Class is almost in session for The Sims 4, as the Discover University expansion is just days away from release. This will be the eighth expansion pack for EA and Maxis' life simulator, but it will be the first time that they've jumped back into the world of higher learning since The Sims 2. That means getting reacquainted with college life and all of its many facets. It also means adjusting to how much going to college has changed since that time.
The Sims 4 General Manager Lyndsay Pearson has watched the franchise grow in many ways over the years. She's among those ready to go back to school and hit the books again. But first, she took some time to speak to Shacknews about taking The Sims back to university, what college life means to them, maintaining its T for Teen rating, and what it means when college life changes with the times.
Shacknews: We've visited all facets of Sim life in this franchise. What made you decide to take The Sims to college?
Lyndsay Pearson, The Sims General Manager: I think college and university represent such an important phase for a lot of people's stories and a lot of people's lives. It felt like it was about time we offered your Sims an opportunity to go embark on that, as well.
Shacknews: The Sims has gone to university before back in The Sims 2. How did you go about differentiating that experience from what players can experience in just a few days?
Pearson: I think the key is we looked at what we did in Sims 2, what we did in Sims 3, what's actually different about going to university today in the real world, and how would it fit into the Sims 4 and put it into a blender. And we said, "What do we want to pull out and turn into this version of 'University?'" And how do we take inspiration from all of those different sources.
One thing I'm particularly excited about is how we try to focus on making this university experience not just a typical American university experience. Like, how do we bring in inspiration from what going to university feels like in other parts of the world?
Shacknews: What does the college scene open up to you that you weren't able to touch on in previous Sims expansions?
Pearson: I think that there are stories about forming friendships that last for a lifetime and finding out who your Sim is or who your character wants to be by going through university. I think that's true for a lot of people who went through it themselves. You get a chance to say, what themes do I like, what topics do I like, what do I want to do with my life? You get to try on a lot of hats. And The Sims is definitely a game about that, right? It's experimenting with life and exploring all the possibilities. Condensing that into the university experience is a great chance to take your Sim on this journey of discovery to say, who do you want them to be? Where do you want them to go?
Shacknews: You mention that you're taking university experiences beyond the American university. What does college life for the typical Sim entail?
Pearson: It can really be quite a lot of different things. Something that was important to us was not just dorms and the idea of living with a roommate and getting to know people, but also off-campus housing or being able to go to university after you've actually done other things in your Sims life and being able to go back to university. We wanted it to feel a little more flexible to plug into what Sims lives might have been by now, because they have been playing with a bunch of other experiences and come a long way. So it really is about flexibility and discovering my own path and my own identity.
Shacknews: Was it difficult to clean up some of the more ribald elements of college life, considering the game has to maintain its T for Teen rating?
Pearson: I think there's always a balance when we're playing with different themes of any kind of, how do we make it a tongue-in-cheek fun version that still feels optimistic, still feels positive, and still fits in the Sims world and that T for Teen rating. So I think for us, it often means abstracting something into a different kind of ideal. Our ping-pong table that can be used for juice pong is definitely an abstraction of something people would do in real life, but we make it a little goofier and a little sillier so it doesn't go too far down a path of getting into territory we don't want to end up in.
Shacknews: How have you captured the element of higher learning in this expansion? How does a Sim go about learning a trade to take out into the real world?
Pearson: There's a lot of different paths for your Sim to pursue as they're going after their degree. They can decide what they're going to be and what they're going to focus and how much of it to do. They can decide to be really lazy about going down their path or they can be really focused about going down their path. They can work with other Sims in study groups or join those secret societies. It's about deciding what your goal is and there's a couple different things you can try along the way in getting there.
Shacknews: Can you explain how players can customize their homes, whether it's the college dorms or off-campus housing?
Pearson: One of the strengths of The Sims has always been our Build Mode and being able to express whatever it is you can concoct. We've applied a lot of that into dorms and off-campus housing so that you can really express your Sim's personality. Dorms are just going to have a few more restrictions, right? You can't just go knocking down walls and stuff, but there's lots still to express your personality.
Shacknews: What sorts of extracurricular activities can Sims jump into? And is there a particular favorite one for you?
Pearson: I think there's a bunch of different clubs and activities to explore. I haven't tried them all myself. I'm personally excited about robotics. I really want to build robots and have them serve my Sim and fix everything. I'm excited about the idea of tinkering and coming up with these new creations that have a little mind of their own that might help out my Sim.
Shacknews: Lastly, as we sit here, we've been out of college for a long while. And one of those things that happens when you go back to your alma mater is that you realize, college has changed dramatically in the years that have passed. So how has the team gone about researching what it means to go to college today in 2019?
Pearson: That's a good question and I'm certainly not going to say we hit it on the head. I think we have tried to not only ask about experiences that may be from a while back, but also look at the kinds of articles and conversations that are going on online now. We have a lot of younger Simmers who are in college now, so we can look at and talk about what they're doing. We've done research to look at what are things that kids worry about when they head into college nowadays or what teens worry about or what adults worry about when they go back to college. So we were able to sample from a lot of places and say, "Okay, how do we make this all feel closer to what it might feel like today, but still Sim-sy?" And how do we make it feel like you can control some aspects of it?
I don't know if we hit it quite on the nose, but I feel like it's a good approximation.
The Sims 4: Discover University is set to release on PC this Thursday, November 14. For more, be sure to check out our recent hands-on preview.
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, The Sims 4 GM talks about Discover University and college life
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