Oh Gott, oh Gott!

Sim Life logo

Drei Minuten vor Redaktionsschluß trudelte auch die Standard-Version der maxistischen Evolutionssoft bei uns ein - doch was heißt da eigentlich Standard? Sind neuerdings etwa 1,5 MB RAM auf Standard-Amigas Standard?!

Anschließend stehen wie gewohnt ein Tutorial, sechs speziellen Szenarien sowie der Experimentiermodus für beinahe unendliche Planeten-Vielfalt zur Wahl. Freilich benötigt man am 500er auch beinahe unendliche Geduld, denn bis der Rechner die umfangreicheren der in drei Größen lieferbaren Welten zusammengebastelt hat, vermuten Ungewarnte längst einen Systemabsturz.
Womit sie zumindest am 2000er nicht ganz verkehrt liegen mögen, zeigte unser Testmuster hier doch einen fatalen Hang zum Guru.

Inhaltlich geht es natürlich nach wie vor darum, seine jeweilige Welt möglichst geschickt mit Pflanzen und Tieren zu bevölkern, doch handwerklich sind leider gravierende Unterschiede zur Turbomiga-Version festzustellen. Erstens handelt es sich hier um eine gröber aufgelöste Variante derselben Optik, was dazu führt, daß die fitzeligen Screentexte kaum noch zu lesen sind. Und zweitens setzt sich die Geduldsprobe vom Anfang im Spiel nahtlos fort: Da wird gewartet und gewartet, se es, weil das Programm nachlädt, rechnet oder einfach bloß Fenster öffnet...

Daß dieses Sim Life nicht mit Kickstart 1.2 zusammenarbeitet und auch keine Titelmusik mehr zum besten gibt, paßt daher erschreckend gut ins Bild einer erschreckend lieblosen Konvertierung - gerade von Maxis hätten wir uns mehr erwartet! (jn)


Sim Life logo CU Amiga Super Star

We've always said that Tony Dillon is the result of centuries of in-breeding. In Maxis' new god sim we can prove it!

You'd be forgiven for thinking that Maxis' latest simulation extravaganza, Sim Life, looks almost exactly the same as Sim Earth. No-one could blame you either if, once you've caught a glimpse of the manual, you find yourself under the impression that it's even harder to get to grips with than its predecessor - if such a thing can be imagined. You would, however, be wrong on both counts.

To be fair, the two games do have a few common denominators. Like Sim Earth, Sim Life has no end point - you won't find a Game Over screen in this software. In keeping with their philosophy of creating software toys rather than games, Maxis have aimed to make the package as open ended as possible - you can literally do whatever you feel like.

That, however, is as far as the similarities go. In Sim Earth you had to build the world, but the aim was to keep the planet alive. Sim Life sums the whole equation on its head - once the world has been formed, forget about it and concentrate on the life forms. By cleverly evolving the beings you already have, and creating new, perhaps more suitable ones, you have to try and reach your chosen goal.

Upon loading, you are greeted by the main menu screen. Everything looks fine and dandy - there are half a dozen preset challenges, from turning a desert into a forest to keeping a species with a limited amount of males evolving, together with a tutorial and an experimentation mode. Remember, Sim Life has no specific end point - these scenarios are merely examples of the sort of goal you can set yourself.

GETTING TRICKY
From this point, things get a little complex. Two pages isn't a lot space to explain something that takes a 200-page manual to detail adequately, but I'll give it a go. Sim Life is based on an extensive set of biological rules concerning evolution and survival. Each lifeform is broken down to dozens of categories, from prototype genome, which dictates things like whether the animal can fly, how much energy is taken up by foraging for food and how many babies it has in a litter, to individual breakdowns which cover the sex of the animal, its various tolerance levels to hunger and thirst and the sort of things it likes to eat.

You don't just create animals either. You are also responsible for the evolution of plantlife, controlling such factors as how their seeds are spread, and the sorts of shrub they evolve into. Every creature is based on a prototype gene, but their surroundings and habitat dictate how each successive generation will mutate. It's this toying with the mutation that makes it so enjoyable.

Thankfully, you're not just thrown in al the deep end. A full on-screen tutorial takes you through the basics of the game, from building a world to understanding the reasons behind certain animal behaviour. A box will appear on screen and ask you to do something, such as select an option or create a certain plant. Once you have done that, the tutorial steps forward to the next stage, all the time keeping you fully informed of what you have done and the effects your actions have had. This makes getting into the game far easier.

The game is windows-based, with information panels summoned via a menu bar al the top of the screen. Being ported directly from the Apple Mac, the mouse control is highly intuitive; pop-up menus and help panels are displayed by clicking on the appropriate icons, and it looks a treat on the A4000 and 1200. Every control panel and display window is in a completely different box, so the screen can be rearranged to your heart's content, which is just as well as it can get very cluttered al times. There are dozens of information panels to work through, and it isn't advisable to have more than three on screen al once, if you can help it.

GOING DOWN
If reading this review has made you think of a couple of things you would like to do, chances are you can. Designer Ken Karakotsios has made a superb job of the design, giving the user total freedom.

Sim Life does everything it claims to do, and although it's extremely technical, it never baffles the user with jargon. Its only real downfall is, of course, the fact that only a small percentage of users will fully appreciate what it can do.


THOSE SCENARIOS IN FULL
Sim Life comes with six ready-to-run scenarios, covering a wide spectrum of topics and experiments. They are:
1. Desert To Forest
Your aim here is to take a barren wasteland and turn it into a lush forest. To do so, you need to place loads of the more hardy plants, and hope they evolve. As plants die, they decompose, creating a more nutritious bed for some of the weaker plants.
2. Battle Of The Sexes
How would a species with an 80 percent female population exist? Here's your chance to find out. Remember, most of the babies will be female also, so after a few generations, some interesting mutations will take place.
3. Feast And Famine
You start with a large collection of herbivores and an even larger scattering of young plants. It all starts well, but watch what happens when the food runs out. An excellent lesson in food chain control.
4. Carnivoria
Stepping the previous scenario up a difficulty notch, this scenario adds meat eating predators to the scene. Can you keep a balance?
5. Terrible Lizard
What did happen to the dinosaurs? This experiment might just give you some idea. Were they all wiped out by a comet, or was it nothing more than a total breakdown of the food chain?
6. March Of The Mutants
Create some random genes and throw them out to fend for themselves. Weird and wacky mutants battle for supremacy, or al least survival to the next generation.
YOIKS, WHAT A PERSONAL DISASTER!
Sim Life contains a smattering of disasters which can be triggered by the player, or left for the computer to throw in at the moments when you could do without them.
1. Plague
A deadly virus is passed from animal to animal, wiping them out as it goes.
2. STD
A simple STD.
3. Heat Wave
There's nothing like global warming to mess up your plantlife. A quick heat wave increases global temperature dramatically.
4. Cold Wave
Like a heat wave, only colder.
5. Flood
A flood is great for the see-dwelling creatures of your world, but a curse for any plantlife that lies in your coastal regions.
6. Drought
With a drought on, no rain will fall, and your plantlife will suffer.
7. Fire
This can only happen if there are plants in your ecosystem.
8. Comet
The old Maxis favourite, and the easiest way to wipe the slate clean and start again.
9. Teleport
Randomly re-arranges the plants end animals in your world.
10. Civilisation
This places land developers on the globe end lets them run wild.
DIFFERENT WORLDS
There are two different versions of this package being released. The first to hit the streets will be the A4000/A1200 version, which is the one reviewed here. Due to speed and memory, the largest of the four types of world is unavailable, but that is the only restriction. The A500/A600/500+ version will be released around the same time, and we're assured that the drop in speed will be minimal, and you will only be able to create the smaller two worlds. Apart from that, the game should be identical, so the mark given stands for that version too.

Sim Life AGA logo AGA

In the beginning there was Sim City, Sim Ant and Sim Earth, but now comes the ultimate challenge in the god game experience, Sim Life, a game in which you can create and populate an entire world...

All was quiet on planet Baguley, with only the waves gently lapping the shore and a few plants swaying silently in the breeze. Suddenly, the hand of the great god Richard did move upon the waves, and the sea was filled with several hundred hump-backed whales, feeding on the copious krill that swarm in the virtual oceans.

The whales were generally swimming around with no apparent destination and then suddenly, the hand of the lord did move upon the waters again, and giant squid did appear. Loud was the wailing and gnashing of the whales as the squid did eat many of their numbers. Within a few years, the whale population had fallen dramatically, and the squid were beginning to starve.

Such are the scenes you can create in Sim Life. This is a god game with a vengeance. All other so-called god games have really been semi-divine boss man games. I mean, the usual thing is that you're given a situation and have to influence the outcome by controlling your humble subjects. Sim Life takes a different approach. You are, as they say, in complete control. Whole worlds can be destroyed, or entire species mutated beyond recognition with only a couple of clicks of the mouse button.

Let's go back to basics. Sim Life presents you with the opportunity to create a planet, and then to create life forms to populate it. It sounds complex, and it is. This isn't the sort of thing that you're going to get into a few minutes. Fortunately, the accompanying manual is excellent written, and even contains a cartoon called The Adventures Of The Genetic Family. This includes such classic lines as 'The family that transmogrifies together eats flies together'.

God times, bad times
A tutorial file is also included with the game, and this takes you through the basics of selecting menu items to advanced topics such as building customised worlds. So once you've learnt the basics of controlling your simulated life, it's time to start running your own simulation. There are several scenarios included with the game, ranging from 'How Did the Dinosaurs Die?, where you can simulate the downfall of the reptiles by evolutionary or cataclysmic method - to 'The Battle Of The Sexes', - where you simulate the various plus and minus factors of sexual and asexual reproduction.

Alternatively, you can go into experimental mode, where you can start from scratch by defining your own world and designing the flora and fauna which will inhabit it. There are also a variety of saved games supplied with the program, including several bizarre ones involving money trees, works and tax collectors.

Animal magic
Life gets pretty boring if you don't have any plants or animals in your world, and creating these is where the game gets complicated. There are two ways of editing a new plant or animal: one simple, one complex, or you can interchange between the two. The simple way involves picking three attributes which determine the food source, intelligence, method of movement and environment and finally the gestation size and time. You edit the animal or plant by moving through the different cards until you find a suitable one.

With the complex method the screen is filled with sliders and buttons representing an attribute of your new species, each of which can be altered. In the initial stages, you'll probably want to experiment with existing species, so several 'zoos' of animals are included for you to load and use.

All of the screens for the program are well designed, and show their Apple Mac origins in the style of the buttons and layout. It can get rather confusing when you have several windows open at once, so a degree of caution is recommended when opening new ones. As they say: 'tidy desk, tidy planet'.

Unfortunately, Sim Life also betrays its Mac origins through the slow screen update. Several buttons on the main screen give you menus, but once you've selected the option you want, you have to wait for the parts of the screen under the menu to redraw. This is all rather irritating, and tends to interrupt the flow of the game. Once it's redrawn you can also find yourself clicking furiously on the mouse because you're working way ahead of the screen redraws. The program then acts on all of the mouse clicks that it has been saving up! However, there are a variety of nice touches, such as the sampled 'Ooh La La' when to animals mate.

Just because it's called Sim Life, don't assume you are tied to dealing with real animals. You can redefine every attribute of the plants and animals, including the icons. So you could set up a completely unreal situation with writers roaming the land, eating the fruit of the word trees, and not harming anyone. Editor beasts could then feed on the writers, and immense flying Publisher beasts could devour the Editors. The possibilities are endless.

Facts of life
This is an exceptionally original game. It's different to its predecessors Sim Earth and Sim Ant, and works better for this. Although Sim Life is initially confusing, once you get the hang of the complex control system, it's fascinating to see how the ecosystems develop, and how the smallest change can have a powerful effect. Each game takes a long time to develop, so if you're not prepared to invest a significant amount of time in playing a game, this is one to avoid! But if you enjoy challenging, complex and thought-provoking games, this is one of the best I've come across for some time. It's just a pity that some of the glitches in the program detract from this.


HOW TO CONTROL YOUR OWN DESTINY
Sim Life AGA: Main screen explanation
  1. Edit window: you can see the individual animals as they roam around the globe. You can also select a view of the entire world, in which all the animals are represented by small dots.
  2. Dashboard: from here, you can access any of the many windows for getting all sorts of information about your brave new world.
  3. Variables: this gives you the statistics for one particular animal. Statistics in green are OK, in yellow are iffy and in red means the animal is about to die.
  4. Control panel: various options to change both your world and the animals therein are available here.
  5. Dead animal.
  6. Animal.
AGA ONLY

It's interesting to note that this is the first Amiga game that is available for an AGA machine only. The writers are currently working on a non-AGA version, which should be released soon.

The 256-colour Mac and PC versions of this game have been available for several months, and the fact that the Amiga AGA version has appeared so quickly indicates how much quicker and easier the advent of the AGA-machines has made converting from other platforms. This is because there is no longer any need to convert the graphics from 256 colours down to 16 or 32. As you would expect, this graphics conversion is rather time consuming business, and can add several weeks to the time taken to produce a game.


Guter Gott!

Sim AGA Life logo AGA A1200 Speziell

Wer immer noch meint, der 1200er sei nicht groß in Kommen, der lasse sich mal folgendes auf der Zunge zergehen: Die PC-Konvertierung von Maxis' Evo-SIMulation erscheint zuerst nur für den Turbomiga!

Allzu lange werden jedoch auch die Freunde älterer "Freundinnen" nicht mehr darben müßen, soll die 500er-Variante doch gleichfalls dieser Tage auftauchen (einer Kurztest mit den Unterschieden findet Ihr daher wenn nicht in diesem, dann im nächsten Heft). Was nun vorliegende Spezialversion angeht, so kommt nur in ihren Genuß, wer zuvor einen kleinen Intelligenztest in Form der exotischen Installroutine meistert. Danach darf man je nach Hardware an das normal- oder hochaufgelöste Erschaffen von Bäumen und Bienen gehen - wobei wir den Hobby-Göttern freilich einen Multisync-Monitor und mehr als zwei Megabyte RAM dringendst an schöpferische Herz legen würden...

Der hier simulierte Planet, den es mit Leben zu füllen gilt, hat durchaus Ähnlichkeiten mit seinem Gegenstück aus "Sim Earth", steht dafür aber in drei Größen zur Wahl. Noch mehr Abwechslung garantieren die neun Schieberegler für Klima, Gebirgshäufigkeit oder radioaktive Strahlung sowie die zufällige Verteilung der Landmassen, so daß im Endeffekt eine nahezu unendliche Anzahl immer neuer Welten zur biogenetischen Bearbeitung bereitsteht. Vom Tutorial und den sechs speziellen Lern-Szenarien (etwa Überlebenstraining für Saurier) mal abgesehen, bleibt die Aufgabe jedoch stets gleich: Man siedle zunächst einmal Pflanzen an, und sobald diese sich im Verlauf der Jahre fest etabliert haben, wäre an die Fauna zu denken. Ein paar Bienchen vielleicht, Spinnen oder Eichhörnchen, und schließlich, wenn die Nahrungsketten stabil sind, einige Räuber.

Kurzum, nach einem festen Spielziel sucht man vergeblich, der Reiz liegt hauptsächlich im Experimentieren. Was geschieht, wenn ich die vorgefertigten Instant-Lebewesen verändere und so meine eigenen Flügelflagel in die freie Wildbahn entlasse? Wer frißt hier wenn, und was passiert, wenn die Nahrungskette via Genpool manipuliert wird? Wie wirken sich Seuchen, 'ne erfrischende Eiszeit oder hitziges Treibhausklima aus? Alles das und noch viel mehr kann man mit Sim Life auf digitaler Ebene nachvollziehen, stets von unzähligen Tabellen und Diagrammen umruhmt.

Zugegeben, optisch ist dieses Paradies jedes Bio-Lehrers selbst im (auf alle Fälle zu bevorzugenden) Hires-Modus nicht gerade der Garten Eden, doch immerhin wuselt fein gezeichnetes und vielgestaltetes Leben auf der gezoomten Landkarte umher. Im Überblicks-Atlas, der die ganze Welt zeigt, sind allerdings bloß bunte Klötzchen geboten, aber dafür hört man neben einigen eher lächerlichen FX recht passable Notenklänge. Schließlich wäre noch die nicht ganz simple Maus/Icon/Menü-Steuerung zu erwähnen; dank der vielfältig abrufbaren Hilfen kommt man allerdings schon bald erstaunlich gut zurecht. Fazit: Für die kleine Schöpfung zwischendurch ist Sim Life sicher das falsche Programm, experimentierfreudige Bio-Populanten mit Luxus-Hardware könnten es hingegen kaum komplexer treffen! (jn)


Sim Life AGA logo AGA

Get a life? Get a complex computer game, more like.

Reviewing Sim Life was a miserable experience. I knew it would be from the moment I slotted in the first of four disks, switched on the power and was greeted by - not Sim Life, but - an installation program. This then asked me for three blank disks and, as I sat and watched, spent the next half an hour 'installing' the game onto them.

The next portent of doom was the manual. It's 204 pages long, it includes the phrase "as limitless as your imagination", it insists on beginning each chapter with a quote from somebody ridiculous like Douglas Adams (seemingly selected for no other reason than it's containing the word 'life'), and, though it makes a valiant attempt to explain how the game works, it really does face an impossible task.

Which means I do, too. Er, Basically what you're doing in Sim Life (we'll dispense with this SimLife nonsense, ThankYouVeryMuch) is playing around with evolution, watching species running around eating each other and either developing into new species or dying out (I think).


It does compare favourably with Sim Earth

You start off with a lump of terrain, and watch as the program terraforms it and sorts out its climate. (That bit's quite good fun). And then - wallop - you're confronted by millions and millions of titchy little icons, with no clue as to what each one does, and reams of almost-too-small-to-read writing. It's back to the manual, from which it's eventually possible to wring the information that you've got to spread plants and animals about the place. You're given a selection of pre-defined species to choose from, or you can design your own, giving them names, characteristics and appearances. If you've given them the right habitat they then run about the place eating, mating and possibly evolving into new species. You can invoke 'natural' disasters, too, if you want, like plagues, and comets hitting the earth. It could be thought of as the ultimate incarnation of Life, that really old computer game where little squares reproduce and die on the screen making pretty patterns.

In execution it all seems to work okay. The icons and things are a nuisance, as I said, but they look smart enough. The rest of the graphics - the terrain and the animals - look terrible, but they get the job done and it's hard to imagine how they could be improved without making things even more complicated still. And everything runs at a fair speed.

It's nothing like as much fun as Sim City, the game which began (and, as is looking likely, ended) the 'Sim' phenomenon. The best part of Sim City, you'll remember, was building little roads and factories. Setting taxes was just something you had to do every year. Sim Life can be seen as 90% setting taxes, with road-building shunted into the sidelines.

I can appreciate what Maxis are trying to create - something you can load up and play with, just to see what happens. But they seem to be going about it all wrong, swamping you with menus, icons, disks, options, instructions, installation programs and squinty writing. It all seems a bit much, especially when you consider that there's not nearly as much to the game as might first appear - it's just eating, mating and evolving.

The result is just plain boring. Not as boring as Sim Earth, but still really, really dull, and a chore rather than a pleasure to play. There's absolutely no way I'm reviewing Sim Universe.


Sim Life AGA logo AGA CU Amiga Screen Star

MINDSCAPE OUT NOW £34.99

At first view Sim Life looks one of those incredibly complex utilities that takes you ages to use properly before you realise that you don't actually like it. Fortunately that is only half true - it will take ages before you learn what all the buttons are for, but it's great fun experimenting. And that is the core of the game, as the designer Ken Karakotsios says, 'It is a game, a toy and an experimental tool to learn about life, real and artificial'.

It is absolutely necessary in such a deep game for you to be slowly introduced to it via growing levels of complexity. Thankfully, Ken has realised this and provides you with a full on-screen tutorial. Also, as it was ported straight from the Apple Mac the control system is very intuitive indeed. So, despite the fact that Sim Life has got more buttons than all the bellies in China you soon learn what all the major ones do. To help you start there are also six pre-set scenarios or experiments ready for you to explore. One of the fun ones starts you off with a colony of herbivores which then suffers from a gradual introduction of carnivores. The aim being to try to find out at what point a balance is reached.

There is no specific goal to be reached. The basic idea is to establish an ecosystem where the various lifeforms reach some kind of equilibrium with each other and their environment. You can achieve this by changing factors at ever level of the life scale from basic genes all the way up to whole species of both plants and animals. Also, instead of taking such immediate control over evolution, you can influence it less directly by altering the environment making it hotter, wetter, less lush, etc. This range of options makes Sim Life a game you're likely to be playing for months, maybe even years, down the line and still finding something new to do.

On the down side, I was less impressed by the standard of the graphics with animals being depicted as simple block drawings that move but do not animate. The game speed too is not good, even on the A4000. Those little niggles aside, if the idea of being able to control a whole ecosystem and the evolution of all the life in it appeals to you, Sim Life will draw you in and keep you laying for a long time to come. Now, what if I cross an alligator with a poodle...?