Livin' Large Review On

Thursday, November 9, 2000 - 22:10

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Livin' Large: Redecorating The Fourth Wall

Reviewed by Banshee on 10/27/00

First Impressions:
In theater, the phrase "the fourth wall" is sometimes used to describe the sensation the audience has when viewing a play, television show, or film. It gives us the feeling of peeking through glass; the enjoyment of the voyeur as we watch an anthill. We delight in observing the unaware participants as they go through their daily lives, obliviously acting and intertwining themselves with other players.
The Sims, however, has added another dimension to this familiar metaphor: interactivity. In addition to serving as the passive audience looking through a one-way mirror, we now have the opportunity to act as director and scriptwriter to our little simulated actors. They turn to us with little thought balloons, asking for directions and blocking for the scenes we plot for them. And, as in Hollywood, there's no shortage of actors: on sites like 7 Deadly Sims and The Sims Resource, it's possible to download known celebrities, or "hire" a talented unknown for your game. Don't like the way Buffy the Vampire Slayer was going last season? Just download Spike, Giles, Joyce, Xander, Angel, Oz, and any one of several versions of Buffy and Willow. You can rewrite history, at least in your own little world.

The graphics are of the same level as those in the basic game.

"Yobble-yeeble-diddlewheatle-ay. Keenywonker huff-huff-huff!" As anyone who has played The Sims knows, the characters have their own language, translated through symbols in little thought balloons and enhanced with a very expressive gibberish. If this hasn't been a term paper for a linguistics student already, I feel sure that it will be.

The expansion pack changes the general feel of The Sims. Rather than being an approximation of daily routine, now the aforementioned routine seems to be taking place in The Twilight Zone, with trips to the alternate dimensions of the '60s, Camelot, outer space, and bits that could have been left over from an X-Files episode.
I created several families to use as test subjects for the new items and downloaded several skins and houses from the web to use in creating scenarios. The Ments (as in experi-Ments) were my career testers while the Farouts were my testers for objects and things I considered likely to be dangerous. The Spacers, the Scoobys and the Tremes (as in ex-Treme personality traits) tested certain items to see if more advanced families had an effect on the way certain objects reacted. For example, although it could be luck, it seemed that the more skilled the Sim cleaning the lamp was, the more skilled the genie was. More testing is needed to determine this as a certainty, however, and any Sim with a bent for concocting potions with the chemistry set will be happy to oblige. All in the name of science, of course.
While Elvis Ment was being booed by his roomies (how dare they hiss at the King, even if he is a wedding singer!), Doobie Farout was meeting the Grim Reaper, and Babylon 5's Captain John Sheridan of the Spacers was trying to summon aliens (Kosh, perhaps?) by using his telescope. This was after he set the hedge on fire from shooting off fireworks. Commander Ivanova saved him from getting killed in the fire; no big surprise there. Farscape's John Crichton, another member of my Spacer family, has improved his mechanical skills by taking up the hobby of fashioning decorative garden gnomes at his workbench. Across the street, Rainbow Farout was setting the house on fire and asking the extremely incompetent genie in the lamp for wishes, while roommate Jeff was spraying all those yucky roaches that seem to keep popping up. Over in the next block, Oz and Willow Scooby tied the knot, then congratulated Jeffrey Sinclair and Catherine Sakai on their new baby. Ash Ment, game reviewer, was reporting on all of this for, of course, after writing up the cute little jabs the development team took at her profession with their oh-so-clever little popups. Some days, she's not sure if she's writing for the society page of their Sim small town or covering software like she's supposed to: in The Sims, it's kind of hard to tell. Yep, it's just another day in the life of an exciting Sim soap opera, I mean neighborhood.
Speaking of neighborhoods, they have expanded the total number to five. It's nice to have more room - it would be easy to expand the vision by turning one of the other neighborhoods into a business district and pretend that your Sims are going shopping or going there to work. I mean, I'm all for suspending reality, but they have yet to explain how all that food magically appears in the Sims' refrigerators. We see cars picking them up for work, but no grocery van ever pulls up to the door. Perhaps the pizza delivery has added services without telling us?

My enjoyment of the expansion pack was damaged considerably at the outset in trying to install it. What a pain! Due to a known glitch with the promotional movie for Simsville on the installation disk, I spent hours uninstalling and reinstalling the expansion, backing up my Sims data, putting it back in the right place . . . very laborious and time-consuming. What made it even more arduous than it had to be was the fact that you cannot uninstall Livin' Large separately: if you have to uninstall and reinstall the pack, you'll have to uninstall and reinstall The Sims right along with it. I was this close to taking it back to the store, but persevered, and scrounged around online. I found a workaround listed on the official site that involved copying the entire Livin' Large install CD to my hard drive, then deleting the .avi file for the promo, then installing from my hard drive. At the time of this writing, there is now a patch available for the installation problem.
It is my opinion that this simply should not have happened. Electronic Arts is the biggest game publisher out there, and Maxis is an old, experienced hand at putting out games. How on Sim Earth did they blow something so important and so basic as installation? This is akin to going to your doctor's office and not being able to get to your doctor because the front staff isn't there to let you through the door! And as everyone knows, the front staff is your all-important first impression. Same thing applies with a game's installation. I was as appalled as I was frustrated, and I feel compelled to give the expansion lower marks for this. If it were a minor bug, I'd be far more forgiving, but I can't overlook the (at least) four hours I lost to trying to fix the problem.
Other than that, the expansion was rather a mixed bag for entertainment. I enjoyed the new careers and the added room for expansion in the new neighborhoods, but think they got a little too campy in places with the additional items without adding much utility.

Not applicable for this game, but word has it that it will be a component of future Sims games.

Overall Impression:
If you liked the original game, you will probably enjoy the expansion pack, but after testing out various elements, I still felt as though they could have done more with it. There are many new objects, and a number of them have unexpected side effects. There are five new careers: Hacker, Journalism, Musician, Paranormal and Slacker. However, while there are a few new interactions, none of them are particularly significant, and some of them are annoying. Perhaps some of the more frustrating elements will be corrected via internet downloads. For example, the tragic clown problem has already been addressed with a clown catcher, available at The Sims Exchange. I think they need to create an exterminator in the Services selection window: even with the members of the household, a maid, and a robot all cleaning up, the bugs are still appearing. Furthermore, it would be preferable for the house robot to have a "leave on" feature.
The Sims is one of the most innovative games of the year, indeed, of the past several years. It looks likely at the time of this writing that it will end up as the best-selling game of 2000. Even in spite of the installation hurdles I encountered, I would still recommend purchasing it. Its extremely addictive gameplay, exceptionally usable interface, and refreshing new concept make it a strong contender for simulation game of the year, in my opinion. However, I cannot speak as favorably of Livin' Large. My recommendation would be to wait until they release the inevitable combo pack, if you don't already have the original game, rather than paying full price for each separately.

Marketing Efforts Towards Women:
This game appeals to both genders, or it doesn't. By that I mean that it seems players either love it or are utterly bored by it. Judging from the sales, it seems safe to say that the "love" camp is winning out. Like previous Maxis efforts, the game itself seems to be fairly gender neutral. As for the ad campaign, I flipped through numerous back issues of different gaming publications to try to refresh my memory, but couldn't find an ad specifically for the expansion. As I haven't seen one, I can't comment, but I am not aware of any gender-specific marketing one way or another for Livin' Large, though I seem to recall some fairly mild male target ads for the original game that focused on a bachelor Sim surrounded by attractive female Sims in the hot tub, dancing to music, and so on, if memory serves me right.

The Farouts
The Sims Livin' Large The Sims Livin' Large The Sims Livin' Large The Sims Livin' Large The Sims Livin' Large
The Ments
The Sims Livin' Large The Sims Livin' Large The Sims Livin' Large
The Sims Livin' Large The Sims Livin' Large The Sims Livin' Large
The Sims Livin' Large The Sims Livin' Large The Sims Livin' Large
The Scoobys
with apologies to Joss Whedon
The Sims Livin' Large The Sims Livin' Large The Sims Livin' Large
The Spacers
The Sims Livin' Large The Sims Livin' Large The Sims Livin' Large The Sims Livin' Large The Sims Livin' Large
The Tremes
The Sims Livin' Large The Sims Livin' Large


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