Sim Earth

Apparently, it is supposed to look like this.

Before today, I had never actually played Sim Earth. I bet it was much better on PC. But based on Wikipedia and other internet sources, it was certainly interesting.  You could control atmospheric gases with percentages down to three decimal places, the rate of continental drift, reproduction and mutation rates, and so on.  You can place devices that change the planet’s development, like oxygen generators or monoliths. You can even produce, through manipulation of evolution, a sentient civilization which develops technology – and if it becomes dependent on nuclear power, it can annihilate itself in nuclear war if fuel becomes scarce. All of this depends on a finite budget of energy units you have available for fiddling with the planet, as deity or spacefaring progenitor race or whatever.

This is a game where sentient molluscs can battle carnivorous plants for supremacy. And if nuclear blasts destroy the highest technology level, you get a bonus civilization – machine life!

Well, this game sounds awesome.

It turns out that on this platform, it is inscrutable.

Most games in this genre and this era end up being pretty impossible to decipher – the constraints of low-resolution screen real estate, low memory, and control mechanism make it very tough to create a strategy or management game that is at all intuitive, or a tutorial that is at all effective.

Not only that, but game design at the time was not supportive of in-depth tutorials or explicit gameplay explanations of any kind. I would imagine the instruction booklet was helpful for this game, though, to some extent.

But about six button presses from turning on the game, I got stuck on a blue screen.  None of my buttons would allow me to retreat from the blank blue above the menu.

The game didn’t sell well.  A game where fiddling with the atmospheric composition of a planet allows you to tweak the evolutionary prospects of a variety of eukaryotes is probably not what the gamer demographic at the time was looking for. Sim City did way better.

I would love to see a real Sim Earth remake or sequel done with contemporary technology and design philosophy, but maintaining the same in-depth sandbox quality.  This is exactly the kind of thing that Spore was lacking – any kind of granularity, any kind of feeling of simulation, to give its superficiality some weight and impact.

2 thoughts on “Sim Earth

  1. Started googling SimEarth after downloading Topia for ios. For a split second it reminded me of populous and sim earth and there the comparison ended. But I fondly remember SimEarth. Was a simulator more than a game that I’d dabble with and learn a bit more each time. It was fun creating a world with humans only to be overrun with dinosaurs. It’s a real shame that there isn’t any desire to recreate simulators of this type anymore. Even if there was it would no doubt be free to play with timers, IAP and dumbed down for a Jeremy Kyle generation.

  2. SimEarth was more of a true simulation, than a game, meant to show the general public the core concepts behind the badly-named “Gaia Theory”. This has nothing to do with the planet being “alive”, but postulates that all Earth systems – its biosphere, atmosphere, hydropsphere, lithosphere, etc – are all interconnected, and affect one another. Sounds like common sense, but a lot of people have a hard time grasping this without lapsing into either incredulity, or mysticism (even though it should be common knowledge by now that the only reason we have an oxygenated atmosphere is because life itself made it, and is maintaining it as such. If photosynthesis hadn’t been invented, we’d probably still be single-celled anaerobes.)

    This computer toy had one of the BEST manuals ever, btw, that explained not only the controls, etc, but also the science behind everything in the programme (including the simple Daisyworld scenario, which is pretty much the same thing Lovelock used for developing his idea.)

    You’d think with the “global warming” scare/craze (I think it is too vague a term that is masking problems caused by human overpopulation resulting from third world refusal to embrace birth control with the same zeal they embrace death control) there’d be more of a demand for simulators like this. But then, your average “gamer” wouldn’t see the “computer toy/simulation” thing, and expect to be able to battle their sapient radiates against another player’s sapient carniferns in a rated battle arena, or nonsense like that, and then complain when it’s what it says on the box.

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