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A Proposal to Develop Third Party Content Authoring Tools for The Sims

This is a propsal I wrote to Maxis after The Sims was released in March 2000, outlining some of my ideas for third party content authoring tools that I could develop. This led to The Sims Transmogrifier, but it touches on several other interesting tools and projects that Maxis never got around to.

A Proposal to Develop Third Party Content Authoring Tools for The Sims
by Don Hopkins, March 2000

Problem Definition:

  • There is a strong demand many from third parties who want to develop their own custom content for The Sims, including characters and objects.

Proposed Solution:

  • Update, clean up and document the content creation tools, so third parties can make their own characters and objects for The Sims.
    • Port the tools to the latest version of 3D Studio Max.
    • Make the tools self contained so they can be run stand-alone, by removing all dependencies on the Maxis environment and expensive software packages: Character Studio (Biped, Physique), Access, SourceSafe, MKS Toolkit (Korn Shell).
    • Document the content creation tools with an overview, examples, tutorials, and a reference manual. Write down the folklore that has been passed by word of mouth. Read over the code and document how it actually behaves.
    • Provide consulting, training and content creation services to third parties who want custom content authored for The Sims, but don't want or know how to do it themselves.
  • Develop a Sims Content Authoring SDK, so it's possible for third parties to create specialized content creation tools, like FaceLift.

XML Pie Menus

Chris, a computer science student from digipen.edu who's interested in user interface design, asked me some interesting questions about pie menus:

First, were you happy with The Sims' implementation of pie menus? It seems as though it doesn't necessarily provide all of the great features of an ideal pie. The targets aren't infinitely 'deep' -- the user needs to click directly on the button. Perhaps more importantly, the targets aren't in predictable locations (they items are dynamic based on a very complex set of inputs.) Don't misunderstand; I loved the game and felt the the interface worked well. I am interested in the design decisions that were made.

The other thing I wanted ato ask was, have you any opinions on the game Sacrifice? I was very drawn to its pie system, and am always surprised that there has really never been much mention of it when it comes to discussion of pies, and pies in games. Thank you for your time,

Chris

Thanks for your thoughtful questions!

I'm glad to hear fasteroids still works after all those internet explorer patches that have come out since I wrote it. I hope the Eloas patent doesn't force Microsoft to break browser plug-ins like fasteroids and pie menus on purpose.

I'm pretty happy with the way The Sims pie menus turned out, considering the time and design constraints. But of course there are several things about them I would change and extend if I had the time.

Things That Happen When You Say 'X Windows'

An actual X-Windows XCalc screen snapshot (after resizing several times)I was digging through some old papers, and ran across a 15 year old "XNextEvent" newsletter, "The Official Newsletter of XUG, the X User's Group", Volume 1 Number 2, from June 1988. Here's an article that illustrates how far the usage of the term "X Windows" has evolved over the past 15 years. (Too bad The Window System Improperly Known as X Windows itself hasn't evolved.)

Someone on slashdot asks, "Why is it still called X-Windows?". Predictably, the first reply says: "It isn't. It's called 'The X Window System.' Or simply 'X'. 'X Windows' is a misnomer."

He didn't ask why it is "X-Windows". He asked why it's called "X-Windows". You're wrong that it isn't called "X-Windows". It is! It's just that it isn't "X-Windows". Being something is independent of being called something.

The answer to the question 'Why is it still called X-Windows?' is: It's still called X-Windows in order to annoy the X-Windows Fanatics, who take it upon themselves to correct you every time you call it X-Windows. That's why it's called X-Windows.

The following definitive guide to the consequences of saying "X Windows" is from the June 1988 "XNextEvent" newsletter, "The Official Newsletter of XUG, the X User's Group", Volume 1 Number 2:

Things That Happen When You Say 'X Windows'

50% (F) for Epicurean Excess

Here's an interesting Christian interpretation of The Sims from christiananswers.net. One of the reader comments makes a great point about Epicurean Excess! I wonder what people of other religions think about its "subtle teachings"? (Like reinforcing the "Urine Is Blue" myth!)

Sometimes a game comes along that catches you off guard. "The Sims" proves just such a game. I had read about it in the gaming press for some time. Being from the developer and producer of the famous "Sim City" games, the completion of "The Sims" was hotly anticipated. I was skeptical, as the premise of the game involved players developing simulated characters and controlling and manipulating their life. To me, that left too much room for the developers to work in worldly concepts and gratuitous situations. I'm glad to say for the most part my fears were unfounded.

[...] Comments:

"...This game is very subtle in what it teaches and probably a lot more dangerous than a blatantly occult or violent game. Because it is presented as such a normal suburban lifestyle simulation, kids can come to believe that astrology, materialism, and unrestrained sexuality are normal adult behaviors. This Trojan Horse packs a lot more deceit than any other game I have played to date and earns a 50% (F) for Epicurean excess."
--John Gocke, Al Menconi Ministries

RugOMatic Documentation and Tutorial: Drag-and-Drop Sims Objects

I've written some documentation and a tutorial for RugOMatic!

RugOMatic uses another tool called The Sims Transmogrifier 2.0 to create Sims objects. It's a lot easier than using Transmogrfier directly: you just drag and drop images and text, and press a button! Soon I'll release RugOMatic along with The Sims Transmogrifier 2.0, as soon as Maxis's legal department finishes reviewing it (soon now, I hope).

The Sims RugOMatic lets you quickly and easily create rugs for The Sims, with your own pictures and descriptions! Simply 'drag and drop' a picture, name, price and description into RugOMatic, and press the 'Weave My Rug' button. RugOMatic automatically manufactures a new rug, with a text description that you can read in the game!

RugOMatic also writes a web page describing your rug, including the name, price, description, a picture preview, and a link to the downloadable "iff" object file, to help you keep track of your objects, and share them with other people on the web.


The Sims Exchange

At Will Wright's talk for Terry Winnograd's User Interface class in 1996:

There was some interesting discussion about using SimCity as a medium for story telling: encouraging people to imagine far beyond the bounds of what the computer is able to simulate. You can build cities to empathise with, and tell stories about them, about their people, culture, buildings, and history. A class of students could label different parts of a city, and each person could tell a story about a different part, that interacted with the stories going on in neighboring parts of the city. Then they could make a web site with the downloadable city, and an image map of the whole city, linking to all the stories on web pages, with screen snapshots of their neighborhoods, and lots of hypertext links between each story. This way each student could colaborate with several others to write a web of interconnected stories, all about the same city!

That pretty well sums up what The Sims Exchange is all about -- like a specialized blog built around a simulation game with built-in storytelling and content creation tools, for publishing stories as well as live downloadable user created game content:

Designing User Interfaces to Simulation Games

Designing User Interfaces to Simulation Games.
A summary of Will Wright's talk to Terry Winnograd's User Interface Class at Stanford, in 1996.
Written by Don Hopkins.

Will Wright, the designer of SimCity, SimEarth, SimAnt, and other popular games from Maxis, gave a talk at Terry Winnograd's user interface class at Stanford, in 1996 (before the release of The Sims in 2000). At the end of the talk, he demonstrated an early version of The Sims, called Dollhouse at the time. I attended the talk and took notes, on which this article elaborates. I was fascinated by Dollhouse, and subsequently went to work with Will Wright at Maxis for three years. We finally released it as The Sims in 2000, after several name changes: TDS (Tactical Domestic Simulator), Project-X (everybody has one of those), Jefferson (after the president, not the sitcom), happy fun house (or some other forgetable Japanese placism).

At the talk, he reflected on the design of simulators and user interfaces in SimCity, SimEarth, and SimAnt. He demonstrated several of his games, including his current project, Dollhouse.

Here are some important points Will Wright made, at this and other talks. I've elaborated on some of his ideas with my own comments, based on my experiences playing lots of SimCity, talking with Will, studying the source code and porting it to Unix, reworking the user interface, and adding multi player support.

From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Further Reflections, By Henry Jenkins

From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Further Reflections, By Henry Jenkins

This is an interesting paper by Henry Jenkins that discusses how games appeal to girls, comparing the "Games for Girls" approach of Brenda Laural at Purple Moon, with the "System Simulation" approach of Will Wright at Maxis.

Before I went to Maxis to work on The Sims with Will Wright, I worked at Interval Research. I saw the research and work that Brenda Laurel was doing on games for girls, before Purple Moon spun off from Interval. I found it very interesting and enlightened, and hoped it would be successful. It's illuminating to compare the two approaches, and I think this article makes some great points by doing that.

What are the Cows so Mad About?

Cow caught using cell phone

I don't approve of Bush's handling of the Mad Cow Disease problem.
He should get to the bottom it, and solve the real issue that's the root of the problem:

What are the Cows so Mad About?

Congress needs to jump in and take decisive action!
Like the time they passed a bill that made it illegal to get brain tumors from cell phones.


The Bunny Wuffles School of Sims Transmogrification

http://www.strategyplanet.com/thesims/sas/bwsost/bwsost.htm

Here's a great site with helpful information about using The Sims Transmogrifier:

Here, I offer complete step-by-step tutorials in the first principles of object making for the complete novice in both Adobe Photoshop and The Sims Transmogrifier, and some special guest tutorials - one off tutorials in specific tasks - not necessarily Transmogrifier - written by guest tutors, along with some masterclasses on key skills in Photoshop & TMog and some stand-alone workshops on specific tasks for complete beginners to TMog which improve gameplay. The workshops assume little or no previous knowledge in either Photoshop or Transmogrifier, so as to be of use to you whatever level you are at.

One thing I have learned is that different people use different methods in their object making. Some know short cuts that others don't; some use different programs or sources of textures to others. These tutorials show the way I make my objects, and as soon as I learn a new skill, I am anxious to pass it on! But by no means am I trying to imply that these are the definitive and only ways of making or amending objects; just an easy way to start off.

The tutorials have all been tested by people with no previous experience in the skills used to complete success - in fact, the first brown chair one was written for me when my flamingo was still safely pink and my unopened copy of Photoshop 5.5 was covered in long gathered dust and woefully out of date.

Finally, my tutorials are really meant to be done in the same order they are presented as I often refer back to skills learnt in previous ones using terminology I introduced in them earlier. A brown chair may not be the most exciting thing in the world to you, but doing that tutorial will teach you how to mask off parts of an object while colouring another - an essential thing to know!

Great stuff! Lots of cool tutorials for beginners to masters, and links to useful resources.

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