Coveting my neighbor's house in The Sims 4

I played several hours of The Sims 4 and barely uncovered what it has to offer. There's been a lot chatter about what's missing from The Sims 4, but I think there's already a lot to learn about EA's latest round of cheeky life simulation.

"We really invested in the Sims," said Rachel Franklin, VP Executive Producer on Sims 4. "They have big personalities."

That seems clear: The latest Sims emote in such exaggerated, wonderfully animated fashion that only an alien could fail to read them. Even when Sims don't react as you would expect, it can lead to fun results. For example, one of my Sims was making breakfast and he set the stove ablaze. His roommate came in like a champ with a fire extinguisher, killing the flames while another roommate squirmed in terror. The Sim who set the fire, however, simply watched with an air of calm and annoyance. As if to say, "You're ruining my fire. You're RUINING. MY. FIRE."

For those who haven't touched the series in a while, there are some new tweaks that make it easier than ever to manage the complex world. It's obvious (and stated in my play session) that the SimCity team assisted with the user interface. For whatever issues that game may have had, the controls weren't one of them, and its intuitive interface feels welcome in The Sims 4. The first hour of the game will hold your hand through every button and walk you through several gameplay basics.

There is now a search bar, which allows you to easily find a "guitar" for example, or a "chess set." Also, if your sim is low on a certain life requirement, you can click on the corresponding yellow or red bar – this will automatically queue the action you need to turn their life around. Sims can also multitask now, so they can exercise while talking or watching TV.

Building is also more robust and intuitive. Clear arrows allow you to stretch, rotate and alter rooms. Matching walls is easy with the use of the eyedropper and the game will add windows that match a room with a simple button push and click. Elements of building that I swear took me much longer in previous games were done in a much shorter amount of time.

To make this point abundantly clear, the gentleman sitting next to me at the demonstration, Robbert Hamburger – "just here with my girlfriend" because she runs a Sims fan site – made an amazing house in under an hour. I really, really wanted it.

Robbert uploaded the house – which we called the Stroopwafel Huis (as the PR head observing the play test had just declared his love for the treat from the Netherlands) – with the new gallery tool. I downloaded it into my game from the Origin network. I could also have searched for the house using his name or "Stroopwafel" if I knew what I was looking for.

"Content is fun. New things to play with are fun. They aren't nearly as amazing and important as The Sims themselves and having a Sim that you connect with, and who can connect with another Sim and create relationships and stories that have meaning and expand off. That's what gives that content life," Franklin added.

As Sims satisfy their whims and aspirations, they can buy bonus rewards in the store. Some potions will make them more confident, while others will make them have septic tank bladders that don't need ... depositing.

The Sims 4 experience is easier to share and potentially opened up to creative possibilities for content creators, thanks to the introduction of easy-to-share screenshots and video capture. The videos are saved in standard formats that can be edited by generally available software. There is no current way to cut up these videos and share them in The Sims 4, but that possibility was left on the table.

Of course, this being the Sims, not EVERYTHING is in there on the first go-around. Let's not kid ourselves, there's plenty to add. You know, like guys having chest hair.

Franklin recognized as much, saying, "I love how much we've put into the ethnicities. I think that there's more hair I want to create. It's hard. It's hard to create really good curly hair. But I feel really passionately about it that there are so many styles we can make with curls."

Franklin wouldn't confirm if the first expansion to the game would be a "Body and Curly Hair" add-on.

She noted that there are "hundreds and hundreds of hours of game" to be found in The Sims 4. For example, there are many secret coves to explore and we haven't even dug into the cross-breeding of plants and frogs.

From the hours I spent with the game, I am well aware I didn't dig deep enough into the content that's there. The key thing here is when The Sims 4 launches on September 2, it will have been a long time since I really dug into a Sims game. The Sims 4 is already making me build houses in my head.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.