The Sims 3 - A Critical Appraisal
In this series of posts I hope to chronicle my love affair with The Sims 3 franchise, which I believe has come to an end. I guess I'm doing this for closure, but also because I've been really active in the community, I'm abandoning some heavily anticipated projects, and I don't want to leave without expressing the journey that I've had with the community, a community that I still love, and will still interact with. I may return, but certainly not for Showtime, and probably not until The Sims 4.
- Part One, The Base Game
- Part Two, World Adventures
- Part Three, Create-A-World
- Part Four, Ambitions
- Part Five, Late Night
- Part Six, Generations & The Store
- Part Seven, Pets
- Part Eight, The Future & Thanks to The Community
The Base Game
I still remember the first Sim I ever created, in 2009 - Mimi Walrus. I was in a thoroughly exhausting team management role at a media company. I wanted to blob with a game at the end of the day instead of staying plugged in to news and current affairs radio and television which I was (and still am) addicted to, but which can be very stressful. I had had a very hard day at work and my friend K came over. She had her copy of The Sims 3, and she wanted me to try it out in case I wanted it, otherwise she was going to sell it online because she had decided she preferred the graphics in The Sims 2 over those of TS3. She was very angry about the situation. I had no prior knowledge of the franchise, so I wasn't too sympathetic. We weren't able to run the game that night because it wasn't compatible with my (run-of-the-mill) disc drive, but we read on the forums that this was a known issue, being fixed, and I submitted my machine's details on a thread and K agreed to leave the disc with me. It was a frustrating evening, but I have learned to be patient with recently released titles, as the gaming industry no longer has the time or resources to develop properly before release, and usually games polish up well as time goes by.
I can't remember how long the disc sat with me. K seemed to have forgotten about it. At some point I learned that the issue was resolved and I could start using the game. I had a blast. My first ever Sim was a plump adult woman with cropped black hair, Mimi Walrus. She was Charismatic, with a Green Thumb, and she began to work as a scientist. She lived in a very small, slowly constructed cottage. At some point in her life I noticed money was starting to pour into her coffers FAR faster than I could or wanted to spend it, which became my first issue with the game - the economics are geared solely towards wish fulfilment, but I wanted to play a working class woman's life. Fortunately, around this same time I discovered the wonderful Sims blog http://aliceandkev.wordpress.com/. Seeing this poignant, meaningful story played out in a game gave me confidence that I would, with tweaking, play the game I wanted. In reality, it wasn't until a year or more later, using a handful of mods, that I could get even remotely close. The game's ridiculously generous resource-distribution all but forced Mimi Walrus to upgrade her bathroom and kitchen in ways that a now single mother could never afford, and she lavished gifts on young Walton Walrus, while standing and waiting nearly an entire sim hour to *get into* the shower or use a toilet. I was enjoying myself immensely, but signs of bad design were everywhere. A lot of the issues I initially blamed on my work laptop, which easily met minimum requirements, but wasn't very suited to gaming (unlike the dedicated gaming machine I got, but we'll get to that in the next post).
As Mimi aged, and I got more used to the gameplay, I decided to take control of Sunset Valley. I switched families to find out more about the other Sims around town. When I was done reading bios and investigating houses, I switched back to the Walrus family and was extremely distressed to find that Mimi had a little girl who had no father, and worse still, all of Walton's paintings and Mimi's fruits and vegetables had disappeared from their inventories. I had been playing for roughly two weeks, I had been getting bored, and had massively looking forward to switching families a bit and seeing what story progression would do, and I had discovered it: Story Progression, a total misnomer, shoved Sims around in intrusive and arbitrary ways in a complete mockery of story development. It bluffed a story, and it bluffed it really, really badly. Later, when replacement Story Progression mods became available in the form of Awesomemod and Indie Stone I jumped upon them - these were the first forays into custom content. Setting aside the battle-axes-drawn culture of MATY, the attitude J.M.Pescado took to functionality and game design was very much in line with my vision for TS3 - A game where meaningful changes happened in meaningful ways, even if the game didn't boast about these changes in text, a game programmed to make a sort of elegant sense. (Although I became a firm convert to Twallan's NRaas mods eventually).
In the fourth week of Walrus family gameplay Mimi died, and Walton's inventory was very full. I was struck by a major bug when I picked up a plate with the cursor, and could never put it down again. It was months later that I learned this bug was caused by an EA error when a Sim's inventory was overstuffed, and it was not fixed for many EPs despite being relatively easy to resolve, and very game breaking. There was also a seat in the house that had claimed to be occupied since week one that I couldn't move. So ended that save game, in a flurry of EA-designed (and usually EA-unfixed) glitches similar to those that have eventually ended every single legacy I have ever started.
As someone whose professional life at that time revolved around assuring that my transnational company's New Zealand clients got the very best quality written content my team could provide, I was professionally offended by the lack of care in TS3's programming and gameplay flow. Patches came out very rarely, compared with other titles I had played, and they usually skipped over countless game-breaking bugs that the modding community had already identified causes for. It almost seemed as if the developers were not play-testing the game at all. My patience with the persistent bugs wore thin, and my patience with EA's terrible customer support systems wore away entirely. As someone who only played sandbox titles, I was bothered by how rigidly the game forced me into certain modes of gameplay, in particular: A single family in a single house, getting exorbitantly rich.
But I loved the game despite its faults, the creation tools were awesome, I saw great things in its future, and K was happy for me to keep it. As a bonus, she had bought the collector's edition, so left me the USB stick that came with it.