Full Disclosure: I’m not a Sims player. Sure, I’ve dabbled here and there, spending an hour or two in the original Sims too many years ago, before giving The Sims 2 another chance, but for whatever reason, the games never really clicked with me and I didn’t try Sims 3. That’s not to say, however, that I don’t have a lot of admiration for the franchise or that I’m not fascinated by the concept.
From its humble beginnings as ‘the toilet simulator’ and Will Wright’s original vision for simulating the lives of virtual people (which, as the story goes, took a lot of convincing to get a greenlight for full production), The Sims has gone on to sell well over 125 million units (a figure reached back in 2010) with dozens of expansion packs for the three core games.
To my eyes, The Sims 3 was pretty sophisticated in terms of its simulation and range of experiences available to fans, and while the announcement of The Sims 4 wasn’t an outright surprise I did wonder what Maxis and The Sims Studio could do to dramatically improve the game – something that a non-Sims player would think, certainly.
After sitting in on a presentation of Sims 4 at gamescom 2013 recently, I was truly impressed not only by the new features and flexibility of the tools, but by how the developers even thought of these improvements in the first place.
Crafting a Dream or Concocting a Nightmare
The first thing that we were shown was the brand new Create-A-Sim tool, which is where you’ll spend your time crafting your little virtual avatar for The Sims 4. What’s (very) different this time around is that you’ll now be able to click, drag, push and pull on different parts of your character to customise their look. Do you want your nose to be tiny and petite, or gnarled and twisted? Simply click on the Sim’s nose and drag around the screen to morph it.
What about the eyebrows and eyes, or ears and face – do you want these features to be higher, closer together, larger or further apart? Again, simply by clicking on the feature and pushing around you create a Sim basically exactly in the style that you want, and you can also adjust things like height, weight, fitness level, skin tone, hair and clothes all from within this one tool. For the first time, the team was excited to tell us, you’ll be able to choose a hat and hair style separately from one another which wasn’t possible in The Sims 3.
This is also where you’ll decide the personality of your Sim, and you can choose how he or she walks (with a confident swagger, aggressive sway or petite bob) with the option to preview various emotional states from happy to sad and angry, and everything in-between, which will be very important when you start telling your own stories in the game. More of this just now.
The team at gamescom was also very excited to show off the new building tools in The Sims 4, which are more flexible, in-depth and seemingly intuitive than anything Sims fans have seen before.
For a start, we saw how easy it is to create individual rooms and block out areas simply by – again – pushing and pulling to measure out the space you need. You can then create additional rooms and place them side-by-side, drag out differently shaped rooms and even pick up a room and re-place it. Once a room is set up, you can start decking it out with furniture either by choosing what you want and allowing the game to place it automatically, or you can hand-place individual pieces of furniture to add your own touch.
What happens if you furnish a room and you’re not happy with its placement or layout? Simple: Just pick it all up (with furniture intact) and re-place the room wherever you like.
The new wall tool was also demonstrated to show how players can control the height of different rooms, and you can create various architectural styles in this way. Things like doorways and windows can then be added, again either automatically (where they would be architecturally sound) or exactly where you please. To go with your wall style, you can craft different kinds of roofs in various shapes and configurations by dragging on initial default layouts, and in the demo we saw a tall A-frame roof created in split-seconds.
In the past, the foundation of your house in The Sims has been problematic in that if you don’t begin building with this important part of the structure, you would have to start all over again. In The Sims 4, you’ll be able to add (and adjust the height of) your house’s foundation whenever you like, adding to the feeling of freedom and flexibility that the development team has gone to great lengths to instil.
The Sim is Smart Again, For the First Time
Emotions are very important to The Sims 4 and depending on the emotional state of your Sims, their actions, thoughts and abilities will be positively or negatively affected. In the gamescom demo we witnessed something of a love triangle playing out where two guys were competing for the attention of a single girl.
At first, one of the guys chatting up the girl seemed very confident with dialogue and interaction options to match – simply by looking at his facial expressions and his posture, it was clear to see that he was feeling good about himself. To change the situation, the second guy started playing a sad song on his violin, which immediately changed the emotional state of the first guy from happy to sad and depressed – his expression and posture changed, his interaction options changed completely, and he lost the girl’s interest.
In this way, Sims 4 players will be able to affect the emotions of their Sims with music, pictures, objects, interactions and special tools, like a voodoo doll, in order to change the narrative of their story. You can also use a Sim’s emotional state in order to build up certain skills more quickly, for example taking out anger and frustration by working out and increasing that Sim’s athletic abilities and confidence in the process.
The demo team was also keen to point out something that may seem trivial, but is important to note: Intelligent social interaction amongst Sims. At a table off to the side of the love triangle scene, three Sims were sitting down and chatting, taking turns to talk and turning to one another to listen. It all made for a much more realistic and believable scene in the game.
“To the Moon, Alice!”
The demo closed with the confirmation that Sims 4 players will be able to pursue an astronaut career in the game, with the chance to build a rocket in your backyard and explore outer space, at which time we got a chance to play around with the Create-A-Sim tool.
I’m happy to confirm that crafting your own Sim in the game will be just as easy and intuitive as the demo led me to believe and after a few minutes I had created a reasonable facsimile of myself, before blowing out the avatar’s proportions to throw together a ghoulish creation that could have been mistaken for a malnourished extra in a vampire movie. It looked eerily similar to something I had seen moments before, somehow.
The Sims 4 – First Look Official Gameplay Trailer
The Sims 4 is out in 2014 on PC and Mac. I can’t say with confidence that this will be the one to pull me in and convince me to spend countless hours in the Sims universe, but I’ll definitely be giving it a chance to impress me again next year.
Follow El33tonline’s coverage of gamescom 2013 for our continued impressions from the show this year, with photos, sights, sounds and more to come.