Let me start by dashing your hopes, crushing your expectations: Despite the setting, the heroes, and the town building, Sims Medieval is still very much a standard Sims game.
That's how my meeting with Rachel Bernstein, senior producer for Sims Studio, ended, right after I asked her if the game had action elements, or Sim City elements.
"It's still the Sims," she said. "It's not even like Baldur's Gate. It's more interactive than you just telling your Sims to have a fight and then watching, but it is in no sense an action game. "
What Sims Medieval is is a chance for fans of the simulated little people to take journey to a medieval land of knights, kings, magic and leeching.
The game is about, Bernstein said, creating your heroes, choosing your quests and achieving kingdom ambitions.
My first look at the game live and in action opened on a typical medieval setting, a land of rolling hills layered with trees and marked by a single sprawling, multi-building castle.
The art style, camera angle and shading made the opening tableau almost like a detailed children's playset.
Unlike typical Sims games, Sims Medieval doesn't remove the walls of the buildings when you zoom into a building or castle. Instead it peels away the front of the building, leaving the sides and back in tact. The effect is like looking at a visual dictionary, which pulls away the layers of an object to let you look inside.
"We wanted to make sure you always remember that you are inside the castle, so we just peeled away the front so you can peek inside and see what's going inside," she said.
There has been a lot of work done to the Sims 3 engine for this game, Bernstein said, like adding sub-surface scattering to the character models to make them look warmer and alive.
"We wanted to go with a painterly look," she said.
The look of the game isn't the only thing the team tweaked for Sims Medieval, they also reworked the way the Sims speak.
"Simlish was altered to be more medieval," Bernstein said. "We spent a lot of time trying to figure out how it would sound. Initially we thought about making everyone sound more British. We tried an over-the-top Monty Python simlish."
What the team ended up with was a similish designed to sound like old English, she said.
While all of the buildings of the castle are different, they have one thing in common. Each section features a working area on the main floor and a living area on the top floor. This is true for the king and queen, the doctor, even the priest.
As with The Sims 3, players will be able to customize the objects and items in the game. They won't, however, be able to change the basic structure or shape of the buildings.
The first decision a player has to make when they start playing the game is deciding what their kingdom ambition will be.
Bernstein declined to say how many ambitions would be in the game, but did say that the number would be in the "low double digits." Choices will include things like growing your kingdom through war or religion.
The game opens in a kingdom with a single building and hero. As you earn points by completing quests, you earn new buildings, each with their own heroes, like knights, doctors and priests.
When your hero is unlocked you can customize his or her look, which includes giving them two traits and a "fatal flaw." The flaw can be rectified later in the game through a quest, she said.
At the heart of The Sims Medieval is the game's quest system.
"We came up with the idea of quests because we thought that people might run out of ideas for playing the game," Bernstein said. "Questing is like throwing out an improv director."
Players can take multiple approaches to finish a quest. For instance, in the quest I watched we were told that the king of the kingdom was sick.
To complete the quest we could either find a cure or "end the monarch's misery." Once you decide which approach to take, you have to pick which hero Sims you will be using on the quest. In this case Bernstein picked the physician and the priest.
Despite being on a quest, each hero still has regular job duties they have to perform. Fail to do so and you can get taxed or thrown in the stocks. In the case of the physician that means curing patients, and in the case of the priest that means preaching at his church.
While the duties of hero Sims are slightly interactive, The Sims Medieval is still not an action game. For instance, after collecting leeches, the physician can place them on a patient and then watch the patient's blood meter to make sure it lowers enough for healing. There is no active gameplay involved in the task.
After doing her doctorly duties, the physician moved on to the quest, traveling to the castle to examine the sick king. Once the problem was diagnosed — poisoned blood — the doctor researches what the cure is, gathers the ingredients and crafts a cure.
Meanwhile, the priest has to pray for the king, something that the doctor asks the priest to do by sending him a message by in-game carrier pigeon.
With that done the physician returned to the castle and cured the king with the potion.
You can fail at your quests, but when you succeed you earn points which can be used to grown your empire.
While there are moments in the game where you can influence the action, it's mostly in the sense of directing the way a scene unfolds, rather than trying to beat a challenge.
For instance, in the combat you can choose between whirling takedowns, hilt smashes and mortal blows, but they are not really tactical decisions.
I asked if the developers ever considered adding elements of other classic sim games to the Sims Medieval, like adding elements from Sim City to the kingdom aspect of the game.
"Some people talked about Sim City blending," Bernstein said. "But we had to ask ourselves, 'What's the heart of this game? If it says The Sims on it, it means it's about people. In Sims games you create, control and nurture people; in Sim City you create and nurture a city."
Electronic Arts appears to be betting on the success of this latest Sims iteration. Bernstein said that they are already discussing the possibility of releasing expansions or new areas for the game, perhaps allowing players to play different adventures.
"We're definitely planning on building on the game," she said.