Wednesday, July 09, 2014

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The Good, the Bad, and the Unclear: My First Impressions of The Sims 4 Create-a-Sim Demo

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

On Tuesday, many members of The Sims 3 community were invited to test out The Sims 4 Create-a-Sim Demo on EA's Origin distribution platform, ahead of the demo's public release later this summer. I was lucky enough to be among them, so I spent the better part of yesterday evening pushing, pulling, pinching and tweaking my way through the very familiar and simultaneously very alien systems. 

So how was it? There were lots of things I loved, a few things I hated, and a couple things I can't wait to learn more about as we approach The Sims 4's launch date. Until then, here are my thoughts on the Create-a-Sim demo:

The Good

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Sims Look Great: I'll be the first to admit that this is a very subjective point. Many fans want Sims that look more realistic -- as realistic as possible -- while developers lean more and more into a polished and very animated CG style instead. Personally I don't think that realism is the height of game graphics, and stylized looking characters, objects, and environments will always have their place. Sims are animated and expressive in a way that isn't always easily translated to a realistic style without veering dangerously towards the uncanny valley in my experience. Overall I'm very happy with the degree of polish that's been put on the next generation of sims without sacrificing their signature look.

Sims 4 CAS Demo NoseHands-On Editing is (More or Less) as Intuitive as it Looks: It felt so good to look at a sim's face, say "the bridge of her nose isn't quite right" and then be able to reach out and tug it this way and that until it was, rather than wasting time sifting through reams of sliders for the precise ones needed. The system isn't perfect, and some alterations (like nose angle) seem arbitrarily placed and hard to find, but the way the cursor changes to indicate what kind of adjustment you're making to an area (scale, position, rotation and so on) is tremendously helpful and makes navigating all the different changeable areas that much easier.

No More Hat Hair: It's a little thing, but something long overdue. Hats are finally an accessory that goes over your hair by default, without needing mods or custom accessories. That means that if you want to wear a super cute sunhat, you won't have to sacrifice your flowing curls to do so. 

Outfits Are No Longer Locked to Categories: Once upon a time (in The Sims 3, anyway) if you wanted a beach-loving sim to stroll around town in a bikini top and a pair of shorts you might have some trouble. Many outfits were locked to specific categories, and without mods or cheats you were sort of stuck with them that way. It might seem like that's still the case, but players are now able to remove category filters themselves and wear exactly what they want, when they want. It remains to be seen if there will be any in-game consequences for any sims caught wearing a slightly-too-informal dress to a formal event, but I hope there will be some flexibility there.

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Genetics 2.0: The ability to create and edit twins and children from an existing sim was both a useful and interesting feature in The Sims 3, and I was glad to see it's been expanded upon. The new genealogy options will undoubtedly streamline the process of creating families... Not to mention how fun it is just to mess around with.

The Bad

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The New Trait System Could be Limiting to Characters: A popular complaint that's been following The Sims 4 involves the reduced number of traits available to sims, as well as the reduced amount they can have. I'll admit that I was disappointed to see some of my favorite traits from The Sims 3 missing, but choosing three instead of five didn't really ruffle my feathers. Sims will also get a fourth trait based on their aspiration, which works well for most sims by giving them a complimentary ability to help them along. But if you're like me, every now and then you like to play a character whose traits work against them -- maybe a sim who wants to be a total heartbreaker but who's hopelessly inept when it comes to love, or a lazy slob who dreams of leading a nation. These kinds of characters are entertaining and challenging, but there's a very real risk that the new complimentary traits will put a damper on this kind of play.

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Sims 4 CAS Demo  (15)Yes, I Miss Create-a-Style: Create-a-Style was a major innovation in The Sims 3 which allowed players to customize colors and patterns on nearly everything. It was cool, but also a bit overwhelming and likely part of why the game was such an agonizing chore to load up. At it's simplest, however, it gave players an opportunity to fine-tune their world. With Create-a-Style gone we're limited to preset colors, which makes adjusting my sim's makeup and clothing exceptionally frustrating. I struggled to find the right shade of lipstick (made even harder by inaccurate swatches) when I just wanted to pull up a color-wheel and choose it for myself. Likewise I often use a sheer layer of white blush to enhance a sim's cheeks, but that's also no longer possible; no color tweaking, no opacity slider. When it came to clothes, I tried to pair a white top with a white skirt, only to realize that they were different shades of white, one a little yellowish and one a bit more blue. In The Sims 3 I would be able to pop into Create-a-Style and do some color-correction myself, but that's no longer on the table, and that made it vastly harder for me to find an outfit I was happy with.

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Everything is Gendered: Here's something that really, profoundly bothered me. As in The Sims 3, players can select one of several voices for their sim and adjust the pitch accordingly. These voices used to just be numbered, but now they've been assigned super gender normative names instead. If you're making a male sim, you can opt for a Clear, Warm or Brash voice, while female sims can be Sweet, Melodic, or Lilted. Brash-voiced ladies and melodic-voiced bros need not apply, I guess. Meanwhile, the voices themselves don't really feel like they fit any of these terms. They're just different, making these descriptors unnecessary and frankly kind of offensive. Another unnecessary change between The Sims 3 and The Sims 4 is that tattoos have been gendered as well. Certain tattoos are simply unavailable to certain genders. I just find myself asking why. This variance doesn't add anything, but it sure excludes a lot.

The Unclear

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We Don't Know How Much Content Will Be Available at Launch: This is a limited demo, meaning that players can only make young adult sims, and we can't be sure how much content is present in the demo relative to the full game. I was incredibly underwhelmed with the formal dress options for example, but it's possible the items in the demo account for only a fraction of what will be actually available. For now, it's best to assume this is just a single slice of a larger cake.

Modding Flexibility is Still Unknown: Make no mistake about it, both EA and Maxis know how important the modding community is to their franchise. That said it remains to be seen how accessible the game will be to modders at launch. It took months for modders to get into the guts of The Sims 3, and early modding efforts were slow and clumsy. While they won't be doing anything to actively hinder modders, it remains to be seen what kinds of alterations and additions will be possible.

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If you're hungry for more details, I streamed my very first hands-on experience with The Sims 4's CAS Demo yesterday, and I've since posted the archive on YouTube. Watch it here!

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.

Comments

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Steve

Actually, the developers have stated that sims can have even more traits than in TS3, but they're unlocked as you play.

Arcadia Codesmith

Maxis did turn its back on the modding community with The Sims Online, and that was half the reason the title folded. One hopes they learned a lesson, but... developers. They always learn lessons, but usually the wrong lessons.

I suspect the only limit in this "limited" release is being a registered owner of previous Sims releases. I got the invite too, and I'm just a minor gadfly.

I do like the direction they're going with the customization interface. It takes some getting used to, and some of the limitations seems a little arbitrary -- I had difficulty modeling a female athlete who looked like an athlete. Overall, though, it's a definite improvement over a huge bank of sliders.

I would be dumbfounded if Create-A-Style doesn't come back. That was an amazing advance in The Sims 3, and ditching it would be a huge step backwards for the franchise. I'm hoping it was excluded from the initial Character Creator release just to streamline the package.

Arcadia Codesmith

A little research reveals that they left Create-A-Style out. On purpose. And it's unlikely to be incorporated later, despite persistent player feedback to include it.

Well.

That was stupid.

Don't tell your customers that you're not going to deliver what they want because you think the features you're delivering instead are more important/exciting/cutting edge/whatever.

Wrong lessons strike again.

anthropomorphizing m&m's

I watched your video, and had a question, apparently there is a supposed ability to "unlock" all items for each category, ie stuff is not really sleepwear, what you see when you click sleepwear is just the stuff tagged that way, but if in the text box under the categories you delete the word sleepwear it removes the filter and your sim can wear anything in the game to bed? Is this functional, and if so what do you think of the amount of choice in outfits, if it's not actually more clothes than what is shown, just all categories stuff available in other categories? Because I agree, the formal wear choices shown didn't really fit together very well, but I don't know if anything in another category would be enough to fix that?

Ares Shoreland

Alanna is looking good! In this generation the Sims look super good! They look like they have a lot more character and a kind of vibrancy to them. They look more sharp and professionally made, to me, while on the sims 3 they looked like a blurred mess... I really wish I had been invited for the demo, i'm in love with these sims! Great review!

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