The Sims 4: Island Living is the seventh major expansion for Maxis’ popular life-simulator, taking players (and their Sims) to the tropical paradise of Sulani for a slice of laid-back island living. Following a successful launch earlier in the summer, we chatted with Jill Johnson, Associate Producer on the The Sims 4, about escaping the rat race, island upkeep and the danger of mermaids.
The amount of colour offered by a change of scenery is one of the first things you notice, and players have a responsibility for looking after the island to keep it that way. How easy was is to balance the aesthetic elements with making the experience compelling for players?
From a visual standpoint, we had a few discussions early on concerning the starting stage for Island Conservation. We universally knew we didn’t want the starting point to look like a bleak wasteland, but we also needed to have that wow moment in contrast for the final stage of conservation.
Especially in the earliest phase, boosting up your Island’s conservation takes a bit of commitment. We did this intentionally so that when you’ve finally picked up that magic last piece of trash or spread the word to enough people, you get a very satisfying sense of investment when you get a vibrant notification telling you that your island is thriving.
Our Art and Design teams got pretty creative by pulling a handful of different levers to keep a noticeably visual progression without roughing up the starting point too much. The palm trees and the coral gets a little bit brighter. Instead of nets and piles of litter, eventually you start to see more fish and turtles and butterflies. Bright and colorful flowers start to show up. And my personal favorite is the striking bioluminescence you can spot glowing at night.
There seems to be a disaster movie element here, with your active volcano in particular stopping Island Living from being a total paradise. What sort of unexpected events will players be dealing with this time?
Oh yes, the volcano. It’s true, one of the pillars of Island Living is a peaceful, relaxing lifestyle. But this is still The Sims! And we definitely have some people on the team who love to grief their Sims. Other than possibly getting pummelled by lava bombs and catching on fire - if the Volcanic Activity Lot Trait is on your lot, of course - your Sims can find themselves in some other compromising situations around Sulani.
My personal favorite danger is the shark. If you swim out into the deeper, darker parts of the ocean there is a very real threat that you may encounter a shark. Pro tip: If you don’t get your Sim out of the water right away, you might just get pulled under and die.
If you displease the Island Spirits from the Island Spirits Lot Trait or the Island Elementals that are tied to the Child of the Island Personality Trait, they will make your luck turn sometimes disastrously bad.
And last but not least: not all Mermaids are sweet and friendly. Mermaids can use Summon Ocean Threat or use their Siren’s call on other unsuspecting swimmers that leaves them in a very bad state.
Dolphins also inhabit Sulani's waters, though encounters with them are markedly less threatening to your health
With The Sims being loosely based on our own exciting lives, how do you make things like dealing with insurance claims and the more serious business of child protection fun and interesting? Is it difficult to find the right balance between real life and Sim life?
We try to keep most things in The Sims generally light-hearted & entertaining, even when dealing with the less glamorous parts of life. We also don’t want our Sims universe to be this pristine perfect utopia, because what’s the fun in that? Sims can fart, Sims can die, and sometimes Sims can milk a Cowplant.
Many of our players love being able to play a realistic life, homework and all. Like any of our features, when dealing with something mundane or dark, we play the feature and feel it out. Our development team has gotten a very fine sense of what feels appropriate and what might need a little more silly.
If something’s feeling too boring, maybe we’ll adjust the tuning to make it less of a grind or add some extra funny chance to fail. If something’s feeling too serious we might liven it up a bit with some goofy animations. We try to keep a balance.
For those who might have been away from the series for a while, or players who haven't tried The Sims before at all, do you feel like this is a good point to jump into the delightful world of Simlish and unprompted kitchen fires?
Of course! It’s never too late to jump in and pick up The Sims. One of the coolest things I think The Sims has to offer is that, similar to most of the game pieces, even the packs you chose to play help make your experience modular. So if Island Living is the only expansion pack you own, you won’t be worse for the wear. Your Sims just might be a little more chill than others. Tee hee.