Virtual Families Hands-On

Our video preview is posted!

Last Day Of Work’s Virtual Villagers franchise has proven very popular on casual games portals, as well as the App Store. We checked in with the developer at E3 to get a first look at Virtual Families, where the primitive islanders have been swapped out for little people who live in a modern dollhouse with all the amenities. Details after the break!

Although Virtual Families is conceptually similar to The Sims–EA’s cross-platform casual juggernaut–LDOW’s Arthur Humphrey explained that the game’s focus is much different. “We didn’t wnant to make a game where you just decorate their house from Ikea and tell them when to pee,” Arthur told us. “We wanted a game about life–keeping them healthy and making them happy.”

But Humphrey also gives the juggernaut its due. “Our strategy is just to fill in the holes of The Sims’ huge, huge market share. We like to call it ‘Recession Sims.’” That’s where the game’s $3.99 price point comes into play, apparently.

And where The Sims is all about micromanaging, Virtual Families is more of a laissez-faire play experience. As in the Virtual Villagers games, your people will wander around and do whatever they feel like (there are hundreds of possible behaviors). Your main job is to train them to be self-sufficient by “suggesting” activities and providing feedback.

This is done by picking them up and plopping them down next to things you want them to do, such as watching TV or cleaning up garbage. There’s also a “praise glove” and a “punishment glove” to reinforce behavior, so if you’re sick of watching a kid act up, you can use the appropriate glove on him to get him or her straightened out.

Like Virtual Villagers, Virtual Families runs in real time, so it’s important to check back in on your family frequently to make sure they have what they need. Hungry family members need groceries, and sick ones need medicines and antibiotics. The game’s clock matches up with the real time of day, too, so if you check in at night, you’ll have to wake your virtual people up and get them out of bed to play with them.

Your family will need your help, to be sure. They’ll be buffeted by random events, like job promotions, IRS audits, and even the occasional orphan left on the doorstep. There are chores to be done around the house, repairs to make, and a mysterious locked shed in the backyard to investigate. The developer told us that the game has over 100 achievements, for everything from having kids to buying vegetables a certain number of times.

Virtual Families is on its way to Apple’s submission team, so we should be seeing it in the next week or two. We’ll have our preview video up tomorrow.