Halloween is looking a little different in 2020, but as a staunch supporter of all things spooky, I'm determined to celebrate in any way possible. Sure, I can't wear my Tilda Swinton Snowpiercer costume to a local dive bar and drink until I start screaming "I belong to the front, you belong to the tail," at random patrons, but I will not be deterred from celebrating my favorite holiday.
By celebrate, I mean lock myself into a 10-hour (and counting) haunted mansion build sesh in The Sims 4 that threatened to make my eyes bleed. I didn't just set out to build any old Gothic-style, spire-heavy haunted mansion. I wanted to build a New Orleans haunted mansion, because I'm a masochist. Now, that's the Halloween spirit. So, in a year where house parties are a no-go, trick-or-treating is socially-distanced, and bar crawls are more nightmare than daydream, here's how I celebrated Halloween in The Sims 4.
A monstrous muse
There are already four Gothic-style mansions pre-built in Forgotten Hollow (the world introduced in The Sims 4: Vampires) and I wanted nothing to do with that. So, I decided to gather reference by heading to Google Maps and start walking the virtual streets of New Orleans, as I hadn't been there since my wedding day (that's a scary story for another time). Stories say New Orleans is so haunted because there's no solid ground under which the dead can rest, so souls seep through the soft soil and wander about the streets or in the hallways of old townhouses. Whether it's American Horror Story: Coven or the Vampire Queen of Louisiana's home in True Blood, there's something especially spooky about the notion of a haunted New Orleans mansion.
Most of the buildings in New Orleans have a very specific architectural style called Creole, which melds Spanish, Caribbean, and French architecture with elements influenced by the hot, humid NOLA climate. There are tons of different domestic architectural styles on display in the Big Easy, from double shotgun homes to Greek Revival mansions, but I settled on an American townhouse, which is just a Creole townhouse without a commercial property along the bottom floor (Creole townhouses comprise a large portion of the infamous French Quarter).
An American townhouse has cast-iron balconies, rectangular windows, Italian design features, and a perfectly symmetrical facade. When planning this mansion, I had a mixture of a historic Garden District home, like the American Horror Story: Coven house, and a standalone version of the LaLaurie Mansion in mind. The LaLaurie Mansion is one of the most famous pieces of architecture in New Orleans, and perhaps the most haunted place in the city. If you've seen American Horror Story: Coven, you'll remember Madame LaLaurie, infamous for her reputation as a cruel slave master in the mid-1800s.
I didn't want to (and couldn't) build an exact replica of the LaLaurie Mansion or the Coven house, nor did I want to build a character around that horrid woman (Madison Montgomery, lol). Instead, I drew inspiration from True Blood's Sophie-Ann LeClerq, the vampire queen of Louisiana. But Sophie-Ann's mansion isn't right for my vision – quite frankly, it's an eyesore compared to other pieces of architecture in the city. So, I decided Sophie-Ann LeClerq would be getting her very own NOLA-style haunted townhouse, custom-built by yours truly, in what was as much a labor of love as it was labor-intensive. Trust me.
I'm far from a pro builder (you won't see me on any season of The Sims Spark'd), but this was the most detailed and elaborate build I've ever done in The Sims 4 – and I once created a Mediterranean villa complete with a courtyard in the middle of the property and a pool equipped with a sunken seating area within it. After deciding on the footprint for this Halloween-themed building, and beginning to lay out the windows and columns, I was instantly overwhelmed by the concept of further designing the house. I spent the first few hours working on the grounds instead.
I meticulously hand-painted the stonework using the terrain tool, as opposed to just filling the area with a chosen floor finish. This allowed me to give the impression that the grounds were once entirely paved with beautiful cobblestones, but the creeping, swampy vegetation of New Orleans has since taken over. I'd deftly paint in some grass-covered cobblestones, then swap over to grass in a dead, dim brown and dapple it amongst the stones, then change to a different style of cobblestone that I painted in softly towards the lot's edges. It never felt exactly right, but I took the Bob Ross mentality and let the imperfections remain after about two hours of work.
I was determined to build Sophie-Ann a pool, but instead of the lush indoor one she has in True Blood, I decided to make a swamp-green one outside for her, complete with spooky statues surrounding it. Again, I wanted this to feel like New Orleans, and in a city that's frequently muggier than sauna, the pools are outside. On the opposite end of the backyard I built, naturally, a cemetery. The Garden District in NOLA is home to three major cemeteries, so I'd be remiss if Sophie-Ann's yard didn't include one. Several dead rose bushes and dozens of creeping thorns later, and I could no longer avoid working on the foundations of the house itself.
Creeping death (and brambles)
I was just minutes into decorating when I realized it was impossible to create a haunted Creole townhouse that met my standards without doing a wee bit of cheating. I wanted the entire exterior covered in creeping brambles and blood-red ivy, with an interior that was stately and chic but in a state of disrepair. But, The Sims 4 doesn't let you layer most items on top of each other, which means I couldn't cover the double Creole windows in dense bramble clings or place scratch marks on the door leading to the cellar. That's where the "move objects" cheat came into play, and I turned it on knowing full well it could break my game by making certain routes impossible to traverse.
Even with one of the Sims 4 cheats activated, this was still a labor-intensive endeavor. I must have spent more than four hours on the exterior ivy alone, toiling with creeping brambles and fussy cobwebs, incessantly layering hundreds of pieces of ivy and bramble on top of each other until I got the pattern just right. I changed my mind on the color and composition of the ivy two or three times, which required me to delete every single damn piece I had placed (at one point I completely gave up and just layered more ivy on top of the existing stuff, but that ended up with a ton of accidental indoor ivy floating in the middle of a room).
When I was finally happy with it, the result gave the illusion of a blood-red horror lurking towards the back of the house that's slowly (but relentlessly) taking over the entire building. The source of the horror is a subterranean lair with two coffins inside of it – aka Sophie-Ann's bedroom. To be honest, the interior took far less time than the exterior – and it probably doesn't look as good as it should as I was starting to go cross-eyed. Turns out spending too much time looking at a screen without a break is bad for your eyes...
The walls are covered in exposed plaster, giant water stains, and mysterious scratches. There are cobwebs all over the ground and in the corners of the impossibly high ceilings. There's weird skulls in glass display cases, a giant organ, a toilet that is definitely haunted, and the entire place is criminally underlit. If you're nearsighted like I am, good luck in this house. Ultimately the finished product is – well it's not finished, as every time I try to go into live mode and actually play as Sophie-Ann, I end up back in build mode making adjustments.
I'm trapped in a haunted house in The Sims 4, but at least I'm in charge of the interior decorating.