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How will Life By You compete with The Sims? Deeper role-play

Paradox Tectonic’s life sim zooms in on emergent relationships

A branching conversation plays out between two characters in Life By You Image: Paradox Tectonic/Paradox Interactive

The life sim genre, loosely defined, has assumed many shapes. Stardew Valley complemented its farming aspects with relationship-building among its townsfolk. Animal Crossing: New Horizons brought Nintendo’s charm and approachability to an island escape. Second Life, true to its name, comprised a virtual world in which to create an avatar, interact with other players, and build 3D models. Yet for all of its loose criteria and nebulous labels, no series stands as monolithic in the category as The Sims; for 23 years, its god’s-eye-view of AI characters going about their daily lives has become all but synonymous with the genre. Life By You, the recently announced life sim from Paradox Tectonic, is poised to compete, with a deeper focus on language, memory, and role-play between your created characters.

That’s not to say that role-playing is new to life sims; far from it. The Sims 4’s recent expansion Growing Together added a slew of likes and dislikes to characters’ emotional palettes, increasing the likelihood of dramatic encounters and emergent storylines. (Polygon’s Cass Marshall became embroiled in a feud with a baby.) But Life By You is delving even deeper into role-playing. You can customize your entire town. You can alter your belongings, down to the material of the furniture in your characters’ homes. More crucially, though, characters will speak using real languages, as opposed to the fictional language of The Sims.

A player-created, branching conversation in Life By You Image: Paradox Tectonic/Paradox Interactive

“We’ve tried to extend the depth of the gameplay at every level,” Rod Humble, head of Paradox Tectonic and lead on Life By You, told Polygon during the Game Developers Conference last week. “And language in human interactions plays such an important part in all of the stories you want to tell. Wittgenstein said ‘The limits of my language are the limits of my world.’ And I kind of buy into that. You need your characters to be able to express themselves directly — to each other, and to you.”

Humble said the game will feature English when it launches in early access in September, while Spanish, German, and French should be localized by the time of the game’s full launch. Following that, Paradox Tectonic is hoping modders will seize at the chance to add any number of regional dialects or whole new languages to the game.

Life By You’s lead is no stranger to the life sim genre. Humble is the former head of Electronic Arts’ The Sims label, as well as the former CEO of Second Life developer Linden Labs. It’s hard to imagine any designer with more varied experience in this arena.

“Game designers can be whatever they want, obviously,” he said. “Some prefer to be more artful. For me, I prefer to take the role of the game designer as an architect. You make this beautiful building, even though you can’t know what people will do in every single room in the future.”

Home and furniture customization in the life sim Life By You Image: Paradox Tectonic/Paradox Interactive

Life By You’s character creation will be limited to one “household,” which Humble said will be around 8 or 10 people. However, you can right-click on any character you see in the world and immediately have access to them: their memories, their likes, their dislikes. From there, you can follow them through their lives. I’m reminded of Watch Dogs Legion’s character swapping.

Characters in Life By You will remember what Humble calls “observables.” Effectively, these responses will affect how characters, as well as their extended social, professional, and romantic circles, perceive someone over time. Humble offers the example of a character peeing their pants, or, to a lesser extreme, showing up late to work. A co-worker may notice their tardiness, and comment on it at a dinner party later that evening to a friend who happens to be the latecomer’s boss. Although the boss never actually saw their employee arrive late, their opinion can be altered regardless. This, in turn, can affect the employee’s chances at a future promotion.

A Character customization screen in Life By You, in which the player is changing the tone of a winter jacket on the character Image: Paradox Tectonic/Paradox Interactive

Between Humble’s expertise and the resources, acumen, and knowledge pool of publisher Paradox and its studios, which have routinely released quality games with years of subsequent DLC and expansions, Life By You seems to have a better shot at attracting dedicated Sims players than any other contender in recent years. This isn’t even the first time that Paradox has entered an arena already dominated by a Maxis title: Colossal’s excellent Cities: Skylines was released not long after SimCity’s disastrous launch in 2013.

“As a team, our emphasis is on openness,” Humble said. “If you see a barrier, we want to give you the keys to unlock that barrier.”

Life By You will be released as an early access title on Sept. 12 on Windows PC.

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