The Sims 4 is nearly upon us, which means many loved ones will disappear into bedrooms and home offices to build new families in a virtual paradise. This is the first update to the series in five years, and as heir to one of the best-selling franchises of all time, it has a lot to live up to.
This is also a great time for fans old and new to jump in. A lot has changed in the franchise, but, surprisingly, even more has stayed the same.
Will Wright's dollhouse
The Sims began as a spinoff of Will Wright's wildly popular SimCity. Wright and his team at Maxis drilled deep into one SimCity suburb, allowing gamers to control the minutiae of a few individuals' lives. Wright described the Sims as a "dollhouse," but the effeminate term terrified new publisher Electronic Arts, as well as critics, who couldn't understand how well it would sell to video games' traditional male audience.
The terror was misplaced. When The Sims was released in February 2000, it quickly earned loads of accolades and sold millions of copies, rapidly surpassing Myst as the best-selling PC game of all time and easily bypassing EA's soft estimate of 160,000 units sold.
Will Wright's gamble on a virtual dollhouse had paid off.
Sims: Sequels and Spinoffs
The Sims 2 was released by Maxis in September 2004. Selling more than 1 million units in its first 10 days, it was an immediate hit. Successful expansion packs for The Sims suggested the series had legs, but the success of its sequel established Sims as a bonafide franchise.
The series has seen a lot of experimenting over the last 10 years. The Sims 3 expanded the world, taking characters out of their homes and into streets, grocery stores and even neighbors' yards. The Sims universe got big in 3, somewhat bridging the gap between that microscopic Sims world and the macroscopic world of SimCity.
That wasn't the only unfettered exploration of the Sims concept. Besides the wildly successful main series, there have been dozens of expansions, console adaptations, Facebook iterations and even an entire game set in medieval times.
What does that all mean for Sims 4? While the sequels and spinoffs have played with the game design and even toyed with introducing defined narratives, the Sims series is still, at heart, a really attractive dollhouse.
No more terrible twos or moonlit skinny-dipping
In an effort to get back to basics, The Sims 4 pares things down. Toddlers have been removed, and now baby Sims sprout into preteens, completely sidestepping the phase where every orifice is just a place to be discovered by wandering fingers. Pools, and the accompanying swimwear, are also gone.
Curiously, fans aren't miserable about the lack of water features and bathing suits. They're instead really upset because removing the ladders from pools was a very popular way to murder irritating Sims in games past. If you still want to contribute to the simulated mayhem, you'll have to take the old-fashioned route and ensure your targets are near the stove during a kitchen fire.
Sims 4 also takes a step back from the open-world style developed in Sims 3. Despite being a sequel, Sims 4 is expected to be a smaller game; there are no grocery stores, no going to work or school with your Sims and no creepy walks through the neighborhood at midnight.
Second That Emotion
That world is only physically smaller. While The Sims Studios has trimmed a lot of fat, it's also attempted to further develop the inner lives of all the little Sims. It took nearly 15 years, but Sims can finally do basic cellphone functions, such as multitasking. Old fans can say goodbye to the days when your Sim couldn't answer the phone because it was slowly consuming an omelet.
Sims also will have a huge range of emotions beyond the simplistic "happy, sad, angry" triangle of the past. Angry Sims can furiously pump iron, and sad Sims can lounge on the couch watching Sims Anatomy.
This could change the mechanics of friendship and romances — a vital core feature of The Sims since Day One.
Friendship Is Magic
The only way to advance through careers in a Sims game is to have as many friends as possible. Introverts will find themselves languishing in middle management if they don't schmooze.
You can get further still, depending on the employment you seek. Social butterflies will make big wins in the Acting and Politics career paths, while the socially shy will have a little more luck in the Science and Computer tracks.
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The key to balancing work, family and all the required friends is to build up your friendship pool early in the game. Just as in real life, it's a lot easier to maintain a friendship than to forge one from scratch.
As your Sims start out on their career tracks, they're likely to have a lot more free time. Romance, sleep and even food can wait. Devote that extra time to marathon gab sessions with neighbors. Don't be afraid to invite people over and talk for hours, plying them with coffee to keep them awake.
If your Sim becomes grumpy over the course of the conversation, be a little sneaky. Switch to the household of the friend. Your Sim's mood will level out a little, and you should be able to gain a few more minutes — ideally enough to nab yourself a new best bud.
If that doesn't work, you'll be stuck midway up the company ladder. That doesn't have to stop you from enjoying the finer things in your Sim's life. If you're facing a dead-end job, you can always turn not to crime (that's its own career track), but to cheat codes.
The Code to Life
There are no high scores in The Sims, no methods of measuring success beyond the grades your Sim kids make and the jobs your adult Sims hold down. With no real metric for success, The Sims is, ethically speaking, an ideal game in which to use cheat codes.
The codes "Rosebud" in The Sims and "Motherlode" in The Sims 2 and 3 were surefire recipes for financial success. Forget having your Sims hold down a job; a few taps on the keyboard and they could instantly buy that espresso machine they'd been eyeing.
While there is no official word from The Sims Studio about cheat codes in The Sims 4, it wouldn't be silly to try tapping out "Motherlode" on your keyboard when you get tired of the day-to-day grind. Due to the complete lack of competitiveness in the game, cheating to get ahead won't sit heavily on your heart late at night as cheats in other games would.
You're now equipped for at least one blissful day in your SimCity suburb. See you around the neighborhood!
Alex Cranz is the Assistant Reviews Editor at Tom’s Guide. When she’s not waxing poetic about routers she streaming way too much TV from them. Follow Alex @alexhcranz and on Google+. Follow Tom's Guide at @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.