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/// Usenet Review:  SimLife
    -----------------------
    By Jun Akiyama
    (akiy@netcom.com)



PRODUCT NAME

        SimLife, V1.00 Jun 18 1993 14:11:56


BRIEF DESCRIPTION

        Build your own ecosystem and give life to creatures, designing
animals and plants down to the genetic level.  Brought to you from the
makers of SimCity, SimAnt, SimEarth, and SimFarm (well, on other platforms,
anyway).


AUTHOR/COMPANY INFORMATION

        Name:           Maxis, distributed by Mindscape International
        Address:        2 Theatre Square
                        Suite 230
                        Orinda, CA 94563-3346

        Telephone:      (510) 254-9700
        FAX:            (510) 253-3736


LIST PRICE

        The list price as indicated in the Mindscape catalog included with
the game is 34.99 pounds.  (Mindscape is a British company.)  Exchange rates
as of this writing would make that equivalent to $59.64 (US).

        I was able to buy this product from a local store for $39.99 (US).


SPECIAL HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE REQUIREMENTS

        HARDWARE

                There are two versions of this software: one for AGA
                machines (A1200, A4000), and another for all Amiga
                computers.  (From this point on in the article, unless I
                specifically refer to the AGA version or the Standard
                version, "SimLife" will refer to both AGA and Standard
                versions.)

                The AGA version has golden stickers on the box saying "A1200
                Enhanced" and "Enhanced version for Amiga 1200/4000 only."
                The AGA version requires a machine which can handle AGA
                graphics such as the A1200 and the A4000.  However, I do not
                know if AGA emulator boards (such as the Retina card) would
                be able to use this game.  The AGA version also requires 2
                MB of RAM.  A hard drive is recommended.

                The Standard version for all Amigas requires a minimum of 1
                MB of RAM (although 2 MB is recommended).  A hard drive is
                recommended.

                There is a little ReadMe note on the disk for the AGA
                version with the following information:

                        If you intend to play SimLife in HiRes Mode with
                        only 2 Megabytes of RAM, you will only be able to
                        play with Tiny and Small worlds. This is due to
                        memory constraints. If you fit more memory, you will
                        be able to play all configurations.

                I do not know if the above note also applies to the Standard
                version.

                If you don't have a hard drive, don't worry.  The program
                can be decompressed onto three floppy disks.  (Disk swapping
                is always so much fun, and can often relieve the tension in
                any program.  Right?)

                A warning to those running on slower CPUs -- the game is
                quite CPU intensive! Although the game can run on any Amiga
                platform, I would not want to see this game running on a
                68000-equipped machine as it tends to slow down even on my
                A4000.  It has no problems running with my 68040, even with
                copyback mode on.

                Also, the AGA version runs in PAL mode, although this can be
                avoided (as explained later).

        SOFTWARE

                The AGA version requires Workbench 3.0 and above.
                The Standard version requires at least Workbench 1.3.


COPY PROTECTION

        None.  At all.  Period.  End of sentence.  We should give Maxis a
great big huzzah.  Really.  I did.

        The game installs beautifully onto a hard drive, without having to
make any directory assigns.  Another huzzah.

        The game boots from Workbench, and multitasks well, except for a few
litle problems (see below for details).

        The game will save its data (save games, new species, etc.) using a
file requester, so you have the power to place it wherever you wish.


MACHINE USED FOR TESTING

        Amiga 4000/040
        2 MB Chip RAM, 4 MB Fast RAM
        Kickstart 39.106, Workbench 39.29


INSTALLATION

        As mentioned previously, the game is installable onto either the
hard drive or onto three floppies.

        As in most Maxis games, SimLife comes in two different resolutions:
hi-res, or low-res.  The hi-res version is recommended for those with at
least 2 MB of memory, and a multiscan monitor.  (I guess the multiscan
monitor is necessary to eliminate the flicker through DblPAL.  The Standard
version, although it does not use DblPAL, may use a flicker fixer instead.)

        Installation itself is a breeze.  The installation program is
started by booting up Disk 1, after which you will be asked whether you wish
to have hi-res or low-res graphics and to install onto either the hard drive
(in which case it also asks for a directory, creating it if necessary) or
floppy drive.  Then follow the on-screen instructions on which of the four
disks the program wants, and after minimal disk-swapping, the game is
installed.


GETTING STARTED

        When starting up the game from Workbench, you must not leave any
windows open which have tasks running.  The requester saying "Could not
close Workbench.  Close all windows and restart!" will pop up.  This means,
for example, that you must not have any shells, GNU Emacs windows, nor
ASokoban games running at the time you start the game.  After you close
the windows or iconify them, double click on the not-too attractive game
icon, and start the game again.  Once you start the game, you will notice a
depth gadget at the top right hand corner; don't bother using it, as I found
it does nothing.  Use the Left-Amiga M combination to flip through the
screens to get back to Workbench if you need to multitask.  Be forewarned
that the game takes up a lot of CPU cycles, and most everything else will be
pretty slow.

        One of the first things you notice when you first boot the hi-res
AGA version is that it's in DblPAL mode.  (I don't know what the Standard
version does.)  For those people running in PAL, this is not a problem; for
those of us running NTSC, the bottom 25% of the screen is clipped off.  I
use the public domain commodity ForceMonitor to promote all PAL screens to
Multiscan:Productivity (my Workbench resolution), and the program seems to
work fine.  You might have to press Left-Amiga M to flip the screen
sometimes to bring the SimLife screen to the front.  In addition, if you're
using a DblNTSC Workbench and wish to use SimLife AGA in DblNTSC,
ForceMonitor can do that too; just be aware that you'll need to autoscroll a
little bit to see the entire screen.  (I also installed the low-res AGA
version, and the screen opens up in PAL mode.  Therefore, the same steps as
above will probably have to be taken to open up a full-size screen.)

        After installation, the first instinct of all human beings having
used a computer for more than five minutes is to dive into a program without
having read the manual.  Usually, only after the user has looked at all the
menu items, pressed all the buttons, and basically gotten confused and
frustrated do they open the manuals.  In SimLife, looking at all the menu
items and pressing all the buttons take a really long time, and getting
confused and frustrated takes a very short one.  Luckily, Maxis includes a
pretty comprehensive tutorial.

        The tutorial world makes the user go through all of the basic
functions of all of the menu items and buttons, so that the user can
understand the 204 page user manual better afterwards.  I thought the
tutorial to be very helpful and well organized, although I found the "Click
on window to continue" prompts a bit irritating.  (The windows kept
disappearing on me, since you're all wrapped up in placing Lucia's Llamas
all across the land and clicking away, during which the window suddenly pops
up and you inadvertently "Click on the window to continue."  Of course,
there's the "Redisplay Current Message" menu item, but it's still annoying,
nonetheless.)


GAME PLAY

        The game itself revolves basically around observation.  It is no
horrendously thumb-numbing shoot-'em up game, nor is it a mind-wrenching
dungeon-delving adventure.  (Only BLAZEMONGER can be both at the same time,
and then some. :-))  Most of the time, I found myself influencing the world
in some manner, then waiting to see what happened in reaction to it.  I guess
if there is a god, that's what he's doing at this moment.

        However, don't take this in the wrong way; you wouldn't buy this
game if you wished for action, adventure, blood, guts, and glory.  You're
going to have to be pretty patient with this game; it takes a long time for
something to happen, just like in real evolution!  Don't expect your
humpback whales to start walking on land in one minute; it takes a lot longer
than that.  Sit back, and observe, young ones.

        First, you create the earth upon which your creatures and plants
will reside.  Such parameters as average moisture, average temperature,
numbers of rivers and lakes (and seas -- no distinction between salt and
fresh water), and even the numbers of toxins and mutagens can be
configured.  Don't worry if the world you get doesn't suit your godly
aesthetic sense; during the game itself, you can raise or sink land (a la
Populous) and increase or decrease rain fall and temperature.  Heck, spell
your name with a land mass.  You also get to choose the size of the world --
tiny, small, large, medium, and large.  Continental drift does not seem to
be integrated into this game, but I'm sure you can emulate it through
ingenious manipulations of the land.

        After creating your landmasses, it's time to place your plants and
creatures.  The program gives several options on how to place them.  You can
place individual creatures wherever you wish (which is very close to
painting with a paint program with a brush with the grid turned on), or you
can have the program place creatures for you; the options available for you
to control the computer's placement of the creatures include placing them in
a group or individually scattered, on land only, in water only, or any other
combination.  You can also choose to place individual species or the entire
catalog of plants or animals onto the map.  (Of course, you can place those
humpback whales on land, if you wish, or throw some ground squirrels into
the water; either way, you are punished (rewarded?) by a pretty quick "Oooh"
sound, signaling the demise of some of your creations.)

        Each one of these species consists of a group of settings
corresponding to the creature's (or plant's) biological descriptions.  For
example, you can control whether your animal will be a high intelligence
carnivore which walks and lives in the mountains and has a long gestation
time but few children (like a llama), or if it will be a low intelligence
filter-feeder which flies and lives in the ocean with a short gestation time
and bears many children (like something from a cheap B movie).  Also, you
can design the picture of the creature/plant in child/seed and adult/plant
modes, so you can distinguish them on the screen easily.  You decide.  Yes,
it can get pretty silly, but I think that's one of the features of the game.

        Even during the game, you can pick out each animal on the screen and
change its genome features.  You can make one of those llamas to suddenly
turn into a flying super-stealthy acute-visioned fly-sized animal, if you
want.  Make that humpback whale asexual!  Create some immortal chickens!  The
program will keep track of each and every single living creature on your
earth.

        As the days pass by, the seasons roll past, and the years flit away
into history, you get to watch evolution in action as animals and plants
mutate into different species.  If you're feeling bored, you can really play
divinity and fly a comet into the earth, induce a plague, introduce a
sexually transmitted disease, or even (gasp!)  bring civilization onto the
land (whereupon little bulldozers start appearing, creating luxury homes and
leaving pollution behind them)!

        While you're at it, you can start to change the basic physics of
nature on your planet.  If you suddenly feel that seeds should have more
food value than animals, you can do so.  You have total freedom to make
flying take less movement costs than walking, or to raise the mutation
rate.  It's all up to you.

        Of course, all this would go to naught if the program didn't keep
track of what happened when, and all other records.  The game keeps track of
when what species was introduced, what is eating what, the population of
each species, diversity graphs, and basically all of the data a biologist
would love to have on an ecosystem.

        Yes, there are many, many settings and variables you can change, but
who said life was uncomplicated?


DOCUMENTATION

        There are three manuals included with the game: the user manual, the
SimLife lab book, and the addendum and quickstart guide.

        The user guide is a comprehensive 204 page text, complete with
glossary and an index (which deserves the third huzzah).  Many illustrations
grace the pages of this manual to ease identification of the many windows,
buttons, and menus in the game.  All in all, I found it to be very easy to
use.

        There is also an addendum and "quickstart" guide for the Amiga
version of the game which tells you of the installation procedures and a
keyboard shortcut chart in the back.

        Lastly, there is a SimLife lab book in which you are to "make a
photocopy of it for your personal use and mark that up.  No selling copies
of the lab book in dark alleys to minors while wearing a trench coat."
Basically, this lab book allows you to record the various settings of the
program.  Will I ever use it?  I don't think so.  If you see someone selling
copies of it in dark alleys to minors while *not* wearing a trench coat,
it's probably some other pervert.  Not me.


LIKES, DISLIKES, AND OPINIONS

        I really like the premises upon which this product was built.  The
idea of watching life evolve and being able to observe (and influence)
directly the interactions of different species ("You scratch my back, and
I'll eat you") can only be done on computers (for now).

        However, for a non-biologically oriented person like me, I felt
pretty overwhelmed by the number of options, settings, and variables
presented before me.  Now, I'm not saying that this is a drawback
necessarily (although the "However" at the beginning of the paragraph may
say otherwise); it's just that sometimes, simple is best.  For people who
want to sit around for hours, twiddling each little gene and adjusting
settings, then loading, saving, then recording each session, this program
may be ideal.  However, I did not have the patience to sit out decades and
decades of artificial time to see what happened to a species of plant.  I
suppose I could play this game at a more shallow level without getting into
the specifics (like manipulating the genes for water storage in a plant),
but then, I would feel as though I'm not playing the game to the fullest.
Maybe it's just me.  I don't know.

        Therefore, for those people who enjoy working with many variables,
and would like to have the power (and time) to adjust nearly each and every
aspect of life, this game is for you.  For others, it may be a type of
diversion close to a fractal program; you can watch a lot of things moving
on the screen, then come back a few hours later and check the history to see
what's still alive and when things went extinct.

        Perhaps if there were some real "scoring" mechanism for SimLife as
there was for SimCity (in which money was a limited resource; in SimLife,
life itself can be created pretty much infinitely, and without any cost,
which I find pretty unrealistic), the game could be more playable.  Although
the "physics" aspect of the game limits the player somewhat, the game play
is hindered by allowing the player simply to say "poof" and add some more
animals here and delete some plants here.

        In addition to the built-in scenarios, included in the directory
itself are several "saved" games which are interesting.  For example, one of
the scenarios is as follows:

                The main workers are the Square Pegs, who chase the Round
        Wholes, and Marketers, who chase Customers.  Money Trees, with
        golden flowers that give off a red scent, are the main food source
        for the workers.  The Water Bottles are where the workers congregate
        and drink.  The Executive Wash Room/Lounge (in the lower left
        corner) is where the executives congregate, drink and use the
        trees.  Everyone wants to catch the Runnin' BigBucks, but they are
        hard to catch -- they avoid everyone but upper management.  Everyone
        has grass growing under their feet, but tries to hide it, or at
        least eat it.  The shopping carts are the candy dispensers and
        popcorn machines.  Upper Management sits around and waits for the
        BigBucks to come.

        The game is an obvious port from the Macintosh platform, as the
requesters are taken right from the Macintosh operating system.  I found
some of these requesters annoying, probably because I'm used to seeing
Workbench compliant programs these days.  The game play is hindered at
points because of this noncompliance, as some menus (such as from the Help
button) do not pop up readily, meaning you may have to click on a button
multiple times, which is irritating.  Because the game is pretty slow at
times, the reaction time of a button press may be delayed.  Maybe more care
could have been taken by the people at Maxis to round out the user interface
to that more suitable for the Amiga, and not just supposed that the
Macintosh interface would suffice for the picky tastes of some Amiga users
(myself included).  I think it would have sped things up a little bit too.

        Lastly, let me try to warn a few people.  I don't think you're going
to be able to use this program to recreate the movie Jurassic Park.  (There
are no omnivorous animals, so it'd be hard to create humans in the first
place.  And, no using "frog" DNA in dinosaurs, either.)  Nor do I think you
are going to be able to recreate life on earth as it is today, because of
such limitations.  Perhaps with a lot of patience and time, you might be
able to; but then again, a game is a game.  Maybe Maxis will come out with
SimInteractionBetweenHumansAndOtherBeingsOnEarth someday.


COMPARISON TO OTHER SIMILAR PRODUCTS

        Of course, in comparing this game with the other "Sim" games, I
think that this game is the most "simulation"-like than the other "Sim"
games.  As said above, unlike SimCity, there are really no limited
resources, and there is really no big objective in SimLife.  SimAnt had an
objective to take over the entire yard.  SimEarth gave the objective of
evolving a lifeform intelligent enough to go to another solar system.  I
guess that the main objective of SimLife would be to create a stable
ecosystem through the creation of your own lifeforms.  Maybe it's just me.
I just might not have the patience to sit this one through.


BUGS

        It seemed as though there was a strange bug when the program used
the "autospeciate" feature to create a new species from an old one (when
organisms diverge so much from their originals that they wouldn't be able to
mate with the old ones) and the user deleted some of the organisms (or did
something that irritated the program), the pictures for each of the organisms
shifted around, the wrong image representing some of the species.
Therefore, I sometimes saw sharks flying across mountains, and squirrels
suddenly turned into humpback whales when it walked to the left.  I haven't
contacted Maxis about this, as I'm not really too sure when this occurs
(except for the aforementioned approximate details).  If anything ensues,
I'll submit a followup article.


VENDOR SUPPORT

        I have never talked to anyone at Maxis, as far as I know, unless
they have undercover agents or something.

        The registration card has to be sent to England (to Mindscape), and
the technical support hotline is an international call.  However, I'd think
calling Maxis directly (in California) would be better, so take a look at
the phone numbers up above for details.

        I am in no way, shape nor form, associated with Maxis.  I just play
their games (or rather, run their simulations).


WARRANTY

        Sending in the registration card entitles the user to "technical
support, advance notification of upgrades, and special offers on future
Mindscape products," says the registration card.


CONCLUSIONS

        All in all, I feel SimLife to be a very accomplished simulation with
a whole plethora of variables and a world of outcomes to be explored.

        On a scale from one to ten ducks (one duck being the equivalent to
"Pond Scum," and ten ducks garnering a "Totally ducky!" description), I'd
probably give it seven ducks.


BLAZEMONGER NOTICE

        For you BLAZEMONGER II players out there, this review, in its
entirety (including the headers), is the secret password for level
323,832,123.021. Just type it in during the .00002 millisecond title screen,
and you're there.  Wow.  How did the BLAZEMONGER programmers know?