For as long as I've been playing The Sims (which is more than ten years now), their tiny lives have been defined by what they need at any particular moment: money, new TV, lunch, a shower, a pee (always with the peeing). The Sims 2 and 3 made the little computer people more relatable, adding in aspirations and expressions and stronger personality traits, but their limited emotions were still dependent on their needs and how fulfilled they were. In The Sims 4, their needs will be dependent on their emotions.
For the first time Sims have persistent emotional states. Rather than just being happy or sad, fulfilled or unfulfilled, they can be depressed, angry, flirty, vulnerable - and when they're in these states, it affects what they can do and how. Angry Sims will work out harder, depressed Sims won't feel like doing much. They look like they feel, too - hunched shoulders, clenched fists, quivering lips. Instead of being about fulfilling their need (or not), the game becomes about manipulating their emotional states to run their lives, rather than manipulating their circumstances by, say, buying them stuff or walling them into a room with no toilet.
Sims producer Ryan Vaughan has been around for almost this entire transformation, having started working at Maxis on The Sims 2 and continued through The Sims 3 and all its various expansions. "Quite frankly I think it’s the best simulator that we’ve created at Maxis, so I’m really excited about that," he says. "This is the first one that we’ve got brand new tech, [which] we’re calling it SmartSim, and it’s allowing us to create the most relatable and the most intelligent Sims game ever."
The Sims' environment affects their emotional state as much as their actions. Fill your living room with slightly phallic paintings and sculptures and you'll find your Sims' parties get a little friskier than normal. This makes it possible to have fun with them, but it also raises the question of how realistic Sim emotions are going to be. Sims have always bounced back pretty easily from life setbacks like death and adultery; what about now?
It creates a cascading set of circumstances for you as a storyteller.
"It creates a cascading set of circumstances for you as a storyteller," says Ryan. "For example, previously if a Sim caught their partner cheating, there’d be a short term mood hit and then the whole thing would effectively be dropped. Now they’d be pushed into a powerful emotional state by that – it might cause depression."
If that sounds like it might make you a bit depressed yourself, it turns out that's sort of the point. "It’s illuminating to see how game can affect your emotional state , as opposed to you affecting the gane’s state," Ryan ventures. "Before you’d impart your own emotions onto the game. Now it’s the opposite – the game makes you feel . If your Sim's spouse died, you'd see the sadness in their face."
It certainly creates strong new possibilities for storytelling - there's the potential now for emotionally rich stories that have meaning. Though everything I've seen of The Sims 4 so far suggests that the series' playful sense of humour is still intact - there's an achievement for getting your Sims to get it on in a literal rocket - it seems things might go deeper now.
Alongside this evolution in the way the Sims behave comes a huge change to the Sims' creative tools. There has always been a significant proportion of Sims fans who spend more time building than living, and the creative tools have become so powerful and flexible over the years that they've also become rather complicated, too. Sims 4 simplifies all of that, from Sim creation to house building. Instead of abstract sliders you now push and pull everything from walls to cheekbones to fiddle with their height or prominence. Don't like how a Sim's thighs look in a pair of jeans? You can pull them in a little bit.
It gives you as much control as you want, whilst making it easier to automate things.
"We’ve completely rebuilt the creative tools from the ground up to be more intuitive, way more powerful and way more fun to play with," in Ryan's words. "You are now reaching into the game and directly manipulating the things on screen. In Create-a-Sim you are grabbing onto the Sims body parts and stretching and pushing and pulling, and the same goes for Build as well - you’re dragging walls, you’re playing them down, picking them up and spinning them around."
Having seen these tools in action it's difficult to argue that it's much, much easier to use than before. Instead of individually deleting and rebuilding rooms when you've made a mistake you can just grab the corner and adjust it, and everything else adjusts dynamically with it. Everything seems more adaptable, automating some of the time-consuming fiddling. Even decor is dynamically adaptible, if you want it to be; select a kitchen suite from the catalogue and you can buy the entire thing at once, appliances and all, and have it automatically adjust to the size of your room.
For some people time-consuming fiddling was part of the fun, of course, and though The Sims 4 adds in the option to do things more quickly, to get the kind of unique results that you could in The Sims 3 will still take more time. You can still paint walls individually and buy every individual piece of furniture in your Sim house. It gives you as much control as you want, whilst making it easier to automate things if you don't want to spent the time.
Similarly, there have always been different types of Sims player, from the role-player to the sadist to the architect, and the game's ablility to support all of these different playstyles has always been its crucial strength. Vaughan and the team at Maxis is still working hard on that, it seems. "We’re creating a game that allows you to tell the story that you want," he says. "It’s tethered to reality but it allows for escapism as well. It allows for fun and for serious approaches. You can manipulate it as you see fit; as a reflection of real life, or as an escape from real life. It’s up to you."
After eight years Keza MacDonald is still not bored of writing about video games, which is just as well, as her skills at demon-slaying and pretend guitar are pretty much non-transferable. You can follow her on IGN and Twitter.
Source : ign[dot]com