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March 10, 2003 | Karen Halloran

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Like all great inventions, they thought it would never work, but Electronic Arts released it anyway, considering it more of a favor to its creator than a serious contender on the PC gaming scene. Two years later, Will Wright's The Sims is the best-selling computer game of all time, inspiring five subsequent expansion packs (a sixth one has just been announced for the PC), a user community of unprecedented scale and an online version of the game. This powerhouse franchise was brought to the Mac starting in July of 2000 thanks to the collective talents of Westlake Interactive and Aspyr Media, Inc.

Like many other Will Wright creations, in theory The Sims is exactly the type of game no one should want to play, and in practice it is fiendishly addictive. At first glance, The Sims looks like a game of deceptive ease. The Sims, those marvelous little embodiments of human needs (eight in all, called "motives"), are guided (or not) thoughout their environment by the player by way of interacting with their living space, the objects within that space and other Sims. Although gameplay is extremely open-ended (and various acts of sadism are curiously easy to perform), the general object of the game is to keep Sims happy enough to get by and advance in their social lives and careers. The challenge lies in finding enough in-game time to keep every Sim contented enough to function and the house running smoothly. Each subsequent expansion pack has features that both help and hinder Sim self-fulfillment, but this basic premise remains the same throughout the series.

The game and its expansions

The Sims
The Sims lays the groundwork with the basic components of Sim existence - environment, employment and society, as well as The Sims' system of action and reaction. Sims eat, sleep, get jobs and go to work, complain about or admire their surroundings, give gifts and back rubs to other Sims and hopefully make friends and/or fall in love after enough gifts and back rubs. For included objects, the game starts off with a Salvation Army basement's worth of furniture and appliances that are about as well matched, but if there isn't enough here to suit every Sim's taste there's at least enough to suit every Sim's budget - the objects range from starving student chic to conspicuously consumable. The building options such as doors and windows are classically suburban in their look, and the majority of available wall and floor coverings seem to be taken directly from the Big Book of 1950s Institutional Ick.

Livin' Large
Livin' Large is the first expansion pack released for The Sims. It offers many additional objects and building elements, including a castle theme for creative anachronism fans. Five new career tracks are also added. While making no gameplay-level changes to the game, Livin' Large adds a few objects that can play havoc with the features of what was previously a relatively straightforward human existence simulation. In The Sims most every goal has to be steadily worked toward over a period of time, but objects new to Livin' Large such as the Concoctonation Station and a random disaster generator in the form of a well-meaning but unschooled genie can radically change the direction of a Sim's life in just one action. For the introspective Sim, Madam Blahbatfry's Crystal Ball offers the opportunity to change personality traits one point at a time, depending on whether the Sim understands the riddle presented by the ball and acts accordingly over the next twenty-four Sim hours. For the really sociable Sim, Livin' Large has included an object commonly referred to as the "love bed", but it's not like it sounds, exactly.

House Party
Building on the more colourful Sim existence provided by Livin' Large, House Party provides the player with more options and objects for group Sim interaction. These include a campfire for sing-alongs and ghost stories, a cake that scantily-clad male and female dancers can be hired to jump out of, and a four-seater bubble blower that gives Sims the wicked giggles. House Party also introduces new music stations, including Techno, Beach and Country Rock. To complement the new music, new dance steps have also been added, including line dancing and the Batusi. Party-condusive decor and building themes also come new with the pack, such as luau, country bar and industrial rave.


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