Occult gameplay in TS4 has been kind of neglected. It takes forever for new supernatural elements to be released; ghosts were just kind of tossed out as this undefined blob of ectoplasm that breaks your stuff, hangs out at the club, and haunts your house if they so much as die across the street from it; plantsims are a temporary status effect; alien abductions got nerfed into the ground; and it took three years for a door option to be added to keep vampires out for people who didn't like the break-ins so their frequency didn't have to be nerfed to death. We still lack werewolves, fairies, and zombies. We can't do hybrids...you know the drill.
But, I'm not here to talk about those things today. Oh, no. This HERE day, I'm talking about occult appearance options.
You see, out of boredom and against my better judgement, I recently bought "Island Living" on sale. I still had plenty of cash in my EA wallet from when I put $100 in when ROM dropped, so it's not like I was spending new money, just tapping into a reserve I'd already given EA anyway. Why did I buy IL? Merfolk. I needed a new shapeshifter in my life, and they're taking FOREVER with werewolves (Get 'em done, by the way.), so it was like, "Fine, I'll buy your friggin' fish." And, hey, for $20, this glorified GP might turn out to be good for if I ever play an old retired sim who drops out of the rat race to spend their days fishing in the tropics (and they say this game has nothing for Elders to do...they basically made Hawaii-flavored Florida for 'em). I knew that things were a bit skimpy for the fish-people...but the level of skimp just really snapped something in my head when I went looking for CC to fill in the blanks and saw how much more material CC creators make for merfolk than the actual developers even considered making. That is why this thread is a thing.
Let's begin at the beginning with our supernatural sims, at aliens. At the time, they were our first CAS occults, and we got silver/white skin, and a few shades of purple, blue, and green skin for them, along with pointy ears and several alien eye swatches. Acceptable for the typical Green Martian/Gray Alien design template the games have gone with for ages...but thinking back, they could have done so much more. What about facial ridges and protrusions like Star Trek aliens? Why are the facial spots makeup instead of skin details? What about antennas and forehead tentacles and horns? What about back tentacles, stalk eyes, back and arm spines, tails? Yeah, canonically, these aliens are all from the same world, but...why not from a whole galactic federation? I mean, we have Space Ranger and Intergalactic Smuggler routes for the Astronaut career...so why just one kind of alien? Let's forget CC for a moment, and think about this for a second. Why so limited? In the fourth game of the franchise, why not be more ambitious with the appearance options of the aliens than just technicolor humans with pointy ears and funky eyes?
Next came vampires. Gameplay-wise, I enjoy vampires quite a bit this time around. They did a good job with power customization, and they did add a fair amount of new CAS features. However...most of this stuff is for the face. I mean, we get a nice selection of teeth, scars, eye bags, glowing monster eyes, all of that. I don't mind the reuse of the alien ears here either, it's understandable. But...when it comes to making our vampires' dark forms look more bat-like, we run into problems. First off, the noses are awkward to manipulate to make different kinds of bat snouts. I mean, you can kind of get the upturned snout nose going with some effort...but what if you want something that looks a little more like a flying fox bat? Yeah, then you've got a problem. Also, though we can expand the pointy ears quite a bit, there are no real bat-like ears to put on them, so we can really only go kind of monstrous, and not full monster. We got nothing below the neck: no bat wings of various sizes for the back, no claws, no wing webbing between the fingers or from the fingers to the torso, none of that. The result is that you can go inhuman...but not too inhuman. You can't go full monster manbat...not without CC. Again, fourth game in the series...maybe it could have gone further, especially in a dedicated GP.
After vampires, we have a 2 year gap until we get our next CAS occult, merfolk. They come in a $40 EP along with various non-magical tropical stuff, and with a 2 year gap between them and vampires, you'd expect them to be done well...but, they're pretty generic, pop culture, Disney fairytale merfolk, in form and function (not even a skill tree...when freaking celebrities got a skill tree...). Cosmetically, they have the recycled pointy ears, the recycled vampire eyes, recycled skin tones from both aliens and vampires, a few fishier eye options, one set of sharp fish/shark teeth, and their tail fins. That's all they have for actual body parts. Those chest scales? They're tops you can only select in mer-form...they're clothes. Those facial scales? They're makeup. Not skin details...makeup. There are no body tattoos to give them scales on their arms or legs or chests or backs or bellies, there are no facial skin details to give them different scale patterns on their faces, there are no fin ears, no back fins, no arm fins, no leg fins, no head fins, no webbed fingers or toes, and no gills. Only one kind of inhuman teeth, and the bioluminescent tails have only a fraction of the swatches of the ones that don't glow. They didn't even add yellow/gold/yellow-orange skin swatches to go with the gold-colored tails. They just kind of pulled out the Ariel template, threw down a few original assets for the main features, popped in a bunch of pre-made assets, dusted off their hands, and went to Arby's. As one of the major selling points of this EP...merfolk definitely deserved better in CAS...and they're not even one of my personal FAVORITE supernatural beings!!
Finally, we have the latest, out just a few months after merfolk: spellcasters. Now, having some special genetics in CAS isn't something we really expected for casters at all. They're usually just humans with powers, and boom goes the dynamite. However, they did decide to add some special physical features here, so I'mma talk. What did they add? Recycled pointy ears and recycled vampire eyes. Right after launch, alien eyes were showing up instead, but they fixed that. We got no warts, we got no scars, we got no extra-long noses, we got no long fingernails (that could have gone in the rings category, by the way), we got no satyr horns or devil tails or angel wings or bat wings or fairy wings, we didn't even get any bespoke eye styles this time. All of the occult genetics for spellcasters are recycled from aliens and vampires. All of them. You know...for the focus of the GP, if they were going to give us some inhuman appearance options, they should have and could have done better.
...And that's just the theme of this post isn't it? "This is the fourth game in the series, you could do a lot better with occult appearance options." And, again, yes, there's CC. There will always be CC. But, from the developers themselves, they shouldn't be letting the CC creators make all of the good appearance options. They do it with skin tones, they do it with hair, they do it with fashion...and they are letting CC creators outdo them with occult appearance options too! They shouldn't be letting CC creators do all the work of making occults look cool, they should be at the forefront of the coolness! I mean, they're the ones making the game. They're charging people money for these features. I shouldn't have to go online and find CC bat wings or CC fin ears or CC warts or CC forehead ridges. They should be in there with their respective occults! Early-on, it was fine, but after seeing features that should have been there skipped or relegated to clothing and makeup options instead of skin details, after seeing vampire eyes shamelessly plunked onto spellcasters like a sloppily compiled bibliography on an about-to-be-late term paper, after seeing that they CAN add new CAS categories for special physical features but seeing them not do so for anything but vampire face details and merfolk tail fins...It finally got to me.
And it's a shame, because CAS was the first thing they let us touch of TS4. The base game CAS we got our hands on in the demo raised my hopes for supernatural sims and how cool they could be and how awesome we could make them look. Werewolves with real muzzles and tails, vampires with actual bat ears and wings, merfolk that look like The Monster from the Black Lagoon, and so, so many weird aliens...but, at the end of the day, they've still left if up to CC creators to make the really visually impressive occult features. They stay tame so as not to scare Pure-Pink Suzy with the Full Lisa Frank bedroom away, and they let CC fill in the gaps they leave as a result. Yes, they can do better.
There is a song I hear, a melody from the past...
When I woke for the first time, when I slept for the last.