Let’s get one thing clear: I’m extremely fond of horses. If I were to list all of the animals in order of objective, intrinsic worth, I don’t think it would be arrogant of me to say that horses would certainly be at the top.
The Sims 3: Pets caters to unbridled hooflust in ways previous Sims pets expansions wouldn’t dare, introducing equine buddies to the already heaving assortment of available canine and feline companions. Dogs, cats and horses are now the three primary forms of petkind, while birds, fish, gerbiltypes and lizards steadfastly remain on the ‘interactive furniture’ side of animal husbandry.
Whether furry, hairy, scaly or feathered, pets integrate seamlessly into the life simulator. They can be inserted into new families from the outset, or adopted from other Sims or the adoption agency. And, because The Sims 3: Pets fills your town to the brim with wandering strays, your Sim can also befriend vagrant woofers, taking them off the streets and showering them in mind-smearing luxury.
Gone are the pet careers of The Sims 2, replaced by more realistic functions: dogs can hunt and dig for treasure. Cats can catch vermin. Horses can be ridden in races and made to jump over things for money. Riding itself is a skill Sims can learn, while hunting and other tricks can be taught and improved. The pets themselves can be controlled exactly as you would a human Sim, allowing you to placate their immediate desires (typically: sniffing and eating things) or attend to their needs without the interaction of a human Sim. And, just as with human Sims, wish fulfilment grants rewards – such as the ability to vomit at will.
The animations and animal vocalisations, are of an incredibly high standard – pumping immense, wet-nosed character and playful personalities into every pet. You’ll want to crawl into your monitor to stroke the things, instead of stoically resigning yourself to proxy in-game cuddles and indirect cooing. Animals age and expire, too, flinging Sims into depressions of such crippling magnitude that, much like real life, you wonder if it’s ever worth forming an emotional bond with a living creature ever again. But don’t worry, you’ll find some consolation in the customisation options in the pet creation suite. Maybe.
The pets expansions for the Sims have traditionally been the most, well, expansive, introducing players to a new emotional vocabulary through the unconditional and universally appreciated love of captive animals. The Sims 3: Pets is the most balanced of these expansions – more pragmatic than the wackiness of The Sims 2 superstar mutts, and… well, I doubt you even remember the awful state of The Sims 1’s autistic, grid-based dogs. It’s the only Sims expansion I’d ever insist upon, and a must for Sims 3 owners.
EA have launched a Sims 3 demo that will theoretically run in your browser. The demo was announced on the EA site, spotted over on Blue's News, and contains "elements from The Sims 3, The Sims 3 Late Night, The Sims 3 World Adventures."
EA's link doesn't seem to work, but we managed to launch the demo from the Gakai front page, the service providing the streaming tech behind the trial. The demo is time limited to 20 minutes. You'll be able to create a sim and lead them to their a gruesome death in an Egyptian pyramid, a haunted house and a vampire lair. Or you could keep them safe and watch them live long, happy fulfilled lives, but where's the fun in that?
The next Sims 3 expansion pack will add a host of new activities for your sims at every stage of their lives. Young sims can build treehouses, teenagers can attend their school prom, and fully grown sims can have a full blown mid life crisis that allows them to change their hair style and colour, and hopefully blow all their savings on a collection of sports cars.
As well as being able to throw new events like expensive wedding ceremonies and teen house parties, The Sims 3: Generations will also add a collection of new hobbies and activities will let you accidentally kill your sims in a series of new and spectacular ways.
Experimental chemistry sets will be a new source of fun and horrible explosive death for your sims, but safer activities will also be available, including the option to throw bachelor parties. Younger sims will be able to pull pranks, plant toilet bombs and have imaginary friends. A new memories system will let you keep track of your sims' major life events, and post their progress on Facebook.
Generations is due out this spring, for more information on the new expansion, head over to the official Sims 3 site.
If you fancy having your mind somewhat blown, try playing the Mass Effect 2 demo in your browser. Unlike most graphically impressive browser games, this isn't a huge download running via a special plugin: all you need is Flash and Java, which you likely already do, and you'll be playing in a few seconds. The only catch is you need a good connection - about 10Mb/s - and the demo won't appear if you don't.
The service is called Gaikai, and it's live in 12 countries right now. The focus is on letting you into the game with no fuss or sign-up process, so it's perfect for demos. At the end of the Mass Effect 2 or Dead Space 2 demos available now, you get a link to buy the full game.
If the Mass Effect 2 demo link doesn't pop up when you visit the Gaikai site, try the Spore one - it has the same requirements but it'll tell you what's wrong if it doesn't work.
The service has actually been running in a low-profile way for a couple of months. There's a slight lag on interactions when playing on our office connection, but performance is generally very good. Since it's web based, it means you can now play these PC games on a Mac or Linux system. It's set to be demonstrated in full at the Games Developer Conference this week.
Unlike the similar game-streaming service, OnLive, Gaikai doesn't charge for its services and allows users to play in their browser right away. At the moment it only offers some choice selections from EA, but is hoping to move onto including a larger catalogue of blockbuster hits from them and other publishers.
Writing on his blog CEO David Perry explains that he hopes to eventually end up with servers in every major city in the world to stream data from, saying that "if engineers work really hard, they can maybe squeeze out another thousandth of a second from our compression but if we set up in a data center two states closer to your house, we dramatically improve the performance".
The creator of Earthworm Jim hopes to eventually expand the service to allow YouTube-style embedding of demos on websites, and the service will eventually work with Facebook. The aim is to have the embedded demos appear on Facebook, and at the end of reviews, so players can hop straight in and play.
Other demos currently available include Spore, The Sims 3 and, after completing a short survey, Dead Space 2.
Let us know if they work on your connection and, if so, how the performance feels to you.
The Sims 3 is now on Steam, bringing interactive soap operas, dysfunctional families and suburban nudist colonies to your Steam account. The game's many expansion packs are also on Valve's digital download service, including World Adventures, which lets you take your sims treasure hunting in exotic and often booby-trapped locations, and Late Night, which lets you take your sims out on the town. There's also a bundle deal offering the Sims 3 and all five expansions for half price. I'm off to build my sims a glorious mansion, and then delete all the doors and watch the carnage unfold.