The Sims started off as an experimental game concept that designer Will Wright reportedly had to fight for. After it was released in 2000, it became a smash hit that went on to occupy top spots on computer-game best-seller lists for years to come, along with a good number of expansion packs and its in-depth sequel, The Sims 2. Now the team is getting ready for an impressive round three with a new sequel that will offer much more in the way of customization options, social options, character behavior, and in-depth careers. We got an up-close look at the game and have much to report.
The Sims 3 will apparently be the product of both the development team's desire to push the series forward, and also of the many requests that the series' fan community makes on a regular basis. For starters, though The Sims 2 took place in a virtual neighborhood that was split up into separate lots for housing (where your sims would live out their home lives) and downtown areas (where your sims could go shopping and socialize) that required you to sit through loading screens, The Sims 3 will have a continuous neighborhood that you can traverse seamlessly without any loading screens. The game unfortunately will probably ship with only the one neighborhood (rather than the numerous neighborhoods that The Sims 2 offered), and you most likely will not be able to build out new lots, but this area will be absolutely massive and should afford you more than enough space to putter around in.
In addition, the sequel will expand on the previous games' gameplay by enhancing your characters' personalities and their life goals. In previous games, you'd create your family of little computer people and determine each one's personality by assigning points on various personality meters, such as sloppy-to-neat and athletic-to-lazy, which would net them a specific horoscope sign and an approximate personality. This time around, you'll actually be able to directly choose up to five "traits" from a large pool of potential personality types, such as grouchy or clumsy. In addition, the new game's "motives"--personal needs that each of your sims has--have been streamlined down to the four major needs of sleep, food, fun, and potty breaks to cut down on situations that require you to stop whatever you're doing to fulfill this or that condition. In addition, the motives have been streamlined in the interface to simply change color from red (a state of dire need) to orange, yellow, and finally green (a state of complete fulfillment), instead of filling up little meters--again, to reduce the emphasis on micromanaging your little family's lives.
You'll also have more-directed gameplay for each character if you care to use it, in the form of enhanced "wish"-based gameplay and "lifetime achievements"--a step up from The Sims 2's "wants" and "goals" system. A lifetime achievement is essentially your sim's single life goal, and if you care to, you can choose one for each sim that you create, or not...and let life fill in the blanks. For instance, a child sim, in the course of his young life, might use a telescope item and suddenly become smitten with the desire to become an astronaut as his lifetime achievement. In addition, the "wants" system from Sims 2 has been streamlined down to a new "wish" system with up to three active slots. Wishes are short- to long-term goals that you'll uncover over the course of your sims' day, and they'll often occur much more naturally and organically. In addition, your characters will feel "moodlets"--small emotional boosts or potholes that happen as the result of various events in their lives. For instance, if your sim has recently fallen in love, she might constantly experience a slightly elevated moodlet for some time that puts a little more spring in her step on any given day.
We watched a demonstration of the game in action that showed two roommates having a house party with guests. Like in previous games, you can throw a party by having your sims pick up their home phone and using the "throw a party" option, but this time around, there will be many more types of parties you can throw, including a political fundraiser, which one of our sims held in the hopes of raising some campaign donations in accordance with his political-career aspirations. Like in previous games, your sims will be able to choose careers for themselves and will need to leave their homes for several hours each day, then reappear some hours later with a paycheck. You can still increase your sims' various skills, such as physical fitness, through repeated study (for instance, hitting the gym to increase your physical fitness), which will better equip you to get ahead in the rat race. In The Sims 3, you'll be able to climb the ladder at least a few times either by increasing your skills or simply by networking with enough people. (However, to get to the very top of the career ladder, you will need to grind away on those skills.)
Choosing the political career track unlocked the ability for one of our sims to hold the fundraiser at home, inviting over other friends and acquaintances to chat, schmooze, and ultimately, to leave behind a couple hundred simoleans to further the cause. The Sims 3 will do a better job of arranging your characters' relationship into various groups (love interests, family, friends, and others), and will also have social options that make more sense in context. For example, depending on your relationship with whichever other sim you're talking to, you'll be able to take your conversation in different directions, from romantic options (that will appear only for sims you have a romantic interest in) to more-hostile, argumentative options for sims that you don't quite get along with. You won't be required to repeatedly use the same social option over and over to build up a better relationship, as in previous games. Furthermore, though sims will still talk using cartoon speech balloons that have various graphical icons in them, there will be many more icons and they'll be tailored to fit the context of the situation, so you'll be able to get a better sense not only of who's connecting in conversation, but also on which topics they agree.
Our fundraiser ended successfully with our black-tie-and-ball-gown guests filing out the door and leaving some nice chunks of change for us. We then took our character to head down to SimCity hall in the center of town by driving our car directly there. Once there, we observed a civic demonstration of unhappy sims, who were waving picket signs and hollering in The Sims' trademark nonsensical gibberish, simlish, about their concerns. Their grievance this time around: hamsters, apparently. After watching the demonstration, we were then given a career-based opportunity to steal a bit of money from the campaign contributions that we had garnered. You'll apparently get these open-ended choices to pop up every so often, along with various tasks that may require you to travel across town or gather one of dozens of different items that may include food items, fish, and other stuff to build out your sims' personal collections. Unfortunately, our would-be political maven got caught in the act of stealing and was fired from his job.
On that happy note, we switched over to the character creator, which will be far more robust than the previous games' tools. The Sims 3 will have a gradient tool that will let you select a more-nuanced skin tone for your characters, along with new slider tools to select your characters' builds, from fat to thin, and from flabby to muscular. Plus, the game will also offer many more prebuilt facial features (eyes, eyebrows, nose length/height/width, and so on), along with plenty of sliders and meters and doohickeys to let obsessive players tweak to their hearts' content. In addition, The Sims 3 will have many more clothing options, including not only shirts, pants, and one-piece suits, but also hats, glasses, shoes, and other accessories (such as wristwatches, bracelets, and other types of jewelry). Like in The Sims 2, if your sims give birth to a little bundle of joy, the new addition to the family will share facial and body features from both parents, though the genetic makeup of your children will be a bit more consistent this time around. (Sims 2 players will remember that every so often, due to random genetic matching, children ended up looking a bit...off.)
With so much new and so much improved, by all appearances The Sims 3 will have plenty to offer. The new game's improved social aspects, streamlined motive system, and enhanced career paths will likely make social butterflies extremely happy, and the sequel's expanded character creator and new collection-based gameplay will give completists plenty to do. The game is scheduled to ship next year.