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The Sims Review
PII 233, 32MB RAM, 2MB Video Card, 300MB HD
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Jan 31, 00 (released)
|» All About The Sims on ActionTrip|
I should say a few opening words on The Sims here. But before I do, I have a little confession to make. Although I've been playing games since Skool Daze on ZX Spectrum, my enthusiasm and boyish sense of immersion, the ability to identify with the character has been showing evident signs of fading.
You know the story. First you think there is no world outside of Elite and Space Quest, but then you realize that social interaction plays a big part when it comes to actually getting to know other people and their aspirations - enter the girlfriends, schoolmates, college friends, colleagues, and your life suddenly turns into an environment where you cannot just forget about everything, sit down and play a game. Sure, I've been known to drift away on more than a few instances over the years: Omikron, Outcast, Half Life, Gabriel Knight II, Quake II multiplayer, Everquest, and so on. After a relative amount of play time (Quake 2 MP, and Everquest being the high end references), you realize there's more to PC games than that... To elaborate a bit further on the subject, you could even consider me a relatively institutionalized game addict. At times, I even tried to stop playing games, realizing, of course, that I won't get very far if I kept living out fantasy roles and saving imaginary worlds. The painful truth soon became quite clear to me. My life is somehow interconnected with gaming and there appears to be no way out. So, here I am... back to reviewing games. Just as I thought I had reached a certain balance in my life, my whole inner-peace was shattered as I loaded The Sims. Suddenly, I felt the old rush and pretty soon I was hooked all over again. It was all about caring for my little family and creating a better household. Then I stopped, and thought about my sudden and shocking metamorphosis for a while. I concluded that The Sims is not just another game and that the changes didn't have to do with my individual personality. It had to do with something we call human nature and some of the feelings and predetermined actions each one of us has buried deep inside. I know this might sound a bit too elaborate, but apparently Will Wright managed to hit the nail on the head. The idea is so surprisingly simple it has to be ingenious. Here's how the man himself comments on the basic premise of The Sims. This is from a recent Gamespy interview:
Will: "It was a very hard sell for a number of years for me. Most people thought it was a pretty stupid idea (admittedly, it did sound pretty stupid). However, there is good evidence that the outer layer of our brain evolved almost exclusively to allow us to model, understand and interact with other humans (which made our elaborate social structures possible). So it kind of makes sense that a game specifically about people (and their lives) would have a strong resonance with us."
One analogy that comes to mind has to do with the critically acclaimed scenario for The Truman Show, starring Jim Carrie. Couldn't he have been just one of the Simsonians? There is something terribly addictive about watching other people's lives, but there is something absolutely mysterious about being able to influence and manage small people as they react, die, and have fun guided by our omnipotent hand. What is it that makes us forget about the lines between reality and simsiality when playing The Sims? Is it the control element? Or maybe it has to do with compassion? Or perhaps pure voyeurism? In any case, it's a question begging to be answered by a Psychologist or a Sociologist, so I'll just stick to my observation that The Sims is more than just a game, and that any person in the world, even the ones that never showed a shred of interest for computer games, would find the concept addictive and intriguing. PC gamers can now enjoy the work of a genius, but I feel that the rest of the world's population, given the resources or a sudden outburst of goodwill, would find the The Sims just as involving.
Reviews in Retrospective...
Instead of me going on about the game's features, I figured I'd go in a different direction, assuming you have read at least one or more reviews of the game. Therefore, I have been reading and reading through the material, trying to figure out some general aspects of The Sims, present or absent in the articles I have gone through. The list of gaming sites included in this research is as follows: IGN PC, CGO, Gamespot, Gamespy, and Daily Radar. Reading through different Sims reviews and pointing out unique approaches to common issues could lead to a better understanding of the game. What I am trying to do here is to make a cocktail of opinions, including my own, so that we could have a broader perspective on the game. None of the excerpts from the reviews have been altered in any way.
Let's start with the basic question: What is The Sims? Every reviewer was essentially on the same track, but some explanations were more vivid than others:
CGO: "Will Wright, the crazed genius behind SimCity and now The Sims, has a gift for turning abstract or simple concepts into incredibly playable gaming experiences. His talent is focusing on the interesting and "fun" things in a large and complex system, turning what could be either be grossly simplistic or overly complicated into a streamlined game that is simple to play and thoroughly entertaining"
"The Sims is a rather lighthearted yet serious human nature simulation, a virtual dollhouse with three-dimensional-both on a literal and figurative level-inhabitants.
The best description of the entire concept comes within the game itself, in the description of an item you can purchase:
Will Lloyd Wright Doll House
This marvel of dollhouse design is meant for everyone, allowing children as well as adults to act out fantasies of controlling little families. This incredible replica comes complete with amazingly realistic furniture and decorative items. Don't be surprised if hours upon hours are spent enjoying this little world."
After establishing the game's concept, the reviewers were quick to point out the open-ended nature of the game...
Daily Radar: "Once the game begins, the possibilities are enormous. A player can construct pathetic couch potatoes that only order pizza and spend too much time playing games on computers they really can't afford. Or create the scheming workaholic that only befriends people to advance a career."
As you can no doubt conclude, the behavioral pattern of the little people is amazingly complex. Just an idea of putting it all together sends shivers down my spine... Will Wright was working on the Simsonians' behavior for roughly two years, and the results are more than evident in the game... The open-ended nature of The Sims is directly proportional to the number of relationships and control options. In other words, when trying to create life you have to make things as interactive as possible. Just like in real life, you take a number of different factors, mix it up with a number of other different factors, and the end result becomes pretty much unpredictable. Making a perfect simulation of life is downright impossible, and The Sims exhibits some serious lacking, but most of the flaws shouldn't really be mentioned in the reviews. One problem that could use some work though, and isn't out of the reach of the programmers is the pathfinding. Some of the reviewers, including myself had some problems with this one:
Gamespot: "Also, though sims have several sophisticated routines governed by their personalities and moods, they also occasionally display poor pathfinding and general artificial-intelligence problems - such as being unable to move, or move around, small obstacles."
IGN PC: "There are some nasty problems with the game, however. Pathing issues can create odd, and sometimes critical situations, such as the person racing for work, but unable to move around a particular chair, or the elaborate process of getting your Sim to greet someone at the door, which can sometimes take forever until the characters position themselves just right."
Another problem, pointed out almost unanimously by all reviewers, was the so-called "getting outside of the house" phenomenon. Simsonians' world is a somewhat closed environment, allowing little or no communication on a township level. Without a doubt, one of the more intriguing and important aspects of the game is the relationship between the neighbors. But time freezes while in the neighborhood screen and the families stay the same once you exit the "house mode." Considering the open-ended nature of the title, "getting outside of the house" seems like the next logical step in terms of interaction. You should be able to go out for a jog and mingle with a larger group of people, go shopping at the mall, etc. Granted, this would probably take another two years of development.
Here's an example of the "Getting outside of the house" complaints, as stated in some of the reviews:
Gamespy: " One of my major complaints about the game centers around the limited range of neighbors in your neighborhood. At the start of the game there are only a handful of families for you to interact with, and it never changes unless you manually create some "seed" families yourself, whose sole reason for existence is to come over to chat with you and get your "social" rating up. The game could have been enhanced through the inclusion of a number of different scenarios (much like RollerCoaster Tycoon) that present you with different neighborhoods, people, and challenges. There's not enough variety in this area the way the game is set up now."
Gamespot: "You can't control your sim at work or access him while he's away, nor does your sim's actual choice of career path really affect his social life in any way."
CGO: "The game definitely starts out as the best you've ever played; you'll be seeing hours of your life sucked away into this little virtual world. Then you'll start feeling a bit claustrophobic; where's the mall? Why can't you visit the neighbors?"
Also, there is some dispute over the level of management that the players should have over the Simsonians. In other words, should we micro-manage things like bladder problems and food cravings, or should we leave Simsonians to take care of these things on their own. There are miscellaneous opinions on this matter; from the ones stating that micro-management should be minimal the player's part, to the ones stating that the AI is not proficient enough to cover simple routines on a regular basis (such as doing dishes and going to the bathroom). Personally, I feel there should have been an on and off options for such needs. Then again, by discarding this particular segment the game could lose certain constitutive features of its overall concept. Here's what the reviewer over at Gamespy had to say on the issue:
Gamespy: "A final complaint deals with the game's artificial intelligence. The sims are fairly incompetent when it comes to meeting their own needs. Most of the time they'll go to the bathroom when they need to, but sometimes they just plain don't. Players should be free to plot their relationships, prepare their sims for their careers, and buy new stuff. Having to tell Sally Sim to go to the bathroom or Sammy Sim to go clean up the dishes from dinner can get really tedious."
Finally, a bit of an unusual criticism directed at The Sims, from Steve Bauman over at CGO. Steve ponders on the lack of Spirituality, or higher meaning in the lives of Simsonians. This was a rather original remark, but I'm still not sure if Steve himself is clear on these concepts. Or rather, I can't imagine how could the developers implement the factor of spirituality without making some major changes in the whole structure of the game. Check it out:
CGO: "Ideally, a game like this would be so open-ended it would avoid being dogmatic when it comes to certain issues. While it admirably pulls this off with its view of relationships, the same can't be said for how it expects everyone to fulfill their Sim's basic needs. It's a very Western game, where constant stimulation is what's needed to keep us happy. Most of that stimulus, of course, comes from consumption. If you take away a lesson from The Sims, it's really that your mental well being is tied to what you own."
Usually, in-game sounds come as nothing more than just another gameplay accessory or a mood setter - which, as it happens, is true in most cases. But The Sims proves that it doesn't always have to be that way. The sound is just as important in the game as the idea itself, because it practically connects the Simsonians' to the player's emotions and feeling of solidarity. The great way in which the little people talk without saying a word is relying on our given intuition to set apart the cries of joy from the cries of despair...
CGO: "When Sims talk, their recorded speech is nonsensical gibberish; however, it brilliantly captures inflection and emotion. You can easily tell when a Sim is annoyed, or flirty or serious by listening to how things are being said rather than the actual words."
IGN: "Meticulous is putting it lightly -- the Maxis team is downright obsessive-compulsive when it comes to making sure that everything from flushing a toilet to chopping up vegetables sounds like the real thing.
The Sims talk in a language that, for not sounding familiar in anyway, perfectly captures the moods, attitudes and actions of every character in the game."
Although the game offers some innovative elements in the overall design, we were rather disappointed that it suffers on account of its occasionally sluggish engine. To top it off, the background settings are fairly simple and unimaginative. The visuals do not justify such steep hardware requirements in terms of their complexity and eye candy galore. Daily Radar was just a bit too harsh in their judgment, but some of the things they've said hold true:
Daily Radar: "The graphics, although functional, are the same dated, 2D, tile-based sprites that we have seen since the original SimCity. A spiffy new 3D engine with a more agile camera would have been welcome, but considering the mammoth task of programming a game like this and the emphasis on expandability, the 2D engine was a safe move."
Here's another, much more positive view on the visuals, keeping the things in perspective:
IGN: "The objects are crisp and detailed, and animate in perfect simplification, but home design could have had a bit more detail, particularly when you try to pull off any funkier shapes. Characters aren't 3D accelerated, but they have a nice look -- though you can't really sneak in close enough to get a nice view of their faces while they're conversing with the locals."
One most commendable aspects of the game is its brilliantly designed interface. All of the in-game text is done using wacky Comic Sans fonts, giving the manuals a fun and simplistic connotation. The interface is so intuitive and easy to use that it shouldn't take an average player more than 10 minutes to master it. Simple and effective issuing of commands helps significantly in bringing The Sims to a mainstream market of consumers. The player will get easily accustomed to the controls and GUI, as well as the incredible intuitive manner in which they are presented.
IGN: "The Maxis team has once again taken a very complicated concept and sent it to interface heaven, with a menu system and control scheme that makes the brightly polished SimCity 3000 system seem like a rusty bucket."
There you have it; I have pointed out some of the game's flaws, and presented a few opinions on the "cosmetic" aspects of: sound (rather conceptual, not purely cosmetic), visuals and controls, while keeping in mind that in which ever way you look at it The Sims is just one addictive experience transcending the usual reach of games. I should also point out that this is a rather unique way of dealing with the whole reviewing business, that I feel brings more depth and perspective to the readers willing to form an objective opinion. One thing is certain, no matter what gets written on the game, it has already reached a cult status in the community, therefore making it very hard for anybody involved in the Sims-mania to dish out an unbiased opinion. The Sims is THE work from Will Wright up to this point. Original, amusing addictive, and most of all incredibly fun and relaxing to play. If we only had more great ideas like this.
A very interesting game;
It gets boring sometimes.
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