The Sims 4’s Aspiration Rewards Still Suck

The best improvement made to by The Sims 2 to the Sims series wasn’t aging, more life stages and generation play, it was its Aspiration system. Where sims previously only had to mind their own survival, in The Sims 2 they also had to balance that with personal fulfillment. Fulfilling a sim’s wants would temporarily prevent a mental breakdown and reward the player with Aspiration Points to spend on powerful, not-quite-cheaty, objects. Similar systems in The Sims 3 and 4 don’t come close in depth and fun, to that which introduced the idea to the series.

Aspiration reward objects in The Sims 2 were powerful, expensive, but also came with a chance of catastrophic failure. Almost all of them could only be used a small number of times before becoming useless. The cheat-factor of objects designed to prolong a sim’s life, change their personality of simply boost their mood was balanced out by the difficulty in obtaining them, the object’s limited uses and the high (50%-80%) chance of failure when not being used by a sim with an already high level of satisfaction.

In contrast, later rewards are… lacking in the balance department. I wrote some time ago about how the two most recent games completely forwent with any chance of failure with their equivalent systems, making them totally optional and, in my opinion, pointless. Even more so when you look at what rewards are available for aspiration reward points in both games.

The Sims 3 ‘Lifetime Rewards’ store does have some cool stuff. Some of my favorite include the ability to add a rusted simbot to the household (compared to the shiny ones created by inventors), a voucher to get your sim cloned, the ability to summon the kraken and a weather control machine. A lot of reward objects, although they don’t have a chance of failure, still have limited uses. Unfortunately there are quite a few ones that I really don’t like. There are the ones that make a particular decay slower and refill faster, remove the failure chance on certain interactions and even things like removing bills from the game entirely (until the sim with that trait dies).

My problem with these rewards isn’t necessarily that they’re cheaty (although, if I wanted to cheat I could do that in the console without spending points), but that they actually remove aspects of the game. And my big problem with The Sims 4’s reward store is that almost everything in it is just like this.

The Sims 4 not only kept the rewards that slowed need decay, but also added new ones that freeze that need indefinitely. There are also rewards that always make craftables come out at a higher quality, making sims incapable of feeling negative emotions and a bunch of cheap potions that instantly solve needs or create positive emotions. Other than Mentor and a couple of the new ones in Seasons there aren’t any rewards that add something new to the game.

If my goal in The Sims 4 is to gain aspiration points in order to purchase rewards from the store, and all of those rewards do something like make skills build faster, freeze needs and make more money, aren’t I really just playing the game in order to earn the ability to play less of it? I love my vampires but I always find myself killing them off eventually because they just get boring after a while. Eventually their skills and careers all become maxed out, they gain enough vampire levels in order to take need-freezing powers and they’ll never age or die. Eventually they just run out of things to do. With no more skills to gain, few needs to maintain and no fighting against that endless cycle between work and bills, the game just stops being interesting.

Even the Potion of Youth has no chance of failure and will reset a sim back the first day of their current life state. Compare that to the version in The Sims 2, where 5 uses of the Elixer of Life was the most expensive reward available, only turned back the sim’s age by 3 days, could fail and instead make the sims 3 days older. For very cheap you can turn  your Sims 4 sim effectively immortal and not have to suffer any of the drawbacks, like a risk or failure or aversion to sunlight.

Every time I buy something from The Sims 4’s aspirations rewards, it feels like I’m just kneecapping my own enjoyment. So I usually don’t touch it, and just let my aspiration points build up forever. Maybe I’ll pick something like Speedy Cleaner up (a stand in for the old Cleaning Skill, I suppose) or one of the new traits from Seasons that better acclimatizes your sim to a certain temperature or makes them enjoy thunderstorms. But generally that system just goes unused for me.

The only reason I even bother with 4’s aspiration system at all is for the aspiration-specific reward traits. Most of them are still somewhat cheaty, yes, but the amount of effort that most aspirations require to complete makes them feel well and truly earned.

The Sims 4 team says they’re going to go on with 4 for at least the next few years, so I’d like to see more things added to the store in the same vein as some of the Seasons traits. Also, more actual object rewards. Some of the most entertaining objects in both The Sims 2 were reward objects: a sexy pink hot tub, a counterfitting machine that the cops could fine you for using, a vacuum that sucked skill points out of other sims and a personality changer that could backfire and give your sim a life dedicated to grilled cheese.

That’s the kind of silly, risky stuff that made The Sims 2 really great. That and the career reward objects (which should eventually get their own post).

Sentraq S60-X Build Log

If you’ve ever had the misfortune of getting into conversation with me, at some point I probably mentioned keyboards to you. I like keyboards a lot. It’s a weird, expensive hobby (why does anyone need to own more than one?) but, hey, keyboards make me happy.

I also enjoy getting second degree burns over my most important fingers, which is why I’ve built my own custom keyboard.

This post is picture-heavy, so if you live in 1995 you might want to unplug your phone. Continue reading

Review: The Sims 4 Seasons

Dynamic weather ought to be considered the starting point for video game immersion, especially in an open-format game that ostensibly aims to simulate real life. This is probably why the previous two ‘Seasons’ expansions for The Sims 2 and 3 have been among my favorites; they rely on such a simple concept yet still breathe so much life into the game.

No longer do our sims exist in an endless summer but instead in a changing world, the whims of which can often be dangerous and out of player control. Thunderstorms, for instance (my favorite weather type in both real life and fantasy) are brutal. Lightning will often strike the lot (leaving collectible crystals and elements in its wake) and it’s best to make sure your sims seek shelter if you care for their well being. Or not, because it seems possible to grant your sims temporary superpowers by having them be struck by lightning. If they survive, that is.

Lightning will also destroy objects on the lot if it strikes. This has only happened for me with outdoor objects that sims happen to be using at the time, and the sim using it gets a tense moodlet to show for their close call. All sims on the lot also get a small tense moodlet for as long as the storm’s duration. It seems unlikely that weather will eventually become inconsequential  background dressing in our sims lives.

Blizzards, freezing temperature and heatwaves are equally as dangerous. Spending too long out in the heat without appropriate clothing will cause sims to overheat and die rather quickly. The same is true for the freezing temperature. Blizzards are similar to thunderstorms in that a sim will autonomously run indoors rather than being trapped outside, but unlike storms, once inside, they don’t particularly mind whatever is going on outdoors.

All of this danger can be disabled in the options panel if one so chooses, but why would you ever want to?

Less deadly weather includes heat, cold, wind and varying levels of falling snow and rain. Unlike in previous games, snow on the ground doesn’t fall in two levels and knee-height snow banks are a thing of the past. This has been a cause of contention in the community so it bears mentioning, but it hasn’t actually had an effect on my own immersion. Sims still leave footprints in the snow and small snow drifts form that require shoveling and give the snow cover some illusion of depth. There’s also a really lovely glittery effect on the snow that still screenshots doesn’t quite capture.

Enough rain also forms mud puddles, which look a tad too cartoony (even for The Sims 4) but sims can get a negative moodlet from stepping in, or even slipping in, them and a nice big drop in hygiene. As far as I can recall, these are completely new to the series.

The weather control machine is back, but this time purchasable in the buy catalogue instead of for reward points, further making me question why The Sims 4 even has reward points. This one works forever, but seems to still have a chance of failure, which can be upgraded away with the Handiness skill.

But enough with the weather itself, as the system encompassing it deserves some coverage too. No longer is weather determined by the season alone, but also the world itself. In The Sims 2, Strangetown players were forced to either deal with unrealistic heavy snowfall or miss out completely on the buff to family relationship gains brought about by winter. Now, you can still experience winter temperature drops in Oasis Springs, and all the EAxis holidays that go along with them, but it’s a much more deserty winter than what you would find in, let’s say, Brindleton Bay.

A sim fishing during a heat wave.

This is a really great system but it kind of misses the mark in several cases. For instance, the swampy Willow Creek is seemingly based on the subtropical New Orleans but experiences heavy snowfall and no more rain than similarly green worlds. Another case is the distinctly European Windenburg, which experiences the same heat waves as more tropical or deserty worlds.

I’d love for a neighborhood to eventually be introduced that stays cool all year round, in contrast to Oasis Springs and Selvadorada’s warm climates. It’s too bad that that oppurtunity wasn’t taken with Windenburg.

Speaking of the worlds themselves, there isn’t one included with Seasons. Those resources seem to have instead been dedicated to updating assets in all existing worlds to change accordingly with the season, as well as adding seasonal food stands and pop-up skating rinks to pre-City Living worlds. If you’ve found yourself wanting for more play space then this is a disappointment, but I can’t say that the worlds don’t look great all dressed up for winter or autumn.

Returning from The Sims 3 Seasons are holidays, and they’re much better implemented this time. Although the default ones that the game ships with are similar to 3’s highly Americanized set, just generic enough to give off the illusion of secularism, we can create our own this time around. In my game I have deleted Maxis’ Thanksgiving lookalike and have replaced it with my own version of Guy Fawkes Night, of which my traditions include ‘Fire’ and ‘Fireworks’.

I spoke about my experience playing The Sims games as a non-American previously in my Get Together review and the new holiday system is a really great step in allowing international players to personalize their game. I’m also not a fan of annoying genericism in general, so the ability to allow people to turn ‘Spooky Day’ into ‘All Hallow’s Eve’ and ‘Winterfest’ into ‘Shitscram’ is welcome.

And really, the feature is just inclusive as hell all over. Some traditions that you can add to your holidays also includes ‘Festive Lighting’ (lighting a menorah, kinara or Christmas tree), ‘Attend Holiday Ceremony’ (a rabbit hole event that can be used as a stand-in for attending some kind of religious service) and even fasting. Some other fun holiday traditions include fighting, streaking and a cute countdown to midnight interaction on the TV. I hope the holiday systems end up like the club system, where it gets updated with new traditions as more content is added to the game, because there’s a lot of potential here.

Oh and the stupid gnomes that teleport around and break things are back. Fuck those creepy little assholes.

I’m a tad disappointed in the ‘wear costumes’ tradition, as the costume options that the self-interaction gives you only include costumes available in the base game, and none of the (frankly better) costumes from the Spooky Stuff pack. It’s odd, because the candy bowl added in that pack interacts with the ‘trick or treat’ tradition (allowing kids to take sweets from the bowl instead of bothering you) so there is some integration with that pack, just not enough or as much as there could be.

All of these holidays can be tracked in the new in-game calendar, which should have been part of the base game patch considering its insane usefulness. It also tracks school and work days, weather forecasts and allows you to plan parties and the like for specific times and dates in the future.

You can also decorate for holidays and your neighborhood will also decorate accordingly. Sadly there weren’t any giant neon Father Christmases added in build/buy mode so I cannot accurately recreate what Christmas is like in my parents’ neighborhood. There will never be enough neon in the game for that…

A thunderstorm.

The CAS and build/buy stuff is pretty uniformly great and nothing bears particular attention except the really, really, really, really nice bathroom set. Swing sets are back! And toddles now get swimwear for the new kiddie pool.

Gardening received an overhaul with the base game patch, and installing Seasons expands on it even further. Each crop now has specific seasons that it can be harvested in, and lie dormant for the rest of the year, and there are new AoE interactions for watering and weeding, making maintaining a massive garden less of a chore (and more profitable to boot). There’s also a scarecrow and you can fuck it. Standard Sims stuff, really.

Flower arranging is back from The Sims 2 Open for Business, tying into the new gardening career. It’s its own skill although highly benefits from having a competent gardener around in order to procure fresh ingredients. The skill itself is interesting, but not quite my thing. There are a lot of different arrangements that can be made but the arrangements themselves don’t really have any mechanical differences. Instead, sims can ‘scent’ arrangements that are of high enough quality and the chosen sent determines what happens when a sim smells or receives the bouquet. Scents seem to mostly just bestow emotional moodlets but there are few more interesting ones. Arranged bouquets don’t seem to live for very long, so that may put a stopper in any plans you have of running a flower shop.

Beekeeping has also returned from The Sims Makin’ Magic and 3’s Supernatural. Honey isn’t used for any otherworldly purposes this time around, it just seems like it’s good for making a new kind of tea on the tea infuser and a new cake. Sims with good relationships with their bees can also collect swarms of bees from the box and sic them on other sims, which, let’s face it, makes this the best iteration of beekeeping so far.

Children can also take up scouting as an after school activity. They level up in the ‘career’ by earning merit badges from doing various things around the game (sadly, the volunteering rabbithole from Parenthood doesn’t grant any badge) and as a reward for hitting the highest level grow up with a trait… increases the skill gain across all skills. If they keep adding childhood reward traits that increase skill gain our kids will eventually end up with everything capped before they age out of teendom. A nice feature that gives our youngin’s something to do, but disappointing that they couldn’t come up with a more creative reward for maxing the career.

The after school activity UI seems awfully open for a feature that so far includes only one ‘career’ track, so hopefully this is something that gets added to in later content. In retrospect, I’m surprised something similar wasn’t already implemented with Parenthood.

Speaking of traits, there are no new traits available in CAS, as all new traits in the pack are bought from the rewards store. This is a choice I actually agree with because not only doesn’t my love of thunderstorms make up an entire third of my personality, but also the reward store in The Sims 4 has a severe wanting for things to buy that aren’t just straight-up cheats. Through aspiration reward points sims can acclimatize themselves to different kinds of weather or just make themselves immune (still cheaty…).

Oddly enough there are no new lot traits included in Seasons, which is a missed opportunity. Traits that make the lot run hotter or cooler than the world around them would be an interesting and thematic addition and are a striking absence.

Snow thawing in spring.

Finally: technical bits…

The pack has been extremely stable on my end. I haven’t experienced any out of the ordinary lag or game-breaking bugs. Once I had an issue where snow had fallen on the ground but hadn’t shown up visually, but restarting the game fixed that and I haven’t come across the bug again. Several frustrating bugs came with the base game patch that accompanied the expansion release, but fixes for those were pushed out in a patch earlier this week. There are two remaining issues that I’m experiencing:

Thermostats don’t seem to work on rental lots, but I’m not actually sure whether or not that is a bug or a (bad) intentional design choice. While it is understandable that a dinky little forest cabin doesn’t have complete climate control, not so much for the large lakeside mansion my richer sims winter in.

The second is that leaf piles out in the world don’t seem to despawn on their own and instead stick around, rotting, for the entire year. There’s one right outside my sims’ house and no matter how many times they try to burn it away, it inevitably returns. Apparently leaves in the sims’ world aren’t bio-degradable.

The Sims 4 Seasons is going to the top of my ‘must-have’ list of Sims 4 content. Not only does the content from this pack add to every part of the game in a way that no pack has done (so far?), it’s also the best Seasons expansion in the series. Not only are the new weather effects immersive as hell (and gorgeous to boot), the more extreme of the weather patterns also add back a sense of danger that has been missing from the series since The Sims 2. My game has also been ridiculously stable. Seasons and pets are usually the two primary performance droppers in Sims games and yet I’ve noticed no drop whatsoever with this expansion.

There are flaws, as mentioned, in how some of the new features integrate with those from previous packs and I do feel that certain features could have been better implemented than they were. But so far, Seasons has been a solid, stable experience and now that weather is out of the way I’m interested in seeing what Maxis comes up with next.

As flawed as expansions like World Adventures and Into the Future were, you can’t argue that they weren’t creative. And that’s what I’m looking forward to in the future now that the crowd favorites of pets and weather are out of the way. I had problems with how The Sims 3 implemented a lot of things, but The Sims 4 right now could do with a healthy dose of its predecessor’s adventurousness.

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Disclaimer stuff: My copy of the expansion was paid for by my mother, who gifted me my pre-order for my birthday. Thanks, mum! I’ve played The Sims 4 for roughly 60 hours between installing Seasons and publishing this post. Information about the computer I ran the game on can be found here.

DLC for DLC?

I was going to hammer out that Jungle Adventure review tonight, but then a thing happened so here we go.

The next Sims 4 stuff pack was officially announced today, entitled My First Pet Stuff.  It’s notable in the series as it seems to be the first stuff pack (the $10 tier of content for The Sims 4, and the $20 tiers for 2 and 3) intended to be an expansion to an already existing expansion. The Sims 3 Store had some sets that included pet-related items, but nothing as concrete as an entire pack themed around content from a different DLC.

It’s DLC for DLC, which sounds like something someone would say as a joke from 10 years ago.

Stuff pack producer Graham Nardone clarified on twitter just how this would work.

I’m not quite sure the point of making the pack available to people without Cats & Dogs, as the pack would still cost the same but have a chunk of the content carved out, but I suppose if one believes their $10 is still worth that, then more power to them as long as this limitation is clearly defined in the advertising.

Truth be told I don’t actually hate this idea of smaller content being released as expansions to previous packs. I would gladly throw down $10 to $15 for a new neighborhood with apartment lots, something which would obviously require the buyer to already own City Living in order to play.

But City Living was released just about a year and a half ago, and this highlights the problem I have with the newly announced MFPS. By now it’s obvious that the chances of there still being unfinished City Living content in the works is impossibly slim. The expansion hit shelves in October of 2016 and if EA were to suddenly announce a stuff pack revolving around that pack’s apartment mechanics, it would be assumed by most that work on that pack didn’t start until CL was well out the door.

In contrast, MYFP’s release date comes only four months after Cats & Dogs. One can easily assume that the content for this pack was already in the works during the development of C&D, and they may even be correct. In fact, if we take how transparent the development process was for the Laundry Day stuff pack, we can sort of pin down a timeline for the development of stuff packs.

The first concept art for Laundry Day was presented to the world on May 18th 2017, after a vote for what aesthetic the pack would centre around concluded on April 10th. We can assume production moved past the ‘floating ideas around’ phase some time between those two dates. Laundry Day Stuff was released on January 16th 2018, which pegs the production time of that stuff pack to be around 8 months.

If we assume the community voting aspect of pack’s production didn’t tack too much time on, we can also assume that MFPS was in production for 4 months before the release of Cats & Dogs.

Although this period was probably on the ass-end of C&D’s production, and possibly past a time where everything for the expansion was finalized, it looks bad. To the average person it looks incredibly suspicious that just four months after buying a $40 expansion pack, a new $10 chunk of content is being released as an addon to it.

Are we to assume that we got an incomplete experience the first time? Is this content that was intended to be included in the expansion but then cut for time? Is it content that could have very well made it into the expansion but was simply shaved off in order to sell it separately later?

This pack was already a risky idea, but one that could have worked had it been released later. But coming so hot off the heels off of Cats & Dogs, the whole thing just ends up looking pretty bad.

I’m still going to buy it because it’s apparently bringing back the guinea pig disease that was so good at wiping out my households in the first game, and I’m all about both sim death and Sims 1 references (and I am also a goddamned sheeple). Botched as this idea is, I’d still like to see where EA goes with the concept of adding content that crosses over with other packs.

The Sims 2 Apartment Life included a witches’ spell to summon a spectral cat, which was only available to players who also had the Pets expansion installed. More intersection between packs like the aforementioned is definitely something I would like to see more of.

PC Gaming Sucks Now

Okay, not really. I still get a run a metric shit-ton of sexy sexy Fallout 4 mods considered too filthy for the likes of Xbox. And I still get the joy of being able to build and show off my own machine, loading it with blinky RGB lights and controllers that impress old people and small children.

But holy fuck has it gotten expensive lately. ‘Used to be that people built their own rigs because it was cheaper than buying a factory-built alternative and you could get features that weren’t yet offered by the mainstream market. But that seems to no longer be the case. What had been a pretty wallet-friendly enthusiast market is currently a shitshow of scalping, price gouging and general buggery.

I built a new PC this month and spent far too much on things that ought to cost a fraction of the price. Here’s a list of them.

 

Memory

The first thing I had to overpay massively for was memory. Here’s an Amazon order I made in 2015 for 16GB of DDR3.

And here’s the current listing for the exact same product.

To make sure I wasn’t just looking at some out of production hardware that was still in crazy demand somehow, I checked Corsair’s own website for the same model number.

What the hell, guys?

This is a years old product and most people (myself included) have since moved on to DDR4, so I suppose it’s possible that the production has slowed on DDR3, making the chips harder or more expensive for module manufacturers to obtain.

So let’s take a look at the sticks of DDR4 I just bought last month.

What used to be the cheapest and easiest component to upgrade now costs just slightly more than my motherboard. I was actually going for 32GB this time around, but the current pricing was too prohibitive.

The reasons for the price hike aren’t exactly somewhat shrouded in mystery. What I said earlier about increased demand for less chips is certainly true, as the mobile market has moved to utilizing DDR4, adding a whole lot of demand. But there’s another element to the current astronomical prices in computer memory.

Despite having many different stick assemblers to choose from as customers, 93.6% (as of Q4 2016) of actual DRAM chips themselves are made by three companies and bought up by the people making the module that slots into your motherboard. This is known as an oligopoly, and the incentive for these three companies to compete with one-another is relatively low compared to a more open market. In fact, they’ve straight up admitted that they’re openly colluding to not compete on prices.

This isn’t the first time that RAM manufacturers have done this. They’ve even run afoul of US antitrust laws in the past.

So if you’re wondering why your new set of DRAM modules suddenly costs three times more than it did two years ago, your answer is partly increased demand from smartphones, and partly an insane amount of corporate greed. I’ll let you sort out which you think is more culpable.

 

Graphics Card

This is the one I think people were suspecting. Graphics cards have risen to astronomically high prices lately due to the latest cryptocurrency boom. Expect to pay upwards of 150% of MSRP for any modern card. That is, if you can even find one to begin with.

I wanted a GTX 1080Ti. I had the money for a GTX 1080Ti. I could not find a GTX 1080Ti. I even spent a few weeks setting up all kinds of trackers to have alerts sent directly to my phone whenever a 1080Ti came into stock at a major retailer. Almost every time I was alerted to a new supply of cards somewhere, they would be gone by the time I opened the webpage listing on my PC. I tried to buy an open-box one from a local Micro Center and in the time between loading the page and clicking ‘Add to Cart’, the thing had already been bought by someone else.

When I did by some miracle find an in-stock Ti, the price was so inflated that it ought to be illegal. Nvidia sells it’s own (poorly cooled, never in stock) reference model at $699.00. Third party cards using the chipset can be expected to retail for slightly higher due to better cooling solutions or factory overclocking.

This is what Newegg’s listings for Tis looks like now.

It’s worth noting that when I was looking for a card several weeks ago, the prices were much closer to $1,000, which was ridiculous enough at the time. But now we’re looking at over twice the MSRP of Nvidia’s reference model. This is insane.

I ended up settling for an overpriced GTX 1080 for $650 and hoping that the crypto market would crash again by the time Nvidia released a consumer-level Volta card.

I wasn’t actually completely joking when I titled this post “PC Gaming Sucks Now”. Even without the memory price-fixing, PC gaming is becoming prohibitively expensive to get into. For the price of that ASUS card pictured above, I could buy all of the items listed below on Amazon.

  • An Xbox One X
  • A Playstation 4 Pro
  • A PSVR Headset to use with my new PS4
  • A Happy Hacking Professional 2 Topre Keyboard imported from Japan

And have $40.42 leftover for beers to drink while I play my new games consoles. And I’d get to play that new Monster Hunter game what everyone’s talking about. In 4k.

So why is everything so ephemeral and expensive right now? Easy. There just aren’t enough graphics cards.

The causes of this shortage are twofold. The first and simplest being that the above mentioned DRAM shortage and price-hike is making cards more expensive to manufacture.

The second is because libertarians run everything.

Bitcoin is in its biggest bubble yet at the moment, and one that only seems to be getting larger as crypto talk enters the mainstream more and more. What once had been an interesting exercise in cryptography and peer-to-peer accountability turned vehicle for the drug and child-porn industry took on another surprising transformation: speculation commodity.

With more and more people and companies buying up cards to mine various cryptos with, very little are leftover for those of us who, you know, just want to render stuff. Unfortunately the resulting shortage is making just rendering stuff prohibitively expensive.

Here’s a mid-range card I bought in spring of last year.

And here’s today’s listing.

What the hell is wrong with this market?

Nividia is on the record as being as unhappy about this as the rest of us, and rightly so. A bubble is a bubble and losing the favor of their intended demographic for a short-lived craze obviously isn’t going to be profitable in the long run. Because of this they’re unlikely to step up manufacturing to meet new demands that might not even be there next week. Hell, it maybe unlikely they they even can meet current demands with the current DRAM chokehold going on.

 

In conclusion, fuck corporate greed, fuck trusts, fuck Bitcoin, fuck Eth, fuck tulips, fuck Beanie Babies, fuck child pornography and fuck you especially if you’re a graphics card scalper.

Go buy a PS4 or Xbox and do some of that newfangled Monster Hunting or something I don’t know. Just hold off a little while on getting into PC gaming if you were planning to because it’s  complete ass right now.

Actually just go buy a Switch if you don’t have one already. You can play it on the loo.

A Selection of Odd Webpages

A small update today. It seems that an official listing for the first Sims game has cropped up on ea.com. The page even holds a detailed description of the game as well as a header image: a render that seems to be an amalgamation of old expansion pack renders.

Could this prelude to an Origin re-release of The Sims? EA has already removed superfluous DRM from an unlisted Sims 2 collection on Origin, in the process making it more compatible with modern versions of Windows. As of current, the only way to obtain legal copies of the Sims 1 and 2 is to find out of production physical discs and I’m happy about the possibility of a re-release.

Sites like GOG do good work in making old games available and I’m even fairly happy with EA having made some of their old old games available on Origin. Even games with still-active fanbases eventually stop being able to keep distributing abandonware. Sites that host downloads eventually go offline when their owners lose interest a decade later. Seeders slowly dry up, leaving only abandoned torrent files as artifacts.

I hope this page is a sign of things to come.

In other news pertaining to The Sims and platform webpages, here’s something… weird. The Microsoft store page for the Xbox One port of The Sims 4 lists as features things that… well aren’t actually real. There’s a small reference to becoming a llama rancher, which is not a thing in any current version of The Sims 4. Maybe it’s a reference to one of the Sims 4 announcement teasers?

The more interesting thing is this section of the page.

Absolutely none of this is something one can currently do with The Sims 4. Especially in a console port which doesn’t support modding.

A method to edit and create new neighborhoods is notably absent from The Sims 4. Even the proposition of populating worlds with only the kind of Sims you’d like is laid low by the fact that the game will automatically generate townies to fulfill NPC roles.

Could this be an accidental reference to some hitherto unannounced Create a World tool? Knowing how Sims 4 worlds are constructed, would something like that even be possible with a console’s control scheme?

It would be nice, and it’s a possibility I’d like to optimistically consider, but the entire page doesn’t read anything like other product pages for The Sims 4. The PC product page, definitely written by someone at EA, doesn’t much get into specific experiences, preferring to rely on taglines, notably “Play With Life”. The PlayStation page for the game echoes the EA page almost exactly.

The Xbox page seems to have been written by someone else entirely, someone who might have let slip something that they weren’t yet supposed to. Or, more likely, someone who didn’t really know what they were talking about. Whatever the case, the Xbox page is both bizarre and interesting.

Review: The Sims 4 Cats & Dogs

It’s that festive time of year again! That’s right, it’s time to play another The Sims 4 expansion. The year’s gap between Get Together and City Living doesn’t seem to have been a fluke now, and it looks like that will be the new norm for this particular format of Sims 4 content.

Pets have consistently been one of the most requested features in every Sims game. Forgoing a cool name like “Unleashed” or a straight-to-the-point one like simply “Pets”, Cat’s Ampersand Dogs is the first Sims expansion that sets out to actively make URL’s more confusing.

But other than that it’s pretty good.

Smaller critters aren’t included in this round of pets that sims can keep, and the focus of the pack lies entirely on its titular creatures. While this is a disappointing direction to take for someone who very much enjoyed keeping birds in The Sims 2 and 3, the cats and dogs in The Sims 4 seem to be, in exchange, more fleshed out than their previous game counterparts. Cats and dogs are appropriately differentiated from one-another (something which I felt that previous pets installments lacked) and both species have unique behaviors and interactions available. For example, cat’s cannot be walked or swim, but they tend to keep themselves clean, enjoy climbing on everything and will harass pests (both from the newly included mouse hole and the lot-trait-locked one included in City Living).

Surprisingly for The Sims 4, pet customization is amazingly robust. The best part of the new ‘Create a Pet’ by far has to be the ability to paint directly on your pets’ coats with a full color wheel in the same manner of 3’s Create a Style and quite a lot of brushes to choose from. Other customization options previously present in previous games are also there. Sadly, CAP does fall short in one place. There are only two available animation skeletons for dogs; large and small. This makes it almost impossible to recreate some of the more peculiar dog breeds, specifically Dachshunds and their particularly short legs. Perhaps The Sims takes place in a fair universe where humans never subjected animals to aggressive inbreeding. Or perhaps EA just didn’t think it worth the time and effort to implement unique animation sets for the weird looking breeds. Whatever the reason, it’s a sad day for those of us who want to simify our low-to-the-ground pups.

Pets in this pack aren’t controllable, unlike in 3. And unlike 2, there is currently no cheat that makes them so. I wasn’t a fan of playable pets in 3, but I know this could be a deal-breaker for a lot of people so it bears mentioning.

New in the pack is the veterinary skill and the ability for sims to own vet clinics. Much like Vampires, this pack seems to hold the uncanny ability to make Get to Work seem worse the longer it’s been out. The vet skill plays similarly to the doctor career from GtW, but with marked improvements. Although it’s still possible for the experienced player to identify and treat the illness by sight alone, new visual cues have been added to the pie menu for treatments. From my experience with the skill, it’s also impossible to get into a situation where one has to guess which diagnosis to make. I would really like to see a patch or mod that brings the doctor career in line with the new standard set here.

Being a vet plays like a combination of Get to Work’s doctor career and running restaurants in Dine Out. Played pets can get ill and be taken to the vet, which was something I had been hoping to see in Get to Work, but didn’t. Again: modders, we should get on this. I know Python. Call me.

There is also a new Pet Training skill, but.. I’m not quite sure why it actually exists. It’s pretty neat, and maxing it allows sims to teach their dogs new tricks faster, and to run obstacle courses with them. Tricks are cute and you can also run your pets through obstacle courses and better trained pets with better trainers have a higher chance of doing it successfully. But there’s just not really an end-goal to the skill. Unlike Unleashed or 3, there are no pet competitions or shows that can be entered. And unlike 2, pets cannot hold jobs that are advanced by learning new tricks. A positive moodlet can be earned from a successful obstacle course, but the same benefit can be garnered from talking to the toilet.

Pet jobs never made sense to me, so whatever on that front, but being able to win contests with my amazing obstacle course skills would have been nice. As of right now the skill, and everything associated with it, just kind of exists to be cute. But it is cute, so mission accomplished I guess.

The new world, Brindleton Bay, is pretty nice. I do wonder why Maxis insists on making coastal worlds with terrible water textures, though. The shaders on swimming pools are wonderful and it’s incredibly jarring to have, right next to it, a body of water that looks about ten years of computer upgrades behind. The world is designed after a New England coastal town (Stephen King country!) and has a distinctly more rural feel than any of the others. I still think the game is missing a farming town in the same vein as Riverview, but Brindleton is closer to that than we had before.

Brindleton Bay also holds the first pre-made, 100% confirmed gay couple in Sims history. Small victories.

Now on to the less interesting bits…

There’s not a whole lot special in Build/Buy this time around. Notable things include new sofas that can be placed in bay windows, a Roomba-like robot vacuum and, of course, pet items like beds, toys and litter boxes. There’s a definite ‘American rustic’ design style going on with the new objects, but it’s not as defined as the similar style included with The Sims 2 Seasons and ends up feeling a bit like a thrift store selection. Random, worn and like the previous owner only parted with it when they died of old age. There are a couple treasures in there, like the new fireplaces and nautical-themed pub items, but this isn’t a pack that’s going to sell solely on its decorating content.

CAS (for humans and assorted bipedal monsters) is pretty take-it-or-leave it, too. There are a lot of jumpers; probably to go with the the new world. There’s a new kids’ outfit that I really like and all the hair styles range from great to average. If you’re not interested in the pet gameplay, then you probably wont be wanting this expansion at full-price.

And last but not least: the music. The new radio station is called “Singer-Songwriter” and consists of folky pop to match the rural feel of Brindleton Bay. The real treasure lies in the background track, though. I don’t know who had to be hired or fired for it, but Maxis has been absolutely killing it on loading, CAS/P and Build/Buy tracks. Damn son. The composer of these tracks has managed to find a way to make those weird choir soundfonts actually sound good.

Overall, Cats & Dogs is incredibly strong in the gameplay department, but not so much where it comes to build/buy obejcts aimed at human sims, or their new CAS options for that matter. I would probably bump this expansion to one of the top spots on my “buy this stuff first” list. If you’re not interested in cat and dog gameplay, however, there wont be a whole lot here for you. Horses and smaller critters were sacrificed this time around in exchange for things like the veterinarians and the ability for cats to jump on pretty much anything, but feels like that sacrifice wasn’t wasted.

I would like to see a game pack in the future that involves smaller pets like lizards and hamsters, but I would say that I’m already pretty satisfied with The Sims 4’s rendition of a pet-themed expansion.

Oh and there’s no bloody life state again. That I’m not satisfied with. Werewolves in 2 were so well implemented… I mean I guess EA remembered that supernatural life states exist because they added an option for vampires to harvest plasma packs from animals using the surgery machine. I just kind of wish my favorite part of the series didn’t seem to be getting pushed to the wayside so much.

Although… I guess ghost dogs (which are a thing, by the way) technically count as far as supernatural beings go, but I’m not happy about it.

Now if you would please follow me to the salt circle where we will attempt to summon a weather expansion for next year. And also werewolves.

The Sims 2’s Mysterious 2017 Update

On Tuesday many Origin users booted up their machines to learn that EA had pushed a patch to The Sims 2 Ultimate Collection, a compilation package of The Sims 2. The Sims 2 is thirteen years old and was last updated, to the best of my knowledge, in 2008. Two more main series Sims games had been released since then, so why a patch after over nine years? What could possibly need updating in a game that has existed as abandonware for close to a decade? Seemingly nothing, if you started up the game to have a look.

Within a day, though, someone had sussed out what the patch was for. It had removed SecuROM from the game, an intrusive and widely reviled form of DRM that was introduced to the series in the patch that accompanied the Bon Voyage expansion pack and re-introduced with the Ultimate Collection. Simple enough, right? The UC already has it’s share of intrusive DRM in Origin itself, there’s no need for another layer on top of that. Not to mention that SecuROM is also known to have trouble playing nicely with Windows 10.

I’m going to take a step back right now for those who might be unfamiliar with The Sims 2 Ultimate Collection. It’s not for sale. It never was for sale. Electronic Arts has never actually sold anything called “The Sims 2 Ultimate Collection” and the only way to legally acquire a copy of The Sims 2 (for Windows, at least[link to aspyr version]) in 2017 is to buy a used physical copy. The Sims 2 Ultimate Collection was given  away for free during a period of two weeks in 2014, immediately after EA announced that it was ending all official support for The Sims 2.

So it’s pretty weird that EA would spend money and man hours in making a game that they aren’t making any from more compatible with newer computers, huh? The only conclusion I could come to is that they’re planning on opening up the game for purchase. There’s a niche for it and the product already exists, however flawed it’s current form may be. The original Sims 2 UI doesn’t play well with larger screen resolutions, newer graphics chips cause all sim shadows to show up as large, black squares and the game will only run at 1024×768 if you don’t edit a .ini file.

If my theory that EA is preparing to begin selling The Sims 2 again is correct, I would expect a few more small updates in the future to bring the game more in line with something one can get away with selling in 2017.

Or not. Because EA are just like that.

Please Play Doki Doki Literature Club

Please play Doki Doki Literature Club. It’s on Steam right now and it’s 100% free. Please, just play it.

Don’t like visual novels? Great, me neither. I have a short ass attention span and aren’t that interested in anime tropes. But this cutesy-looking VN was tagged as “psychological horror” on Steam and that’s something that I am all about.

I can’t go into much detail without spoiling some very good storytelling but this game has a total of three content warnings before it even starts. That’s how real this shit is.

It’s a short play overall, it’s a bit of a slow roll to get going, something I’m not a fan of in games. But horror is one of the few genres where this approach works wonders and it really does so here.

Holy shit.

 

Please play Doki Doki Literature Club.

J̛̤̮̖̖̳̮̜̰̠̗̩͉̝̺̪͈̈́̾͋̀̀̀̔̕Ư̧̳̝̰̝̻͍̯͎̯ͭ͑ͨ͌̆͐ͩ̇͂͋ͣ̉ͬ̔̏͌̕͞S̶̮̜̙͈̘͔͖̘ͣͩ̓ͤ̇̾̄ͯ̐̄̄̀ͩ̾̐̏͛͂́̕T̶̨̹̥͖̠̻̩̗̲͚̈́ͦ̈́͂͂ͭ̌̿ͤ̀͠ ̛̳̩̣͉̅̿́͒͛ͧ̿̉̆̿̽ͬ̉ͭ̐́́M̷̸̴̧̛̖̭̖̼͎͚͍̜̮̙̪ͮ̒ͧ̎̂̉̉͐̈̊̌̒͛̑͑̚O̙̝̳̠̦͉̬̝͉͕̫͍̙̰̪̹̯̮̩͐̆̇̆̽ͬͬͦ̐̃ͦ́͟N̷̵̶̛̼̟͚̖̥̲ͬͣ̎͆ͩͯ͑ͭͮ̆͌̌̑̐̃ͪͭI̡͙̹͔͕̲̣͎͔͆͒̉̊͒̊̿ͯ͛̾̒̄͒ͭ̔̀͘͢K̷̗̜̖̠͔̠̙͇͙̠̙̙̉ͤͪͪ͘͝Ă̢̜̟͓̥̩͍̣̘͉̳͖̆̓̀̀ͤ͑̾͂̏ͤ̊̑̃̅́̚͘

Let’s Review: Tacoma

Coming off of the heels of their previous game, Gone Home, Fullbright released Tacoma on August 2nd, 2017. Tacoma follows the same general idea as Gone Home, in that the player is dropped into an unfamiliar and uninhabited environment, and the goal of the game is to find out what happened.

The walking (and sometimes floating) simulator is a polarizing genre, but I’m a fan. There’s something intriguing about being thrown into a strange new situation and having to track back through what’s left behind in order to make sense of things. In this aspect, I think Tacoma does even better than its predecessor, if not for the sole fact that your missing sister’s disembodied narration is replaced with a more immersive plot device.

Much like the dark and stormy night of Gone Home, the creepy glitches and corruptions present in this game’s AR GUI set up the feeling that someone here has gone terribly, terribly wrong. This seems to be the real strength of Fullbright’s games; setting up a foreboding mood at the beginning and surprising the player with where the plot goes from there. Most of the major plot points are disseminated in AR recordings, which the player can rewind and move about as they please. The ability to peek into characters’ brain computers during these scenes allows the player a look at the private world of these characters, in addition or contrast to their outward speech and actions. Combine all that with incredibly detailed common environments and crew quarters and you end up with an exploration game that lets the player come to know each and every character without ever meeting them.

While the environments are finely detailed, the game… isn’t actually that much to look at. There’s one section at the very start that seems like a perfect opportunity to break out some stunning graphics, but sadly that doesn’t happen. As it stands, a view lauded to be beautiful is just kind of… there. I’m not a graphics evangelist, but space has the potential to be real goddamn pretty, so this feels like a missed opportunity.

The largest flaw I can find in Tacoma is one that I find with most other ‘walking sims’: that the genre would be served so much better with more direct puzzle solving. To me, the first person exploration game ought to be the direct evolution of the classic puzzle-adventure game. Think: the Nancy Drew point-and-clicks in full 3D. Although Fullbright games make puzzles in and of themselves out of finding every little bit of hidden story (see: the funny uncle subplot in Gone Home), I’d like to see a little more depth to the ol’ ‘find a keypad and backtrack until you find a code for it’ puzzle gameplay.

But honestly, Tacoma is still a damn good game and I look forward to coming back to it in a few months with pseudo-fresh eyes. It’s an experience of only a few hours (I played it in one sitting) and it’ll put you out $20. If that sounds like an investment you’d want to make, I highly suggest giving Tacoma a playthrough.