical grunt is going to change that.
The game is actually designed for the ‘tweens age group – players from 6-15 – so the control scheme has been designed for ease of use. There is even four-player cooperative gameplay available on the Wii that follows the fundamental gameplay elements.
“The game is not hard to play,” said creative director Charles London, “because we know our demographic.”
In addition to animals, there is also a plant game. You can only plant certain plants in the right soil, and if you are successful in the botanical phase, you may end up with a rare plant that might give your animals some interesting buffs. The game also has a goal panel. You achieve the goals to unlock animals. Animals can be placed into a backpack (which serves as the inventory) and moved around. You can also store food in the backpack to feed to different animals. Do not, though, get the idea you can teach a meat-eater to be a vegetarian. The animals all have certain base behaviors that will not change much. You can build relationships between animals that may override predatory behaviors but generally you cannot teach an animal a species-contrary behavior.
In appearance and gameplay, it’s impossible not to see MySims as a Nintendo-ized, Mii-esque version of The Sims aimed squarely at the massive Wii/DS market. Tim LeTourneau, executive producer of the upcoming MySims Kingdom, stated it clearly: “MySims is targeted at Nintendo’s audience.” Emmy Toyonaga, creator of the MySims character designs, has said she equates short stubby characters like Mario with fun, “so these characters kind of came naturally.”
EA clearly sees a big opportunity with MySims. The Wii and DS games have sold roughly 5 million copies worldwide, and as producer Erik Zwerling told us, MySims PC – a remake of the Wii version with a graphical boost and online play – is EA’s answer to its customers (many of them, presumably, Sims players) who want MySims on their PCs. LeTourneau says the designers think about the MySims universe of characters a bit like the Muppets – a set of recognizable characters with personality traits that carry over from game to game, regardless of the setting or story.
As a bonus to the video gameplay, there is no load time between interiors and exteriors. The sound features the new Simlish language (from the first game), which means you have to read the jokes in this well-written story.
Kingdom is obviously the product of a dev team that had a great time building the title. This shows not only in the look and story of the game, but in the way the adventure plays out. MySims fans should have a great time with this new release.
To start with, MySims Kingdom is not a sequel in any way to MySims but a completely different game. The player takes control of their user created character and quickly becomes the Wandalier of a kingdom made up entirely of islands, each of which has a different theme like western or animal reserve. After creating a character, the player proceeds to become the kingdom’s new Wandalier, which is a made up word for a guy with a wand who can build houses and other contraptions out of thin air. The king of the kingdom tasks you and two of your friends, who MySims fans will recognize from the previous game along with plenty of other characters, to help the people of his kingdom in whatever manner they need. Obviously that manner revolves around constructing houses and gear contraptions with your wand.
In a nine-hour visit, it’s impossible to get a truly accurate sense of a place, but one can certainly collect a series of impressions, and I must say mine were overwhelmingly positive. The designers, producers, and artists we met were uniformly upbeat and welcoming, including those I simply bumped into on my way from one place to the next. I’ve spent considerable time in a variety of work environments – from breweries to factories to Silicon Valley code shops – and I must say that EA Redwood Shores is one of the happiest workplaces I’ve ever seen. The people I met seemed genuinely enthusiastic about what they’re doing, and the whole place exuded an air of creative energy and cordial professionalism.
The profit imperative is deeply embedded in the EA ethos (surprise!), and I was startled by the degree to which our host openly reflected this and conveyed it to us repeatedly. Despite my left-wing socialist egghead-academic leanings, I must say that I found this transparency oddly refreshing. EA is in business to make money, and they don’t mind telling you so right up front. Nobody is much interested in making critical-darling games that nobody buys. When our host listed EA’s obligations, she made no bones about its priorities. First come the shareholders; next come the employees; and finally, she noted, come the consumers. “We want to make great games,” she said, “But we need to make great games people want to buy. If we don’t make $3 for every $1 we spend, then we’re laying off people.” Scary, but at least everyone knows the score.
SimAnimals’ gameplay also benefits from the DS hardware. The tactile feel of actually touching the animals with your stylus adds tremendously to the interactive element of the game. You can also blow into the DS microphone to trigger wind, which can be a very useful tactic when trying to repopulate a forest.
The DS version also takes advantage of the hardware’s internal clock and calendar. Stop by a nearby garden, for example, and you’ll find crops growing that are appropriate for the season you’re experiencing in the real world. Being September, the garden in Stovall’s demo boasted a healthy crop of bright orange pumpkins.
Stovall also said the game’s wolves will howl on real-world full-moon nights. Awesomeness of that caliber deserves a hug.
Coming out January on Wii and DS, this is a game primarily aimed at the tween market (whatever that means, possibly aimed at the characters in The Tweenies..?) – where as the large, mysterious flying hand you are in control of various areas out in the wild, trying to attract animals and keep them around. It’s really based on a simple trust mechanic: feed the animals, play with them, build up trust and they’ll stick around, like you, and play with eachother – really taking the personal relations idea of The Sims in a different direction, and one that is quite charming.
While Erik Zwerling, the Producer of MySims PC, was taking us through a little tour of MySims PC, the PC version of the Wii game MySims (more on it later), one of the the fellow bloggers in the room asked why the robust online features of the new PC game weren’t in place for last year’s Wii version of the game. To this Zwerling responded that while he isn’t involved with the Wii development, the reasoning as he understood it was that “Nintendo isn’t supporting the developers in that area enough, so doing that isn’t viable at the moment.”
Five o’clock rolled around and we had dinner in the atrium. Pizza and salad. They also had a bunch of dev kits setup for us to play — MySims Kingdom on four Wii, plus MySims Kingdom on two DS. I was actually hoping to play some more SimAnimals or SimCity Creator. Oh well.
I did not leave brokenhearted though. We all left with a goodie bag with some great stuff: SimCity Creator for Wii, SimAnimals jar of Gummy Bears, a pack of MySims Kingdom character cards, oh and a SimAnimals sticker.
So we all walked back to the hotel with a bag of games in one hand and a bad of swag (including another game) in the other.