Games of February 2020

The Sims (PC)

Released twenty years ago today, I figured it's time to add the original The Sims to the list of games here. From a design point, it's kind of a weird point between SimCity 3000 and SimCity 4 with elements of both. While it has a fantastic soundtrack and joins the illustrious ranks of games like Deus Ex being some of the last great computer-exclusive games before the ecosystem changed and consoles essentially took makes me wonder why it became such a hit (especially compared to the later SimCity titles) and why every publication (including the late MacAddict) raved about it.

I suppose there's a certain fun to finding your own stories with the goldfish-like way Sims move around and interact with objects, like two grad students who manage to get success only to be killed in a tragic fire, or a family torn apart by incest (both of my early attempts), it's a fleeting feeling. Part of the problem is no built-in likes or social norms, so even if you create a "husband" Sim and a "wife" Sim, they won't inherently like each other, leading to problems. The other problem I've found is that if your Sim loses his or her job (via missing the carpool), they'll often get "too depressed" to look for jobs. While that's a common factor in this post-2008 world (unless you have led an extremely sheltered life, you've probably been there—I have), your Sim never snaps out of it or gets lucky, instead money dwindles and items have to be sold off to pay for their upkeep. This ends up with the Sim in question ultimately starving to death.

Before EA figured out that it was a cash cow and to be exploited for years afterward (the later games got "Stuff Packs" and had features removed to be added back in expansion packs again), it makes me wonder how close we were to the vision to what Will Wright described in this mid-1990s interview. As I mentioned in my old SimCity 2000 review the idea was for a bunch of interoperable "Sim" games to be released, and The Sims, already in development as a pet project even by that time, would likely have been the basis for that. The cancelled SimsVille elaborated on here might have gotten closer to that, but even then, it would be a stretch to translate the micromanagement of The Sims (with individual personalities and objects) to a large scale like a real city, unless it was more of a "broad strokes" system with only a handful of "traceable" objects and people.

While the in-game options (items to buy, design choices for Sims, etc.) are pretty limited, there exists hundreds of mods out there to extend the game. I've strayed away from these, partly because I find The Sims fundamentally boring...spend a handful of hours on it and then away for months...and I've learned that mods are merely a drug that will give you a five-minute high until the novelty wears off. This is what I learned with SimCity 4. (Final Rating: 2.5/5)

Short Circuit (Mac)

Unrelated to the 1986 film of the same name, Short Circuit is a puzzle game that involves matching tiles, one I've recently picked up again, which I haven't seen in at least a decade, and I'm almost as bad at it as I used to be. Explaining the game is better explained here and my most recent attempt I got to World 5, which is the "stubborn tiles + weight" world. The first level is basic color matching, the second level is weighted blocks (with black and white patterns), the third is gradient-colored blocks switching places. This is notable for two reasons. The first is I remember I thought it was more colorful and vibrant than what the game presents (pictured below), but I don't know if it's a slowly fraying memory or the fact that my brother did mess with some games in ResEdit.

The other is that I remember being freaked out by the hissing disappearance and replacement of the tiles when I was younger (we're talking about a 7 year old here) in that level. The fourth level presents metallic blocks that have to be worked around, then the fifth has the weighted blocks AND the "stubborn tiles". I think there are about 10 worlds, with the last one involving tiles repopulating the screen. I never got to that point...