You should already be familiar with The Sims, a series of computer and console games that has been taking the world, and its video game sales charts, by storm since the year 2000. We recently had a chance to take an up-close look at a very early, pre-alpha version of MySims, the upcoming Sims game for the Wii, and like other games in the series, this one will let you create a little computer person to live in a little computer house in a little computer neighborhood with little computer neighbors. But this definitely won't be just another Sims game. MySims has a brand-new look and feel that puts a strong focus on players building their own custom content, from the way you can build your own house (and everything in it) to the game's cute, blocky characters.
You first step in MySims will be to create your virtual persona in the game. As in the previous games in the Sims series, you'll have plenty to choose from when it comes to customizing your alter ego, though it must be noted that the character models in this game are quite a bit different form the longer, leaner characters of the traditional PC and console Sims games. Somewhere in between anime figurines, blocky Lego models, and the Wii's own Miis is perhaps the best way to describe them. Your character model's base appearance is just the start, and you'll have plenty of control over multiple aspects of your character using the Wii Remote and your imagination.
By pointing and clicking on your character's eyes, for example, you can cycle through various eye shapes, sizes, and colors; similarly, clicking on your sim's mouth will let you choose from a variety of different scowls, smiles, frowns, and grins. There are a lot of hairstyles and hats to choose from too; with a few clicks of the Wii Remote's A button you'll find huge Afros, pageboy haircuts, traditional samurai hairdos, and even a spiky mess that was awfully reminiscent of Final Fantasy VII's Cloud Strife. By clicking on your character's body you can cycle through a slew of different outfits--from karate gis, to traditional hippie wear, to sci-fi outfits, and the latest in hip-hop styles. If that isn't enough, you'll also be able to choose from three voice samples to set the exact modulation of your sim's voice (and yes, your sims are still speaking simlish).
Several buttons on the interface will let you alter things like your sim's skin tone, hair color, eyeglass styles (including a monocle, which happened to be our favorite), and up to two facial tattoos or scars. With just a little work, it's easy to create a sim with a look all his or her own. While developers weren't able to pin down the number of possible clothing and appearance combinations for your sim, based on the demo we played, the number promises to be high. Better yet, the artists behind the game are busy at work adding more outfits, hairstyles, and accessories to the game.
Once you've created your character, you can move on to the game's story. Your character moves into a small, rural town that used to be a bustling metropolis, though many of its citizens have left and many of its shops were forced to close their doors and seal off unused areas. Because much of MySims revolves around the revitalization of your home town, the game will let you get your hands (or at least your Wii Remote) dirty when it comes to urban renewal. Perhaps the biggest aspect of this will be the building creator, which will let you build a one- or two-story building from the ground up, using different preset building blocks. We had a go with the building tool during our demo with the game, and while it's still going to require some tweaking, we were pleased with how easy it was to get a unique building up off the ground in very little time.
Using the building tool is as simple as dragging different-shaped building blocks from a preset palette onto the building grid. To select a block, you point at it with the Wii Remote, press the A button to select it, drag it where you want to place it on the grid, and finally press A once more to set the piece. Handy yellow dots show you where you can successfully anchor objects to the grid. From there, it's simply a matter of stacking blocks as you want them, then adding details such as windows, doors, roofs, and so on.
Our goal was to create a pair of symmetrical two-story structures, one next to the other. We started with a couple of cylindrical blocks, each topped off with square blocks on top. From there, we cycled to the "windows" palette by clicking the 2 button on the Wii Remote and added a few windows here and there on the top and bottom floors. The next step was to add a door--because you'll be building structures for your fellow sims to use in the game, each building you create will be required to have at least one window and one door. To place windows, doors, and the like, you simply attach them to the various yellow dots that appear on the blocks. The Wii Remote still has a few problems with the finer motions you need when building, and it's not always easy to get things right where you want them, but with a little patience, we had just the kind of building we wanted, complete with two flat-top roofs and a pair of symmetrical garden gnomes out front.
Once you've built your structure, you'll have the option to paint it. To do so, you simply click on the paint brush icon and then click on the object you wish to paint. Instead of choosing the color beforehand and applying it to your structure, you cycle through various colors and patterns for that object until you find the one you want. We went with a brick facade for the lower portion of our twin buildings and an aqua shade for the upper parts. Clicking on smaller objects, such as windows or doors, with the paint brush will change their style as well.
As game producers described it to us, building in MySims will be a crucial part to rebuilding your town's civic pride, and many of the game's missions will revolve around building specific structures to attract new residents and businesses to your town. Should an Italian chef move in, for example, you'll be charged with building his or her restaurant. What isn't clear is whether you will be creating this building from a preset plan or will have some leeway to get creative. Regardless, producers told us that there will be certain objects that "mark" buildings as specific uses (such as an Italian restaurant) so that the other sims in town will interact with them accordingly.
In addition to creating a home for your sims, you'll be able to create all the furnishings and items in the game using an interface that's tentatively titled "create-a-thing." Basically, you'll work off of a few basic components: the blueprints for various items, including all the game's furniture, which you use as templates to combine basic building blocks (in the version of the game we saw, the most basic building blocks resembled Lincoln Log wooden blocks) with "essences," which act both as item decals and as items themselves. For instance, you might have a blueprint for a refrigerator, which you'll assemble from scratch using building blocks to drag and drop items into place with the Wii Remote. Then, once you've assembled all the blocks to your liking, you can use essences as palettes to paint each part of your fridge with a different color or pattern.
You can also take essences and form them into objects of their own--when you do, they seem to take the form of smaller furnishings, like cheery pink tulips or slightly-less-cheery embalmed skulls for your mantlepiece. Fans of the console versions of The Sims who enjoyed the previous games' collection gameplay won't be disappointed by create-a-thing, since there will apparently be dozens of essences and about 30 different types of basic item classes (coffee tables, chairs, beds, and so on) for which you can collect blueprints. Crafting items will play a key role in MySims, since they'll be a key part of the tasks you'll perform to get in good with your neighbors and eventually develop your town.
It's up to you to restore the town to its former glory, not only by building new houses and items, but also by attracting new sims to come and live with you by stopping off at the town's hotel, where new sims will arrive every so often. You'll also have the ability to screen your neighbors, kicking out undesirables and approving the ones you want to join your town.
The development team expects that players will screen their prospective neighbors based on each one's preferences and personalities. Like in previous Sims games, you'll be able to interact with them using various "social moves" (like "be nice" and "be mean"), but one of the most defining characteristics of your prospective populous is their preferences for housing and items. One townsperson we met in our demonstration was a happy little girl who worked at the local flower shop and who asked us to craft a new sofa using various items and a bright, colorful essence. You can choose to please the sims that love cute, colorful stuff by performing their tasks if that's the kind of neighborhood you want to have, but you could also look to recruit characters who are interested in "spooky" architecture and items (like that skull on the mantlepiece) and build an entire town with darker colors and spooky objects if that's what you're after.
By completing enough tasks, you'll eventually be able to advance your town's "star level" (to level one, then level two, and so on). Each time your town gains a level, your character will automatically be rewarded with a new tool item that will unlock a brand-new area to develop and house new neighbors. For instance, in our earlier task, after building that new sofa and advancing the town to star level one, our character gained a crowbar, which was used to unseal a boarded-off path to a new forest area, which featured more empty lots to be built up into new custom houses.
While it may be difficult to look at MySims and not draw comparisons to similar games like Harvest Moon and Nintendo's own Animal Crossing, the game's emphasis on customization--from creating your own zany-looking sim character to building your house piece by piece--helps set it apart from the rest. If the development team can pull together the game's many intriguing parts, then fans of both The Sims' social aspects and collection minigames should find what they love in MySims, and the game's new look, feel, and gameplay should appeal to a whole new audience.