Three years in development, the latest incarnation of The Sims has been dated, moved into the final stage of development, and it's all now just about bug fixing. But is the new version going to be enough to keep fans of The Sims happy? Pocket-lint sat down with The Sims 3 executive producer Ben Bell to find out.

Due out on 20 February, the date might sound far off, but from the hour we had with the game it looked finished. Admittedly there where bugs, but the core elements of the game are finished.

"We are 90% there", Bell told us in a one-to-one interview. "Everything that we want is in, now we are making sure it's polished."

So what are we to expect? The overriding feeling we got is that the game is now far more bias towards living a better life, rather than worrying about feeding and cleaning your Sims.

Like The Sims 2 you get a family to control (actually up to eight characters) and are allowed to dip into anyone whenever you like. Characters are highly customisable (we'll come back to that) and while you are controlling one, the others just get on with their life. In fact leave them long enough and they'll go through life, get old, and then die.

"The population is constantly aging and new life coming through generation after generation", says Bell. In fact it's no longer your family that gets on with their life but the 80 or so other occupants of your town.

Now rather than having different locations that act like a set in a movie studio, you've got free range of your town. Fancy walking to the park? No problem. Want to visit your mate down the road? That's cool too.

The move, which sees you living in towns of up to around 90 people mean that from the start you have a greater sense of a community. "We aren't expecting people to make friends with everyone in the game", Bell tells us.

Either way it certainly will give for a more dynamic and interesting experience. That interesting experience is helped by a greater focus on character traits. Now players are able to customise the personality of their characters to a much greater extent giving them the ability to become a genius or merely making them always inappropriate (farts and belches a lot). Other personalities include the love of the outdoors or even to enjoy other’s misfortune. Once set you are then tasked with making them happier and letting a character who loves the outdoors to spend most of his time outdoors only helps.

Taking the personalities one step further you can also build your mood points (the points you get for making sure they are happy against their trait) into lifetime rewards. These lifetime rewards give you greater character strengths like the ability to become a professional slacker (i.e., never have to work again but still see the money roll in), have a steel bladder so you never have to go to the toilet again or our favourite, a mid-life crisis so you can reset your character’s personality completely and start again.

But where The Sims 3 seems to have really pushed forward the series is not in yet another add-on pack - it's far greater than that - but the level of detail. At times it's a bit overwhelming.

Take the Create A Sim area in the game (it's before you've even started playing in the town). You can now create characters to such a level of detail they can look identical to you. Fat or thin is just the start. How about the thickness of your nose, or the colour of your highlights and lowlights, and that's before we've got on to eyebrow thickness and skin colour.

Once you've created you - or a celebrity - Ben Bell showed us himself, Barack Obama and Sarah Palin - you can the set about creating an outfit. But rather than just have a list of a couple of tops and a couple of jeans, you can change and manage everything from the design to the colour to the pattern involved all at the press of a couple of buttons. It was incredibly easy to change anything.

Once created, you can then share your creations online with others on The Sims 3 website (you can also share video clips just like The Sims 2 but actually edit them as well). The idea is that you can then access other people's designs providing an endless supply of tat to save up for you to buy.

The sharing of clothes, characters and objects in the game is really the only online capability. It's strange considering everywhere you turn these days it's online this and online that. However according to Bell the reason they haven't opted for a Second Life or PlayStation Home approach is that "Sims players are quite protective" suggesting that the thought of someone else dabbling in their world is scary stuff.

We can see the idea of Sims vandalism scary for those Sims loving fanboys and girls (according to bell The Sims is a STG - Sexually Transmitted Game), but it would have been nice to have allow some sort of co-op play family style. After all if you are about to waste a couple of months controlling a character in The Sims it would have been somewhat reassuring that you aren't doing it alone.

First Impressions

Intense, deep, and impressive are words that spring to mind. The game is massively customisable and while it's not a touch on the Grand Theft Auto universe in terms of breadth, the customisation qualities, character traits and personalities will mean that you can have weeks rather than hours of fun here.

Of course there is the underlying "We are all consumers" rather than achieving an altruistic goal, but that's what The Sims has always been about: working hard to buy more tat.

So will it have Sims fans jumping for joy and phoning in sick when it comes out in February? From our brief time, and compared to the time you would really need with the game it was brief, we would say a definite yes.

The Sims 3 is out on 20 February 2009.