The Sims 4: An Architecture Nerd’s Dream

Every time I think I’m out, it pulls me back in.

This has been something of an odd week. It’s spring break, so I’ve just sort of been sitting around, waking up in the late afternoon, staying up until the “wee small hours of the morning.” Usual college student stuff.

It’s just like real life! Sort of.

Last week, I got back into The Sims 3, which is an absolutely fantastic entry in the “life simulation” genre. It’s made by Maxis, published by EA, and the series has been a staple of casual gaming since the early 2000s.

The game’s pretty simple. You make a few characters, or Sims, build or buy a house, and watch what happens. You can take control of them, making them perform specific actions, or just sit back and let the AI run its course. It’s a remarkably engaging game for having so little actual gameplay. Maybe that’s why it’s so popular.

One very interesting thing about The Sims is how much time it ends up eating. It’s not uncommon to sit down to play for a while, and the next time you check the clock it’s five hours later and you’re wondering where the day went. That’s what happened last week, when I decided to start up a new house in The Sims 3 and ended up spending three hours in the character creator, making reasonable facsimiles of myself and a few of my close friends.

Look, it’s us!

For someone who really doesn’t care about the “virtual dollhouse” aspect of this game, that’s a very strange way to spend so much time. But it’s what I did, and I did it three more times over the past four days.

Anyway, after creating our household (we’ve got roommates for days), it’s into the build-buy screen. Since most of those friends I copied were watching my stream, I let them choose the house, and we ended up in a tiny top-floor apartment in a large Deco skyscraper, one of the tallest in the town.

By the time I was done tearing down the interior walls and portioning out the space, it resembled a jail more than a flat. So I typed in a few cheat codes, unlocked the entire floor, and built a penthouse apartment in a modern/prairie style.

What good is a game without selfies these days?

And then I hit play, and the game ran like absolute garbage. The Sims 3 never ran well, but nine years of add-ons, patches, objects, textures and content have severely crippled it. After the game crashed five hours in (autosaves were not common in 2009), I lost all the progress I had made.

That’s where the next game, Sims 4, comes in. I found it on sale, bought a copy of the base game, and was severely disappointed because the neighborhood I decided to build a house in was empty. I assumed it was like the original game, from way back in 2000, where you had to build the entire neighborhood.

Our first house, in an empty neighborhood. Look at those edges!

I was wrong, as it turns out, and had just moved into the totally empty neighborhood that was added sometime last year.

I ended up watching a few YouTube videos to try to figure out what I was missing, and relocated to a more vibrant city, this time with more DLC. And there is a lot of it: over $180 worth of items, gameplay elements, furniture, new towns and even new clothing. Most of it’s great, some of it’s crap, but the important thing to note is that none of it kills performance like it did in Sims 3.

This game runs flawlessly. I recently built myself a new computer, and although it’s close to top-of-the-line, it still struggles with some modern and even not-so-modern games. In Sims 4, I very rarely get framerates lower than 60 frames per second. Part of this optimization is due to the complete removal of the open-world, which has been replaced by a segmented minimap and lots of loading screens.

But I honestly haven’t found myself caring about that, because I don’t often end up playing in Live Mode. Usually I find myself building fantastical houses, inspired by mid-century architects and my absolutely insane visions of post-modern living. And for the purposes of architecture alone, The Sims 4 excels, moving leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor.

The HOA hates me. A lot.

Building is surprisingly fluid, allowing for the manipulation of rooms, roof elements, windows, doors, and other structural items with almost infinite variation. Every wall, roof and floor material has dozens of recolors, with thousands of possibilities for each. Even the furniture (of which there isn’t nearly enough, only a couple dozen beds, couches and chairs each, with maybe a thousand items in total) can be palette swapped to match any room’s decor.

And while fans of Sims 3 may lament the loss of Create A Style, which allowed for endless retexturing and recoloring of any item, there is more than enough variety here to make up for it.

Who lives in a dining room in our backyard? James, apparently.

Overall, I’ve been very impressed with The Sims 4. It takes some steps backward in some areas, but it delivers more than enough improvement to make up for it. I’ve heard there’s some really cool stuff added to the Sim interactions, and the way they express emotion, but I’ve played this game for more than 20 hours this week and I’m still just building houses.