One of the more impressive aspects of The Sims series is its set of tools, which enable players to create unique characters and homes for them to live in. But while the tools are comprehensive and deep, they are quite time-consuming to use.
However, that’s about to change.
I’ve just been playing around with the creation tools in the upcoming Sims 4, and… well… they barely feel like tools at all. Instead of using sliders and menus to bring the character I have in my head to on-screen life, I’m pulling, pushing, grabbing and shaping quickly and easily. Because next year’s Sims game has evolved the franchise’s more traditionally-functioning tools into something that feels completely natural, intuitive, and most important of all – fun.
Using the Create-A-Sim tool now feels akin to shaping clay, since the way it works involves grabbing whichever body part you want to adjust, and moving the mouse to change its shape. The effects are immediate, and the potential for creativity is quite astounding, because there are multiple points along each limb, and many points around the torso, head and neck where adjustments can be made, from the incrementally subtle to the outright ridiculous.
Zoom onto the face, and the same mechanisms enable you to tweak your Sim’s visage in an almost bewildering amount of ways. Every facial component can be played with, and thanks to multiple adjustment points on features like ears, eyes, nose, forehead and mouth, the potential for customization is amazing. From the size and shape of the tip of the nose through upper and lower lip size and plumpness to the exact positioning of the eyebrows, you can push, pull and tweak to your heart’s content.
While the move from sliders to this new system might sound like a fairly nominal step, the practical upshot is almost night and day. There’s something about grabbing and sculpting that feels much more natural and direct. It’s playing around rather than using tools, and because of that, it feels like a much more creative process. Like you're doodling, rather than constructing.
And this is just the dimensional aspect of things. There are also a variety of basic skeletal templates to play around with (representing different racial types), and you can also change the pose and character of your Sim. This has a surprising effect on how your Sim looks and the kind of attitude he or she exudes, running the emotional spectrum from hunched-over, depressed-looking emo to confident, strutting primadonna.
The intuitive and playful nature of Create-A-Sim carries over to the house-building aspect of the game as well. Initial impressions feel a little more tool-like than the more tactile Create-A-Sim mode, but it only takes a few minutes of clicking around before the improvements become obvious. Similar grab, push and pull mechanics are used, only this time you’re dragging and dropping basic shapes onto a grid, and then manipulating them as required. The system is intelligent, so that objects are connected automatically. It’s a lot less fiddly than the previous generation of tools, and enables the player to concentrate on the more fun side of things, rather than worrying how to make specific rooms fit together in the right way.
An entire suite of furniture can be dragged and dropped into a room, and the player can then select individual pieces and reposition them as they wish. Again, it’s quick and easy, and doesn’t feel painstaking or time consuming. And speaking of painstaking – something that house-builders will welcome is the fact that additions to an existing house such as raising its foundations, or changing the roof of a completed building can be done without having to undo any of the the work you’ve already put into it.
While I spent most of my time looking at the tools side of things, I did get to see a quick gameplay demo, which showcased next-gen Sims features like the emotional interplay between characters, multitasking and group interaction, and how one Sims’ mood can affect another’s. Sims 4 gives characters a much broader range of emotions, which combine with up to five different character traits to deliver enormous scope for experimentation. I saw a confident, happy Sim being completely deflated by the skills of a violin-playing hipster, who in turn was rebuffed by the female Sim he was trying to serenade. This left him feeling angry, so he turned to a punching bag to vent his frustrations, and ended up feeling a lot better. A bizarre chain of events, but one that was hilarious to watch play out.
What I took away from the time I spent with the game is that The Sims 4 is much more accessible and fun to play with than prior editions, but offers more depth and complexity thanks to its new emotional aspects and the way characters can interact. It’s a system that looks like it’ll deliver huge scope for creativity and experimentation… which is what I imagine most Sims fans are looking for.