Home Sweet Home
There has been a glut of home improvement programmes on television in recent years, all declaring how easy it can be to spruce up a tired old room with a lick of paint, a fair amount of MDF and a lot of money. This has resulted in a large number of budding DIYers attempting designs and, in many cases, ending up with disasters. Interior design is not as easy as it looks.
Perhaps, before you spend a lot of time and money on turning your living room into a shining example of purple drapery, you may be interested in trying out your skills in a far less expensive fashion. Home Sweet Home is a game about interior design, and one that will attempt to tax your design skills to the limit. A number of clients are interested in having their rooms redone and if you can deliver the goods within budget and on time, you could clean up.
Home Sweet Home comprises of two stages. First you have the design stage - here you can see the client's room as is and rearrange it to your heart's content. You have a slightly cryptic brief about what the client wants and from this you need to add extra items to the room to provide for them. You must have at least a certain quota of items in the room in order to submit the design, including flooring, windows and wallpaper. Adding the right kinds of item will raise the customer's satisfaction level, while adding bad choices can reduce it. At this stage you can change your mind without penalty, unless you're playing at the hardest difficulty setting.
When you're happy with your design, you move onto the second stage. You have three builders to construct the various items you're adding to the room, and a set number of days in which to do so. Builders need coffee to keep their energy levels up, occasionally need tools and will also need to do such things as clear up rubbish. Those playing on higher difficulty settings may also see them injuring themselves. This section requires a fair amount of strategy and some mental juggling ability. Get everything done within the time limit to complete the job, earning cash based on the time you have left.
Graphics are delightful. Furnishings and fittings are well done, easily matching the quality seen in The Sims. Wireframe "models" are filled in with colour as items are constructed, which is a little disappointing in comparison with the rest of the graphics but does give a clear and simple indication of how progress is going. Characters, meanwhile, be they images such as that of Dee Ziner or Bill Dur (I know, I know...) or your three animated construction workers, are more cartoony in style and rather endearing. Sound consists of several unobtrusive backing tracks, cheerful and sufficiently varied to avoid boredom. Various noises also accompany the placing of furniture and such, but sound effects are fairly minimal - this seems fitting as Home Sweet Home is a largely visual game, but I did feel some effects opportunities were missed.
Controls (apart from name entry at the start) are entirely mouse operated and everything is generally easy to click on and operate. Builders can be selected (or given tools, etc) either by selecting the builder themselves or their picture at the screen bottom. Some elements here are a little slippery - it can be tricky to select the right tools in the toolbox and, if you slip with the drag-and-drop, you'll lose valuable time picking it up again. Injured builders run around like loons and can be tricky to catch with the first aid kit!
Playability is well balanced. Difficulty has a real impact - on the easiest setting your design has an instant effect on the client's satisfaction, allowing you to experiment and tweak as required. Harder difficulties, however, only reveal client satisfaction when you submit the design, and you'll have to resubmit if it isn't good enough. As the game progresses your builders have additional problems - be that requiring tools, clearing rubbish or (in harder difficulties) the risk of injury. And the toughest difficulty setting makes unwanted design elements an expensive mistake to sell back.
Home Sweet Home is a remarkably addictive game - the urge to see what the next client's demands are is surprisingly strong. Clients are presented in a fixed sequence and sometimes you will revisit a house to decorate again (though, curiously, the design you previously completed will not be there). Building within schedule can be sometimes tricky, especially on the harder difficulties; missing by a few seconds can be most irksome. I have no idea how many clients there are to design for - certainly I've reached around twenty with no sign of stopping yet.
There are some oddities with Home Sweet Home, however. One is the slightly irritating way that one must play the tutorial house (with or without additional help from Dee) whenever you start a new player, and THEN choose the difficulty. It is a little annoying to be led through again when one is attempting a higher difficulty setting. I also encountered a bug related to throwing out rubbish (reported to the developers but I've as yet heard nothing in response) and, perhaps strangest of all, the demo version did not save the promised portfolio/room pictures at all. When registered, pictures started being added without incident.
Despite a few niggles to be straightened out, Home Sweet Home is a well designed and professionally put together game that should have some appeal to anyone, whether interested in home furnishings or not. Just remember that, if you're inspired by it, don't blame the developers for any DIY mishaps!
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