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Pets Previews Galore!

Thursday, September 7, 2006 - 23:00

Lots of game sites have posted their previews of Pets! Here's a collection of links to help you get started.

GameSpy.com
1Up.com
GameSpot.com


The Sims 2 Pets

By Dave 'Fargo' Kosak

It's official: Sims 2 is going to the dogs. And the cats. And the birds...

Spiffy:
New animals have amazing personality; lots of animal customization options; werewolves!

Iffy:
Not as much new gameplay as in previous expansions.

With three significant expansion packs under its belt, it may seem like there's more content for The Sims 2 than one person can adequately explore in a single (real-life) lifetime. Is one more expansion one too many? We didn't think so after The Sims 2 Pets started giving us the puppy-dog eyes -- literally. The simulated animals in the new pack are, in many ways, even more lifelike than their simulated owners ... and often cuter. We spent some significant time playing the new expansion this week and put this puppy through its paces.

What's New? Pussycats?

As you'd suspect, Sims 2 Pets allows your Sims to adopt or breed cats and dogs (as well own birds or little rodents). But what threw us for a loop was just how much personality these little guys have. We watched as one of our Sims tried to teach her new dog to roll over: Our puppy looked up at her with glossy eyes, one ear cocked, her furry head following every movement of her owner's hand. It doesn't take long to form an attachment with the onscreen animals.

The Sims team has obviously studied hours and hours of real-life pets in action, because the animations for the simulated cats and dogs are eerily spot-on. A cat approaching a scratching post will give it a cursory sniff, then reach up to the top of the post, arch his back, and pull his weight down in a perfect imitation of a real animal. It looks good regardless of how the cat is built (small, gangly, stocky, long hair or short, etc.). Watching a digital cat chase invisible bugs around the yard is very nearly as entertaining as watching the real thing.

The Sims 2 Pets
You can encourage or discourage pet behavior ... but you can't control them.

Managing pets can be tricky, because you don't directly control them. Your Sim can praise animals for good behavior (like using the litter box) or scold them for bad behavior (like sleeping on your bed), which in time will "train" the animal to behave right even when you aren't home. You can even teach animals tricks. Of course, you can also train your pets to be complete terrors -- running around crazily, scaring the neighbors, etc.

Like human Sims, dogs and cats will have their own needs, like the need to be social, go to the bathroom, or have fun. What's new is that dogs have a need to chew on things and cats have a need to scratch. So if you don't provide your critters with some safe outlets to do these things ... expect to have your furniture suffer for it.

A Whole New Breed

A big part of the expansion is the ability to edit your own animals from scratch. In many ways, the animal editor is even more flexible than the editor used to create people. For instance, on top of being able to adjust every part of an animal's facial features, you can also alter his or her physical build and body shape. Your new animal will run around and eat and play, no matter how you tweak the body proportions -- it makes us wonder if the Sims team has been sharing technology with Wright's next PC game brainchild, Spore.

We were especially impressed with how you adjust the coat patterns of an animal's fur. This is done in layers defined by the player. For example, a cat might start with a plain white coat of fur as the base layer. Then, you can add a layer of orange splotches on his back, and adjust the opacity of that layer to blend it in. On top of that, you can add some black spots, and blend those in. Then you can add splotches of color over the eyes, on the ears, on the tail, etc., blending them all until you've created a completely custom animal. Calico? Siamese? You can choose the preset defaults or go in and tweak your own.

The Sims 2 Pets

Pets of the right genders can get together and (if they like each other), they can have kittens or puppies. Just like with human Sims, the genetics of the mother and father will combine, so the offspring will resemble the parents. It's possible to create your own animal breeds.

Bad Moon Rising

The new pack is accompanied by a whole new series of wants and fears associated with animals. Family-oriented Sims really want their pets to like them. Business-oriented Sims immediately want to get their animals into the workforce (you can hire out your animals as guard dogs or even TV stars). And most Sims fear wolves.

Yep, wolves! Stray animals will occasionally wander though the yard, which is a great way to adopt new furry friends into the family. But not everything is warm and fuzzy in the animal kingdom: Wolves with glowing eyes will occasionally make nocturnal visits to your happy home, frightening your Sims. (Yet, for some reason, befriending my cat in one instance.) We weren't able to test this feature out ourselves, but supposedly a wolf bite could lead to an acute case of lycanthropy for your Sims. Yep: Werewolves!

Which begs the obvious question: What if an alien werewolf mates with a vampire robot? I guess we'll have to wait for the final release (currently scheduled for this October) to find out.


The Sims 2 Pets

By Scott Sharkey

It's a dog eat crap world.

It's hard to top The Sims for sheer screwaroundability and amusing emergent behavior. Unfortunately, it's something that can make the game a tough one to get a handle on without some serious hands-on time. Fortunately, we've had some of that time with Sims 2: Pets and used it to tinker around and see just what we can and can't do with our new friends.

First, we've found that none of our families can have more than six cats and/or dogs. There doesn't seem to be any limit on guinea pigs or birds, however, in much the same way as there's no limit on the number of ovens or coffee tables you can own. It's not particularly surprising since that's essentially what they are, albeit playful ovens that you have to feed and who can be scared to death by your cat.

The Sims 2 Pets

We tinkered a lot with the pet editor, which offers a pretty extreme range of body morphing and layered coat patterns. Note that while pets will pass on their traits to the next generation the same way Sims do, you likewise can't breed them with their own siblings or parents. If you could, however, we like to imagine that the result would look a lot like our first pet.

Also, your pet's feeding and exercise habits don't seem to have any impact on their appearance. Go ahead and make a hyperactive, morbidly obese cat. They'll be stuck that way until they die. It must be a glandular thing.

The Sims 2 Pets

Just because you can have a half-dozen dogs or cats and a pretty much limitless number of smaller critters, it doesn't necessarily mean you should. We're sure everyone's first impulse is going to make a crazy cat-lady family. Granted, we suck at the Sims, but we bet most of these stories will end the same way ours did: in squalor and despair, with a distinct lack of mourning by all your neighbors. A few ill-cared for cats who hadn't run away or been confiscated by animal control noticed our passing. At least, except for that miserable tuxedo cat who was too busy thinking about videogames.

The Sims 2 Pets

Back when we were first shown the game we were assured that it's impossible for pets to die of anything but old age. After the surprising number of death threats we received for even speculating about the possibility of setting an imaginary dog on fire we felt a need to confirm this through experimentation -- purely in the interests of research, of course. We're totally above antagonizing crazy people on the internet.

Our enclosed TV dinner conflagration revealed to our satisfaction that adult sims remain extremely flammable while dogs are completely immune to the effects of fire. As this was happening we also noticed that, in a surprising touch of realism, dogs are inclined to eat from uncleaned litter boxes.

So, other than animal control intervention, old age is really the only thing that will part you from your pet. One of the game's aspiration rewards is a life-extending kibble, but eventually they'll have to succumb to decrepitude, leaving behind an adorable little tombstone. Their ghosts will also occasionally romp around at night, though we've yet to see one try to scare anybody.

The Sims 2 Pets

But at least our orphaned pets were safe. The cops may be conspicuously absent when some jerk has kept a Sim trapped with picket fences until they die of exposure, but uncared for pets will bring them around in seconds. It'll even be possible for one of your other families to adopt the poor abandoned beasties.

On the down side, this means you won't be making families of nothing but, say, two dogs, a cat and a goldfish. No Incredible Journey crap for you.


The Sims 2: Pets Hands-On - Creating, Adopting, and Owning a Virtual Pet

By Jason Ocampo

The virtual world of The Sims 2 goes to the cats and dogs in the upcoming fourth expansion.

The virtual world of The Sims 2 will become home to all sorts of animals with the release next month of The Sims 2: Pets, the fourth expansion to EA's popular people simulator. The first three expansions have let your sims go to college, go to town, and go to work, but Pets focuses more on fleshing out your sims' everyday lives with the presence of animal companions. With the expansion due out next month, we got our hands on the latest work-in-progress version of Pets to see what being a pet owner in The Sims is like.

Pets features a variety of pets for your sims to play with, including "wormrats" and birds, but the main focus of the expansion is most definitely on cats and dogs. The latter two can be added to a sim family in any number of ways. You can custom-create a cat or dog in the create-a-family mode, just like you can custom-create sims, or you can adopt a stray cat or dog in the game, adopt one using the pet-adoption phone service, or buy one at a community lot that sells pets.

The Sims 2 PetsThe custom creation mode offers you, by far, the most control over what type of animal to create. As with the sim creation tools, there's a button that will randomly select a breed and a gender if you're in a hurry, or you can go through the step-by-step process of creating your own cat or dog. You choose a name, gender, and breed (there are more than 50 dog breeds and more than 30 cat breeds to select from), and then you can customize Kitty or Fido even further. In the color option, you select fur color, and then you can add on different colors and patterns in layers. Then you can tweak facial features to really customize the look of a pet, perhaps to match a real-world one. Even fooling around in this mode is fun, thanks to the amusing facial-morphing animations at work. Additional customization options let you tweak body and tail, but you're not done yet.

Pets have personalities that you can customize, or if you don't want to mess with the settings, simply select a zodiac sign for your pet and that will automatically adjust the personality settings for you. The settings let you tweak your pet's behaviors between genius or doofus, hyper or lazy, independent or friendly, aggressive or cowardly, and pigpen or finicky. These can play a role in determining your pet's mood in the game, which we'll touch on later. Once you're finished with personality, your pet is created and you can go on and create another pet or perhaps a sim to act as pet owner. We should note that you can also take one of your existing sim families and add a pet using the create-a-family mode.

Being a pet owner in Pets is a lot like being a pet owner in real life, as you don't have any direct control over your pets. Instead, they're autonomous creatures with their own needs and wants that you have to take care of, as well as creatures whose behavior you'll have to mold through training. Dogs will have a tendency to chew anything in sight, while cats will scratch up a storm. You can discipline Fido after he rips apart an expensive sofa, though you can avoid this problem altogether by purchasing chew toys ahead of time. Likewise, a scratching post can give Kitty something to shred, other than your expensive furniture. As you'd expect, there are a variety of feeding dishes, toys, pet beds, and more to select from, with the witty descriptions that The Sims is known for.

Pets can be conditioned through rewards or punishment, so you can encourage whatever behavior you want to see through praise, while discouraging other behavior through a stern scolding. It's easy to know if a lesson has taken root or not, thanks not only to the handy meter bar that appears over a pet's head, but also to the impressive animation that lets you know what your pet is thinking. A happy dog will sit up and be perky, while a scolded dog will look hurt and ashamed.

The Sims 2 PetsThe main reason to have a pet is to have fun, which you can do by playing with your pet. Cats can be picked up and nuzzled or tossed in the air, or you can tease them with a toy that sends them running around in a circle. Dogs are happy with games of fetch, but a belly rub is just as good. Mood is important, because this can affect your pet's performance at work. That's right, pets can help earn their keep and get out of your hair a few hours a day by getting a job. This can range from a career in law enforcement as a "snooper deterrent" to a life in showbiz as an extra. Simply scan the local newspaper for pet jobs, and the car will appear at the appointed time to pick up the pet for work and drop it back at home once the workday is done. It's not all work, though, as pets will get days off, just like their sim owners.

How this impacts the overall pace of The Sims 2 is interesting. Time is, after all, the most important resource in the game, and there's only so much time that your characters can spare during their normal, everyday lives for making sure the pets are fed, giving them the exercise they need, or playing with them. But that's the price of being a pet owner in real life, too. Just like in real life, pets in the expansion can require a lot of maintenance and work, but the reward is having a loyal companion that can help put a smile on your face. Pets will be unleashed for The Sims 2 in October.

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