Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Sims 3

I will admit something some would find embarrassing – I play The Sims. I pre-ordered the collector’s edition of The Sims 3, and waited for it in fevered anticipation, howling in horror when its release was delayed and dancing in delight when its release was imminent. I am not ashamed of my status, as I still feel The Sims is the best gaming concept ever delivered, and quite simply, the numbers don’t lie. It’s the highest selling video game of all time. Enough said.

However, there are still a huge number of gamers who despise the game, and everything it represents, because they simply don’t see the point. An open-ended game with no bosses, score or missions, with a large part of every Sim day revolving around sleeping, does not leave much room for fun in the eyes of many hardcore gamers. The same gamers who find joy in repeatedly pointing and clicking their mouse on enemies that hugely outnumber them in first person shooters in the same rehashed concept since Wolfenstein came out.

I don’t argue with those guys, because they have no taste and no sophistication. The Sims series offers huge possibilities that millions enjoy, and I won’t promote its cause because it simply does not need promotion. I will note that there are different types of Sims players, each enjoying different things. Some players love making their “Simselves” and love living out lives for their Simselves that they could never do in real life. Some build massive, rambling, architecturally awesome houses. Some create multiple Sims and drop them in a house, delighting in the chaos as they wield destruction, chaos and madness with their mouse pointer. Others still make movie machinima with actors designed to fit the movie.

I am a humble mixture, though I don’t (always) delight in the chaos and I don’t make machinima. I enjoy designing houses, and making Sims. Prior to TS3, making Sims was only limited fun. Now, it is hugely satisfying, and the effects are notable. My review on the game follows, as promised.

The build up to the game was long. I knew it was coming, but deliberately held off doing too much reading up on it other than watching the first ad. The concept was something Simmers had been looking for since the first game’s release: freedom to move in an open world. The Sims 3 provided that freedom, along with some interesting changes, notably the create-a-pattern design abilities, and the personality trait AI system. I won’t go into too much detail (there is plenty out there on the web) but I’ll write up my findings and experiences.

The first thing I noticed after installing TS3 was the music. True to Sims games before, the familiar music is there upon loading (credits to reticulating splines, ever-present), but it has been updated and improved to give the feeling that you are descending into a computerized sitcom in a pleasant neighbourhood, rather than a silly game. In short, the music is more real and more awesome.

The next thing is the graphics. I’ve heard people complain that they aren’t that much of a step up, but they are. No questions. Everything is better. The Sims do tend to look alike at first, but the general feeling of “all my Sims look the same” is rubbish. The tools are available to make many different creations.

The personality traits works as promised, with each Sim being unique (and, as always, humorous in all its permutations) and reacting to situations differently, and having different interactions open to them. It’s a nice touch to see insane Sims talking to themselves, handy Sims idling by juggling a wrench, and evil Sims giggling mischievously to themselves. It brings their personalities home – they are “real” beings with definite wants, needs and feelings. An example, I had the joy of creating an absent minded and insane Sim. I sent him off to work, and when I happened to check on his progress at work for the day, found the warning that he was missing work. Centring my screen on him, I found that he had absent mindedly forgotten to go to work, and was instead talking to himself outside the theatre like a madman. Fascinating stuff.

The next thing I noticed was the added details. Little things, like how a Sim will kick at a cheap fridge’s broken door, or repeatedly try to flush a crappy toilet’s broken chain (yes, pun intended). The attention to details is magnificent, with many features quicker and easier. Over time, one tends to forget these little things, but I can guarantee that they will be instantly noticed upon returning to inferior Sims 2 games.

The create-a-pattern feature is ingenious. At first, I found the possibility of redesigning my entire house a little overwhelming (side note: houses can be bought furnished, which saves a lot of buying for those who don’t enjoy it as much). But once I had used the design features a couple of times, and realized how easy it is to get exactly what you want for absolutely everything, I was hooked. I have recoloured every object in my house, made multiple designs for random items of furniture, and for different styles of clothing and hair. It’s a fantastically fun feature to use, and people will enjoy it immensely.

The upgraded skills implementation has meant that rather than painting to increase a creativity skill that will allow you to play piano well, you have a painting skill, and a guitar skill (no pianos) and a writing skill. The skills work the same for others. Additionally, each skill (and career, by extension) will require you to send your Sim into the world to find items, either books, seeds, rocks or creatures, or to learn recipes, baits for fish, or even just to meet people (alive and dead).

The routing of Sims is a bit patchy, Sims still can’t handle a Sim in their way, and stand for several minutes or hours waiting until the way is clear, but while it is frustrating it doesn’t take too much away from the game as a whole. In general, the game will keep avid Simmers happy and enthralled; it will give more design power to less technical players, and will be a happy medium for those who had limited interest in the game. It is a huge step forward for the series, and I am loving it completely. I think it’s safe to say that Will Wright having left Maxis is not a detriment to the franchise in anyway. Well done to their teams, and thanks to them, if anyone is looking for me, they can find me here, playing The Sims 3.

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