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The Sims 2

It's been a while since I tried a semi-legal version of the Sims 2, just to see what all the hype was about. It was disappointing, and so the disks disappeared back in the bag. Then I tried it again on better hardware, and had a nasty experience worth sharing. Which means I might as well share the whole experience from start to finish.

The Sims 2 was going to have everything that was missing in the Sims. Better AI, allowing for all those motives that had rationalized away in the Sims for lack of space. The Sims just wanted to advance financially. The Unleashed expansion already allowed subsistence farming as an alternative to the ghastly nine-to-five, but this new game incorporated several different life paths, the career track being only one of them. Better background: no more fixed views and zooms, the user could now swivel the screen 360 degrees both horizontally and vertically, and zoom in to a nostril and out to the whole neighbourhood. Better Sims; not only high-poly, but with movable facial features, so they wouldn't always have the same frozen expressions. Separate meshes for clothes. Extra life stages inserted, sorely missing in the original: teenagers and toddlers, and, not so sorely missed in terms of meshing and skinning: old people. And one Sim could pass through all these stages. And, finally, genetics: Sim parents had children that resembled both of them. Meaning the game didn't use fixed meshes, but produced new meshes based on old ones. Incredible.

Of course, bad news was already overclouding the good. The game, it was said, would not install or play on a computer with disk cloning software installed, to stop the game CDs from being cloned. I clone or otherwise replace any disk that needs to be in the drive during gameplay, because I will not risk the original; once or twice won't hurt, but leaving a CD in the drive for the endless hours spent in gameplay will damage it. And what then, considering I can't make a backup to use, since the CD is copy-protected? Then, the USA's national fat-phobia was even worse than in the old game; instead of the already stupid fit/fat/skinny, TS2 has Sims that will change to Fit if they exercise a lot, and Fat if they eat much and don't work out. And what about Fit Sims who starve, do they lose their bulging pecs and turn Skinny? Do Skinny Sims need to eat as well as exercise to turn Fit? Has it ever occurred to the makers that both people with a thick fat layer and thin-boned people can be physically fitter than the type displayed as Fit, and that physical fitness in women is not a matter of breast size or an hourglass-figure waist? Finally, this game was even more moronically censored than its predecessor, and still the designers were almost sued for encouraging pedophilia: this game showed Children Naked!! It says something about the collective American psyche that the very idea of naked children should suggest sex; I suppose that children in the USA have their clothes stitched to their skins. The opportunist who tried to sue Maxis/EA over this supposed outrage must have felt silly to learn that Sims are not anatomically correct. Their anatomical non-correctness is covered with a blur when they are naked, and even when they are not. The old Sims sat on the toilet fully dressed. The new Sims take a shower fully dressed. Yes, I too always wear gloves when washing my hands.

So, I had mixed feelings about TS2 and wasn't about to shell out a lot of money for a possible letdown that might not even run on any computer of mine, the hardware requirements being quite high. I looked for cheap copies on eBay - people who had tried it and didn't like it, maybe - and found one at half price from a German seller. It wasn't what I expected.

The game came with four CDs and a flyer in Thai, plus a statement that this edition was for Thailand only and it was illegal to buy or sell it outside Thailand. This had not been made clear in the eBay item's description, so I didn't really feel to blame; I am also not the kind of person to rat on people, so I didn't report the seller. But I can advise not to buy this Thailand edition; if anything goes wrong, you can't, or aren't supposed to, get technical help from the European/American EA sites, and I don't think I could log in there with the serial number I had, so I wouldn't be able to download patches. The packet had an edited copy of disk 1 for installing purposes, the real disk 1 was needed to play the game.

I started it and was underwhelmed. It was nice to see Cassandra Goth again, and there are now four skin tones: dark, light, medium and green for aliens. The scrolling and zooming went horribly slow, the colours were dingy and the general graphics at the lowest setting, bloody awful. The new control bars and buttons reminded me of Windows XP, described by a colleague as "Windows for Teletubbies"; they had that sturdy plastic look of toys made for toddlers who drop things and put them in their mouths. The families were either suburban drones or, as in the sandy waste of Strangeville, living in a military base. The only thing I want to do to military bases is carpet-bomb them with their own explosives. Why didn't the League of Concerned Parents and other assorted prudes, so quick to pick on sex and violence, complain about that? Oh wait, the war on terrorism is on and so it's cool again to put on a uniform and hurt/maim/kill civilians. The old Sims had a military career too, but it also had a political career which clearly involved corruption and manipulation, not to mention an outright criminal career; that was just humour and diversity. One of the families in Strangeville had a crusty colonel-like father and his problem children, one of them called "Tank". Nauseated, I chose instead the three scientists with the alien baby, and found out that adult Sims become old in thirty Simdays. That did it. No more of this.

Not quite a year later, I bought a computer with an AMD Turion, which meant I'd be able to see the game at a proper resolution, at least. Eager to see what the improvement would be, I installed again. The game hung endlessly on disk 3; it had tiny scratches that should not make it unreadable, but I was already discovering how ultrasensitive this computer's optical drive was. Then, on starting the game with the original disk 1 in the drive, I found it wouldn't run, not even after endless spinning of the CD in the drive. Taking out the CD to check for scratches, I saw a tiny bubble on the surface. A manufacturing defect aggravated by all that spinning? I certainly hadn't seen that bubble before. I flattened it with my thumbnail, which probably made matters worse. At any rate, the game still wouldn't start. Because disk 1, still 99% legible, was ruined for gameplay.

Conclusion: even with the right hardware and the hacking ability to change this game as thoroughly as the one before it, I would not be able to enjoy the game as I bought an edition with at least one defective medium which I'll never get replaced as the game I have is both second-hand and illegal in my country, plus, I don't speak Thai. I'm lucky that this is such a shady game that the seller included an edited copy of disk 1 especially for installing. If I make a copy of disk 3 with a CD extraction program like ISO-Buster, which was written for rescuing data from defective CDs, I might even be able to install TS2 a second time. However, I won't be able to play it without a no-CD crack, and of course the existing cracks out there don't work with my version, and only partially with the English versions. In other words: this was a complete waste of money. Learn from me: don't buy cheap Thailand editions from eBay. Given the impossibility of playing off a disk image and the possible hassle of getting disk 1 replaced even for a "legal" edition, don't bother with this game at all.

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