I've been a fan of life sims for a very long time. As a kid, The Sims was like the virtual dollhouse of my dreams, letting me write my own stories and shape the lives of characters I myself created. As time went on, it was often the little details that would later come in the likes of The Sims 2 and The Sims 3 that would speak to me the most. I find myself thinking about this very fact during my hands-off session with Life by You, the upcoming open-world life sim from Paradox Tectonic.
Studio director of marketing, King Choi, guides me through a day-in-the-life of a woman who works as a yoga instructor. After seeing a rundown of her personality traits and some insight into her background – including the fact that she's a troublemaker who had a happy childhood – I see her begin her day at home.
In the house, I first witness some smaller touches I can't help but appreciate, such as the fact that she drops her clothes on the floor when she takes a shower. It sounds like a mundane thing to highlight, but it just adds that much more realism to Life By You; the clothes don't simply vanish into nothing like The Sims 4. Not only that, but it also brings to mind my favorite expansion which introduced the addition of laundry in The Sims 3. My excitement only grows when, later on, I see her pick some flowers in her garden, which then appear when she makes use of her floral arrangement skill to put together a bouquet with roses. These finer details add to the experience by making it feel more personal to you and the character you control, which is exactly what Paradox is going for.
"Life is about those details, right?," Choi says. "And that's why I talk about this life sim, not only as just a life sim, being that it is a creative platform. It's the details that you bring to life that make it personal to you. I talked about this game being also the most moddable and open-world, the moddable piece is so essential to those details. We want the modding tools to be available to you as a player for you to actually introduce those little finite details that make this game personal to you, because we want life to feel personal. And that's why those details are important. And that's why these creative tools are important."
Opening the way
When it comes to Life by You, it feels only natural to draw comparison to The Sims. Lots of games like The Sims try to capture certain elements, whether it be the simulation features, or the building tools that allow you to shape your ideal home. Paradox's take on the genre certainly shares some similarities – even the UI feels somewhat familiar as a longtime Sims player – but it's also clear that it's trying to bring something of its own to the fold. Striving to be the "most moddable life sim", Life by You allows you to cutsomize just about everything, from creating your own careers and jobs, to using branching tools to tailor your own dialogue. It also boasts no loading screens, and takes a pro-nudity stance – meaning you'll have the option to turn nudity on or off as you so choose.
Choi says that the team has set out to create the kind of life sim they themselves would want to play, with the aim of "pushing the boundaries of what maybe other life sims games have not done". One of the ways Life by You is doing this is by aiming to be more open, with no rabbit holes – which are buildings you see your character enter but can't see inside yourself. I see this in action as I follow the yoga instructor inside the gym and follow her as she sets about completing tasks to carry out her work day. Choi tells me that you can follow your character every step of the way, including to places like the grocery store, which makes my heart sing. Nothing spells life sim realness like a trip to buy groceries.
One of the features I'm most intrigued by is Life by You's take on conversations. Instead of communicating through a made-up language or emotes, Paradox Tectonic is instead bringing a real-language conversation system into the game. With pre-scripted dialogue that changes depending on the character you're speaking to, you'll also have the option to type in your own dialogue. The character I follow during my session likes to antagonize people, and I see a rather curt conversation unfold with a fellow gym-goer.
As someone who has never created a mod or even used them all that much, I ask Choi how approachable the systems are and how deep it goes if I wanted to, for example, change up the dialogue myself to script my own stories in the world.
"There's an option for you to just easily type in your own story, or your own dialogue, if any of the options that are offered is not something that you want, because it's not the story that you're telling," says Choi. "So that's part of the UI. But to take it a step deeper, we have branching tools. Obviously, that goes deeper for modders to be like, 'I want to branch stories' and dialogue'. So you can go as convenient to you as possible based upon your expertise as a lifesim player to just kind of easily tell moddable stories, just from the surface UI. But as a deeper storyteller that wants to also incorporate modding into it, we allow you to actually go into those branching tools as well. So it actually goes across different skill levels. And we're taking that [player experience levels] into consideration."
While I only follow one individual during the session I watch unfold, Choi explains that you can take control of anyone in the world, and they'll also go about their lives as you play. A tour bus will come to the world every once in a while to keep the population growing, so you "play right out of the box", as Choi puts it. But you also always have the option to add new characters at random in the world editing tool, or customize and introduce people of your own making. I also only see one job at play, but the work itself is open for you to customize with different tasks.
"Out of the box, we are going to be giving players so many opportunities. Like we just talked about the grocery store, you can end up working at the grocery store, there's a stock room in the back, there's an office, you can be a cashier. There's also other careers like the Cozy Up cafe, where you can work as a barista. You can also become a writer, even a stay-at-home writer on your laptop. Outside of that, there's also editing tools that we will be introducing at Early Access, like even the quest editor, not necessarily associated with jobs, like you just want different quests as part of life."
"But that quest editor, because we just talked about different things that you can do at work, that is a quest in and of itself, you can tailor a different sort of quest as part of the job. And you're like, 'Oh, I don't like the quest that is a part of this job track that has been introduced, that's part of the game, I want to change the different tasks that I want my humans in this game to do.' And so there's that deep level of customization. That is possibly, if I daresay it, limitless, especially when you throw in the modding capabilities of this game."
Just how limitless customization winds up being in Life By You remains to be seen, but Paradox has certainly laid the foundations for plenty of freedom ahead of its planned March 5, 2024 release.
Life by You is set to launch in Early Access on PC on March 5, 2024.