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Looking Back: The Sims

July 11, 2009

Well, The Sims 3 came out last month. While I don’t have it just yet, what I’ve been reading about it has really been firing my imagination. There are many ways in which it’s supposed to blow The Sims 2 right out of the water, much how The Sims 2 blew the first Sims out of the water. And that’s how it works, isn’t it? The current, the new, is so amazing, so innovative, so wow. When I first got The Sims, it fascinated me. I’d make people, build houses, and watch them go about their day, directing them when they didn’t do what I wanted them to do. Then I got The Sims 2, and I was gobsmacked at all the things I could do that I couldn’t do before. I fell in love.

In anticipation of getting The Sims 3, I decided to go back and play with my original Sims, to compare the original game with the second incarnation and marvel at the astronomical differences.

The first thing I notice is how utterly static — and small — the neighborhood is. There are only ten lots, and they all fit right there on one screen. And the lots aren’t interchangeable. A house built on 5 Sim Lane can only fit on 5 Sim Lane, and it can only be called “5 Sim Lane.” Starting with the Livin’ Large expnasion pack, I have multiple neighborhoods and the ability to create more (although it’s a bit of a hack). Starting with the Hot Date expansion pack, I have a downtown. In The Sims 2, the neighborhood is dynamic and huge. I can scroll around, I can zoom in and out, I can rotate my view. I can change the landscape. I can move any lot anywhere and rename it. There are community lots nestled in among the residential lots. Right from the beginning, I have multiple neighborhoods and an integrated ability to create — and customize — more. Starting with the University expansion pack, I can play a slightly different game with slightly different objectives in a sub-neighborhood.

Then I decide to create a family. In The Sims, there are adults and children, period. I can select from three skin tones and then mix-and-match pre-made heads to pre-made bodies. Add a personality mix, and that’s the extent of it. In The Sims 2, I’m almost drowning in choice. There are toddlers, children, teenagers, adults, and elders. There are normal and fat body types. There’s a selection of hair colors and hair styles. There’s a selection of eye colors. I can choose from a variety of head shapes and then tweak from there. I can select what the Sim will wear every day, for formal occasions, as underwear, as pajamas, to go swimming, and to exercise in. And there are genetics! Once I’ve made two adults, I can create a third Sim based on their appearance. I can make people related to each other, too, as spouses, parents, and siblings. I can also give my Sims aspirations, general outlooks on life.

Now I want to build a house for my Sims to live in. I move them onto a lot and … whoa. They live isolated in the middle of literally nowhere! Just suspended in space, the land ceasing to exist at the boundaries of the lot. Rotation is constrained to isometric view from each of the four corners. There are three pre-set zooms. The couple I created, imagining them to be married, are nothing more than roomies and won’t share a bed until their relationship score goes up. In The Sims 2, I can zoom and rotate with amazing precision. The land continues after the lot ends, and if there are neighbors, I can see their house. My married couple have the relationship scores to show for it and I don’t need to buy them separate single beds.

Live mode. Oh, great heavens, the Simlish! I’d forgotten just how different the Simlish used to be! Men and women using entirely different — and a lot more repetitious — gibberish. But here is where I truly wax nostalgic. I kind of miss such gems as “Com on snalla?” and “Dis graw es fredashay, eh wopitasnau.” And let’s not ignore how Swedish the men sound. I cannot capture the cadence and intonation with mere transcription, but “Inna swoo, en a houghten a burrwati” is truly classic. Past this, I’m surprised at what I can’t transcribe because it just sounds like mumbling. The Sims 2 really expanded their vocabularies and co-ordinated the scripting a lot better, which I suspect here means “at all.” Men and women sound similar when they interact with toddlers, and men, women, and children sound pretty much the same when interacting with animals. My boyfriend doesn’t even have to look at my computer screen: When he hears “shurb,” he knows someone is teaching a pet a trick, and he could even identify “speak” and “shake” without having seen it before.

Looking back on it, one thing I find endearing, even if I don’t miss it per se, is the contented rocking on the balls of their feet while patting their stomachs. The Sims 2 made great leaps in making the people a lot more realistic. It’s still every bit the resource management game it was when The Sims first came out, but now it’s so much easier to relate to the people and tell stories with them. The kids grow up. They know what a weekend is. Most NPCs can be interacted with. I do find it very amusing, though, that in my Sims 2 household in which I have one adult who carpools to work, one adult who takes a cab downtown, and kids who go to school, when the vehicles don’t all come at the same time the driver is usually the same person in all three situations.

When I finally get The Sims 3, I’ll be sure to write about my jaw-dropping amazement and gush about how much fun I plan to have with it. Until then, happy Simming!

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