The Sims 2 Updated Impressions

As The Sims 2's September 17 release date fast approaches, we got an updated look at the game and came away more excited about it than ever.

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The Sims 2 is easily one of the three biggest PC games of the year, in addition to Half-Life 2 and the soon-to-be-released Doom 3. At stake is the future of a franchise that has sold millions of copies but that took a stumble with The Sims Online. The good news is that The Sims 2 looks like it will be a significant upgrade from the original game in every conceivable way; there’s a new graphics engine that allows you to experience every detail of your sims’ lives in intimate detail, as well as a new aspiration system that will give your sims desires that you have to fulfill.

Lucy Bradshaw discusses some of the new gameplay features that you'll find in The Sims 2. Click "stream" for a larger view.

At E3, EA introduced the aspiration system and showed us how your sims will desire certain things, be it relationships, wealth, family, and more. Maxis executive producer Lucy Bradshaw expanded on this further at today's event. When playing the game, it will be important to keep your sims happy by making sure that their aspirations are being fulfilled. For example, relationship sims will want to flirt, kiss, and have fun, and they’ll be depressed if you deprive them of companionship.

Each sim will have an aspiration meter indicating how fulfilled he or she is. The meter is tiered, so there are multiple levels of fulfillment. The upper two tiers are labeled gold and platinum. If you can reach a gold level of fulfillment, your sim will earn points that can be used to purchase special rewards that can make your life easier. Some of these include the money tree, which you can harvest every now and then for extra cash; smart milk, which you can give children to drink so they learn skills faster; and cool shades, which are art-deco lamps that help you make "friends" faster, in a romantic way.

The highest level of fulfillment is platinum. If you reach this, you’re not rewarded with points, but instead your sim is given a boost in his or her abilities. For example, a relationship sim who has been having trouble romancing another sim will now have a good chance of sweeping that sim off his or her feet. The aspiration meter slowly empties over time, so this effect won't last forever.

Bradshaw showed us the three different neighborhoods that will ship with the game: Pleasantown, Strangeland, and Veronaville. Not only does each neighborhood have a unique appearance, but each will come with a backstory of its own.

Perhaps the most familiar neighborhood is Pleasantown, where Mortimer Goth of the original game has settled down. It's 25 years later, and Mortimer is an old and wealthy man. He's single, as well, since the infamous Bella Goth took off under mysterious circumstances. Cassandra Goth is now grown up, and she has a little brother, Alexander, who was born to Mortimer and Bella shortly before Bella's disappearance. In addition to the Goths, there’s a pair of fraternal twin sisters who live in the neighborhood, and each is looking to marry Mortimer for his money.

Strangeland is a desert town that invokes an Area 51-style atmosphere, mainly because there tend to be a lot of alien abductions and UFO sightings in the area. Strangeland is the home of General Grunt and his two sons, Tank and Buzz. General Grunt (as his name suggests) is in the military, and he’s highly suspicious of the strange goings-on in the neighborhood. He has a tendency to stay up late and look through his telescope at the night sky, and he eyes his neighbors, the Smiths, warily. The head of the Smith family is Pollination Technician 9, who has blue-green skin and buglike eyes. PT9 just wants to settle down in the suburbs with his wife and two kids and live a normal middle-class life.

Lastly, there’s Veronaville, which promises a Romeo and Juliet-style setting, thanks to the presence of the Capps and Montys families. Of course, there’s an attraction between one of the Capps kids and one of the Montys kids, which should set up plenty of tension.

Bradshaw says that in addition to providing some content, these neighborhoods will also offer players an idea of what they can create in the game themselves. Players can build their own neighborhoods, limited pretty much only by their imaginations.

According to Bradshaw, the game went feature-complete shortly after E3, and the developers are now busy polishing the game and building up some of the player content, including sims that will ship with the game. She also showed us some of the 19,000 user-made sims for The Sims 2 that have been created, thanks to the Sims 2 Body Shop utility that was released earlier this year. And for fans who remember some of the headaches involved in trying to import user-made content into the original Sims, The Sims 2 will feature an in-game browser that will allow you to locate new content and automatically download and install it into the game.

The Sims 2 gets better and better every time we see it, and the game shows every indication of shaping up to expectations. We’ll find out in less than two months, as The Sims 2 will ship on September 17.

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