How Maxis Can Make The Sims 5 a Success
As I need a break from a more intense political piece, I sunk into The Sims 4 to relax. This version of The Sims is new to me for the most part – I had played the original, designed homes for my brother to play in on the sequel, and stagnated on The Sims 3 for years. It was an open-world full of customization for which I owned nearly every expansion pack – and then again I owned some twice, along with the base game – because I forgot what e-mail I had set up with another Origin account to download things and lost it all when it decided to require a fresh login.
When The Sims 4 first came out I was quick to buy it, along with the Get to Work expansion. However, I was greatly disappointed – there was nowhere near as much to do as in the third release with all those expansions, very little new to deal with – particularly very little I wanted – and damn if it didn’t feel like a lot was lost. Gone was the open world I was used to, replaced with compartmentalized little subneighborhoods where you needed to load to even visit your next door neighbor. While some games like to take all their expansions and integrate what they’ve learned into the new game – that didn’t seem like EA’s strategy – it went backward. The sims themselves seemed less real and more cartoonish – and that isn’t ideal for escaping your life in a virtual existence.
We lost the ability to edit neighborhoods – planting your own lots where you damn well wished – or even to create your own neighborhoods with the horribly user-unfriendly world builder they had introduced and then made only playable with the original Sims 3 running on disk – not the digital version. None of the things I was hoping for were in the new version at all.
I ended up playing just a bit with running a store before settling back into the previous incarnation – exploring China, Egypt, and France. It wasn’t until years later that I turned around to give the Sims 4 another chance. With some of the problems fixed and the myriad of the new expansions out – comparing the graphics – I ended up opting for giving the new iteration another shot. To date, I now own every expansion pack, gameplay pack, and the majority of the stuff packs – long after they first came out. I came to accept the localized neighborhoods, even if reluctantly, and there is much more to do – though it still feels like less than in the previous iteration. I struggle to fill homes with enough to do and I really want to do some of the things that I could in Sims 3.
Now is about the time that Maxis should be planning The Sims 5, so it seems that now is the time to flood them with ideas in hopes of seeing them come to fruition. After all, when I wrote about how to fix Electronic Arts’ NHL series, EA also owning Maxis these days, did seem to at least put out a survey to fans on what they might want to see which seemed to be heavily influenced by what I had written. In the end, it seems that they kept to keeping their current market of teenage social players happy rather than expand their market as very little seems to have happened, but at least they seemed to have read it and earnestly considered it. So, let’s get down to the grit of it to make the lawyers happy.
I am stating unequivocally that Maxis (subsidiary of Electronic Arts) may take these ideas and put them into action without providing me with any compensation whatsoever outside of providing a better product for me to purchase. I waive any legal right which obligates any compensation or presumes any ownership of the ideas on my part. With that said, I won’t refuse any completely voluntary compensation (via my Patreon page below) – I just don’t demand it. Completely optional.
Provide Assistance to the Modding Community
What makes The Sims work as a series is the modding community – there is only so much that Maxis can make directly available to the public and so mods allow for a great supplement to the product. It is especially useful as it allows for Maxis to focus on gameplay changes in its expansions while the more tedious meshing and texturing can be done by fans. However, while Sims products have a lot of modability, the company has not been very helpful in allowing this modding to flourish.
Let’s shoot back to The Sims 3 Create-A-World tool. This came out early in the franchise – so early that you had to find out online – from nonofficial sites – that it would only work with a physical copy of the base game running. Once inside, it was confusing how to get things to work right – trying to place a myriad of items in world without the editing friendliness of the game and no tutorial as to how to successfully create a world. I started many, but only successfully created one – one which made things run much slower than I had anticipated.
Enter The Sims 4. Mods now have to be manually enabled – and not just once – every single time there is an update (except once that seems to have slipped through the cracks). The game must load; we enable mods; then we have to quit and load the game all over again. That isn’t very friendly to modders or your users relying on mods to enjoy your game.
I also noticed that – as the updates piled up – mod items that once worked beautifully at once now do not function at all. What comes to mind especially are dining room tables that you suddenly couldn’t put chairs around anymore and showers that couldn’t even be placed in world anymore – no explanation why or how to make them compatible once again. This isn’t as if mods that altered gameplay were just being affected – items that should work just like the base game items do suddenly stop working while the base game’s items went on working. Whatever update was done to those items should have been made clear so the mods could be updated – or better yet – a quick program could have been executable in game to update outdated items in the same manner as the base game items – even if that means assigning default values to whatever variables were added.
But, more than anything, Maxis needs to invest in creating quality, user-friendly modding tools for the community and making it clear how to successfully mod the game so that this can flourish. It will pay itself back many times over as it will expand who will purchase your game and its expansions. We need another world builder that at least lets us create our own little mini-neighborhoods.
Open Up the World
One thing that I’ve seen all over the internet already, that people want brought back, is the open world design. Having played both on a machine that is a decade more advanced than The Sims 3, I have grown to understand the virtue in your scaling back of the open world some. The Sims 3 lags like crazy at certain hours of the day when it tries to process all sorts of things for what is going on in a large world – The Sims 4 does not. However, especially so long after in a time where the 2 GB RAM limit can be breached, there must be a happy medium where there is much more explorable by your sim than the area around the other lots in a small neighborhood. Make those lots all accessible – perhaps expand the common areas. If we can have The Sims 3 open world in The Sims 5, we would all love to have that, but there should be at least an earnest movement toward that end.
I personally want to create a large estate – and without making the individual lots larger – and 64×64 remained the largest between the past two games – that could only be done by owning multiple lots (which was possible at the end of The Sims 3) placed right next to one another. If you have to travel between such lots, it does you no good to have these multiple lots. You may want to play with localized rendering of – not only terrain – but which sims to bother with. That may allow you to open the world up considerably.
Bring Back Create-A-Pattern
Making things match was a great feature in The Sims 3 that was lost in The Sims 4. I imagine that this is the result of graphics improving and the need for more than 3 tinting colors for most objects. It also used to slow down or crash the game if you did it for too many items. However, when you think you have the perfect style items for two things but the colors of red don’t match – or one is available in purple and the other isn’t, that can cause some serious gameplay issues for builders. Even if fewer parts of an object are recolorable or repatternable, or if some things aren’t retexturable at all such as community content, it is well worth the investment. Retexturing an individual piece – that isn’t even able to be saved along with the original – without being able to even eyeball it in comparison to the item you are trying to match it to is much less than ideal.
Resource Analysis Alerts
Having too many mods loaded certainly slowed down things in The Sims 3 – I haven’t really noticed it in The Sims 4 beyond the high quality modded hair not rendering and seeming ghostly if you have too many outfits and sims freezing if you have too many in your house. But this means that a great tool for you to add in is an alert system that notifies you if you’re using up too much RAM because there are too many objects, or modded objects, on the lot or you have retextured too many items. That way players know exactly what they need to fix to get the most out of the game – especially when it isn’t 100% Maxis created.
Split Level Homes
This is what I was really hoping for when The Sims 4 came out and it never materialized. I never lived in a split level home, but my aunt and uncle owned one and some of my friends had one and I really wanted to play with that idea. Not much needs to be done – programming-wise – to allow for a split level home. Simply add a variable that has a variable of either “1” or “2” – essentially you can do it with a boolean using only one more bit of data per square. The level will tell you to move up from seeing level 1 and 1.5 to seeing 1.5 and 2 – with every square still having to be separated by an entire level. It will allow for a new level of imersement and a sense of separation between these levels – a sense that may very well be able to be integrated into gameplay. Is a sim cheating – a significant other on the half-floor above would be less likely, but still potentially capable of noticing.
With this – I want to see split-level entrances – such as walkout basements. There was one celebrity who had this in The Sims 3 – but I could not recreate it for the life of me.
We have apartments in The Sims 4 – we had them in The Sims 3 – but you are stuck with a precreated apartment that you might be able to edit the bounds of in some circumstances. The Sims 5 needs to have the ability to create custom apartments with custom lobbies. While there were shells in The Sims 3 – and likely the same in The Sims 4 – let’s just have it that at a specific floor, likely the second, we can replicate the outside of an apartment complex and have that floor repeat 50 times to throw us up in the sky in areas that we might not have had as good of a view from.
Currently, your standard, human sim has 6 needs: Sleep, Hunger, Social, Fun, Bathroom, and Hygeine. We try to keep these up to keep our sim alive and then meet goals here and there to given them special skills – such as no longer having some of these needs decay. It can get mechanical and leaves you with not much to do if you’ve gotten good items or cleared off the needs. It is time to improve upon this mechanic, and thus I bring up nonessential needs.
These needs do not kill you if you run low on them – nor cause you to buy adult diapers or pass out on the street. Rather, they can affect other levels of your gameplay.
For example, you can have a stress need – it isn’t something you can do away with by just watching a fun 10 TV for a half hour – but rather it is is brought down (and you would want this as low as possible) by doing something fun or relaxing for a long period and avoiding stressors. Gotta meet all sorts of shallow social engagements – you get stressed. Have a job that is high work and low pay or you just feel is beneath you – that increases your stress. If you are fulfilled by your job and it’s what your sim has wanted to be doing for a long time – it isn’t going to stress you as much as a similar job that just doesn’t fulfill your sim.
If you’re overstressed – perhaps that causes a normally level-headed sim to snap over something small as if they were hot headed. It would also give reason to do some stress relieving things such as sitting and enjoying a view – or birdwatching. All those spa actions that you have to roll in as fun and skill building – they can be good stress relievers if you can afford them. Is your stress too high? Perhaps you suffer at work or don’t sleep as well or overeat.
What about a fulfillment bar that tells you how well your sim is meeting the expectations of what they want out of life. If they’re a gourmet – are they eating enough good food? If they’re a genius – are they getting enough intellectual stimulation? Perhaps this getting low enough as an adult can spurn a midlife crisis of some sort.
Then I’m thinking about addictions. Is your sim getting addicted to juice (and please rename it something less tame, perhaps even silly juice to make it clear to adults that it is alcohol)? Well, now they have a juice bar they have to manage unless they can beat the addiction. Did they start the puffpuff (yeah, throw in tobacco use – this will be a good instructional lesson for kids on why not to start)? Well, now you have a puffpuff bar that has to be met or you get all stressed out.
Perhaps there is a popularity bar that is more important for younger sims – it might be filled by caving into peer pressure to do things that may be good or might not be that smart – in addition to being friendly to the right sims and… not making a fool of yourself in the process. Throwing successful teen parties while the parents are out of town could shoot up that popularity. On the other hand – perhaps there is a reputation that goes with it making it so that parents don’t want kids or teens with bad reputations hanging out with their kids – so don’t get caught with that party or at least build that reputation in other ways to make up for it.
But essentially, let’s make sims a little more complex and humanlike.
Tweens or Young Teens
As it is, sims go from being half-sized sims that are fleeing monsters under their beds to practically adults with full sexual features. There is a stage in between that is an important stage of development between being children and moody teens – which could either be tweens or young teens – I don’t imagine it will make a difference which name Maxis takes.
Let’s create that stage where personalities really start to come out with all its awkwardness. Zits start here and they’re always trying to act older than they are in trying to claim their identity as independent beings. Your first kiss would start here – though not likely your first woohoo which Maxis doesn’t even allow for teens to have – despite most having their first at that age. Junior high or middle school makes the perfect in between school as well.
Maxis uses a pretty vanilla culture in The Sims so far – their languages are even indistinguishable. However, different cultures exist and different governments rule those cultures. Perhaps a player can try a playthrough with different taxation rules – rather than the wealth tax as the only tax Maxis uses currently. Perhaps kids are allowed to drop out in high school or maybe they have prearranged marriages. There are many options to spice things up and that also allows for a lot more sim development. With different governmental settings, sims can hold ideas about these governments and even try to change them. You’re going to feel much more fulfilled if your sim can actually change the world around them.
Let us say a player begins a game where same sex marriages are illegal – they work through their life and get them legalized – then perhaps a grandchild spends their life undoing all that progress. There is more storytelling available there – and it affects how kids live their lives. In this example, teen or tween kids might be socially ostracized if they are gay at the beginning of the game – but kids growing up later, after it is legalized, don’t suffer the same social ostracism. It’s not vanilla, but it also helps teach the youth how governmental policies matter – there are effects on actual people in the world – and I do believe that will lead to more thoughtful voters in the future.
The Sims Medieval failed for one reason: it wasn’t The Sims. You played in a different era – but it was also a completely different game where you didn’t get to live the life of a sim in the Middle Ages – you were building a kingdom and playing several sims through short story arcs. However, had it been what players were expecting where you can fully design three dimensional homes with a medieval theme and live the life of someone at that time, it probably would have done much better.
Now, as I suggested on your forums, something like that would work best as an expansion with a Westworld flavor – it’s a theme park your characters visit. Yet there are many more modern eras that we can go through. Perhaps start with the 1950s (the player always chooses which era to begin their game in) and certain clothing styles dominate as well as decor – the sims don’t have cell phones or computers, but writers have typewriters to use and other 1950s technology. If the player allows era progression, they can move their sims into the 60s and 70s and so on to reach 2020. New clothing and furnishings become available in each new era and perhaps older things get negative social reactions or even are less effective. In fact, you could have expansion packs that add in earlier eras down the line – maybe eventually branching back into the Wild West or earlier.
Going to School
We have jobs that we can go to work with our sims – you have things to do and you get to actually direct your sim through their workday. Why not have the same thing for school? I would love to see a boarding school expansion pack ever since Bully came out and made such things seem interesting. Fight the bully on the playground, get stuffed in your locker, pass notes in class or study – but let us actually experience that part of our sim’s life.
More Contextual Interactions
Outside of a few traits, all conversations are essentially the same. There are few compatibility issues and discussions are quite bland. But what if sims had specific areas of interest with scores in each? Perhaps one sim is a scientist while the other is a science fan despite not having much of an aptitude for it? Might that not make science discussions more beneficial and enthusiastic – at least on one side? A discussion with a friend about many subjects might go well, but perhaps one is super enthusiastic about sports and the other doesn’t care for them at all – it might start with some nodding leading to a request to change the subject and then abject frustration if it doesn’t change.
More details about sims allow for more realistic and entertaining discussions – but we need cues as to what other sims are thinking in conversations for this to work.
We need more activities for sims to do – especially ones that can fill out areas. Bring back the martial arts skill that allowed sims to train in personal dojos and fight one another – some more diverse and exciting animations to go along with that would do it wonders. But don’t stop there – there are other forms of fighting – why not throw in fencing and boxing while you’re at it? Perhaps geeks could duel with lightsabers or foam medieval weaponry. Maybe wrestling: both legitimate and fake professional wrestling style.
Bring back sculpting and then throw in pottery too. Don’t just bring back basketball, but throw in tennis and perhaps hockey both on the ice and in the street. Give us our instruments, but also add in others that people learn such as the flute or horn.
I’ve seen at least one call to let sims get together to play Dungeons & Dragons – which I’m thinking of trying to mod for The Sims 4 as it is. Charisma, storytelling, and creativity would be great traits to put into that – as well as your logic and writing for the DMs. Sims might be able to keep stats on player characters and have emotional swings as they level up or their characters are killed or become permanently dead.
In addition to chess, why not throw in checkers and shogi? Perhaps board games should make an appearance.
I am lost as to why sims never gained a lying skill or similar social skills that are subsets of charisma. Manipulation, bullying, empathizing – these are all subset skills of charisma. And yes, some skills should be subsets of larger skills and gaining ability with one should make it easier to gain levels with others – and you really need to gain some level of fitness to get skills at sports and fighting.
Why simply make overalls an outfit? Why not create the overalls and let them be placed over another item of clothing that someone is already wearing? Why not let people put on vests and jackets over their normal clothes? As a bracelet may appear on different areas of the arm, why not allow multiple bracelets? We are able to layer our clothing and so should our sims be able to do so. Put different thicknesses of items and it all works out – usually. Even now we can get some custom items that don’t work well without one protruding over the other and we know not to make those actual outfits together, and I imagine we are still far away from any company designing actual clothing that reacts to real physics to correct that – but that doesn’t have to prevent layering altogether.
With that in mind – certain pieces of clothing should exist with different options: does it have a collar? Well we should be able to wear it flat or popped. Are there buttons? There should be versions with the whole thing buttoned up, or one undone, or two, or six. Are we wearing a vest? It should be able to be zipped or buttoned up or not. Let’s put some variety in – and while this currently requires different meshes, they are similar enough that it should be easier to create the alternate versions than whole new items. Once you create this for even a few items, watch the modding community run wild with it.
With what we saw with Get To Work – shopping for clothes – perhaps it would be wise to let sims begin with a single outfit of each type this time around and then literally purchase new items of clothing with simoleons. It would make the shopping trips much more fun and perhaps you could even create online meeting places where sims can shop for community content using simoleons – not real money. You buy it, the game installs it as efficiently as possible and you get to see it on your sim before you purchase it.
Sim’s Eye View
Many people enjoy running generations of sims and may not feel attachment to a single sim – but I like to focus on one myself and I’m sure I’m not alone. For this immersion, it would be great to be able to see things from my sim’s eyes – a view that can be toggled on and off – which lets me feel more like I’m living their life. With that in mind, it would be wonderful to actually walk around even small areas and see things as my sim sees them – and that may change how I place things as well.
This also makes outside sitting areas much more workable – you can place some chairs out on a balcony and literally watch what is going on around you. It can be good to add some wildlife and meteor showers to make this all the more exciting – much of the wildlife we don’t even have to be able to interact with. Perhaps a flock of birds flies up and lands in a pond – perhaps the family dog goes barking after them and you watch them run off without having to script them too intensely – they are what is going around.
Beyond that, being able to lock people in to have them sit aside you or across from you to have discussions in this mode can really make it work. Sure, they may suddenly decide that they have to go to the bathroom – but they shouldn’t suddenly stand up and go play a videogame without a good reason for doing so if we have them locked in. Moreover, we don’t want our sim to have to always go over to the other person – if we’re sitting we should be able to invite them to sit with us. We should be able to keep them sitting if we want to paint or sculpt them.
Murder and Mayhem
At least with verification of age – allow some more interesting criminal behavior for sims you are controlling. Let them kill someone – especially if they are a vampire – it’s really disappointing you can’t drain someone’s blood. It may be fun to break into homes to rob them (insurance can replace their stuff the next day) or set fires. Get mad at a sim, assault them on the street leaving them knocked out for a few hours. Of course, police can take action as well to stop you or arrest you if there are witnesses to your crimes.
Occults, Occults, Occults!
There should be occults of various types of available from get go – though they don’t all need a whole bunch of special things about them necessarily. Vampires and mermaids may need a whole lot of thought put into them – but what about simply adding elves and dwarves – they just need some ears or a short, stout stature and perhaps a special trait or two available. They don’t need special elven magic or dwarven homes – just throw them in there and expand on them later if you really want to in an expansion.
Bring the Occult Into Magic
The Harry Potter world is certainly popular – despite J. K. Rowling – but that isn’t real magic – in fact many of your players may actually perform real magic with rituals buried in occult teachings. When you make a magic expansion, please try to utilize this next time – allow sims to bury themselves in tomes and hold rituals on lawns dedicated to various deities – which can also be a new occult type. We don’t need to be waving wands at other sims – let us curse them from the shadows of a secret workshop. Buffs, love spells, luck spells – these can all be done with the occult – without the ridiculousness of animated cleaning tools. Even more – this should be something that anyone can do – not a special occult type.
Many of us would love to live in a large, sprawling manor with plenty of space to get things done – but it can take a sim an hour to get out the door from their bedroom depending on the layout of the home. This is a function of how fast sim time runs compared to real time and it has other nasty issues that arise with it. For example, how often do you feel that a party is just getting started when guests begin leaving because it’s 2 am? You are most successful if you build a small, well laid out home with high quality items – but who wants a minimalist life or to live in a Hong Kong coffin apartment? Is that how I want to judge the success of my sims?
While some are going to want to have time fly by – and I’m guessing Maxis has done polls that find that the plurality like that time flow – we need some ability to adjust time in game that isn’t hard to decipher cheat codes. I did it successfully in The Sims 3 using NRAAS’ time dilator, my guess at how it worked in The Sims 4 was waaaaaay off. Give us the power to enjoy our sims’ lives – to lay back and smell the roses for a change.
How Long Was That?
Until The Sims 4, we had a nice little display that told us how long we were dragging out a wall or fence – but now we are given a price instead. We have $720 worth of wall – so we must do math in our heads to discover we built 12 squares of wall – unless it’s a half wall that is a different price or a taller wall – etc. It was a failed experiment – frustrating players rather than making the world more user friendly.
Restore what you had previously and fans will be much happier with The Sims 5.
I very much like the quote I read in New Scientist once that mutitasking means you are doing at least one thing substandardly. However, here I am sitting at my computer and multitasking none-the-less. I am watching TV as I type and smoking a cigarette. Most of us do it with simple tasks: we eat in front of the TV or listen to music as we work – why can’t our sims multitask these simple tasks as well? Why can’t the eat a bowl of cereal in front of the TV or eat as they browse the web? There is no good reason for them not to be able to do these things and it is about time that Maxis brings them about.
Chill Out on the Censorship
We all understand that The Sims is looking for the widest possible market and that includes little kids. It’s a bane of monopoly – Maxis has no competition for this type of game at all – the WWE took over the market with better edge but reverted to being kid friendly once they bought out their competition. Having to have mods to rename Woohoo to something that isn’t insulting is one thing; getting warning messages because I named my dog Poopsie is another. Poop is the most kid friendly word for feces, crap, shit, diarrhea, etc – show me the family that doesn’t want their toddler exposed to the word “poop” and I will show you a family that needs a child removed from the home.
Slightly different versions of the game unlocked with an age verification may be an overall solution – but use some basic discretion before you make the game repellent to your much larger market of adults who are insulted by the censorship.
Down with the Sickness
On many occasions I’ve been home sick and played The Sims. I have yet to play the sims and have one of my sims actually get sick themselves – with the exception of a mod which caused them to catch a STD. Yet, sickness is a very real thing here in the real world – in fact, we are currently in the middle of a pandemic. My sims are dying of heat strokes in their homes, but none of them are catching a cold or a stomach bug? We can call in sick to work or school, but it can never be valid? I don’t want my Sims getting sick as often as they got robbed in The Sims 3 – which was every other night – but I want them to occasionally be under the weather. Get to the doctor, buy some alternative medicines of which some works and some is just a scam, soak in a hot bath, have people shy away from you. What are these doctors doing all day anyway? Just delivering baby after baby?
I have had modded objects work wonderfully in The Sims 3 and 4 – yet, as updates pile up many of these objects just stop working: dining tables suddenly cannot have chairs placed around them or vice versa – the chair cannot be placed around any dining table. Something changed in the rules for placement that made the modded object obsolete – and perhaps the people who modded them know what that is, but they are unlikely to go back and fix all these objects and reload them.
Yet, you have the code created that they worked under – it exists. If you simply flag modded objects with a timestamp, you can have objects from before these updates follow the old rules where they weren’t yet obsolete. Whatever new variable was added into the class that describes that object need not be added in if they can still follow the old rules. It will create a bigger file, but it does not happen often enough for these to build up substantially; it does happen often enough that broken mods become a serious problem. I believe you’ve been dealing with that issue by shutting off all mods with every update rather than working with the modding community.
You can also lessen the problems by communicating the changes clearly with the modding community BEFORE the patch, not after, if at all.
And Here’s to a Better Game
If you are a consumer and like the ideas put forth in this article, make sure you let EA know that you like them – bring the article up in a relevant thread, or send EA an e-mail asking them to pay attention to the article. These are things that you can do to make sure these changes are on their mind and taken seriously.
Featured Image via EA. Fair Use.
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