On February 4, 2000, the day of release, I purchased The Sims; I have not looked back. As well as owning every expansion pack for the original game, I would come to own every expansion and fun stuff pack issued for The Sims 2. I played The Sims Online and tested my meddle on the stranded island of the Wii's The Sims Castaway. A full-fledged website sprung up around my TS2 game, including this blog, and a number of mini-sites that detailed my Legacy families.
Suffice it to say, then, that I am a consummate Sims fan with years of gameplay experience. I feel that I can speak with a little bit of authority on Sims-related issues, and - with this in mind - would like to address some of the unrest I have been hearing in the Sims community concerning the latest addition to the Sims franchise, The Sims 3.
Like others, I was surprised - and initially troubled - to learn that you could only control one family per town, period. Thinking back to the full and colorful 'hoods I controlled in TS2 - filled with a bevy of families and sims that meandered through a delightfully tangled mess of children & grandchildren, in-laws, and cousins - I was sorely disappointed to learn I would not have such control over my towns in TS3.
No longer would I have a hodgepodge of sims and families - some spanning generations - from which to choose to play any time I entered a particular neighborhood. I thought of the many choices facing me when I loaded my TS2 game; which 'hood would I play and, then, which family in that particular 'hood? Would I stay with that family during the full course of my game time, or would I hop around the 'hood and play a family member of that family, or perhaps a completely unrelated sim? I never felt limited in TS2 and it is that very feeling, I believe, that has many Sims fans bothered by TS3.
I, at the first, shared their concerns. I could not fathom a reason for limiting the gaming experience so in this new edition; how could any true Simmer be content being stuck with just one family for the whole of their experience in any given town/neighborhood? It made no sense, and I simply was not happy with it.
Before writing off the game, however, I decided to give it some concentrated thought. After all, EA Games has rarely let the fans down and, by contrast, has always been very sensitive to the requests and desires of its fanbase. Why, then, I wondered, would they put out a game so seemingly limited to fans who were used to having an entire 'hood of sims under their command?
And so, after some careful inner discourse, it began to make sense to me - and became, even, alluring. I began to see how this change offered new challenges and even ironed out some unattended problems that TS2 seemed to spawn by its own design.
It is my hope that I can offer a fresh perspective - and some peace of mind - to other Simmers out there who are feeling, as I was, confused and irate over this issue.
Let me begin by bringing up an inherent, but rarely considered, dilemma in TS2; one that became glaringly obvious once we all began to try our hand at The Legacy Challenge: continuity. Families increase exponentially over time; to the point - let us be honest - that their spillover can simply not be handled consistently. A simple starter family of two sims will grow, someday and if continuously played, into an unwieldy tribe spanning many generations and inhabiting many households. The only way, truly, to combat this growth was to ensure that every new couple of every generation only gave birth to one child; sort of turning your god-like control over your sims into a one-child-only regime and not, let us admit, very fun.
This was never more apparent than when attempting to master The Legacy Challenge. The now-infamous Legacy Challenge broke onto the scene in 2004 when user Pinstar1161 posted his idea for a challenge which involved creating a starter sim with the intention of spawning a multi-generational legacy. The challenge game was based in TS2 and final outcome - after successfully reaching the 10th generation of the family - was determined by a points-based system. Points you had accumulated throughout your legacy-sojourn were added up to determine your mastery at creating a true legacy.
While being able to boast about a high score was thrilling, half of the challenge's achievement came in playing a single family through ten whole generations. Before TLC came along, most families rarely made it past the second or third generation before users got bored and started a new family altogether. I feel fairly confident in saying that the majority of Sims players had 'hoods that were filled with half-played and forgotten families.
The challenge seemed to highlight more than just users' impetuousness; it put on full display the dilemmas that arise from a surplus of sims within a family in a certain neighborhood. These inevitable off-shoots of a core family came to be called, by the ever-clever Simmers, "satellite families". The predicament that most Simmers found themselves in was an eventual inability to keep a growing, extended family on the same timeline. We each found ourselves seeing Aunt Rosa - from a second generation satellite family - in town while playing what should be her umpteenth-great niece from generation nine. In terms of continuity, this was - though unavoidable - not quite ideal.
I can not say it was an oversight on the part of the original creators; I doubt - in testing - they ever had the time to accumulate generationally-long families and realize the potential for overabundance that was inherently there. Even if they did, it was likely not seen as a problem because, in truth, it was not. It is, however, quite a quandary.
Even with the best of intentions, a devoted Simmer could never hope to keep an entire extended family up to date with their current, core family. It would be a never-ending task as those satellite sims had children which spawned another set of satellite families with their own progeny.
EA Games has always listened to its fans. Countless times I have seen upgrades, patches, and additions in new expansion packs that catered to desires being expressed on the BBS. Even more obvious were the items. Users - with design and even special scripts - would create desirable custom content not available in game. If the item were popular, without fail, it would later show up in an expansion or fun pack. EA listened to its community, paid attention to the online buzz, and delivered a product that was - almost always - catered directly to its fanbase's desires. In other words, EA Games is not a company that is ignorant of its customers' wishes.
With this in mind, I could not fathom their issuing out TS3 and not having a valid reason for changing things in the way they that they have. I tried to put myself in the mind of developers and looked back at my own gameplay in the past few years. I have come to the conclusion that their intention was to fix the problem of the ever-expanding family, rather than to limit user's play by containing it to one household.
It makes sense if you think about it. There was a reason The Legacy Challenge was so wildly popular. Rather than scattered play among dozens of households, there was something fulfilling in being consumed by one household and its members; by being "forced" to concentrate only on their development instead of randomly choosing a different family to play every time the game was loaded. The desire to see this little household prosper and its lone sim go on to create an actual "legacy" was compelling. It gave some focus and purpose to a game that was, otherwise, completely freeform. I believe that most of us, in one way or another, came to feel more devoted to our legacy families than any other in our games.
Not failing to notice this, I believe the developers of TS3 had such a vision in mind when they set out to create the predecessor to TS2. The way that TS3 is set up allows for the type of concentrated - and therefore, meaningful - play that was found in expending all of one's energies on a legacy family.
A town that grows around and with the core household, also, solves two niggling predicaments that were a constant in TS2: the generations-long family who - unable to evolve in tandem - running into family members who should have been long dead, and the same townsfolk that palled around with first generation sims interacting with their decades-since descendants. I am hesitant to call these "problems", because they were not really so; they were, however, inconsistencies that could be frustrating to a discerning simmer.
Taking these things into account and looking at TS3 from this perspective makes me realize that - yet again - EA Games has done something extraordinary with this new game. Rather than taking away from the greatness that was TS2, they have refined and improved upon it.
I, for one, am excited to know that my satellite families will continue to grow and go on without any help from me. Otherwise, they likely would have sat - unplayed and collecting virtual dust - perhaps forever. Even with my best intentions - I know from honestly looking at my game as it sits now - I never would have gotten around to playing and advancing them all. Even if I had, as soon as my core household progressed to another age, I would have had to go back and play every single satellite family and advance them, too, just to keep up (a considerable task if your core family is somewhere in the double digits generation-wise).
Personally, playing The Sims is not just about the fascinating gameplay, but the progression of my families. I love the idea of having a family that spans generations; as I am sure many other Simmers do, too. When TS2 came out offering that ability, it opened a world to me that I had only ever dreamed about inside of my head. I feel, after some reflection, more than comfortable allowing the game to dictate the lives of my satellite families. In fact, it will be interesting to see how their lives play out; away from my direct control. Who will they marry, what will their children's names be, and where will they live?
Though it is hard to make a decision among your current children as to whose life you will pursue as your "active" sim, I think it opens up a whole new world of possibility and excitement. Whereas before your cast-off sims may never have been played and developed (regardless of how earnestly you meant to get back to them), now each of them will have a chance at living life and you can sit back and see how those lives play out with the skill sets that you helped them to achieve.
While it may feel - at first - frustrating to be relegated to only one household as "active", I think that if you see this as an opportunity to exist in an ever-changing, evolving town/'hood where all of your sims will have a chance at life, it becomes very exciting.
Rather than see the one, active household as a limitation, I choose to see it as a challenge. When Grace, Bobby, and Anne grow to adulthood in my active household I have to make a choice as to who I am going to continue on with. That choice will be hard, no doubt, but it really forces us to make a firm decision about how our game will play out. It also, actually, gives rise to a bevy of new choices. Do I marry my new young adult sims before moving them out on their own, or do I allow them to choose their mates as they take control of their own lives? Shall I choose their careers for them, or see what paths they decide to follow? Will my active household stay close to its extended family members or will they grow apart?
One can always, too, change their active household but I fancy the idea of playing TS3 like an extremely elaborate Legacy Challenge. There is something satisfying and even thrilling about sticking it out with a core family and seeing extended family - that you created the beginnings of - flourish around you.
I do so hope that I have offered a balm for the frustrations I have seen repeated on so many online forums, and that I have been able to give Simmers a fresh perspective on the game and how it is setup. Giving up on TS3 so early in - as I have read many expressing a desire to do - is not giving the game a chance to stand on its own merits; to be enjoyed for what it is instead of avoided for what it is not. I believe it offers us, as Simmers, many new and exciting avenues of gameplay, while fixing some of the bothersome quirks of past games. On taking a deeper look at the whole picture, and even examining my own, past gameplay, I have come to set aside my initial reluctance and disappointment to see The Sims 3 as yet another triumph for EA Games. It is not TS2, and we should not expect it to be; in fact, it does not need to be - this game stands tall and just fine on its own merits.