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Life by You lets you turn bushes into toilets, that’s “just the start”

At GDC 2023 in San Francisco, PCGamesN had the chance to chat with Rod Humble about Life by You, so here's what he said about the life game and Sims competitor.

Life by You lets you turn bushes into toilets, that's "just the start"

Paradox Tectonic’s Life by You is a new life game helmed by Rod Humble, who knows whereof he helms. He’s a former CEO of Linden Lab, the creators of Second Life, and has worked on The Sims 2 and 3. In Life by You, he promises a game without limits; when PCGamesN sat down with Humble at GDC 2023 in San Francisco, he kept returning to this core philosophy. It runs through the game as through a stick of rock, whether it’s in Paradox Tectonic’s approach to the open world, mods, and player creations, or the frankly absurd number of creation tools we’ve been promised ahead of the Life by You release date.

“What I want is that, whenever anybody pushes against this life simulator, and they say ‘Oh, I want to do this,’ that the game isn’t in the way,” Humble tells me in a rentable workspace, safe from the storm raging outside. “It’s this ethos of ‘we work for the player and the customer.’ They own their creations, their games, and our job is to sell you a complete base game with all of these tools.”

Sims comparisons are inevitable, and it’s clear that Humble and Paradox have their eye on at least part of EA’s lunch, but all the talk of Life by You’s open-world and creation tools make it equally clear that they have different, and grander, ambitions as well. Yes, you’ll be able to make characters and control them while following their day-to-day life, but you’ll also be able to turn a bush into a toilet. This marvel of creative achievement doesn’t come from your characters coming home after a late night on the town, but the deep toolkit being given to the player.

Life by You lets you turn bushes into toilets, that's "just the start"

“If you hit F4 you go into live edit mode,” Humble explains in front of a screen filled with expansive creative options. “Then you can click on any 3D object in the world, or any person, and you can just edit or change them or make them.”

You can still play Life by You like a more traditional life game – think building a house in The Sims, or honing in on a task like in Stardew Valley – but you also have around 30 different script editors enabling you to fiddle with everything from the makeup of character conversations to how 3D objects in the world function. You can make, well, basically anything.

“We aim to be the deepest life simulator with the richest gameplay, right out of the box,” Humble says while walking me through the toolkit. “Because our scripting language is built into the game, you can click on any object and you can just go and change the gameplay. So you can use the bush as a toilet, but that’s just the start.”

Life by You lets you turn bushes into toilets, that's "just the start"

The toolkit may appear daunting, but not only are you not required to engage with it, it isn’t even a prerequisite for enjoying what it enables. Humble says anyone can share their creations, including mods, absolutely anywhere for you to use, so we can all benefit from the brilliance of those with the technical or creative skills to make great stuff. “It’s important to us that the players own their creations, and that they can share their mods wherever they like,” Humble says.

Paradox does have its own mod website, and Life by You will certainly be joining the likes of Cities: Skylines and Crusader Kings 3 on the front page, “but we are not forcing players to use our site at all. It’s their creation, they can share them anyway they wish, and use whatever communities,” Humble confirms. So if you prefer CurseForge, Nexus, Reddit, or any other forum, you’ll be in complete control of where you share your creations.

While most developers who benefit from their modding communities  have now learned to offer this kind of freedom and flexibility, it’s still lovely to hear Humble be so openly supportive of player ownership and of the community that’ll no doubt spring up around Life by You. “As many billionaires have recently discovered, you know, you can’t tell the internet what to think,” he explains.

“We are very, very community focused. With this kind of game, with life sims, the community is not an optional extra, you have to understand the community and what it means to be a live sim player.”

This comes back to how Life by You will give you all the tools and choice to play it like a more traditional life sim or more as a creator, and then get out of your way. “That philosophy of ‘we’re not going to get in your way,’ applies throughout the entire product,” Humble explains. Life by You’s ethos is one of complete freedom, and that extends to what might be the game’s most ambitious feature: the open-world. Humble is no stranger to the idea, having worked on The Sims 3, but not only is he poised to pick up the ball EA dropped when it excised the feature from The Sims 4, he’s preparing to carry it further.

Life by You lets you turn bushes into toilets, that's "just the start"

There are no loading screens in Life by You, and all the AI, characters, and day-to-day of the world exists at the same time. You can follow one of your characters, follow the mailman on his rounds, see a character at work, then check in on exactly what another character has been doing, of their accord, this whole time.

“Getting the simulation to be simulated all the time across all of the people with no loading screens and an open world. That was the foundation,” Humble says of Life by You. “The open world is the centre of it, and it imbues every single element of the game as well.” Humble explains it through the lens of an everyday process that most of us – both in real life and in The Sims 4 – only see conclusion of: package delivery.

“If you make an online store in Life by You, it also has delivery,” Humble begins. “But the delivery is all real.” This means an AI in the world has to physically deliver it to you, and you can follow the lives of the relevant people for an entire day and see them perform the task itself. “And if you see anybody cycling by, you can just follow and see where they’re going. And they’re probably going to work, or visiting a friend, or going to the beach.”

The “open world is core to that sense of freedom,” according to Humble. Having no loading screens and one world space means all of these other tasks can be happening at the same time as you’re doing whatever it is you want.

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During my half-an-hour conversation with Humble, he was very open about Life by You’s development process, even going so far as to show me many of the creation tools in action. I’m prompted to wonder about the organisation that delivers all this, and here I find Humble a little more tight-lipped, saying only that Paradox Tectonic is a “flat organisation” of industry veterans.

“So we haven’t talked about the structure of the team, because it’s pretty modern,” Humble says right at the end of our discussion. “I regard it as kind of competitive advantage, but what I can tell you is that it’s using a lot of modern development techniques. So the way I approach each project is by structure, the studio and the team for the project, not the other way around. It’s one of the few secret sauce things, the way we work is covered.”

Life by You launches into early access this September, and while Humble’s candour has definitely opened our eyes to the scope of his next game and the involvement of the community, its huge ambition has left us with plenty of questions. The real answers will come when we finally get to play it.

In the meantime, our list of the best open-world games should keep you busy, alongside our Life by You system requirements which can help you figure out if Humble’s next colossal endeavour is a fit for your PC or laptop.