Developer : Maxis
Format : PC and Mac
1999
Rating : *

A sickeningly soulless and Disneyfied version of Little Computer People, which embodies the worst flaws of the "Gaia Hypothesis" approach to simulation in resource management games. There is no AI (hardly even path-finding logic). It's like a statisticians version of reality, where tweaking the thermostat affects the happiness, mentality and buying habits of Mr. and Mrs. Joe Sixpack and their 2.4 children (and 0.8 dogs). Theme Park and Theme Hospital's take on this concept is far more cynical and therefore much more satisfying. Those are hardly classics either though.

The Sims is not exactly the greatest game of all time. For Power, Water and Pollution read Hunger, Fun and Hygiene. You don't "choose every aspect" of your Sims' life - you basically get 8 or so random stats and a poorly-skinned stick figure, and then have to build their home. Never has a game offered so much to tweak yet felt so utterly, suffocatingly restrictive. Basically the SC3000 engine (plasticcy graphics, curmudgeonly, illogical interface, slow) with Quake 2 (.md2) people walking around. You can personalise the game about as much as a Tamagotchi. To add insult to injury (in the event that you'd actually paid for the game), extremely poor production values are evident throughout - the Comic Sans typeface, the five-minutes-in-PSP title art, the jarringly unfunny writing.

"Look, look, you can buy your Sim a computer -- and they play Sims on it! What an interesting philosophical question that poses!" No, it doesn't - it's a cheap gimmick that's been around almost as long as we've had simulations. Basically, I've got things to do, people to frag, and the prospect of building a 'dream home' and then following the occupants around and ensuring they wipe their asses is not greatly appealing. (Especially when the animation is this bad... Paul Steed shits better character animation than this.)

Will Wright should take this nonsense back to the Mac, where it belongs, along with the other 'thought provoking classics' (lame, shitty non-games) like Myst and Riven. Oh, and if you're wondering, Transport Tycoon is vastly superior to the entire Maxis back catalogue. So there. Hopefully this sorry episode sounds the death-knell for the increasingly anachronistic Sim series.

The main problem with The Sims is that it acts as a highly accurate simulator of people with null personalities, and therefore its casual gamer fanbase feel right at home. Will Wright must be laughing his ass off that he can manipulate people so easily. How ironic.

Unlike in Sim City, downvoting this writeup will not change my behaviour.

In response to Milen : Sim City was open-ended because there was tangible progress. In The Sims, there is very little to do except micromanage your supposedly intelligent Sims. Everything is presented to the player from the word go, and you simply have to play the game as the designers intended to accumulate cash. The only alternative is to neglect your Sims (for about five minutes) putting the game into a stalemate. By comparison, Sim City offers a vast amount to do.

And is it really different? On one hand it borrows liberally from previous Maxis games, and the Creatures series, and on the other, the Japanese have long had a genre of life sims which are much more focussed and believable than The Sims.

I agree that there definitely is something wrong in the industry that means the need to make money stifles publishers' will to experiment, but there are still many truly original games released each year. I think it's amazing that The Sims got made considering EA's stringent qualtiy assurance - the game smacks of amateurism. Originality is good, but the game has to deliver on the original premise to work.Just being different is not enough.

Gamespot recently rated The Sims game of the year for 2000, over Deus Ex. Words cannot begin to describe how utterly laughable this is. It's like Plan 9 From Outer Space beating Citizen Kane to the Academy Award for Best Picture. Even the bloody Interactive Entertainment BAFTA for Best PC Game went to Deus Ex, and the judges for that are hardly even sentient.

However fun it is to create the perfect family and put them in perfect relationships with highly successful jobs and more green bars on their mood rating scale, this game can also bring out the worst in people.

From the same people that made cities in Sim City just so that they could play God and destroy it, this game also gives you the ability to express your sadistic desires.

You'd be surprised at how many people create families just to watch them wallow in misery and their own feces. Try forgetting to give them a toilet or fridge or shower or garbage can. Try locking your Sims in 1x1 rooms with no windows or doors. Time how long it takes before they go insane, break out and kill everyone.

The most appealing part of this game to some people is death. How many different ways can you cause your Sims to die miserable, gruesome deaths? Patrick Buechner, Maxis's marketing director, even claims "It's part of the power trip. If you can't have bad things happen, you lose the sense of drama. That's why there's death in the game. That's why you can drop people in the pool and then remove the ladders so they can't get out."

Although The Sims's manual doesn't exactly encourage you to torture your creations, it does say this.
"Having a conscience is not a prerequisite to playing The Sims; sometimes it can even get in the way."

This is a game by Maxis the same people that make Sim City, Sim City 2000, Sim Ant, Sim Farm, and a slew of other Sim games. Basically this one is a Life Simulator.

I just bought this game and played it late into the night last night. The only problem was the irony of the situation. It kept smacking me in the face like a sock full of quarters. I bought it because I was feeling sorry for myself. Over the weekend I hooked up with a girl on Friday, but on Saturday she was running around with some other guy. And then there I was, with all my failed attempts at relationships, trying to get simulated people into good relationships. I'm probably going to suck at this game too. I hate when games point out my flaws, but damn it is a fun game.

See the point of this game is to create and maintain happy little sims. You buy them things, decorate their houses, get them to interact with other sims, form relationships, cheat on current love interests, starve them, etc. The one option I wish they would add is the ability for sims to assassinate one another. That would be pretty fun.

One of the cool features of this game are the additions that Maxis releases. From the Sims web site you can download all sorts of new goodies for the game. Some of them are not necessarily good (like the hamster incident). You can get new sims, new furniture, new toys, new food, etc. There also seems to be a pretty good community of players on the internet, that trade custom skins, strategy tips, hacks, and more.

Maybe this game isn't a graphical feat, or even that original, but it is kinda fun and addictive. Still I never play it anymore. Why spend time building up the wealth of your little sims so you can torture them in fun ways when you can just strap on a rocket launcher and frag people in Quake III Arena?

www.thesims.com

Hey look at me re-posting a nuked node! Going against the system, w00t! Ok, so I made improvements too, which I WOULD HAVE DONE if asked. I ain't no newbie, and this may come as a shocker to some, I actually give a shit about some of my writeups.

(Written partly in response to fondue's review. I hope he does not use his connections with the EDB to get even for this....)

The Sims are, certainly. a special, gut-wrenching flavor of awful. You build a house, then create little polygonal people to live in that house. You can either let them live their own lives, or micromanage their daily existence... and left to their own devices, they do a pretty bad job. These unintelligent shape collages, who speak in a primitive symbol language, fill their empty lives by choosing from between several mostly identical career tracks in an attempt to earn more and more money, which allows them to litter their home with a wider variety of junk. In some ways, The Sims resembles a roleplaying game without any of that boring combat and magic, one in which the characters spend their entire lives in the Outfitters' Shop.

Yes, these are things wrong with The Sims. It is easy to look at it and say "Wow, look at all these things it does wrong!" And indeed, it is often instructive to do so. How could they have made a game with such obvious flaws?

The answer, of course, is that they were not obvious when the game was in development, because no one has really tried anything like it previously.

Little Computer People? Yes, a brilliant design, but it was more like a virtual pet (predating Tamagotchi by at least a decade) than this.

The Sims is notable for being an open-ended game in an era in which players expect every game to be "winnable." For giving people very entertaining and different play objectives in which there are no absolute, right answers. (How many games present players with the task of making a room look nice?) For offering extreme expandability through the introduction of entirely new classes of items, downloadable over the Internet. For presenting players with real-life situations, problems, and even lifestyles, and thus becoming, in some tiny way, an agent for social change. (Some of these elements, such as homosexuality, it is granted have no basis in the software whatsoever. But it is a strength of The Sims that the game is open to interpretation.) But most importantly, The Sims is different. Different from whatever came before.

The computer game industry is a strange one. I am of the too-considered opinion that it is possible to make any concept, activity, profession, hobby, indeed anything that can be imagined, into an interesting, playable computer game. The approach necessary to do so for some things may not ever be discernable to a human being, but it is still possible. This is a medium with such rich potential, so many possibilities. But the industry has entered a long, dark period, when people actually consider "innovation" to merely be the introduction of new weapons into what is basically DOOM with better graphics, or better scripting, or better level design tools, or new types of deathmatch play. This is so for a number of reasons, has been so for quite some time, and maybe will always be so, to some extent. But at this time, it has gotten to the point where new, interesting, wonderful in the literal sense of the world, different games can't even get made anymore in the industry's stilted, me-too, marketing-driven atmosphere. From reading interviews with designer Will Wright, it seems a miracle that The Sims even got made. Even Maxis, the people who published SimCity, were standoffish.

There are certainly flaws in The Sims. Maybe some of these will be addressed in a later iteration of the software. However, even if The Sims was the worst piece of software ever produced, it would still have a place in my heart, for daring to being different. I do not often agree with the opinions of the mainstream gaming press, but on this point, I believe Gamespot was right on the money.

The Great Trash Heap has spoken! Nyaah!

(Response to fondue)
Yes, it's different. It's so much better than all those Japanese lifesims in two important respects: A. It doesn't make you feel vaguely icky, or at least, not in the same way. Girlfriend simulators, indeed. B. Because it *is* open-ended, and isn't so focused. There's no pre-existing story in The Sims. The game isn't some experience preconceived by the developer that the player is forced to run through, no matter how many "endings" Princess Maker 2 might have. The game itself doesn't pass judgements on the player at all. It doesn't tell him what is happening so much as show.

Each Sim is not terribly complex. There is really not a whole lot happening under the surface for these guys. The strength of the game is that it's just specific enough to be playable while being sufficiently vague that the player can read his own motivations into their behavior.

A lot of The Sims is smoke and mirrors. This is, in fact, very hard to do compellingly.

As for being different not being enough... when it comes right down to it, it's all there is, and is astoundingly difficult to do. Take it from me.

The Sims is the first commercial product using Pie Menus to sell more than 4 million units.

Pie Menus are a naturally efficient user interface technique: directional selection of pie slice shaped targets. The cursor starts out in the center of the pie, so all targets are large, nearby, and in different directions. Fitts' Law explains the advantages of pie menus, relating fast selection speed and low error rate to large target size and small distance. Pie menus are easy for novice users, who just follow the directions, and efficient for experienced users, who can quickly "mouse ahead" once they know the way.

A "life simulator" from Maxis, the people who brought you SimCity and other games/software toys in that franchise. Wildly popular; the original game and its three "expansion packs" (The Sims: Livin' Large, The Sims: House Party, and The Sims: Hot Date) have sold millions of copies. The franchise is still going strong. The Sims still sells well, despite having been released in 1999.

The basic shape of gameplay is simple. Decide on the composition of a family (parents, kids, whatever), build them a house, and then micromanage their tedious little lives according to such quantified needs as tiredness, hunger, and requirement for social stimulation. They can make friends with each other and their neighbours, strive toward career advancement, and buy stuff.

Everything is handled with numbers. Not just the way all the stuff in the digital world is handled with numbers on some level, but right up in your face numbers, with values assigned for the comfortableness of couches and degree of being in love and knack for creativity and how bad your Sims need to pee.

The Sims is phenomenally addictive at first, for days or even weeks at a time, just like a Tamagotchi. You play for hours and hours and hours straight, trying to learn all its secrets. But, just like a Tamagotchi, it's profoundly limited in certain important ways, and once you've seen what it can do within its limits, you never want to play with it again.

The appeal of The Sims is in seeing what clever behaviours the programmers designed your little electronic beings to carry out. Cooking is a fairly complex activity, and it can be modified in several ways -- on its most fundamental level, it only involves a refrigerator and a stove, but you can buy your Sims a food processor or a microwave or any number of other little toys, each of which modify the cooking process. It's fun to see how your Sims behave differently when you buy them new stuff.

As such, one of the The Sims's major selling points is the availability of player-created downloads -- new furniture, new appliances, new plumbing fixtures, new clothes for your Sims, and so on. That's mostly a sham. What you can download is new graphics, which are nifty for a while, but you can't get around the fact that the Sims' behaviour doesn't change. A bed's still a bed, a toilet's still a toilet. Maybe you can buy a set of knives, but it's just a food processor with a different graphic. The expansions look different and might have different numbers associated with them, but they don't really expand the game in any meaningful way, because they don't come with new behaviours. For that, you have to buy Maxis's expansion packs ... and the new activities they bring are really no great shakes.

This is the major gameplay problem. There are smaller ones.

Many of the downloads follow themes. You can have your Sims live in a medieval castle, or a mad scientist's lab, if you want, which seems cool, but there are no lifestyles to match -- you're stuck with the career tracks of modern suburbanites, and a cute papergirl still delivers the newspaper to your front lawn every morning. The "conceit", the consensual hallucination on which the game is based, is blown away like those houses near the end of Terminator 2. What kind of a medieval overlord has to call the police when a burglar in a mime costume breaks in?

The lack of complexity in the Sims's lifestyles is alarming, sociologically. They live in a suburb, and their whole reason for existing is to work and buy new and better stuff, so as to make recovering for the next day's work easier. That's it. That's the whole story. Yes, it's much like a real life, and it's supposed to be, but the game simulates the most boring parts of it. The heights of human experience are mechanized. It's positively easy to make Sims fall in love (tell jokes and give gifts, and you can go from strangers to married couple in one evening of game time). Promotions come automatically once you've reached certain ability scores.

So what?

The baseline activity of a game like NetHack, for instance, is interesting in itself: exploring turf and whomping monsters. There are tactics to apply to meet challenges, and that's fun. The vast array of unusual happenings NetHack players face is all bonus. The baseline activity of The Sims is tedious: sleeping, eating, pooping, and going to work. And you have to spend staggering amounts of time in those activities in order to have an occasional spot of out-of-the-ordinary fun, like hosting a party.

In an effort to get their Sims to do new stuff, players are renowned for behaving in near-psychotic ways. They revel in setting fire to them with faulty cookware, drowning them in swimming pools, starving them, demolishing their marriages and getting them into orgiastic lifestyles. Some critics say this is an insight into the average First Worlder's mind and soul; I think it's a reaction to a game that gets boring rapidly.

A recent study, made by a fictional scientist group inside my head, tried to examine the effects of using The Sims as a way to convey the basic principles of life to a group of small children.

The children were locked in a room for 6 years with The Sims being their only form of information and entertainment.

The study showed several common effects of the game on the poor children:

  • They like eating a lot of pizza
  • They use the bathroom a whole lot more than a usual person
  • They sometimes go to sleep on the floor
  • They bury their relatives in the place of their death, complete with grave piece and
  • They are terrified of house fires
  • They talk almost exclusivly about the weather, transportation and ballgames.
  • They can't do more than one thing in any given moment (listening to music and cooking for example)
  • They sometimes stand in front of common hosuehold objects and clap with joy
  • They are very environmental and always prefer carpools over private cars
  • They are suckers for swimming pools
  • They don't change clothes
  • They kiss in slow motion
  • They can't think for themselves
  • They don't reproduce. have sex. fuck. never. ever.
The career tracks in The Sims are admittedly bland and typical of a stereotypical "soulless, capitalist society". But an official, "work for the man" job isn't the only choice available to your sims.

One alternative to a traditional career is freelance artistry; a sim with lots of "creativity points" can live comfortably by selling one picture a day. They have more free time, and have fun "working," too. This source of income surpasses the lowest paid jobs, and gives your sim the same freedom any real-life freelance worker would have.

Contrary to popular suspicion, the game itself isn't overly geared towards a typical capitalist lifestyle; this is evident from the remarks in the descriptions for highly paid jobs ("better pay, but will there be time left for your family and friends?") and the sims' actions - movie stars have a higher propensity for bragging than sports mascots in fluffy tiger suits. The sims themselves are geared towards the path of least resistance. Painting for a living isn't viable until a sim can paint, but a sim can pick up a newspaper and get a job straight away. In some subtle aspects, The Sims is an accurate reflection on western society. Rampant materialism will only devour you if you allow it to.
On a more general note, I've found The Sims a rewarding game to play from the standpoint of examining its behavioural algorithms. To date, I have watched two sims (at different times, from different households) apparently commit suicide after missing their carpools by about one minute. In both cases they changed for work, watched their car leave, screamed for several minutes, curled up in the foetal position and died. At the time, I was utterly disturbed.

The real problem with The Sims is time. Plain and simple time. It is supposed to be a simulation of real life, but the clock moves way too fast. Your people move about their little home at roughly the same speed you move about your own home. But that 2 minute onscreen toilet trip takes 36 minutes of game time. Actually getting out of bed, eating breakfast, going to the bathroom, showering, and walking outside to the carpool is easily an hour and a half, assuming your Sim doesn't get stuck waiting for someone else to complete their 20 minute pee break.

Have you ever tried to actually have a successful little party while playing The Sims? It is over by the time you manage to answer the door for everyone who comes.

No wonder this game is such a depressing portrayal of real life. Imagine if it took you two hours to make it out of bed and to the front door. Sure, you might actually take a couple of hours to do this in real life, but most people do it in far less, and almost everyone can rush it if they have to. Imagine if the quickest possible meal you could eat took 30 minutes to prepare, 20 minutes to eat, and 20 minutes to clean up. Imagine if it took you a half hour to walk from the car to the living room.

The only way short of cheating that I have found to have a successful family in The Sims is to have one worker, and several people that stay home (children that like to clean are a good choice). Families with multiple workers usually quickly fall apart. Forget about having a single Sim, they will usually be blubbering to themselves with depression in a couple of weeks, unable to get any socialization done because their hands are full just trying to make it to work everyday.

What would have made this game about a hundred times better would be to slow down the clock to realtime (you could always speed it up when doing long tasks anyway). That would be so much better than watching your Sim hopelessly fail at trying to do things because they ran out of time.

Basically, real people don't take 20 minutes to walk from one room to another and that is exactly what is wrong with The Sims.

As an aside, it is interesting to view the AI from The Sims as an implementation of J. J. Gibson's ecological approach to vision. In this approach, Gibson states that animals view the world in terms of affordances rather than the traditionally assumed things like shapes, colours and textures. An affordance represents what the environment can offer the organism doing the viewing (Gibson, 1979). For example, when a human views a chair, it doesn't see a collection of cleverly arranged surfaces, it sees something that it can sit on and which will support its weight. When a fox views a rabbit it sees something that it can eat, rather than a small, fast moving, furry object.

The "smart terrain" (Cass, 2002) in The Sims is engineered in a very similar way to this notion of affordance-based vision. When agents (characters) in The Sims view an object, they don't see a pizza or a pool table, they see a set of value modifiers and the instructions to access these modifiers. For example, a pizza may offer to decrease an agent's hunger by a number of points and its instructions may include an animation for eating the pizza (McLean-Foreman, 2001). This is a fantastic approach to game AI for two reasons. First, because most of the behaviour instructions are contained (passively) within environmental objects, agent AI can (as fondue pointed out above) be very shallow (just determining which values it wants to satisfy, and choosing the best objects to do this) and therefore computationally cheap (so the AI doesn't mess with the precious framerate). Second, the original game is inherently extensible. When the developer wants to add new objects to the world of The Sims, all it has to do is create these objects insuring that they use the right set of instructions (modify existing values and provide a suitable animation) and they can drop them straight into the world. This ease is probably the reason for the cynically large number of expansion packs currently available for The Sims.

It is not known whether the developers at Maxis were aware of Gibson's work during the development of The Sims, but it is interesting to see the similarities between the two ideas. The AI in The Sims simplifies the issue a great deal (well it is a game after all), but it is clear to see that reasoning about acting in an environment is a lot easier when the low-level details (how to connect shapes into objects etc.) are abstracted away. In The Sims this abstraction is done by the object designer. Who knows what does it in humans and other animals?


Gibson, J. J. (1979). The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Houghton Mifflin.
Cass, S. (2002). Mind Games. http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/WEBONLY/publicfeature/dec02/mind.html
McLean-Foreman, (2001). An Interview with Will Wright. http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20010501/wright_01.htm
It is worth noting that with the splitting-up of Electronic Arts into four parts - and forgoing any comparison to hydra, amoebae, or flatworms, The Sims now have an entire company dedicated to the development of games, expansion packs, and such along the lines set out by the original game and by The Sims 2.

This development, while possibly frightening to some, is also logical given the incredible amount of profit Electronic Arts makes off the franchise. It seems that the open-ended gameplay so decried by some is incredibly popular amongst the perhaps-not-so-"gaming savvy". Perhaps some people enjoy the conscious-or-not reversion to the days when they used to play with dolls or perhaps G.I. Joe. Perhaps they like the idea of being able to utterly ruin the lives of little computer people. Or maybe they enjoy being able to simulate living something nicer than their drab, wretched lives.

Whatever the case, it seems like The Sims will be around for a good, long time.

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