The Games Of Christmas: December 11th

By RPS on December 11th, 2009 at 6:53 pm.


You there! Did you design your own face? No? Well that’s a shame. Perhaps you might want to look at fixing that, at least in the land of videogames. And that’s precisely what you can do in the game that lies beyond today’s portal, in our seasonally festive advent-o-calendar, in the land at the end of the fingertips of the one true leader of the Autobots…

The Sims 3!

Alec: It didn’t quite do what I wanted it to – there were disappointingly few ways to interact with that much-hyped open world – but The Sims 3 is a master of benign feature creep. The core trio of Sims games have built upon the original concept, extrapolating the dollhouse from one that’s purely about physical needs to one that’s about how its pod people respond to the chaos and charm of an unpredictable world. They’re much more alive this time around, reacting in accord with the vast raft of oh-os-human weaknesses the game sees fit to bless/curse them with. In turn, that panders to the real reason we play the Sims – to embarrass, sexualise or embarrassingly sexualise ourselves and our friends. The amplified and more complex reactions to the abuse we put them through makes our twisted social engineering that much more gratifying.

I do wish so much of it wasn’t restricted to coloured bars and meters (and to endless attempts to micro-sell you new decor bumpf, for that matter) – for all its improvements and enlargements, the Sims 3 still isn’t that great at hiding its working underneath the cartoon veneer of life and mayhem it’s often so damned good at. The Sims’ ultimate destiny is to become something much bigger, an AI world of infinite interactions and rolling comedy, tragedy and everything in between. The Sims 3 may not have made quite as many strides towards that as I’d have liked, but to go back to The Sims 1 or 2 after its slew of smart under-the-hood tweaks feels like trying to have a conversation with a chimp.

It’s created mechanisms to constantly surprise and delight its players, even if their interactions are still hung around clicking on icons – there just isn’t a game that comes close to the number of funny, sad, sexy or humiliating potential events that this offers. It’s forever surprising, and disappointing, that so many self-declared hardcore PC gamers viciously spurn the Sims: there isn’t a more complex and diverse game toybox in all the world. It’s because of a desire for games of this scope and scale that we all became PC gamers in the first place. Be a grown-up: play The Sims 3.

Jim: The Sims 3 was the second game of 2009 that I shared with the Lady Rossignol. Our different approaches to the game probably offered some insights into our personalities. While my impulse was to create nightmarish cross-dressing redneck party-animals who terrorised the neighbourhood and created unhappy, dysfunctional families of freaks, my girlfriend furnished a beautiful house, and made sure that the good-looking couple who lived there were as happy and successful in their lives as they could have expected to be. She also pushed the livespan slider to the max, so she had the maximum amount of time to make their lives interesting.

The miracle of The Sims is probably that it exists at all, but the fact that it works so well, and allows you to run savage redneck families, or unsettling experiments in homelessness – as Roburky had done with Alice & Kev – is a testament to hard work and brilliant design. The fact that there are so few people simulators, and almost no soap opera, is a measure of the tunnel-vision that afflicts most game designers. Clearly, a game about life, about people, about aspirations and furniture and careers, is exactly what the gaming world wants, because it’s a smash hit every time. It baffles me that The Sims still has no clear rivals, and isn’t the headlining game in a teeming Life genre. That it’s almost the only game is, actually, kind of disturbing.

Kieron: But not as disturbing as a room full of me making out.

Roburky, of course, paid back the karmic debt for that piece of psychic-sin with the aforementioned Alice & Kev. It’s an odd one, Alice & Kev, of course, and only highlights what’s so special about the Sims. You couldn’t have done anything like it with any other game. To state the obvious, the Sims is relevant in a way few games manage – or even try – to be. As such, the experiences its offers are divorced from it.

For example, I play the Sims somewhere between Jim and his good ladyfriend. I play it as a game, devotedly trying to push towards their life goals (i.e. I like the numbers). There’s been some odd moments along the way. I created one of the characters from my comic Phonogram – the bisexual ascerbic shagmesiter Emily Aster – and logically enough set her goal to fuck her way around simsville. It’s my first full game, so I go through it feeling my way out as she feels her… oh, you get it. I actually subsist without having to have a job, and end up maxing out a whole load of skills as well as sowing my red-hot wild oats. So when my old age creeps up on me, it throws me. I’ve got a few days in game to start a relationship. I try to get back with an old flame – because she lives in a big old rich person’s house, and that’s a suitable place to end up. Except, because of all the things I’ve done – and Emily has done some vile ,vile things – she won’t actually start a new relationship. I hit old age, and am left alone, in a tiny house with no stuff, barely any friends and a mass of people who hate me. All because of a really fucking stupid obsession.

It struck me that I’d be pushed to create as sad a literary ending for Emily as the Sims had let me create through just by playing her through. Point taken, I end up cheating to drop her into the household before moving on to play other people… but the final image of her, an aged, thin woman, determinedly working out on an exercise machine struck me as oddly poignant and depressing. Emily’s totally going to die and there’s nothing she can do about it.

(Hell, to try and stretch out her Adult sim life, I had her quickly run a marathon to get the achievement which extends their total life… but it appears to only add to the back end. Talk about fighting the inevitable).

I like the Sims a lot. I wish I had the time to give myself over to it more, because it gives right back. I disagree with Alec on what the Sims 3 achieved – I think when a genre-leader makes obvious and sizeable improvements over anything else, there’s little else you can realistically expect. Previously, it was a game where you sat in a house. Now, it’s a game where you can run down the street. These things are of absolute, paramount importance.

I wouldn’t swap the Sims for 10 top flight shooters. After 10 years, it remains unique. EA deserve every penny of the kersquillions they’ve made from it.

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17 Comments »

  1. jsutcliffe says:

    I had a lot of fun playing Sims 3 with the missus, teaming up to decide what to make the people do, but then we made them have a kid, and it ruined the game in much the same way I think having a kid would ruin my blissful and responsibility-free adulthood.

    • jsutcliffe says:

      Favourite Sims 3 anecdote: My male Sim’s elderly best friend relieved himself on the kitchen floor during a birthday party. The next day I got the “you’d better go visit this Sim if you want to talk to him before he dies” message, but refused to go because he made a mess in my kitchen. I also assumed I’d have a few days to visit him before he croaked. He croaked that night.

      The next day, my (real world) wife had to pretty much physically restrain me from making my Sim piss on the dead Sim’s grave.

    • Baris says:

      That’s hilarious and horrible at the same time. If I was facing that situation instead of you I’d probably pull a John Walker, then have to stop playing for a while.

  2. Railick says:

    @Jsutcliffe – Isane that you should mention that. My wife and I used to play Sims 1 together like that and we had our own seperate Sims made after ourselves living in diffrent houses. Of coures I come home one night after work to find her sim living in my awesome pimp mansion and all the rooms are converted to something she likes instead of something my single sim liked and . . . my game room was converted into a nursery for the baby our sims had which was named after one of our real kids.
    I never played the game again :P

    Shadowcat “It hammers at my retinas like an evil woodpecker of pure energy”

  3. Lambo says:

    That picture was… uh….

    I think I’m going to take a break from the Internet for while. Too much “bizarre-omfgwtf!-ahhh!” can be bad for you.

  4. Justin says:

    “there just isn’t a game that comes close to the number of funny, sad, sexy or humiliating potential events that this offers.”

    Dwarf Fortress. Ok, maybe not so much sexy, but it covers everything else.

    • Mungrul says:

      In reply to Justin: Ahem, I give you the “&”.
      You just know that the tentacle clowns do something depraved with those elf prisoners in the HFS.

  5. EGTF says:

    It felt like the Sims 2 with less items but many ways to colour them. I haven’t honestly got around to replaying it again in about 4 months, but the reading material spawned from the game like Alice and Kev has been brilliant. On a non-serious note I think now is the perfect time to bring up for those that missed it this “experiment” http://www.cracked.com/blog/exploring-the-mysteries-of-the-mind-with-the-sims-3/

    KG

  6. Taillefer says:

    The main reason I play is actually for the building side. Creating the story from the environment itself. I spend far too long choosing the right sort of floorboards. The sims are just there to mess up my beautifully-crafted constructions.

  7. Bret says:

    To: jsutcliffe

    Ever read PJ O’Rourke’s “Modern Manners”?

    I feel the funeral recommendations in it are… relevant.

  8. Kadayi says:

    Picked it up again recently having bought the EP and needing a break from DA:O, and it’s fun to return to, save for a couple of quibbles.

    1 Albeit there are cheat codes for extra dosh, I can’t help but wonder why the base game is so stingy with the initial starting money. There are really only a couple of empty properties that you can afford at the beginning of the game, and it’s hard to stuff a 4-5 person family into a 2 bed house. Perhaps the intention was to encourage players to make their own or download custom ones, but in order to understand the sort of spaces you require, you need to play the game a bit to comprehend the limitations.

    2 The traits is a great feature, but it’s a shame that there wasn’t a dynamic aspect to it, where in Sims traits might drift over time or as a result of particular events. Regardless of whatever good/bad luck or good fortune/misfortune befalls them a good Sim will always be good, and an evil Sim will always be evil. I’d like it if there existed the opportunity for a Sim to reach an epiphany by themselves as to where they are in the world/life, rather than blithely soldier on down their pre-defined tracks.

    • mrrobsa says:

      Kadayi: Pretty sure the super low starting funds are just to enhance the rags to riches angle. I remember one of my Sims starting out in the world had to make do with just two walls for his ‘house’, the floor of which was just grass. I just had no money after buying fridge, loo, shower etc. but the whole situation just makes me chuckle.
      Also, no ‘AND IN THE GAME’? Sims is prime fodder!

      KG

  9. terry says:

    The best thing about the Sims 3 for me was stretchy babies – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CcLAPPPcsfI

    My town was a shambling ruin of salad fingers types, morphing glutinously around town. I haven’t played since because I think the autoupdate will fix it :(

  10. TeeJay says:

    “the Sims is relevant in a way few games manage – or even try – to be”

    Relevant to what?
    Relevant how?

    :S

  11. TeeJay says:

    13 more games left…

    My prediction (in no particular order):

    Braid
    P v. Zombies
    Prototype
    Trine
    Spelunky
    The Void
    Mirror’s Edge
    Torchlight
    Borderlands
    Modern Warfare 2
    Dragon Age
    an obscure indie flash game everyone has forgotten about
    ProEvo /or FIFA /or Foot-to-ball Manager