It's a beautiful day over at the VideoGamer.com office. The sun is shining, the birds are singing. All of this can only mean one thing: I'm ill. Yes, nature is laughing at me, wiping its hideous diseases on my face and mocking me triumphantly. Here I am, in the height of HD weather, bedridden.
What's even more pleasant is how ill I really am. Having exhausted my body's natural supply of unnecessary fluids, the last three days I've been awoken by an ever-so-pleasant fountain of slime streaming out of my face. Hoo boy, that's delightful, let me tell you. "Ho ho," my pathogen chimes. "Mucus and phlegm are so passé. How about we make her face eject vital, life-giving liquid morning, noon and night? Haha, maybe next we can make her eyes shoot PISS!"
This is my introduction to The Sims 3 on console, anyway. My Emily avatar seems to be suffering from some kind of debilitating stomach flu and spends most of her time passed out in one of the six beds I've inserted around the perimeter of my Sim office. In fact the house I constructed is at least 70 per cent beds, with a number of small pools built into various parts of the floor.
While you've always been encouraged to try and gain a basic income, the Sims connoisseur has more of a tendency to go off the beaten path and attempt to fudge the system.
This is exactly what I have always adored about The Sims.
And here's why: it represents one of the best aspects of gaming - the ability to push a game to its creative limit just to see what will happen. On PC the The Sims has been consistent in how it's offered different aspects to experiment with, from the pet angle of Sims Unleashed to the urban-lite angle of Hot Date to the semi-supernatural angle of Livin' Large. A tidal wave of Sim expansions has gushed from the EA assembly line over the last decade, but its interpretation as a non-PC title has left something to be desired.
Sims 3 for console is the first time the franchise has been presented as a near-match to its PC counterpart. Unlike 2005's Sims 2 offering, which had an almost third person adventure flavour, this game is a dead ringer for its computer-based sibling - and that's a success in its own right. Translating a PC title to an entirely new system with an entirely different set of controls is difficult. And while descriptions of controls are the lowest form of games journalism it's important just to mention how seamless they are.
You govern Sims within a household by selecting them with the right analogue stick while moving the camera about with the left. Righty controls a vertical beam of light. Push that over the object you want to select and you'll get a list of objects you'll be able to interact with. This in particular is one of the more well thought out aspects of the game: it doesn't ask for exactness. Instead it asks you which relevant objects you want to interact with. Do you want the chair? Do you want the table? Do you want to direct Emily to take out the rubbish? The controls aren't necessarily as instantly intuitive as they are with a standard mouse but there's a flow to the system of selecting and directing Sims, one that exists because you're allowed to be sloppy with your controls.
Naturally my first instinct was to recreate the entire editorial team, so I took to the creation editor. Thanks to the customisation abilities I was able to make myself look like a cross between Margaret Cho and Morrissey - another success in its own right, since striving for lifelike representation feels a bit like attempting to make a Mona Lisa out of dried pasta and glue. Avatar Emily didn't have the luxury of the thriving community designs that will develop once the game hits shelves. The current design options might seem scant, but that's largely because of how the franchise has become increasingly focused on user-generated content in recent years. Here you'll be able to download assets instantly through a system that is built directly into the build menu, as opposed to a separate browser.
My next instinct in Sims 3 was to avoid all career paths and buy Emily and fellow VG Sim-staff a single computer to share between them, forcing them to repeatedly troll forums in 20-hour shifts. Emily spent most of the first day sitting at her PC and chatting online with someone called Todd for 12 consecutive hours before passing out of the floor. And in a sense this kind of play has been honed on console.
One of the few clear departures from the PC formula is in the implementation of Karma. Karma is gained at midnight each day in the "Hour of Reckoning", as a direct result of each Sims' actions over the past 24 hours; it can also be gained by completing Challenge mini-quests. Gain enough of these points and you can use them toward either punishments or rewards for your Sims.
Some require more work to unlock than others, of course. To rain down fireballs you're asked to search your neighbourhood for meteor rocks, for instance. Luckily for the denizens of VG Towers I am a kind god, and so began with the rewards. The easiest reward to unlock lets you re-access the character creator, so I immediately gave Emily a thick, new orange tan and slapped on some clown paint then sent her back into the world as a kind of Mexican mime.
The whole system is a logical step for The Sims. Fans have spent years attempting to impose their own will on the game by using cheats or deleting ladders from the pool, and Karma is a way of turning that into an aspect of gameplay. It offers structure for your madness, because the freedom to do what you like is now something that needs to be earned. And while it's not necessarily a reason to bin your PC copy, it's refreshing to see that madness developed into a natural part of the game. Needless to say, I used the rest of my points on punishments, leaving Emily to break out in boils again.