Will Wright was involved in the development of The Sims, The Sims 2 and The Sims Online refocusing his development on Spore before leaving EA and mainstream game development entirely to found the Stupid Fun Club Camp in 2009 (an entertainment think tank). Even with him gone, Wright’s stamp has been indelibly left on the series. It is still to this day a study in open ended gameplay built around creativity and personalities rather than some enforced objective. The game has gone on to be the best selling PC title of all time with 16 million units of the original The Sims game, or the 20 million units that The Sims 2 sold (making it the highest selling PC title in history), and a strong legacy up to The Sims 3 which sold 1.4 million copies at launch (the strongest PC game launch in history) and 10 million units to date. As a series the Sims have sold over 100 million units all titles combined. Even with some of the criticism directed towards The Sims 3 which appeared to depart from many of the elements established in the original and The Sims 2 it has remained a fan favourite with dozens of content packs, expansions and spin offs being released.
You create a Sim with an aspiration to become a musician and the trait of creative and they will be driven to do creative activities and their mood will improve when taking part in this, but deprived of creative activities they will become depressed and this will impact their mood and interactions. This combination creates rich and interesting characters. In addition to assigned traits your Sim is given a Bonus Trait, this is decided based on your aspiration. For example a person with Creative aspirations gets Muser, every time they are inspired they get a bonus to their skills.
Aspirations are broken in to Athletic, Creativity, Deviance, Family, Food, Fortune, Knowledge, Love, Nature and Popularity with a different sub aspiration for example Creativity is broken in to Painter Extraordinaire, Musical Genius, and Bestselling Author while Deviance is broken in to Public Enemy and Chief of Mischief (basically someone who lives to be the next Ashton Kutcher).
So, at the back end, you’ve got the foundation for a strong emergent gameplay, something that was a big draw to many players of previous iterations. The question though is how is the creator? A big portion of the game was creating characters, furniture, models and houses for people to play with and placing your creations online for others to share. It’s too early to tell how easily the custom content will be to create but the back end to share this content is easy with an in game updates feed that you can drop down and look at, the ability to share moments from your game on the Sims social network (or if you are one of those people on your Facebook feed), and the ability to pull in other people’s houses or Sims.
Once you’ve selected your age, gender and entered a name you can get to work. A series of honeycomb shaped cells represent your aspirations and traits. Selecting these set your personality in motion, you can then select a voice (one of three types clear, warm and brash) and modify the pitch using a slider giving you control to create a Sim with the voice of your choice.
On top of this fine level of detail you are still given an array of preset options to choose from letting you pick body shapes, heads, and hair styles if you just want to skip all the nit picking and get to the fun but let’s be honest, Sims fans can spend a solid day just getting their Sim ready before even entering in to the world. Once your body is set you then select the clothes, these are broken in to Casual, Formal, Exercise, Bedtime and Party. You can either select individual layers like jacket, shirt, pants or ensembles like a suit or Hot-dog outfit… because when I’m going to a party I’m always the biggest wiener in the room. Many of these outfits have variant colours which you can easily elect by clicking on the item and the selecting the drop down palette. In the case of some items like jackets or t-shirts you will see different patterns or based on the colour you select. A neat feature is the search tool which uses tagging, for example you want to find all Clown Costumes you enter Clown in to the search and bingo you have your clown outfit components to choose from. Automatic filters are applied if you select one of the styles of clothing (Casual, Formal, etc.) but this still gives you much in the way of flexibility.
Once you have finished tweaking your virtual self you enter the world, much like the other Sims games you are given a limited number of simoleons and can either build a new home or buy an existing lot, even when buying a house you have the choice of buying pre-furnished or furnishing it yourself. More on building and furnishing in a bit, but once you move in to your home you will notice a few and exciting changes. The first is your Sim has the ability to multi-task, one of the challenges of earlier versions was getting your Sim to do things like read books or exercise. Now your Sim can perform multiple tasks simultaneously like read a book on the toilet or use the computer and listen to music. This improves the ability to achieve tasks. Additionally you can wander and move between neighbourhoods easily and quickly using your cell phone, yes even the Sims have jumped on the selfie taking, text messaging band wagon. Much of what you used to use your computer a newspaper for in previous versions can be done right from your phone.
Much of the same framework from previous games is still here, you get a job, you pay bills and hire housekeepers, you work towards goals which improve your status, you meet and make friends and you can socialize in public lots but something about it seems slightly refined and just easier. Inspiration was drawn from previous versions expansions allowing you to do things like fish and mount the fish on the wall or find geological samples and send them for analysis. Additionally there are nice little touches like the descriptions of the content of books and the ability to play multiple instruments beyond guitar open up a world of options (so if you want to be that fey fiddler busking in a fairy costume on the corner you can be). There are also inspired progressive choices in defining your Sim, same sex relationships are there (and have been for a while), the gender choices still appear binary in creation but the developers felt it was more a case of there is biology and gender, and sexuality. They address the biology and you can play the rest out yourself without having to make selections on some little slider but decide by your actions and how your Sim lives their life.
In the realm of design communicating gender neutral can be tricky but the fact they allow for couples to be created as same sex married out of the gate is a huge step forward, further they have included breastfeeding in game, this is something of a hot topic previously and including this instead of simply bottle feeding is further evidence of the attempt to create a diverse slice of real life from the way you dress to your parenting options to the partner you spend your life with (and if some of the trailers are to be believed this could be a Singles/Sister Wives situation)!
A final neat little aspect of character creation is your characters have “DNA” meaning you can generate children or “make” children once the game has started based on the DNA of your partners. This creates a lineage with genetic traits stemming from your very first Sim all the way down the generations to follow! How you contribute that DNA... well some things are still best left old fashioned.
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Again we have the same tag driven inventory systems and as per previous versions you can select rooms and drill down on furniture based on the type of room you are in (you need a desk go to the office and click on the desk) but there are some neat features a cool little interface on the left lets you select the area or portion of the house you are working on and you have the ability to select pre-furnished rooms.
That all being said, after about 10 hours of game play I hit the same wall I always hit with The Sims, I get bored. This is not really a statement about the game itself. It’s elegantly designed with a clean and easy to use interface, an intelligent AI (that doesn’t have your Sims pissing their pants on a regular basis) and some neat challenges but juggling goals and trying to get tasks done at times feels too much like real life. If I wanted to be a rock star I’d pick up a guitar and start practicing. This is an excellent Sims game, it is incredibly well thought out design from a software and game design point of view, but I’ll be honest. I’ve owned every Sims game from the beginning that came to PC and much of the additional content (when EA released The Sims 2 for free with all DLC I jumped on getting it installed just to have it) but I’ll be honest, I’ll probably drift in and out and then delete it when I need room for something else. If you are a Sims fan, jump on this today. If you have never tried it for sure pick it up and check it out, it may be something you dig. If you didn’t like the previous Sims games, this is probably not the title for you.
- Easy to use interface with a clean design and simple to understand
- Neat genetic model to help you create lineages for your Sims
- Complex and nuanced AI behaviour with a cool motivational system
- Progressive and open presentation of gender, sexuality and lifestyle allowing for you to let your Sim live in a way that as closely represents how you would want to live
- Multitasking and cell phones make for a much easier experience
- Juggling tasks can at times be frustrating trying to get everything done in a day
- Building relationships can be slow at times and feel tedious
- The urge to micromanage can be difficult to resist because otherwise you are sitting watching someone else live a life you may want to be living yourself
- After a while it can feel boring to the non-Sim fan this is why I don’t have a fish tank
*For a Sims fan I would easily peg this at a 4 or higher