E3 2001 Hands-OnSimsVille

This new game combines elements of The Sims with SimCity.

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Considering how popular The Sims and its expansions are, it comes as no surprise that Electronic Arts and Maxis would want to capitalize on that success and release another game--other than an expansion--based on the popular game. After all, people have wanted to see where the sims go when they're not at home. EA and Maxis are doing exactly that with SimsVille, a new game that borrows gameplay from both The Sims and the classic SimCity series to create a gaming experience that's both familiar and new at the same time. As if that weren't enough, SimsVille uses a true three-dimensional engine, making it possible to zoom in on and around buildings as well as individual sims. When we first saw the game, it didn't seem to be fully three-dimensional, but as the Electronic Arts representative zoomed the camera in and spun it on its axis, all doubts were removed. The typical sim models blend in seamlessly into their new environments.

One of the first things shown to us was a relatively small town with a main road and a few buildings sprinkled across the landscape. As you scroll across the town, you can actually see sims going about their daily business, strolling up and down the sidewalks, and conversing with other sims. On the eastern side of this particular town, we saw a rather large house inhabited by a sim with the last name of Wright, and unfortunately this sim doesn't have any friends. However, he alerts the town that he's having a party, and shortly thereafter, five new sims show up at his house and start to dance on the outdoor disco pad. It's somewhat odd to scroll over the city and come upon a house where people are dancing outside, but it keeps within the typical sims humor, and really shows what kind of detail the SimsVille engine can support.

After a brief lesson on how to make friends in SimsVille we got to dive deeper into the finer points of the game. At the bottom of the screen, there's a menu that gives you a number of details, including what the sim is currently doing, what kind of skills they have, how much money you have, and the current unemployment rate in the city. All of this information comes into play when you actually start to construct your own city or make improvements to a preexisting one. On the top-left corner of this menu, you can select from several different structure types such as residential, civic, business, and entertainment structures. The type of buildings you can construct with the residential menu is obvious. In the civic menu, you can select from structures like police stations, fire stations, and other general public service buildings. Under business, you find restaurants and shopping areas, and in entertainment, there are places for your sims to go shopping or to have food. Lastly, there is the infrastructure option, which gives you the ability to build roads within your city. There are a few other job-related structures--such as gas stations--where sims can go to find work.

Sim information and the different types of buildings intertwine because one affects the other. If your city starts to have too many unemployed sims, many of the buildings will start to look run-down and some areas of the city quickly change into slums. We saw an example of this in another city included in the current build, which basically shows the same city as before, only this time the jobless rate is incredibly high. The once lively Wright house at the end of the city is now deserted and dilapidated. Liquor stores and adult theaters occupy city streets. Fires start to break out all over the place, but since there are no fire stations in town, the buildings just continue to burn until they collapse to the ground.

A quick way to remedy the risk of your city turning into a ghost town is to pay attention to sims' needs. If the jobless rate is too high, you have to build more structures that can give the sims work. Taking that same idea a step further, you can also monitor the individual skills of your sims and build structures accordingly, so if one sim has really high engineering skills, you want to build a structure that can accommodate that skill. But more importantly, you need to take good overall care of your city. You need to make sure that the road system makes it easy for the sims to travel around the city, and you have to provide them with standard public services such as a police stations, fire stations, and schools.

SimsVille has an interesting combination of different types of gameplay, and although the city-building features aren't quite as robust as in SimCity, the game still requires you to have effective city-planning and management skills just to keep your sims happy. There are also some additional features that should make fans of The Sims enjoy the game a little more. When you install SimsVille, the game will search your sims directory and automatically import your saved sims into SimsVille. The game is currently in a pre-alpha state, but it's expected to ship early in 2002.

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