The Sims is a highly addictive computer game which, put simply, allows you to control the lives of simulated people. The player can create families, build their house, furnish and decorate it and then allow their Sims to live in the house and interact with each other and their neighbours. First released in 1999, at the time of writing, it's still going strong, remaining at the top of many games charts for months.
Despite the apparent complexity of their lives, the control system is remarkably simple. Each Sim can be selected, then given a task to perform, such as read a book, clean the floor, sleep, etc. These tasks then build up into an ordered list, which are completed in that order. Items can be 'dumped' from the order, but dumping the active order can confuse and eventually irritate the Sims.
One of the nice parts of the game is that the Sims will get on with their own lives, without requiring the game player's intervention. The game even has a speed setting to allow the player to do this. It should be noted though, that Sims can be a bit stupid and get themselves killed if the user does not intervene at some points.
Sims spend a great deal of time keeping their houses and themselves clean, as mess will really upset some of them, but not bother others. Sims also like to keep busy, watching TV, exercising, reading, bathing, swimming and relaxing. In theory, the object of the game is to keep your Sims as happy as possible, given their personalities and their budget. In reality, many players will spend at least some of their time torturing their Sims by locking them in rooms with no exit, or removing the cooker, forcing them to survive on snacks.
Any player should be aware that, as with most simulations, much of the gameplay is usually spent waiting for things to happen, i.e. 'daddy' coming home from work so he can take the family out for hotdogs. The key is to keep the Sims busy, which is not the same thing as active, while they are waiting, understandably Sims get very bored just waiting.
To create multiple families, the game is split into a neighbourhood containing ten plots. Each plot can have one house, a family to live in it and a garden. Plots can contain houses, both occupied and empty, partially constructed houses, or be empty. Each family can have up to eight members in it. Some confusion can arise during a game with several houses in the same neighbourhood. Once the player chooses to exit the house, they are asked if they want to save. Once out of the house and back in the neighbourhood, time in that house is frozen. The Sims inside do not move or interact, time does not pass, and no money is spent.
Saving gives the player the power of Lazarus. If your favourite Sim dies in an accident, which could happen in numerous ways, you can exit the house without saving and then re-enter, whereupon they return from the dead. This also comes in useful if your husband character is caught cheating on his wife; simply exit and re-enter and the event never happened, although it may well happen again if you're careless in the future. The 'Livin' Large' expansion pack adds a 'Death' character who visits the house when a Sim dies. Family members can plead for their souls and can result in the Sim staying dead or the Sim coming back from the dead.
One of the more challenging aspects of the game is the career path of the Sims. Sims don't need to work, but they do have bills to pay, food to pay for, etc. There are several career paths, such as finance and entertainment, and each Sim can gain promotion in that career by changing their skills1. This is done by reading a book, increasing intelligence, painting or playing piano (which in turn increases creativity), practising speech in the mirror, increasing charisma, or working out thus increasing body points. A pop-up message appears whenever a Sim increases their skill points.
Naturally, with promotion comes more money, which other members of the household are only too happy to spend. The salary for each job is given as a daily pay packet. One odd twist to the game is that there are no weekends; Sims have to go to work every day. It is advisable to get at least one job in a household, as even with plenty of money, Sims will get on each other's nerves after a while. Children do not have careers, but must attend school every day. Careers have grades on how well the Sim is doing; if they don't perform well enough in their job for a few days - for example, by not having enough charisma points, or not going in to work - they will get fired.
A key part of keeping your Sims happy is having happy relationships with family members and friends. Sims get happier when they are hugged, kissed, talked to and entertained with jokes. They get unhappy when teased, rejected or slapped. There are an enormous number of interactions between two Sims, many dependant on the setting (sitting on sofa, eating a meal at a restaurant, relaxing in the hot tub) and on the Sim's mood. An unhappy Sim will let a friend hug them or tell them a joke, but won't dance with a stranger. As a rule of thumb, the more friendly or close two Sims are, the more interactions are available, and the less likely that any chosen one will be rejected.
Family units can be in any form imaginable. Although the nuclear family is the easiest to maintain, same sex couples and even polygamous groups are possible, although some relationships are harder to maintain than others. Sims, it seems, are not immune to the little green-eyed monster.
Not satisfied with this overnight success, the creators then proceeded to roll out expansion packs to the game. These added new items for the Sims to interact with and also new social interactions, such as hugging on a sofa, going on a date, and taking the pet dog for a walk. The expansion packs were released in the following order, and needed to be installed in this order. Each added varying degrees of complexity to the game.
Living It Up/Livin' Large Expansion Pack
This was the first expansion pack, and had more bugs than the others. It was, after all, experimental technology. This pack added only new furniture and new items for them to play with, like larger TV sets. The number of neighbourhoods was increased to five. At ten houses per neighbourhood, this gave the player a total of fifty houses that could be built. There was a good deal of confusion as to which pack you had, and there were two patches released, one for each version of this pack, to help game players repair botched installations. The only problem was that if a player downloaded the wrong patch, the entire game would have to be re-installed.
House Party Expansion Pack
The House Party expansion pack added new variety to the game. Sims can throw parties, the main point of the expansion, inviting all their friends, hiring caterers and a DJ to run the sound system, laying down dance floors and installing dance cages. This expansion pack was much more stable than the first, but great effort was needed to ensure that the user had installed Livin' Large first, as they need to be installed in the right order. House Party also increased the number of neighbourhoods to eight.
Hot Date Expansion Pack
This was a more ambitious expansion. It added a 'down town' area to each neighbourhood. This had a total of ten plots, including restaurants, dance clubs and bars. Couples from the same house, or from the same neighbourhood, could go out on the town. Only one of these (the inviter) was playable, the other Sim acting autonomously.
A Sim can go down town alone, and can pick up gifts for members of the household, or shop for clothes, jewellery, and magazines to change their interests. The downtown lots can be bulldozed and the player can build their own shops, parks, etc.
On Holiday/On Vacation Expansion Pack
This expansion was similar to Hot Date. It added 10 new plots in a holiday resort. These were either beach, forest or snow-covered mountain retreats. Unlike Hot Date, the entire household goes on holiday. They are charged at a set rate for beds for each night they are on holiday.
Sims on holiday are there to enjoy themselves, so a maid cleans for them and the hotel staff cater for them. This leaves them free to go snowboarding, sing camp songs, or go fishing. The vacation lots can be bulldozed and the player can build their own shops, parks, etc.
Unleashed Expansion Pack
Finally, after every Sim player had been complaining about the one thing that was missing in the game, Maxis came through - pets.
At pet adoption centres, Sims can buy cats, dogs, parrots, birds and fish. The cats and dogs can be trained and wander about the house. The parrots stay on their perches, but do mimic the way Sims talk. The fish just go round in circles. Unleashed also expands the standard neighbourhoods to include even more plots, some of which can be zoned as community lots, such as parks, where Sims can take their pets for exercise and meet up with friends. It takes the total number of plots for the entire game to 183.
As with the previous two expansion packs, the community lots can be bulldozed and the player can build their own shops, parks, etc.
This soon to be released expansion pack will give the Sims the chance to work as film stars.
Creating Sim Families
The Sim families are made by the user, or downloaded from the web. A few are included in the game as standard. The user can choose gender, skin tone, age, astrological sign, which helps to determine who they get along with easily and who they will have to work at getting to like, generally same signs like each other. The user also has several points to allocate across personality points (Neat/Outgoing/Active/Playful/Nice).
The family can be as small as one Sim, and as large as eight. At eight, there is no room for any 'little bundles of joy' and the Sims will neither procreate nor adopt. It's important to get the right balance in a family; too different and they will argue and fight all the time, although this may be something the user is trying for. Too similar, and the gameplay will be largely predictable and may get a little boring.
Building A House
Many considerations need to be taken into account. First, balance the size of the house you want with the amount of money available to the Sim family. The plots of land available vary in size and also in price. Some are almost entirely flat, others have hills that may need to be flattened.
After choosing the plot, the Sims in your family will congregate in a line on the pavement. Enter build mode, otherwise they'll start wandering about and get in the way. The main tool to start with is the wall tool. Click and drag to create a wall. To save time, holding the shift key will build a 'box' or room. Make a layout of the ground floor, putting rooms where you want them. You'll need the following areas at a minimum: Living room, Bedroom, Kitchen, Dining room and Bathroom. There's nothing wrong with incorporating several rooms into one, eg a kitchen with a dining area to it, a living room with a kitchen area. However, the bathroom must be a separate room and bedrooms are better separate also.
The house can have one or two floors to it, as long as you install a lift or stairs between the floors. Balconies are also possible, but need to be supported by pillars. There are no rules about where rooms need to go, but it's generally a good idea to have at least one bathroom per floor. Doors need to be put in each room, but you can have as many exits from a room as necessary. Front doors should be placed as close to the mailbox and trash can as possible. Windows let in the light, bigger windows let in more light. Sims however are not shy, so don't feel obligated to put small windows in bathrooms.
Decorating can be fun. The interior and exterior walls need wallpaper, which can look like paint, wallpaper, tiles, stone, brick, metal, or a number of other surfaces. Floor tiles need to be laid - they can be carpet, tile, wood, stone, etc. For both wallpaper and tiles holding the shift key and clicking will fill the entire room with that design.
Furnishing the house can be problematic. The most common problem encountered by novices is that they have spent all the money on the house and there is none left for furniture. A minimum furniture selection would be: bed, toilet, shower, sink, fridge, cooker/microwave, table, chair. Other items such as alarm clock, wardrobe, sofa, comfy chair, TV, stereo system, bathtub, mirror, bedside unit, lamps, lighting fixtures, paintings, bookcase, etc are desirable, but the Sims can live without them, for a while at least.
Furniture can be rotated to face one of four directions. The orientation and position needs to be considered carefully. The Sims need to be able to move through the house without having to detour for furniture. A badly laid out house will get them down. A general rule is leave about two tiles, or squares, between objects. One of the things most players of The Sims find is an irresistible urge to build a Sim version of their own house.
In addition to the main game, The Sims supports user mods. These are modifications to the main game by fans. Programs like the 'Transmogrifier and Menu Edit' allow users to change the game, from simple changes like the colour of the chairs, to complex changes like exercise areas and ballet mirrors. There exists a vast Internet community of modders who make these files for download. Once put into the game, they can alter gameplay a little or a lot.
With all expansion packs installed, and with a modest collection of Sims and houses, the Sims directory on this researcher's computers is 2.4Gb in size.
Maxis have resisted the money-making opportunity to insist that expansion packs are installed in the right order, eg not allowing you to install Unleashed without all the previous packs installed first, but they didn't. Each pack can be installed on it own, as long as you have the original game. However, if you want to install only House Party and Unleashed, you must install House party first, then Unleashed.
For those who like inter-connectivity between games, your Sims can be imported into Sim City 4. They are loaded into a neighbourhood and interact with the rest of the city. Some aspects of the game may be unsuitable for younger players as the game does depict the death of characters and 'adult' relationships. The game does have a recommended age limit.