32 MB RAM
2 MB Video Card
300MB hard drive space
fter the Sorority sisters got the second bathroom, I figured everything had finally settled down. The Blonde house was doing pretty well, with Squeaky, Chocolate and Massa working up their career ladders successfully -- even after Ungar left to move in with Fergus & Patrick, and despite Massa's destructive bladder problem. The Greneriks had finally saved enough for a nice 80's leather couch, while shy Rod Torfelson was building a group of friends that seemed to help ease the downward spiral that was his life. Even the Groundlings survived their initial rough spell, building a second room onto their house and getting a pinball machine, some friends, and normal working hours. Just don't mention Veronica in their presence, and certainly don't bring up the greedy burglar that found a way to steal a stereo, Computer, TV and chess board in a matter of 20 minutes.
EA shipped us a few of copies of the game nearly two weeks ago, and we've kept playing and playing them until someone had to physically pull the disks out of our hands. The game isn't just addictive, it's downright dangerous. Whether you loved playing with a dollhouse as a kid, or blowing up that dollhouse with M-80s, I feel safe in saying that you may have just found yourself a new religion.
I'm not going to bore you with the general details of the Sims again (we've got a preview for that), just to summarize and say that if you've ever played Little Computer People on the C64, or built a block mansion out of LEGOs, this will feel very familiar. Controlling people's lives and their respective environments is the name of the game, and whether you want to build the perfect retirement home or the imperfect crackhouse, you'll have free reign to do just that -- along with the tenants to fill them.
The Maxis team has once again taken a very complicated concept and sent it to interface heaven, with a menu system and control scheme that makes the brightly polished SimCity 3000 system seem like a rusty bucket. With one bubbly menu in the bottom left corner of the screen, you'll be able to do everything from check on your Sims relationships and desires to select the furniture and build the homes they'll relate in. A photo album option allows you to document their lives, and add notes for special events. The time bar looks like a CD interface, while the options screen has translated everything into simplified icons. Wonder what anything does? The rollover menu system will pop up with extensive information about almost every object in the game, from a character's job skills to the characteristics of a certain item or piece of wallpaper. It's a tutorial system in of itself, and will help ease you into the Sim world slowly. A tutorial house, as well as a pre-made house (the Goth family) will give you as much instruction as you could wish for, and if there are any gaps, the entertaining manual/Sim bible will give you tips on the finer points of Simburb living. Controlling the Sims themselves is a snap -- click on an object or person, and a set of options will spread out around your cursor letting you know what's possible at a given time. For instance you'll always be able to use a sink, but if the repair option appears on your access menu, it may be time to call the repairman before you have a plumbing disaster. Interaction with other Sims is even more seamless. If you've just met someone then your options are very limited, but become close and you'll be able to choose from a wide range of choices like teasing, bragging, flirting, and even -- gasp -- kissing.
The graphics are easy on the eyes, almost a natural progression of SimCity 3000. It's as if you were finally able to zoom into the individual buildings and see what the people were doing inside of those tiny walls. What this also means, unfortunately, is that the same 2D design is kept intact, instead of becoming more robust to reflect the detailed view. The objects are crisp and detailed, and animate in perfect simplicity, but home design could have had a bit more detail, particularly when you try to pull off any funkier shapes. Characters aren't 3D accelerated, but they have a nice look -- though you can't really sneak in close enough to get a nice view of their faces while they're conversing with the locals. Turn up the volume though, and you'll forget any complaints you had about the game's look and feel. Meticulous is putting it lightly -- the Maxis team is obsessive-compulsive when it comes to making sure that everything from flushing a toilet to chopping up vegetables sounds like the real thing. More complicated sounds like the stereo and television are handled with care and quality, providing original songs and sounds in the same gibberish language as the Sims themselves. The Sims talk in a language that, for not sounding familiar in anyway, perfectly captures the moods, attitudes and actions of every character in the game. You'll know when a Sim is telling a joke, and more importantly, whether or not the jokee thought it was funny. The music adds yet another layer, somehow turning easy-listening into something you look forward to. When it's playing at the Acropolis with Linda Evans in the stands it's a shuddering mess, but in a long-running game like the Sims, it's pure magic. I never thought that light-jazz piano music would make me so happy, or make me feel so calm while watching people burn to toast from starting a fire on a stovetop.
The relationships are alternately mature enough to please all age ranges and interests, but immature enough to provide a constant set of Rickie Lake-esque escapades of your choosing. You'll watch your Sims succeed, fail, and even die, if you're unlucky enough to have a gung-ho Sim who loves to fix their own broken TV without any mechanical experience. Children can come and go, loving marriages can fade, and all sorts of teen-romance situations can finally be played out in your very own home. Though in all honesty, it looks like a big dripping chunk of the gamers out there are only interested in re-enacting Bound again and again and again... all I can say is that I felt the same wonky feeling in my stomach about it as I did last week when I saw a faded bumper sticker on some car at a gas station that said "Avatars Do It Online." Sadly enough, it looks like some do. But in The Sims, it's a good thing. If you're only interested in re-creating every single sitcom family you've ever loved, then the possibility is there. Three's Company? Why not? Wright wanted people to be able to create their own family in the game, no matter what that configuration might be, and it looks like he's actually done it. You may not be able to get down to the finer personality details, but you'll definitely be able to paint characters with a fairly good brush, and with some Photoshop skills, even get them to look pretty close to the real thing. Jealousy, love, crushes and hatred will take place whether you like it or not, and it's a wonder to see in the game. I remember the first time one of my characters became somewhat close to a neighbor, and my surprise when I went to the neighbor's house and noticed that their friendship rating was almost twice as high. Some characters are born to hate each other, while others can find some common topics with time, given the right environment and the right moods. They're so touchy, those polygonal people.
When you've started to get the hang of creating and ruining lives, then you can start building the homes that they'll thrive or die in. You can set up the walls, plant the plants, and pick the wallpaper and windows that you want, the way you want it. It's just as fun as the game itself, particularly because you have to work hard over time to afford the slightest remodel. As you slowly add on to your house, you'll see it take shape, taking out windows, adding doors, changing carpeting and filling in the empty rooms with plants and life. It can be a satisfying experience, but it can also crush you if you aren't careful. Being a starving artist is one thing, but being a starving artist in a giant square house with no carpet and half a wall missing is quite another. There's a rating system for how good your house looks, and it gives you a few clues on how to create perfect palace. Don't want to mess with building from scratch? The game provides you with a few starter houses, as well as a mansion to move into when you save enough money. Personally, I could spend all day making a great mega-pool or slum dive, but if you're not as interested as I am, you can skip it and get right to the action. Furniture is as key to success as a Sims career, as it determines how much comfort they get from a couch, or happiness they get out of walking into a room. Different Sims have different needs, so a TV may be vital for some characters, while a chess board may be salvation for a shy, quiet type.
The one drawback to the designing scheme is the lack of textures and wallpapers that can customize your house. Because everything in the game is a texture, you can't just say 'I'd like that wall in green,' or for that matter, 'I want his hair in red.' Pink stucco's OK for some people, but what about those of use that want it in tiger print? The good thing about all this is that there are already a plethora of fan sites out there with floors and wallpapers of all styles and colors, which can be quickly popped into the game. Plants and objects are somewhat limited as well, especially when you're forced to buy a lime-green couch because it provides the most comfort possible. If nothing else, different colors for furniture would have been nice.
All of that could actually be solved in the next six months, if Maxis delivers on all of its promises (which up to now, they've exceeded). The most brilliant, well thought out design concept with the game actually came out long before its release this week. HomeMaster, SimShow and FloorMaster have been out for months and months, and they've allowed fans of The Sims to start creating skins, wallpaper and flooring long before they could even view how the end result would look in the game itself. If you take a look at some of my screens you'll see some of the textures and skins at work, as well as some of my own creations using SimShow. Though the SimCity series has also supported fan design for the game, The Sims really takes it a step farther by letting fans tweak the environments that the characters live in -- and when you start playing you'll realize how important letting your cheerleader have that flaming pentagram wallpaper really is. Last year Will Wright spoke about an object designer and a career manipulator that could possibly appear at a later date, opening up even more possibilities for programming and art-savvy fans. The possibilities could, literally, become endless.
All is not hot tubs and roses in the world of the Sims, however. Pathing issues can create odd and sometimes critical situations, such as the person racing for work, but unable to move around a particular chair, or the unduly elaborate process of getting your Sim to greet someone at the door. It's understandable given the programming involved with pulling the game off, but it can still have you pulling your hair at times. A bit more frustrating are the deceivingly high requirements of the game, which will inevitably slow down even the fastest Computer. With the texture detail turned all the way up some of you may run into choppy framerates as your house gets larger, and large groups of characters animate on screen. When you've seen hundreds of ships flying in full 3D in Homeworld without a glitch, it's sad to see a pre-rendered game run so choppy. The micro-management issue is sure to cause debates for months to come: some of you will find that you love telling your Sims when to go to the bathroom and instructing them on tiny details, while others will complain that there's never enough time for fun in the average Sim's life, especially when there's no official weekend in a Sim's schedule (you can take a day off at any time, just not two in a row).
Finally, I would just like to whine and say 'where are the kitties and puppies?' I know that it would probably be a nightmare to add animals into the Sim world, but that won't keep me from kicking my feet under my desk in protest. And what's up with the lack of tract lighting? The Sims, I guess, aren't allowed to actually put lights on a wall -- it's one of the odder design choices in the game, but a minor problem at best.
At this point, I'm just bitching. For everything that the game doesn't provide, there are 20 other ideas that the team is adding as we speak. With the Sim Exchange site going live soon, the Sim world will become a global community, not just a personal one. You'll be able to put your characters on the web for the world to see with just a mouse click, and even better, be able to adopt someone else's dysfunctional family just as easily. Maxis has far surpassed the expectations for a game company in terms of feeding its fans what they want, and it looks like it won't just stop with the introduction of the game.
The Sims, for all its frustrations, highs and lows, is still -- gulp -- better than your average working day in real life, and a fun experiment in psychology, love and relationships. Will Wright has once again changed the playing field, and hopefully the rest of the world will soon follow. Now if you'll excuse me, I want to find out why an established woman on a career track towards becoming Mayor of SimCity has just found it necessary to pee on the living room floor.
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