CT: Wasting_Night, thanks so much for stopping by Animal Hat Summer Camp during our break between sessions to talk with me! I am very much looking forward to getting some insights into the behind-the-scenes on the production of your magazine, Simsacious. It’s great that you’ve got both a Simsacious thread at the EA Forums and a Tumblr for Simsacious. Gives your readers a couple of ways to enjoy the magazine.
WN: Yeah, I wanted readers to have choices. Anyway, I think I should be the one thanking you for having me here! I didn’t think my work was popular enough to warrant an interview about it. Thanks for freeing up your busy schedule to talk–I’m all ears so ask away!
CT: Your magazine is so original–so creative and unusual. I’ve never seen anything like it, except for actual celebrity magazines. How did you get the idea for it?
WN: I actually got the idea from a screenshot I took–It’s the one for Melinda’s issue. You see, I LOVE to take screenshots of my Sims just doing stuff from conversing, walking, and anything in-between. I actually have more than 1GB of screens in my folder. And that’s just from TS4! Anyways, I took a look at the particular screen and I thought: “Hey, this might look good as a magazine cover!” and went from there. It started out as a simple image with bits of text here and there then I looked at it and thought that people might want an actual story with it so I decided to combine two things I love: writing stories and graphic design.
WN: I actually didn’t make progress for days since back then I had no idea what I was doing — I was essentially making it up as I went along and spent hours just looking at my screen doing nothing waiting for an idea. After I gave the project a rest I went back and tried to do another cover for a favorite Sim: Veronica Oliviere. It was in her issue that I figured out the interview format and the rest was history.
CT: Here’s the Veronica cover. I love this. It’s so striking.
CT: One of the things that I love so much about your magazine, and that feels so rich to me, is that there is so much behind the scenes. There’s so much more going on than what we see and read. And, for me, that’s the hook. I know I’ve mentioned this to you, but I often find myself thinking about your covers or spreads throughout the day. I will just notice the characters enter my imagination, and before I know it, I’m spinning a story for them.
What specific approaches do you use to create set-ups like that which really enter your readers’ imagination?
WN: I’m glad you notice the world I’m building beyond the magazine! I love stories that reference other stories taking place in the same world, and I try my best to give readers that great feeling when looking at my magazine. As for the set-ups personally I think it’s the little touches dedicated Simmers like you can recognize out of instinct. Stuff like name-dropping actual neighborhoods from the games, using names that pre-made Sims have, and in the case of my June issue weaving my own narrative into an existing story-line from the game.
WN: Also, I like to connect my Sims’ stories together to make it seem like they exist in this cohesive world together and not in a bubble occupied only by them and the interviewer. I think out of the six issues I’ve released so far four of them have referenced another Sim I like: David Ashfield. I know it’s improbable to have one person be involved with so much people but I’m a sucker for noir-themed characters like him. I promise that in later issues I’ll do my best to integrate more of my Sims in other stories from the magazine!
WN: And as for Sims entering the reader’s imagination like in your case, I think it’s the fact that I leave out details in their life but put in just enough to trigger their imagination–kind of like what Maxis does with the descriptions of pre-made households except in a deeper scale with the interview that gives the readers an insight into the actual Sim’s head: how they talk, how they act, and their specific “voice”. All these create a framework for a character that readers can take and mold using their imagination.
CT: That’s really cool about how you strategically leave parts out! I often feel that gaps are the most important part of a story, for the gaps engage us to fill them with our imagination. Have you written out or plotted all that happens in the background, or is it unwritten, and existing only in your imagination?
WN: It’s actually a little from column A and a little from column B. I’ve plotted a good amount of the background details from the stories like the fallout between Samantha and her sister Sylvia, but there are some that are still “in progress” in my head like the incident that caused Veronica and her siblings to be exiled from their hometown of Champs Les Sims. Pretty much all of the background events are in my imagination and is there mostly to provide a certain amount of depth to a Sim’s story when I reference it–it all loops back to my desire of creating a world and having my Sims revolve around it instead of the other way.
CT: From what you’ve said, it sounds like the idea first comes from the screenshot. Do you ever have times where the idea or story comes first, and then you create the screenshot for it?
WN: The funny thing is that with the exception of the first two issues–Melinda and Veronica’s–all of my stories start out as a write-up and I just take some screenshots to coincide with the “mood” of the Sim’s backstory. I think a good example of this is the image I used on the backstory section of David’s issue: his face looks relaxed and content–the exact face a person would make after they had gone through the stuff he did in his backstory. I like to make the background screenshots seem like the last still of a movie. Try reading David or Paige’s story first then looking at the picture–You’ll see what I mean!
WN: And for the stories themselves: they usually come to me when I create a Sim in CAS, with the exception of David and Paige because they had their backstories LONG before the magazine was even an idea. In fact they came all the way from TS3. So back in the subject of appearance while I’m fiddling around with their looks sometimes a story just materializes in my head based on just how a particular Sim ends up looking: David is rugged, Paige is homely, Samantha is high-class, Melinda is fierce, and Veronica just has something a bit “off” about her.
CT: Here’s the cover of the “Where’s Bella?” issue featuring David. This is the TS3 David–but he’s got that same rugged, deep-feeling look.
WN: Do you do the same with the Sims in your stories?
CT: It depends. In the legacy, none of these are CAS Sims anymore–they’re all born in game. So with them, it’s more a matter of getting to know them, discovering them. With my other stories, I’ll usually have one CAS Sim, and my experience is a lot like yours–as I’m developing her or him, the personality and appearance will develop in conjunction with each other. Then the rest of the Sims in my non-legacy games are usually Townies or from the Gallery or from other players’ games, so it’s a matter of getting to know them.
WN: You know I wish I could develop Sims like that. I just don’t have the patience to start legacies anymore. I think back in TS3 I only had three families that went on to have grandkids–I get too attached to the “first” couple that starts the family off and refuse to let them die.
CT: Yeah. That’s absolutely the toughest part of playing a legacy for me. It’s offset by the joys of getting to know the new generations. I mean Sims become amazing by generation five–super smart. And, for me, it’s also offset somewhat because I’m in my fifties, and so the practice of accepting mortality and loss is valuable for me. At the same time, I miss the Sims that have met Grim. It’s hard to say goodbye to them.
CT: Back to your creative process, I’m curious about the technical aspect of creating your magazine. What software do you use to develop the graphics?
WN: I only have Photoshop to rely on aside from the game itself. I use Photoshop for everything in the magazine that doesn’t have anything to do with taking screenshots in-game. Retouches, designing, text-formatting–all of it is done within Photoshop. How about the screens you have for your stories? Do you run them on another program or do they go from the game straight to your blog?
CT: I use PhotoShop to resize and optimize, and occassionally lighten. In my job as web editor, I spend so much time using PhotoShop, so with this, my hobby, I didn’t want to be spending a lot of time in there. And early on, I sort of established a rough and raw approach to my visuals, so I try to stick with that–gives a specific kind of low-tech look to my stories, which for some reason, I like. I think it’s because I want to highlight the words. I just don’t want it to look polished or glossy. I keep the visual setting in the game rather low for that same reason.
I’ve noticed that the composition of your layouts really work well, guiding the eye effectively. What’s your background in graphic design?
WN: As ridiculous as it sounds I actually don’t have a background or any formal training in graphic design. I actually taught myself how to use Photoshop back in high school because I felt like making a fake poster and we had the program installed in our PC and I thought “Why not?” so I looked up a few tutorials and came up with my first work: it was hideous and embarrassing to look at now but it was something. After that, I just looked up more guides based on the particular effect I wanted to recreate and eventually I got familiar enough with the program to just start experimenting to get the right image.
CT: That’s so cool. Obviously, you’ve got an eye for it because your layouts are amazing. So, I guess the next issue is coming out in July! Can you give us any teasers about what you’ll be featuring?
WN: Even though I would love to, I actually can’t give any teasers yet because the issue is still under heavy planning. The only thing concrete is that I want it’s gonna be a male Sim on the cover–I thought the magazine needs a bit more balance gender-wise because aside from the January issue with David the magazine has been graced with only women. Right now I have three Sims in mind: The one I originally wanted to go with, one that will be another slight deviation from the formula, and one I love but whose story I can’t properly portray through gameplay in TS4. Right now I’m on the fence on which one I’ll pick but I’m sure I’ll figure things out.
CT: I can’t wait! I’m so glad that you shared with us this background look into your magazines! So, everybody, be sure to check these out on the EA Sims Forums and on the Simsacious Magazine at Tumblr–they’re amazing, inspiring, and these Sims will get inside of your imagination!