Mods And Ends: The Sims 3

By Adam Smith on November 5th, 2011 at 12:57 pm.

Does anyone remember Sim Town?

Oh no! It’s for girls! And not even the good type of girls. The bad ones. The ones who like Hollyoaks and reality TV, and feast on swirling and scurrilous rumours about Brangelina.

Except that’s a load of old rubbish, like claiming that games with guns only appeal to violent sociopaths or wargames only appeal to retired colonels. I have it on good authority that many current ranking members of the Armed Forces also like to play wargames. The Sims has long been a fascinating piece of software, in many ways experimental and exploratory, and supporting a type of creative play that is rare to find. Let’s mod it. Let’s really open it up.

It’s an odd series, alienating many and appealing to countless more. Among those who are averse to it, many believe that it simply isn’t a game for them, being little more than a glorified dollshouse. While that accusation could be levelled at the first two games, The Sims 3 is at the very least a glorified dollsneighbourhood, which makes it sound like the nightmare I had last night.

However, the connected, always living neighbourhood of the third game isn’t quite what it should be in the original release. Even though the active house isn’t the only that exists at any one time, as was the case in the earlier games, there’s not a lot going on elsewhere. At least not until modders start engineering their elaborate designs.

The astounding work carried out by The Sims 3 modding community marks it out as a game with appeal for the dedicated PC aficionado. These are people who really know how to delve beneath the hood of a game and make it purr.

Ever play the demo of a never-released game called Citizens? These mods are the closest I've seen to what that game was imagining.

I’m not talking about the millions of hairstyles and dresses that can be downloaded, or even the mannequins of Twilight characters that players can download and force to engage in the least erotic romantic pursuits imagined since the writing of the Twilight books. What I’m talking about are the in depth processes which unlock the world and give it life. At their best, these mods make it possible to play the game more like an RPG, where the player character is a household, or they provide power to direct the flow of the neighbourhood like the director/writer of an extraordinary sit-com or soap opera.

What many people may expect is a mod that changes the game’s soul but none of these do that. It’s too deeply ingrained. These tools can overhaul the way that the game expresses itself and the ways in which it simulates the world around the active Sim but they cannot change what the game is at a fundamental level. That’s its soul. The soul of glassy-eyed consumerism, where happiness is too often measured in stuff and every Sim, in his/her heart, wants to be the most of everything. The most successful, the most wealthy, the most popular, the most envied.

That is the model of life that The Sims has always built its artificial dreams around and it can be subverted beautifully (read that, if you haven’t already, I implore you), but it can’t be entirely erased. Except by drowning them or selling all the doors in the bathroom while they’re having a wee. Oldest tricks in the book.

Wondering why all the alt-text is in the form of questions?

But enough of what The Sims is. Let’s take a look at what it can be.

You’ve got your family ready to roll in the brave new neighbourhood and are wondering what all the other Sims in the city are up to. Let me tell you. Despite the promise of a living world out there, what’s happening to them is that they’re getting old. Occasionally the rather inept ‘story progression’ will force an uncomfortable marriage on one of them but they’re not actually simulated. They just die eventually rather than lingering, ever-young, as your family advances through the days toward a spectral future.

The task at hand then is to bring the town to life then in a way that none of the fourteen thousand expansion packs have done. There are two main options for how you want your community to work. Something approaching full simulation is possible, with Sims actually performing actions out there in their homes and the community lots, but it’s very demanding memory-wise. The other option is to have the game create stories and then stitch existing Sims into them. This way, workmates will receive promotions, friendships will be made and broken, marriages will form and collapse and children will be born. None of this will be visible as it happens, but the consequences of each event will change the simulation, with every Sim’s status updating as applicable and the generated plotlines intertwining cleverly.

Haven't you ever been curious as to why this appeals to so many people?

A warning: ensure you have the right update for your version of The Sims 3, which is largely dependent on expansion packs. These modders are dedicated and even though it takes a lot of work, they’ll generally release an update pretty quickly after a new expansion or patch. Older versions are lurking on their forums so a quick search should find the one you need. I’d also recommend backing up your files because, particularly with Awesomemod, I’ve managed to bugger up my install. As always, follow the instructions provided and you should be fine. All of this will work with a Steam copy, you just have to find where the necessary files are located.

Enough with the warnings, now onto the good stuff. The first mod you’ll want is Awesomemod, which I’ve never actually felt in awe of but am suitably impressed by. In fact, I’d say it’s nigh on essential, unlike all those products in supermarkets that claim to be. No, Waitrose, I do not need black cherries in light syrup. I just want them. Call them desirables and then maybe we’ll talk.

Awesomemod is essential though because it irons out any remaining bugs and glitches that haven’t been caught yet. For a game that receives so many paid updates, The Sims 3 can be sadly lacking in patches to fix actual problems. Admittedly, I don’t experience any but judging by the amount of complaints flying around, I’m guessing that’s because I use Awesomemod. And so should you.

Have you ever read John Updike's Rabbit novels and thought, this is how The Sims should work?

One of the great things about Awesomemod is that it’s almost entirely customisable. If it add features you don’t like, you can switch those features off and retain the rest. If you want to revert to Sims 2 style ageing, because you’re a control freak and can’t stand NPCs dying behind your back, then you can do that. If you want to make work life and finances more realistic, you can do that too. But you don’t have to.

The main benefits though, beyond the bugfixes, are in the ways the world outside works. Take this example:

Disables the creepy psychic stalking behavior of the entire community stalking your active sim. Ever see what it looks like when professionals tail someone? This may not be apparent if you can’t see the entire neighborhood’s movements using Supreme Commander, but it is VERY creepy when you can see them always moving to converge on your position and follow you around in a cycling pack like a band of Mossad agents.

This is when Sims 3 modding becomes fascinating. It forces an exploration of what’s going on behind the curtain, revealing how intricate and how crude the simulation model can be.
Here is everything that the Awesomemod does.

Tempted by the allure of white picket fences?

Even if you just peeked at that, you can see that it’s quite a long list. Most of those changes are minor but the biggest one, to my mind, is the change to EA’s lacklustre story progression.
Story progression was the main selling point of the third game. It promised a dynamic world and would allow the player to retreat from the need to manage every household in the game. It’s the difference between a dollshouse, which requires every doll to be moved by hand, and an electronic game of the future in which the dolls have agency of their own. Except not the kind of agency that would lead to the events in Aickman’s The Inner Room (also required reading but you’ll have to buy it).

Awesomemod will find two Sims with matching interests and make them meet up in a bar. There they might hit it off, or they might throw drinks at each other all night. Either way, a story will be generated and it will be based on the personalities of those Sims. What’s more, it’s possible to send your own creations to interfere because the stories aren’t just being simulated with numbers, they’re happening in the world. You can see relationships taking shape all around and, if it pleases, you can jump in and mess things up, either with a Sim or by using some of the tools the mod puts at your disposal.

The full simulation model of Awesomemod can slow things down though. It’s the opposite of EA’s approach, which measures demographics and then randomly assigns Sims to fulfil needed functions. Not enough married Sims? Two unmarried ones will be forced to marry. Awesomemod won’t cut to the chase, it will find Sims that may be compatible and play out their courtship and see where that takes the unfolding story.

I wish I lived by the sea

In between the two is a mod by a fellow named Twallan. This mod can be played alongside the features of Awesomemod, provided story progression is turned off in the latter. Twallan’s story progression searches for compatibility among Sims, avoiding the random factor of EA’s approach, but then forces stories to their conclusion. Events will happen with astonishing frequency but they won’t actually be played out in the neighbourhood.

Everything is calculated in the background. Notifications will pop up for everything that happens but from the additional in-game menus (found through interacting with any object), you can ensure that you only hear about events that affect family and friends. Cuts down on what can feel like an endless stream of gossip.

Twallan also has lots of plugins which will assign roles to Sims in the world, from crimefighter to Casanova. They’re all optional but they can add more colour to the world. The main thing to download though is the StoryProgression mod, then take a look at some of the others, all of which are described in detail, and see if any suit you.

Why talk about Sims modding? Partly to show that it’s possible to do a lot more than add nudity to the game but mostly because these mods do something rather spectacular; they study and then rip apart a complex simulation model, and use it to build something far more creative and far more fun to play with. And if you’re still bored by the whole concept but did read this far, at least you got a horror story recommendation for your trouble.

Oh, sod it, have this as well since I’ve said neighbourhood far too many times.

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47 Comments »

  1. Dyst says:

    Twallan made a mod called Overwatch which clears a bunch of caches every night. Keeps the game running smooth as the stock caching in TS3 is abyssmal.

  2. Nameless1 says:

    Twallan made an incredibly good and extensive work on the game, It’s worth following.
    Nice article, btw.

  3. Dozer says:

    When you linked to a video about neighbourhood, I was disappointed that it wasn’t this:

  4. Buemba says:

    Thanks to Twallan’s Error Trap I was able to recover a neighborhood I spent an embarrassing amount of hours playing in before a bug made half my family disappear, so for that alone he has my thanks.

    Though EA’s stubborn refusal to fix bugs is disappointing (Specially since each new expansion adds even more ways to break your game), sometimes they result in some rather interesting situations. Like the time every non playable character in Bridgeport decided to just stand outside of the building my family lived in, making it look like a zombie apocalypse happened and I was controlling the last survivors through their final days.

  5. subedii says:

    This is the first time I have ever heard the conjunction “Brangelina”

    I hope it shall be the last.

    • Dozer says:

      Dear goodness. What a blessed sheltered existence you enjoy, sir.

    • subedii says:

      To be fair, I have heard “Bennifer” before.

    • stupid_mcgee says:

      Brangelina sounds a bit like some stripper on whom, you swear to your buddies, you saw an Adam’s apple.

    • Jackablade says:

      Or some kind of ill conceived breakfast cereal mascot.

  6. Bloodloss says:

    So are there any mods that make it so everyone else doesn’t just stand around doing literally nothing all day? I played Sims 3, and looked through the window of my neighbour. He and his 4 guests were just standing around in his kitchen, not even talking, for 12 hours. It’d be good if you felt as though your sim was living in a living, breathing neighbourhood where others play and advance just like you do.

    • stupid_mcgee says:

      I could be wrong, but I think Awesomemod might fix that. Currently (AFAIK), the NPC sims just wait around for you and once you leave your house, a few of them will travel to your current location. I think they do this so that NPC sims will always be home for you to visit them, except for when they’re at work, of course.

      Again, I could be wrong, as I have yet to actually install any mods for Sims3, but that is what I’ve noticed from the vanilla game’s NPCs.

      Also, if you don’t like aging, you can simply turn it off in the Options menu. Although, I guess this still doesn’t solve the problem of everyone else aging and dieing while you’re trying to raise your family… Still, I find it more believable that the old man who lived across from my family, who came over for family barbeques, b-day celebrations, and played with the kids, was mourned by my children when he died, rather than eternally living across the street until even my children’s children are dead.

    • Fiatil says:

      You didn’t read any part of this article, did you?

    • stupid_mcgee says:

      BTW, having sims run a round and do stuff on their own will be very intense on your memory.

      Something approaching full simulation is possible, with Sims actually performing actions out there in their homes and the community lots, but it’s very demanding memory-wise.

      I presume Adam’s talking about Awesomemod with that. And that’s part of the reason, unfortunately, why EA did NOT make this happen by default. They wanted to keep the sys reqs fairly low for players, and one of the best ways to do that is to, mostly, turn of the NPC ai once both you and them are at home.

    • ninjapirate says:

      Honestly, I wouldn’t be acting normal either if one of my neighbors was standing in front of my kitchen window, watching me for 12 hours straight.
      You’re lucky they didn’t just call the cops on you.

  7. pipman3000 says:

    I always wondered why a bunch of random people would show up a few minutes after I visited a place good to know it’s because gangstalking is real

  8. Pointless Puppies says:

    Thanks, RPS. Sims 3 is my favorite of the three games and the mods mentioned here really piqued my interest.

    If there’s anyone out there who dismisses Sims 3 as “girls’ game” but enjoys games like Harvest Moon/Animal Crossing, drop your preconceived notions and try Sims 3 immediately. As a game it’s easily the best game of that “life sim” genre in the market today, given how moddable, deep and versatile it is in its gameplay.

    Example of versatility in gameplay: give a sim the “kleptomaniac” trait and become a full-on burglar, inviting yourself to people’s homes at night, swiping their high-priced shit and sell it off for big bucks or keep it to yourself. You can play the game perfectly.

    Another example, and one that I’m finding more and more people experimenting with: being a hobo. Buy a completely empty lot and don’t ever build a house. See how long you can survive mooching off other people’s “borrowed” money, leftover food, etc. I imagine it’s even better with the downtown-themed expansion pack.

    • stupid_mcgee says:

      I’ve enjoyed playing troubling families. I created two irritable, insane, poor, lazy slobs who started dating, got married, and then had 5 children. All of them living in a 2-bedroom/1-bath ghetto-house in the city. Needless to say, things went bad for them. A Child got taken away by protection services, they got into a physical fight on their 2nd anniversary, then the wife cheated on him and he cheated on her. One of the kids left the house and never came back as soon as she got old enough. One of the children got electrocuted when he kept trying to fiddle with the TV set and died. Another drowned in a public pool as others watched. Despite all of this, they are madly in love with each other and get back together every time, then start fighting all over again.

      Some actions were forced, for sakes of forcing a plot twist or plot line, but many surprising actions were done by the AI. It’s pretty amazing what can sometimes happen in that game just by itself.

      Typically, people play The Sims in a friendly manner, wanting only the best for them and their sims. However, when you start to build imperfect (aka: more realistic) people, the results can be eye-opening. The rich husband who, despite his violent outbursts, deeply loves his wife. The Gold-digger who cares less and less about him, but can’t live without her lavish lifestyle. It’s these things that make the game more interesting, IMO. Otherwise, it winds up being like the Truman Show or something. Where everything’s just this picture-perfect Mayberry world of dream weddings, endless job promotions, constant striving, and where all the children are above-average.

      Things can get kind of depressing, but sometimes they’re incredibly funny and heart-touching, too. Like When the rich dude beat his wife again, tried to woo her with a serenade, and then she refused his offer to make out. The wife, despite years of this exact behavior, finally decided to divorce him right then and there. I watched this unfold, all AI controlled, after forcing them to eat their 5 year anniversary dinner together.

    • djbriandamage says:

      This is a good a place as any to give my great approval of this article and particularly this comment thread. Sims 3 has as much depth as you allow yourself to find in it, and thus I’m stoked to try out AwesomeMod which will bring the game a little further off the rails.

  9. Bungle says:

    I tried reading the Homeless Sims story you recommended, but it literally went on forever. I was probably 40 pages in before deciding to walk away from it. I no longer care what happens to the homeless Sims family.

    • Megadyptes says:

      No, it did not ‘literally’ go on forever. I fucking hate how misuse of this word is so rampant. It’s almost as bad as the rampant misuse of ‘irony’.

    • MD says:

      Misuse of ‘literally’ upsets me too. The problem is, we can’t be far off the time when its use as a meaningless intensifier becomes “correct” by virtue of how common it is. When you think about it, a similar thing must have happened with words like ‘absolutely’, which can now be bunged into all sorts of inappropriate places.

      It’s definitely worse with ‘literally’, though, because its meaning when misused is pretty much the direct opposite of its real meaning. (I know I called its misused version ‘meaningless’ earlier. But if it does have a meaning on top of its intensifying property, it must be ‘figuratively’.) And when it becomes blurred across both meanings, we’ll lose a very useful word with no obvious replacement.

    • Soon says:

      It literally means both literally and virtually. Ironically.

    • Lukasz says:

      @soon
      mate. that was absolutely hilarious.

    • Premium User Badge RaveTurned says:

      http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=define%3Aliterally

      lit·er·al·ly/ˈlitərəlē/
      Adverb:
      In a literal manner or sense; exactly: “the driver took it literally when asked to go straight over the traffic circle”.
      Used to acknowledge that something is not literally true but is used for emphasis or to express strong feeling.

      I don’t know when that second definition became proper usage, but if Google says it it must be true, right?

    • Soon says:

      So, try a source you trust on such things.

  10. Skabooga says:

    That Kev and Alice story was most affecting. I missed it when it was first written, so thank you for sharing it again.

  11. ArgonautPollux says:

    One of my favorite parts of AwesomeMod was wandering around the park one day and seeing some creepy old dude get arrested for flirting with kids.

  12. sinister agent says:

    The Sims 2 seemed to be one of the most modded games ever. For a game that so many sneer at, it has an amazingly dedicated fanbase, and some really clever and imaginative modders, even among the corner of said fanbase that has little interest in most other games.

    I am in fear of Sims 3, as I’d feel the need to play every ‘family’ I create up to a certain point before focussing on just one household. Slightly control freaky of me, but I want to control where the neighbourhood starts, as the default townies are mostly a bit bland.

    Although the woman who followed a bloke into the shower and started singing a song and playing a guitar at him was briliant.

    Oh, and that reminds me: this is the story that convinced me to get the Sims 2.

  13. Adventurer says:

    Cool, I always wanted a mod that could enable pedophilia!

    No, seriously, look at this (Ctrl+f pedo): http://www.moreawesomethanyou.com/ts3/awesome/config.php

    What the fuck.

    • ArgonautPollux says:

      Oh boy, a media buzz word. Better start the storm!

      It’s quite a funny feature. Like I said in my comment, any time any adult interacts inappropriately with children in public, they are arrested in a big show. Fun to watch. If I remember correctly, if YOU’RE the one who does it, you get a criminal record and can’t get a real job anymore.

    • xellfish says:

      Except it’s not really paedophilia. The feature is apparently about teen relationships, not pre-teen relationships, which are, for the most part, perfectly legal in a lot of countries. If it isn’t in yours, or if you don’t agree with it, simply don’t use it. It’s not like it gets very graphic, anyway.

  14. Lukasz says:

    I have a question about the game.

    I played only sims 1 so…
    How does aging of everyone works.

    If i create family A and play for so long that they simply die out of old age, will everyone else in the neighborhood die too? will other people move into empty houses?

    and

    If i create family A and family B, play both of them a bit but then play family A a lot till they age will family B age too? their children? Will anything change with them or just the age?

    • sinister agent says:

      In The Sims 2, only the people in your current household age (leading to slightly weird friendships between the kid you went to school with, who is still 9, and the 20 year old you’ve grown into, among other harmless silliness). You can also use reward points (points you get for fulfilling your sims’ desires – quite easy to come by) to buy an anti-aging device that can be repeated as much as you like. Other houses remain static while you’re not playing them (except that their sims can visit you, and any interactions carry over).

      In the Sims 3, everyone ages at the same time, so while you’re playing in one house, people in the other houses can age and (I believe) die. I think this can be switched off in a menu, though. There is some interaction in other houses while you’re playing in yours – people get jobs and go to work and go out and chat to each other (or appear to, at least – I’ve not explored it much). I think they get married and have kids, but it’s basically decided randomly.

  15. Premium User Badge RaveTurned says:

    Reply fail!

  16. Premium User Badge Keymonk says:

    This, along with the story of Alice and Kev (:() made me feel like buying Sims 3. Does anyone know if Origin -has- to run while the game does?

    • stupid_mcgee says:

      No, none of the Sims 3 titles require Origin to play. They are updated via their own launcher. You will need Origin to download the files, obviously, but that’s it.

  17. DickSocrates says:

    The Sims is for girls that like Hollyoaks. There’s no point in denying it or trying to justify your doll’s house fixation as being ‘normal’.

  18. moxmoxmox says:

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  19. BULArmy says:

    FFFUUUUUUUU- now I want to play The Sims 3 again….
    Can somebody tell me what kind of PC you need to run Awesomemod smooth, because my rig is kind of old and to just go to the other mod if Avesomemode is too heavy for me.

    And now I just feel ashamed that my first comment on the PC heaven that RPS is, is for The Sims, now i need to shower…