Talking Simlish with Producer Justin Taber about bringing The Sims 3 to iPhone

Details on personality traits, touchscreen controls, and whether in-app commerce hits with the game's June 2 release

Talking Simlish with Producer Justin Taber about bringing The Sims 3 to iPhone

Come June the 2nd, gaming's juggernaut finds a new audience of gamers with The Sims 3. While the franchise has always been noted for drawing the interest of non-gamers, EA Mobile plans on tapping into a new generation of gamers.

It's an ambitious endeavour. Designing a complicated PC game for portable play means squeezing the most out of iPhone. New features on the way with firmware update 3.0 also expand the possibilities for this slick-looking title - just check out the video yourself.

Producer Justin Taber tells us about the process of bringing this huge game onto a little device, tapping into the potential of its sophisticated features while keeping that Sims humour and intuitive gameplay intact.

Pocket Gamer: Past handheld incarnations of The Sims have been story-driven. Is that the case with The Sims 3 or is it offering more of a sandbox experience?

Justin Taber: The Sims 3 for mobile and iPhone is definitely more of a sandbox experience. There are many different ways of approaching the game, and it is open-ended so you can play as long as you want.

From the start of the game you have access to a living neighborhood with 11 homes, 13 non-playable Sim characters, a park with a lake for fishing, and five business/shop buildings.

All of the non-playable Sims in the neighborhood have homes, jobs, and schedules to keep, so you’ll see them commuting to work and moving throughout the neighborhood, and they may occasionally ask you for favours.

The 75 goals in the game exist primarily to help you discover more aspects of the gameplay and don’t focus you so much that you lose the sandbox feeling. You are free to play the game as long as you want and at your own pace. You even have the option of ignoring Wishes as they come up, or locking them in.

The Sims also have a degree of autonomy, so that they can fulfil their most basic needs without you needing to step in, allowing you to focus more on the rest of the game.

Certain aspects of the game extend as you play. The ability to upgrade your house opens up as you fulfil certain criteria. You are also able to choose from additional objects to buy and use in your home over time. And, once you complete all 75 goals, there is another reward.

What has been the biggest challenge in making this mammoth game feel organic on iPhone? Has there been a feature that you had to pull back on or compromise because of the limitations of the device?

Early on we decided to focus on some of the key features that are defining The Sims 3 experience for players: the living neighborhood and the more robust Personality Traits system.

We also felt that the AI for the non-playable Sims was going to be very important for making both of these features engaging, so we also focused a lot of effort on that aspect of the game.

The non-playable Sims will get jealous if you pursue their romantic interest, kick you out of their house for annoying them too much, come and go from different locations at will, and more. If you kick over the trash can in front of their house, you won’t know for sure how they are going to react. Your current relationship status with them comes into play during those moments.

In the process of designing for mobile gaming and mobile devices, we ultimately had to forego a full build mode where you can construct your house to the smallest detail.

Instead, you are able to upgrade your home over time, which automatically increases the size of the rooms and adds an additional room. You also gain access to a vegetable garden in your front yard though the first house upgrade, so that you can grow vegetables to use in your cooking or sell.

What has been the greatest advantage or unique quality of this iPhone version versus the game's other iteration on PC?

It is The Sims 3 that fits in your pocket!

Can you give us a run down of how you guys crafted the controls? In what ways have you utilised the accelerometer? Any cool uses of the touchscreen you'd like to highlight?

On the iPhone, we have implemented full touchscreen control over 3D camera movement. As you would probably expect, touching an object, building, or another Sim allows you to view the interaction options you have to choose from.

For the camera controls, dragging with one finger moves the camera around the scene. Swiping up or down with two fingers tilts the camera up or down, changing the angle. Touching two fingers on the screen and then turning them rotates the scene.

There is a transparent bar on the right side that controls zooming, so that you can zoom in and get really close to the detail, or zoom out to view the full house or neighborhood.

Any use of the camera for creating personalised Sims and/or items?

Not for the initial launch of the game, but this is a possibility for future updates.

Explain a bit how Sims develop through the course of the game. What factors into a Sim's personality, how they form goals?

When you create a Sim you can choose from six different Personas and 17 different Personality Traits, beyond shaping the look of your Sim.

The Personas include fun options Nice Guy/Girl, Jerk, Sleaze, and Maniac, and these Persona types influence your long term goals or Wishes in the game. The Personality Traits in this version include options like Good Sense of Humor, No Sense of Humor, Mean Spirited, and more, all of which influence the way your Sim will interact with the other Sims in the game.

This robust personality system also changes the gameplay by adding special interaction options in some situations. These are fun to discover - for example, Maniac Sims can fulfill their social needs by talking to trees.

As you interact with other Sims, you’ll also learn more about their traits. A Sim you are trying to get to know better might have the “No Sense of Humor” trait, so you’ll finally understand why none of your jokes have been breaking the ice.

Going back to the goals, for example, a Jerk Sim’s long term Wishes include being disliked by all of the other Sims in town, which is a blast and can take some time to accomplish. There are a variety of ways you can go about it.

There is also a large set of Wishes or goals that apply to all Persona types, and will come up from time to time as you are playing the game. You have the option of locking the Wishes in to pursue at your own pace, or you can choose to ignore them.

Your Sim also has a set of skills that they can develop over time: cooking, repair, and more.

With in-app commerce expected to launch with Apple's 3.0 firmware update in June and EA Mobile having announced its support of it preemptively, will The Sims 3 feature in-app commerce? If not, what about the possibility of introducing it in an update for purchasing new clothing, furniture, etc.?

There are no plans to leverage in-app commerce in the initial launch of the game, but there is certainly a possibility to leverage any of the Apple 3.0 SDK features in future updates.

Will there be any connectivity with the PC version of The Sims 3 such as transferring characters, items, or unlocking special content?

The Sims 3 for the iPhone is a separate but complementary game to the PC and Mac versions. While the two versions of the game share some key features, the mobile version of the game will allow people to take The Sims 3 with them wherever they go, and experience The Sims 3 in a new way that has been designed specifically for the platform and gaming on-the go. Interconnectivity between platforms is also a possibility for future updates.

Does the game feature any networking (ad-hoc or infrastructure) to allow interactions with other iPhone players? Any integration with Twitter and/or Facebook?

Not for the initial launch, but this is also a possibility for future updates.

Thanks to Justin for his time.
Tracy Erickson
Tracy Erickson
Manning our editorial outpost in America, Tracy comes with years of expertise at mashing a keyboard. When he's not out painting the town red, he jets across the home of the brave, covering press events under the Pocket Gamer banner.