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
Elvira Slayer, an Evil Sim and a photographer, was the first Sim I made after I finally got World Adventures up and running. “Finally”, because it took weeks before the EP was patched to a low, low standard of playability, and even then it was a wreck, which is a shame because it was a brilliant EP in many regards.
The first big issues were the bugs. For over a year EA refused to address enormous bugs with the way this EP transferred Sims between main and sub-neighbourhoods. The transfer system was terrible, it deleted inventories, it bounced the UI, it got confused about where foreign Sims were supposed to be and it thereby cloned them, it cloned active familes, it deleted active families, it ripped family trees apart and much more besides. World Adventures was released in this state of game-breaking dysfunction, and it remained in this state of disrepair for well over a year. Even today it still isn't very polished.
I paid an enormous price for this EP, nearly NZ$70. The only reason I forgave the price was the 1000 store points which I expected to be a regular theme of the EPs - not so! Elvira Slayer made it through a lot of the tombs in Egypt, had a son with Jean Luc Belmont from France, but no sooner had they a son then EA's buggy travelling ripped their entire family tree apart. Jean Luc was no longer Elvira's husband, but when I switched to playing Jean Luc he was still married to her. Their son was suddenly related to neither of them. Together with Sims 3 forums member The Archivist, I regularly bumped an enormous thread bringing this gamebreaker to the developers' attention. A lot of talk, and no action, it was as if they expected us to forget about the issue. There were evidentally enough uncritical paying customers that EA didn't see doing their job as part of their job, or as a decent investment. The damage EA have done to their brand with this attitude is visible all throughout the community. The thread reached hundreds of posts, garnered several promising-but-nothing-to-show-for-it replies from SimGurus (EA representatives). Finally they caved and far, far too late we saw a patch for the EP that made playing its core features safer, but not actually safe: the UI could still bounce on rare occasions, you could still lose your active family, there were a host of major bugs due to EA's rushed and/or incompetent programming that were only ever resolved or worked around by modders like Twallan of NRaas Industries and J.M.Pescado of MATY.
In terms of gameplay and content, World Adventures remains one of the best EPs. Its tomb building tools are intuitive and elegant. They combine a surprisingly deep sandbox experience for builders with a whole new gameplay element for intrepid sims - they bring the “Adventurer” career path from The Sims 2 to life. The new sub-neighbourhoods, Al Simhara, Shang Simla, and Champs Les Sims, are beautifully designed. Unfortunately each brilliant feature of the EP was offset by the developers' terrible lack of foresight. The out-of-the-box adventures were all rigidly scripted, but there was no tool for players to make their own adventures, and the scripted adventures did not reset. If you explored them in a save game, you could not redo them ever again with a different Sim. This rendered several Lifetime Wishes null and void if you get them after your first set of adventures. Glaringly bad game design.
The designers did not programme ahead for custom vacation neighbourhoods, even though the Create-A-World tool was in development at the same time. This issue tied in with a much broader problem in that the in-game Visa system prevented players from using the WA destinations for holidays. You could only raise your visa by adventuring, and you could only buy a holiday house if you had a level 5 visa – something only one Sim in an active family was ever liable to get because the tombs did not reset and wracking up visa points required exploring an awful lot of tombs. WA was the epitome of a restrictive, poorly-planned game design, especially considering the Sims franchise is (or was) primarily a story-telling, free-roaming sandbox.
The premade Sims in France, China and Egypt all lacked flavour texts, rendering them lifeless husks mostly. It look a long time for me to realise they were premades at all! Worse than the lack of flavour texts was that their bio boxes all contained the line “Description not specified”. Way to break the immersion, EA! The dead Sims in the WA graveyards, which players can resurrect if they befriend them, all have no traits, even though the programmers had the time and vision to model one of them after Jim Morrison of The Doors.
These game design flaws were seldom minor issues that just needed polishing up, seldom issues that could only be spotted with the benefit of hindsight, they were issues that competent designers would never have allowed from the planning stage, or easily avoided during the construction stage. The designers were getting the fundamentals wrong, as if they had no background in design at all.
Around this time I bought my first real gaming machine, and The Sims 3 really tried to make me pay for the $2000-odd investment. I didn't mind so much the little things, like the way trees don't render on the map very nicely with ATI cards, but there were some very large issues that really bothered me. First, Windows 7 DEP constantly closed the game without warning - presumably because TS3 is such a memory hog/has memory leaks. Eventually the community realised what was happening and resolved this. Secondly, the game ran my graphics card harder and hotter than it should ever need to, giving me FPS of 200-300+. Initially having no option but to accept this as a price I pay for Simming, I damaged my computer's fans and most likely shortened the life expectancy of my graphics card considerably before FPS limiters became the norm in the community.
I still truly love this EP, despite its ample major faults, the breadth of content it brought to the game – the photography skill, martial arts, nectar making, travel to beautiful locations, loads of beautiful objects, loads of unique flora – has not been surpassed by any other EP to date. The Slayer legacy was one of the my favourites, as short-lived as it was. It was my first legacy with an Evil and Insane founder, and it was genuinely sad and deeply frustrating when EA's negligence ensured its end.
Somewhere along the line I got hold of High End Lot Stuff. I'll state right now that this was when I learned that TS3 stuff packs were total rip-offs, and they don't deserve their own entry in this series, except to say that they would wonderful and worth buying if their prices were halved.