When the sims was released for consoles in 2002, it was not a straight 1:1 port of the PC game. Whilst the PC version played using a 2D isometric perspective with the sims themselves being rendered in 3D. This was mostly since 3D capable graphics card were not that common in most desktop PC’s, and because The Sims being considered an experimental game, Maxis wanted to keep the minimum specifications as low as possible.
When The Sims was ported to consoles, the developers had the opportunity to render the game fully in 3D, a first in the series. There were however some gameplay secrifices that had to be made, mainly due to the reduced memory of the consoles. First is that you are limited to a single story building – no upstairs, probably to make the game more simple and because it may have been awkward to switch between the two stories using the game controller without resorting to a key combination, as all the buttons had been mapped for other uses. Another annoying limitation was the object limiter, which limited the amount of objects you could have on a lot, due to the amount of memory on the consoles.
Despite the differences with the graphics, the gameplay was mostly intact with many of the objects from the PC base game being included, along with some console exclusive objects. Many of the pre-made Sims appear here with the same members, The Goths with Mortimer, Bella and Cassandra, The Roomies with Chris and Melissa, the Newbie, Pleasant and Bachelor families still being present. The only major difference is the Sims and their world being fully rendered in 3D. The lots are mostly the same with the absence of the second story, although the mansion from the first game is missing.
A new addition to the game was the ‘Get a Life’ mode, which was a single player level based mode where you create your own Sim who has to progress through a rags to riches style of gameplay. Your Sim would basically start from their parents house and would have to get a job and upgrade their skills, after two promotions they would progress onto the next stage in a new lot, along with certain other challenges. The en goal being to reach the top of their career ladder and to get married. Players would also have to upgrade the lot by purchasing new furniture, meeting new friends and hosting many parties. The Sims Bustin Out would later expand on this formula greatly, and would be the basis for the Urbz and would influence The Sims Life Stories spin offs.
Another console exclusive feature was the two player mode, where two players could control two different Sim’s on the same lot by using a second controller,this would split the screen and allow each Sim to be controlled by both players. There are also mini games (Challenge mode) that are centred around this feature were two players would compete to get the most friends, or to get the cleanest house.
Because of the Similarities of the PC and console versions, I wondered if they were both compatible with each others data, as in you could extract a lot from the PC version and load it on the console version. There are a few challenges to this, since the PC version used 2D graphics compared to the 3d models that the console uses, and the Sims themselves are rendered differently. It’s worth looking at the console disk images to see if there are any similarities to the PC version.
|PC Version (The Sims – Base Game only)||Console Version|
|Two story buildings||Single Story building|
|Can only choose from a selection||Can customize hair, face, eyes, mouth, makeup|
|Can only choose from a selection||Can customize top, bottom, shoes and colour of each item|
|10 lots selectable||6 lots selectable + 1 hidden/disabled|
|8 selectable sims per household||4 selectable sims per household|
|Cannot edit lots without a family moved in until Unleashed EP||Can enter build/buy without a family moved in|
|One Player||Up to two players with two controllers|
|Near unlimited objects||Object limiter (may vary on console)|
|Online Exchange support – Now Offline||No Online support for DLNS/Xbox Live|
I started with the Xbox version, since the XBOX was built on the PC architecture with it’s Intel processor,and since it’s possible to ftp directly into a modified Xbox rather than having to extract and recreate an iso image. First obstacle I ran into were these ARC files, which were also present in the Gamecube and PS2 versions. They were quite large files and contained a bulk of the games size. These files store a bulk of the games content.
In order to extract data from this you will need a custom utility with a plugin that understands these formats. From a bit of research ARC was a older compression format what fell out of use once zip took over. Nintendo also used ARC format as a container format for their games similar to the CAB format used on Windows however this seems to be a different format only used by Nintendo. There are also several different ARC formats that are incompatible with each other, which makes it hard to extract files form this format, and makes it harder to inject files into an existing ARC file. i’m not sure if these formats are different format that share the same extension, or there is some encryption/passcode involved.
What’s interesting is each console has a different file size for their respective ARC file, with the Gamecube being the largest. Maybe they are duplicating the files on the Gamecube version in order to reduce loading times? or the Xbox version might be compressed more? This would make sense for the sound and cutscene since they would be using the wmv and wma format for audio on the Xbox, the PS2 may have used MPEG2 since the Emotion Engine had an onboard MPEG2 decoder for it’s DVD player. The Gamecube does not have an onboard decoder so it needs to decode video and audio in software, which would affect the codec’s being used, and in turn affect the file size.
Looking on the Gamecube disc there is a Runtime folder that holds data for the default neighbourhoods, along with the sims, lots, and occupied objects (but not the objects themselves, or the skins, wall or floors). At first I assumed this was where the game pulls the default neighbourhood data from when creating an new memory card file, and would act as a template, however closely inspecting a batch files, it seems this folder is used to create the .ngh file which is kind of like a zip or cab archive of the above folders. The runtime folder is not present on the Xbox or Playstation 2 versions, but the ngh files are.
ChalData – for the 2 player lots
StoryData – a neighbourhood for the get a life mode
UserData – a neighbourhood for the play the sims mode / sandbox
These are template folders, I assume they get created to the memory card upon creating a new game, and the memory cards hold an ‘zipped’ or arced copy of the files.
There are 4 batch (.bat) files that were used to create the ngh files, here’s what exportstory.bat looks like;
..\bin\SimsNghExport.exe @allcharacters.rsp -iWallsFloors.ini StoryData story.ngh pause
SimsNghExport.exe – program used to create the ngh files, sadly not on disc
allcharaters.rsp – this file lists all the NPC and playable sims that shipped with the game, what gender/age and their skin-tone and clothing but NOT personality or job. I’m guessing that specific data is stored in the respective userXXXX.iff file, with the console specific stuff being referred to in this ngh file. The key field looks to the the sim name since I cant find any userid?
iWalllsFloors.ini – not sure, just a bunch of numbers, might be remapping the PC walls to the console version?
StoryData – folder, contains character files and house .iff files, basically the equivalent to the Userdata folder on the PC version
story.ngh – the output file
need to look the this ngh format, is it an archive? Is it compressed? Can we add and remove data with it?
This got me thinking if we could take this data and load it into the pc version of the game? After all the extensions are the same (.iff) although the file sizes are smaller. In order to investigate further we need to call a old friend called Windows…
For this we are using the original unpatched sims base game, with no expansions.
First I started off by copying the entire userdata folder from the gamecube iso into the game files and started the game up. What greeted me was this error message;
It’s not much of an error since you can click OK and the game to continue to load. Interesting is the names referenced in the message box, Grimreaper, which didn’t appear in the base game, only in the Livin it up expansion pack (GrimReaper does exist in the console version). Monkeybutler which is exclusive to the console release (its part of an object like the Servo robot in Livin It Up, cleans the house and repairs), not sure about robot or officer2?
Also what is sourcesafe?
After loading the game I found not of the lots were accessible or even recognisable, clicking on them did nothing and no lot information data would appear. When I clicked on the family bin icon however I could see the two unoccupied families from the console version, the heads and faces looked to be missing and the game has loaded the default templates. Understandable since the console sims are in an incompatible 3d format, I’m surprised the game didn’t crash outright.
I tried copying it again, this time leaving the neighbourhood.iff filers intact, this time a different error message appears;
I assume the neighbourhood.iff acts as some soft of database of which sims belong on a specific lot and also deals with NPC assignments.
Loading the Story mode families
What about the story mode folder? For this I did the same with the storyData folder, copied it to the game files and renamed it userdata and see how the game reacted.
Checking the family bin you can see all the sims used in get a life mode, all from the different households. Some are even listed twice like Dudley and Mimi landgrabb .
The same issue with the lots persist, and after copying back the original files from the PC neighbourhood, I tried moving one of the sims in and clicking on their control panels. The skills and personality points seem to be intact with what the console version would show, although the sim names are always in BLOCK CAPITALS, maybe this was deliberate since it was easier to read on a standard definition TV screens at the time?
Interesting is that there are multiple copies of some sims, the Landgrabs and Mom have duplicate versions. This may be because once you move to another level, the previous sims are deleted except for the langrabb’s and Mom, who’s relationship gets transferred to the other copy. Other sims like the Roomies are deleted once you move from stage 4 to 5.
There are also two other families, the Tooter family with the sim ‘DJ’, and a ‘JANE HOUSE’. As these don’t appear in the game, they are either cut from the game or test sims. It’s worth noting than upon loading the families in a lot you will receive the below errors message, however this wont effect the game and will continue to load normally.
Loading the lots
To get the console lots to load you need to trick the game into loading them, since starting the game up the game would just ignore them and the lot would be undetectable from the nhood screen, however if you load up with the original pc lots, alt-tab out of the game and replace the lot and then alt tab back into the game and load the specific lot, the game will load the lot. You will receive a missing objects error message which is to be expected, any objects the game can match will be present in the lot. Walls and floors are slightly different, the game will load the respective one but it if it tries to load a wall that is not there it will default to as substitute, the same happens with floors, and sim heads and bodies. Swimming pools will be missing since the console version used fixed design swimming pools, the PC version instead allows you to build your own swimming pool.
Unfortunately this is when I started to encounter issues with the base game, as loading certain lots would just cause the game to crash regardless, lot 4 in particular was very problematic. Switching to the The Sims complete collection fixed this and was able to load all of the lots. It was also more compatible since the console games contains content that was also included with later expansion packs, It was defiantly better at matching the correct walls and floors. Unfortunately sims complete collection refused to accept the neighbourhood iff file or the characters/sims themselves, which meant I could not load the console sims directly. Perhaps the neighbourhood files have changed significantly since unleashed in a way that breaks compatibility with the older code. The Sims Deluxe Editions might be a good compromise to test out but for now lets continue with Complete collection.
Userdata Lots – Play the Sims Mode
After loading a lot you must save before exiting to the hood or the game, as the game will crash. Em guessing there is incomplete data that the game tries to fill in when saving, or the game tries to load the 3D thumbnail used on the console version which wont render on the PC version.
|House00||It’s built but no doors or windows or any objects?|
|House10||Mostly empty lot with a small house and two doors|
No luck getting the occupied sims themselves to migrate over, must use a different format for sims that move into occupied houses. only family’s that are in the family bin.
Story Data Lots
|House00||Exactly the same as House00 in Userdata|
|House08||The mansion at the start of the game, dream sequence|
|House10||Mostly empty lot with a small house and two doors|
After placing House10, a development time message keep appearing, selecting yes or no yielded no noticeable effect.
Char Data Lots (Challenge mode)
|House00||Exactly the same as House00 in Userdata|
|House04||The Frat House|
|House09||Mostly empty lot with a small house and two doors|
Links to both extracted Lots and Character files in separate archives
The lot files were imported using The Sims Complete Collection, but should work with any game as long as you extract the HouseXX.iff file into your own UserData folder
The character files were created using The Sims (Base game) and may not work past Unleashed, these contain the sims from the ‘Get a Life/Story’ mode and Challenge , Play the Sims / Sandbox mode.