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Most people are familiar with Will Wright’s game concept that has become one of the most successful and recognized franchises in the world, and not just in gaming. It’s the Seinfeld approach to gaming: a game about nothing. Though much like Seinfeld wasn’t really about nothing, it just gave the writers immense freedom, the Sims games aren’t really about nothing.
The story is the one you create, based on the generally mundane activities of your Sims. Many people, hard-core gamers in particular, questioned how much fun a simulation of going to work and remembering to bathe could be all that great, but The Sims found a massive audience by appealing to people who don’t generally play games.
First we will look at the most noticeable changes, those most hyped by EA and likely to whet the appetite of fans of the series. Then I will get a little more personal in regard to how the Sims 3 introduces a tried and true game mechanic that I believe dramatically enhances the appeal of the franchise to more traditional gamers.
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Village Wide Simming
No longer will you spend your entire game looking at a single house. Your Sims’ house is now located in a village with neighbors, parks, businesses, and so on. The village is seamless, and you can move around at map or sim level without stopping to load anything as you move about. Some of the areas are open, like parks, and you can walk around and meet other Sims or play on the swings. Others are closed: you can follow your Sim up to the door of the Arena, for instance, but all you know is that they went in and an icon tells you what they are doing.
Despite the closed areas being a bit disappointing, on the whole it makes the Sims 3 the most living and breathing simvironment yet. Other Sims go on about their business, and you run into your co-worker taking her family to the movies while you are on your way to the grocery store. The computer controlled Sims have their own jobs and relationships, and they age, die, and new ones are born. The addition of the village and fully detailed Sims therein tending to their own needs completely raises the bar.
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AI, Behaviour, and Traits
The enhanced autonomous behaviour of the Sims extends to the ones you control directly. Your own Sims are also more independent and far less likely to wet themselves or let them selves starve. Left alone, hungry Sims will eat, dirty Sims will bathe, tired Sims will sleep, some even clean up after themselves, and with their critical needs met, they will usually do something they enjoy. You can now focus on the more interesting aspects of your Sim’s existence instead of constantly interrupting things for a bathroom break.
Their choice of activities is generally based around their personality traits. Sims now come with an assortment of five traits from a list of over sixty, that ranges (alphabetically) from Absent-Minded to Workaholic. A Bookworm Sim left to her own devices will find something to read, while a Couch Potato switches on the TV. Their personality also affects their Wishes - more on that later.
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Creating Sims and Build Mode
Another big step forward is in the creation tools. Creating a Sim is easy, and the amount of customization you can exert makes it a rewarding experience. You really reach a point where you can say: hey, this guy looks EXACTLY how I want him. Sims are more than skin deep, though, and this is where you tweak their personality by choosing the Traits mentioned before. You can even upload your creation to The Sims 3 Official website, and download other people’s creations to populate your town.
The up and download functionality extends to furniture and homes, and the building tools are really great. Make no mistake, they take more getting used to the Create a Sim tools: you will spend a few hours getting the hang of them, but once you do, they are quite well fleshed out. Starting out small and stretching out the living room so that parties wouldn’t be too crowded was a challenge, but getting the kid’s room set up wasn’t to bad, and by the time I had the money to add a second floor, it was an absolute blast.
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Graphics and Sound
While the Sims 3 has leapt forward in terms of the vibrant village full of Sims and the behaviour of your own Sims, the graphics aren’t all that great. Of course, they are better than the Sims 2, but not by as much as you would hope for five years of new technology. There is still a lot of clipping: characters with long hair will often have their shoulders and back visible, then a patch of hair on their back (ewwwww). The Sims 2 had better graphics relative to what was available than The Sims 3 relative to what we are used to in today’s universe of HD electronics .
Sound is tolerable, with the music going unnoticed. You'll continue to find Simlish either cute or annoying. Sound in general is appropriate, with car horns to draw your attention of the car pool waiting, or expressions of disgust when a Sim opens a fridge that needs cleaning. The exception is the intro music, which sounds like the intro to an 80’s family oriented show, and will make you want to jam just about anything you can reach into your ears.
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Lifetime Happiness and Wishes
The change that I found most valuable was the addition of Lifetime Happiness and Wishes. Essentially, your Sims get xp they can use to buy upgrades. Not a revolutionary concept in gaming, but it takes the game most famous for brining games to non-gamers and broadens its appeal even further to include gamers. People who usually play video games might get into the Sims 3 more than previous installments.
You can earn Lifetime Happiness points in two ways. If you look after your Sims needs meters and they are having a generally good time, this drives up their happiness level. If you get it into the top bubble, the Sim will slowly accumulate points. Your Sim will also have wishes that pop up. You can left click on them to accept them, up to four at a time. They range in complexity and term from things like “Make Waffles" to “Get Married." The more complex and long term a wish, the more points you get for fulfilling it.
The most dramatic rewards are for Lifetime Wishes. Completing them will take most of a Sim’s life, but offers tens of thousands of points. You use points to buy Lifetime Rewards: upgrades for the Sim like being more attractive, throwing better parties, learning faster, and so on.
Lifetime wishes are based on a Sims’ traits (or chosen for created sims) and Wishes do an excellent job of relating to the Sim’s activities in combination with their traits and skills. A Sim with a job, the Cooking skill, and the Virtuoso trait will be offered Wishes like getting a raise or promotion and befriending co-workers, wanting to make a certain dish or improve their skill, and play the guitar or increase their skill in that area. If she meets someone at the park, she may want to find out more about him (which you do by revealing his traits in conversation). If they start flirting, she may wish to hug him, and so on.
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A Sims Game for... Gamers?
Traditional gamers often found that the Sims didn’t really give them anything interesting to do. “What am I supposed to do" was the first question, and the prevalence of going to the bathroom didn’t seem like much of a thrill ride. Soon after, the question becomes “what is the point?" You can go to work, keep yourself fed and clean, even engage in social interaction and family building, but there wasn’t much in the way of reward for this, at least not in a traditional game sense.
You can blame the gamers, including me, for letting preconceived notions of what a game “has to be" interfere with a good time, but the truth was there. Many hardcore gamers had to know what the fuss was about and tried out the title but just couldn’t get into the Sims. The Happiness points and Rewards create a framework where fans of more traditional games can complete Wishes (quests or missions) and earn rewards (level up).
It took me a while to figure out why I was playing the Sims 3 more than any previous Sims release. The more intelligent Sims are great additions, but alone they didn’t explain it. Finally I realized what was keeping me up late: there is a real strategy element to getting as many Wishes fulfilled as possible while keeping your Sim happy enough to earn lifetime happiness points.
The Sims 3 doesn’t force this down the faithful fan’s throat. In fact, as we mentioned above, the more intelligent Sims and having a whole village adds a lot to the basic “do whatever you want" Sims experience, particularly just sitting back and watching. Those that like to customize Sims and build houses will also be very pleased. But the points and rewards are there for those that need more prompting and obvious reward, myself included.
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The Sims 3 Conclusion
While greatly expanding the facets of the game that have earned it leagues of followers, with more customization of Sims and houses, along with a whole village full of Sims to interact with, the Sims 3 adds a small, optional, component, that makes the game immensely more attractive to gamers like me that just can’t get points and goals out of their heads.
It’s a shame the graphics aren’t taking advantage of available technology. The game really could look better overall. Other than that, the Sims 3 is a step forward, offering fans of the series a drastically improved breadth of the open ended play and customization they love. For Sim-lovers, it’s a must buy.
The point and reward system is subtle and shouldn’t turn off the faithful, but adds a layer that will appeal to folks like me who just couldn’t see what the point of the Sims’ previous iterations was. If you’re a gamer who has generally found the Sims to be an interesting concept, but pretty boring when you get down to it, the Sims 3 might change your mind and is at least worth a look.