Sims 4 Overthinking: Where’s the Plumbing?

By Bay Posted Saturday Nov 19, 2022

Filed under: Epilogue, The Sims 26 comments

Years ago, I saw a YouTube video of real-life architects reacting to Sims 4 builds.  They mainly had little issues with the builds, IE: You can’t put windows to the east because you’ll be blind in the morning, or, you can’t have a vast open space like that without support beams, etc etc. But the other issue they had really stuck out to me.

Why were these digital builders sticking in the realm of possibility? The individuals reacting to these builds were architects. Building stuff that makes sense in the realm of possibility was their full-time jobs. Why the hell are these gaming dumbasses doing the same crap they have to do for work? At work, they can’t just ignore zoning laws, but these ‘simmers’ can! Why are they building normal stuff?

This amused me for a couple of reasons.

For one, it makes me picture a newbie Minecraft house, someone who’s just logged onto creative mode for the first time.  Maybe they messed around in survival for a while, but now they want to see what this ‘creative mode’ is all about.

‘Ha! I’ve got it!’ They proclaim, taking out their first block. ‘I know exactly what to build!’

Thunk, thunk, thunk, they place their blocks. Much like the first dirt house they ever built, a simple structure, but this? This is unimaginable wealth.

Nailed it!
Nailed it!

This amusing mental image aside, I’m sure these architects were thinking of big, complicated builds that they had to learn in college were impossible. They likely weren’t thinking about solid gold buildings or ridiculous skylights, but far more practical ‘impossible’ things. The thing is, a lot of people who build in The Sims started out by making crazy, impossible things. Just like the diamond Minecraft house, it’s almost a sign of a new player.

I know when I began my Sims journey, one of the first things I did was build a top-heavy house. Three floors of nothing but stairs up, followed by a house on the top of the weird pillar. It was fun, I enjoyed making it, it looked like shit and I didn’t care. The thing is, these architects weren’t just reacting to random Simmers-at-large. They were reacting to talented, veteran builders who were known for making great things.

Random builders do build crazy, silly things that stretch architecture to its limit. Most of the talented ones, though? They know how to build real-life, practical stuff, and make it look awesome. Why?

Real-looking is novel in The Sims 4. In your first twenty minutes of gameplay, a vampire can just, show up at your house and ask to be let in. The houses that come with the game suck by almost everyone’s account. They look bland, empty, and often fake.

What is desirable in The Sims 4 isn’t the craziest architecture or the most impossible house. What’s the most desirable is pots and pans on top of the fridge and cereal left on the table. It’s clutter that makes a place feel lived in because those are the things that are difficult.

I think there is something so fascinatingly human in that phenomenon. A new player in a game’s first instinct is often to do something they’ve never been able to do before in real life, while a veteran player’s instinct is to do something that’s harder to accomplish in the game.  It’s easy for people to judge each other’s creations based on what has merit to their particular situation, but both are valid things to do. What is desirable is often determined by what is difficult, not by what is ‘good’.

Those architects weren’t being dumb noobs, they were seeing into a culture from their perspective as architects. But I, as someone who builds in The Sims, have no idea what an architect can and cannot make.  I didn’t begin with those limitations, I began with the ones derived from playing a dumb money-grubbing EA game, so what has value to me is different from what has value to them.

It’s a bit like someone who cultivates lawns for a living, watching a game developer intentionally add realistic flaws to their grass. From the game developers’ point of view, the grass having fault makes it look real. From the landscaper’s point of view, all his time is spent trying to fix those faults, why add a patch of dead grass when you can have perfect uniform turf?

So let’s do some Sims building real quick. I’ve been looking for some low-stress projects to keep up the site, and I think the creative process of virtual building is interesting. We’ll start with how I personally build, and if it sparks joy and I have something of value to say about it, maybe we’ll do some other styles and ‘crazy’ designs down the line.

For now, we’ll start with the beginning of my most common process; a house style built anywhere from the 1900s to the 1950s.

Rough draft stage, general shapes, and form, rather than individual rooms.
Rough draft stage, general shapes, and form, rather than individual rooms.

The point of this beginning stage, to me, isn’t to make the most practical house, but actually the most annoying to work with. Real buildings have to consider a lot of exterior factors and a lot of limitations, which, in the future, often force weird shapes and rooms that make the inhabitants go ‘why?!’.

I don’t have those zoning laws to work with. I don’t need to think about the budget for materials or if my architect is an idiot. Instead, I have borderline infinite space and money to work with. I don’t need to consider where the electrical wires go or if a toilet can even go in this room, I can just, boop, do it.

Plumbing? Who's she?
Plumbing? Who's she?

So, the best way to emulate those limitations is through needlessly annoying layouts. Future-me can handle it, I’m sure.


Next is to outline a style choice. The Sims 3 had a really great system where you could choose any color for any item. Those days are gone, though, so now we must choose a color palette early on to decide what materials and packs we’ll be using. There is nothing worse than falling in love with a door-window combination only to discover they have no overlapping color palette. Don’t worry though, I will inevitably render this choice redundant by changing my mind along the way.

Suddenly! House!
Suddenly! House!

This feels very much like the trope where an art book will tell you you draw a horse with ‘draw a circle’ and then ‘draw the rest of the horse’. But all I’ve done is chosen a facade color and placed my windows and picked a roof that matches. I am knowingly making later me hate my guts by pre-placing the windows. This is a three-story building, meaning I need space for stairs. Windows and stairs don’t mix totally well, but it’s fine, I’ll just delete some in a rage later.

The goal here is actually a modern-day house, but we’re going to start in the 1900s to consider what updates it would have seen through the years.

Plants make everything better.
Plants make everything better.

The foliage is going to get overgrown as we move this thing into the modern age. But, I find it’s much better to start with an idea of where things started to know how it overgrows. Whoever built this place loves blue flowers, and cares a lot about their landscaping. Man, it sure would suck if future homeowners didn’t give a shit.

 What a nice white picket fence, it would be a real shame if I knocked it down someday.
What a nice white picket fence, it would be a real shame if I knocked it down someday.

Similarly to the foliage, it’s good to have an idea of where things were put up when the building was built. The clothesline likely won’t stay, but it might have an impact on decisions made later. Where the typical walking lines are will impact where things go. Today, a clothesline, but maybe in twenty, thirty, forty years, it’ll be a burn pit. Or, maybe someone will throw in a deck to cover the trodden grass. We’ll see where we end up.

The Sims 4 works perfectly in all ways.
The Sims 4 works perfectly in all ways.

I have no idea how this happened, but somewhere along the way, my carefully chosen front door disappeared. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to…

Redo the entire facade! Oh well! The disappearing door gave me a chance to look through them again, and find other things I liked better, and rabbit hole into an entire redo.

Maybe next week we’ll start on the interior, sure would be a shame if someone redid a kitchen in the 70s…

I’m considering this project like a low-impact sport while I get my bearings and recover. I like The Sims, it’s something I can talk about in a relaxed way that doesn’t dredge up my grief and mental health like sediment in a blender. But at the same time feels like something Dad would have appreciated. I play The Sims with the ‘but what do they eat’ mindset I inherited from my dad, and that’s really comforting right now.


From The Archives:

26 thoughts on “Sims 4 Overthinking: Where’s the Plumbing?

  1. Dreadjaws says:

    I haven’t played The Sims in years. I didn’t even touch 4 ever since launch. It feels like even to this day it’s still not as good as 3. Maybe the character creator is better, idk. I really think the series peaked at 3 when it came to options (though to be fair I didn’t try everything 2 had, so I’m not sure), and 4 is just dedicated to recycling. Again, I haven’t actually played the game. Most of what I know is from watching others do it, so maybe my perception is wrong.

    I always thought, though, that these games should have two modes for building: realistic and freeform. In the first one you would be relegated exclusively to build in ways that would work in real life, while in the second one you could do as you pleased, physics be damned. In the first one you’d have to properly set your electrical installation and you’d only be able to place electric appliances near an outlet (or pony up extra cash for an extension cord) while in the second one you could literally set your fridge half submerged in the middle of a floating pool.

    Alas, none of these modes actually exist, and it’s a shame because there’s different kinds of fun in both. Instead, what we have is something in the middle, and it’s been like that for all games in the series. Maybe someone will run with that idea at some point.

  2. AndrzejSugier says:

    This is such a fascinating process! I never saw anyone simulate how passage of time changes the house, I can’t wait for more!

  3. Vertette says:

    I will never not miss Create a Style. It was an invaluable tool.

  4. Lino says:

    Never played any of the Sims (as eclectic as my tastes are, sims have never been my thing). But if Sims 3 gave you more flexibility, why aren’t you playing that, instead? Or does 4 give you more options?

    1. Bay says:

      Honestly, the move from 3 to 4 is for a few reasons. I will tell anyone who will listen that The Sims 3 was the peak in the series, but it was also very, very buggy. I lost more than one beloved saved games because my sim got a bowl stuck to their hand, or other such shenanigans The Sims 4 is still buggy, but they introduced a lot of debugging options that let the player fix it when it goes wrong). The other main thing is that The Sims 4 made modding much, much more accessible, which helps with the lack of flexibility. Both have their own ups and downs, but 4 made a lot of big-picture stuff better that made the move over worth it to me in the long term.

      1. Chuk says:

        I have spent so much time tech supporting the Sims 3. Luckily my kid is old enough that now she does her own tech support (and makes her own poses and furniture etc).

  5. M says:

    The most impressive housing thing I’ve seen in Elder Scrolls Online was where someone made an espresso machine (or something that looked like it) out of a lot of Dwemer parts.

    1. Jennifer Snow says:

      Lol, I love this.

  6. Bell says:

    You know what this reminds me of? The difference in how I dressed when I first came out (“All the things my birth denied me! Four inch heels at the grocery store!”) and the way I dress now (“It’s Saturday, where’s my oldest pants.”)

    It’s interesting seeing that the shift from exuberant exploration of the possibility space to making a home in that space in a different context.

  7. rainbow121 says:

    This is so much fun! Looking forward to the series :D

  8. Storm says:

    Ooh, this is an interesting idea! I played the Sims 2 and 3 quite a bit back in the day, but never touched 4. Just never had the time to get around to it.

    When I played it though, I never considered building a house as it would’ve been made in the past and then considering how it would’ve evolved over time. That sounds like something fascinating to watch progress, and I look forward to the rest of the series!

    Something low stress also sounds like a great idea for a series right now, a good way to get into the groove of things.

  9. JadedDM says:

    I’ve been playing Sims 3 since release, and still do to this day. But I’m super lazy when it comes to building, so almost always just rely on prebuilt houses. When I do build, I tend to build things to be as convenient for my sims as possible. So wide open rooms and hallways, so their AI doesn’t get stuck on things, plenty of bathrooms so they don’t have to share, etc. I don’t know anything at all about architecture, so it doesn’t even come into play for me.

  10. Jennifer Snow says:

    HA this reminds me of how I decorate my houses in New World. I go to great lengths to find the house I like the best and then decorate it to make it look like someone actually lives there.

    I actually spent real-life money solely so that I could get a fancy bathtub that didn’t look like it was made out of a leftover barrel.

    I once got into a discussion with someone on why there are no commodes or chamber pots and we decided that since everyone in New World is immortal (if you die you just come back), nobody has to go to the bathroom because anything you eat that isn’t digested by the next day vanishes and reappears when the thing you ate comes back to life.

  11. Octal says:

    I laughed out loud when I saw Diamond House.

    What’s the most desirable is pots and pans on top of the fridge and cereal left on the table.

    Very true. I remember how popular it was with Sims 2 (the only one I’ve played), to make/extract and separate little decorative “clutter” objects, or to make “one more slot placement” items (surfaces that could hold items and overlap with regular surfaces, so that you could fit more objects onto a countertop, table, the ground, etc.–or allow particular interactions, like food prep or sitting, with surfaces they weren’t native to).

    where you could choose any color for any item. Those days are gone, though

    They got rid of that? What a shame; it looked cool…

    Man, it sure would suck if future homeowners didn’t give a shit.

    No but seriously this is such a cool idea, the renovating-through-the-decades thing. I am REALLY interested to see where this goes.

    1. Three says:

      One big thing I deal with a lot with work is limited space in my interface. Which means I get the classic choice: Do I use up all my options for buttons on having an option for everything, every individual group of things gets every particular option, blowing out my budget for buttons immediately and leaving me limited at the end, or do I simplify down to the options that look good and live with that for half the space.

      Inevitably it is the latter.

      I am sure the same design consideration went in here: for most people, most of the time, restricting their palette is going to make the whole look more cohesive and sensible. And it will also limit the amount of options that need to be shown or put into tabs or whatever as well. Which makes it desirable for freeing up GUI clutter and helping beginners make things that look ok easier.

      Of course, it means you’re limited right from the start, but that’s the tradeoff.

  12. MrGuy says:

    I’ve heard a few people say that something along these lines is what made the original Star Wars trilogy so beloved. The world felt real, because it felt lived in.

    Sure, you had people awkwardly butchering space concepts like what a parsec is. But you also had things that looked dirty and lived in.

    The rebel fleet looks like it has peeling paint nobody got around to fixing because hey there’s a war you know? The base on Hoth looks hastily constructed because why wouldn’t it be? There’s a garbage collection system on the massive space station, and it attracts vermin, because that’s definitely something that would be there.

    This was a real world, inhabited by real people, that didn’t just magically spring into existence when the heroes showed up.

    Sure, plenty of sci fi authors have done it before Star Wars, and done it better. But Star Wars were (I would argue) the first films to popularize Epic Space Adventure that was also not bright, gleaming, futuristic. (The original Alien would do this well too, but it was 2 years after A New Hope.)

  13. Sleeping Dragon says:

    As far as Sims is concerned I’m much more in the “I’m going to make these two dolls mash their faces then move in together and one of them is going to be a professional writer while the other will be a supervillain” camp than the builder camp so I’d usually download fancy houses from the internet (your service is appreciated!) and move in once the family had enough money. Having said that now that I think about it unless some weird expansions/mods shenanigans is going on (houses with teleporters, doors that can lead anywhere, etc.) I do prefer the house to still look like a house. I think part of it comes from the fact that Sims remains strangely grounded even when it goes into the future or makes a character a vampire the core of it remains a highly idealised life simulations and there have to be some relatable elements to it.

    Also, can I just say that I love the chaos goblin energy of “sure would be a shame” in this piece…

    1. DaveMc says:

      “… one of them is going to be a professional writer while the other will be a supervillain” marks the second time I have ever felt any interest at all in The Sims (this article on ageing houses being the first). Probably not enough interest to actually play it, but this is a huge surge from my previously nonexistent level of interest, well done to you both!

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        Just to be clear, while Sims 3 and 4 (I think it was both of them) have introduced some careers that involve actually going out and doing stuff around town both writer and supervillain are less involved. Supervillain is essentially the end stage of the “criminal” career I believe and might give you a gizmo, writer mostly involves sitting in front of a computer for hours and writing (so actually highly true to life I imagine). There will be some flavour events and I think peaking a career may give you unique perks or items but don’t expect robust roleplaying unless you do a lot of it in your imagination.

  14. RCN says:

    The Sims, what a ride. I’ve only ever played the sims 1 and 2. And even then never did much beyond the boring “me and my perfect dream partner in a house that seems modest and achievable before my future self realize how laughable the concept of even owning a house would be”.

    You know, before the inevitable descent into “ok, my virtual self burned to death trying to make cereal. What else will KILL a sim?”

    Love the concept of “let’s make a house in the turn of the last century and then see how future tenants would fuck it up to make a realistic modern house.” I have a question, though… that balcony at the top is supposed to be reachable? I don’t know if the Sims 4 allows to go that high in livable space. In my mind two stores is still the hard limitation in the franchise.

  15. MidniteTease says:

    I think you nailed the house-building approach in Sims. My first instinct was to build something that looked beautiful from the outside. Then when I played the game, I realized making an beautiful house limited gameplay. This was all in The Sims (1). So I reverted to making the interior as effecient as possible and didn’t even bother with the exterior. There wasn’t really a penalty for it. Maybe that got added in to later games.

    I’ve got The Sims 4 now that it went FtP, and I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do.

    P.S. My first “wouldn’t this be neat!” house in Minecraft was all glass. I assume that’s not the same as diamond, but it looks the same.

  16. Sabrdance says:

    Sims 2 is the peak of the series to me -I have all the parts except for a few of the branded stuff packs (my Sims games happen in a world where magical fairies live side by side with completely normal people and the ancient spirit of the forest where this town was built once ran for zoning board -why the heck would I want IKEA or H&M branded materials in there?). I have all of Sims 3 on Steam, and briefly tried to create a world where time travelers from the past landed in the present and met time travelers from the future, and the clash of horse-riding swordsmen and hoverboard-riding spacemen co-existed and tried to live in harmony.

    The horse were cool, but I just preferred the much simpler needs system from Sims 2.

    Oh -right, we’re talking about architecture.

    I also started out making weird buildings. Then I started trying to make efficient buildings -and got pretty good at it.

    Now my big thing is trying to make buildings that look like they have particular styles. Farmhouses I got down pretty early. I’m still trying to build a reasonable looking Victorian. I tried to build some houses in Spanish Renaissance style, but even with the arches and stuff packs, it still ends up looking like a box with fancy doors.

    Still -I love the game, and the ability to play generations through the story.

  17. Philadelphus says:

    I guess it comes down to the old idea of limitations breeding creativity. As creators we chafe at limitations, but without them it’s far too easy to get distracted by limitless possibility. Sure, people who are really good can eventually learn to focus again, prune away distractions and extraneous things, and make something good-looking, but for beginners creative limitations are actually pretty helpful. It’s the old “you have to know the rules before you can break them”, “perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to remove”, etc., etc.

  18. Fiona says:

    I’m reminded of Donoteat’s Franklin series, where he develops a city in Cities: Skylines with this same sort of historical approach, where you design its original form realistically but more or less arbitrarily and then stack on developments over time, responding to and adapting around what you’ve already built, to have something with a genuine sense of history.

    It also reminds me of something the lead writer of Disco Elysium said about fictional worlds and worldbuilding:

    First, any truly believable world not only has but is history. Second, the only believable history is progress. A domino-tumble of opposing ideas has led us here. Yet built worlds exist in stasis. They are theme parks where the past is not at all different from the present. The Old Republic is precisely like the New Republic: lame as balls. It’s almost as if they barely had the imagination to come up with one version of their cosmos and were unwilling (or unable) to imagine it in motion.

    Even in a small personal project like this, it’s delightful to see this kind of historical approach to building something.

  19. MelTorefas says:

    I have never played the SIMS in any version but I am already really enjoying this!

  20. Alberek says:

    Until recently I have started watching people playing Minecraft and making some wonderful stuff. Something they do to really bring together something belivable is not to overuse the same type of block over and over again. For example, if you are doing a brick wall, some parts of the wall would use regular stone to give the semblance that some bricks have fallen of or something.

    Kind of a random thought about developers doing patches of grass.

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