Flights of The Electribird

Through Games, Events and Multimedia

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Farewell, Maxis…

Just like Disney did to LucasArts, Electronic Arts shut down Maxis, the creators of several games that had a name with “Sim” in it (SimAnt, SimEarth, Sim City and The Sims, to name a few) and Spore and Darkspore. Electronic Arts has told people that they will continue with The Sims and Sim City franchises (like they could ever afford not to continue those), but Maxis’ offices in Emeryville had their offices shut a couple of weeks ago.

Rest in peace, Maxis, and thanks for the entertainment.


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The Sims 4 – A Fixer-Upper Game

Happy New Year, everyone!

The Sims 4 has been out for some time now and I have yet to read that many good things about it from those who’ve played it. It took some time for me to get my copy of the game, due to some misunderstanding with the store I got it from, causing me to order it from another country to get the version of the game that I wanted. Now, after playing the game myself for a while, I can understand why Electronic Arts can’t catch a break with one of their most money-making franchises ever.

Just like the previous Sim-games, the player can create a household of 8 custom-designed people to place into a house (or an empty lot, where you can build your own house) and control them any way the player sees fit. According to EA’s salespitch for The Sims 4, the sims can now be designed like clay figures, by pulling specific areas of their bodies with the mouse, and have more improved personality traits and emotions that changes the game entirely compared to the prequels, which makes them respond to everything around them in a more natural way. For instance, if a sim gets angry, that sim will stay angry, making some new anger-related interactions be available for the player to choose from until the sim changes mood, which can be done in a number of ways, like watching TV, taking a shower or simply waiting it out. There has also been some updates to the way you can build and design both the exterior and interior of their house. The height of the roof can be altered, the patios can be made circular and rooms can be picked up and moved around with the mouse alone, to name a few examples. But if you’re one of those gamers, who want to get started right away, you can always use the in-game gallery to download families and houses that other players have made straight into the lot without exiting the game (Internet required) or go ahead and play with the already-existing households in the game.

Unfortunately, these and other fancy updates came with a large price. To make room for everything on the 2 discs you get when you buy the game at the regular retail stores, lots of features that the hardcore gamer is used to had to be either downgraded or left out completely. The neighbourhoods are no longer open, so you’re once again stuck with loading screens when the sims leave the home lot. There are no special creature in the base game, so you’re stuck playing with nothing but humans. The colour-wheels in the design tools are gone, so you’re stuck with whatever colour options each object and clothing item have available. The features that caused the biggest riots on social media websites all over the world, were pools and the toddler stage of the sims’ growth cycle, which players believe to be too important key features to be without (yes, Maxis left those out too). Their excuse was that it simply wasn’t possible to add them, because the game mechanics couldn’t handle it, if I understood what they had told my sources correctly, just like they couldn’t handle the height differences for the teenagers (they’re the same height as the adults now, which makes them a little harder to differentiate from the older generations at first glance). As a former game design student, I find this to be a sign of laziness and stress due to a very short deadline…

To save the franchise (and their income), Maxis had no choice but to make free patches for the players to download to update the game with some of the things that were missing. So now, thanks to the updates, the players can play with ghosts, pools and 2 missing careers (athlete and business) and more updates should be on the way (can’t remember if they were supposed to be 4 or 5 patches in total, but chances are that Maxis will stop here, because they plan to release an expansion pack soon). This is a very kind and unexpected gesture from any EA-related company, considering that EA has the reputation of being corporately evil (sorry)…

As a collector of The Sims-games, it angers me that I have to give this game a 3/5. The features that’s been added into the game are wonderful and fun to play with, but the things that’s been removed or downgraded ruined gameplay for me on a large scale. If this game was released as The Sims 2 years ago, they could have gotten away with it, but after the previous sequels, this isn’t an upgrade at all, even if the new features improved the gameplay a lot. Those who know about Electronic Arts are used to seeing them as a greedy, money-hungry company (again, sorry) and The Sims 4 hasn’t improved that reputation at all. But by making those free patches, Maxis may have saved some of their dignity and salvaged some respect, but is that enough to get the angriest of their devoted fans back? I’m still remaining a bit doubtful at the moment, but I have noticed that a lot of them has been playing The Sims 4 again before going back to the prequels. That’s a good sign, right? Either way, you can always try to blow off some steam by letting the sims get a cowplant…

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Build a Simulated City that Adapts

I’ve played a lot of city-building simulators over the years and very few of them have been able to beat the Sim City games. Today is no different, because Maxis are once again back in action with a game where you create and rule over a city of your own as the almighty mayor – yes, the long wait for the next sequel of Sim City (or Sim City 5, as it is called in some cirlces) is finally over! You build a city, help the citizen with their problems and do what you can to keep the city thriving. Seems simple enough, yes? If it was a little less tricky to learn how to use all the features and to keep the economy stable for more than 30 minutes after every mission, the answer would be yes.

With most city management simulators, the cities adapt to the quality of the city. The better the location is and the more citizen who move into the location, the more some of the buildings evolve and become bigger on their own. I’m glad to see that Sim City is no different this time. It takes a lot of decorations and expensive roads, but at least there’s no need to tare down every single building to get the skyskrapers when you can afford them. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t cost anything to afford homes, private businesses and factories anymore! You just place the zones next to the roads and watch them evolve on their own as you build the rest of your city. The only things that require money, are the buildings the city needs to keep everything maintained and the citizens happy, like utilities, political buildings, parks and service buildings, and these buildings are the only ones that don’t evolve on their own. These you have to upgrade manually for a sum of money, so you better make sure there’s enough room for them to expand on. Even the roads can be upgraded for a sum of money!

If there is a feature in Sim City that is totally new to me, then it must be the feature where you can connect online to sell and buy help with utilities, services and other things with other cities. This is perfect for those who want to keep their cities small or don’t have enough room or money to build everything their city needs. To do this, you need to add your online friends in the game and add their cities to your map. Got no friends to play with? Don’t worry, you don’t really need them. In this version of Sim City, you can have several cities at once under your control! No need to exit saves or get secondary accounts, every city is just a couple of clicks away and you build them in any way you please. You just need to be aware of that each city has its own budget, so keep your eyes on the money.

As fun as it is to play, there are still a few things that bothers me about this game. For starters, you need to be logged into Origin to run the game, which I think is absolutely stupid, especially when you didn’t buy the game from Origin in the first place. I understand that Electronic Arts wants to verify that you have an original copy of the game and the importance of keeping the game fully upgraded and patched, but you don’t really need to be online to enjoy everything in the game (although I do end up back to the main menu when my computer is disconnected from the network from time to time). It also bothers me that the environmentally-friendly utilities and services are not always the most efficient ones to use, but at least the radiation levels are kept at a low rate when you use them and some of the realism of it all makes sense today. Last, but certainly not least, what would Sim City be without disasters? “Too easy” is my answer. I still haven’t managed to get far enough into the game to be able to activate any disasters manually, like tornados and alien invasions, but one of my cities did get to suffer from a couple of automatic earthquakes and fire break-outs, so chances are your city won’t be entirely safe from disasters. Last, but definetly not least, the speeds of the time in the game is something I must question, because the fastest setting in my game is only twice as fast as the regular speed (1 regular hour in the game is 1 second).

In conclusion, this is my favorite version of Sim City so far. I don’t have to waste time by rebuilding everything to make my city perfect and I can have several cities to control and co-operate with without switching save-files and get secondary user accounts of some kind. However, the need of an Internet connection to run the game is a completely rubbish idea when you don’t want to play online and after building 3 cities, I expect to be wowed and bothered by something unexpected, like an alien invation or a giant Servo (a kind of robot) to walk around the city like a huge Godzilla and wreck everything. I’m also impressed by the many options for those who want to make an environmentally-friendly city, but I’m not too sure about how accurate and good the stats for each building are. On top of that, the highest setting of the game speed also has to be fixed, in my opinion.

This game gets a 4/5 from me. Well done, Maxis!