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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.