Looking back at The Sims


Back in 2000, I was working as a youth ministry intern in Colorado and living in the basement of a church family that was kind enough to give me a rent-free home. Still, it was among one of the most lonely times of my life, as I was suddenly separated from all of my college friends and wasn’t exactly making a lot of new ones. During that year, I turned to computer games in my free time, thanks to my brand-new desktop. And one of the games that really helped pass the time was The Sims.

Oh, The Sims! It’s so hard to express how exciting and revelatory this game was when it first released. I had remembered playing Sim City 2000 back in high school, but this was far more up my alley. Creating a house and watching people live in it? It sounded mundane but ended up being very engrossing. I spent months playing the core game, but for some reason never did buy into the hundreds of expansion packs. Sims 2 and 3 did get on my play list, although they never quite grabbed me as hard as the original (and I’ve yet to fiddle with Sims 4).

In a powerful fit of nostalgia, I searched out a copy of The Sims a month ago. EA doesn’t make the original available online for some reason, and GOG doesn’t have it, so I had to actually buy a physical copy (my original box having vanished into the nether some years ago). It took an additional patch and some research to get it to run on Windows 10, but finally I was able to get this 17-year-old title up and running for some retro gaming!

The very first Sims neighborhood was very small and basic, especially compared to later editions (or even Sims 1 expansions). I always play a Sims game the same every time — I bulldoze all of the houses, evict all of the premade characters, and start from scratch. For my first home, I tend to buy the cheapest lot so that I would have the most money available for building.

Of course, another tradition is that the first character you make in a Sims game is ALWAYS yourself. It’s kind of shocking how few options there are in the base copy of The Sims — just an array of heads and some default outfits. No body types, no customizing more specific elements, nothing. You did get to program your sim’s personality, in which I always set the neat level to the highest for at least one member of the household. This way, you have a neurotic cleaner who was always straightening up — a free maid, in other words.

Oh man, remember when Comic Sans was popular and acceptable enough that you could use it in your video games without irony? The Sims 1 remembers!

Obviously, looking back at a 17-year-old game is going to be a let-down in the graphics department. The Sims isn’t atrocious, but it’s certainly very dated, especially with its 3D models (the sprites that made up the objects and house come off better as more detailed and less jagged). I was also reminded that this game had a very different soundtrack than subsequent Sims games, more of a generic 1950s Americana commerical and less of the goofy and relaxing melodies that started to come into the series with The Sims 2.

I learned the hard way that it’s never a good thing to go big with your starter home. That way lies going broke, fast, and leaving your Sims in a hollow mansion. So I always began with a simple three-room abode: main living room, bedroom, and bathroom. I’m impressed how easy and accessible the building and decorating tools are even today (and boy does it come back fast!).

My finished starter home with all of the essentials. You wanted to make sure that your sims had enough to do and all of the basics, including places to sleep and poop in peace.

Unfortunately, the game wasn’t working quite right enough for me to do a full playthrough (it wouldn’t save, wouldn’t show my cursor half the time, disabled the sound, and had other issues). So I’m going to have to content myself with this brief glimpse.

Was it playing dollhouse for grownups? Sure it was. But there was something soothing and empowering about creating something and seeing life flourish in it rather than just destroying and fighting everything. The Sims probably sparked my ongoing fascination with housing in MMOs, and now it’s making me want to pick up a copy of Sims 4.

What were your favorite memories from the original Sims?

6 thoughts on “Looking back at The Sims

  1. baldwinp April 7, 2017 / 11:51 am

    My memory is gnomes. Lots and lots of wood gnomes. You could earn money crafting them at a woodworking bench, which gave one of my adult sims plenty to do in his free time. After leveling the skill enough, you didn’t even need a regular job anymore, which meant no more pressure of making sure you were up and off to work at the right times. And you could afford the most expensive house and possessions

    I also recall that you didn’t want to get too good of a bed. I think there was one that would recharge your sim in about 4 hours. The only problem was that their energy would drain at the same rate, so they would end up on a 22 hour day, instead of 24.

    I never used that “Neat” trick- it would have been helpful. I think I made my sins less neat, thinking that they wouldn’t care about living in a dirty house then.

  2. Aywren Sojourner April 7, 2017 / 8:22 pm

    rosebud rosebud rosebud rosebud

    So many memories!

    I was working in the local game store (Electronics Boutique) at the time Sims launched and it was our assistant manager who introduced me to The Sims. He said something along the lines of, “This game just came out and I think you’ll love it!” Then he walked me over to the shelf (used to have a big ole PC section in those days), pulled the box down for me, and introduced me to the concept of The Sims.

    I bought it that day, and have been a Sims fan ever since. It was the most amazing thing that you could download content made by users or make your own. You also used to be able to export something like a family album into html format if you wanted to upload it to a website somewhere.

  3. Katriana April 7, 2017 / 10:53 pm

    I didn’t start with the Sims until Sims 2 was out and already on it’s 3rd expansion I think. I bought the base game and 1st expansion right off then worked my way up until I was buying the expansions and stuff packs as they were released and had the whole collection by the end. I still have it, though now it’s via the Ultimate Edition on Origin that EA gave those who owned any of the Sims 2 packs when they retired the title a few years back. I spent lots of time in Sims 2, including getting into creating custom content for awhile.

    I subsequently played Sims 3, but have yet to actually play through all the expansions even though I own them all. Now and then I load it up and play a bit, but rarely have much time for it these days amidst all the other games I play currently. I also have 4, and have played it some, but haven’t ever gotten into it as much as I did 2 and 3. Now and then I think about hunting down a copy of 1, but not sure it would really be worth the hassle at this point.

  4. Shintar April 8, 2017 / 4:01 am

    I got the first Sims as a gift and actually got bored of it really quickly. I think if your Sims had a baby in that one, it stayed a baby forever? I just didn’t get what the big deal was. Now Sims 2, that got me hooked hard. But by then you could customise in much more detail, Sims would age and you could breed them to have really weird-looking children.

  5. Frazley Sparkspan June 25, 2018 / 11:27 am

    I remember Reticulating Spines the most. The loading times. I just remember looking at these families, trying things, the music of the Buy and Build modes. It had a charm that the later ones just never captured for me.

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