The Story of Maximus Lambert
This is Maximus Lambert, my first Sim in The Sims 4. He is a simple Sim who aspired to show the world what a musical genius he was. Day in and day out, he worked hard studying the piano and guitar, climbing the ladder on the musical career path, and making as many friends as possible along the way. Included among the list of acquaintances and simple friendships was Ari Thorne, his geeky best friend, and the beautiful Latasha Carl, a fellow music lover and love interest. One day, he returned home from a hard day’s work and realized that if he wanted to get promoted, he’d have to make far more friends.
It was then that I discovered that Ari Thorne had passed away. But Maximus… he had no idea. Maximus hadn’t even noticed that Ari was getting old!
There was no phone call. There was no funeral. There was no in-game indication whatsoever that a tragedy had occurred aside from the black and white portrait that appeared on the friend list interface. Maximus remained utterly unfazed, continuing about his days in blissful ignorance. The only real affect the death of Ari Thorne had on his life was that it was going to make getting that promotion that much harder. For in The Sims 4, friendships decay even after a Sim passes away, and as the days went by, the friendship between Ari Thorne and Maximus Lambert might as well have not ever existed.
Maximus was determined to get that promotion though, so he spent his time at the local bar, chatting away, playing songs on his guitar, and generally having a good time. As the days went by, he made more and more friends. He didn’t notice Latasha Carl growing old. He didn’t even notice when his girlfriend passed away. I did, once again in the form of a black and white portrait.
Maximus did not react to this profound loss. He did not cry. He did not mourn. He did, however, have to make a new friend to replace Latasha, or else he would never get that promotion. Without a moments delay, he immediately began to hit on the town flirt, a fiery redhead and hot-headed romantic named Nina Caliente. She accepted his advances unconditionally, repeatedly, and apparently, irrevocably.
With the requisite friendships having been solidly established, Maximus confidently went to work one day, and as expected, he got his promotion. He was of course delighted! Why wouldn’t he be? It’s just too bad Ari Thorne and Latasha Carl couldn’t be there to join him in this happy moment. Besides, there would not be any time to party, for the next promotion would require a great deal of focus and practice.
Maximus Lambert spent the next several days sitting at his piano for hours on end. And each day, without fail, Nina Caliente would be at his doorstep, knocking fervently, but always remaining unanswered. Maximus no longer had any need for mundane things like love and friendship. In that moment, he lived only to perfect his skill.
One day, as Maximus continued to practice on the piano, he again heard a familiar knock at the door. Predictably, it was Nina Caliente… but it was not the Nina Caliente he remembered. She had changed. Overnight, every hair on her head turned from red to gray, she had gained weight, and she seemed to have this permanent sneer stuck on her face. This was not the same Nina Caliente that Maximus had spent so many nights with… was it?
Maximus didn’t answer the door, and would not answer it again. The ever reliable Nina Caliente stopped coming by one day. Maximus never found out how or when she died. Though her knocking may have echoed in his mind for the rest of his days, he did not grieve or shed a single tear. But he did chug down a youth potion so that he would have more time to achieve his aspiration in life. That was what was important.
Eventually, Maximus finally did achieve his ambition. He mastered the guitar and piano and became a world renowned musician. I mean, yes, all his friends and lovers were dead, there was no indication that they ever had meaningful relationships, and there was really no one left to share his success with, but at least he had done it. His dream had come true.
Mine did not.
An age old problem
This was not how I imagined the life of Maximus Lambert. I did not plan to create a Sim that was so focused on his career that he would utterly disregard every other enjoyable aspect of his life. But as a player, I did want to complete his career path and aspiration goal no matter what within the time limit of his lifespan. Given the fickle nature of how The Sims 4 handles relationships and even life and death, things happened the way they did, and Maximus ended up successful and alone. But I didn’t write about this to complain about how this one Sim’s life turned out. I am far more concerned with how The Sims 4 handles aging to begin with.
When I originally played The Sims back in February of 2000, I accepted that each individual Sim would be stuck at a certain age before the time came for them to magically grow from baby to child and from child to adult. This was completely reasonable at the time, with the state of the technology as it was. Besides, The Sims was innovative, creative, and astoundingly addictive. I was too busy enjoying the game to complain about a lack of realism in the aging process, and was able to completely forgive The Sims for its weird way of handling aging.
The Sims 2 took the original system and expanded it, adding several new life stages to the game including toddler, teen, young adult and elder. Again, this was not a realistic method of aging, but it was certainly a great improvement over The Sims, so I still did not complain.
But when The Sims 3 came out, and the system remained fundamentally unchanged, I started to wonder why we couldn’t have a complete and gradual aging system. My friends would argue about technical limitations, but I never quite believed that was all there was to it. If EA and Maxis wanted gradual aging in The Sims, they could make it happen.
So now here we are again, playing another base game in the series with The Sims 4, and the aging process remains the same as it was since the original game, with the same life stages as The Sims 2 and The Sims 3—well, minus toddlers anyway. It’s not the lack of toddlers that bothers me, though. I’m more upset about the lack of visual distinction between the various life stages in The Sims 4.
One of these is not like the other
Let’s take a look at Maximus Lambert again—this time, minus the beard—so we see how he appears as a teenager, as a young adult, as an adult and as an elder. As you can see, the character remains the exact same height through all four of those life stages, and aside from the elder stage, the other three stages are nearly indistinguishable from each other.
It’s no wonder the young adult, Maximus Lambert, lost his love, Latasha Carl, so unexpectedly! She must have been an adult nearing the elder stage when they first fell in love. He had no idea she was an older woman! And then, before he knew it, she was gone, and soon he ran into the same issue with Nina Caliente. He didn’t have a thing for older women. The Sims 4 fooled him (and me). He lost his pal, Ari Thorne, the same way. It’s kind of a huge problem, isn’t it? Shouldn’t we, as players, be able to tell at a glance what life stage a Sim is in? Shouldn’t it be very obvious?
At least in the The Sims 3, teenagers were shorter than adults, so that was one life stage you could always tell apart from the others. But in The Sims 4, I only noticed my Sim was interacting with a teenager when I saw that the romantic options were not available. Well, great, now my Sim is a creeper. That was not part of the master plan. In my opinion, making teenagers the same height as adults is as drastic a change as the removal of toddlers.
But even if it was more obvious that Latasha Carl was an adult when young Maximus met her, it still would not have revealed how soon she would become an elder. I’m assuming “young adult” covers the 20s, and “adult” covers the 30s and 40s. So was Latasha 30 or 49 when they met? I have no idea. All I know is one day she flipped the elder switch and a few days later she croaked, leaving Maximus down one friend and lover. If I had known how old she was from the start, this story might have played out differently.
It’s clear to me now that The Sims desperately needs a much more gradual aging process, where characters grow up with deliberate subtlety, but where the difference between a 20, 30 and 40 year old is obvious. I know this concept creates a nightmare from an animator’s perspective—after all, Sims, no matter how short or tall, need to be able to interact seamlessly with their environment, objects and other Sims. But we are now on the 4th base game in the series, and this aging problem is far too old.
Elders aren’t old
Even within the existing system, there are so many flaws. Sims outside the active lot age up without the player having any idea. And as we found out with Maximus, they die off just as easily. From a storytelling perspective, this is jarring. And if nothing else, The Sims has always been a great tool for storytelling. But how can a player reconcile a situation in which they thought their Sim was starting a hot new relationship with a young and sexy partner, and the very next day an elder comes knocking at the door?
Elders are perhaps the biggest problem with the aging process in The Sims 4. Where do I even begin? How about the age range this one stage of life is supposed to cover. I’m assuming elder Sims are around 50, maybe 60 at the start of that stage, so if we’re assuming a Sim, like a human, can live up to 100 years or more, than this stage could theoretically represent over 50 years of a Sim’s life and more time than all of the other life stages combined! An elder Sim lives through those many, many years as a relatively young looking and healthy old person before he or she spontaneously drops dead for no apparent reason.
Now, I know The Sims has always taken liberties for the sake of fun and simplicity, but this is a simulation game, isn’t it? As the lack of toddlers proves to be a gap in the life of a child, the lack of various stages of growing old is just as conspicuous, if not more so. The Sims should, first are foremost, simulate the life of a person from beginning to end. But in The Sims 4, a game that should take us closer to this vision, we are instead left with about half of a person’s life completely missing.
The truth is there are no old people in The Sims 4; not a single one. There are middle aged people with gray hair, but there are no true elders. Maybe this is again, a technical limitation. Maybe it’s a case of leaving one feature out so that another can be included. Or maybe the folks over at Maxis simply do not want to include the harsh realities of growing old in their game. Should the next Sims game have people succumbing to diseases? Would it ruin the purity of the game to have Sims becoming too old and frail to move about without the help of another Sim? Do we want Sims bound to wheelchairs?
Perhaps that’s going too far, because this is after all, just a game. But by leaving the sick and elderly out of The Sims, they are also excluding the many joyous and happy occasions that these things could add to the game. There could be Sims holding their newborn grandchildren for the first time, or Sims getting discharged from a hospital after a hard fought battle with disease. Some of the happiest moments in life could not exist without the harsh moments that precede them. Would The Sims benefit from this sort of thing? I’d like to think so. At the very least, it would provide opportunity for a broader range of storytelling, and I believe it would make a better game too.
But first things first, the developers at Maxis need to figure out a gradual aging system for what I hope is the inevitable fifth game in the series. The life stages as they exist in The Sims 4 are a very incomplete way of viewing the life of a Sim, and the process of aging up through each stage is nothing short of bizarre and unnatural, and really breaks immersion and storytelling potential in many ways.
With all of these things in mind, I decided to ask the GameFAQs community on the message board of The Sims 4 about how much time they give their Sims to live.
As you can see, very few players choose to use the normal or short lifespans, and instead, the vast majority of players prefer to either extend the lives of their Sims to be as long as possible, or to actually disable aging entirely, giving them all the time in the world to tell their stories. I plan to do the same thing from now on. For Sims that want families, I will allow them as much time as possible, and for Sims that don’t, I will make them immune to the effects of time, and they will only pass away when some tragic (accidental) event befalls them. Sadly, I’d prefer to have no aging whatsoever than an aging system as unpredictable and nonsensical as what exists in The Sims 4 at this time.