The Dumbold Voting Machine for The Sims enables the simulated people in your virtual dollhouse to vote! It's an interactive "get out the vote" public service message, in the form of a free downloadable Sims object. This Sims object is an electronic voting machine that lets your Sims vote between four candidates: Kerry, Bush, Nader and Badnarik.
The pie menus in The Sims are context sensitive, and hide inappropriate items, but the context depends on the state of the object and the selected user, so there are many different contexts which change dynamically over time.
So part of the game is figuring out how to manipulate the objects and people into the right state to enable the menu items you want.
Since The Sims game design requires that the menu items do change over time, that trumps the rule of thumb that pie menus should be used for static menus. User interface design involves weighing conflicting rules and making trade-offs according to the application and user requirements, so it's ok to break a few rules for good reasons.
An inactive TV set just has a "Turn On" menu item. When you activate it, the "Turn On" item disappears and is replaced by a bunch of items like "Turn Off", "Watch TV", "Change Channel," etc.
If you click on another Sim character, you get a menu of interpersonal interactions that the currently selected Sim can perform with the other Sim you clicked on. Those can change according to their relationships and moods.
It turns out you can get a whole lot of The Sims 1 characters on the screen at once! But then you need some crowd control and coordination.
Here's an object that I'm developing for The Sims 1 as part of the Simprov wedding playset, and some screen shots of what it does.
This is the new "Crowd Sitter" object for The Sims 1. Donna and I came up with an idea for an icon to represent this magical crowd control object, which will only be visible in build mode. But for now it looks like an altar.
I named it "Crowd Sitter", like "baby sitter" but it's for all ages and lots of people at once, and it can also make them stand. It's an essential tool for orchestrating weddings, but it's useful for other purposes like parties and concerts and boxing matches.
When in play mode, you can turn a Crowd Sitter on and off with a pie menu, and it directs all people to sit down in front of it, or stand up facing it if there aren't any seats left. It has an effective radius of about 7 tiles (more now), with a quarter pie slice shaped footprint. You can strategically deploy as many sitters as you need, to cover all the seats you want people to sit in or areas you want them to stand (like rows of pews in a church or a circle of benches in a stadium). I made a special routing slot that has a maximum size 54 tile footprint (more now), based on the TV set's routing slot, but on steroids.
I stress tested it by making four of these Crowd Sitter objects, and facing them in different directions, to make people gather around the center in a circular crowd.
Then I made at least 8 * 20 = 160 people (Sim clones), and turned on all the sitters at once facing outwards, to make them all gather around the center! But of course if there are no seats to sit in, the poor people have to stand.
In the following scene, I'm cheating by using the faith based initiative "placebo field" (aka Fox News), which is a special effect built into the altar, that supernaturally makes everybody always happy, fills their tummies, drains their bladders, keeps them clean, etc, so they're willing to stand around tirelessly without complaining, for as long as I tell them to, and not questioning anything they're told, while totally believing their government is looking out for them.
The Armchair Empire interviewed Chris Trottier, one of the designers of The Sims and The Sims Online. She touches on some important ideas, including "Tuned Emergence" and "Design by Accretion".
Chris' honest analysis of how and why "the gameplay didn't come together until the months before the ship" is right on the mark, and that's the secret to the success of games like The Sims and SimCity.
The essential element that was missing until the last minute was tuning: The approach to game design that Maxis brought to the table is called "Tuned Emergence" and "Design by Accretion". Before it was tuned, The Sims wasn't missing any structure or content, but it just wasn't balanced yet. But it's OK, because that's how it's supposed to work!
In justifying their approach to The Sims, Maxis had to explain to EA that SimCity 2000 was not fun until 6 weeks before it shipped. But EA was not comfortable with that approach, which went against every rule in their play book. It required Will Wright's tremendous stamina to convince EA not to cancel The Sims, because according to EA's formula, it would never work.
If a game isn't tuned, it's a drag, and you can't stand to play it for an hour. The Sims and SimCity were "designed by accretion": incrementally assembled together out of "a mass of separate components", like a planet forming out of a cloud of dust orbiting around star. They had to reach critical mass first, before they could even start down the road towards "Tuned Emergence", like life finally taking hold on the planet surface. Even then, they weren't fun until they were carefully tuned just before they shipped, like the renaissance of civilization suddenly developing science and technology. Before it was properly tuned, The Sims was called "the toilet game", for the obvious reason that there wasn't much else to do!
Here are some questions and answers from the interview with The Sims designer Chris Trottier:
In this interview, Don Hopkins describes his early days on the Sims development team with Will Wright (back when the project was called Dollhouse) and the difficulties the team had fighting EA's attempts to terminate the project, and then preventing EA from gutting it of interesting content (like architecture tools). Even now, he claims that EA fails to respect Will Wright and his vision by not developing custom content for TSO, and that it has shown no interest in a tool that he (Hopkins) created that would allow users to safely create custom objects that won't crash the game.
Overview of the Interview -- some headline quotes:
"I recall that one of our most difficult accomplishments was convincing EA not to cancel the project, because some of the EA old guard didn't trust nor respect Will's vision, didn't "get" the idea of Dollhouse, didn't think it would sell, wanted to inject it full of their old tried and trusted formula, and wanted to gut out the most interesting parts of the game (like the architecture tools). I think it's a lucky fluke that The Sims ever shipped, and I hope EA has learned enough from their experience to trust the projects that Will is directly involved in, listen to what he's been saying eloquently and consistently for years, and let something like The Sims happen again."
"I don't think the lack of user created content is the only reason The Sims Online is a failure, but I think it's an extremely important one that EA went out on a limb and promised, but never executed on. EA still hasn't officially announced that they're not going to let Maxis support user created content, but as far as I have been able to tell, they've whitewashed the original discussion groups where they made and discussed the promise. I realize that there are some difficult technical issues that have to be solved, in order to support user created content in an online game like The Sims Online. That's why I wrote this proposal for SafeTMog, a tool that would enable users to safely create objects for The Sims Online that could not possibly crash the game: http://www.donhopkins.com/2004/02/05.html#a72"
"Unfortunately EA was not apparently interested in SafeTMog, which leads me to believe that they're not interested in ever supporting user created content in The Sims Online. I don't know why Maxis never executed on the plan they promised, but I do believe they disregarded and didn't respect Will Wright's opinion in this matter, which he clearly articulated. I don't think the problem was a lack of resources: just the opposite. So much conservative money was bet on the project that it wasn't allowed to innovate. I don't believe it was ineptitude at the engineering or design level, but more likely at the executive management, resource allocation and marketing level. My impression is that some of the people in charge didn't believe in Will's vision, didn't trust him, didn't listen to him, didn't do what he's been saying for years, all along. I wish EA would have taken some of the millions of dollars they made from The Sims 1, and invested it back in fully developing The Sims Online, instead of sucking it out of Maxis to support the rest of EA."
Don Hopkins (dhopkins@DonHopkins.com)
SafeTMog will be a version of Transmogrifier restricted to safe graphical and textual modifications of standard objects.
I propose to upgrade Transmogrifier into SafeTMog, whose purpose is to improve the stability of The Sims by supporting only a safe restricted set of modifications to the original objects from Maxis. It will safely import an xml file and graphics into a fresh clone of a standard build-in object. So users and third party tools will be able to import, export and exchange safe, compact modifications to stock objects, without including or modifying any proprietary Edith code or other data.
SafeTMog and other tools (such as a server side content management system) will be able to work together by importing, exporting and validating objects in SafeTMog exchange format (a zip file with xml and bitmap files: pure data, no code). It will not be necessary to distribute any Edith code or other delicate data, just xml and bitmaps. The original objects (from the game, expansion pack or server) will be required in order to import and install them into the game. The SafeTMog xml file format will be simple and extensible, so it will be possible to add new safe content types in the future (like skins, character animations, meshes, custom sounds, midi music, mpeg video, rich text, html, url links, and other content types).
SafeTMog will enable the creation and distribution of safe custom objects, without any possibility of viruses, Trojan horses or stability problems. It will enable the distribution of user created content libraries and third party tools, while protecting Maxis' intellectual property rights and the integrity of the game. The ability for users to safely change the graphics without changing the behavior is an essential step towards enabling safe user created objects for The Sims Online.
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.
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.