The Sims 4 is a Fail

And Why EA Should Be Concerned

I would appreciate if you can share this article if you agree with the content, or leave a comment if you have an alternative view. It may be difficult to read all in one sitting but I really needed to fully cover the whole depth of this problem.

You are one of two people. You’ve played the sims 4 or you haven’t. That was the parity test. There is no half measure.

The reason for writing a long article as opposed to a short one is to fully summarise the real problems. A short hatchet job will not cut it. This requires the chainsaw. Funnily, my handle when I was an avid player of Quake 2 deathmatch (back in the day and boy does that seem a long time ago) was Jackochainsaw, those halcyon days…. But I digress. But whilst I digress, that was a solid game. Not what I would classify The Sims 4 as. You’ll understand by the end of this on why that statement is true.

Bella’s leg merges so well through this table leg, don’t you think?

Preparation for your reading involves a hot or cold beverage and a snack. I need you all to keep your energy levels topped up. For those of you losing weight, who are thereby held to ration yourself, you have my sympathy.

As a note of warning; the development team will receive a ‘proverbial’ kicking because they are involved in a crime of sorts. I am aware of how much time goes into programming a game of this size, but we’ll get into that later.

I’m going to keep this article clean, without the usual ‘blue’ or swears that I’ve enjoyed in my Medium past. I’ve opted this non swear line mostly because the sims is ultimately a kids game, but also because I hold a deep respect for the game’s dynasty and lineage, more so than the developers who are in so tight with EA they’ve lost all sense of sensible perspective. It has been a piece of me, it deserves a certain level of respect. The kind of respect you give a loved one just before you watch them burn in the crematorium flames, or lower their coffin that required 6 feet and place a red rose on the coffin lid. As morbid as that may sound, EA could potentially kill another much beloved franchise with their greed.

So let’s remove the bottle cap on this thing and get groovin’!

An Important Thing To Know Before I Beat Up on Maxis

It wasn’t actually Maxis that were responsible for The Sims 4. Maxis as an entity fizzled away many years ago. Let’s just call it an EA shell company. The Maxis elements were absorbed, the old guard are gone, what we have left is an EA company without any shade of doubt. I may refer to Maxis in this article but Maxis is nothing more than just a name and logo now, it is not anywhere near as relevant as you might have once come to expect.

All of the new guard kiss the EA ring.

The Sims 3 and The Sims 4 were both produced by The Sims Studio. When opening the game up you will see Maxis emblazoned on the marketing but it is The Sims Studio who created this game. There is no link between Maxis Emeryville and The Sims Studio but a number of the staff that found themselves without a home after the SimCity 2013 disaster came to work for The Sims Studio in Redwood California.

It is Maxis of a sort but not the original one we all knew back in the old days. Programming is a very transient area and you get quite a lot of people movement in that time. I know this because my brother in law was a UI programmer for Codemasters and once he had finished the project (on a Driver game) he moved to a different studio. It happens a lot. You move around a lot in the gaming world as a programmer. Some people even move mid project when their part of the project is up. A lot of the time for certain game developers, certain key elements are outsourced because the expertise doesn’t rest in house. But for the Sims, everything is now created by The Sims Studio. Best you remember that.

The Sims Studio exists for two reasons. Firstly as an entity now of EA’s design. Secondly so as to spawn more elements of a Sims familiarity. There was the Facebook game and the mobile/tablet game with the Sims flavour. There is also a Simcity game that is a cut down of Simcity, this is called Simcity buildIt. These offshoots were all generated to cash in on the microtransaction hysteria. We know how much of a prostitute EA are to money and we know that they would be thick in the action of microtransactions. The Sims was an obvious franchise to pimp its body out to this form of monetisation. It was written on the wind. That wind smelt. EA saw how well Farmville and other such IPs were doing and wanted a piece of that model.

It’s all about the money, honey.

EA are the greediest. Greed is there number one aim. If EA was a tattooed biker, Greed would be tattooed on their Johnson, the meat rather than the two veg.

About Why I’m Still a Sims Player (Despite My Better Judgement)

Seeing as I am bashing this pooh-heeled game, you need to know why, at the ripe age of 36, I still play the sims.

I am a very casual gamer now for two big reasons;

  • 1: I can’t be bothered to have a dynamite PC. I play on my laptop. The games being released on consoles recently are all this online play nonsense and I don’t like sharing my play session with others. I’m the kind of person who enjoys the solo campaign and offline play. I know I’m not alone.
  • 2: I’ve grown weary of battle. Most games are all about fighting and I grow tired of those quickly. Yes, it’s nice to blow off steam and pepper people with bullets but it does get old quickly. The Sims is about building rather than mindless destruction. I’ve always loved that kind of game more.

I’m still a Sims Player because I love the Sims. I’m not an exclusive Sims Player, I do play other games but slightly less frequently when compared to The Sims.

“You are part of the problem” I might here you cry.

Why should I have to keep on upgrading my machines? Why should I have to blow my hard earned wedge on tech that is only good for a year or more before the next item replaces it? When I was younger I used to be that upgrader who built several of my own computers from the ground up. I grew weary of it. I grew out of it. When you are 36 you come to realise that buying stuff isn’t important anymore. Paying the mortgage and bills is.

The Sims 4 runs good on my mid ranged laptop. It is certainly a lot more stable than The Sims 3 which I reinstalled after my disappointment with TS4. I have to run it with some of the bells and whistles dialled back but otherwise it runs okay.

What is My Pedigree?

Definitely the Original, Chum! No Pets EP yet, don’t get excited.

I’ve played all of the Sims games to date from the Sims 1 to the Sims 4. I’ve spent around £500+ on the entire franchise. For those Americans wishing to work out the exchange rate on that, circa today, the problem is my Brit Buck has lost a lot of value recently. I actually paid comparatively less when pounds sterling were worth more to the average American. But that is a different story. Please feel free to provide Rothschild & Co & <insert bank name here>. a middle finger from me.

In terms of time, I have spent close to 700 hours on The Sims 4 alone. I’m sure that I’ve spent that same 700+ hours on each previous version (considerably more on The Sims 2 and The Sims 3) You could say I’m invested.

That ‘invested’ badge I carry is the one that is at the nub of this whole problem and I’ll explain more as we go. It is a prevailing theme. Being invested means you have expectation and you crush a dream when you don’t deliver on those expectations. Under delivering is another theme that accompanies this Sims 4 meal like plum goes with duck.

This is not the first time I wrote an article on a Sims game. I wrote an in depth article before on The Sims 3. I can’t link to it for your viewing pleasure as it is no longer visible for view. I have form and that piece of writing turned into a monster article too.

You May Label Me As a Picket Line Crosser

It won’t surprise many that a great deal of hard core Sims players have boycotted The Sims 4. A number had the opportunity to trial the game for free and didn’t take it up owing to their disappointment. Some players received a refund from Origin within their grace period. Some later stopped playing because they became disillusioned. Many have been put off by the bad press.

All of that bad happened in 2014 when the game came out.

Sales of the game continue. They continue in numbers.

I was an early adopter of the game.

It was rubbish in the beginning. It was worse than TS1’s base game, TS2’s base game and TS3’s base game. It was worse than everything before.

It was light on fun.

It was light on creativity.

It was shallow.

But I carried on.

If asked if I would recommend it based on what has been added, I’d say no. It is still not worth it and if asked in a year from now, I would say the exact same thing.

No.

The only reason I still play this game is to get my money’s worth, and that is a sad indictment of this franchise as it stands. I’m committed now and wish I’d not taken the plunge.

Where You Start the Franchise Makes a Difference

Going from left to right pretty much sums up the sims franchise experience in t-shirt and breast exclamation form.

To put this all in context, it is really important where you individually started your journey on The Sims franchise.

I’ve worn all the T-shirts so know all the nuances between all 4 of the core base games. Those of you who started a bit later might not be aware of how the evolution (or regression) of The Sims has taken shape over that time. A lot of you joined at The Sims 2 and The Sims 3. Not so many of you have remained whilst joining at The Sims 4. The Sims 4 is not a good advertisement for the entire series.

A Little History of the Franchise

Sims 1 was a fun game. Cheesy as hell. It had limitations which were addressed with some expansions but was a good first effort for the franchise. The isometric top down view was how this game was presented. Animations were fairly simple and I can remember burning many families to the ground (both on purpose and accidentally). Genuinely fun and crazy stuff happened in the first game. It was nuts. The internet was simpler back then so mods weren’t so common place but you genuinely felt that the developer was okay with you having a tinker. Sims customisation was at its most basic and you would find that a lot of your sims would end up looking similar.

Sims 2 continued the fun and when compared technologically to The Sims, was a quantum leap (minus Scott Bakula) in terms of difference. The Sims 2 was an awesome game and my favourite family were created on this edition. Like all of The Sims games future and present, this has had some problems during its run but I would say, in my opinion, this is the most beloved for a true Sims player. It had the sense of humour and Charisma that a true simmer loves. It was fun and for the most part, the game worked well. Customisation in this game was limited in a similar way to The Sims 1, many of your creations would look the same. Despite that it wasn’t enough to put me off putting down hundreds of hours.

Sims 3 was pretty epic but was also the most controversial for bolting on a massive store front. It was open world and the scope of the base game was the biggest to date (don’t let EA/MAXIS tell you different). For a casual gamer, this was a PC buster. I was running a pretty high end system in the day and one of my video card fans was close to giving up. Of all sims games so far, The Sims 3 offered the most. Long load times were the bane of this game.

Sims 4 had some high expectations to live up to. I’ll explore that shortly. Needless to say that it had the expensive launch like the other iterations and was intrinsically The Sims. This just happens to be the version of The Sims that nobody likes for one reason or another. I’ll go into why soon but first you need to know a little bit more. For Sims players you may already know it, but for new players hoping to dip your toes in the water, you’ll require an education.

The Sims 3 to Sims 4 Transition

This was a whole lot more complex than a male to female transgender procedure (I speculate). It was definitely painful.

The Sims 3 introduced to some shady shenanigans. This was the point where EA really wanted to ‘milk the Richard’ out of this IP {intellectual property}. Overall, The Sims 3 had the largest amount of additional content made to expand it beyond the original. So much extra was produced that in order to collect it all, you’d have to lay down some serious cash.

The Sims 3 completed on the Corporate takeover of Maxis. During the period of continued development, Will Wright hung up his smoking jacket and tucked in his slippers and left Maxis.

Maxis was on the slide…. That’s the Big Maxis by the way.

The symptoms of this slide were in all cases attributable to the EA effect, not Mass Effect, that is a completely different tragic story. The EA effect is something akin to a corporation creep into turning a cash cow into a lame duck. EA are famous for this, so when you see a developer come under the EA mantle, be concerned, be very concerned. EA actually retconned the creative heart of the Maxis operation and formed The Sims Studio. The changes were noticeable moving from The Sims 2 to the Sims 3 with a very corporate monetisation of the game {which incidentally angered many and made a whole slew of the Sims community suspicious}.

The Sims 3 played like a llama being forced through the eye of a needle. The optimisation was poor, it didn’t make use of anything beyond a single core CPU effectively and had major bottlenecks. Despite these misgivings the base game played well enough and was stable. The core of the Sims 3 was solid. It was its own complete game without bolt-ons. Something that Sims 1 & 2 could also boast. You got a lot of bang for your buck just with the base game.

Expansion packs from TS1 to TS3 were all handled ineffectively. Sometimes they didn’t work or load properly, sometimes their code introduced a game breaking bug that meant you were out of action with the game for a week or two. I remember with disappointment, just how much spherical orb that sucked.

That was why I, like many other Sims fans, had huge expectations that the Sims 4 could deliver something much more entertaining. We were sipping the cool-aid again weren’t we, caught up in all that media buzz.

The Design Brief Behind The Sims 4

As part of this transition it was deemed that for those beleaguered players that had issues with playing TS3, TS4 had to make amends for the poor run speed of the game.

I make no excuses for Maxis but when developing a PC game it is always difficult to please everyone. A great many people run lower end systems because they are poor, tightwads, or just don’t want to be locked or guilted into the continuous upgrade cycle. People want to be able to play these kind of games on a laptop without too much difficulty. The Sims 3 could not do that. It needed everything on max, and even then was so poorly optimised, that it still ran like garbage. By the time of the Island Paradise expansion pack, this EP was the performance nail in the coffin for some systems. Coping with the open water was akin to a nuclear apocalypse and for many players, they just said; “nope, I’m out.” Their system had been written off and if they wanted to play this game they would have to uninstall Island Paradise.

As you can tell, this design brief for The Sims 4 needed more people to have the potential to play without performance problems. It was probably one of the largest complaints made to EA (but I must say I speculate here) and they rightfully responded. The game needed to run well at all times without that ‘lag’ we are used to when pressing down on the speed keys and waiting for something to happen.

Opening load times were horrendous. When TS3 first came out, large capacity SSDs (solid state disk drives) were not common, and if they were available were hideously expensive. An SSD speeds up the enjoyment of TS3 remarkably. People were using striped serial hard disks to have a quicker load time and when you are going to that level it is both expensive and indicative of a major problem with the tasks involved in loading a game with a massive computational overhead. One thing you could say about TS3 was that it was a true simulation. That beefy overhead was proof that a lot was going on in the background. The lights were definitely on, someone was definitely home.

The Sims 3 was responsible for some pretty creepy looks for the sims, I must be entirely honest. Whilst it was great, the sims were creepy in TS3, toddlers especially. The art design for The Sims 4 changed from a gloomier TS3 to a brighter TS4. The models in CAS (create a sim) went from the weird Sims 3 forms back to a more cartoonish Sims 2 style that had more emotion.

Something else that was apparent was the hatred of an overwhelming torrent of EP (expansion packs), SP (stuff packs) and general store DLC (downloadable content) with diabolical and relentless entries. Certain packs were natural, fun and useful, others were questionable, not only in terms of cost but in purpose. In the Sims 4 this was rectified in one simple fashion. Less expansions and no item store.

The Sims 4 (aka Sims Lite)

The Sims 4 had the weakest Base Game release of all base games to date. It was good on style but weak on substance. Like the picture of Babs and Bella above, this room is looking rather empty.

In addition to this, certain staples of the sims were missing. Many players who had cut their teeth on the previous iteration were disappointed by what was ultimately presented in 2014.

This disappointment always comes with a new base game because you have to expect that a lot of what you’ve got used to in the previous iteration was added upon by EPs. It is just how it works. The problem was that core elements that have been present in other games were not present in the latest. It felt ‘regressive’ in nature, a common theme that goes beyond the gaming world at the moment.

  • Poolgate: Pools weren’t an inclusion in the base game. They came later after fury by fans in the form of a free update.
  • Toddlergate: No toddlers were supplied with the base game. This had a lot of family players annoyed. This wasn’t rectified until recently despite a ton of pressure. Toddlers was the number one item on the hit list and it bored the brown excreta out of me and many others to see yet another cotton headed ninny muggins mouth off about it not being present.
  • Teengate: The fact that Teens are the same height as the adult model suggested they somehow recycled assets. It made it difficult differentiating between the two. They made alterations later but only by virtue of a change to the name tag to indicate what life stage they were. This was unadulterated Jank.
  • Basementgate: No basements were provided in the base game, whilst they weren’t present in the TS3 until late, this was a major expectation. Basements are a structural element that should have been present in TS4 from the off. What is so difficult about providing an underground structure?
  • CreateAStylegate: All of the custom colour wheels and the ability to apply green leopard skin to clothes, cars and other objects was completely eradicated. Whilst I might joke, this is the one element I miss most from TS3.
  • OpenWorldgate: Open World was what everybody wanted for The Sims 4 but the one element the design team didn’t provide. Instead, we returned to a Sims 2 situation of loading compartmentalised elements of the world. Whilst these had been streamlined for TS4 to load quicker, they were still present, breaking player immersion. The fact that you can’t even walk your sim down to the neighbours and enter without a load screen was shabby Sims 2 restriction reborn. The fact is that we didn’t want to go back there.
  • LoadScreengate: Load screens as mentioned above with OpenWorldgate were something that nobody wanted to return to. They were pervasive to all actions and still are. You can’t go one world action without one. You are stuck in this strange pen which didn’t encourage you to take your sim around the world so much so you would pursue activities that made your sims reclusive.
  • Cargate: No cars, period, despite them being available in one form or another in all three of the previous iterations. Now you have to scale up a model of a car to make it look like you have something tucked in the driveway. The vehicle models that whizz by in the background look terrible. We are so far from the TS2 model of vehicle, the best in the series so far.
  • Terraingate: Owing to a move away from Open Worlds and enforced loading screens, a lot of the world became flat. No, literally flat. You can no longer adjust your back garden. It is all now set dressing. Flat worlds suck spherical orbs. It was only where the creators had made hard coded differences in terrain at each of the town locations that gave you any sense of gradients. Whilst it might not seem much to a life player or a sim creator, it is a lot to a house builder.
  • Jobgate: The starting jobs for the Sims were both uninspiring and difficult to level up. More were added as free DLC later on when fans whinged but there is still poor representation of jobs. In the Sims 3, there were new jobs with every expansion and the base game jobs were pretty stellar too.

Just with those 10 shortfalls noted we can see there is a problem brewing. If The Sims 4 was a US President, it would have been impeached already.

Story Progression and Lack of Function

You would be surprised how important the feature of story progression is in order to make playing a Sims game feel like an accurate simulation. This one key element is the nub of what makes playing with a family (or a dynasty) more appealing. The Sims 3 had it right. The Sims 4 design brief to reduce overhead, dialed back this important feature and it really makes playing with a family far less appealing.

In the Sims 3, if your household became over-populated, you could allow family members to be re-homed. You could send Johnny on his way and know that the story progression system would allow him to find a suitable mate in the wild and spawn babies. He would also work on his skills a little or get a job. You’d see him around town and he’d be going places, earning money (which would be mounting up) and otherwise be a functioning asset. You could go and play as Johnny if you fancied changing things up and find that he’d married a werewolf cougar nearly twice his age with 3 pups to boot, but he’d be happy. You would smile because you knew that this game just provided an amazing set of variables all by itself.

In the Sims 4, sending Johnny away would sentence him to a sterile life. With story progression turned on, he would probably work a job and be manipulated up the scale, if you were lucky you might find he had made it to the top of the career track. But he wouldn’t have found a partner or done anything useful. He would die a bachelor life as a dumb headbanger with the same money he started with when you exiled him all that time ago. Not a single skill would have been improved.

I am aware that a modder has created an improved version of Story Progression in The Sims 4. I will be speaking about modders and their part later on.

A Lot of Subtle Design Elements Were Streamlined For The ‘overhead’

Story Progression mentioned above was a core simulation element but there were lots of smaller elements that were reduced in similar ways.

5 example options not present in The Sims 4 but present in The Sims 3:

  • Reading on a bed
  • Watching TV from a bed
  • Snuggling horizontally on a bed
  • Kissing horizontally on a bed
  • Making out horizontally on a bed

I realise that the permutations of activities related to a bed are quite astounding but in TS3 they managed this burden with ease. By the way, I’m not a huge pervert but I do prefer the more adult dimension of the sims, just saying. That’s my play style, don’t judge me!!! I am 36.

The amount of unique conversations in ‘simlish’ is also reduced. The sheer amount of recorded simlish lines in the TS3 spoilt me and TS4 disappointed in this regard as well. It came up short as usual.

Everything conceivable to have been performed half-bottomed has been half-bottomed.

What the Actual Reason for Such a Reduced Outlay is in My View

I’m an Honours Degree Graduate in Business Studies. It has taught me a few things about business (and for the price and years spent that should be a given).

I believe that the outlay was so reduced in order to limit the number of programmer heads.

I believe that an analysis was performed on the TS3 and EA/Maxis/Sims Studio decided that in order to maximise profit and reduce costs, they needed to shrink the head count.

We all know that The Sims is an enormous scope for a game. It is broad because life is broad. Producing a perfect product is impossible. In business, in order to satisfy a delivery, you have to make ‘tradeoffs’. For everything you include, there might be less time to do something else.

The more you choose to include, because it is justified as a critical path item that your customer will not accept without; the bigger the team you need.

We can say that the team wasn’t big enough for The Sims 4.

We could say that the release date was 2 years too early. The Sims 4 could have benefited with 2 additional years of development time, which, EA could have afforded. But this isn’t CD Projekt Red sadly. We know that the makers of the Witcher would have held off on releasing until that base game was perfect, where EA/Maxis felt pressured to release in a prescribed release window for marketing purposes.

This is a very short sighted view by EA and Maxis. There has been enough evidence to support the fact that releasing an incomplete game has a great damage to its future earning potential due to the negative press it receives from reviewers. In addition, thanks to the Internet, companies cannot hide behind bad decisions and paper over the repercussions anymore. EA has been voted worst company twice in the USA. Voted worst ahead of some pretty shady companies. EA does instigate shady practices and it is the classic example of a monopoly. Having a monopoly on fun, is not a cool thing, not a cool thing at all. There are a great many developers who crashed and burned at the hands of EA. Westwood Studios, creators of the beloved Command and Conquer franchise, are one such developer.

I don’t believe that Sims 4 sales have been poor owing to SimCity (2013) being a bust. I don’t believe that link has anything to do with why Maxis has received backlash on their game. They received negative press because the game is steaming llama dung and it burns most consumer’s eyes. There is no finesse, no polish to this game. It looks great but is as shallow as child’s paddling pool (not a toddler’s as they weren’t present in the initial release).

Two Senior Heads Have Had the Axe From Maxis

Lucy Bradshaw (left), Rachel Franklin (right)

Lucy Bradshaw; who became the face of the SimCity (2013) launch disaster, despite being a loyal cohort of Will Wright and being with the company for 23 years. She left in September 2015.

Rachel Franklin; who headed up The Sims 4 launch team, and was present at a number of subsequent launches at game conferences. She took over from Lucy when she departed a year prior. She left in September 2016.

Whilst it wasn’t Lucy’s fault, she paid a price and her position became untenable. Losing an IP is a disaster, no other way to say it. Especially one that could have had an enduring legacy. The SimCity franchise now sits in ashes thanks entirely to the fact that the game was internet only and the servers were DOA for the launch. This coupled with a the fact that a modder found the game to be hackable to offline play, which eventually prompted Maxis to roll back the online only element, nailed the coffin lid closed. It carried so much negative press along with it that it had to fold. Lucy fell on her sword for it. Emeryville was closed because of it. The fact that it took a few years to crumble is irrelevant. SimCity bled uncontrollably for 2 years on self inflicted wounds.

Rachel Franklin is a different story. Many people felt that she lacked a certain enthusiasm for TS4 and that she was in part responsible for the regressive product. She left of her own accord but I’ve seen that statement in my own company. Normally it means that the person was respected enough not to be fired out of hand but it was best for them to leave rather than be pushed so as not to cause a stir, no doubt with some kind of golden handshake.

Jumped before being pushed

There were those in the community who commented on her ‘cringe inducing’ performances at gaming conferences. When I saw the Get Together launch I was firmly in the cringe zone, the dancers and the… yeesh. Many of the community members felt that she was steering the ship in the wrong direction and they needed a more invested individual to replace her.

It is interesting that in both of these women’s cases they left quasi-Maxis in September. A year apart. Most likely as a result of the 3rd Quarter preview of profit expectation. That is my evil business speculation so it is hearsay really but it does sort of make sense if you think about it. Even women are not immune to falling on their sword to respect the honour of defeat. There will be blood and it will be arterial blood.

I want to point out that I don’t believe a man would have done any better in this situation. It was a lose lose. These ladies don’t earn special blame credits because they were women. Nor does the blame rest entirely with them, they fronted what many can see as a committee decision. That committee got it wrong. Some of them are still there acting as if nothing is wrong, and are doomed to continue making bad decisions.

The Sims 4’s Lackluster Expansions

Expansions are a thing with this game franchise. They are part and parcel. Synonymous. Scope is the important word. The Base Game can’t capture all of the possible scope, it therefore gets doled out into smaller visions that are integrated into the whole. It is also a cash grab. Maxis then quasi-Maxis have cashed in on being able to make 10 times what they made with the base by enticing invested players with more content. It is one of those cynical ploys that we as Sim players fall for every time.

Two noticeable things have happened in TS4. Firstly, in the 2 and a bit years that this game has been out, far less true Expansion Packs have been released. It should be noted that as far as the Sims 3 went, heavy production of EPs didn’t occur within the first 3 years. In 2012 and 2013, 3 EPs were produced per year for TS3. So for early indication there is still a chance that the heavy production ethic will come to fruition just as it did before. However, I don’t think it will play out that way and I can see more time being dedicated to considering a production towards The Sims 5. The second point is that there have been far more stuff packs already, than there was in The Sims 3. I expect this is to make up for the fact that the sims store was taken away this time out.

At time of writing this, it is late June 2017, most probably July by time of finishing. The Sims 4 came out during 2014. In that time there has only been 3 main expansions and in reflection (my honest opinion) they are all rather uninspiring when compared to series favourites from previous iterations of the sims franchise.

The expansion packs were normally the element you could rely on to boost the game but sadly they have been entirely lackluster. It is a word I don’t use often but it is the best descriptive of what content you will receive. Get To Work, Get Together and City Living are all abortions in the metaphorical sense. They are collectively not what we really wanted as EPs. They just sucked spherical objects {I promised no swearing, I am a man of my word!}.

My grading based on the one I liked most:-

  • #1 Get Together
  • #2 Get To Work
  • #3 City Living

City Living is by far the worst EP in my opinion. There is something about the multi-ethnicity angle, the rather dull living locations and the rather meager general additions that made this a complete waste of my hard earned English. The fact that my NPCs now often get dressed in some of the barnyard explosions of dress combinations is horrifying. There were some good elements but not enough to save it from worst EP. On reflection, the only good thing about this EP was some of the clothing and yes that is a dichotomy. Some of it was genuinely interesting but some of it looked barnyard.

Get to work was good in theory but most of the introduced elements are forgettable. If you don’t opt to have a sim playing as a Doctor, Scientist or Police Officer, you are disregarding 60% of the EP. The other 40% is weak. It added a fair bit but you had to participate to use that fair bit. You got the playable alien with this pack which is why this pack comes second and not bottom of the pile.

Get Together has brought the most usable elements into my game and at the time I hated the pitch of this EP. It is however the best. Clubs are the single best introduction of any EP and have been expanded since this pack. Windenburg is also a fab location which I enjoy, I like the townies here too. Ultimately though in a one word adjective, this expansion would rank as ‘meh’. And this is the best of the three in my opinion.

Overall, these have been poor additions to a game that never felt complete at launch. The problem in looking at these EPs is that in the past we were used to EPs that actually added Sims functionality. A lot of what these EPs added was what LGR (Lazy Games Review presenter Clint Basinger) determines as ‘set dressing’. He’s not wrong and I so wish he was but the design team focused on all the wrong areas.

I think we all hoped that the EPs would paper over the cracks but they really haven’t touched the surface at all.

Suggestion for next expansion: Get a grip or Get a clue.

The Mid-Ranged Game Packs

A new introduction from the previous times of The Sims 3, are the Game Pack. This is neither a Stuff pack nor an Expansion Pack. It is a mid range expansion, a little light compared to an EP but a bit more substantial in terms of features than a stuff pack. I love these packs and wish they would make more of them.

Overall at time of writing there are 5 game packs.

Parenthood, Dine Out, Vampires, Outdoor Retreat & Spa Day

The Vampires Game pack is without doubt my favourite. When compared to TS3, these vampires are slightly more endowed in the fang department. This pack gave me false hope that TS4 could be redeemed in some regard but I know that ultimately it is doomed. Of all the expansions bought for the game, this is my highest recommendation. I want more like this. The options this game pack opened up in terms of gameplay literally saved me from uninstalling this game. It was getting serious people.

Outdoor Retreat is my second favourite and the oldest. It is limited in terms of use as you only get the best out of this by going to the offworld location. It shares the same sort of problem that Get To Work suffers. Only useful if you use it as a going concern, otherwise forgettable. It introduced an annoying phenomenon of redressing townies in clothing that whilst suitable for the Outdoor Retreat, looked completely out of character everywhere else.

Spa Day was pretty good on the whole. I liked the wellness skill and the various items added for this. However it was kinda weak if your sim doesn’t have an inkling for spa activity. The other issue is remembering to add the spa locations to your neighbourhood. I often forgot to do this or just didn’t get around to it, and without that community lot placed, there would be a few interactions you would miss out on. In terms of necessity, this was so far off the list of necessity it is untrue. Yes it is a different direction but it was so unnecessary. It is like tiling a bathroom using pooh and wondering why everything smells, and why tiles have fallen off the wall a few hours later.

Parenthood is the most recent of these game packs and is okay. I hate to say that I don’t play much with generational families in the Sims 4, where I used to a lot more in The Sims 3. Unfortunately TS4 destroyed the enjoyment linked with family play (which I mentioned in story progression above) and despite toddlers being added and this game pack to address certain interesting additional dynamics, it still doesn’t go far enough to make it a complete and an enjoyable function of the game.

Dine Out is the one game pack I never played with and have not bought to date. It didn’t really interest me despite being a useful addition to enable running a restaurant which is the other component of the Get To Work expansion. I don’t attribute a rating to this, I just decided not to purchase.

Game packs should have been more like what the EPs should have been. Whoever was working on these should have been in charge of the EPs. Another bad choice by Maxis.

The Stuff Packs

These packs are about as welcome as an unexploded sea mine in your Christmas stocking, and I do heartily apologise for mentioning Christmas during June/July.

I can only comment on one of these as I only deemed to purchase one of the overpriced add-ons. I bought the one featuring the hot tub, the hot tub in my eyes is essential for The Sims and the way I play it. Don’t judge me.

I was only tempted to purchase one other by way of the Romantic Garden Stuff because of the funky wishing well it came with and the nice collection of clothing and hairs. I haven’t bought it yet though.

Stuff packs have normally been a hard pass for me. I am not one of those Sims Players who must have all at any cost. I have a brain, although sticking with the Sims 4 may put that fact in question.

The majority of these stuff packs have been entirely rancid. I expected nothing less. The latest stuff in the form of Fitness is the worst to date. The pack is very light on substance and the special item added to these packs came in the form of a climbing wall that seemed rather uninspired (a bit like the ice cream maker or the muck fountain).

Modders and Why They are a Good and Bad Thing for The Sims

I think Modders are pretty awesome, especially for big games like this. Modders saved my woeful experience in TS3 and seem to be making big strides in seeing to things in this game as well.

The problem I have with Modders is that their very existence suggests that overall, the game is broken in a number of fundamental areas.

The second problem with Modders is that in their philanthropic efforts to fix the game, they actually provide a bandage that the creators should have attended to. Every time this happens, the creators get lazier. It is funny how Modders always get praise from the company for their ingenuity when the company are fully aware that they should have got to this already and haven’t. I call that bone idle.

EA supposedly have a QA team but I assume they must be in a permanent state of foggy bong smoke. For you young girls and boys, that’s oral medication via mind altering substances which permanently makes your grey matter resemble a shelled walnut.

Why It Was a Major Problem to Leave ‘So Many’ Elements Out in the Base Game

I work for an airline, specifically in the maintenance planning department. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA of which the FAA is the American equivalent) come and check up on us every so often. It is important that when the CAA perform an audit we leave no questions out on the surface. Why? Because if there are questions on the surface, the CAA start looking deeper. I have to say that my airline is pretty awesome in terms of its safety record so it is not something you should be concerned about but you can see where I’m coming from.

If The Sims Studio had provided all of the standard basics the fan base would have been satisfied. They would have moved on and made do. If maintenance planning have all the documents clean and everything looks fine and within its due dates the CAA leave happy and we carry on without having to make any process changes or escalated reviews and audits in other areas of the business.

The problem is that when you ‘tradeoff’ too many of the core elements it attracts critics and angry fans to start analysing elements that are supplied with the game.

The Sims 4 was entirely a shallow experience therefore whatever was present for inspection received far more scrutiny than it should in a normal environment.

Lets Talk Emotions

Why?

Why?

Why?

I know that we had buffs in TS3. That worked pretty darned well.

Who conceptualised this emotions lark? Why?

Why?

Why?

Why?

{Jackson has entered the puzzled and mildly irritable fugue emotion.}

The effect of these emotional states had some rather negative effects to the actual design direction of the game. It made two gameplay functions for want of a better word, retarded.

Gameplay feature #1: The design of jobs within TS4 was directly effected by the need to tie in these emotions with the job promotion mechanic. In the TS3 it took a fair bit of effort to get your sim promoted but if you tried hard enough you could do it before your sim died if playing with aging on. With TS4 it is a necessity to have aging off in order to reach the higher level of the career track. The reason being is that a lot of external environmental effects go against the sim when they go to work. Often you will find that your sim is for one reason or other not in the optimum mood for work. You can nerf this by using the expansion rewards that were provided for early adopters (in the shape of plumbob decorations) to modify mood or by surrounding by the right paintings, objects, and in some cases clothing. The fact that the jobs were tied in this way also meant that you had some derp choices rather than the traditional collection that we knew and loved in TS3.

Gameplay feature #2: Interacting with sims in the world was often fraught with mixed results. Whilst that might be an accurate reflection of the real world it makes certain situations frustrating. When your own controlled sims are in a bad mood, embarrassed or otherwise in a negative emotion they become difficult to operate. I would often find myself spending unnecessary time taking them to the mirror to talk through the feels. The Parenthood game pack has alleviated that a little, you can talk to another sim about their ‘feelings’ and they balance out if you are convincing enough. This is particularly useful on angry, embarrassed and bored NPCs. (yes, I bother them NPCs!)

This is my own personal opinion but the way TS3 did this was enough. I didn’t want this orgy of emotion in my sims, not to this degree at any rate. Obviously Anger, Sadness and Discomfort are all wanted negatives but the rest can be places on the sacrificial pile to the Llama headed God. Was this to appeal to millennials who have the feels, or the feminists? Do not bring this back this way in TS5 please. I beg you. Go back to moodlets.

I liked moodlets.

Moodlets were the jam.

I also like jam.

{Jackson has entered the Jam emotion.}

Open Worlds and OpenWorldGate

I can’t signoff without elaborating on this issue further. It is the single largest core element that effects the largest design choices of the game. The fact that by virtue of TS3, the open world model exists is 10 nails in TS4s coffin.

Going back to load screen compartmentalisation, this is not something that anybody wants. The less I have to write load screen compartmentalisation the better. Swapping lots of loading screens for one big loading screen is not a happy tradeoff in the design list.

What we wanted was open world with a seamless load. You know, like modern RPGs in open worlds do. Was that too big an ask? Granted, the assets within the world do more but how hard is it to improve from what you had in TS3? How Hard Was It?

The problem is that The Sims Studio followed the scorched earth strategy to the design for TS4. Everything out of the window, TS2 platform change. Annoyingly, some people convinced their weak sensibilities that they liked this change in the beginning. We know that they don’t now.

Load Screens

These loading screens break immersion. It is important for a player to remain immersed in a persistent world, otherwise it is not a proverbial persistent world. Pulling over to the side of the road for a moment but we can see that those individuals who liked to make machinima are now somewhat screwed with TS4. Because there is no open world environment you can’t track around the world or get a sense of neighbourhood in quite the same way.

Shut In

Neighbourhoods are handled in an odd way as well. I call it the Sushi conveyor belt syndrome. I think that the studio realised they made a ‘Richard’ move when they proved the concept further up the chain. They put in this carousel of townies and your neighbourhood’s NPCs that would traipse through the playable neighbourhood in a cornucopia of emotional states. Your sim(s) could then pick one out to interact with. This design choice made it easier for your sim(s) to be a ‘shut in’.

Build Mode / Terrain Editing

Flat worlds but at least Babs has nice buns.

Building and the ability to sculpt terrain were casualties to this modular loading scheme. Without a more sculpted world, or without the courage to program on slopes and gradients, the real feeling of angles was reduced to a flat sterile world where exciting design choices were only provided in rigid backdrops and unexplored set dressing. For builders this was a huge disappointed. For landscape gardeners, even more so. The only thing available to make the world seem raised in any degree was the objects cheat where set dressing from the game’s library could be purloined for use in a suitable adept gamer’s configuration. This was a bandage (band aid) though. The lack of terrain editing also meant that basements were not present from the off.

Vehicles

This is literally the edge of the world, that pickup is a figment of Barbara’s imagination.

Alongside the casualty of the world was the ability to drive cars. You don’t need vehicles if you teleport instantly from one realm to another. There is no transition. If we consider that Oasis Springs is the Phoenix Arizona of Sims world and Windenberg is somewhere in either Holland or Germany, the fact that a sim teleports there instantaneously doesn’t make physical sense. Cars are a complete tradeoff in TS4. I very much doubt they will appear and as mentioned earlier in this article, cars have never evolved from their height in the Sims 2 (where doors were opened and it looked like a scaled model).

Rabbit Holes

It is a rare thing that when we have complained about Rabbit holes for the longest time in TS3, their omission in TS4 actually makes us miss them. I admit to missing rabbit holes. They made many of the classic jobs function and some of the buildings in the neighbourhood were essential. No open world, no space for these buildings. End of.

Other Notable Jank

Excuse me, did I say you could use my computer? You are a guest in this house.

There is some noteworthy wrinkles that go beyond the missing open world. This game had issues in the beginning. One of my particular peeves was something simple but something very broken. You might think I’m nit picking here but this worked many times before and now does not. I’m not sure if this is a design choice or an oversight but it is definitely something that irks me. What is it Jackson? Okay, I’ll get to it.

When married, your partner doesn’t have their name automatically changed to that of the spouse. You have to go into changing your appearance and do this manually. It sucks. It sucks big hairy caterpillars. This is still to be fixed to this day. Despite weddings being added as a party type now, and with a wedding venue in City Living, some wedding shortfall has been recouped, however it is still very Jank. I realise that possibly Maxis decided to not close this off so as not to disenfranchise gay players but I play with lesbian sims who get married all the time. This just seems like a huge oversight in my mind. You may not agree, it might be a grey area but it definitely irks me. I know it is a tiny wrinkle when you weigh it against others things but it sums up TS4 as a package. Even the tiny details were broken in transit and are left unresolved.

On top of that, something that is simply plain missing is the posing that the sims used to do when you created a family. The family portrait might reflect whether certain sims were friends, enemies or lovers and would generally be posed in a pleasing fashion. In the Sims 4, beyond the mother or father holding the toddler this group of sims could be total strangers.

In addition, it would have been nice if a grand parent is listed thusly in relation to another sim but this game is half bottomed. Step-mum or dad asking a bit much. Half-brother or sister maybe? No. Okay, sad face emoji.

Other issues include the huge repository of objects in build mode that are difficult to filter through, especially when objects like the dishwasher (not a base game release by the way) are hidden away in miscellaneous. The fact that to find things requires a text search is indicative of the fact that the cataloguing has become rather complex. Building is less enjoyable for this.

NPC dress is another issue. Some of the clothing combinations are what I classify as a barnyard explosion. I have provided a few pictures for you to laugh at.

The Sims 4 is a lazy sequel. It has undelivered, under delivered and face palmed in many regards but somehow done enough not to be a complete pig. It survived 2 years with forward momentum, something that SimCity 2013 failed to do.

What The Sims 4 Got Right

The sims 4 is not without merit. It had plenty of sparkle and polish in some areas.

The UI is good. A huge improvement over the previous iterations. Clean and minimal, very reminiscent of the SimCity UI. User interface for the uninitiated.

The sims are good looking and match the overall art style very well. The problem with TS3 is that the sims felt a little alien to their environment with their glass eyed look. A big feature of TS4 was the emotional eye and whilst I pooh poohed the emotions further up, it is nice to see this translate in the sim model. The funny walk styles are a little hit and miss. I use the feminine walk style the most and enjoy the vampire walk style that was added in the game pack.

Create a sim is the best of the series so far and the fact that the background music changes when you go into high detail and then changes back seamlessly again when you pull back out is pretty epic. Create a sim is lesser for not having Create a style. In fact, everything is lesser for not having create a style present. This game would have lifted a large degree if the textures could have been modified because that makes every piece of clothing have additional longevity. As it stands, clothing has a number of permutations but some of these are a bit gash and certain colours that would make sense are missing. Overhead choice or laziness? You decide.

Something that LGR (Clint Basinger) mentioned in his 2 years of meh video was that the Sims in the Sims 4 managed to populate areas you visit with more than the conventional 8 that were common in the sims 3 and below, an improvement indeed but only made possible due to reductions in overhead elsewhere.

I quite like how the imports/exports from the community work with lots and households. That whole element is enjoyable.

That’s the list of the good.

The Act of Shillabers on EA’s behalf

Unfortunately there are those worse than simply crossing the picket line to play this game. There are those who get paid by EA to be a community Shill.

I am of two minds on this act.

Firstly, some of these people are genuinely likable. The content they put out is good quality and enjoyable. I could be led to be believe that they were once true partisans like you and I. Now they are on the take. It changes things.

Secondly, you can no longer trust these individuals. They are paid to talk things up when we know that the situation is dire. That is a low blow.

I’d like to give you an individual as an example but I feel that by doing so I draw light on someone I actually like, find attractive (because she is a babe), and don’t want to spoil the day of. I will leave the description there because if I say any more you’ll know who it is instantly, if you are a well versed Sims watcher on YouTube.

The truth is that I don’t like this tactic and I’ll tell you a story.

I used to attend University in my distant youth at Salford University (near Manchester). I was undertaking a Computer Science degree. I knew both of the guys who were on the student committee, representing the students. There was one foreign lecturer who was completely useless. Doctor AM was difficult to understand and was always armed with a poor lesson plan. Many of us undertaking this lecturer found it difficult moving forwards. Unfortunately, the two guys that were in the committee were gay partners, and didn’t enjoy confrontation. The lecturer in question, Doctor AM, was always present at the committee meetings to spear off any bad words spoken against him. He was so adept at this that clearly it had been his survival strategy for years. He was doing very well out of the University for his grants at our expense. What I found more annoying is that my committee members remained quiet on this despite continued noise from my fellow students. The only thing the reps were interested in was having this accolade appear on their CVs to embolden their job prospects. Fighting the good fight was secondary.

This is why Shills are bad. They give you a false sense that everything is okay when it is clearly not. When you allow a construct to form that aligns bad practices to perpetuate ad nausea, you become part of the problem as well.

What does this all mean?

Maxis and EA have been bitten in the manhood with blood oozing from the epidermis and they are feeling the pain. They are having to inject themselves with a tetanus and rabies shot because they saw the fans foaming at the mouth in their anger and vitriol.

The problem is that somehow a lot of people are still invested, despite others abandoning this franchise or simply ignoring the existence of TS4. There are still those blind simmers who continue to swallow this glass, shovelled and paid for by themselves.

At one stage Maxis informed, or more threatened, that if the game didn’t do well there wouldn’t be a sequel. It so happens that the game passed the threshold where this old statement was true which suggests there are millions who bought this poor sequel despite the issues highlighted by the community.

I’m sure that those who go and reinstall TS3 via Origin will be logged as a sizeable increase.

I’m sure there are those that are going to be wanting a refund.

I am sure that there are many who are now just resigned to waiting for TS5 in hopes that redemption may come.

Recommendation by a Historical Sims Player Who Knows

It is now make or break for me. You can approach this anyway you like, I’m not your mother and I don’t pretend to be one. This is my recommendation in hopes to avoid you making a critical mistake but at the end of the day it is up to you. I just hope I put enough evidence forwards that you won’t make that ‘Richard’ move yourself.

If you have not yet purchased the game don’t even consider it. You will be disappointed. Stick to your guns. If you were having a weak moment and were starting to feel like you might capitulate to your desire, hold off. This game is not there. It really isn’t. Not even remotely.

If you have purchased the game and are of the same opinion I am. Don’t buy anything more. You know that it is just akin to smearing one layer of dog pooh over another. It still stinks. It’s not improving, why are you smearing dog pooh over dog pooh? Put that knife down and step away from the dog pooh!

If you are not of the same opinion as me then I feel you need to re-evaluate your life, play The Sims 3 and remind yourself of every good nuance you are missing in The Sims 4. It will remind you how stripped back this game is and I don’t think there is enough time between now and 2019 (the purported TS5 release) to save this iteration. There is too much distance to cover.

If you thought the Fitness Stuff Pack and the Eco Living Stuff pack, are epic content, you need to see a psychiatrist as soon as possible.

If you plan to wait for the Sims 5, do not pre-order. Wait until the reviewers have made their determination and then wait a little longer for the early adopters to have a turn at the game. There are those Sims dedicated fans who will go into deep detail of what you can expect. I recommend YouTube as a place to assemble unbiased reviews in their numbers. There are some paid shills by EA/MAXIS/SIMS STUDIOS so watch out for those.

If you are considering to take a punt at an EP, go to YouTube and look up LGR’s reviews on the expansion first. You might consider his review ‘snarky’ but actually he takes a concise look at the game addition and weighs it up in a scientific kind of way. He has the same form as I do for playing every version of the Sims. You’ll be thankful that you have done this. Tell Clint I sent you. He doesn’t know me but neither does Duke so we are even, kinda. One thing’s for sure, we are both out of bubble gum.

Peace out and ‘slow virgeela’, whatever the simlish that means!

P.s The Goth Family were not harmed in this undertaking. Mortimer was provided with a fresh wife. Bella and Babs now live a happy life in Willow Creek.

“I’m going to plant the badger tonight!” — Mortimer Goth 2017
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