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Interview: Patrick J. Barrett III
Subject The Sims in General
Interviewee Patrick J. Barrett III
Details Patrick is a software engineer, who has worked on The Sims, of course, for Maxis and Electronic Arts.
Interview Date Saturday 4 November 2000

1. How long does it take to get your position in Maxis, and what other jobs do you need to have before getting in this position?
It varies by the individual person in this industry. I am not really a good example to use. I have about fifteen years experience in the industry starting with the Commodore Vic 20 computer and Atari 2600. I pretty much happened to be in the right place at the right time. At the time I wanted to do something very different and Maxis had something really different and was looking for someone to help. I had spent recent years running software projects and studios and really wanted to program again. My old system experience was very valuable to the object programming system since every object is a standalone program running in an embedded system. So I was a unique person and Maxis had a unique position available.

For someone that has a goal of working in Entertainment Software I would recommend a college degree in Computer Science if not Software Engineering. Playing a lot of games even ones you don’t like. That is how you learn what other people like to play and what works well and what does not. Also write a lot of programs, mostly little games. Offering them on the Internet is great. It gets you exposure and practice. Also try to work with other people. Today large teams make games and it really helps if you are used to working with others.

2. Is the engine written by you and your colleagues? If yes, what are/were your main problems when creating the game-engine?
The Sims has many engines. There is the graphic system, the animation system, the sound system, the utilities ( Create-A-Sim, Neighborhood, Create-a-Family, etc. ), and the main game shell itself which is the operating system for the SimAntics interpreter. All the objects and the Sims themselves are written in the proprietary SimAntics language which is run by the game shell. Each object having its own simulation which run simultaneously, as well as the interactions with the Sims. I did not write any of the engines myself. They were mostly finished before I even started at Maxis. I wrote the vast majority of the objects in The Sims and most of the code for the Sims themselves.

3. How long did the creating of the game actually take?
That is not an easy question to answer for this product. Will Wright has had the idea for The Sims since SimCity time. Will and one programmer, Jamie Doornbos, played with the idea for many years. Jamie was the lead programmer on The Sims and wrote most if not all of the master simulator logic as well as the SimAntics interpreter. The SimAntics interpreter is where the magic of The Sims is derived from. It is what allows the incredible expandability of The Sims. As far as the game shell is concerned everything is an add on including the Sims themselves and the objects we shipped with. This gives us great power in what we can do as well as end user created content. It didn’t really start becoming a game until about 1998 when a full team was assigned to it.

4. What programming-language is The Sims in?
The game shell itself is written in C++, the objects and the Sims are written in SimAntics.

5. How do you like it that people start writing their own programs to modify the game?
Personally, I love it and hate it. I love that they enjoy the game enough to do so and that others enjoy the game enough to want them. I hate that I really don’t have the time to check them all out and make sure they are safe. As with any complex program it is easy to think something works safely but in the long run does not. As long as people make a backup of their data before using any of these tools that should be good enough protection..

6. We only see 3rd party programs to modify things in the Sims. Why is there no program coming directly from you?
No programming from me, have you not been to thesims.ea.com? ;) We have The Sims HomeCrafter which I co-wrote to make walls and floors, we have The Sims SimShow which helps check skins before you put them into the game. I wrote The Sims Art Studio which for the first time allows anyone, with even just basic knowledge, easily make paintings that really work in the game. The Sims File Cop will be released shortly that checks for bad skins and Exchange Teleportation mishaps and moves the offending files so they don’t crash the game. Also coming soon is a tool that allows you to load your Sims from the game and assign new heads and or bodies to them so you don’t have to use a dresser and keep selecting change suit until it cycles through them all.

It takes time to make tools and official tools have a much higher standard then 3rd party created tools. The Sims Art Studio raised the standard even higher. I also try to keep my efforts towards things that 3rd party programmers are not going to do. There is no need for me to recreate anything they have done.

7. We heard a little about a program from you called Edith though. What is it? Is it true that this is going to be a tool for users to create their own objects?
I did not write Edith, I maintain it now though. Edith is the editor for the SimAntics language. It was not designed to be used outside the studio and will remain that way. Funny how people pick up on buzz words and want something they don’t even know what it is. We have wanted a tool for end users for some time but unfortunately Edith isn’t it and would take far to long to make it so. I really hope to be able to make a useful tool for end users to add some new functionality to objects eventually, I would be Will’s best friend. J It just takes time to figure out what that should be and how it should work, and lastly actually write it. I have some ideas though. Also if it makes everyone happy we could always call it Edith. :-)

8. Why were gable-ended roofs dropped from the game and will they be reintroduced? And how about the double-sized doors, which were some rumours about?
I’m not really sure what happened to those, I would have liked them to have been made an option but that is not a decision for me to make. I do not see them coming back. Double sized doors never existed.

9. Are you planning the release of a second patch, because there are still quite some bugs in the game?
I assume you mean bugs other than the roaches and the flies. I can’t really say, I never know until they ask for one. We continuously keep a list of things the end users find or just didn’t really like in case we do another patch. Also we can and do patch things via the downloads. The Clown Catchers, for example, contains some repairs to the roaches.

10. Could you add more sports, like hockey and soccer for the Sims to play?
Could and will are two totally different things. Of course I could. It would be a tremendous amount of work and the EA Sports versions are so good it would be hard to compete with them. ;) Maybe I can get them to import the Sims into their games. On the serious side, they would be a lot of work and the game interface isn’t so great for it. The Sims would have to use mostly AI for it which would cut down the fun factor. Then again I may get bored one day and say let’s make soccer. You just never know.

11. Who let the dogs out?! Errm, sorry... Why are there no pets in the game except for the fishes and the Guinea Pig?
Our animation system does not support four legged models. It would take an incredible amount of time to add that support. We felt a sprite solution would not be satisfactory, see the dogs on KillerSims.com. They would also really get in the way. The best of our pets, which you did not mention, proves that beyond doubt. He is the one and only Tragic Clown. I’m not saying there will never be pets but we first have to add the technical support then figure out the game play aspect.

12. Why isn't there some script-thing included? I mean that the player can let a certain Sim do something at a certain time every day, like getting up etc.
A useful interface would be hard to make and not be very useful since what a Sim needs to do varies from day to day. Also Free Will does that pretty well.

13. Will there be a second expansion pack coming for the game including the new downloads that Maxis is providing on SimDays?
I really don’t know and couldn’t say if I did. Maxis employees do not comment on unreleased titles as anything can and will change :-).

14. Finally, can people use families from The Sims in the upcoming SimsVille and vice versa?
Again, I do not know and I couldn’t say if I did. I try to stay away from the SimsVille team unless they need my help or comment because I want to play the game when it comes out! It would ruin it for me if I already knew everything.

15. Thanks for this interview, and I guess we'll see more from you.
Mostly on SimDays, and you never know what else. :-)

Patrick J. Barrett III was interviewed by ChEeTaH.

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