|When I was in
seventh grade I spent all my allowance and snow shoveling money on Little Computer People
(LCP), a game unlike any Id ever heard of at the time. It ousted Skate or Die from
my Commodore 128 floppy drive, and quickly had me hooked. LCP turned your computer into a
veritable paradise for some blocky little guy to move into. According to legend, the LCPs
were real, and one would find your house. The first time you loaded it up, the house sat
empty. Soon, there was a knock on the door, and the little computer person would poke his
(or her, I think) head in. The fun didnt stop there. You could interact with your,
dare I say, "simulated" person, mostly through petting and gift giving. Yup, it
was amazing. You could give your little guy a dog, new records, and computer programs. It
was like a Tamagotchi with lots of stuff. Like Seaman without the connotation (mind you, I
was in seventh grade, and I could be wrong about that). The memories are enough to make me
want to fire up my C64 emulator and download a ROM. But Ive opted not to. I know
full well that my fascination with LCP wore off quickly. Instead, Ive been
satisfying my dictatorial urges and manic rage for chaos with The Sims, the people
simulator that makes Little Computer People look like, well, a late 1980s Commodore 64
As weve come to expect from previous Maxis "Sim" titles, The Sims works on an intricate system of management. Here, you manage, down to almost every minute detail, the lives of a neighborhood of families. Youve got to get everybody up for work, off to school, do the chores, make sure theyre enjoying a halfway decent existence, then get them bathed and off to bed in time to do the whole thing the next day. And in The Sims there are no weekends.
You begin with a tutorial that does a great job introducing you to the control system. As with most simulations, you control things through an active toolbar. Via the toolbar, you can access commands, game options, buy furnishings, remodel houses, and access all the data about the family you are currently working with. The Sims sets up a neighborhood, sparsely populated and fairly undeveloped at the outset, and you can bounce from family to family, getting "all up in their business." There are stock families you can choose from, you can create new families, and theres one model family already living in the neighborhood.
Once youve decided which family youll meddle with, you begin the day-to-day routine of their simulated little lives. If you arent a voyeur or a control freak, you might want to get off now. The Sims takes a fair commitment to get really interesting, and the game doesnt have the dramatic flair of managing a whole city, or even a theme park. But Ive found it surprising that such a wide variety of people find themselves very attached to their Sims. Indeed, the game is designed to breed that kind of affection, and the realism of the slightly-more-interesting-than-boring premise helps develop interest. You will have to tell your Sims to use the toilet, and possibly to flush and wash their hands, too. Almost none of them clean up after themselves, so you spend a lot of time nagging them to do that, or else youre soon deafened by the sound of the buzzing flies.
Each Sim has a readout available on the toolbar. The stats include Needs like Hunger, Comfort, Hygiene, Bladder, Energy, Fun, Social, and Room. These Needs are presented in bars that change level according to time and environmental pressures. If Bladder is going down, the Sim needs to use the toilet before he whizzes all over the carpet. Not having Fun? Watch some TV. Different objects satisfy Needs to varying degrees. The big screen TV, of course, is more entertaining than the little Black & White on the wheeled cart. And everyone loves the the jaccuzzi. Some items can be used by groups, like the pinball machine, and others, like the VR unit, are only for individual users. In addition to Needs, your Sim has different skills he or she can develop to get better jobs and promotions. The skills include Cooking, Mechanical, Charisma, Body, Logic, and Creativity. Studying Cooking raises that skill, so you dont start fires fixing food, and playing Chess increases your Logic, useful for getting you promoted from "Test Subject" to "Lab Assistant" at work. I dont know what theyre researching, but
You can also access data about how the different Sims feel about each other. Relationships become friendships at a level of 50 and at 100 theyre full-blown love. Sims can interact with each other in a variety of ways, ranging from simple "Talk" to "Flirt" and even, gasp!, "Kiss." Unfortunately, thats as dirty as it gets. Children come in the form of adoptions, and never grow beyond adolescence. Similarly, your Sims are always young adults, slogging through day after day of the same old stuff. Special events occur, like marriages, promotions, burglaries, and such, but even these are fairly typical. Ghosts do exist in The Sims, so the game is not totally restricted to reality. And since they dont speak any human language, the whole ambiance of The Sims is warped. Which brought out the worst in me.
Now, Im something of a voyeur, but your Sims have an annoying habit of blurring out the nasty bits, and that pretty much killed that aspect of the game. You are also unable to initiate any really scandalous behavior, so the shock factor is pretty slim. I like to excercise a healthy God complex, but Im also as lazy as most of the Sims, so I didnt really get interested, like others have, in trying to balance a "successful" familial existence. As with Little Computer People so long ago, I got bored. So I resorted to madness, and the game became much more interesting.
The GF! family, the Savages, began with Chuck and Debbie. I didnt read the instruction manual, so I didnt realize they wouldnt like each other right away. And I was immediately disappointed at the lack of a doublewide trailer for them to live in. The Sims requires more deviance than that simple "white trash" cliches are too basic. It became apparent, too, that I hadnt paid enough attention to the astrological signs, so Chuck and Debbie took turns hating the other. Solution? I sent Debbie to work every day, and had Chuck start calling on Betty, the love interest of the family you create in the tutorial. In a few days (Sim girls are easy, apparently), Chuck and Betty married, and Betty moved in. Debbie was a little upset, but like a trooper I ordered her to keep going to work and support the lovebirds. Then I had Betty start calling Bob, her former lover, and he came over to meet Chuck. Chuck and Bob hit it off, so well, in fact, that they now love each other, too. And because of the deviance factor I mentioned before, not in a "just friends" kind of way. Amidst all of this, the adoption agency offered the Savages a baby. Im only wondering what the agency will say when Chuck and Bob get married.
The freedom of how you construct, or destruct, your families and neighborhood makes The Sims more than just playing house. There are a lot of ways to customize the game, via skins and codes, and you can even place your MP3s in the radio directory so the Sims listen to your music. The game will also generate a set of HTML files when you save so you can create webpages for your Sim families. The pages are generated nicely, taking advantage of screens youve saved in your Scrapbook, and open up a whole new level of Sim interaction. Just think, people on the internet could play the Sims vicariously through you.
Technically, the game is pretty much at par. It runs nicely, although is susceptible to some slowdown and, rarely, even lockup when hopping between applications. There are a lot of graphics options to help with the slowdown, and they do make things a little snappier. The time systems is odd. Thankfully, it doesnt run in real-time, but rather with minutes ticking off like seconds. Because of that, it can take twenty or thirty minutes to get out of the house. In a similar oddity, the trash can fills up in record time. Three or four piles of trash will top it off.
Its nice to see The Sims responding to the fanatacism that gamers have shown for other Sim hits, and there is already a large following for the people simulator. While it is definitely a niche game, any simulator fan will be intrigued with the premise for at least a little while. Theres a lot to manage in a household, and it requires as much strategy and planning to keep your flowers alive as it does to dominate whole continents in other types of sim-strategy games. Unfortunately, domesticity just isnt as exciting as dominating continents and whatnot. But if The Sims sounds like its your kind of thing, then it most certainly is. The breadth and depth of the game are staggering, and it makes us realize the complexity of our everyday lives.