A video tutorial on how to build a McMansion in The Sims

Two players put together a McMansion in The Sims and you can see the process here.

A few thoughts:

1. If I heard correctly on the video, this originally took 3 hours to build.

2. The builders note that this is a modern home yet the headline says it is a McMansion. While it is a large home and clearly has some wealth (located on a canal), the design does not necessarily make it s stereotypically American McMansion.

3. This has over 21,000 views in 2+ days.

4. The designers intended to have a fountain outside the house but alas, it was never constructed. That fountain would have contributed to a McMansion style.

5. Interesting that this features two Aussies. If there is one country in the world that can rival the United States in McMansions, Australia is it.

6. I get the impulse to design things in games like this. While I have never done much with The Sims, I’ve spent a lot of time doing similar things with urban planning in SimCity. Yet, I’m curious to know how much homes like these enhance the gameplay. How much better is it to have a family of Sims living in a custom-designed home like this compared to the average home?

Wherever you go, you just can’t escape those pesky McMansions…

Designing Chicago to provide a better video game experience

Making Chicago the setting of the new video game Watch Dogs includes changing the city to improve the gaming experience:

He described the basic creation of Chicago this way: “Essentially we started with a top view of Chicago, the actual Chicago map, which we put in our game editor, and from there we carved into it. It’s a big, empty space at first. So we start laying out roads by going with the real road and adjusting from there, making sure, for instance, that Wacker follows the river correctly, but adjusting a bit too. You also make sure roads connect properly, but we didn’t go with the Chicago grid because it was so straight, too many right angles. It’s better for the game play if you can’t see far ahead of yourself. So we curve things. Once the roads are laid down and the city reduced, you went street by street putting in neighborhoods, landmarks …”

Like many an open-world video game city, building the open-world Chicago of “Watch Dogs” became a dance between game play, accuracy and urban planning. In general, what Arriola described is the same process that created cities in “Saints Row” and “Grand Theft Auto”: Four-lane roads became six lanes to encourage driving (nobody likes digital gridlock, either), buildings were pressed together to encourage rooftop-to-rooftop leaping and only the most visually unique neighborhoods survived (albeit incongruously, mashed up against other neighborhoods).

“An open-world city in a good video game is a riff on a city, not a city,” said Brian Schrank, co-chairman of the game development program at DePaul University. “It’s a little exploitative, a little like a remix of familiar elements. You are seeing a suggestion of unending choices, but in reality a game developer is being subtle and laying out the breadcrumbs that pull you through their city.”

Hence, the isle of Chicago.

The Chicago River needed widening, and the Northwest Side needed geographic diversity, so, in the game, the north edge of the Gold Coast becomes actual coastline, the farthest northern point in this Chicago. A player can pilot a boat from the lake and around the downtown area without hitting a dead end.

See this earlier post about using Chicago in the new game.

This isn’t just the issue of creating a copy of the city of Chicago. That in itself could be interesting and/or jarring, seeing a faithful reproduction on the screen but being able to do things the average resident or visitor could not. But, this goes a step further to “improve” the city for the gamer. One way to think about it is that the city is not compelling enough as it is but needs to be tweaked to allow for features that gamers expect like easy yet unclear driving and using a boat. The isle of Chicago? A grid system of street that now curves? Urban sociologists and other urbanists are often drawn to big cities because of their dynamism – from social interactions to culture to architecture, to economic and political activity – that is plenty interesting without tweaks.

The gamification of the world continues, with the big city as yet another victim…

Sadly, Emile Durkheim didn’t make into a video game

All sociology majors learn about the Big Three sociological theorists from the 1800s/early 1900s: Émile Durkheim, Karl Marx, and Max Weber. But while Marx and Weber still get discussed and brought up in public conversations, Durkheim doesn’t seem to get as much attention.

However, some curious gamers thought that they had discovered that Durkheim made it into the video game “Deus Ex: Human Revolution:”

In our first teaser ever released, the cyber-fetus had the name “Emile” written on his skin. The fans thought it had to be directly connected to the story, so they started digging for info and researching the name. They came up with all sorts of very cool theories and possible in-game conspiracies related to it. For example, they found a 19th century French sociologist named Émile Durkheim and came up with some pretty nifty concepts based on their find. The funny thing is though, that the name Emile is nothing more than an inside joke created by the Digital Dimension guys, the studio who produced the teaser for us. During the long nights of overtime working on the teaser, they simply decided to name the cyber-baby and went ahead with Emile. One afternoon, when I walked into their studio for a review session, they asked me if they could leave the name on him. I said yes.

Alas, the Emile in the game is not the intrepid sociologist. And how exactly did these curious gamers link the Emile in the game to Durkheim? If one Googles “Emile,” Durkheim only comes up as a related search in the first few pages of search results.

I wonder if any sociological theorists have ever made it into a video game…