GDC 2009: The Sims 3 Updated Hands-On - Role-Playing and Short Attention Spans

In our next go-round with this life-simulator sequel at GDC 2009, we play as a would-be rock star facing his worst nemesis...our own incredibly short attention span.

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SAN FRANCISCO--By now, no real introduction is needed for The Sims 3. This highly anticipated life-simulation sequel will offer a much deeper character-development system built around personal traits and life goals that, when fulfilled, grant lifetime wish points that can be used to purchase superhuman powers and fantastical devices. But for our play session during the 2009 Game Developers Conference, we decided to aim nice and low.

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Specifically, we chose to create a household with a single character whose traits tended toward boundless creativity and living off the land (and his neighbors), such as the "virtuoso" trait, which makes your sims better able to do well with music and art; the "vegetarian" trait, which makes your sims prefer meatless dishes (and actually makes a different set of "favorite foods" available at character creation); and the "mooch" trait, which gives your sims an additional "social" option to casually beg for money in conversation with the people they talk to. And of course, we chose the lifetime wish for our sim to become a star musician.

Given our plan, we figured that pulling off the dream of the lazy, long-haired musician next door would require serious forethought and planning, as well as a strong visual design to really help set the mood. As we've mentioned in our previous coverage of the game, The Sims 3 has enhanced character-appearance options to let you customize your characters' eye size, shape, and color; hair style and color, standard clothing, formal clothing, swimwear, hats, eyeglasses, jewelry, and tattoos, among other things.

We wanted to create a character that wasn't easy on the eyes: a run-down loser with shabby clothes and an annoying head accessory, like a goofy headband, that would make most self-respecting people want to punch him in the face. Steeling ourselves for the task, we hunkered down with the game's character editor for a good two, maybe three minutes before making an even more gutsy executive decision: to just click the "random sim appearance" button a couple of times until we got a sim that had a hat. We figured that was close enough, and off we went.

Our next step was to save our new sim to a family and create any additional sims for the family, a step that would let us build out a whole household of slackers. We decided against doing this partially because that would've meant that we would have had to do the extra work of customizing additional characters (and potentially having to manage household relationships), but primarily because we were bravely committed to role-playing a single slacker living alone. Once our family of one was saved, we were ready to head out to the neighborhood to jump into a vacant house and start our new virtual life. As we've reported previously, the Sims 3 has only one single but extremely large neighborhood in which to live, with numerous community "lots" and plenty of different houses to choose as a base of operations, ranging from cheap little shacks in the range of 10,000-15,000 simoleans (The Sims series' currency) to grand mansions that cost much more.

The Sims 3 will let you lead a vibrant social life, even if your sims are all bookworms who hang out at the library.
The Sims 3 will let you lead a vibrant social life, even if your sims are all bookworms who hang out at the library.

We settled on a smaller, one-story flat for about 12,000, partially because having to furnish a larger, multistory house would mean a bunch of extra work designing the rooms with different layouts, carpeting, wallpaper, and furniture, but mainly because we wanted to have the courage to stick with our initial plan of having a lonely, lazy slacker, whom we were role-playing. Then we remembered that as you prepare to buy and move into a house, there's an option for you to purchase the house already furnished (which costs more simoleans), and we totally chose that. Courageously. Purchasing a furnished house won't necessarily net you the best stuff, but it'll make sure that you have all of the essentials a sim needs to live: a refrigerator, a phone, a shower, a toilet, and a bed.

Once we bought our house and moved in, we set about the task of getting into the music-career track by picking up the newspaper and looking for a job. Fortunately for us, the music-career track was one of the first careers available in the newspaper, and we signed up for a five-day-a-week shift that started the following day. We were all psyched up to use the game's new-and-improved job system, which lets you choose your daily work demeanor each time you hop into the carpool to head out to the office, such as "work a normal day," "work extremely hard," and "slack off." We were especially excited about that final option, because, well, you know.

For sims who want to make a difference in the world, everything's waiting for you downtown. The rest of us can buy a house that's already fully furnished.
For sims who want to make a difference in the world, everything's waiting for you downtown. The rest of us can buy a house that's already fully furnished.

However, we'd spent most of our sim's money on purchasing a fully furnished house and didn't have enough funds to buy a high-end electric guitar to practice our creativity skill at home, so we knew we'd have to dig down deep to get the scratch for it. We took a deep breath, cracked our knuckles, and typed in the cheat code to get additional simoleans for free about four or five times, and then used the money to buy a new guitar, as well as a computer, and a telescope, which popped up on our sim's ongoing wish list. In The Sims 3, your sims will periodically have minor wishes appear in their wish window in the lower left-hand side of the screen, and left-clicking each wish to "promise" it to your sim will make it an ongoing goal that, if accomplished, will put your sim on the long-term road to personal fulfillment. It will also put your sim in a near-term nirvana state of a positive "moodlet"--the minor emotional bonuses and penalties that sims will experience as a result of their actions and their surroundings.

After practicing guitar a few times to build up a skill point or two, we found that the first in-game day got away from us, and a few peanut butter sandwiches and bathroom breaks later, our sim was asleep--and then awake again after we set the game to its fastest speed setting to skip through his good night's sleep. The next day, we woke up at the stroke of 10:00AM to start practicing the guitar again until our carpool arrived for the first day of our entry-level music job, which we chose to spend "schmoozing with the rest of the band members" instead of working particularly hard. After getting back, we grabbed a bite to eat from the fridge, played some more guitar, and made the difficult (but ultimately, noble) decision to send our little guy back to bed.

The next day, we woke up at the go-getter hour of 11:30AM and decided to take our sim up on his next wish of heading downtown to look over a book at the library. In The Sims 3, every character has a mobile phone that can call a taxi cab that automatically arrives to whisk you away to whichever outdoor destination you choose, and in this case, we sent our wannabe virtuoso downtown to hit the library. When sims "use" lot services in this way, they can gain skill bonuses, just like using skill items at home, but they're taken out of the world and can't be sent to do other tasks or meet other people. Our own sim successfully borrowed his book but appeared to be getting bored, so we sent him along to the nearby city park to seek the company of like-minded individuals and mooch as much money as possible.

Active sims can find love, exciting and/or new, at the local swimming pool.
Active sims can find love, exciting and/or new, at the local swimming pool.

Fortunately, it was a lovely day, so there were plenty of folks taking in the sun. We zeroed in on the absolute best targets of opportunity (the closest ones) and began working our charms, chatting about interests to find that our first would-be friend and sponsor was also an artsy person who liked music, liked talking to musicians, and (once we increased our relationship with her significantly through careful juggling of social options) liked parting with 10 or 20 simoleans here and there to help out a friend. However, the late morning quickly became the early afternoon, and our sim was late for his next day's work! As his carpool ride showed up back at the house, leaning on the horn, our sim immediately took to his feet, sprinting homeward to go off and earn his daily bread. Did he succeed? We don't know, because while it was time for our sim to go to work in computer land, it was time for us to go have lunch in the real world, so we ended our play session at that point to grab a sandwich, like a true person of stature. Some might say, like a hero.

The Sims 3 is scheduled for release this June. Stay tuned to GameSpot for further updates.

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