The Sims: Online
I've Got a deep love for god games. Blame Populous. I used to be at the monitor for days at a time overseeing all that shepherding and destruction. I'd mastered just about every new title right up until 2000, when Will Wright unleashed his simulation of life upon the world. The Sims reigns as the non-hardcore gamer's k title of choice, a cash B cow (like all narcotics) I that leaves non-players I wondering why waiting I for a digital avatar to I go to the toilet is I so captivating.
It was only a matter of time until we saw an online version. And here it is, in massively multiplayer form. But rather than being a game, it turns out to be more of an online environment. From afar it resembles The Sims, but even a i short session reveals TSO as a different beast. Gone is the god-like control, and with it the voyeuristic pleasure of watching a community develop and interact. Since all Sims here are players, TSO emphasises interaction between them; walling another person's Sim into a room to die isn't so easy when they can just log off. Lurid peeper instincts can. fortunately, still be indulged, but unless you wade into the fray you won't get much out the whole experience.
Trouble is, you might not get much out of it even if you do. TSO is, if it's possible, even more open-ended than The Sims, and while that's good on paper, and the first few days can be fun, when the shine wears off it starts to feel too much like... life.
Start me up
Things get going very quickly. Choosing the look and the lifestyle of your Sim is painless, after which you can roam free. The popular places bookmarked in the game's simple, well-designed interface make it easy to find people to talk to. Using the city map, you can either wander into an existing structure or find yourself that perfect plot of green and pleasant land on which to build.
But while making your Sim is a breeze, building the little bugger a house is not. The build interface is clunky, slow and somewhat frustrating, and your sim stands around to watch you build, so you'll have to take a break from building your palace in order to take them to the bathroom - no small task when you're in the middle of a plumbing install. Domicile layout takes patience and plenty of trial and error. Think of your house as a project in evolution. Starter homes are small.
Larger pieces of land carry a price penalty when purchased without the aid of a roommate, putting them out of reach of beginners - rewards in TSO do not come to loners. Roommates are simply other players recruited to pool resources and share expenses. Of course, there's always a fair chance you'll end up sharing with psychos who steal your food and CDs, but without the financial benefit of roommates, don't even bother dreaming about building that playboy mansion you've always wanted in real life. It's your choice, so take your risks.
Money Is Always The Thing
Cash is the underpinning factor, but also the downfall of the game. It flows from two sources: jobs and visitors. Instead of using The Sims' career scheme. Sims in TSO have skills which combine with job objects to earn cash. Job objects are simply furniture or workstations which can be interacted with and generate money, ranging in size from individual units like a workbench or blackboard, to a hulking pizza-making machine which requires four Sims to operate. If it sounds dry, that's because it is.
Appropriately, skill levels are built by practicing on skill objects - a creative skill can be built by standing around playing the guitar, for example. Skills max out at ten points, but that level decays, so if you quit going to the gym your body skill will sag like an old codger's bicep. Theoretically, the skill system is a charm. But you'll stand around a lot waiting for your Sim to learn skills, as the skill and job objects have little to no interaction with the player. The idea is that people will talk while their Sims learn, but in practice it isn't always so. Wandering into a room full of people silently reading or scribbling on blackboards is not uncommon.
Of course, you don't have to work in an office or a shop if you don't fancy it. Larger, established houses will offer work to those who need it, typically doing things like cleaning and maintenance. During one session, I wandered into a club frequented by women and was offered a position as a male cage dancer. Yeah, I took it. but the tips were lousy, so I quit. Sadly though, most players seem to stick to the job objects, which doesn't evolve the game.
When you've got a home, either as owner or roommate, visitors will generate you a cash bonus simply by sticking around for a while. You can charge them to get in the door or for food, and you can provide job objects where they'll earn money for themselves and you. Luring them there in the first place is another story.
I Wish I Was Special
Just like in real life, the other lynchpin of Sim society is popularity, which is linked back to cash. It's the chicken and egg, really, and at a certain point you can't have one without the other. You need to be nice to the people milling about your house so they'll stick around, and so they'll want to come back.
Every idea behind the game is focused upon bringing people together and keeping them there. You can make friends, an interaction which has your Sim presenting a red balloon as the universal symbol of friendship. Like owning an American Express card, belonging to a friendship ring has privileges, not least of which is a greater array of interaction options. Many entertaining ways to express yourself become available as you know more people. The problem is that you can't just go around handing out balloons like a drunken clown - your ability to make new friends is tied to the number of friends you already have, so choose wisely.
There are also a host of Top 100 lists (popularity, affluence etc), ranging in a wide variety of categories, and the game emphasises the benefits of finding your name on these rosters of luminaries. But landing on the list requires a decent amount of hustling, and once you spend all that cash on a big house, you'll need to keep people coming back to stay on the list and pay the bills.
Everyone in TSO is beautiful. You can choose heads and clothing styles that look more like Britney Spears' doddering Aunty Rose than the shimmering popette herself, but no one seems to do so. In-game text reinforces the idea that being beautiful is the road to success. Despite the stats which place a large percentage of players in the 30-60 range, the one person I met who was over 35 was a 55 year-old woman whose Sim looked like Geri Halliwell. By contrast, I built a Sim that was visibly aged and out of style, which promptly led to a punch-up when I tried to talk to the wrong girl.
Differentiating between game design and the play-styles it engenders in the public can be futile, and while it's no fault of Will Wright's that everyone wants to be beautiful, there's nothing in the game that encourages people to create a Sim that wouldn't be at home on a Las Vegas strip stage. The emphasis on cash and beauty leaves the game unbalanced, offering little reward to the player who wants to pursue a different path. This is compounded by the fact that you learn faster and make more money when you're doing the same thing a lot of other people are doing.
It's said that you can create whatever job you want. I went about looking for players who had started a band, and while I found evidence of failed attempts, what I came across most often were dance floors and empty stages with Sims snogging by the speakers. This may change as more objects and designs come into play. The necessity for a consistent set of data for servers and players means that a lot of user mods that made the original game so unique are unavailable. The Sims was strong out of the box, but customisations from the user base have kept it in the charts. I've already sent emails to Maxis asking for a kebab shop job object, but so far it's gone unanswered.
Similarly, many of the little details from The Sims are gone; there are no home invasions or fires. TSO offers modes of interaction which simulate conflict, but the greatest danger anyone faces is being poor. When all the pressure's off, it's very easy to be aimless.
Get To It, Already!
While there's no question that The Sims Online possess a potential addiction, and the severity will vary widely among players. Given the amount of time required to build a Sim into a fully-functioning wage slave, I found myself with little desire to wade through hours of meandering and chatting, especially when I have to drag the guy to the toilet and shower every five minutes as well. When communication between players works, it's a fun environment, as the proven Sim character designs give everyone something to chuckle over. But uncomfortable pauses inevitably occur, and that's when people just wander off. Visually, it's the same Sims presentation, with little or no change to the 3D engine. There is some lag, even on a fast machine with an ADSL connection, but nothing that really harms gameplay. While a 3D upgrade would be nice, the two-year-old Sims engine just about does the job satisfactorily.
My biggest gripe with TSO is that it provides no mechanism for people to overcome their own in-game aimlessness. Without a structure to encourage talk, many players wander through the game engaging in superficial interaction at best. I would have been happier with a job system that required interaction in the early stages, leading to relationships later. Granted, the game will evolve, but that doesn't change the fact that much of what people loved about The Sims isn't present here, and that the new systems are flawed. For ten quid a month plus the entry cost, The Sims Online is too much of a meandering ride.
Download The Sims: Online
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Since its release, The Sims has been nestling in the charts with the tenacity of Meatloafs Bat Out Of Hell album. During its tenure, the game has garnered something of a 'love it or hate it' reputation, and I'd like to throw my weighty opinion into the debate. However, having played it for a couple of weeks, I foolishly lent my copy to a PR person, who, having failed to return it, has been feeding me a tissue of lies ever since. From what I saw, it seemed a reasonable game, and I hope whoever has it is enjoying it. You dirty, thieving mongrel.
Anyway, despite my copy being passed around the games industry like a venereal disease, The Sims is still showing no signs of departing the top ten, its long stay bolstered by frequent add-on packs and a vast online community. The number of user add-ons created by fans since the game's release is quite bewildering, including such useful accoutrements as plaid skirts and moose paintings.
The move into an online version is a natural one then, opening up a whole world of possibilities, not to mention potential pitfalls. Thus far, The Sims has been a defiantly single player experience, and the advent of a massively multiplayer universe will require a certain shift of perspective. No longer will you preside over a collection of Sims, rather you will actually 'become' one (or more), stepping out into a wonderful and frightening world with little more than a pocket full of bollocks.
That's not stricdy true, as each Sim will be allotted a piece of la nd, Resisting the temptation to simply buy a can of Special Brew and sit on your plot hurling abuse at your neighbours, the idea is to actually make something of your virtual life. Sim Capitalism, if you like, as your land can house a business, such as a coffee shop, a museum, a discotheque, a casino, or even a brothel. Power, wealth, reputation and social standing can all be improved, and the idea is to build up a network of friends and all work together in some kind of twisted utopian ideal.
Of course it won't happen like that, as most people are selfish greedy bastards who wouldn't piss on you if you were on fire. This can be reflected in the game, and as the Maxis press release alliteratively states, you can "be a peacemaker or pest, a recluse or rabble-rouser". It also says: "in this open-ended, online world, you choose your role, your attitude and your destiny," which is possibly laying it on a bit thick, but you get the idea.
With cities housing up to 100,000 Sims, the possibilities are there for a vast game in every sense. Clearly it will have to be regulated to guard against such deviant behaviour as foul and abusive language, or decorating your bedroom walls with hardcore pornography. According to designer Will Wright, the hope is that players will strive to entertain each other, with a reward system in place for achieving popularity. It's an intriguing concept, and we will be following The Sims Online closely. Whatever happens, it has to be better than selling tunics to goblins.