Skinner would be proud.
When I first heard about
The Sims, I was, well, let’s just say sceptical. Actually,
I was openly derisive. The idea of helping some Sim
get a life seemed way too close to home and boring to
I was horribly, horribly wrong!
First, a little background. The Sims is the latest Magnum
Opus from Will Wright, the man who invented the Software
Toy genre with SimCity. This whole genre of games has
no real ending or no real way of winning, just loads
of depth and replayability. They are time wasters, divorce
fodder, addictions in a jewel case. In the Sims you
create a single person, roommates or a family unit and
move them into a house. The house may be one of the
defaults or you can build their dream home. Once the
simulation begins, you are in control of everything
in the Sim’s life, from showering, eating, or reading
to flushing the toilet. Getting them up, cleaned, fed
and off to work is an event in itself. It is the greatest
irony that I have ignored the bathroom long enough to
send my Sim to the m’karzi.
To start the game you choose to either play one
of the default families, evict/bulldoze a family/house
or create a family. Moral ambiguity is a requirement
for this game, but more on that in a bit.
To create a new Sim you divide 25 points between characteristics
of Neat, Outgoing, Active, Playful and Nice. Obviously
the more you put into a category the more dominant the
trait. Want a Sim who will at least flush the toilet?
Increase Neat. Want a Sim who will make friends more
easily? Increase Outgoing. As you play with the character
traits the game will tell you what your creation’s astrological
sign is. This is a nice touch and helps personalize
the Sim you are about to control, er, help along the
path to ruin, umm, love and happiness.
After you have picked your dream Sim’s stats, it’s time
to decide what he/she will look like. You can choose
skin tone, hair color, face, clothes, and sex. Maxis
has already released a face edit program called FaceLift
(oddly enough) that allows you to play with the faces
and customize the look of your Sim further. As for the
Skins, there are hundreds to choose from at the fan
sites already. I myself prefer the Warrior skins Maxis
released. Bob and June Barbarian are fun to abuse, um
play, er, control?
After deciding on your Sim, you have to decide on whether
or not you want your Sim to be alone or have a roommate
or a child or six. Once you have decided on the size
of group you want to experiment on, uh, with, just save
them and move them into the neighbourhood.
There goes the neighbourhood.
Now you only have 20,000 Simoleons so you have
to be rather frugal in your choice of houses to move
into, or, if you want to build, you can’t go for the
palace right off. There are some cheats that will give
you extra cash and whether you use them or not is your
choice. The extra money will help you get the house
just right for your Sim, but making the little bugger
work for the upgrades is very satisfying.
When in the ‘Buy’ or ‘Build’ mode the game is paused
so you can plan your budget and decide on carpet or
hardwood on the main floor. There are several sections
in the Buy mode: Chairs (including beds), Surfaces (counters,
end tables and the like), Decorations (art, fountains,
and plants), Electronics (phones, computers TV’s, etc.),
Appliances (self-explanatory), Plumbing (sinks, toilets,
showers and tubs), Lighting (do you really need a list?)
and Miscellaneous (fun stuff and oddities). There are
many things to buy in each category and I will leave
it up to you to find the right ones for your Sim(s)
to own. However, to give you an example, if you buy
the cheapest fridge your Sims will get lower grade snacks
and meals. The better you buy, the better the food that
can be prepared. The more expensive bookcase allows
for better skill increases.
Maxis has made this whole section so easy to deal with.
Clicking on an object in the Buy menu and you get a
description. Move your cursor onto the play area and
click to place your newest purchase. Click and hold
and you can rotate the object to a proper orientation.
A shower with its door against the wall is of no use
to your Sim. Be warned though, anal retentive are the
watchwords here. If you want an alarm clock, make sure
you have a table to put it on. Sinks have to sit in
counters. If you put no lights in a room, it will have
no lighting when it gets dark at sixish.
In the Build Mode you have the ultimate power, as you
get to build your Sim’s home from the ground up. From
floors to walls to doors to windows, all is within your
grasp. The Build mode is an amazing piece of coding
and is almost as big a time vampire as the actual game.
I spent almost 3 hours building a house once. I even
drew the damn thing out on paper before I started construction.
If you go this route, be warned that money runs out
very quickly for anything other then a very simple bungalow.
The other limitation is that houses can only be two
stories (no basements). This is minor in the grand scheme
of things. Again, as with the buy mode, there are many
choices with respect to wallpaper, floor types, windows,
doors, and the like. The one thing this game does not
suffer from is lack of variety.
After all is ready you can get your Sim(s) into the
house and now the real fun starts.
Sims are not a bright bunch. To be honest, they
are rather useless at times. Fortunately control of
the Sim is very simple thanks to the interface. Click
on an object and a series of options appear around a
floating portrait of the Sim being abused, hmm, controlled.
For example, click on the phone and get the options
to call police, services, order pizza, or call friends.
Click on the newspaper and you can read it, recycle
it or look for a job. Instructions are queued up and
you can override any autonomous act by your Sim. This
is very nice for the mornings, when you have to get
them up, showered, toileted, dressed and fed before
the car comes to pick them up for work. (I can barely
get myself out the door that efficiently. Sad, really.)
Now, it was at this point that I noticed something odd
in the game; it’s a little… indelicate, so please skip
ahead if you are squeamish. When I send a Sim to the
bathroom and they, uh, go number 2 it can take up to
45 minutes! A stand up leak can take 25 minutes. Now
I do not know who programmed the timing routines, but
I do not want to fly anywhere with them in a plane with
only one bathroom. The time it takes for the Sims to
do things is mind-boggling. 60 minutes to eat lunch.
30 minutes to get out of bed. I know it was done to
speed up the game, but it throws you.
The whole object of the game is to keep your Sim happy.
They are happy if they have a nice place to live, lots
of friends and a good job. The interface has a mood
meter telling you just how happy they are. It will also
give you an idea of their immediate needs. A small red/green
bar will tell you what level your Sims’ needs are at.
There is a bar for: Hunger, Comfort, Hygiene, Bladder,
Energy, Fun, Social, and Room. If the bar is mostly
green, then the Sim is good in that area. If you let
the energy bar drop to zero, the Sim will just pass
out on the floor and sleep. If you let Bladder drop
then, well, three guesses what happens. If your Sim
is a think for themself kinda guy/gal then they may
take care of some of the more immediate needs like hunger,
energy, hygiene or bladder.
Sims need to interact with the world around them,
both people and objects. I will cover objects first
as they have the greatest potential for disaster. A
solid rule to follow is to make sure you buy a bookcase
of some sort and have your Sims study cooking immediately,
before they do anything else. Trust me on this one,
okay? My wife spent about an hour getting a family all
set up with a good house, only to have the Sim wife
start a fire while making lunch and immolate herself.
While funny, it’s counter-productive. It is also good
to teach them mechanical skill so they do not electrocute
themselves while changing light bulbs. (HAHAHAHAHAHA-
I’m sorry, I know it’s cruel but there are so many fun
ways to kill your Sims, it’s almost another game. I
really want to start a web page with screenshots of
Sim Darwin Awards). Other things like having them practice
speeches in front of the mirror or practice the piano
raises charisma and creativity (working out raises body
and Chess raises logic). This will give them chances
at better jobs or promotions, and are, as far as I can
Now comes the fun part - other Sims. Sims interact with
other Sims through speech and action. The Sim speech
is very annoying after a while and is the biggest complaint
I have. The language is late 20th Century babble, as
near as I can tell, and becomes grating during a marathon
Sim session (and most are). But let’s move on.
Once you move in, the other Sims in the neighbourhood
like to come and welcome the newbie. Clicking on a Sim
gives you options on how you can react to them. The
opening options are talk, ask to leave, or joke. As
you come to like (or dislike) the Sim, you can tease,
entertain, scare, compliment, hug, give back rubs, kiss,
even ask them to move in (wink, wink). In the game titillation
is kept to a minimum. If a Sim undresses the naughty
bits are pixelated out. However; the Sims have the sexual
manners of minks. Multiple partners are pretty much
the norm in Simworld. Same sex relationships are very
easy to create and on the whole I must congratulate
Maxis for allowing them. Outside of the standard American
television slap and tickle sexual innuendo that permeates
games and media, this is done with a sense of fun. Hell,
I had one Sim get married then steal someone’s wife
and have the other husband hit on him. It makes ‘Sex
in the City’ look like a Disney film. Be forewarned,
most job promotions come after you have acquired a certain
number of friends.
The game gives you a visual guide as to how much someone
likes you by placing a small bar under the portrait
of the Sim you are talking to. Green good, red bad.
If the bar goes completely red and the Sims are still
in close proximity then a fight will break out. Again
Maxis went for the comic and the fight takes place inside
a cloudball that is easily recognisable by anyone who
has watched a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Nurture other Sims
with talk, tickles and back rubs and you will have a
friend for life.
SimCradle to grave
While you can create children for your Sims (Party
of Five here I come), if the relationship you have is
going great you can expect the option of having a child.
The blessed baby arrives and your life is never the
same. You have to care for the baby for three full days
or Social Services will show up and remove that particular
burden. If you survive, you end up with a kid who will
run you ragged (they grow upsofast).
On the flipside, you may have noticed that your Sims
can die, either through accident or malicious intent
(more on that in a bit). When they die they are replaced
by an urn (inside) or a gravestone (outside). Family
members will mourn in front of the remains and I have
had Sims come on to my property to waa-waa-waa over
the ashes of someone they never met. If you are lucky
the poor departed will haunt your house as well.
Okay, there is a dark side to this game. The pure
amount of evil you can perpetuate on your Sims is amazing.
Luring the entire neighbourhood into my house then sealing
the doors and removing the food and toilet is just one
of the many indignities I have visited to those under
My favourite trick is the house within the house. Make
a house with double walls. Start with 4 to 6 Sims. Move
3 or 4 into the wall space and seal them in. (Edgar
Allen would be proud). Give them a bed, food and bathroom
and they will survive if not thrive. Setting death-traps
by letting the sink overflow then using the microwave
is fun, as is getting a Sim to light the Fireplace.
I’ve even done death matches by sealing 8 people in
a house and waiting until only 2 remained. Those two
got to get a real life and are doing very well thank
you. Walling up the urns into the walls (where else)
provided a Poltergeist-like feel to the proceedings.
I know it’s sick, but it is fun.
(Sorry had to do one pun.)
The Sims is a giant step forward in the software toy
time wasting genre. It is also a great cross gender
game. The only violence in the game is the havoc you
create. My wife loves the game as much as I do and that
is amazing. Maxis and Will Wright have outdone themselves
with this title.
If you want to lose several enjoyable days of your life
running [Ed. Note: Ruining?] someone else’s, this is
the game for you, but be warned: it will take over your
life. Don’t be surprised if the next time you ask a
friend/spouse to do something, they reply: “What am
I, your Sim?”