The Sims Online Charter Edition

The Sims Online Charter Edition

Written by Charlie Sinhaseni on 1/13/2003 for PC  

Be somebody else. It’s that simple, start anew, forget everything that has ever happened to you in the past and forge your own future. Fate? What fate? You control your own fate and write your own future. It’s a prospect that many of us have dreamed and until now, were only able to live it with other computer controlled AI beings, that’s all about to change.

Enter The Sims Online.

Be somebody else. That’s right; you tailor every single aspect of your online persona to your liking. Want to get rid of those love handles? Make your Sim a handsome muscle head with bulging biceps. Wish that you could get rid of that bowl haircut that your mom forces you to sport? Then go ahead and make a mohawked Sim. Want to erase that potty accident that you had in 3rd grade from your past? Then go right ahead, your persona is truly what you make of it and that, my friends, is the beauty of the Sims Online.

I’ll admit that I came into The Sims Online with the perception that it would just come off as a glorified chatroom. In fact, my notions were reinforced when upon installation of the game I was given the option of using my AIM screen name as my Sims Online log-in. Thankfully those preconceived notions didn’t last for much longer, and while TSO is a graphical chat interface of some sorts, there’s much more than meets the eye.

The core game plays much like the original Sims but instead of interacting with AI controlled Sims you’ll interact with player controlled Sims. Not one character on the screen (with the exception of the ice-cream vender) is computer controlled. What does this mean exactly? It means that every action you perform, every word you speak, and everything you do is committed to the memory of a real-life individual, just like in real life. Are you being a jerk and disobeying the residents of a home? You can expect to receive a permanent ban from their property. While there’s a lot of fun involved, mutual respect is required in order to maintain a peaceful and entertaining community.


AIM for TSO


But does it all work? It all depends on the player. If you enjoyed the ability to control every single aspect of the game, with the power to build and tear down houses at will, then you’ll be sorely disappointed. In fact you can’t start out with a family, just a male or female Sim that is tailored to your liking. The marriage system is still intact but children are nowhere to be found. So in essence the game works if you simply enjoyed the interaction of the offline game but if you were a control freak, then this may not appeal to you.
The game consists of lots which essentially double as chatrooms. Houses are built upon the lots, much like in the original Sims. When you start out you’re given 10,000 simoleons (the currency for The Sims) to purchase a plot of land, how you choose to cultivate and shape it is entirely up to you. You can use it as a residence or choose to run a business such as a matchmaking service or a dance club, with a cover charge of course. You’ll have to build up your entire home and decorate and furnish it manually, much like you had to do in the original Sims. Currently the largest properties that I’ve entered have been able to hold 18 people at a time, including the property owner.

Of course you’ll still be able to buy objects to scatter about your house including beds, chairs, counters etc. There’s a small change that comes in the form of roommates. Multiple people can live in the same home and split the costs of designing the house and such. Roommates also help with expansion as the cost of expanding the lot decreases in accordance with the number of roommates currently living on the property.

You can chat at anytime, press any letter or number key and a small box will appear. After you’ve finished typing just press enter and a small bubble will appear above your head, comic-book style. Everyone who happens to be on the property at the time can read everything that you have written. In case you want some more privacy a system has been set up where private messages can be sent to other Sims. This system works much like an in-game email system. It’s a nice and useful tool to use, especially when you want to communicate with other Sims who aren’t on the same property as you are.

Interacting between Sims hasn't changed very much, except the array of options available to you has been significantly increased. If you perform an action that requires a reaction like say the hug, you’ll need the approval of the person on the other end of the action. They can either choose to receive your gesture (signified by a smiley face of course) or reject your action (frown); chances are their willingness to receive your interactions will be based on their perception of you. If they like you they may give you a backrub or tell you a joke, if they hate you then you can expect an embarrassing slap to the face. Best of all? Everyone gets to see it! So if you get slapped you can be sure that you’ll bear the mark of a loser for the remainder of your stay.


Me and my many faces.


Currently the best way to make cash is to focus on one of the many traits (charisma, logic, cooking) and then utilize one of the many cash making machines that have been placed into the environment. The more skill your Sim has the more money he’ll make. To stress the multiplayer mindedness of the game, the more people participating in the activity the more results you’ll see. This is readily apparent by the many houses that you can visit, as you’ll see 10, sometimes 15, chalkboards lined up side-by-side. The results are highly visible as well, one person working on a board will make 60 or 70 simoleons while 15 people working can net about 200-300 per person. What’s the incentive for the property owner to provide their visitors with these money making tools? They get a small kickback every time one of their visitors makes money.
Friendships will play a crucial role in getting the most out of your Sims Online experience. While friendships were an integral part of climbing the ladder of success in The Sims, friendships play a crucial role in showing the rest of the world just how successful you are. In addition, making new friends will also unlock new interactions such as the Hi-Five and the Kiss Hello. Friends are made by performing the Make Friend interaction. After selecting the action it you’ll see your Sim blow up a balloon and hand it to the recipient. Now this isn’t just a cute animation that goes with the interaction, it actually has a purpose. You start out with a set number of balloons to give out so you just can around handing them out at will. In order to get more you’ll have to make friends and get them to give you their balloons, then you’ll be able to give that balloon to other people, thus continuing the chain. You’ll want to make friends because as it is in real life, the more friends you have the more popular you are.

The real problem with the game is that there isn’t enough to promote interaction amongst Sims. Instead of feeling like a simulation of the real world, it often feels like a quasi-realistic world but instead of hanging out with the other people around you, you’ll often be more compelled to make money or build up your skills. I’ve even had other players offer me money in exchange for my friendship, how pathetic is that? Often times players will enter houses and run straight to the money making device (boards, gnomes etc) as opposed to chatting with the inhabitants. In fact most of the time players will just leave their Sims on the money makes and then leave their keyboards, only returning to cash in on the profits. More interaction needs to be encouraged as it appears that far too much emphasis has been placed on the money and skill building aspects as opposed to peer to peer interaction. In fact most of the interaction that I faced between Sims was related to “come on gets on the boardsssssss 4 mor $$$$$$$$!!11” Not a good start to a community whose main selling point is social interaction.

Another major problem is that the homes don’t necessarily feel like homes, just random properties that happen to be strewn about. Trying to enter the most popular properties will yield homes that look nothing at all like homes. Places that are inhabited by 8 people will have 1 bedroom and 1 small bathroom, it’s just not right. Even for businesses you’d expect the proprietor to maybe live in a small home away from the main business but in The Sims Online, proprietors and their roommates tend to sleep and live right in the businesses. For a game that places a heavy emphasis on mimicking real life it’s too far of a stretch for me.

As you may be wondering, the entire game must be played online. When you log off the game is saved and stored on the game servers in an effort to prevent cheaters from prevailing. I have yet to seen any cases of cheating as of yet but with all online games, the prospect still looms, probably in the respect of mysteriously receiving a boatload of credits. Sadly the proposed “inherit one-million simoleons from rich uncle” interaction was omitted.
I’m a little disturbed by the graphics as the majority of the visuals appear to be recycled from previous Sims titles. A graphical update is long overdue and with the upcoming release of the Sims PS2 I think we’re all aware of what the Maxis graphics designers are capable of. Edges are sharp, textures are blurry and the entire game as a whole looks completely dated. The animations in particular are pretty lackadaisical.

The game still sounds the same as it did three years ago but for an online title, they fit the bill. Sims still speak that gibberish and the same tunes still blare from the stereo units. As a nice little bonus, The Sims Charter Edition features a musical CD that contains all of the tracks that play in the game. I’m an especially big fan of that classical tune that plays when the player enters buy mode so the CD really appeals to me. It also comes with an official certificate, inducting me into the Sims Online Charter Society. Apparently I'm inductee number 15678 of 16000.

So is this game accessible? I wouldn’t say so. Just recently I was forced to download a 6MB mandatory upload upon sign in. Thankfully I’m on broadband, can you imagine how painful that would be on a dialup connection? While it’s feasible that you could have an enjoyable experience via dialup I’d limit this game to broadband owners. I’ve seen far too many complaints from dialup users who continually get disconnected from the game. Due to the relatively calm nature of the game lag won’t really play a huge factor in hindering your enjoyment.

Then there’s the high price point, the $9.95/month fee isn’t necessarily that bad, but the need to purchase a $49.99 retail package just to get in to the game is a bit too much. While it does come with one month of free play it would have been much better had Maxis decided to credit the gamer with five months of gameplay or at the very least, three. The prospect of paying a month fee doesn’t bother me too much but having to spend $50 just to get into the game, and then having to pay the additional $9.95 a month? That’s a bit too steep for my tastes.

At times it feels like The Sims Online is incomplete; many of the promised features have yet to be delivered but the intent of their implementation is there. For instance, you can search for places with shopping and casino but of course, those features have yet to be implemented into the game. There are a whole host of features that are currently grayed out; highlighting them reveals a message that says “coming soon!” Maybe that’s just it; too many features were sacrificed for ones that just aren’t as intuitive and entertaining. At times the game feels like a stripped down version of its offline counterpart but an incomplete one at that. I’m certain that new updates will come in the form of required downloads but then again, they would be downloads for features that should have already been included with that high price tag.

To be honest The Sims Online will mainly appeal to the hardcore fans of the original Sims. It contains the same core gameplay elements so if you absolutely hated the original, it’s pretty much a given that you’ll hate this game too. In its current state the game is still pretty barren, lacking many of its promised components that really made this attractive on paper. I suggest you hold out and wait for the game to evolve into its full and complete state. Not that it’s an unentertaining experience, but because the game is full of features that won’t come into fruition for at least a few more months.


Tired of being a SimLoser? Then pick up Prima Games' excellent strategy guide that features everything you need to get in to the game.
If you’re a fan of the Sims then this is your next step, if you absolutely hate the Sims then you still might want to give it a try, you just might be surprised. While it could absolutely benefit from a few new features, it’s still a good enough to warrant a purchase.

Rating: 8.3 Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.

It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.

It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."

As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.

When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.

Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile

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