The Sims 3 is finally coming this year, and with it, the renewed hopes and dreams of everyone who's ever wanted to make little computer people have little computer one-night-stands, or make them die horribly in little computer kitchen fires. The third installment of this phenomenally popular series will bring with it new features and improvements to the older stuff--such as better graphics, with enhanced lighting and shadowing, and tons of expressive new animations--but what exactly will be different between The Sims 3 and The Sims 2? We'll take a look, and also dive into the enhanced goals and ambition system, which, if used properly, may grant your sims superhuman powers--such as the mind-blowing ability to never have to go to the potty again. (No, seriously!)
Let's start with the game's customization and editing tools, which are being expanded greatly for The Sims 3. In The Sims 2, there were only two body types ("normal" and "fat"), a handful of preset skin colors, and a handful of preset hair colors. There was a fairly robust set of tools to tweak facial features, primarily based on preset options (a bunch of preset eyes, preset noses, and so on); the most detailed likenesses were created by advanced players using tools outside the game (such as Adobe Photoshop). However, in The Sims 3, facial features will pretty much all have various sliders that will offer much more in-depth tweaking options.
The Sims 3 will also have sliders that will let you choose customized gradients for skin color (to better represent different ethnicities, as well as blue-skinned aliens, green-skinned witches, or what have you); gradients for primary and secondary hair color (for those talented stylists who really want highlights in their hair); a slider for body type that will let you choose how lean, muscular, or fat your characters are; and the new "create a style" swatch tool, which will let you edit and save various color patterns, and then apply them to anything in the world that has a pattern. If you care to, you can make a sim with a leopard-print shirt, a rideable leopard-print bicycle, and a leopard-print refrigerator. (We actually checked on this last part, and we're pleased to report that the leopard-print bicycle totally works.)
Buy and Build modes have been tweaked in The Sims 3, and neighborhood lots will also work differently. Previously, furniture for your house was sorted by function and type; now they'll have a revamped room-specific sorting list as well. The larger part of the story of the Buy and Build modes will be the use of create-a-style to paint all of your furniture, as well as your house, with whichever patterns you want as freeform wallpaper and carpeting--such as with, let's say for the sake of example, leopard print. (We tried this, and you can absolutely have leopard-print sofas in a room with all leopard-print walls.) Swapping in custom-built items created by the fanatically loyal Sims community will also be made easier in The Sims 3 with a built-in application that runs out of the game's launcher (as opposed to having to quit the game, open up a Web browser, and pulling up the "Exchange" community site, which is being updated to include YouTube-like and Facebook-like functionality, such as blogs, friends lists, favorites lists, and user ratings). In addition to uploading and downloading furniture, customized sims characters, and housing to and from the community site, The Sims 3 will have an in-game movie-making tool that will let you upload and download videos to and from the Exchange. More details on that at a later date.
Furthermore, outdoor lots have been changed so that there will now be only one huge, continuous neighborhood (rather than the separate neighborhoods of The Sims 2), within which time is constantly running. Likewise, your neighbors' lives are constantly changing concurrently. The neighborhood view in The Sims 3 has been changed to be an actual real-time 3D space that shows context-sensitive icons that tell you exactly where you need to go if you plan to go out to a gym, restaurant, store, recreational area, or wherever else. Like in The Sims 2, there will be outdoor "lots" outside of your sims' homes where you will still, in fact, send your sims to work out, have a romantic dinner date, buy groceries, or just play in the park. The difference is that in The Sims 3, the neighborhood view is actual 3D space, so you can seamlessly move from your house to a lot, or from one lot to another, without having to hit a loading screen. In fact, if your have a bicycle or car, your sims can immediately hop on and take a ride; if not, sims will be equipped with a mobile phone that they can use to automatically call a taxi to whisk them away to where they're going in real time (not by sitting on a loading screen until they magically reappear at their destination).
There will also be new public events in The Sims 3, such as music concerts, movie premieres, pool parties, barbecues, sporting events, outdoor fishing, and the most civic-minded public activity in a Sims game to date, attending a public protest at SimCity Hall, where your sims can voice their discontent with the administration's legal mumbo jumbo by angrily shouting their own nonsensical "simlish" mumbo jumbo.
The management of sim characters and relationships will also be tweaked and streamlined for the sequel. Previously, you had to manage each of your sims' "motives" (personal needs) such as hunger, fatigue, and needing to go to the bathroom; many of these needs are now automated, and if neglected, sims will take care of themselves. You'll also be able to drag and drop garbage items into the trash to keep your house clean (rather than having to order your sims to manually pick up each old newspaper and clear each dish).
And previously, your sims would start relationships with their neighbors by using "socials," various types of social interactions such as chatting, telling jokes, and so on, and you'd raise or lower your relationship with another character by repeatedly doing either something that the other character liked, or didn't like, until your relationship number reached 100 (the highest level) or -100 (the lowest). In The Sims 3, as we've mentioned in our earlier coverage, you can't simply choose to "chat" with another sim 87 times until he or she falls in love with you; you'll have to vary up your responses, and you'll have different conversation options available depending on your character's personality traits (for instance, having the "evil" trait will let you literally steal candy from a baby) and even on your character's career path (for example, aspiring politicians can ask for campaign donations).
One of the biggest changes in The Sims 3 is the "traits" system, which helps you determine your sims' personality (previously, you used sliders to select how messy or neat; active or lazy; shy or outgoing they were, and that combination would assign your sim an arbitrary horoscope sign, such as Leo or Taurus, that determined personality). Another of the biggest changes is the new-and-improved goals system, which has expanded way beyond The Sims 2's "aspiration" system (which gave sims a handful of daily goals to work toward filling a fulfillment meter to "platinum" level).
You can choose up to five "traits" for your adult sims that will define their personalities, how they interact with their neighbors, what kind of career paths might be more suitable for them, and which characters might be more or less compatible with them. EA's Sims team has done a great deal of fine-tuning on the design of these traits to ensure that they work for different kinds of Sims players. For ambitious players who want all of the advantages, traits such as "ambitious," "schmoozer," "charismatic," and "genius" can give you a head start along certain career paths and put you in a better position to be popular in the neighborhood; for players who are more interested in either creating purposely disadvantaged characters, or creating characters who resemble people they know in real life, there are disadvantageous traits such as "absent-minded," "inappropriate," "unlucky," and of course "insane."
In fact, here's a full and complete list of the 65 traits in The Sims 3 for you to look over: absent-minded, ambitious, angler, artistic, athletic, bookworm, brave, can't stand art, charismatic, childish, clumsy, commitment issues, computer whiz, couch potato, coward, daredevil, dislikes children, easily impressed, evil, excitable, family-oriented, flirty, friendly, frugal, genius, good, good sense of humor, great kisser, green thumb, grumpy, handy, hates the outdoors, heavy sleeper, hopeless romantic, hot-headed, hydrophobic, inappropriate, insane, kleptomaniac, light sleeper, loner, loser, loves the outdoors, lucky, mean spirited, mooch, natural cook, neat, neurotic, never nude (yes, from Arrested Development), no sense of humor, over-emotional, party animal, perfectionist, schmoozer, slob, snob, technophobe, unflirty, unlucky, vegetarian, virtuoso, and workaholic. Enough traits for you?
Along with new traits for your sims, The Sims 3 will have a revamped life-goal system built around "lifetime wishes"--a single long-term goal that you can choose for each of your sims that will eventually grant that character ultimate happiness. You build up to lifetime wishes with periodically updating regular "wishes," which take the form of basic tasks that will unlock minor rewards and increase your sim's overall morale with a "moodlet"--a minor condition that contributes to your characters' overall mood. Evil sim just stole candy from a baby? Ahh, that's a good moodlet: +15. Having to listen to the annoying sound of the crying baby? Ugh, that's a bad moodlet: -15. Working toward your lifetime wish will win your sims "lifetime happiness points" that can be spent on extremely powerful items, such as a teleport pad, or on astoundingly superhuman abilities, such as iron bladder, a complete immunity to having to go to the bathroom. No, seriously.
And here's a full list of the game's 32 lifetime wishes: professional author, world-renowned surgeon, become a superstar athlete, CEO of a megacorporation, hit movie composer, heartbreaker, rock star, the tinkerer, become a master thief, forensic specialist: dynamic DNA profiler, become an astronaut, master of the arts, perfect mind/perfect body, gold digger, star news anchor, living in the lap of luxury, jack of all trades, surrounded by family, renaissance sim, chess legend, the culinary librarian, golden tongue/golden fingers, international super spy, super popular, presenting the perfect private aquarium, celebrated five-star chef, illustrious author, swimming in cash, the perfect garden, leader of the free world, the emperor, and become a creature-robot cross-breeder.
And that's a lot of new stuff going from The Sims 2 to The Sims 3. We're looking forward to playing this new sequel and trying out everything that it has to offer--and it'll offer quite a bit. The Sims 3 is scheduled for release in June.