The Sims 4 Snowy Escape is the latest Expansion Pack for the beloved simulation game, and unlike some of the most-recent additions to The Sims 4, this one seems to be ticking all the right boxes for the game’s very vocal community.
Whether you want to hit the slopes on a skiing adventure, or if you want to experience everything that a Japanese-inspired lifestyle has to offer, The Sims 4 Snowy Escape is packed to the brim with options to suit your playstyle.
Snowy Escape is arguably more than just another Sims add-on though. It comes at a time when most of the world has been stuck inside; a time when holidays have been cancelled; and a time when connecting with your family has been harder than ever. With a focus on holiday fun, making treasured memories and practising mindfulness, Snowy Escape is poised to provide Sims players with many of the things gamers need – and want – in 2020.
GameByte spoke with Snowy Escape’s lead producer, Graham Nardone (a.k.a SimGuruGraham), discussing everything from Mount Komorebi to face masks for your Sims, and what the latest Expansion can deliver to Simmers who might be looking for a virtual – and Snowy – Escape.
Upon first seeing the trailer for The Sims 4 Snowy Escape, I have to admit I was a little baffled by the concept. A snow-sports pack with a Japanese twist sounded a little too out-of-the-box for me, even for the zany world of The Sims. My initial concerns of the game trying to be too much at once soon dissolved when I got my hands on a preview build. I instantly fell in love with the new Expansion Pack, but I still wanted to know: why Japan?
“We like to subvert player expectations a little bit, and increasingly we’re more and more about representing different cultures and giving players more ways to authentically represent themselves within the game,” explains Nardone.
“A lot of our players, when we started talking about winter activities, they thought we’d probably do something like, I don’t know, the French Alps, whatever first comes to mind for something like skiing and snowboarding. But Japan has absolutely fantastic winter activities, locations and – especially with the Olympics that were originally going to take place in Japan this year – it kind of made sense for us to go a different route. We wanted to do something with a culture that we haven’t really represented in The Sims in that way yet. I think we’ve created a really rich experience.”
Snowy Escape leans heavily into its Japanese-inspired roots, something which is evident in everything from the beautiful world design right down to the way Sims will now remove their shoes when entering their home. For The Sims team, creating an authentic Japanese experience was a huge part of the development process.
“It’s an authentic look at Japanese culture,” Nardone explains of the Expansion. “We consulted with some of our groups internally about that just to make sure we’re representing not only the setting, but also the Sims themselves, in a respectful and authentic way.”
Authenticity and representation are two of the key pillars The Sims 4 is now focused on, with new updates to skin tones and hair due to release before the end of the year.
“Something that’s important to us is being able to bring more of the lived experiences of our players into the game, giving them an opportunity to have something that they can connect with, have moments that are relevant for them, and be able to recreate more of not only their own lives, but the lives of people like them too,” Nardone says of the game’s renewed focus on representation.
For those who’ve yet to try their hand at Snowy Escape, the pack blends together all the best elements of a true holiday in what Nardone describes as a “full experience.” But while the trailer might lean heavily into the high-octane sports of skiing, snowboarding and rock climbing, Snowy Escape balances the action with more meditative activities than ever before.
Snowy Escape leans fairly heavily into mindfulness, self-care and offers ways to deepen relationships between a Sim’s friends and family. It’s wonderful to see these pillars of self-awareness and care being implemented into The Sims 4, and it’s even more wonderful to see it coming in 2020, a year which has been more than a little difficult for many people. I wanted to know how much of Snowy Escape was created with the need to help players relax, unwind and maybe even practice a little more self-care in their real lives.
“I think it was an interesting kind of happy coincidence in a way,” says Nardone when asked how the themes of relaxation in Snowy Escape have arguably come at a time when players need an escape more than ever.
“Obviously it’s been a stressful year for a lot of people, and for us it was part of the core gameplay loop of this pack. You’re going to spend all this time out in the world of Mount Komorebi, doing these adrenaline-pumping activities, whether that’s skiing and snowboarding or if it’s going rock climbing or on an excursion all the way to the mountain peak.
“We wanted to give Sims a way to wind down a little bit from those, so you could have the interlude in your week with a nice relaxing hike in beautiful scenery. Or you can visit the onsen bathhouse and go to the hot springs, which are rejuvenating for Sims. Maybe if they incur an injury somewhere on the slopes, those warm and restorative waters will help soothe them a bit and help get them back out there. For us it was a full, natural cycle of ‘how can we have peaks and valleys within this expansion pack and within the experiences that I’m having?’”
The world of The Sims 4 may be more focused on escapism than ever before, but keeping the reigns firmly in the hands of the players is still at the forefront of The Sims’ ethos. For lots of players – myself included – the joy of The Sims is being able to control the world as you want to see it. In the chaos of the global pandemic, control has never felt less attainable, which is possibly why The Sims 4 has seen an increase in players throughout 2020.
“I do think that an element of control has been there traditionally with The Sims – maybe it’s taken a heightened importance in a year like this one where we all feel like we could have a little bit more control over our lives,” says Nardone. “I think it’s nice to be able to get away, even if it’s virtually. It’s such a beautiful scenic world, and exploring that can be maybe…I’m not going to say a full escape, but it’s a virtual escape!”
It seems like The Sims 4 is still aiming to remain on the cusp of realism, as Nardone tells me that overtly real-world elements, like face masks, won’t be making an appearance in the game anytime soon.
“We do talk about those sorts of things within the studio. I remember coming out of a recent Town Hall meeting for Maxis where one of the questions came up: are we going to add something like masks into The Sims 4? And it’s a conscious decision to move away from some of those more troubling aspects of the real world.
“We enjoy bringing things like pop culture into The Sims, and relevant and current events, but at the same time The Sims is always going to be an optimistic look at life. It’s a pleasant place to be in many ways, so we’re not looking to recreate life one-to-one, but simulate it in a way that’s an enjoyable escape.”
While The Sims 4 might be steering clear of PPE, the game is absolutely embracing the need to build stronger relationships between Sims. The addition of Sentiments and Lifestyles add a much-needed extra dimension to gameplay, giving Sims certain feelings towards other Sims and activities, and adding more to their overall personalities. The two new elements work together to enrich The Sims 4 experience.
“Sentiments and Lifestyles, I look at them as two sides of the same coin,” says Nardone when asked about the new features. “They came directly from our player communities. One of the major topics coming this year that the community has been discussing is having more depth for the Sims themselves, whether it’s diversifying the Sims and how they behave, being able to see more differences in characteristics and behaviours, or whether it’s deepening the relationships between the Sims.
“Sentiments is a nice social experience. As your Sims go through the game and have these shared moments with each other, or they have activities shared between each other. They form these long-lasting Sentiments towards one another. Previously with relationships in The Sims 4 it was always bi-directional. Coming out of an activity, all the Sims would share the outcome and they would feel the same way about it, but Sentiments adds more flavour to the situations.
“Two Sims can come out of something and feel entirely different about it, depending on how each of them individually went through that activity or interpreted it, and that really twists their behaviour afterwards. Maybe they want to be around that other Sim more, or maybe they want nothing to do with that Sim. The interesting wrinkle is that the other Sim could feel totally differently, which creates these interesting moments of friction between Sims in-game. I think deepening the simulation that way will give fans a lot to talk about and experiment with going forward.”
Lifestyles, on the other hand, will add more to your Sim’s personality, turning them into something like an Adrenaline Junkie or a Workaholic, and have to be earned through repeated activities.
“I think with Lifestyles we see those as these lived experiences in The Sims. If you’re setting their traits up in Create A Sim, those are their inherent personality traits, but Lifestyles will become what’s surrounding your Sim, how they’re interacting with the world, how are they interacting with other Sims around them, and how that influences how they evolve over time. I think seeing that reflected back in their behaviour is a really interesting thing that does make it feel richer and more in-depth.”
The Sims 4 Snowy Escape goes a long way in adding new gameplay, new animations and new ways for your Sims to interact with each other, but it also addresses one of the many bugbears of the Sims community – Lot builds. Simmers have long since complained about pre-built game Lots which lack the flair and style we’re used to seeing from top builders. For Snowy Escape, a number of Sims influencers and EA Game Changers were invited to create Lots for the new world, and straight off the bat you can see how stunning these creations are.
“This was an exciting collaboration for us. We had some internal tech and tools we were working on to allow us to send super early builds externally and keep those safe and secure,” explains Nardone. “We wanted to do this richly detailed world of Mt. Komorebi, and typically we have our environment artists build both the world and the lots.
“This time we said: ‘what if we just let them focus entirely on the world, and we collaborated with some of our top Game Changers in the Sims community,’ because they’re super-skilled Lot builders. Having them come into that aspect of it was kind of a win-win for everybody.
“I think that really comes through, both in the beauty and the rich detail of the world. The lots themselves are extraordinary, the Game Changers did a fantastic job on them, and you see people buzzing online, wanting to check things out and move into Mt. Komorebi, so I think that’s a cool experience for us.
“We’ll always be looking for more ways to collaborate with some of our top players, I think it’s a fun and interesting experience for them.”
As for whether we’ll be seeing more official Game Changer and Pack collaborations in the future, Nardone teases that it’s a definite possibility!
“There’s no specific plans yet, but I think we all looked at it as super positive when we did Snowy Escape,” he says.
There’s a lot to dive into with Snowy Escape, so we wanted to know what Nardone would recommend in his own personal travel guide of Mount Komorebi.
“I would absolutely have to go hit the slopes first, I love skiing personally, so I’d be wobbling down the bunny slope at first, then I’d be boosting my way up those bigger, more advanced trails and pulling off some jumps!” says Nardone.
“Rock climbing is super cool, so I’d want to go on an excursion all the way to the peak of Mt. Komorebi, trying to face some of the challenges that come with that, whether it’s braving the thunder-snowstorms, surviving the ice cave, or even Woohooing, who knows!”
After all that – ahem – action, Nardone suggests taking in all the sights and snacks that The Sims 4 Snowy Escape has to offer.
“I’d have to hit the hiking trails next, there’s a variety of them within the world. Personally, I like the ones in Senbamachi, because it is so tranquil there. I’d take a stroll through the bamboo forest, and I really want to visit one of those festivals. Maybe I’d go to the one in Yukimatsu, The Festival of Snow, where I can get some ikayaki, some grilled squid, make a snow angel or Snow Pal and then hit the onsen bathhouse that’s right next door afterwards. That’ll get me relaxed a little bit, rejuvenated in the hot bubbly water. I think there are sights to see, activities to do, there’s a lot of fun to be had in the pack!”
Featured Image Credit: EA