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I have always been fascinated with creating little societies and watching them grow. As a kid these societies would be created on paper, and all the growing that these towns and cities would undergo was due to my pencil and imagination; and even to this day I'll draw maps that plan out futuristic cities, or maps that have the giant mountains and lush forests of a fantasy land. While my imagination can be incredibly vivid, eventually I wanted to be able to watch a virtual society grow on its own through the magic of another great hobby of mine; video games.
Thankfully I grew up on the likes of Populous and Powermonger. The aim of these two games was pretty different; the former had you manipulating the landscape so your little civilisation would grow and overcome an enemy force, while the latter already had the infrastructure in place and your objective was far more combat orientated. However, it was not the main objective of the two games that interested me, as I was far more interested in watching the little people move around the landscape. Powermonger was better at this, and I would often ignore my army altogether. Clicking on a person would allow you to see such things as their name, age, sex, hometown and more; and each person would also scurry around living their own lives. They would collect wood from a nearby forest, fish from the river, or shepherd the sheep on the fields. It was like having my own world inside my console, and I was their god. I was amazed that a game could do such a thing, and these were only the early days.
Since then there has been literally thousands of god-games. From the tycoon likes of Theme Park, to the virtual cities of SimCity, there is plenty there for the aspiring god in you. While playing these I've always found that the main thing I thought needed improvement was the AI. I would often get the feeling that the denizens of my creation were only responding to algorithms, and they would not take the initiative and do something without my say-so. Lately I've been playing a lot of Immortal Cities: Children of the Nile, and I think I've finally found a game that, at least, feels like I'm simply watching a society go about their daily lives. Of course, these tiny Egyptians need your guiding hand to build the infrastructure that they will live in, as they are not about to build the city on their own, but once it's there you understand that Tilted Mill wanted this to be more about the people than the buildings they inhabit.
Let's look at a typical level from the game. You will often start off with nothing more than a few peasant villages on the banks of the Nile. These peasants don't belong to your city, but you will soon be drawing them in to help set up your basic infrastructure. Firstly, a palace is in order, as the peasants won't really be much impressed if their Pharaoh lives in the woods. Once this is done you should build a couple of noble estates. These estates are the key to building a prosperous city, as the more estates you have the more farmers you can support, and you will soon discover that farmers are the lifeblood of your empire. Once you've got a number of farms built you can watch as they scurry out to the mud banks and start planting fields. The fascinating thing is that each of these farms supports a family. The man of the house will do the planting and harvesting, while the women will go out and shop for wares (which you will need to build as soon as possible, or your farmers won't stick around for long). The kid will help out wherever is possible, and eventually will be the one who moves out into his/her own job (and often up the ladder too). There are increasing levels of society, and each one needs the level below it in order to support it. Getting complicated, right?
While you place the infrastructure, the people will go out and use it on their own. They all have their own desires that need to be fulfilled, and they will often take it into their own hands if it's not readily available. For example, if you're lacking in food (an amount of which is distributed to your workers and estates; plus you, the Pharaoh, of course) then farmers may go out and forage for their own. Be aware though, as this will take valuable time away from other key tasks they should be doing, and if they can't fulfil these tasks then they'll start to complain. As you will soon see, the life of a Pharaoh is tough and pleasing everyone is nigh on impossible, but you can at least try. Every decision you make you have a positive effect on one part of society, while a negative effect will hit the other. All this can make the game quite a head scratcher, which should be fun for those of us who like complex city builders.
Eventually you will have a massive support network around your city. Priests will man hospitals, mortuary's, temples and teach children at schools. People will go to these hospitals for cures, worship at a temple when the need strikes them, arrange a funeral at the mortuary (they will even carry the coffin through the streets) and children will go to school to be the priests of the future, or whatever educated job you assign to them. They will complain if these aren't available, but when it all works it's absolutely fascinating to see the city move under its own flow. Servants will follow noblewomen as they go shopping, shopkeepers will look for resources on their own, soldiers will patrol the streets and labourers will quarry limestone before dragging the large blocks to create a pyramid. It's a whole living breathing ancient society inside your PC!
All this life is beautifully presented in a nice graphical display. While the graphics aren't top notch by today's standards, you'd be wrong if you called them ugly. You can zoom out to survey your city and the ants scurrying around in it, and then zoom in right down to the face of a farmer pulling lettuce from a field. The buildings are also incredibly detailed, improving themselves overtime (such as a noble home building a granary). The fact is all this people watching you'll be doing won't be ugly. It might be somewhat annoying though, as sound-wise your subjects often have little conversations that, while interesting at first, can often be grating when you've heard them repeat for the hundredth time.
I will say that the game is pretty slow-paced, but that can be both a positive and a negative depending on who you are. I like my god games long and drawn out, and I usually find plenty to do while I'm waiting for something else to be completed. For example, if you're building a large pyramid outside the city you can set-up a labour camp. Labourers will drag stones from nearby quarries, but they'll also drag stones you've gained from trades halfway across the map if you've placed cargo-drop off points in a location easily accessible to your main city. The same goes for bricklayers, even if you place more near your building sites the rest from other parts of the map will join in, meaning you have to wait for them to arrive too. It doesn't bother me though, as I just enjoy watching the people carry out their jobs, and there's always something else that can be done elsewhere. If you don't have patience though, then you'll probably hate it. Then again, if you don't have patience then maybe the whole city-building genre just isn't for you.
For its price Immortal Cities: Children of the Nile has plenty to offer the aspiring god. Maybe I lied when I said it was perfect, but it's surely one of the best society simulators out there at the moment. Its complexity may turn some away, but if you enjoy sitting down for a good few hours; building a great city and watching it finally work like clockwork then this game is worth every single penny. Plus, you'll have plenty left over to buy another game, or two.
Originally posted on my own site - http://tinyurl.com/aagtxj