After heading down to EA Redwood Shores earlier this week and spending some time with The Sims 3, as well as its executive producer Ben Bell, it became clear that this is not a sequel whose virtues can become apparent through short trailers or gameplay videos. It makes numerous, appreciable improvements on The Sims 2, but many of them are fairly subtle and incremental, and require some time to unearth. It's still looking very much like The Sims, but the team behind it has obviously learned a lot about what it is that draws people into The Sims, allowing them to craft an experience that is more like The Sims than The Sims has ever been.
The demo of The Sims 3 started off as the game itself does, with the Create-a-Sim mode, which packs the basic framework of the character-creation system from The Sims 2 with more granular customization options. There are four discreet color regions for your sim's hair. There are three sliders dedicated to just the size and shape of your sim's nose. You can now choose to start your sim in one of five age brackets, creating a distinction between a young adult and a middle-aged one. If all that sounds like a bit much, there are plenty of presets that you can choose from during the process, which still work plenty fine. Spending only a few minutes with the Create-a-Sim tool, I was able to shape and clothe a decent, if admittedly idealized, approximation of mysimself.
More significant to the actual gameplay than the aesthetic changes are the way your sim's personality impacts the experience. During the Create-a-Sim process, you'll choose a number of personality traits, ranging from charismatic to hydrophobic. There are traits that contradict each other, traits that complement each other, and there seem to be a pretty equal number of both positive and negative personality traits to choose from. This, I think, really speaks to how the developers recognize that there is no right or wrong way to play The Sims, and it can be just as much fun to play a neurotic screw-up as it can to play as some Eagle Scout. In addition to having a significant impact on how your sim will react to other sims and behave in general, the traits you choose end up determining which of the lifetime wishes you can choose from for your sim, which will serve as the overarching purpose of your sim's simulated life. Your lifetime wishes, in turn, will inform the kinds of short-term activities your sim will benefit from engaging in. These personality traits aren't permanent, however, and it's possible to trigger a midlife crisis for your sim, allowing you to pick a fresh set of personality traits.
One of the points that was stressed repeatedly during the demo was the fact that The Sims 3 puts far less importance on the micromanagement that all but defined the first game. In The Sims 3, your little virtual people are sentient enough to feed themselves, bathe themselves, use the bathroom, go to work, and so on. What they won't do, however, is advance towards their lifetime wishes. It's an interesting shift for The Sims, because you're still living a very relatable suburban life, but the focus has moved to a much grander scale.
One of the big draws of The Sims for a lot of people is its unique capacities as a virtual dollhouse, and one of the ways The Sims 3 improves on this is with the new create-a-style system. This feature lets you to create sets of custom-colored patterns that you can drag and drop onto anything your sim owns--clothes, furniture, homes, cars, you name it--making it much easier to create a cohesive sense of style for your sim. These style sets can consist of up to four different patterns, and the patterns themselves can consist of multiple customizable colors. While you won't be able to create custom patterns--at least not out of the box--there's certainly no shortage of stock patterns. EA wasn't giving out any hard numbers, but the fact that we saw no less than four different types of zebra patterns ought to give you a good idea of the scope here.
The specter of death has always lingered over The Sims, though in The Sims 3 it won't be quite as permanent as it has in the past. Causes natural and unnatural alike can still claim your sim, though if your sim buys the farm in certain, specific ways, they'll return as a freaking ghost, whom you can continue to play as in some capacity. This wasn't something that was actually shown during the demo, but it's definitely one of the first things I plan on figuring out as soon as I get a copy of the game. Yeah, as though that's really any different from how I ever play The Sims.