Sims 4 Console Producer Goes Deep On Direct Vs. Indirect Control

Sims 4 releases on Xbox and PS4 Nov. 17.
Sims 4 releases on Xbox and PS4 Nov. 17. EA

Do you click on a destination and watch your Sim walk around? Or do you move your Sim with the push of an analog stick? That’s the difference between indirect and direct control when it comes to The Sims. If you’re a fan chances are you have strong opinions on the subject. This one aspect of control has been at the center of debates surrounding console versions of the game year after year.

“There is always a war amongst our fans about whether it should be direct control or indirect control,” Sims 4 console producer Michael Duke told Player.One. “People seem to just fall on one side of that coin.”

The first iteration of Sims on console relied on a waypoint to select where your Sim travelled. Sims 2 on console was direct control -- you move with your Sim, which meant no more walking in on other Sims while they use the bathroom! Sims 3 on console payed homage to the first iteration, with a bigger glowing green beam as the point-and-click method. But, Sims 3 for Wii had direct controls. So it’s no surprise this was one of the hardest decisions when Duke and his team were developing Sims 4 for Xbox and PS4.

“‘Contentious’ is probably a single-word description,” Duke said with a sigh and a laugh. “I think there are always good arguments for any option. When I am leading a project I try to think about, what is our goal? What is our mission statement? For this time, for this generation bringing The Sims 4 to console, our real goal was that it is the same game. It is the same gameplay, the same features, the same experience. It is about where you want to tell your stories, not which stories you can tell. So with that as the guiding light, it actually shut down that conversation pretty efficiently.”

Some players complain watching your Sim walk around is boring and less immersive, which it can be. If you play The Sims a lot, there’s no question you fast-forward through hours of Sim time. But then again, that is The Sims. It’s how the PC game is and has always been allowing the player to control multiple Sims, stories and elements of the game at once. It’s also the experience The Sims team wanted to replicate on console, or had to, considering it’s an exact port -- one of the reasons the game took years of development.

“If we make the change to a direct control schema, there are some systems that we built that are going to need to also change. There’s knock-on effects to changing the way that a player interacts with the game. We really wanted to challenge ourselves to keep it consistent,” Duke said.

Duke admits he and the development team knew early on to expect usability challenges, especially since Sims 4 on console is not scaled down or focused on a single theme, like we’ve seen in the past. There are many other games that incorporate some sort of Sim-creation tool. That’s not the case for Build/Buy mode, which Duke said was the most complicated tool to remap controls. There was a lot of testing involved, and constant changes to the user interface and controls which ultimately resulted in the combination of two indirect controls. When we spoke, the game was on its seventh iteration of controls and counting.

“I really wanted to test people who played Sims 3 on console. People who enjoy The Sims on a console but don't have The Sims 4 experience yet, and watching how they did. The reality is, if you are familiar with console control, a lot of what we have is very common,” he said. “We have tried very hard to follow the conventions that I see across the console market.”

The Sims is a dense game. There’s an immense number of options in all the modes, all of which take time to discover and find. Imagine playing The Sims on PC for the first time. It takes hours of play to operate at a high efficiency. This may also be the case for those delving into The Sims on consoles.

“From my experience, you are talking about learning curve. The length of time has a lot to do with where you tend to play,” he said. “What’s very funny, to me at least, is the people who play a lot of Sims 4 on PC and don't use a console very much, [they] struggle for a while. And I think their struggle is more rooted in the fact they know what they want to do but they have no idea which button will do the thing. So they seem to struggle with more frustration than a general usability because they have too much information but not enough knowledge.”

With no beam of light as a guide and no direct control like the previous console games, will this learning curve actually deter these new players? Duke is hopeful players will give it a chance, but it’s also important to remember The Sims wasn’t ported over to console to attract PC players.

“My biggest risk is a PC player who doesn’t love the console, but one of the things we talked about from the onset, we are not hoping to migrate our PC audience to the console. For us, this is the opportunity to make sure all our fans who have always loved the console version or players who today don't have a computer that can really run the Sims 4, or certainly not at higher specs, this is a chance for them to get the ultra graphics and the full-on Sims 4 experience on a console.”

The Sims 4 releases on Xbox One and PS4 Nov. 17.

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