The Sims 3 - The first details

"When we started work on The Sims 3," explains creative director Rod Humble, "I had two directives for the Sims team. One: It's not going to work unless you can cross the street and see your neighbour's kids playing. And two: No more hamster cages".

By hamster cage, Humble means that nagging sensation that playing The Sims can give you - that, when you get down to it, all you're doing is nudging your idiot Sim from the bed to the fridge to the front door. Sims are empty headed morons, and they need you babysitting their every move within the boundaries of their colourful little houses.

So, in The Sims 3, Sims can wander out of their house, down to the shops, mooch about in the town square, or - in our minds at least - creep around the neighbourhood spying on other people's offspring. The Sims 3 is aiming to turn the series into more of an RPG than a simple time-management sim, and the new issue of PC Gamer UK has all the details. We've rounded up a few interesting titbits:

- Feeding Sims is now simpler, and less likely to end with them huddled over a plate in the middle of the floor. If they're hungry, a message will tell you so, complete with a simple "Click here to feed him". (Which clearly clearly still leaves room for some enforced starvation fun)

- There's an inventory. For example, perhaps your Sim wants to impress someone with a fancy meal. They can pick up ingredients and then make a dish - they can even grow their own produce for an even more personal recipe.

- It has buffs! "We've got a design pickle," Rod tells PC Gamer, "[because] we wanted an infinite number of ways to say how a Sim was feeling". In Sims 3, events influence your Sim's mood. They might be angry for 24 hours because you let them wet themselves, or over the moon for a whole week because they got jiggy with the missus.

- Sims have traits, not 'values'. You choose personal-ad style descriptions, like 'evil', 'playful' or 'paranoid'. "Developing your characters," Rod says, "is now about picking how you'd describe them rather than moving sliders".

- You can create morbidly obese Sims! New 'weight' and 'muscle' sliders allow for some truly impressive - or disgusting - creations.

- Finally, in a step that echoes Spore, you'll be able to upload your created Sim family to the Sims 3 website, and then other gamers can put your creations into their own neighbourhoods. But there's no multiplayer.

For more info, grab yourself a copy of PC Gamer UK #186, on sale Thursday 13 March.