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Essays 16 November 2020, 17:06

author: Julia Dragovic

The Right Expansion at the Right Time - Interview with Sims 4: Snowy Escape Dev

Snowy Escape, the latest DLC for The Sims 4, introduces Zen, Japanese landscapes, and a few new mechanics – we've talked with Graham Nardone, the lead producer, about why these were the motifs they opted for, and what's to come in the future.

Zen – super chill sim in the middle of a pond

Zen is quite a decent-sized part of Japanese culture – and of this expansion pack. How would you imagine the ultimate zen and relaxation experience for a Sim? What would it look like? What would a zen-oriented Sim do during their vacation? I wonder if there are some lessons we can learn from Snowy Escape and use it on a daily basis not only in the game, but in real life.

I think for a Sim who is looking for kinda the ultimate zen experience, I would start them off with Mt Komorebi Sightseer aspiration. That will give you some breadcrumbs to different things to try within Snowy Escape. It’s gonna ask you to go swimming in a river in Wakaba, maybe as a starting out point, and that’s our tourist neighborhood so that’s where you first arrive in the world. It’s very beautiful and scenic there but it’s also a newer section of town. So as you would go further up the mountain, you would actually reach Sambamachi which is our mountain town and that’s just a beautiful location. And there I’d really encourage people to go on a hike. You can go through the bamboo forest, you can visit the mountain temple, really kind of get out, reconnect with nature, maybe even meet some spirits in the Japanese inspired forests and have an experience with them. And the other thing I really love in this location is actually the festival of light – all of the roads and paths and areas in the world get lit up with these paper lanterns, they’re floating on the river, it’s very relaxing and enjoyable.

But probably the ultimate thing for me would be heading off to the Yukimatsu neighborhood where our Onsen Bathhouse is and really just take a group of sims and visiting the natural hot springs, relaxing in them, rejuvenating. And something interesting with the pack is, as you’re going through these different calming experiences, it actually has positive benefits for your sims as well. So they’re gradually becoming emotionally mindfull. What that means, it’s just this tranquil state of being, where they gain increased controls over their emotions, and they can actually choose to play with, manage and manipulate their emotions a bit, once they gain this control and mastery over them. I think that reflects on our own lives a little bit. Just taking some time here and there. To calm down, relax, to rest, rejuvenate and catch up on things. It’s good for everybody’s emotional wellbeing.

LESSON 3

Inhale and exhale. I’m not an expert in emotions, so I cannot really advise you. But I managed to achieve mindfullness in The Sims. Thanks to the new attitude of my Sim (I could control her emotions as much as I wanted), I increased my chances for a successful mountain hike. It's not good to pretend that you don't have any emotions. But trying to calm down and break away from everyday hardships once in a while hasn't hurt anyone yet. Unless it calmed you down so much you fell off the rock at the last stage of climbing the Komorebi Mountain. Then it actually did hurt someone.

You’ve mentioned the three steps connected to the Mt Komorebi’s neighborhoods – all having their exotic (to me at least) sounding names. Are they all connected to each other in some way? Do they have a common factor? A deeper meaning?

They do, they all have a specific meaning that we’ve selected when we were naming the world. The world itself is Mt Komorebi – basically the translation is “the light filtering through the leaves” and you’ll see this theme run through all of our names. Wakaba – that is our tourist neighborhood and it translates to “young leaves”. This is a tourist town, it’s a little newer, it’s a little more modern, and that’s why we call it “young leaves”. And then going up to the mountain town, that’s Senbamachi. And that translates to “thousand leaf town” and as soon as you visit it, you’ll see why/. It’s just absolutely surrounded with gorgeous nature and has things like the bamboo forest, so that name matches it perfectly. Then as you go up a little higher in elevation again, that’s where you visit Yukimatsu and that one translates to “snow pine” and that’s our area of the world where there’s always snow on the ground, it’s freezing cold and it’s great for winter activities year around.

Interior, furnishings and decor

Let’s talk about the beautiful and minimalistic design. Have to say, I’ve spend most of my time with early access maxing out rock climbing, skiing, snowboarding and stressing out if I’ll make it before it ends. What is peculiar to me, now when I think about the pack, my sim’s house, the Mt Komorebi peak, it all seem so chill and calm – like I forgot about the stress and all. Was the interior design - and the design in general - part of the zen experience of this pack?

I think you certainly see aspects of that come through, right? I think one of the most relaxing things that I came to discover about building in Mt Komorebi is some of the patterns that you build out of the tatami mats cause they all have specific patterns that you use, depending on the size or the intention of the room, and so I thought that was a really interesting aspect. Looking up some of those things online I’m learning about those a bit and incorporating them back to homes that I was building. I found that a really pleasing thing personally. But even looking beyond that you see that kind of carry throughout the content that exists in the pack, so whether you want to build a rock garden and place bamboo trees around that and have these moss covered stones and raked sand, I think that’s a very lovely thing that you can decorate the exterior of the home. I really like the rain chains. I didn’t even know what those were prior working on these packs but they’re kind of like a decorative gutter that rain falls down the chains. Whether it’s more traditional esthetics with just natural wood furniture, it’s all very simple and cohesive. And even receiving something like a punk, alternative bar that all the skiers and snowboarders like to visit, I think you see these really nice cohesive themes throughout the pack that come together. They build this experience where it feels like you’re in a fully realized location.

LESSON 4

There is certainly a sim equivalent of Marie Kondo. She is the one pointing to this mess, saying in simlish that it "does not spark joy;" she wants to thank you for the persistent service and throw all this stuff away! But you might as well wash dishes or do the laundry, which are both a great first step in cleaning up your mess. Minimalism is said to have a salutary effect on the mind. Let me remind you: you can also do a prank in Sims. And thanks to the latest update, Sims will no longer be washing dishes in the bathroom. I mean, at least they’ll try, and that’s something to appreciate.

Do Lifestyles, the new feature, add something to this dichotomy of extreme sports and zen? I mean, obviously they do, right? But what’s the depth of it?

Lifestyles are just a major new addition to the game. This was something that came directly from player request. They’ve been letting us know they want to see more depth within the sims themselves. And the sims are always gonna be the center of The Sims game so it’s really important to us to make sure that you do feel like they are real characters that are being realized and coming to life before your eyes on the screen. So what Lifestyles does, it really brings the lived experiences of the sim to the forefront so if you’re going through the Create A Sim, and assigning traits to your sim, for example - those are their inherent personality traits they are born with in many ways. Whereas Lifestyles, because those are the lived experiences of a sim, it’s something that builds up over a long period of time of playing with that sim. So whether it’s the objects in the world around them, the location that they visit, other sims that they meet and interact with, all of those things can influence the Lifestyle or Lifestyles that your sim builds. And if you do go down that path of enjoying the world of Mt Komorebi, maybe you get out into nature a bunch to relax and calm down and have that zen-like experience – I can see that sim developing maybe an Outdoorsy Lifestyle that really helps them connect with nature and enjoy that experience and enhance it even further. So that’s one example but there’s 16 different Lifestyles coming with the pack and depending on how you play, you’ll find your sim developing different ones.

LESSON 5

Find time to develop and explore what you enjoy most. Find what you love and do it often. Put up a feeder for birds and watch them. There are feeders in Sims, but no birds to come to them. Can you imagine how frustrating it must be?! I can, because none of the birds have come to mine either. Never ever. On the other hand, be constantly open to new experiences and interests. Remember that abandoned interests disappear (or at least that's how it works with sim lifestyles).

I know we have room for only one more question, and I know it’s probably a long shot, but as The Sims 4 is getting more and more about representation and inclusion can we expect more culture-oriented packs or updates like the one celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month in the future?

Yeah, I think that’s a safe bet and I don’t have any specific content to announce today but it’s a core pillar of us, not just on The Sims but Maxis in general, that we do represent more of our players authentically and give more of them the ability to have their own lived experiences represented in-game, in a respectful way. So I think that’s important to us; if you look at the history of The Sims 4 and the updates that we’ve released and some of the packs that we’ve done, with Snowy Escape being maybe the strongest one in that direction yet – it’s something that’s important to us and something that we’re gonna continue doing.

It's great news, thanks for the conversation!

Thanks!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

When I was writing the announcement of the add-on, I was in the middle of my own private lockdown crisis. Infections were growing like crazy. I was tired of sitting at home and not being free. I know it's cringy, but seriously: thanks to Snowy Escape, I could forget about it all. And when the early access ended, the first thing I thought about was that it was great that the creators didn't give us some sort of bleak, pandemic-themed expansion.

Honest: This interview stressed me out like hell! I have been playing Sims since I can remember. Graham Nardone co-created the games I played at a time when I didn't even think about working in this business. I'm glad that there are people who care about representing different cultures in such a profound way involved in this project.

Julia Dragovic | Gamepressure.com

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