Thursday, June 12, 2014

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Revenge of the Rabbit Hole: The Sims 4 May Be Killing One of the Series' Most Hated Features, but at What Cost?

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Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Considering that The Sims 4 is set for release this September, there's still a great deal that we don't know about it. The marketing focus has been placed mostly on the ways Sims interact with each other and the work that's been done to bring more subtlety and variety to those interactions, but big questions still linger. For me, the biggest question was about one of the most hated features of previous games in the franchise: The rabbit hole. Rabbit Holes are shells of buildings in The Sims, usually workplaces or stores, and when sims enter them they essentially vanish, leaving the player to wait out the clock until they pop back out. 

I'd been hoping the rabbit holes would be done away with for good in The Sims 4, but as videos came out they were never mentioned. Considering how strongly they pushed the openness of the neighbourhood when The Sims 3 debuted, if the death of the rabbit hole is indeed planned it seems like promotional gold. So why ignore it? 

With E3 wrapping up it's been revealed that rabbit holes are indeed on their way out, but not without a considerable cost...

 

While rabbit holes were certainly a step up from a time when a sim going to work or school would simply vanish from their home lot for the duration of their shift, they never seemed to align with the whole philosophy of The Sims. Watching (and messing around with) a virtual life should mean being able to observe and engage with them directly, no matter what they're doing. That said, rabbit holes do serve a practical purpose. First of all, in opening up the world they were vital to keeping things running as smoothly as possible. Being able to follow your sim to work was still fairly novel, but having them and all their co-workers pop into that building shell meant that the game's performance wouldn't dip in such a technically crowded part of the world. 

The other side of the problem is that if you want to show sims working and shopping, you have to... Well, show them working and shopping. They briefly flirted with this idea in the University Life expansion, where sim students attended class and could be seen (and interacted with) as they did, but for the most part you were just watching your sim sit at a desk while another sim rambled on for hours. It was neat, but also kind of boring. Theoretically in a rabbit hole-less sims neighbourhood every different level of employment would need to be performing different tasks in the workplace, and considering the scope of many careers in The Sims 3 that would be a pretty tall order. Taking the Science track as an example, what does the Lab tech do differently than the Useless Contraption Manipulator? For that matter, what about other rabbit holes like town hall? Do I really need to watch my sim filling out bureaucratic paperwork?

I suppose the answer to that really depends on who you ask.

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Graham Nordone, an associate producer on The Sims 4, has apparently said that rabbit holes "as we know them" are gone. That "as we know them" part could mean a lot of things, but it seems likely that at least more locations will be open and accessible in the ways that University Life and other expansions did with their unique spaces. The unfortunate flip side of this, however, is that worlds will be divided up into five districts (think residential, commercial, etc.) and travelling between these zones will require loading. This might explain why there hasn't been much of a push to promote the changes to rabbit holes, because for long-time fans of the series switching from the seamless open world of The Sims 3 (which, remember, was its biggest selling point) to one with loading between separate sections is likely to feel like a step backwards, rabbit holes or not. 

I hate rabbit holes just enough that, even with the threat of annoying load times, I'm cautiously optimistic. If a few more loads allow me to see and affect an extra 40% of my sim's daily routine, it may end up being a reasonable price to pay. Then again, if we're just looking at rabbit hole version 2.0, I may cling doggedly to my old copy of The Sims 3 for just a bit longer.

If you're curious about other previously unannounced features in The Sims 4, don't miss this excellent E3 news round-up on the Sims 4 News Tumblr.

Mixed reality iris 2013Iris Ophelia (@bleatingheart, Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times, and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.</

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Arcadia Codesmith

Rabbit holes never really bothered me. One or more character at work means I can focus on the rest of the household.

Drat. Now I want to go home and play Sims. Dang it, Iris!

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