Monday, October 29, 2007

The Imaginative World of MySims

Although I am conscious of the need to create a guide for 'Harvest Moon Boy & Girl' and have left Shaggy struggling on his own with the game, I have to confess that 'MySims' has quite won my heart. The Wii version definitely is more complex than the DS game, although each has its own distinct charm. Despite some problems with the Wiimote especially when building, I finally have become completely absorbed by the game.

(Speaking of 'Harvest Moon Boy & Girl', from everything players have told me, I do believe that my FoMT and MFoMT guides WILL provide answers to most questions. I am going to write a guide for the game when I have completed the two 'MySims' guides but meanwhile...)

Games like Harvest Moon, Animal Crossing and MySims have one fundamental point in common. One must invest considerable time in the game in order to reap ANY of its rewards. The essential problem I had with 'MySims' at first was lack of adequate opportunity to immerse myself in the game.

A comprehensive guide is necessary to enjoy any Harvest Moon game and is necessary for a game like Animal Crossing. I am not certain it is vital where MySims is concerned, but it is fun to write nonetheless. I have discovered, however, that the game was created in a form that provides ongoing tutorials and tips on a regular basis. It can become rather annoying to be forced to read a prompt for the twentieth time to the effect that one should feel free to go outside the blueprint whenever one builds, but it does make the game 'user-friendly'.

When I compare Harvest Moon games to 'MySims', it becomes obvious to me that a young child would be LOST where Harvest Moon is concerned without the help either of a good guide or an older person (whether parent or sibling) but I can imagine that even a fairly young child could have fun with MySims without any outside assistance.

Graphically, the game is designed to appeal to young children although it seduces even older players with its charm and humour. The characters are modelled after the 'Miis' of the Wii. They remind me of little gingerbread boys and girls, but each has a very distinctive appearance and personality.

The map is large with many different areas that are unlocked as the game progresses, including a forest and a desert. The City Centre is the area in which the game begins and the first goal is to revitalise businesses in order to bring new residents and tourists into the area.

The game is based on items called 'Essences'. These are little iconic objects that represent specific 'interests'. Essences fall into one of the following categories: Cute, Fun, Geeky, Spooky, Studious or Tasty. One can obtain Essences either by harvesting them from trees, fishing for them, through social interaction with other Sims or by prospecting for them with a shovel!

Essences are used in building primarily. The game is a building game really to create both buildings and items of furniture. By using 'Essences' in building either, one can attract Sims who are attracted to specific categories. In other words, if you use 'Spooky' Essences when you create a home or business, you will attract 'Spooky' Sims. In similar fashion, by giving an item of furniture that is permeated with 'Spooky' Essences to a Sim who responds positively to 'Spooky' things, you will advance your friendship with that Sim.

Areas on the map can be influenced by the Essences used in building. You can transform the City Centre to a 'Spooky' City Centre by planting 'Spooky Trees' and using a wealth of 'Spooky' Essences in building. Buildings and objects can be remodelled at any point in the game and Sims can be relocated to other areas on the map, allowing the player to fashion areas in the category he/she desires. One can group all the 'Cute' Sims in a specific area, allowing more options and activities to be unlocked.

Social interaction and events both are important in any Sims game and these games are no exception. Every category has its own distinct social gathering. Spooky Sims meet for seances. Studious Sims meet for Book parties. Geeky Sims hold rocket-launching Parties. Participating in these events will allow you to obtain new Essences sometimes.

The entire 'Essence' concept is quite sophisticated in some ways. Each Essence can be used either as a 'Flair' or as 'Paint' in building. There are four different 'paint' forms attached to each Essence. When used as a 'Flair', the actual iconic object that represents the Essence can be added to any item of furniture. For example, in the case of Dead Wood, the icon is a Skull carved of wood.

Some Essences can be planted in the ground to produce trees that will bear the same Essence. Most of these are fruits and flowers, but players may be surprised to discover that the 'Ghost' Essence can be planted to produce a Tree that yields Ghosts!

Specific Tasks will be assigned by Sims when you 'Talk' to them and these tasks are an important part of the plot. Completing Tasks will increase the Star Rating of your Village and unlock new options and areas of the map.

As always, Sims games are both bizarre and quite witty where social interactions are concerned. MySims dialogue can quite clever and amusing.

There is a Sim named Sir Vincent who will be the curator of the 'Skullfinder Museum' in your village if you build the museum for him. He then proceeds to request a number of items. By accepting the Tasks, you will raise your Friendship with him as well as your Village's Star Rating.

One of the items he requests is a Sarcophagus to replace the one that was lost or stolen by the movers. When you take the completed Sarcophagus to Sir Vincent:

Vincent: Brilliant! I can't tell it from the original! (And neither will my patrons...)

Now there will be a little celebratory display of fireworks, followed by a game message.

Game prompt: The Skullfinder Museum is finally complete, thanks to you, Freyashawk.

Sir Vincent has given you an Aztec statue deroative! He's not quitre sure where the 'Inspected by #14' sticker came from.

Vincent: Freyashawk, you've done so much for my museum! I think what I'm feeling is called 'gratitude'. What's that expression people use? Ah, yes! Thank you.'

Game prompt: Sir Vincent's suit is now available in your dresser. How perfectly morbid!

Although the Sarcophagus is the last official Task that Sir Vincent will impose, he nonetheless will continue to ask for items.

In fact, the next time you speak to him, he will tell you:

Sir Vincent: Oh, Freyashawk, it's horrible! I need a Bed. Can you get one for me?

Another Sim named Elmira will request that you build a library for her as her requirement for moving into the Village.

When you have completed the Library and visit her there, she will exclaim:

Elmira: Well, look who it is. The Sim who built me an empty library.

Speak to her again and she will say:

Elmira: 'Hmph. Call this a library? Where are all the books!?'

She then will give you the Task of creating a Bookcase for the library.

I have included these examples to demonstrate the distinct personalities of each Sim in the game as well as the diversity of items that you must create if you wish to move the plot forward.

It is highly diverting and quite creative. Although you will be given 'Blueprints' for each item that you need to create, there are many building blocks and you can experiment to your heart's content, creating any form that you like as long as it fulfils the basic requirements of its type. In other words, if some one requests a 'chair', you must include a seat for the chair, but other than that, you can choose a Blueprint for a basic or very ornate chair and then add whatever creative touches (and Essences) you desire. Usually, an item created as a Task will have specific Essence requirements but once you have met those, you can add more Essences if you choose. Each Essence has a value in terms of its category. If you can give an item that is 100% Cute to a Sim who loves Cute items, you will advance the friendship with that Sim more than you would by giving an item with only a 5% Cute Essence.

I am enjoying this game tremendously now. My first bitter struggle in the Workshop creating a 'comfy chair' now recedes into the distance and is laughable. In many games, one can err by making matters too complicated. I could have followed the basic Blueprint and completed the Chair in about two minutes if I had paid adequate attention to the game. Whenever you work in the Workshop, the blocks that are needed to complete the Blueprint will be shaded green. It then simply is a matter of moving them to the workspace and turning them in the right direction before placing them. It reminds me a little of building in 'Lost in Blue2' although that game had a time limitation and required the use of a hammer. Building in 'MySims' can be done at leisure. In fact, you can take a break and leave the Workshop at any time, even if the item is not finished. It will be stored in your rucksack, awaiting your attention.

For those who enjoyed 'The Sims' games in the past or who love Role-Playing Simulation games such as Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing, I do recommend 'MySims' enthusiastically. Do not be put off by the rather childish style of the graphics. It is a very sophisticated game!

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Essences of 'My Sims'

I now have spent a little more time both with the Wii and DS versions of 'My Sims'. Essentially, both games are 'Animal Crossing' with building added to the mix. There is a slight echo of Sims 2 for the DS in the idea of making tourists happy by improving the village. (In Sims2 for the DS, one ran a hotel and built or ordered improvements and renovations to advance the plot.)

The Wii is lightweight, elegant, versatile and creative, but I am not the only player who finds the Wii-mote absolutely exhausting. The sheer effort of trying to place a single building block on top of another one is mind-boggling when compared to the ease with which one could perform the same task on a PC, GameCube or PS2.
The dual control of the wii-mote and the nunchuk requires some adjustment as well. Perhaps I shall become a devout fan of the system but at the moment, my wrist aches and I find myself taking a break from the Wii version of My Sims not because I have tired of the game itself but because I physically am weary and somewhat frustrated.

Both versions of the game are extremely intriguing in terms of concept and gameplay. With respect to the Wii game, the game is centred on 'essences'. 'Essences' are objects that can be acquired through conversation, excavation, farming, fishing and other means. The 'essences' can be used to build, decorate or paint furniture. Different individuals are attracted by different essences. For example, there are 'cute' and 'spooky' essences, inter alia. If you use many 'spooky' essences in building and decorating, you will attract individuals who respond to 'spooky' elements into your area.

I do miss 'Rune Factory', I have to admit. I definitely have not tired of THAT Harvest Moon game, and I haven't even touched 'Harvest Moon Boy and Girl' yet, alas.
Nonetheless, 'My Sims' is worth some time and energy. I suspect that, like 'Animal Crossing', it is a game that becomes more addictive in the course of gameplay.

I hope to send a preliminary General Guide for the Wii and DS versions of 'My Sims' to IGN either on Monday or Tuesday.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

'Harvest Moon Forever' but 'My Sims' intervenes...

I feel slightly disloyal each time I work on a guide for a game that is not a Harvest Moon game. I had received emails from a number of players recently asking if I intended to write guides for the new 'My Sims' games for DS and Wii. When I was asked if I would be interested, I agreed to work on the project.

'Harvest Moon Boy and Girl' meanwhile has been released. I really had spent the amount of time on Rune Factory that would satisfy me either...

Regrettably for Harvest Moon, I have to take some time to work on the new 'My Sims' games. That having been said, they really are MY sort of game in many ways. Rather similar to 'Animal Crossing' (and not that different from Harvest Moon in the initial premise), the basic plot of these games rests upon the gradual diminishment of a community and the need to revitalise it.

I always intended to explore 'My Sims' for the DS, but did not expect to have a Wii. I now have been introduced to this new platform by Nintendo.

I am trying to play both the DS and Wii versions simultaneously. It actually makes sense as there are times when the Wii becomes far too exhausting.

Yes, the Wii is an exhausting interactive platform with a remote that can become a wand, a bat, a sword, a wand and anything else one might imagine. In a game like 'My Sims', it does not threaten the physical safety of the player as much as it would in a true action game. (People have broken wrists and other limbs in the process of using the Wii remote! It does use muscles that one might not expect to use and in many games, a physical action using the entire body is required!

Like many games, one cannot save 'My Sims' until one has performed a number of activities moving the plot forward to a specific point. I started the Wii version rather late in the day and really could not stand to continue a moment longer when I still found myself unable to save, held captive in my new workshop with my first furniture building project. I was told to build a 'comfy chair'.

If I had not been so exhausted and frustrated, I probably would have been able to complete the job within a couple of minutes. As it was, I failed to see the rather obvious 'blueprint' on the wall and began to design and build an extremely elaborate device.

The furniture-building tasks now remind me of 'Lost in Blue 2 but in fact are not half as difficult as energy is not used and one has no need to hammer nails or make connections in a limited amount of time while the pieces swing back and forth across a screen. In fact, it should have been a breeze, but...

I should have remembered that 'sometimes a chair is simply a chair'. I thought I had to create something with creative 'Essence', a wonderful and unique throne or objet de virtu. In fact, I should have shoved four legs beneath a square seat and a square back and left it at that...

Instead, I created an elaborate and quite tortuous edifice, rising into the air like a bizarre castle for 'Borrowers' or rodents. Even with all the blocks I used, I missed the point completely, avoiding the four stars instead of covering them. When I tried to convince the game that I was 'Done', it obligingly informed me of the need to cover the four spots I diligently had avoided.

This should be a lesson to any one not to persist in an activity when the brain and body is too tired to compute or perform. I rather desperately shoved two random blocks into the spaces where the stars hovered and proclaimed the job 'Done' simply in order to get out of there.

Alas! I was told then to take the 'comfy chair' to my own house! I had to set it in one of the rooms before I finally, finally was allowed to save the game for the first time and blessedly QUIT.

Now today, I realise I could have made a perfectly acceptable chair in less than three minutes if only I had been less exhausted and desperate. It could have been fun if only...

Like 'Animal Crossing' or Harvest Moon', however, 'My Sims' requires time, energy and dedication. One cannot approach a game of this sort without being willing to make a huge commitment.

I need to be seduced into it a little, I confess. I still happily was forging rare weapons and accessories in Rune Factory when 'My Sims' arrived on the doorstep. Nonetheless, both DS and Wii versions promise to be entertaining and quite creative... although, like ALL 'The Sims' games, they will include more than a small element of the truly bizarre.