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《模拟人生》制作人谈工作室文化以及该系列所带来的正能量

发布时间:2019-09-09 08:57:53 Tags:,

《模拟人生》制作人谈工作室文化以及该系列所带来的正能量

原作者:Rebekah Valentine 译者:Willow Wu

就和《模拟人生》这个游戏一样,我与EA Maxis资深制作人Michael Duke的谈话也充满了可笑、意外的故事。

他跟我分享了他是如何利用游戏中可定制的建筑和房屋与妻子沟通室内装饰的事——日常生活中他对这些一窍不通。我分享了大学四年级时的一个俱乐部之夜,诱惑死神是如何帮助我在经历了一场重大生活剧变后稳定下来的。他讲述了一些开发人员的故事,他们写了一个自动冲水马桶代码,有时你的模拟市民还在马桶上时,马桶就会自动冲水了,简直烦死人。

Duke说他喜欢分享《模拟人生》的这些故事,他已经为这个系列工作了13年——从《模拟人生3》的游戏玩法工程师开始,接着是四个扩展包,一路到《模拟人生4》。私人化、应变式叙事是这个系列经久不衰的主要原因之一,玩家的反馈让他觉得制作《模拟人生》是一件很有趣的事。

尽管Duke为《模拟人生》工作了很多年,但他认为自己更像是一个中期留存下来的玩家,而Maxis是一个重视长期留住人才的工作室。这并不是一个容易的目标,考虑到这个行业目前正面临一些严峻的问题,比如超负荷加班、有毒的职场文化、和高离职率。

Duke承认说这个目标对Maxis这样的工作室来说尤为困难,他们的用户想要丰富的扩展内容、快速的更新节奏,迄今为止发行的《模拟人生4》DLC差不多有30个了。Duke表示随着新DLC的增加,QA过程会变得更加严格,因为他们必须测试确保每一个添加到游戏中的新系统都能与其它已存在的系统兼容,另外要考虑到问题被遗漏的可能性也增加了。

但是Duke说Maxis工作室一直以来都深谙加班文化的危害,在问题出现时会尽最大努力与之斗争。

“在Maxis,最令我自豪的事情之一就是我们为避免超负荷加班做了很多努力,”他说。“这是Maxis一贯遵循的理念,从某种程度上说,我认为我们很早就在推崇它了。我不是在暗示说我们从不加班,但说实话很少。

“我们的计划是确保有一个空间,如果人们热衷于某件事或他们真的很想争取实现某个东西,那么我希望他们能利用这个空间加班一晚,完成自己的目标。我们不想要员工每天晚上都呆到很晚,长期这样会产生不好的影响。

模拟人生(from berkeleyside.com)

模拟人生(from berkeleyside.com)

“我们很珍惜那些在职时间很长的员工。我们会在这里工作就是因为喜欢,关注生活质量、避免超负荷加班之类的事是这个工作室能够留住人才的重要原因之一,这是我们的优先考虑。”

Duke补充说,对于Maxis这样的工作室来说,还有一些要素可以让避免加班变得更容易。其中之一就是《模拟人生4》社区,这些玩家能够快速发现并报告QA可能遗漏的问题,以便团队能够及时修复它们。另外就是,在运营《模拟人生4》近五年之后,他们对更新的工作流程、时间管理更加得心应手,这使得提前计划和日程安排变得更加容易。

“扩展包一个接着一个,好处在于我们可以不断学习、吸取教训,”Duke说。“第一个扩展包并不完美,而且遇到了些需要额外花时间处理的难题。但那时我们对扩展包规模以及开发过程有了概念,所以我们在制定时间表方面做得更好了,这意味着我们的员工一直都有周末以及正常的工作时长。这对于坚持反加班文化来说尤为重要。”

到九月份,《模拟人生4》就正式发行五周年了,尽管我们还没有深入探究团队为“模拟人生5”或类似项目所做的具体计划,但Duke给我们的感觉是可能还需要一段时间才能有新的系列新作。尽管五年是目前为止《模拟人生》系列游戏最长的时间间隔,但Duke说他还有很多关于内容创作的想法,它们至少可以让玩家再忙碌几年。

“我们谈了很多以三年为单位的规划,”他说。“在接下来的几年我们要干什么?已经规划好的有哪些?当我和设计&制作团队坐一块时,我们讨论还想在游戏中加入什么样的内容,白板依旧能被我们的设计概念、想做的东西所填满。我看着它说‘OK,我们还有很多东西可以探索、加入到游戏中。’我告诉技术总监们我还想继续开发DLC,再撑个五年,他们都被吓到了。但只要玩家还在,社区有需求,我们当然就有想法。

“游戏所吸引的玩家仍然比以往任何时候都多,年复一年,模拟市民的生活仍在继续,不断有新玩家加入并喜欢上它。目前,我们不会立即着手下一次迭代。我们会讨论一些之前从未尝试过的事情,还有其他人未曾想到的主题,这是一件令人兴奋的事。”

作为与整个游戏类型同名的游戏系列,《模拟人生》包含了模拟游戏中许多广受大众喜爱的内容,Duke将其定义为在平凡中体验非凡的能力。他承认,向从未玩过模拟游戏的人解释这一点是挺难的,因为他们可能无法理解游戏的娱乐价值——比如你可以在游戏中倒垃圾。但他补充说,只要你玩过一次《模拟人生》,你就能明白这其中的“秘密”。

“作为一个设计&制作团队,我们的核心理念之一是‘制造惊喜和快乐’,你想看你的模拟市民倒垃圾是因为有时候一些你没有预料到的事情会发生。我所指的是,在模拟世界中,意外事件的出现频率要远远高于实际生活。

“如果我在接下来的十年里每周都倒垃圾,也许在这十年里,有一次我去倒垃圾时,会遇到有趣的事情——比如我打开垃圾桶,一只浣熊跳了出来。而在游戏中,我们设定7次或者10次日常事件中会出现1次这种惊喜时刻或者剧情。这就是把平凡的生活变得更美好的魔力。

“对于这种应变式设计系统,我们的目的是即使你在做很日常的事情也会有其它事情发生,让它们构筑一个剧情,或者为你触发一个剧情时刻,让玩家自行发展剧情。而且他们是有选择权的,如果你不希望你的故事跟那辆经过的消防车扯上关系,那就无视它。”

但Duke表示,向玩家推销这种魔力的关键在于从根本上确保玩家可以成为他们想成为的任何人。在这一点上,《模拟人生》做得比其它绝大多数游戏都好。2000年发行的系列第一作《模拟人生1》就允许玩家建立同性关系,而且考虑到了种族的多样性(就跟当时的其它游戏比较来说)。他们以此为基线来优化升级。最新的迭代包括各种外貌个性化调整以及性别细化选项——包括着装风格、声音、体格、卫生间区分使用和怀孕。所有的这些都可以定制。

Duke对这个系列的发展现状颇感自豪,但是也肯定了《模拟人生》的故事还远远还没结束。

“多样化和包容性是我们非常在意的两个关键,它们可以从很多地方表现,游戏也是如此,”他说。“我们做的还不够全面,但我们还会继续努力,通过更多方式来呈现游戏的包容性。我们的目标是让世界上所有玩家都能在游戏中创造自己、创造他们的朋友,有机会探索他们的故事——无论是怎样的故事,可以是天马行空的也可以是平凡的。我们只想让这个游戏成为人们寻找自我、认可自我的地方。

“我能想到很多我们还没涉及到的内容,有些是出于技术障碍,有些是时间问题。在为游戏的多样性和包容性塑造更多内容时,我们遇到的最困难的挑战之一是如何确保我们的处理方式得当。我不想让人们觉得这些新东西是开玩笑或者是搞笑的内容。我想确保我们以一种非常尊重的方式来做这件事,成为最有代表性的可行之道。

“我们以前就支持非二元性别了,那时我们和同性恋反歧视联盟(GLAAD)就这一问题讨论了很多。如何才能营造既包容又舒适的氛围,同时又没有强加于人的的感觉?重点不在于我们的想法,而是玩家想怎么讲故事,我们帮助他们实现。

“这是个艰难的任务。就在最近,我们在游戏中加入了一些彩虹旗,我们做了很多研究,并与It Gets Better网站合作(It Gets Better的目标是通过让成年同性恋者向LGBT青少年传达“一切正好起来”的信息来预防欺凌自杀事件的发生,游戏邦注),但是游戏更新后,社区成员认为我们没有‘击中靶心’。有很多人反馈说没有女同性恋的旗帜。我以为我们的功课做得很充分了,但是社区的玩家却告诉我们不,你们有问题。我们的女同性恋玩家觉得没有获得足够的重视。

“所以我们赶紧行动起来,但是我们发现女同性恋旗帜并不是只有一种,目前没有大家一致认可的图案,事实上还有很多争论在继续。到底选哪个才好?我最不愿意做的事就是选择其中一个,然后疏远另一半的用户。所以经过研究,我们最终增加了三种旗帜来体现游戏的包容性。我们不仅跟合作伙伴进行了交流,还有EA的内部组织,也就是我们的人力资源部门。我们的目标是确保不管你是谁,不管你对这个话题有什么看法,总有一种是适合你的。

“这就是我们最后的解决方案,但是由此你就可以感受到想让游戏变得这么包容和舒适不是那么容易的。我们花了很多心思在这些上面,这就是为什么我们不能把所有东西一次性都加进游戏。或许这也是为什么很多人不去做这件事,这真的不是一个简单的任务。”

在我们的讨论过程中,Duke一直在谈前瞻性的话题——未来的DLC、未来的游戏、未来对群体文化的进一步展现。当我直接问他对《模拟人生》这个系列(已经运营了近20年)的下一个十年有什么想法时,他兴奋地回答道“10亿玩家!”

尽管对于《模拟人生》这种长寿IP的创造者来说,这算是一种理所当然的回答,但Duke渴望它的理由更为真诚。

“坦白说,我认为如果大家有机会玩一玩《模拟人生》,那么生活会变得更加美好,”他说。“这是个特别的地方,我觉得你可以通过这个游戏更好地认识自己,还有了解其他人和他们的故事。在我们努力提升游戏的多样性、包容性以及覆盖更多群体的过程中,我认为《模拟人生》也成为了我们认识这个世界、了解更多人的故事的强大工具。我希望我们能继续扩大影响范围,把快乐传播给更多的人。

“我想把我的精力放在一些能给世界带来快乐的事情上。当我看到这个产品、我们所做的事以及它影响人们生活的方式,我知道它能让人们感到快乐,为这个产品努力是非常值得的。所以,当我们听到玩家说《模拟人生》帮助他们度过了高中的一段困难时光,或者他们在学校里遭受了欺凌,后来把事情解决了,因为《模拟人生》给了他们处理问题的力量,或者他们学会了爱自己,这些故事都让我们觉得我们在做的不仅仅是一款游戏,它的影响力并没有局限在某个娱乐时刻中。这就是我们的动力来源。”

本文由游戏邦编译,转载请注明来源,或咨询微信zhengjintiao

Just like The Sims itself, my chat with EA Maxis senior producer Michael Duke was full of silly, surprising stories.

He told me about how he used the game’s customizable buildings and houses to connect with his wife over interior decorating — something he normally finds inaccessible. I shared how seducing the Grim Reaper on senior night at a club helped me feel more stable after a major life upheaval. He offered the tale of some developers who cheekily programmed an automatically flushing toilet to sometimes obnoxiously flush while your Sim was still sitting on it. Highly relatable.

Duke says he loves swapping these kinds of stories about a series he’s worked on for 13 years, starting as a gameplay engineer on The Sims 3 and sticking with the game through four expansion packs before moving to The Sims 4 team and a production track just a few years ago. Personal, emergent narratives like these are a major factor in the long life of the franchise, and the player response to them is, he says, part of what makes working on The Sims stay fun over a long period of time.

Despite what sounds like a hefty tenure, Duke says he considers himself more of a “mid-term retention” in a studio that values keeping its talent for the long haul. It’s a challenging goal in an industry currently in the midst of some harsh self-reflection on issues such as crunch, toxic workplace culture, and high turnover.

And it’s a goal that Duke acknowledges can be especially tricky for a studio like Maxis, which has a fanbase that likes frequent, detailed updates, and has thus far put out nearly 30 pieces of DLC content for The Sims 4. With each new piece of DLC, Duke says, the QA process especially grows more rigorous, as every new system added to the game must be tested to function with every other pre-existing system, and the likelihood of issues slipping through the cracks increases.

But Duke says Maxis has historically been keenly aware of the perils of crunch culture, and continues to do its best to combat these issues as they arise.

“Something I’m very proud of in Maxis is how much we work at trying to avoid [crunch],” he says. “It’s been a value in this studio for quite a while, and in some regards I think we were pushing forward early on. I won’t imply we never [crunch], but frankly it is very rare.

“What we try and set out to do is make sure we have a space where if people are passionate about something or there’s something they just really want to get in, we want to have that space for them to work late one night and get it done and support that effort. We also don’t want our employees to be here late every night, all week. We see that manifest in bad ways in the long run.

“We value the long tenure of employees. Those of us who are here just love being here, and our focus on quality of life and avoiding things like crunch is a big part of what makes retention possible in this studio. It’s a very high priority for us.”

Duke adds that there are also elements that make avoiding crunch easier for a studio like Maxis. One of those is the vocal community surrounding The Sims 4, which is quick to spot and report issues that QA might miss so that the team can fix them promptly. Another is that, after running a game like The Sims 4 for nearly five years, the team only improves at understanding the kinds of work and time commitments required for each new update, making it easier to plan ahead and manage their schedules.

“What’s great about doing expansion pack after expansion pack is we can learn from the lessons,” Duke says. “The first expansion pack we did was not perfect, and we had some challenges where we had to work a little more. But at this point we understand the size and the scope and the effort involved, so we’re a lot better at actually building out schedules that mean our employees are always going to have their weekends and work normal work lengths. That’s been super valuable to making sure the experience stays in the studio.”

The Sims 4 turns five in September, and though we didn’t delve into specifics of what the team has planned for a hypothetical ‘Sims 5″ or similar, Duke’s impression is that it may still be a while yet before we see a new major entry. Even though five years is the longest gap we’ve seen between two numbered Sims titles, Duke says he still has ideas for content they can add to keep players busy for several more years at least.

“We talk a lot about a three-year view,” he says. “What are we doing over the next few years? What do we have planned? When I sit down with my design and production teams and we talk about what else we want to add to this game, we can still fill whiteboards with concepts and things we want to do. I look at that and go, ‘Okay, we have plenty left to explore and add.’ My technical directors are terrified when I tell them I want to build DLC for five more years. But if our audience is there and our community is asking for more, we certainly have the ideas.

“We’re still drawing more players than we’ve ever had, year-over-year, and the game is continuing to perform and players are coming in and loving it. For us, it’s exciting that we’re not heading into the next iteration right now. Instead, we’re talking about what we’ve never done, and themes no one has ever thought about. It’s inspiring, from a creative standpoint.”

As the namesake of an entire genre (and one that’s constantly growing with new games and expansions), The Sims series encompasses a lot of what people like in simulation games broadly, which Duke identifies as the ability to experience the extraordinary within the ordinary. It’s something he acknowledges is tricky to explain to people who have never played a sim game before, and might not understand the entertainment value in a game where you can, say, take out the trash. But he adds that once you’ve played The Sims once, you’re in on the “secret.”

“One of the values we take as a design and production team is ‘Surprise and delight,’” he continues. “The reason you hopefully watch your Sim take out the trash is, occasionally, something you didn’t expect is going to happen. And what we talk about is that the unexpected needs to happen far more regularly in our simulation than it actually occurs in real life.

“If I take my garbage out every week for the next ten years, maybe once in those ten years something interesting will happen when I get out to the garbage can — like I’ll open it and a raccoon will pop out. In the game, we need that surprise moment or story to appear more like one in every seven or ten times. That is the magic of bringing the mundane to life a little bit more.

“Our goal in this emergent design system is that even as you’re doing normal, everyday things, something else goes by that turns it into a story or triggers a story moment for you that you can now build on as a player. And they’re opt-in offers. If you don’t want your story to be about that fire truck that went by, it passed and you don’t care.”

But key to selling the extraordinary to players, Duke says, is ensuring that at a fundamental level, players can be whoever they want to be. And The Sims has a better history than most games of allowing for that. Since the very first game, launched in 2000, The Sims has featured same-sex relationships and had a (for the time) solid range of racial diversity. It has only improved from there. The most recent iteration includes numerous appearance customization options, as well as gender identity choices broken down by clothing style, voice, physical frame, bathroom use, and pregnancy. Every one of these can be customized.

Duke is proud of how far the series has come, but is firm that Maxis and The Sims are far from done.

“Diversity and inclusion are things we care a lot about and there’s always work to be done, and I feel the same way about our game,” he says. “We’re not there yet. But we’re going to keep taking steps and I want to keep taking even more steps to be inclusive. Our goal is that every player in the world can come into this game and create themselves and create their friends and have a chance to explore their stories — whatever that looks like — and that story can be fantastical or mundane. We just want that place where we can all identify and find ourselves.

“I can think of lots of things we don’t have covered; some are technical hurdles, some are a matter of time. One of the biggest challenges we run into as we try to do more things for diversity and inclusion is making sure we handle it in an appropriate way. I don’t want to add something like it’s a joke or humorous. I want to make sure we do it in a very respectful way and a very representative way.

“When we did support for non-binary gender, we had a lot of conversations with GLAAD about the right way to represent that. How do we do it in a way that feels inclusive and welcoming and not dictating our viewpoint? It’s not about what we believe. It’s about encompassing how our players want to tell their story.

“And it’s a very hard thing. More recently, we added a bunch of Pride flags to the game, and we did a lot of research and worked with the It Gets Better Project, but when it came out our community let us know that they thought we missed the mark. We got a lot of pushback over not including a lesbian Pride flag. We thought we had done the homework, but what we heard from our community was that no, that doesn’t cut it. Our lesbian players didn’t feel adequately represented.

“So we moved quickly to try and add one, but what we discovered was there isn’t a clear consensus on the lesbian pride flag. There’s actually a lot of debate. So we found ourselves asking, ‘What’s the right one?’ The last thing I want to do is choose one and alienate half of this audience I’m trying to make it right with. So we ended up adding three from our research that felt inclusive. And we spoke not only with our partner, but also with our internal group at EA, our employee resource groups. Our goal was to make sure no matter who you were or what your viewpoint on the subject, one of those felt right to you.

“That’s how we ended up solving it, but it just demonstrates how difficult it can be to do this in a way that feels inclusive and welcoming. A lot of care goes into these, and it’s the reason we can’t add everything at once. And that may be part of why we don’t see a lot of people doing this, because it’s not easy.”

Throughout our discussion, Duke is constantly looking forward — future DLC, future games, future improvements to representation. When I ask him directly where he sees The Sims (which is getting on 20 years as a franchise) in another decade, he cheerfully and immediately replies, “A billion players!”

Though it seems like an obvious response for anyone creating a lasting IP like The Sims, Duke’s reason for that desire is more heartfelt.

“Frankly, I think everyone’s life would be better if they had the opportunity to spend some time in The Sims,” he says. “It’s a special place, and I think you learn something about who you are and a lot about other people and other stories. And as we keep working to be better at diversity and inclusion and more representative of the whole world, I think it becomes a more powerful thing for us to have an understanding of who else is out there in the world and their stories. I want that. I want to see us grow the reach and spread the joy to more people.

“I want to put my effort into something that puts joy into the world. And when I look at this product and what we do and the way it influences people’s lives, it makes people happy. Putting effort into something that creates that impact is really rewarding. So when we hear from our players about the time it helped them in a tough spot in high school, or a time they felt bullied in middle school and played it out and it gave them the strength to deal with that issue or love themselves, those sorts of stories make it feel like we make more than a game. We make something that has a bigger impact than just a moment in time of entertainment. That drives all of us.”

(source: gamesindustry.biz


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