Is this Will Wright’s year or what? Details of the mad genius game designer’s upcoming Sims 3, the continuation the best selling PC game franchise of all time, are coming out in the April/May issue of Games for Windows magazine as well as its sister (and generally brilliant) website The game isn’t likely to hit store shelves before 2009; yet, early details are no doubt going to get plenty of attention from eager gamers as well as the general media.

Interestingly, the rise of the Sims tracks neatly with the broadening of the games market in the last two decades, catering increasingly to casual gamers. “The Sims series’ immense popularity could constitute it as a national pastime,” jokes Dan Hsu, editorial director for 1UP Network. “[But,] what has made the Sim franchise such a pop culture phenomenon is that it appeals to a mass audience.” Meanwhile, having to manage the buzz of this release — which could be relatively close to the launch of the much heralded Spore — puts Electronic Arts (ERTS) in an interesting position.

In any case, preliminary details of the new game are interesting and sure to cause a stir online. From’s coverage:

The biggest change to The Sims 3 is that it takes place in a wide-open, constantly changing neighborhood — a much bigger sandbox, if you will, and a much more complex simulation. The town and park you see on the cover image to the right (click to enlarge) exist in the same seamless space as your Sims’ household, and what you do outside your home now matters as much as what you do within. (Yes, previous expansion packs added out-and-about activities, but they were always separate sub-games. Here, everything’s completely integrated.) The game also sees a major shift in how Sims’ motives are handled: Individual meters indicating bladder and sleep-deprivation levels are replaced by a new system of discrete moods, the aim being to get players off the treadmill of fulfilling primal eat-sleep-pee-repeat requirements so they can focus more on, well, going out on the brand new town.

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