After starting up the game, you'll see your neighborhood. But, unlike The Sims 1 it's completely in 3D, and nearly completely customizable. The game starts with flying through the neighborhood, highlighting some spots in the hood. We saw "Riverside Neighborhood", which had several houses and community lots already, built by Maxis (and with some Maxis people in it). Neighborhoods are now identified by names in the game. No longer will you need to remember which neighborhood number you were playing, but you can now easily see your neighborhood's name in a list. Currently, the directory structure still uses numbers though, and there is a limit of the amount of neighborhoods. It's so high though, that you probably won't reach it. The directory structure might also change in the final release, so the only limit will be your disk space. The game itself will probably ship with three neighborhoods to get you going, but you can always create more from the templates.
At this point it was possible to select the neighborhood to load using command line parameters in a shortcut. It's a nice feature that will hopefully make it to the final game, so you can create shortcuts for all of your neighborhoods to save you some time loading the right neighborhood every time. Another nice feature is that instead of having to 'scroll' through all the neighborhoods, you can simply choose the one to load in a menu. That saves a lot of time, because you don't have to load all the neighborhoods between the one that's loaded and the one you want to load.
Customize until you drop
You can easily create a new neighborhood with a few clicks. You get to choose the neighborhood template (we saw 5 pre-made ones), so you can determine what you want your hood to look like. If you want to spice up the neighborhood a bit, you can 'plop' some objects on it. A rainbow, some hot air balloons, birds, fishes, boats, trees or even entire buildings (that your Sims cannot enter, by the way) are only a few of the options you have. In the version we saw, a pre-alpha one, all of that still had to be done using cheats. In the final version there might be some menu buttons, but the option might also be deleted from the game - that is unknown at the moment. The chance of these objects to make the game seems to be quite high though. They do make the neighborhood look just that extra bit better and more beautiful, so you'll be even more amazed at the looks of your neighborhood.
But besides just plopping objects wherever you like, you can also create a brand new terrain from scratch. If you have SimCity 4, you can create any terrain you like in a 64x64 city (the smallest possible). Once you've done that, you can copy the city to The Sims 2, and then use that as template for your neighborhood. The Sims 2 will import the terrain (including the water), roads and bridges. Roads can only have straight corners though - diagonal roads won't be imported because it's impossible to build a lot next to it properly. Of course you'll also be able to change the neighborhood to make a desert or tropical area. Not only the terrain will change, but also the style of the roads and bridges will reflect the style you chose. When creating a new terrain, you should remember that there's a major scale difference between SimCity 4 and The Sims 2. One house in The Sims 2 usually occupies more squares on the grid than in SimCity 4.
Lots of lots
Once you're done with creating the neighborhood that you like, you can create families and houses. Neighborhoods are still considered separate games, just as it is in The Sims 1. Sims can't visit others if they are in a different neighborhood. It should be possible to copy Sims or Families to different neighborhoods though, as there will definitely be a Sims exchange again. Lots - either residential or community - can be placed anywhere you like and you can choose the size of them. The amount of lots on your neighborhood is limited by its borders, so you can have as many as you like, as long as it fits.
Once you clicked on a lot in your neighborhood, you'll see some information about the family living in the lot. It's pretty much the same information as in The Sims 1, except that instead of having just the faces, you'll see full pictures of the family members. You can also see the friendship relationships with other Sims in the neighborhood, which are shown with green lines between the 2 lots.
Community lots are also much better than the community lots we saw in The Sims Unleashed. Instead of having just some places where Sims can meet and buy pets, the new community lots will allow your Sims to go out and meet others, buy new clothes and other stuff, get a new haircut and more. As pets will not be in the game from the start (they will most likely be in an expansion pack again), you won't be able to buy any cute little puppies. Basically the new community area is a mix of Downtown from Hot Date, and the Community from Unleashed.
As you can read, the neighborhood is taken to an entirely new level in The Sims 2. No longer will you be stuck to the same plain thing in every neighborhood as in the original version, but you can customise it any way you want, and so create your city in the desert, or that little mountain town in the snow. There will be a lot more to explore, a lot more to see, and a lot more to experience. Thanks to the new 3D engine, you will even be impressed by the fly-through camera which will nearly stop you from actually playing the game. If only the neighborhood is this much better already, how much better will the rest of the game be...?
Written at 22:50 on Tuesday 18 November 2003 by