The Sims: Vacation Preview

Isn't it about time your sims had a break? Read our preview of Vacation and learn all about this exciting add-on.

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There's no doubt about The Sims' worldwide popularity. The numbers don't lie--since the release of the first game in May 2000, Maxis' Sims franchise has sold well over 2.6 million units in North America alone, and significantly more if you consider Europe and Australia. Obviously, the notion of having to manage all aspects of a family, from building a dream house to finding the ideal career, has struck a chord among gamers from all walks of life. And as we've stated before, because The Sims emulates common, everyday life, it has an infinite amount of content from which to draw upon for add-ons and expansion packs. And in fact, there have been three expansion packs for the game already--Livin' Large, House Party, and Hot Date--each of which adds more objects to decorate your house with and expands the basic gameplay structure of the original The Sims a little bit.

Your sims have earned a little R&R--Vacation will let them relax on sun-soaked beaches...
Your sims have earned a little R&R--Vacation will let them relax on sun-soaked beaches...

The wildest tangent (and the best-selling, incidentally) of these expansion packs was Hot Date, as it was the first time that the game let your sims initiate and maintain a social life outside of the house--something fans of the series have been craving for a long time. The designers at Maxis are proud of what they accomplished with Hot Date. The ability to take your sims to a neutral downtown area that you could construct from the ground up, if you so wished, was a new direction for the Sims franchise. But admittedly, the designers wanted to do more--they wanted sims to have a more fulfilling life outside of their homes. Hot Date let you explore a downtown area of shops, restaurants, and boutiques, yes, but you could only take one sim and a date with you. And there was a clear separation between the downtown area and your sims' house, in that time stood still while you were out on your date and nothing that you did in downtown really affected your normal life back home.

This desire to improve upon the concepts introduced by Hot Date led to the creation of The Sims' fourth expansion pack, Vacation. Of course, like the other add-ons, Vacation will add hundreds of new household objects, including furniture and appliances, as well as new décor themes and new construction tools that make adding new floors to your existing house easier than before. But the expansion pack will focus on several new gameplay elements that will be truly unique to The Sims universe, the most important of which are new familial relationships between sims parents and their sims children and an entirely new resort area called Vacation Island. It's this latter addition that will be the biggest draw for fans of The Sims.

...and frolic in powdery snow.
...and frolic in powdery snow.

The Vacation Island area is a lot like Downtown from Hot Date. It's a separate area that your Sims will be able to go to for a little R&R by simply calling a cab, and like Downtown, Vacation Island is completely customizable. This destination resort--it's actually three resorts in one--has it all, including camping grounds, fishing spots, sandy beaches, and powdery snow, and you can build it and expand upon it as you see fit. You'll have an unlimited budget with which to build hotel resorts, erect equipment rental shacks, and even set up an entire carnival--complete with carnies--in order to keep your sims entertained.

Let's take a closer look at what's involved in taking a vacation.

Not Exactly the Griswalds

Snowboarding is one of the new activities that your sims will be able to participate in.
Snowboarding is one of the new activities that your sims will be able to participate in.

Perhaps Chevy Chase put it best when he said that getting there was half the fun of a vacation. Thankfully, getting to Vacation Island won't exactly be as disaster-ridden as the Griswalds' road trip in National Lampoon's Vacation. In fact, getting your sims to take a vacation will be a cinch. Simply pick up the phone, call a cab, and your sims will be whisked away to an island resort. When you get to Vacation Island, time back home will stand still, much like it did when you left the house in Hot Date, but with a few changes. The designers at Maxis didn't want your sims to go on vacation forever, so they've added some gameplay mechanics that'll keep a constant level of pressure on you while away from home. The first, and most basic, of these changes is that your friendships will decay while you're away, even though time is technically standing still. In order to keep your friendship scores intact, you'll have to buy postcards and send them back home to all your buddies, lest they start resenting your sim and his or her new tan.

The other form of constant "pressure" on your sims will be one that most people are all too familiar with: money problems. While you have an unlimited budget with which to build and create your own Vacation Island, much like you designed your Downtown in Hot Date, you'll have to carefully manage your simolian budget while your family is actually on vacation at the island resort. Everything costs money on the island. Want to set up a beach volleyball court? That'll cost you. Want to build a snowman? You'll have to rent the equipment to do so, and that'll cost you. Want to buy gifts from the gift shop? Yup, that'll cost you. Even the hotels will charge you on a nightly basis for every one of your family members. The Maxis designers are still deciding whether to make this budget separate from your savings back home or not, but the length of your stay on the island will be directly determined by how well you manage your funds.

Playing arcade games will keep your sims' moods high.
Playing arcade games will keep your sims' moods high.

Of course, there will be ways to offset this financial burden. For one thing, Vacation Island will have several boardwalks with games that feature Maxis' sense of humor--games like Whack-a-Will and arcade cabinets of Sim Mars and Seal Clubber 2: Barley's Revenge. Strewn among these games will be slot machines that will occasionally pay out some money that your sims can use to extend the length of their vacation. Your sims will also be able to rent a metal detector from one of the island's equipment shacks and scour the sand for coins and other valuable items that'll also let them stay longer. You can even go the cheap route and forgo hotels altogether in favor of tents and igloos. Sure, sleeping under the stars will degrade your sims' comfort levels a bit, but it'll be a lot cheaper than paying for an expensive hotel room. Besides, your sims will be able to mess around inside the tents the same way they did in the restaurant booth in Hot Date.

Fun for the Whole Family

Vacation will also introduce the concept of souvenirs to The Sims. These collectible items can be acquired many ways--you can cash in your tokens from carnival games, you can find them with your metal detector, or you can simply buy them from the gift shop--and they vary wildly. Souvenirs are usually simple relics, and they include everything from a quartz crystal to a wooden statue of an ancient fertility god--you can even find a pirate's buried treasure chest. When you acquire them, souvenirs automatically go into your sims' inventory, and when your sims go back home, they'll appear in a specially made cabinet and will increase the value of all the household items and furniture within their vicinity. They'll also attract any houseguests you have, and if you gather a large enough crowd around this cabinet, your sim will actually reminisce about the vacation through thought bubbles. If you want, you can also pick up any of these souvenirs and place them anywhere in your house.

One of Vacation Island's areas is perfect for camping and fishing.
One of Vacation Island's areas is perfect for camping and fishing.

The Sims: Vacation will also have certain types of items that can't be found or bought. Maxis is referring to these as "super souvenirs," and they're intended to reward players who manage to pull off a successful vacation. After all, the game will let you take your entire family with you to Vacation Island, and kids have a notorious tendency toward deviance when on vacation. Whenever your kids' moods drop below a certain level, they'll start to become rowdy and end up performing headache-inducing acts like kicking passersby, stealing items from the gift shop, shoving carnies, force burping, armpit farting, and throwing temper tantrums. If the island's vacation director--a character that Maxis likens to Hot Date's cranky old lady--catches your Sims' kids being bad, you'll get slapped with a hefty fine. Of course, new social interactions like scolding or play fighting should keep your kids in line and your sanity in check. There are also "family fun" objects, as Maxis calls them, that'll raise the spirits of your entire family at once. These include things like snowmen and sandcastles, which can be constructed by all members of the family at once. If you do manage to keep the mood levels of all your family members high throughout the course of your vacation, you'll be rewarded with the super souvenir--like a massive golden sun--which amplifies the social and financial bonuses of the standard souvenirs.

Playing carnival games is one of the ways that your sims can get souvenirs.
Playing carnival games is one of the ways that your sims can get souvenirs.

Of course, Vacation will be a Sims game, and when you get right down to it, most Sims players just want to collect more stuff. Obviously, Vacation will deliver. The expansion pack is going to have 143 new objects--not counting all the souvenirs--like a polar bear rug, picnic blanket, miniature golf castles, venetian blinds, lodge doors, reversible art deco windows, marble columns, winding waterslides, stone fireplaces, and many types of new foliage. And what's more, all the items from Vacation Island--the arcade machines, the beach chairs, you name it--can be bought and placed in your home. The resort has three separate themes, so there'll be plenty of new objects for closet interior decorators to enjoy.

Maxis' previous expansion packs for The Sims have consistently been satisfying additions to the original game, and we have no doubt that Vacation will be no different. Naturally, the company plans on creating a strong Web community for Vacation, as it does with all its games, so you can expect a feature like "island exchange" to be available right around the time of this add-on's release. Look for it in late March.

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