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.
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.