Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
Stop #1 for me was the designated Sims area (after having to run a short gauntlet of fire-dancers and fire-eaters—no, really. Here we got hands-on time with MySims, a particularly user-friendly branch of The Sims family tree (the game also bears some surface visual and mechanical kinship to the Animal Crossing games).
Underneath its cute, cartoony exterior—oh, who am I kidding, the whole thing is cute and cartoony—MySims is about civic revitalization. Players are charged with bringing new life (and literal essences) to a candy-colored town by making its buildings, attractions and landscaping as appealing as possible to a range of residents of different sensibilities. A gloomy/emo goth kid, a video-game-playing dorkwad, a little girl who fancies herself a ruthless pirate and many more are looking for the sorts of buildings, decorations and activities that will make them want to hang out with you.
Players are given free reign to make whatever crazy, cobbled-together constructions they want to. A haunted-looking house with turrets, gambrel roofs, gravestones in the yard and a style that looks like seven architects got into a fight and all lost? Sure. A pulsing, day-glow game arcade featuring asymmetrical amusements that look like Frank Lloyd Wright knocked up a bunch of videogame cabinets out of fishes, cordwood and slabs of bacon? Go nuts.
If you present the residents of your town with items and/or places that really make them happy—or really offend their sensibilities and even piss them off—you’ll be rewarded with ‘essences’ (spooky, tasty, nerdy or what have you) which are the currency of this big-headed world and which open up new areas for construction.
Customizable player characters, just like the various buildings and objects, allow for massive creativity and the (virtually) tactile sense of playing with a mini town full of toys to create your own little world], and the DS version is loaded with mini-games for a slightly different take on the same gaming theme. If previous Sims titles were just a little too vague and sandboxy for you, the rather more direct, goal-oriented nature of MySims might just draw you into the franchise—in much the same way that the live baby monkey and Mai-Tai tiki bar initially drew us in the Sims demo hall.
(Did I mention that the Sims demo hall had a live baby monkey and a tiki Mai Tai bar? Well, it did.)
While Chris was glued to the MySims monitors, I took a look around the rest of the Tiki-themed Sims lounge. I'm not really a Mai Tai guy, but I definitely wanted to get a look at SimCity Societies. Like MySims, Societies is all about earning and spending different vibes to create atmosphere.
Laying down the city was easy enough. Societies does away with some of the SimCity minutia, like stringing up power lines and carving out sewers. Nope, the focus is on customizing your town with hundreds of buildings of every shape and size, each one giving or taking their own vibe. Many buildings either have special abilities to use at your leisure (like having a movie premiere at a theater), or introduce new characters into your town. A "creepy barn" brought in business but sent ghosts around my town, haunting the locals.
I just wish they stayed still for a moment. I wanted to catch one and make it the new Mayor.
Nonetheless, the twenty-minute demo grabbed me by the horns and steered me through making a Creative city, complete with public murals to generate Creativity points.
What did all of this hippie Creativity nonsense buy me? A mime school. Damn.
Originally, I thought I had violated some deep personal ethic by bringing more mimes into the world. But then I used the Mime School's special function to unleash 30 mimes on my small town… of population 30.
The situation quickly got out of hand, because my demo town was no larger than two blocks square, so I immediately started investing in chain link-fences and police precincts. Someone was going to have to unleash some American Law upon these mimes, and I needed Special Police to do it. But the short bus never showed up, and I moved on.
Sometimes I'm glad I don't have a decked-out computer. If I did, I imagine I would have WoW written all over my face, or The Sims 2 would have taken away all of the passions and inhibitions of my real life. Through the Seasons, I would be cramming for my University finals, trying to make time for myself by taking care of my Pets and experiencing the local Nightlife, all the while making future plans to Open for Business.
So many expansions, so little time.
But The Sims 2: Castaway is not a part of the pack, as much as it is a Sims-based adventure. As you're sailing through the high seas with your motley crew, the warm breeze melting your cares away, you are suddenly capsized and end up drifting onto the shores of a deserted island. For those screaming foul at this Lost/Survivor wannabe, Castaway is inspired by the more technicolor Gilligan's Island. Things are brighter, more tropical, and pleasant, especially given your newfound crap-my-pants situation.
This doesn't mean that survival is a walk in the park. In fact, your Sim can actually die without burning down some unfortunate kitchen. You must loot berry trees, make rag-clothes, build huts, and test your manliness (or womanliness) against grunting boars. Since your clothes rip over time and your huts can be destroyed by the wanton forces of nature (no, I'm not talking about foreplay), constant maintenance is the key - as it is for all Sims titles.
Once you get comfortable hunting and gathering, you will begin to explore other areas of the island, finding new treasures, mini-games, monkeys, and your other shipwrecked crewmates. Sorry, no volleyball this time, Mr. Hanks. Hopefully with enough luck, skill, and grunting Sim-speak, you will, er..., get off the stinkin' island and actually win a Sims game.
You had to feel for Jerome Collin, an associate producer on The Sims 2: Bon Voyage, who was seated next to the demo station for the karaoke game Sims On Stage. He looked like he could use a 15-minute vacation from The Final Countdown, so it's probably good he was showing off Bon Voyage, the vacation for your reality simulator.
I don't understand why you would need a vacation from your fake life. Does fake life get that bad too? But Jordan quickly laid it out for me - if your Sim has a good vacation, as calculated by Scienceas you play Bon Voyage, then it can get temporary bonuses back at home.
You spend the actual two to five days in one of three themed resorts: a mountain forest, a beachside pirate ship and an Eastern-themed garden. Each resort has about forty items and local customs for you to learn and take back home. I know you want that sushi bar in your backyard.
Much of Bon Voyage involves meeting new Sims and trying activities long enough to pick up the customs. I stepped up to a target range, where some little girls were throwing axes into the bullseye at an alarming rate. My Sim's first few throws were cold-blooded attempts to murder nature, but after scratching the forest floor he started hitting the target as well. Score! Now the virtual ladies love me because I can chop firewood at a distance. Just like in real life!
Bon Voyage takes the Sims into a slightly more hardcore experience. Many of these activities can earn you collectible stickers, and the game encourages you to complete your book. Other features like a snapshot tool let you pose around the resort, if you can get another Sim to take your picture. These photos are saved on your computer, can be captioned, and even ordered from EA.
I can see the endless opportunities for this kind of stuff... like an alligator eats your wedding album, so you make your family in The Sims: Hot Date and reshoot the wedding photos shot-for-shot. What, the wife is STILL mad at you? Hmm, better take one of those fake vacations and cool off...