After a long, long wait, Sim Earth has finally arrived for the Amiga. Touted as the next best thing to being a divine intelligence, Sim Earth has something of a reputation - but so do most Maxis programs.
This reputation isn't necessarily always good, though. Often the 'Maxis problem' is that of slowly updating screens, mice which don't react for what feels like days, and a slightly detached, mildly irrational feeling that you're not really involved with what seems to be going on. Sound familiar? It was certainly the case with Sim Ant (especially in high-res mode) and even Sim City had a few, shall we say, user interface idiosyncrasies.
Sim Earth suffers from the same jerky mouse, the 10-second window updates and all the other signs that indicate a thrice-converted program struggling to cope in a new environment. It's a shame because Sim Earth is a wonderful excursion from the usual 'mutton-dressed-up-as-shoot-em-ups' we seem to get served all the time.
Two for the money
On the bright side, at least Sim Earth does come in a variety of forms, so perhaps you can extricate the best from two worlds. The high resolution version is flickery on a standard Amiga monitor and it needs a couple of RAM (or more!) to work - but what do you expect? The display is really detailed and it is possible to have several windows open at once, displaying a multitude of facts about your own personal planet.
The low-resolution version works on all one-meg machines, and is faster. However, each low-res Sim Earth window (and there are many, ranging from world maps to life-form graphs) take up a whole screen, which means that you have to spend a long time switching between windows.
In either case Sim Earth is much more playable from hard drive. From floppy it can occasionally seem like the game has given up and gone to sleep. Usually, just as you are about to do the same, a window will sputter into life and you will realise there are still things to do. It is not an ideal situation by any means, and you regularly find yourself wishing you had several megabytes and a go-faster accelerator to help you along.
The end is nigh
Assuming that you haven't already been put off, you may be wondering what, if anything, Sim Earth actually has to offer. If you can put up with a few long waits, you will soon discover that Sim Earth s full of charm, variety and intrigue, and it provides a long, solid chunk of entertainment and enlightenment.
Essentially, the concept behind the challenge is not the confrontation that other games feature, but nurture. In a way it is like Sim City, though of course you have to look after an entire planet rather than just a town. But the level of complexity involved is so much greater that this ends up as much more of an educational simulator than a game.
It has you wondering if it's ever going to be possible for humans to live together harmoniously without nuking the bits off each other.
There are so many things which can influence a complex structure like a planet - many things you have probably never even heard of, let alone understood - and they all work against each other to the point of madness.
A session with Sim Earth will have you wondering if it's ever going to be possible for humans to live together harmoniously without nuking the bits off each other or poisoning the place with pollutants.
It is an eye-opener, without doubt, but often a depressing one. Crafting and sculpting a hospitable, life-supporting planet from a charred lump of space rock or a ball of damp gas is not easy work. Most of the time you will be fiddling with the knobs and switches in a vain attempt to cause a positive effect. More often than not, you won't have a clue what is going to happen several domino-effects down the line. Sure, you know that if you increase the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere then life-forms will be able to breathe, but you probably won't expect to then see them all fried in the huge forest fires that burst out as the oxygen level increases. The manual doesn't really hammer the point home. There are lots (and lots) of topics explained - but in a roundabout way, without actually explaining the long-term effects they'll have on your precious planet.
In most cases, when you finally get some lifeform to become sentient, you will find that they turn into evil warring, polluting, destructive nasties who are their own worst enemies. 'Civilisation' reports complain that their lifestyle is bad or miserable, and that they're working 108-hour weeks; but reducing the workload only causes the game to warn you that Science (or some other researchable development) needs more energy.
Light entertainment is provided when odd candidates for sentience suddenly develop into rational-thinking beings; jellyfish, for instance, are not usually found at the top of the food chain, but Sim Earth occasionally evolves species like these into tool-using, hard-working brain-boxes who like to go to work on the local bus, and love to visit shoe shops on Saturday mornings.
Despite the problems it has with its less than Amiga-sympathetic conversion, Sim Earth is fun: you can spend hours and hours tinkering with your new planets, each one having its own special flavour and vital differences which make playing the game a refreshing experience each time.
It is not quite so involving as, say, Civilization from MicroProse, because your long-term control is not direct - merely influential. You may not grow to love your creations quite so much, but your planet's security is paramount. And perhaps that is the secret of bigger things than Sim Earth - a good few politicians would change their blinkered viewpoints if they could see just how inconsequential we all are in the face of global catastrophes. End of sermon - buy it and save the world. Twice nightly.