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ISSUE 562: The high-tech office- Aug 1 2000

ALAN ZISMAN

Simulated city contains citizens with real problems

It's sometimes hard to focus and get down to work when you know that summer's here. So instead of even trying to be productive, let's take a break. But given the topic of this column, we're not going to go to the beach or for a hike. Keep that computer up and running, as we look at a couple of ways to indulge the ultimate fantasy and play God.

Maxis (www.maxis.com), a company deeply entwined with Burnaby's Electronic Arts, hit it big about a decade ago with the original SimCity. This city simulator offered the player an undeveloped chunk of land, with the goal to add the infrastructure, zoning and taxes for a success-
ful city. Put those pieces in place and watch the Sims move in, build houses, stores and factories, and even commute to work or go to a ballgame.

Trickier than it sounds, though. Set taxes too high and the Sims move out. Set them too low and your infrastructure starts to decay while crime rates rise. If you prefer, rather than starting out fresh, the original game came with a set of scenarios, such as post-riot Detroit. Your job was to make the disaster into a working city.

The original version is still available, still fun and has just been released for Palm-style pocket computers. Maxis has been continually tinkering with it, however, taking advantage of ever-faster and more powerful computers to offer richer, more detailed versions. The latest in the series is SimCity 3000 Unlimited (about $60).

While still using the basics of the original, the new version offers 3-D graphics and more scenarios. Want mountains nearby? You can now edit the raw terrain before laying out your city. Your city can now develop an Asian or European flavour, rather than the previous generic-American look, because you can add your choice of real landmarks or play architect and design your own.

The original game had randomized disasters: fires, floods, earthquakes, even a Japanese movie monster or two. 3000 Unlimited has more and better disasters than ever, ranging from ravenous locusts to a crash of falling space junk.

But while you're tinkering on the macro-level, those tiny Sims are busy having lives of their own. And in Maxis' The Sims (also about $60), you can be the personal deity for a single family. You can pick your characters, setting their basic personalities according to zodiacal signs and drop your people into a SimCity suburban household.

See how Sims with different personality characteristics get along (or don't). Let your Sims improve their learnable skills and get a career path.

All this sets up your Sims for their real purpose in life, which is buying stuff. Maxis is always adding new stuff on their Web site that your Sims can buy. They probably want a TV and stereo, and of course they need food in the fridge. Check the want ads for a job. Otherwise, real world problems start cropping up. No job equals no money. No fun equals boredom. No food equals starvation. Yes, your Sims can become depressed or even starve to death.

You can help them make basic decisions, for better or for worse. You can, if you choose, be a sadistic, nasty deity, and watch your Sims suffer as a result. Or allow them the opportunities to fall in love and lead happy and fulfilled lives.

Like a typical TV sitcom, The Sims is completely home-oriented. A Sim leaves for work in the morning, coming home a bit later, pay-cheque in hand. At home, though, your characters have full and rich lives, complete with dinner (and necessary bathroom breaks), conversation (with real-sounding gibberish Sim-speak), parties and even faded-out sex. (Sims are predominantly, but not exclusively, heterosexual.)

Try both. Justify SimCity 3000 Un-
limited as a way to scout where to locate that office or retail establishment. And The Sims lets you claim to be discovering the personality types that will best respond to your product.

It's not game-playing, it's market research.

Really!

Correction time

In issue #558, we looked at Conexys, a service offering one-stop Web-based e-mail, voice and fax messaging. The Bermuda-based company is offering the service to customers in Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary and other Canadian cities for $14.95 per month. *

 

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan