* Prices may differ from that shown
I've always been a fan of the simulation genre of games even as a kid, and the more unusual the better. As a result I was very excited many years ago when Maxis, in association with the Amiga Company, released Sim Earth for the PC and my dad bought it for me. It is still available to download from the usual places on the Internet, and is also available through the Wii virtual console for those who wish to play the SNES version, which was virtually identical. The game was also released in identical form for the Amiga, and the Apple Mac.
The easiest way today to play Sim Earth is via the PC, however if you are running a reasonably modern operating system, you will need to download an emulator such as Dosbox to enable you to run the game. This is the way I do it and the game runs perfectly with no slowdown or any other issues caused by the emulator. Installation is very straightforward, simply a case of following the onscreen instructions and again if you encounter any problems regarding a 64-bit operating system, then simply install the game through the emulator too.
The basic idea of Sim Earth is not really a new or unique one, and that is basically putting you in the role of god and challenging you to generate and evolve a working and thriving ecosystem on the planet and to allow sentient life to form. However the way this game goes about this is actually pretty unique even 20 years on. You are basically left in charge of every aspect of the planet's climate and seismic activity. You don't directly control the animals or plant life that evolves, but instead you can tinker around with things like reproduction rates, likelihood of mutations and their habitats.
Firstly when you open up the game, your task is to create the conditions for life to form in the first instance. This will be of very basic form, such as single celled creatures, but get things right early will give you a much better chance of succeeding later on in the game. Changing the levels of infra-red radiation the surface receives will alter the climate of the planet, as well as increasing or decreasing the rate of volcanic activity, and changing the rate of tectonic plate drift will either increase or decrease the amount of land that you have available. As the game progresses, more and more complex life forms will (hopefully) develop, and as these are much more specialised, any changes you now make to the set up of the planet have the potential to have major consequences for your bio diversity, and if you make the wrong decision it is not unusual for a mass extinction event to occur taking the vast majority of your life forms with it.
Now it should be noted here that apart from the single celled creatures at the beginning, it is possible for all of the other types of life to evolve to sentient status, so you are not just looking out for mammals to develop, and push them through to modern day humans. If and when you do get a genre of life to evolve through sentient status, they will then start to lay down cities and group together, and then the task changes to helping the civilisation develop up from basic cities, through to a highly developed futuristic society, whilst ensuring the planets climate isn't adversely affected, or other species all die out due to the dominant species (sound familiar?). In addition if you don't provide enough resources on your planet, a war may break out risking the survival of all life.
Changing certain aspects of your planet costs credits, and you gain these depending on the current biodiversity of the planet, so the more successful you are, the more you can change. Of course you could choose to play on easy level, giving you infinite credits, but its really not as simple as throwing money at it, as you need to give each decision that you make the time to take effect. Simply taking lots of action at one time could push some other factor out of kilter and cause a devastating knock on effect.
There are a few different scenarios on the game to add some variation, and these give you some planetary situation and task you with improving or seeing it through. These are a nice little touch to provide a bit of alternative gameplay, but for me the true enjoyment of this game comes from developing your newly formed planet into a gaia teaming with life.
The graphics on this game are very basic, there's no point in me trying to defend them really. If I am being honest they were pretty basic 20 years ago, with each section of the planet represented by a small square, with animals moving crudely between them. However it seems to do the job in a weird way, and the option screens again are very simplistic, but allow you to get to grips with the ideas of the game without having to learn many different game functions.
The sound is even worse; again this was true when it first came out too, with annoying little beeps and creeks when you click on the various tools and options, with a really annoying little ditty every time a major event occurs. My advice here would be get iTunes or an equivalent on in the background and turn the sound off!
To sum this game up I would say that it is definitely worth a look. As you can probably tell I actually really like this game and the fact that I still go back and play it now and again after 20 years tells you all you need to know really. There are a few little flaws with the game, and it does seem on occasions that some things happen without or in spite of your decisions, such as occasional mass extinctions, but I suppose this is actually quite true of the way in which our planet has evolved. It's addictive and to truly master will take a long time indeed.
Thanks for reading this review and it may appear on Ciao under my same username.
Having received this game as a jokey gift from my other half when I wasn't feeling very well the other day, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. He'd picked it up from a charity shop in a two for £2.50 deal, so however it turned out I was pretty certain it would be worth it, but as the cover itself had somewhat less-than-impressive graphics, I was a bit apprehensive, despite my addiction to The Sims.
So, ignoring the less-than-overwhelming packaging, I put the disc into my computer. There was no autoplay and I had to go open the disc to manually find the setup programme, but once I'd located it the installation was a very quick and simple process. I was going to register the product, but when it started asking me questions about modems and the such-like I decided it wasn't worth the product - and anyway, it's now ten years old.
The point of the game is to guide a planet through its evolution and development. It gives you several different options for kinds of planet, and also for level of difficulty. As is to be expected the graphics are poor and pixelated compared to current standards, but that doesn't have too big an effect on overall enjoyment.
When I first started the game, I dived straight in and tried to evolve a planet... I failed miserably. I had no idea what any of the icons or even the options on the menus meant. When my planet ran out of water and all of my life forms became extinct, I realised I would have to consult the manual. This is on the disc rather than in paper form and is really quite long - it basically tells you something about every possible option. Needless to say it took me a while to wade through it, and I gave up before I'd really got a grasp of it. However I had a much better idea of the main concepts of the game. You have the ability to change all kinds of options, from the amount of rainfall to the allocation of energy to different purposes, for example Science or Philosophy. You can introduce different life forms to the planet, and you can change the levels of evolutionary advancement for the life forms.
One of my problems with this game is that I find it difficult to really tell if what I'm doing is right, except when I get a message which tells me very deliberately that I'm doing something wrong. A lot of the time things just seem to go along not doing very much, and unless you're playing on a mode which can reach different levels of civilization (ranging from the stone age to the nanotech age) it's very hard to know what your aim is. As such, the game is entertaining only in so far as you actually have problems to solve - when nothing much is happening you do tend to get a bit bored and open a new window on the computer. On that basis then I'd recommend that if you do play this game, you try and use one of the planets which does allow civilization - the DaisyWorld is particularly boring. Another feature to notice is the Omega energy level - depending on how much of this is available you can change things such as the altitude of areas on the planet. It runs out quite quickly however.
I think it's fair to say that this game is a bit out of date - in fact Maxis have developed a similar kind of game, called Spore, where you can evolve a civilization from a single-celled organism. It's not going to be available until sometime next year but I'll definitely be looking into it. Sim Earth isn't brilliant as a game in its own right, but it has a lot of promise and an updated version is something I'm very interested in. If you see Sim Earth in a charity shop somewhere, it's probably worth the sort of price you'll have to pay, but don't expect hours of endless entertainment.
© Elioclya 2005