Out-takes, Gameplay and Storytelling notes, and other miscellaneous ramblings from behind the scenes at Richmond Sims.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Different Roads - Extra

Having survived the big and traumatic prequel story (traumatic for me and the Sims involved :)  ), I wanted to make some kind of 'making of' post...  April's story in particular was a turning point in how I play the game and I felt like writing something about that.  I also wanted to share a few of the 'real' pictures from back then, when it all happened in-game, as I'm not happy with them enough to use them in the actual story (camera too far away, walls down, etc, etc...).  This is kind of long and explains how the story came about, totally written out of my own desire to reminisce :) ... so feel free to skim read/totally ignore the text and just look at the pictures, if you like :)

For the prequel, I re-created the pictures in my current hood, exiting without saving when I was done each scene.  I aged characters down and used substitutes for the deceased ones, as I tried resurrecting people but for some reason they kept dying again really quickly (and where else but in relation to Sims could you use a line like that - or even want to? :)  ).

Cast list: All the toddlers and children were themselves, aged down, as were Serdar and Cory (and Allie, Aaron and Sharla).  The babies were random babies from the hood, that I teleported in.  Ashley Pitts was actually his lookalike grandson Ryan London, with appropriate makeover, and Orlando Centowski was a lookalike vacation townie.  April was played by a clone of herself created for the prequel, as her character file became corrupted when my cemetery crashed and became buggy some time ago (only works as a residential lot now, and a lot of the older graves are decorative substitutes as the 'real' ones disappeared).  The busiest person in the whole prequel was Ruth (Centowski) Cadey, who played herself as a child/teen, her mother Gretchen, and also filled in as Becky Pitts, since you only see her with her back to the camera anyway :)

I was originally going to try to recreate the pictures exactly as they were, but I ended up taking a completely different approach.  I didn't make too much effort to recreate the locations exactly or even make the people look exactly as they were the first time around... I came to see it as being like a remake of a movie... it stays true to the plot and 'feel' of the original, but often looks quite different.

This meant I was free to change things for various reasons, and I could also use the pictures to hint at a couple of other things that happened in my hood past.  And I could change the ages of the kids a little, as their original ages just don't work out with the rest of my hood as it is now that I assign real ages.

For example, here's 'real' Serdar and April with the twins...

... notice Cory asleep in the bed at the back, and he's already a child?  That doesn't work, now that I play my houses in sync... and the fact that I now play my houses in sync, is one of the really significant things, that started with April's story.

I got TS2 after years of playing TS1.  In the first game, I had several houses I played in my neighbourhood, but I played them in isolation to each other.  Usually I’d play one house intensively for a while, then leave it to play a different one.  Households befriended each other, but there was no overall timeline linking them. 

This was probably a consequence of the fact that time didn’t advance in the game as such (aside from babies becoming children, no one aged)... so it was like I was playing a seperate game with each household.  Then I got TS2.  I started by loading Pleasantview, but quickly realised that I would need a different play style.  With all of the premade households linked with an overarching storyline, what happened in one household would affect the others.  Also I’d have to play them all regularly, to keep the ages in sync.  (At this time I hadn’t discovered Sims blogs, either, so all these concepts were new to me).

Faced with this challenge, along with learning a new game interface, and - horrors! - Sims who decided their own wants and goals, it was all too much to learn at once :) .  So I created a new CAS family, the Greens, as a kind of test household.  As they had no links to anyone else in town, I could play them alone and get the hang of things.  Fast-forward a few Sim-years... the Green kids grow up, move out, start their own families, etc, etc... So, once again, I have a bunch of interlinked houses in my hood.  Only I still played them ‘TS1 style’, in as much as that each house had its own neatly-contained storyline.  They were still related to each other, they still visited each other, etc, etc, but what happened in one household had little impact on the others.

April’s story changed that - suddenly, I had a storyline affecting several households and changing them in some way.. Around this time I finally played the premade families, and some of them like Brandi ended up pulled into the existing Green family storyline.  It was also around this time that I started thinking in terms of actual ages for the characters and so on. 

I think it was with April’s story that I also started to grasp the potential in the game for creating stories out of a combination of the in-game events, and the events I manipulated myself.  She and Serdar had started out like any other couple in my game.  Her aspiration was family, her LTW was something to do with having lots of kids.  They moved into the farmhouse, but it was only when their twins were born, that I discovered that she really didn’t make a very good family Sim. 

She had this thing, where the babies/toddlers would be screaming for food, diaper change, whatever... and autonomously she’d feed one of them.   Then she’d try to feed the same one again.... and again... left to her own devices for the day, Serdar would come home to one well-fed child, one screaming starving one, a lot of green bottles rejected by the well-fed kid, and probably a couple of dirty diapers lying around as well.  Oh, and Cory was probably raiding the fridge or freezing outside...

Here's the boys again, by the way, just being cute...

I tried so hard to get clone-April to do this, but she wouldn't...

I wasn't making up the thing about the fires... typical morning at the farmhouse...

Ashley was originally visiting them because he was best friends with Serdar (ouch!), who was still a teen in the Green family home when Ashley moved there with Becky after college.  He and April rolled so many wants for each other, the only way to keep them happy was to let it happen.  Then she rolled a baby want and Serdar had a baby fear, and that gave me the idea that she would have Ashley's baby (no ACR back then, so I was totally controlling it.  I wanted to see how the Sims involved reacted to this - would, for example, Ashley know automatically that it was his.  Would Becky know, or Serdar?).  Serdar got the promotion not long after, and walked in on April and Ashley.  He ended the marriage and April moved out, returning regularly to knock over the garbage can.  She also knocked over Ashley's garbage can and argued with him outside his house whenever I played it... grrr... cue for my first 'flu epidemic...

Even as a newborn, there was no way to hide Allie's paternity - I remember her turning to the camera in the birth animation movie, with those dark blue eyes... that kind of decided the story from there on.  Allie and April lived with Serdar's brother but he kept slapping her autonomously (brotherly loyalty?) so she couldn't stay there.  I really didn't know what to do with her, and eventually she ended up with the Centowskis.

April at the Centowski house...

Gretchen with Allie... both have different hairstyles in the prequel pictures.  Ruth looked more like Gretchen with a hairstyle her mother had at another time... Allie aged down with her cc adult hair, and it looked so cute, I decided to keep it.

April pretty much autonomously ignored Allie once they were there.  Allie has memories of learning all her toddler skills from the Gretchen or Orlando, and she had a much higher relationship with them than with April.  Meanwhile, April's fires and her arguments were getting so disruptive to all the kids, and I came to the conclusion that the only thing to do, was to move her out...

It happened exactly as I described it and at the time, I found it quite haunting.  Although she's still indoors in the photo, Ruth really did chase her, but April was in the taxi before she got outside (I know its just the usual goodbye routine from the game, but still... )... and Allie really started crying as the taxi pulled away.

April moved into a small house with a couple of other sims who, I guess, would now be called non-playables.  I forgot the smoke alarms, and I suppose I could have exited without saving when she met her end, but in light of her story so far, it just made me go 'wow' at the time... and I felt so bad for her, but somehow the ending seemed so fitting... (you can see I felt guilty, there are two more Aprils in my game - the Centowskis' next daughter, and Aaron Green's eldest -  named after her).

Her grave ended up back at the farmhouse, as this was before I had a community cemetery.  Did you ever see anything more sad than this?

A ghost in aspiration failure.  No wonder I felt bad!

Serdar and the kids in the garden, after April.

See, I had to mess with the ages again...

And, is it any surprise that Cory grew up with problems?? :)

Cory’s story shows how my storytelling/random events/in-game stuff style has developed.  He and Dustin really did fight constantly during their teen, making the household very hard to play.  In honesty, I don’t remember who was the instigator, but based on my play with them aged down for the prequel, I think I’m right in blaming Dustin.  Every time I tried to get Cory to do a fight or irritate interaction, he’d do the whole shy sim ‘Why me?’ thing, then sulk up to Dustin, wringing his hands.  Cory, trust me, if you’re planning to slap someone, that’s not the best way to approach them! :)  But, really, the whole bullying thing was written in retrospective.

So was the alcohol addiction that is so central to his story... although when I look back at the way his life went in-game, it feels like it was always there, and I just didn’t see it.  For example, he really did have a penchant for losing jobs, including the Oceanography one with the chance card about the talking fish... if that’s not a sign of substance abuse, then... ! :)  

He met Sharla Ottomas in college, and although they had low attraction, they still rolled enough wants for each other to wind up married.  They always had a mediocre relationship, then after some Sim-years, she rolled a ROS to persue a relationship with the Sim you’re most attracted to - and it definately wasn’t Cory.  The guy was David Cadey, ironically, married to Ruth Centowski.  He was also in the education career, I think they met when one bought the other home from work.  So, easy storyline!  And by this time, I was creating storylines as I played. 

I had discovered Sims blogs and storytelling and, although at that time I had no intention of actually starting one of my own, I was thinking out my storylines in similar depth to the way I would if I were writing about them.  So David and Sharla started seeing each other, and although I had planned a short-lived affair, they wouldn’t stop rolling wants for each other, and it went on for several rounds/Sim years.  And every time Shala slept with David, she’d roll a want to sleep with Cory (even though their relationship scores were dropping over this time), and vice-versa.  ACR kicked in, and as I have a silent pregnancy mod, until I checked I really didn’t know who her second pregnancy was with.

Sharla eventually made the abysmal mistake of WooHoo’ing David, while Cory was in the next room!  So, yeah, I think she wanted him to know... Once he found out, we had to let Ruth in on the secret, too, and both marriages fell apart.  I moved Cory, post-aspiration failure roll, into Aaron's spare room.  The following round, Aaron rolled a house fire ROS... and the story just came together from there.  Serdar and Brandi were pulled back from my move-away hood, and Cory was turfed out into the newly-created slum area of my city, which I was dying to use for something... I let him come home eventually, of course, once we got his aspiration level up to something reasonable... 

I put in the thing about Serdar still loving April, because he did, up until the time her character file got wrecked with my cemetery, around when Cory was in college - he was regularly rolling a fear of falling out of love with her.  I figured that, if he'd held on for that long, he probably wasn't going to let go...

Cory's part of the prequel story is a mix of 'real' photos and re-shoot ones... so I had to be all the more careful, with the re-shoots, to match things up where necessary with the older pictures.  I learned a couple of important things about how not to make a prequel.

Firstly, don't use the 'real' hood to film it!  That was my biggest mistake, and I only realized what I should have done, when I was on the final pictures (*headdesk*).  I should have made a copy of my hood and filmed it with that.  My game was crashing big-time during this filming... maybe because I was aging people down and creating contradictions like married toddlers with children older that they were and so on... but I would teleport in the necessary characters, age them, change their clothes if necessary, give them makeovers, take one picture... then the game would crash!!  

As it was my real hood, I couldn't save at all during this process. In a copy hood, I could save after the makeovers and at least then, if it crashes, when I reload all the correct sims are there still, looking the way I want them, instead of having to start all over again.  And if saving it like that breaks the (duplicate) hood, too bad. It would be a throwaway anyway.

Also, next time I do this, I won't tie it into my running storyline.  I wanted to tell this story in this place so that Sam could write the letter, at the end.  Also, this story relates to some stuff that is going to happen to Cory's family soon.  But reshooting pictures for a prequel will always take longer than just taking pictures in gameplay, and by doing it this way, it meant that when this one was held up, so was everything that came after it.

There's a kind of funny epilogue to his filming saga.  I had always planned that, when I was finished with clone-April, I'd give her a makeover and name change, and let her loose in the hood as a townie.  Maybe she'd end up with one of my playable sims, and have a happier life than her counterpart did.  As it turned out, however, she was one step ahead of me :)

When I loaded her house to use a couple of rooms for Cory and Sharla's home pictures, I found that she had a room-mate!  I had somehow moved the Orlando-lookalike in with her... not even sure how... I had saved the house once, after redecorating, and maybe he was there and selectable at the time... can't think of any other explanation.  No problem, though - I'd just get on with the pictures, and sort them out later.  But what I didn't realize, was that they had a 3-bolt attraction.  So while I was upstairs with Cory, Sharla and the kids, they were downstairs discovering each other.  And discovering ACR.  And that is how these guys came to be.

Makeovers were essential.  April had already crashed through the marriage of one of Serdar's sisters, I found it kind of disconcerting to see her with the husband of the other one!  He's kept his townie name, Damion Wade.  I haven't bothered changing hers yet, but I'll probably only have to give her a new first name... I don't think she'll be keeping the Hutchins part for long, if I play them some more :)


  1. I love reading "behind the scenes" stuff, so I'm glad you shared all this. It's always interesting to read how others interpret different things that happen in the course of game play into their stories.

    You know, while I've been reading your prequel story, I wondered how you were handling the aging down! I never considered how much hassle that would be though. I guess now I understand why the writers who do this kind of thing all the time have multiple copies of their hoods! You definitely wouldn't want to lose your main one!

  2. I love the prequel story! I always like to read about the history of sims. Sometimes I make it up for my sims, but I never put so much effort in it as you do!
    Amazing how you got all these pictures!

  3. Carla, I like reading those kinds of posts... and they have influenced how I think about my game a lot, too.

    I can understand the multiple hood copy thing, too... I have definitely learned some lessons about how to do a prequel! Even without hood safety considerations, it would have been so much easier to use a duplicate hood where I could save the Sims as their younger selves.

    Tanja, glad you enjoyed it, too. I don't think I could just make up a back-story like this for newly created Sims, it all had to happen in-game in some way. That's one of the things I love about the game - the way it can prompt such good stories...