GameWatcher recently sat down with Paradox Tectonic to explore the driving forces behind its ambitious life simulation game, Life By You, which has the potential to revolutionize the genre forever.
Upon learning that the publisher of Cities Skylines, the acclaimed Sim City killer, was developing a game to rival The Sims, one could envision alarm bells ringing for EA's powerhouse life simulation team. Particularly considering how Cities Skylines capitalized on a faltering Sim City. In reality, Life By You would only need to master a few aspects that The Sims has yet to perfect in order to challenge the genre's reigning champion. However, Life By You is an incredibly ambitious project, pledging a degree of freedom that surpasses expectations.
One might wonder why there hasn't been a significant effort to outdo the Maxis behemoth until now. So, what motivated Paradox to believe that the present moment was ripe for a challenge?
"We have been working on Life By You for a few years now with the effort of expanding a genre we love and adding a new layer of customization" says the Paradox Tectonic devs "or actually, many more layers!"
They aren't mistaken in their assessment. During a showcase for Life By You earlier this year, we witnessed everything from individual decals to entire conversations featuring levels of customization that would leave life sim enthusiasts enthralled by the possibilities. That is precisely what the developers are aiming to achieve.
"The team is made up of experienced, talented people who wanted to make a life sim that’s open and moddable - one that will promote freedom and creativity.’" Tectonic notes, and later goes on to state just how important trust in the community will be to Life By You’s development. Tectonic reminds us that players will have access to all the tools the developers have, and the first 100,000 Early Access players will be able to join a private DIscord where they can provide feedback for the development team as they move towards a full launch.
While the modding tools significantly contribute to making each player's game feel like a personalized creation, Tectonic emphasizes the extent to which the open-world environments can be modified.
"Players have the possibility of customizing every lot on the map, they can edit preexisting ones or create new ones and place them anywhere, we have different types of lots too, from houses to shops and offices." Tectonic then further elaborates on the extent of individualization and personalization that can be achieved through world customization.
"The Initial world looks like a seaside town, but players will be able to create their towns and neighborhoods with the styles or lot sizes they wish, and the people who live there." There’s a pause to point out that every NPC is not only playable, but customizable in every way including skin color and gender. "If a player lives in Brazil, for example, we want to allow them to create a town that matches their point of view and mirrors their actual life experience.".
Considering the diversity of The Sims community over the years, incorporating this level of customization in Life By You is a significant accomplishment. The Sims community has made remarkable progress within a relatively constrained system, expanding the game's possibilities, which has, to some extent, influenced the developers' updates. Paradox's proposal for Life By You appears to be the natural progression of that concept.
Tectonic admits that promoting Life By You as 'the most open and moddable life sim' is an ambitious claim, but it is one the team strives for and wants its player base to see how committed it will be to their ideas and creations from day one. Everything players create in Life By You can be shared, and if players create their own mods, then they can be added to the official Paradox Mod Database. It’s a move that drops the curtain between developer and player in a manner we’ve only seen in a small handful of games to this point.
One of the fascinating quality-of-life changes resulting from this level of freedom is the absence of typical progression or gameplay constraints, allowing players to freely shape their character's personal narratives. For instance, as Tectonic explains, if a character proposes on a mountaintop but their hunger meter is depleted with no food nearby, players can simply refill the meter and continue with their planned storyline.
Does it worry Tectonic that such freedom may lead to complaints of aimlessness?
"Regarding needing restrictions to make progress meaningful, our philosophy is the opposite. We feel that if we put in hardcoded gameplay restrictions on progression, that gives an immediate impression that there is a ‘right way’ to play."
However, this doesn't imply that Life By You is solely about 'free love and flowers'. The Creator tools can also be employed to generate serious challenges. This represents the other side of The Sims experience. Despite the numerous delightful creations players have developed over the years, there is a strong desire for a more challenging and less idyllic life for the characters. Life By You enables players to start with a character who has no money, is universally disliked, and resides in a bush—a situation we can all relate to.
There are also sets of optional challenges built into the game that help you define a character’s career path and their success on it. Tectonic stresses the point that Life by You is an emergent-based game, and none of that works without connections between different elements. It’s just that now, the players get a lot more control of those elements.
Perhaps Life By You’s most ambitious addition to the life sim model is in its conversation system. The game uses real language as opposed to the delightfully garbled Simlish of The Sims. The game will launch with dialogue written by Paradox Tectonic and players can use this or, yes you guessed it, create their own. Tectonic mentions that it’s not an all-or-nothing situation either. So you don’t have to edit entire reams of dialogue, you can just change lines on the fly instead.
It’s a feature Tectonic describes as close to the development team’s hearts. They agreed from the beginning that real dialogue would be the way forward, and it was only natural to allow the same manner of player freedom to it as the rest of the game.
What is clear from this conversation with the Paradox Tectonic team is that an open-ended player-led life sim was always the goal, and by giving the community the same tools as the developers, the rules for the world of Life By You can be established on an individual level. It’s also clear that this ambition isn’t without care and caution. An Early Access launch and a close connection looking to be forged by the game’s first players feels like a studio getting ahead of a curve that many games are stumbling over until after the fact.
Life by You will enter early access on the 12th of September on Steam, with console versions planned for later.
Q&A Session was conducted by David Wildgoose. The feature piece was assembled by Neil Bolt.
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