Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Takeover: A Sims 4 Review

The Sims 4 has been out for about two weeks now and it has slowly taken over my free time.

If you have been following any news about The Sims 4 (TS4), then you will know that it has its fair share of controversy. Yes, it is a well known fact that there are no pools, toddlers, terrain manipulation tools, or create-a-style, but that doesn't make TS4 a bad game. What people need to remember is that TS4 wasn't made to be a clone of its predecessor TS3, so there will be different things that either got cut or survived the cut to make the entirety of the Sims game that we have now. But, I'm not here to lecture about what the game could have been or might have been. I'm here to share my take of the TS4 we have now as it stands currently and as a completely separate  Sims game.

Every Sims game does have three main features that make up the game: Create-A-Sim Mode, Build Mode/Buy Mode, and Live Mode. These are the tools that let you build the characters to live in your world, make the houses or lots for them to visit, and (most importantly) to watch your characters live, learn, grow old, and eventually die.

Create-A-Sim

The Create-A-Sim mode (also known as CAS for short) is the part of the game that lets you create anybody you can think of. This time instead of having sliders to adjust how big your nose is or the shape of your jawbone, you can click on your sim and move their face around like putty. They also have pre-set face archetypes that let you start off with different face types. The face that you choose in the very beginning will help determine how your sim looks, so you can literally create anybody from real life in the sims and have their sim-self be convincing. Along with faces, you can also adjust their body types and make a curvy hourglass sim, a pear shaped sim, and every shape in between.

Genetics have also come back with a vengeance. No longer will you be guessing if the parents of the children are really their parents, or just a random sim generated by the game. The children look both youthful and like a convincing blend of their parents. In the picture above, you can clearly see that the child sim has the same jawline as his father, but his nose is slightly different (it matches the mother's nose perfectly). The features are more pronounced when they hit the teen age, but they are clearly visible in the child age. For those who love to play with one family generations down the family tree, genetics will be interesting for them to follow once again.

Build Mode/Buy Mode

If you can dream it, you can create it in TS4 with their improved build mode, up to a certain point. Yes, there are no pools or the ability to dig in and make basements at the moment, but those two features aren't the be-all, end-all of build mode. We can make houses up to three floors, add adjustable sized foundations after the fact, customizable roofs, adjustable wall heights, and (with a little patience) the ability to make sunken rooms to make living areas like the one you see in the picture. Even though I am not the best builder in the world, if I can make the picture above, then you can certainly. And for those that can't live without a big blue spot in the backyard, there is a fountain that you can make that looks just like a swimming pool. Your Sims just can't swim in it.


Build mode can be accessed at any time during your play, even on community lots. So you can have your Sims paint a picture and then send them to the art gallery. Then you can actually hang their picture up in the community lot because you aren't restricted from decorating community lots while playing a household.

There are some features in build mode that are lacking though. You can't change the colors of the plain inside doors event though there are a lot of door styles to choose from. It is hard to find a floor color that matches the sidewalks of some neighborhoods, so you are going to have to decide if you want to rely on terrain paints for your walkways or just ignore the fact that they don't match, and there are no small garden fences in the game yet. There is one smaller fence, but only certain styles of houses work well with wrought iron garden fences.

In buy mode, you can get everything your Sims could ever want ranging from toilets to kitchen cabinets. There is even a feature that lets you make custom rounded islands and different types of cabinets for your kitchen. This would be for the advanced interior designer in you, so the ability to add these things is a little hidden. You have to turn off the auto-counters and auto-cabinets in order to find all of the shapes, but I think that it is worth learning how everything goes together so you have more freedom to create exactly what you want.

The lack of Create-A-Style means that you are stuck with the pre-set colors again, but I have found that everything goes together really well if you are patient enough to match your colors and find the furniture sets that are meant to go together. But you won't find yourself lacking choices. There are a total of five different computers available right off of the bat and almost every item in the game has that range of choice.

The downside to buy mode is that there are items shown to you that are locked. They are the career reward items that you can unlock during gameplay and there is currently no official cheat to unlock them. So, if you just want to build and decorate, you will have to find a mod that unlocks these rewards for you.

Overall, I think build mode and buy mode makes it easy for the average builder to make and design impressive looking lots even if they don't have a lot of time. It does have a learning curve for everybody, so don't get frustrated if it is challenging at the beginning. But the ability to move around rooms on the fly, adjust the roof heights and shapes, and adding roof details like chimneys independent of fireplaces make building fun for the average builder while still being able to create amazing lots for the more experienced builder. Only your creativity restricts you in this area of the game.

Live Mode

Live Mode should be the easiest thing to describe, but it is actually the hardest to wrap your minds around because of the way the Sims act now. Until you experience it, it sounds cheesy to say that the Sims have emotions now because (to the average player) the Sims have always reacted to stuff. They cried when somebody died and got angry when somebody cheated on them. But it hasn't really had an impact on the game the way they do now. Sure, the player might have thought they did, but they really haven't and it is really difficult to explain why or how to somebody who just hasn't experienced it before.

So instead of trying to explain it, I'll take you through the life of a sim to explain the gameplay. Meet Alice Silverdust of my Silverdust Family Legacy. She is a blue sim with a distinctive slightly-eggagerated hourglass shaped figure. Her three traits are snob, family oriented, and bookworm. Her aspiration is family with a focus on seeing a growing family lineage. Her bonus trait lets her grow her relationship with her family quickly to help maintain a strong family tie. Her traits determine how she acts, the skills that she learns throughout her lifetime determine her interests, and even the career that she chooses plays a role in her interests as well.

Before she started her family, her family oriented trait had no effect on her at all. She was perfectly content to let me take her to the gym to run on a treadmill (upping her fitness skill and keeping her trim), watch the cooking channel (upping her cooking skill and raising fun), and talk to various sims around her (raising her social bar). The fact that she was able to gain two skills at once while still being able to grow a relationship with another person is something that really shines in the game. And she was able to work out for a longer period of time because she was doing all of this at once.

After she started her family, she had to be around them for at least an hour a day or else she would get a "missing family" sad moodlet. If she didn't have any other moodlet, this would make her get into an overall sad emotion. She could still earn skills, but they didn't grow very fast and she would be more likely to mope around. But, she was almost always happy because she was around her family all of the time. Her snob trait didn't really have much of an effect on her that I could see since they didn't have much in the way of entertainment and I simply didn't focus on it. Her last trait bookworm was invaluable to her career. Since she could analyze books for fun they also inspired her which also helped her grow her music career faster.

Her children were another story. Her daughter was the most like her so she was fairly easy to keep happy. One of her sons turned out to be hot-headed and mean so he takes pleasure out of being mean to other sims as well as being angry most of the time. Her other son was a slob, but also a perfectionist, so he gets really sad whenever he tries to paint, write a book, or cook because they aren't high quality thanks to his low skill levels. 

The only other big thing that you should know about live mode is that while babies are adorable, there isn't much to do with them. They are stuck to a cradle and go to an automatic daycare when both parents work. Alice's family oriented trait allowed her to grow a high relationship with her children when they were babies through playing with them and she often got "whims" to interact with them while they were babies. But don't expect them to be anything mind blowing at the moment. They are really easy to take care of though as long as you show them love and care.


Overall

Taking everything into account, I think TS4 is a wonderful step in the right direction. Yes, there are loading screens to get from place to place instead of a completely open world in TS3, but the Sims themselves are more lifelike and just more fun to play. There are tons of goals in the game for you to do if you have a hard time deciding what you want your Sims to do, but if you are somebody who just wants your Sims to do their own thing, there is nothing in the game that stops you from doing so.

If you have the money to spare and are too impatient to wait for a nice sale, TS4 is a really fun game to pick up and play. You will find yourself getting more attached to this generation of Sims and finding yourself amazed by how beautiful and detailed all of the normal everyday items look. There is just so much to do and there is so many little differences in TS4 that I am sure that I forgot to discuss some things. But I count that as a plus because it is the overall experience that you want to be good and that is exactly what you get from TS4. A good experience.

The only downside of the TS4 world is that TS3 exists. So if the lack of a completely open game kills the series for you, then nobody is forcing you to go onto the next generation. But if you are skeptical, wait for an expansion pack or two and see if there will be anything that will catch your eye in the future.

I will be sticking with the series because I find it really fun to play and I hope to see good things from it in the future. It just needs to learn how to share time with my other hobbies as well.

Picture Disclaimer: All pictures used in this blog post were shot in TS4 by MegWesley and uploaded unedited by MegWesley.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Breakfast: How Not to Be Boring

Breakfast can be the most repetitive meal of the day for the average American with minor cooking skills. A lot of us who don't have the luxury of eating out every day get stuck with the same foods over and over like cereal, bacon and eggs, sausage, toast, bagels, english muffins, and other reasonable breakfast-y type foods. Sometimes having scrambled eggs is the best thing in the world, but other times it just gets boring really fast.

I went out searching for interesting ways to cook eggs because eggs are delicious and keep me full throughout the day better than hot or cold cereal. I finally stumbled across little mini omelets baked in a muffin tin from Nerd Fitness and decided to try them.

Two eggs, a batch of diced up onions, and three slices of bacon later I had these lovely little egg cakes wrapped in bacon. Of course, I didn't stop there and had two slices of toast with butter and some Strawberry/Cocoa fruit spread that I got from our local Farmer's Market.

This filled me up all day! I didn't even have much of a lunch or dinner just because I wasn't hungry. I had a little chicken wrap for my lunch and some crackers as my home from work snack along with lots of water, but I really wasn't hungry. Best of all, it was really easy to do. The hardest part of making the meal was figuring out how long to cook the eggs for in the oven because it was my first time baking eggs.

The moral of this little story is to wake up earlier in the morning to prepare and bake these eggs for your family. They are delicious, easy to make, and the pay off is fantastic! I just have to remember I said that so I'll wake up earlier on Sunday and prepare these little things again for my entire family. They will love them.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Phenomenon of Mug Cakes

Moistest Very Vanilla Mug Cake from Table for Two
Remember that one fateful day on the internet when you got really bored and started getting interested in cooking because your roommate could cook better than you?

I remember that day well. I have such a massive sweet tooth and I was looking for quick cakes and cookies. I stumbled upon the mug cake. It was quick and easy to make if you measured everything right. And it made the perfect amount for one person so you didn't have to share.

Then time passed and I forgot about the humble little mug cake. I had moved on to bigger cakes and fiddling with perfecting the proper cup of tea. Then cookies came out to play with a brief but still lingering interest in velvet cakes. Then the savory side of cooking called to me and the mug cake was all but forgotten. A novelty in a bookstore when you turned to your mom and scoffed that somebody actually published an entire cookbook on how to make different mug cakes.

Oh, sweet little tasty mug cake, forgive me in my arrogance. I see now that you are something special. Something to be written down in every family cookbook just waiting to be played with and perfected in each passing generation. Small enough to have big disasters with and big enough to satisfy a sweet craving especially made for one or two people. And the perfect way to make a cake without an oven as long as you have a microwave.

I bet you would be the perfect venue for finally figuring out my perfect red velvet cake.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Randomly on a Monday

Do you ever have one of those days were you want to blog, but you don't really have anything new (or much brainpower) to blog about something? Well, today is just one of those days. Even worse, today doesn't seem to want to be a list day either. So today's special "randomly" posts will be rather...well...random.

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Don't eat bad avacados. You can tell that they are bad when you cut into them and the fruit is brown and yucky looking. Even if you think you can salvage the fruit inside, it is probably better not to do it anyway. On the opposite side, avocado milkshakes are perfectly yummy and delicious and will fill you up for hours!

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If you are dehydrated, water will make it worse. Drink some Gatorade instead because it has electrolytes that will help you feel better faster. Orange Gatorade is my favorite flavor.

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If you are reading a history book on knitting, then prepared to be tempted to knit something practical for yourself like the way your knitting foremothers did. Just don't be surprised if you suddenly want to knit laceweight yarn on super tiny needles to make an elegant business jacket that will probably take a half a year to make. Then get distracted by thoughts of argyle socks because that seems less crazy.

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When you set yourself a deadline, make sure it is a reasonable one that can be managed. Avoid those ideas that you have that you are pretty sure you can do and then realize that deadline is only three days away.

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I might have found a deep love for Evernote....now if only I can figure out how to use it effectively for knitting and spinning without it having getting into fights with Ravelry.

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 Finally, I have set myself a book challenge for the rest of the year because I thought I wasn't reading enough books. I have committed to finishing five books by the end of the year and I have already finished one book. Since I normally get stuck reading the same thing over and over and over, I decided that it would be smart to ask you lovely readers with your wide and varied interests: what are your recommended reading books? Please comment below so I can find my next book!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Quick Shawl Update

This project is hanging on my needles for way too long. I didn't get my friend's wedding shawl done in time to give it to her in person and that did put a damper on my knitting for a little bit. I actually put it aside to finish two pairs of socks and then I fell down the spinning hole for a while.

Now I have a goal to finish her shawl before the end of the month so I can get it washed, blocked, and photographed before I send it off to her before the weather starts getting cooler. Because, really, that is when she would be most likely to throw this shawl on to get warm and cozy.

I have decided that I am going to start reading more books. My finished book count has declined rapidly since finishing school and I do miss reading. I feel like it keeps my mind flexible, but I don't feel like buying more and more books for myself. Enter the local library: perfect source for free books.

My most recent book is called No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting by Anne L Macdonald. It is such a fascinating read for a knitter. The book starts with the women knitting during the American Colonies before the Revolutinary War. I feel like such a lazy person when I read about everything women did back in the older days. They did everything from taking care of the house and the farm and the children as well as doing the wash, mending clothes, spinning yarn and thread, knitting, embroidering, canning, and quilting. I feel like I don't get nearly as much accomplished.

I have gotten up to the 1920s, so the book is quickly approaching the end. The chapters are getting a little shorter and there are more pictures. I know I am getting close to the time period where knitting dies out and falls out of the mainstream, but it will be interesting to see if there is a revival during WWII or not. I will be surprised if it doesn't.