The Sims: Hot Date Preview

We've got the scoop on the next add-on for The Sims straight from Maxis.

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The Sims: Hot Date
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Ever since its release early last year, The Sims has had powerful and lasting appeal. Whether it's the lure of manipulating a family of artificial people, building homes, or managing all the aspects of a career and lifestyle at your own pace, the Sims has that special quality that has garnered millions of fans. The beauty of the game that Will Wright created, though, is that it emulates real life, meaning it has an endless base of possibilities to draw from for future expansions, and it is also modular in design, meaning it's fairly easy for the designers to plug in new components to enrich the game.

One of the new NPCs is the lovelorn guitarist.
One of the new NPCs is the lovelorn guitarist.

The Sims has had two expansion packs so far, and now Maxis is producing a third one. Maxis says that it is always considering what the fans want and is always looking to dig deeper into places it hasn't yet explored. In this new expansion, Hot Date, the designers are now delving into one aspect that Sims fans have clamored for from the beginning--the opportunity to manage and manipulate romantic human relationships in greater depth than was previously available in the original game. After all, now that you can have a career and throw a party, what about dating and romance? With Hot Date, Maxis is now giving lonely Sims fans a love life.

A new facet of The Sims: the Downtown area.
A new facet of The Sims: the Downtown area.

We recently visited the Maxis offices in Walnut Creek, California, and got a chance to see Hot Date, which has been in development for a little more than a month and is slated for release sometime in October or November. Maxis says that when considering Hot Date, there were two things it wanted to play with: social one-on-one interaction between Sims and letting players go to someone else's house. The first objective would be easy to achieve; however, the second was determined to be too difficult. That is because each house in The Sims is a saved game, so you can't visit and interact with someone else's house without messing up his or her saved game. Thus, it was decided that a compromise could be reached by creating an entirely new location where social interactions could take place. Enter Downtown.

Downtown is a neutral location, so to speak, where dates happen. Hot Date is about being in Downtown with your date. Just like you can with a house, but on a larger scale, you'll be able to build Downtown into whatever you want, creating different parks, restaurants, clubs, shops, and other venues. Downtown will look very different from your original neighborhood--picture a street of small boutique shops and restaurants--and will also have its own nonplayer characters (NPCs). Many of the components are new and fit into the style of a downtown district but can also be added to your homes if you wish.

The Dating Game

The love tub should ensure a steamy evening.
The love tub should ensure a steamy evening.

Aside from the building of Downtown itself, the new expansion will involve the social interaction between two Sims. In the regular game, you get to directly control the members of your household. If people are hungry, you make them eat. If they need sleep, you make them sleep. But in Hot Date, you control only one Sim, the one who initiates the date. That Sim follows your commands, and you can control him or her throughout Downtown. Although you'll have a companion on your date, you won't have direct control over that person. He or she can leave at any time if he or she is bored. If he's hungry, and you don't feed him, he can just get up and walk out on the date. The challenge of the game comes in keeping the date interested in you and indirectly controlling how he or she acts. So if that date is hungry, you'll need to bring her to a restaurant where she can order food. If she's bored, you might bring her to a dance club. Hot Date's style of gameplay is different from that of the Sims. Now, instead of controlling people directly, you can nudge them along only by picking up on their motivations and then using your controllable Sim to lead them to interaction spots where they can meet those needs.

The point of the date is to keep the two people--one you control and one you lead--on the date as long as possible to see all the cool things in Downtown. There are various social interaction rewards laced throughout the game. Fans of the Sims will recall the "love bed" reward, which you receive if you can get two Sims to make out on the love bed together. In Hot Date, there will be plenty of rewards of that nature. If you manage to keep the date interested throughout the evening, you'll be rewarded with lots of cuddling and making out. Maxis says that the gameplay is controlling one person and using that person to meet the needs of your date, getting him or her to follow you to reward places.

Going out to eat will meet your Sims' food needs.
Going out to eat will meet your Sims' food needs.

Of course, like in much of real life, the way you get your date to follow you is by taking out your wallet. Everything costs money in Downtown. You need to pay to get into clubs, buy food at restaurants, and buy items when shopping. By using your money, you can boost your date's mood--once you've picked up on what motivates him or her, of course. In the regular game, if you want to meet a Sim's need for nice food, you might buy an expensive refrigerator. Of course, on a date, you can instead just go out and buy food for your date and thus meet his or her expensive food needs. By using Downtown, you can thus satiate the appetites of Sims, but without having to buy permanent solutions for them, like the fridge.

To actually get a date going, you can go to Downtown and just pick up a datable NPC hanging out there. Or you can invite a Sim to a date over the phone. With Hot Date, a new option will be granted when talking to Sims on the phone: a date option. You can call a person up and ask him or her to meet you in Downtown for a date. Seconds later, a taxicab will arrive at your doorstep. You can step in and your next stop will be Downtown, where your date will be waiting.

Downtown

Excessive signs of public affection will anger the old hag.
Excessive signs of public affection will anger the old hag.

Once you get to Downtown, a number of options are open to you. You'll need them, because dates can be fickle, with lots of different needs and motivations. Thankfully, there is a lot to do in Downtown.

In Downtown, the list of activities includes dining in restaurants, going to the beach and park, dancing, and shopping. There will be a variety of restaurants in Downtown, including a '50s diner, a cheap eats joint, and a classy, expensive restaurant. We saw a club with a small dance floor, where you can indulge in disco with your date. And of course, you can go shopping. You can buy roses, necklaces or a teddy bear, and even clothing, like lingerie, for your date. When your Sims are sleeping, they usually wear the same boring pajamas that everyone else wears. But if you go to Downtown, you can buy some lingerie for yourself or your date, and when you get home, you can wear that particular piece of clothing instead of the default jammies. At the park, you'll be able to feed the fish, race toy boats, and enjoy a nice picnic in the shade under the trees. Of course, all these activities cost money. The more you have, the more you can get for your date. And the more your date gets, the more he or she will like you. It may be crude, but as the designers say, "In Hot Date, money buys you love."

The end result of Downtown matches the designers' original concept.
The end result of Downtown matches the designers' original concept.

As we stated before, you can call a Sim and arrange for a date in Downtown. Or you can just explore Downtown yourself. If you want to buy yourself some new clothes or go out for a bite to eat, you can. Of course, you can also go to Downtown to pick up people. Hanging around the area will be datable NPCs. These NPCs will be familiar archetypes. Moving on the dance floor of the club, we saw three such NPCs. There was the dark-haired femme fatale, the blonde bombshell, and the cheesy Mr. Medallion. These NPCs will have their own motivations and desires, and you can build relationships with them. Eventually, if you meet their needs and can successfully get them to follow you around, you can build a long-term relationship. That could eventually lead to marriage with the NPC. Then he or she will become a full-fledged member of your Sims household and turn from an NPC into another one of your direct characters. He or she will then live with you and, better yet, bring a dowry with him or her.

Because there is so much to do in Downtown, time will stop while you are on a date. Otherwise, after you get back from a date, the rest of your household will be old or dead. In addition, Downtown itself will be as expensive or fancy as you make it. At this point, the designers don't have a limit on how much you can spend when building Downtown. Obviously, building a classy restaurant is more expensive than a diner, but you will have enough cash to build both or just the fancy one. The choice comes later on when you visit the Downtown you built. If you build an expensive Downtown, your Sim will have to pay through the nose when visiting all its attractions. The cost, rather than being an impediment when building the area, comes into play as an entrance fee to get into the really cool places.

Building Those Relationships

New greeting options will help you win over other Sims.
New greeting options will help you win over other Sims.

To create a new way to interact with Sims, Hot Date is adding many more options to this already deep game. Because the one-on-one relationships are becoming more complex, some changes are being made to the game. There will now be new greeting options. You'll be able to give air kisses now, as well as handshakes. Brags will also be updated to encompass boasting and flexing of muscles. Other Sims will also react differently depending on your greeting. If you give an air kiss to a stranger instead of a handshake, he or she might recoil from you in dismay.

In addition, the relationship bar that previously determined your Sim's relationships with others is changing. There will now be a long-term relationship bar for Sims. The previous relationship bar will now be your short-term relationship indicator. You'll pump up the rating of the long-term bar by building up your relationship over time with a Sim. Thus, you can have many Sims for whom your short-term relationship bar is maxed out, but your long-term relationship bar is practically empty.

Taking someone's hand in marriage is the ultimate goal in Hot Date.
Taking someone's hand in marriage is the ultimate goal in Hot Date.

One of the ways you'll be able to pump up your long-term relationships is by finding common interests with other Sims. A large goal of a long-term relationship in Hot Date is to get a high level of conversation going between two Sims. If you can do that, you can create a connection between the two that will result in a long-term relationship. Thus, Sim interests have been beefed up. You will now be able to build up interests as if they were skills. You can buy magazines to boost these skills and thus improve your rating in an interest. For example, if you want to date the femme fatale and she has a high rating in her romance interest, you can buy some romance novels to boost your own rank in the romance department. When you next meet her, you'll have great conversations with her about romance and she'll be more interested in you. There will be new interests added to complement the old ones, and the total list includes such interests as celebrities, romance, travel, money, and exercise.

Hot Date certainly looks like it will be a fun and welcome addition to the Sims universe. In addition to having the chance to explore a new and expansive location, you'll be able to indulge in dates with other Sims and even work toward the goal of marriage. Of course, the standard array of goodies will be introduced in the expansion pack. There will be lots of new objects for Downtown, including hanging lights, street elements such as trees and lampposts, and new tiles for the beach and park settings. There will be a heart-shaped tub, new wallpapers, doors, windows, awnings, and more. Most of these new objects are meant for Downtown but can also be used to decorate or enhance your own existing home. There will also be new rewards and NPCs available, depending on your actions during the date and where you go on your date. One particularly funny element was the prudish old lady, who hangs out near the club. If she sees you getting too close to your date, she'll come over in a hurry and starting smacking you with her purse.

The wait for Hot Date shouldn't be too long, and when it does ship later this year, another fantasy will be realized for Sims fans everywhere--they will get to pursue the wild and unpredictable life of dating.

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