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Prerelease:The Sims (Windows)/1997

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This is a sub-page of Prerelease:The Sims (Windows).

Jefferson

Ah, Those Were The Days when the early-installment uncanniness, and the concept of weeks and years ruled over The Sims. Despite the wife-beater, Archie Bunker[1] is but a mushy fellow.
"[...] And so at some point I couldn't get enough resources on The Sims and we wanted to staff it as a project and I said 'well just give me the core tech team.' At that point they said 'sure ... we're not using their stuff anyway.' And so I actually moved Jamie [Doornbos] to that new office and turned the core tech team into the core Sims team. That's how I got the team started. They were still working in a separate office and nobody really saw them. I would drive down there and interact with them several times a week."
- Will Wright[2]
• Provide addictive experience and leave them screaming for more.
- Jefferson Development Milestones Document (Jul 1997)[3]


From the moment when Maxis' Core Technology Group deposited the portion of collective faith that Project X needed to achieve part of its glory getting out from SimCity 2000's shadow and meeting some level of identity, it evolves as the Jefferson project; probaly an emerging recognition of the game's potential of being an overall portrait of the best that can come out of the Americana, plus all of its consumerism cloud cuckoo land — and that's indeed reinforced by how, in fact, Jefferson loosely comes from the last name of the former president of the United States[4]. It can already be observed some surprising elements of satire there, especially given how relatively new the project was.

Along with Don Hopkins, many of the game staff's household names already joined The Sims' team at this point, including the original SimCity artists Jenny Martin[footnote 1] and Susan Green, who begin to gel what would turn out to be the Sims' look and feel by developing the first character ideas[1]. Here, one glances the earliest appearance of characters with minimally discernible attributes, having even a name of their own! As the ability to combine different heads and bodies to create unique Sims was yet a distant dream, the builds developed at this particular phase were notoriously made out of well-directed, pre-made scenarios (for demonstrative purposes, mainly) that would guide the user through the multitude of different things that the characters were capable of, and what could be done to guide them to their happiness.

Not many characters had been done at that point, then the team couldn't help relying to reuse multiple instances of the same heroes throughout different scenarios, bizarrely causing duplicates to be seen in the same lot.

The protagonists? Some traditional-family, low-poly computer guinea-pigs that went by the names Archie Bunker, Edith Bunker, Samantha and Darren. Have you ever experienced something that is so hooky and tongue-in-cheek that you couldn't help but wonder if it was parody?

Noteworthy Details

Here's Edith Bunker:The first Sim[1][5][6].
  • As previously noted, this development stage started a trend in The Sims' pre-release builds based on scripted homes that explained to the users the fun of the game, and taught them how to play. Because its "domestic God game" essence did not have a huge predecessor, it would be a safer bet, at this point, to build the whole neighborhood with user-friendly tutorial scenarios, other than taking for granted that the players (and the executives) would autonomously get into the game's premise right off the bat. Even though the final game, to a lesser degree, preserved some scenario-esque mechanics (via the iconic Newbie household), it only constitutes a very small portion of the player's journey, allowing them to learn the game's features as they voluntarily navigate through the Control Panel, instead.
  • Reading the earliest drafts of the official documents pertained from the Jefferson era, the game was planned to make its sitcom influences much more latent in the overall look and feel than it ultimately became, to the point where laugh track hooks were originally considered to signify the game's key events[3]. The closest the final game goes from the concept is the addition of audio stings.
  • Jefferson presents the earliest record of concepts for Needs as we know today. They're notoriously segmented into 2 types — physical and mental — and mention Alertness and Stress, which didn't make their way to the game's retail build, likely because they redundantly antagonize the Energy and Fun motives, and... well, makes the whole experience unnecessarily stressing.[7]
Something about the final Edith iteration shot the hearts of the people at Maxis. To the point that the official SimAntics resources editor was, in fact, rebaptized after her[6].
  • The notion of time is a bigger deal here than it would fatally be in the final game, since the Control Panel also allows the player to know the current day of the week and the year[7] — something that the later iterations scrapped in the name of a straightforward day-night cycle. Furthermore, it has been noted that the final game internally keeps track of what day/year it is, albeit without the players' notice. The slow pace of the circadian rhythm summed into the absence of date-specific events probably made the developers to conclude that an advanced time system would be more of a stone in the players' shoe other than anything else.
  • Sims could originally own guitars, acoustic or electric[3]. Livin' Large, the first Expansion Pack ever released for the game, also famously introducing a set of features that the base version omitted because of the tight deadline, would come this concept real, 3 years later.
  • The door-opening routines depended on the player's input rather than something that happens automatically once Sims go through them[8]. Remnant of this are a handful of animations that the final release preserved, but kept obsolete.
  • This version has an early interaction where Sims could automatically follow the route of their visitors in their houses, escorting them around and helping them to meet their needs[8]. While the final build's Sims can not do it (instead, the visitors always seem to know, for example, where the bathroom is, even if it's the first time they visit the house), they still can ask the visitors to walk to the room they're currently at.
(Source: LUCPIX, ShaMedic (Revision))

Cast

Diversity has been the name of the game since its day 1... Even in spite of its momentaneous actor shortage.

For beginners, they're non-entity people, complete subordinate to the scenarios' guidance and user commands. The characters really didn't have much in the way of notable identities or background yet. Below is the incomplete set of their texture files. Unlike the "modern" Sims that would come up later in development, these printed their motive feedback at the environment with facial expressions and static icons above their heads.

Character Joyful Neutral Mad Body
Edith TS1 edithgood.png
Archie TS1 archiegood.png TS1 archiebad.png TS1 archiebelly.png
Samantha TS1 samgood.png
Darren TS1 darrengood.png TS1 darrenbad.png
(Source: LUCPIX, Maxis Alumni)

Scenarios

Tutorial Home 1: Motives

Edith lives alone in a small home which contains all of the necessities of life. See if you can keep her happy, or at least alive, for a few "sim days" (marked by her sleep cycle). You need to learn the basics of controlling a family (of one) and of object interactions, and also to read the motive graphs and/or thought balloons. The challenge of this tutorial is to keep Edith alive for a few "days," and see if you can keep her net happiness in the green. It's important to keep her on a reasonable sleep schedule.

• You have to work quickly to keep Edith from fainting (and dying) from hunger, and from wetting her pants. First eat, then pee (flush and wash hands!), take a shower and put her to bed.

• The spinning clock in the upper-left indicates Ultra Speed while Edith is asleep.

• There are some itches which only The King can scratch.

Tutorial Home 2: Objects

In this tutorial home, we find Archie, his brother Archie, and his other brother Archie. They have almost everything they need to be happy. You have to figure out which objects you need to buy for them so that they can survive indefinitely. You get to enjoy watching Archie sim with himself. Archie operates perfectly well in auto-pilot: he'll attend to his every need, providing that suitable objects are available in his house to satisfy his motives. Some object interactions can satisfy him, but he isn't "drawn" to them [they don't happen to advertise the satisfactions that they can provide], so you may need to personally direct his behavior to entertain himself. Or you can purchase an object which he interacts with on his own to the same end (the Radio). The point of this tutorial is to learn about household objects. Partly, you learn to place new objects into the house. But there is a deeper lesson about objects: they can fail if not maintained. Just try forgetting to flush the toilet for a while.

• It's hard to keep track of which Archie is active. Remember to look for the "flashing brightness" of the "active" Archie.

• Add a TV or Radio to entertain the boys.

• You might want to buy the Archies a second bed, if you get the chance.

Tutorial Home 3: Economics

The story... Archie and Darren are living an empty and shallow life of boredom because they have no TV. The only way for them to afford one is for Archie to go do an honest day's work. Get Archie to his carpool on time (and in a good mood) and maybe, just maybe, their lives will be worth living.

• The carpool (played by a honking blue box in the Driveway) appears around 8:00am (Game Standard Time) and waits for about 20 (game) minutes before it gives up and drives off without Archie.

• Archie's happiness affects how much he earns at the job each day. See what other factors affect his salary, promotion, or termination.

• The TV is only the most obvious way to entertain the fellows.

• Just try buying that TV with your first $500, and see if you can get some moolah in the house before Darren dies of starvation. Once he's dead, it's a lot easier for Archie to make ends meet.

Tutorial Home 4: Architecture

Archie stands in the driveway to his new home. Unfortunately, he forgot to inspect it before he bought it. It's sort of a fixer-upper. Well, more than sort of. You must now be "Mr. Handyman" before Archie freezes to death or starves. You also have to furnish the house, so you might take the opportunity to do a little expansion remodelling. Once you get ol' Arch squared away, play around with the architecture and landscaping tools for a while. You might want to see if you can mock up your own house and lot.

• For best results (no tree crashes), Pause the game when working on architecture.

• Notice there's no front door, so Archie can't get inside to eat, etc.

• A few more rooms would be nice, but the ground needs to be levelized.

• The hand tool moves trees (pending a chainsaw object)

• Small little houses are not nearly as much fun as monstrously huge mansions

Tutorial Home 5: Social Skills

This is a good one. Living in this home are Edith and her sister Edith, the Bernoulli family. Outside the front door of the house is a "visitor generator" which periodically conjures up a visitor who knocks on the front door. The goal of the scenario is to accumulate as many visitors as you can. The visitors, if unsatisfied, will leave the house and disappear back inside the visitor generator (if they can't get satisfaction in your house they won't stick around).

• Remember you are dealing with the shiftless Edith. You have to remember to make her eat, go to the bathroom, go to bed, etc. The visitors have minds of their own.

• You have to manually direct an Edith to openthe front door when visitors arrive.

• You can direct Edith to escort the visitors by clicking on the visitor and selecting "Follow Host." You "release" the visitors by clicking on their "Stop Following" interaction item.

• When the visitors chase down Edith and appear to be praying, they are actually pleading with Edith to talk to them. You can't see it, but they have a very starved "Social" motive, which is why they came up to the front door in the first place

• You'll need to operate both Ediths in parallel to keep up. You have to feed the guests, talk to them, and escort them to the bathroom (oh, yeah, you have to read their minds to figure out what they're agitated about). You also have to keep the Ediths fed and alive (and Happy, or she'll will bum out the visitors). And keep answering that front door!

• In one test run, both Ediths went to bed and the guests kind of ran amok in interesting ways. If you see that, try to remember how you got there and report back to us so we can reproduce it.

• In a later version, Edith will be able to get two visitors chatting amongst themselves, so they stop following her around.

• The visitor looks like the offspring of Darren and Archie from Tutorial Home 4.

Tutorial Home 6: Grand Play

A big fancy hard-to-manage house which needs remodeling, receives visitors, is low on funds, and is missing key objects.

• We lied. There is no Tutorial 6 set up. Feel free to horse around in our test home, labelled "LOVELY HOME, Prefurnished." You'll need to manually spawn some people from the tool bar.

• Advanced users: spawn a Samantha and see if you can get her to take a shower for you. Enjoy our clever transparency tricks.

• Be very careful of the Big Brother object. Its low price may deceive you. It can be very benevolent, but it's a very dangerous object. Beware!
(Source: "JeffersonDemoTutorial (1997)", Design Document)

Rejected Interfaces

While the looks from the Sims weren't quite in place from the get-go, eventually a certain Crazy Larry[9] came along and helped the developers to suit the character design under some aesthetic territory that could correspond to the progressively-superior graphic processing powers that its contemporary computers provided. While one can agree that he's not exactly there, he was a go-between to the "modern" Sims we all know. To the point where many final designs started out as plain clones of him[10].

[9]

[11]

A number of rejected user interface ideas in the late-'97 development phase was designed (in fact, it's well-known that at least ten UI iterations had been attempted during the exhaustive course of production[9]).

These basically set the game apart from everything that Project X used to be during its not-so-golden Macintosh days, establishing the lines between the Control Panel and Buy/Build Mode catalogs that in the end remained as recurring elements until the last day of development, bar the humble placeholder developer art, considerably lacking some secondary buttons here and there, and printing dynamically the current day of the year (until later builds found it to be inconvenient, anyway). It's also of note that none of the objects shown above made it to the final build.

Both the characters and pre-rendered sprites continue the legacy of a less-polished Jefferson, and in a way is a mixed bag in terms of finesse if compared to what would eventually take their place for good, but already display an overall solid game with an increasing visual identity. Amusingly, this stage brought the character Crazy Larry to the emerging cast of Sims— who, although bound to be entirely excluded, is said to be the main reference to the art style for all the subsequent Sims[10]. Thankfully except for his alleged craziness.

(Source: LUCPIX)

Acquisition by EA

Dark Ages for Maxis

Maxis office in Walnut Creek (1999)[12].

There's a standard path in tech start-up companies based on selling shares and going public once they reach a burgeoning state.

In Maxis' case, the launch of SimCity 2000 in 1994, with its pseudo-3D environment and increased replay value, picks up somewhat where the first game left off and becomes a straight-up hit, reaffirming the company's place as a timeless software toy maker, consequently (rather blindly) motivating the team to milk the incomes of the success in the moment with whatever was felt as though would be beneficial for the Maxis of the future. The company's investors strongly suggested to take Maxis public on the NASDAQ, and so was done in 1995. Maxis was more situated as a mid-end company at the time, too well-prestigious to pigeonhole itself as a start-up (with even some headquarters in Tokyo and a sales office in London), but a little boy in business enough to feel the potential shades of any potential falls very hardly.

The instant hype out of the company's golden-egg title somewhat turned against the own Maxis, from then on struggling to keep up with what should be the next SimCity 2000. Have gone public, the production people were since then under a gigantic pressure for regular, quarterly profits, with dramatically reduced deadlines and dedicated energy to projects, frequently resulting in the development of third-party games of minor prestige, almost solely for the sake of keeping with planned quotas, whilst our Project X would be most likely put in background, and saw mild to no relevant progress, or public faith. Even then, the Sims concept figured as a black sheep within the Maxis corridors, when a third SimCity installment seemed to be the only plausible path to salvation, one that could, perhaps, first introduce the franchise to a fully tridimensional panorama, in the same vein as basically any hyped videogame from the late nineties, plus Maxis' own SimCopter and Streets of SimCity.

Cha(lle)nge Everything

"Will Wright and Jim Mackraz deserve a lot of credit for keeping the team together and focused on shipping a successful product, through the tumultuous times of EA buying Maxis, questioning the value of the project and trying to change its essential design, and moving the team all around. Early on, Luc Barthelet from EA saw the light and championed the project with the executive team as well as the fans. 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."
- Don Hopkins, The Sims Engineer[1]

And that's when it became increasingly evident that, in order to salvage Maxis' overall status and recondition its place in market for good, it would have no other option but accepting acquirement offers from larger publishers. Among those that Maxis talked to, Infogrames and Activision... though ultimately Electronic Arts made it to the final verdict, buying Maxis by a sum of $125 million dollars. The transaction was complete on July 28, 1997[13].

The Sims saw a light in the tunnel's end when a couple of top-tier EA members, both showing ambition and dissatisfaction towards large companies' inclination to pointless bureaucracy, joined the core team at the company's brand new Walnut Creek HQ, somewhat viewing Maxis (now a division of Electronic Arts) as a nicer place that had the avant-garde nature (inherent from small gaming companies) and lots of functional issues that they could work with. It's very little wonder, therefore, that Luc Barthelet and Lucy Bradshaw, contrary to the opinions to most of those at Maxis, were actually thrilled at the idea of seeing The Sims' fully developed, despite the initial surprise caused by being told that the "toilet game" was in fact the company's next big thing other than a new title for the SimCity series. "Barthelet would move into the Maxis offices full time in the summer of 1997 and be greeted by a studio filled with strife, anger, and disillusionment.".

The next steps in development would've been quite smoother, wasn't how the external hierarchy at Electronic Arts, rooted by tradition and secure path choices, were not as happy with The Sims as Bradshaw and Barthelet, doubting that most players would effectively buy the concept. Barthelet, however, demonstrated an unconditional support to Wright's vision, making sure to also summon the quintessential Maxoid talent to spend their time in an all-around maintenance for the game. An important part of his strategy included optimizing The Sims so it could be medium to not only manage the lives of computer people for its own sake, but form emergent communities out of the game's huge storytelling potential. Meanwhile, Bradshaw envisioned how the contemporary hardware wasn't quite ready for a gratuitous tridimensional overhaul in SimCity 3000, and perhaps it didn't have to be. The choice of upgrading the look-and-feel into a colorful isometric playground of pre-rendered buildings and CD-quality soundtrack proved a success in both E3 1998 and post-release sales, slowly taking Maxis off of the commonplace pit that it was constantly endangered to fall into.

Now equipped with the spice of support and confidence that it took for The Sims (no more Jefferson!) to fight for its place in the light, it eventually evolves into an amalgam of the best from its past-four-years' dated iterations, arranged in a scattershot fashion of over-the-top placeholder lines and a few visual quirks that would almost certainly offend some censors, but with color depth, creativity and samples of unstable but somewhat lively AI assembled in a demo that could either mean EA's final greenlight or the permanent archival of The Sims' project.

Starring three rich kids.

Footnotes

  1. Do not confuse with Jerry Martin, the man behind many of the audio tracks from the Sim series' games from the late nineties to 2004.

References