Saturday, December 10, 2011

Big Bang (the Sim Game):

As a software developer, I was excited by the idea of a “Sim” game, when the first one was announced. The great idea was that the software would simulate some realistic action – the development of a city, the progress of a war, et cetera – while I, the human player, made small adjustments to the game’s parameters, to improve progress, or to bend the developments in my preferred direction. I couldn’t wait to play a “Sim” game, and I was disappointed to discover that they are just not my thing.

Over time, many sim games have appeared, some of them terrifically sophisticated, and thinking about how the guts of the software makes a Sim work still fascinates me. But in the real world of computer games, I can’t help noticing that programming a basic Sim game has become a dumbed-down cookie-cutter operation. New ones show up every month. Develop a florist business. Build bus routes. Manage a dinosaur park. Tend a poison ivy patch (okay, I made that one up).

Some of these proliferating Sims may be brilliant games, but the bottom line is that there are very obvious ways to tempt people to spend money inside these games, and the developers are me-tooing each other to death in their eagerness to find yet another unoriginal way to empty our pockets.

I think there should be more originality in Sims, and I have two modest suggestions. Here’s the first one: Big Bang (the Sim game): The computer models the development of the universe, starting with the Big Bang. Each turn, you introduce a few small perturbations into the simulated universe. Your goal is to produce a planet that supports life, and you win if a thinking creature evolves on your planet, smart enough for a dozen of the creatures to cooperate to build a home.

What interests me about this game, other than the challenge of programming it, is the meaning of a “turn”. At the beginning of the game, each turn will represent, perhaps, a trillionth of a trillionth of a second. Later, when you are building your black holes and galaxies, a turn might be a hundred million years. And in the endgame, turns might represent dozens of decades.
Tomorrow: Despotic Dictator (Sim Game).

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