Friday, March 1, 2024

Life by You wants to empower players — queer and otherwise

We’re all drawn to a good story, and as Rod Humble, Director of Life by You and General Manager of Tectonic, puts it, what better inspiration for a story than the most “important subject in the world”? Real life.

Life by You was revealed earlier this year in March, describing itself as “one of the most moddable and open games” in its genre. With its open world, zero loading screens, and tools that put creation into the player’s hands, we were eager to find out more about how Life by You will compare not just as a life sim, but as a utensil for creativity and player vision.

Outside of the inspiration from The Sims, the most popular life sims in the entire gaming world, the team at Paradox Tectonic wanted to push and innovate the boundaries of the genre across all aspects of it. As Humble told Gayming Magazine, “[Life by You] is a very, very big game,” so there was a lot the team wanted to encompass in the space, which meant a lot of wondering on how to bring Paradox’s values, the experience of all team members, and all their talents to the game.

But most importantly, Humble stated that the team’s vision for the game was solidified because they simply wanted to create a game they wanted to play. “Because it’s a lot of fun, right? You know, you have a big open-world game where you can control everything, and you can add your own gameplay. That is just appealing in general.”

The level of choice in Life by You is 100% intentional, and specifically meant for the players. “We’re building the game that we want to see,” King Choi, Studio Director of Marketing over at Paradox Tectonic, told us. “But we’re also inviting the larger life sim community to inform, you know, what the rest of the game development looks like. And that’s why we’re heading into early access, because life is so big, and we want to push the boundaries ourselves and see and work with the community to incorporate the ways the rest of the community sees life. To really build this game out together.”

Choi further added that he sees Life by You as more of a creative platform that just so happens to be a life sim — and it’s not hard to see why. Whether you prefer to build characters, or lots, or you like to push the boundaries of what a life sim game can or can’t do, Paradox Tectonic is giving you the tools to tell your own story from even the most minute detail. You’re able to edit dialogue to develop your own stories, customize your character to fit how they look in your head, change their jobs at a click of a button, and invest deeply in each and every character’s life, regardless of whether you were playing them before. The best part: you can do all of this in-game without the use of mods, just Life by You’s engine and in-game tools.

Life By You
Image Source: Paradox Tectonic

“If there was one really important principle for the development of Life by You, it was we wanted players to be able to control their narratives and their stories, versus having to play our narratives and our stories,” Humble explained. He clarified that this depth of control for the player wasn’t due to a lack of belief in the Tectonic team’s creativity, but rather the desire to keep the world inclusive of every player out there. “The moment we start to tell a story and, for example, pick a protagonist, all of a sudden you’re excluding someone, somewhere. And so our aim was to be inclusive by literally giving the players the freedom to change exactly the way they wanted.” Humble also added that another important aspect was that he and the team wanted people to be able to make their own communities and places where they had either lived in themselves or “aspirational spaces” – all to empower players.

These spaces, however, are currently restricted to modern-day life. When asked about whether the game would be able to adapt to people’s visions of worlds that are steeped in the realm of Gothic Horror, Fantasy or even your favourite Western, Humble stated that the team was more focused on contemporary life, and as such Life by You needed to be relatable to everyone worldwide, so it needed to be modern. That said, it isn’t all bad news for those life-sim gamers who want to experience the world of Life by You in the context of something a little different.

“All of the game mechanics and all of the underlying mods do support the ability to go to different eras, you’d have to make a complete log or change packets, and you’d have to upload some odd assets. But the gameplay is actually super easy.” Humble said. He also stated that the team is looking to explore historical, supernatural, and future themes sometime in the future, but the main focus for Tectonic right now is to get the game into early access, with a focus on modern life.

Life By You
Image Source: Paradox Tectonic

That restriction, however, isn’t quite there for player characters. At least, not when it comes to their personality. For example, a character who appreciates a clean and tidy environment will naturally lose happiness when the house is untidy and become miserable. This gives the trait some gameplay teeth, meaning that these traits will shake up gameplay and your decisions in the long run, making you play slightly differently.

Each character has 8 primary traits, as well as a selection of optional background traits that are meant to represent your character’s backstory and things that happened before the game started. These traits, naturally, do not have gameplay interlinked with what they are unless you, the player, decide to add them in. Or not yet, at least. “A lot of people on the team were like, ‘hey, can I get some kind of payoff here for it?’ So I’m looking at redoing [the optional traits to give them more gameplay viability] them.” Humble explained.

The same can be said for a character’s sexuality and gender – each can be different, and in Life by You’s character creator you’re even able to choose whether they are a woman, man, or non-binary. You’re also able to change your character’s body and gender whenever you’d like, which includes the character’s sexual attraction towards other characters. On the other hand, for characters outside of your main household, Tectonic is still figuring out what you can and can’t change.

“The thing we definitely want to avoid is instances where you can be like, ‘hey, person that I meet, I want to change their sexuality so they can be attracted to me,'” Choi told Gayming Magazine. “I’m a queer person myself. We’re not queer-baiting or anything like that. There are storylines that we want to be delicate with as it relates to the gameplay. So we are working with consultancy agencies that specialize in these topics to give us some expert knowledge on how to navigate these types of storylines. If we’re being true to real life, it’s not as easy as flipping a switch on that character and making that happen.”

Life By You lgbtq
Image Source: Paradox Tectonic

Representation has always been a key desire for players and how they interact within the world of video games. Both Choi and Humble want players to be able to see not just themselves in their world, but their friends and family too. “This is a very challenging time, but it’s also a time where I think people are feeling more and more comfortable being able to explore who they are.” Humble summarised. “I think that there can be nothing more healthy than a private, offline, single-player experience where a player can just explore their identity and how they want to live their lives in peace and be honored.”

And for those life sim players who just want to get stuck into the game with no real idea of where to go, or even if they want to create anything by scratch in the first place? Humble and Choi both believe that Life by You can still fit their needs.

“The great thing about life sims is because their agent, and emergent based, the stories happen organically as the player starts to explore the world and you meet so and so. Then that creates X and then Y and you get this wonderful cascading emergence. So nothing is on rails,” Humble explained, referring to how the player doesn’t need to have a story in mind when it comes to playing Life by You. If the player wants, they can completely play the game as it is, finding their own entertainment through what’s already there, rather than what they can come up with. Those players are just as important, and the team over at Tectonic wants to provide for them, as well.

Throughout our conversation with Humble and Choi, it was clear to see the real passion and love they and the team at Paradox Tectonic have for the life sim genre. One of their end goals for the game is simple in its sincerity: to empower and give to a creative community that consists of both the developer and the players, all while offering them the most open world and moddable life sim game out there.

Life by You will launch into Early Access on September 12. Players can pre-order Life by You on the Epic Games Store and Steam for a suggested retail price of 39.99USD / 39.99 EUR / 34.99 GBP.

Aimee Hart

[She/They] Aimee Hart is Editor-in-Chief of Gayming Magazine. She specializes in queer fandom, video games and tabletop, having started her career writing for numerous websites like The Verge, Polygon, Input Magazine and more. Her goal now is to boost LGBTQ+ voices in the video games industry.