Video games sure have come a long way from the days of Pong and Frogger. The simulation game genre, which lets players design and manage complex environments, is the latest to gain wide-scale popularity in an ever-evolving game market. In this month’s edition of The Cyber Space, we delve into this latest trend, taking a Dodge Viper for a quick spin, and spending some time as Ranger Rick in a park of our own making.
With its focus on education and its nature-based theme, SimPark isn’t your typical simulation game. Created by Maxis, players of SimPark are put in charge of a thriving ecosystem, the idea being to have kids ages eight and up explore their natural environment and understand the complex inter-
relationships between man and nature.
The gaming interface is simple, yet
comprehensive-nice big icons for easier navigation, accessible information and a full view of what’s happening on the screen. You would think that being a Park Ranger would be a bit of a bore, and admittedly, things build a little slowly, but as the ecosystem begins to thrive, animals and plants procreate at an incredible pace. In this game, you learn by doing-for example, planting trees, relocating animals, building hot-dog stands (no kidding, it brings in money for the park). But there is soon so much happening that you can barely keep track of your own progress. The effects of your decisions aren’t immediately obvious. All of a sudden, trees are growing like wildfire, your fox population is out of control and your rabbits are starving. Welcome to the arbitrary world of nature.
SimPark is open-ended, meaning that there are no winners or losers; this lack of highly defined objectives is actually a little annoy
ing because goals and competition are such
an integral part of social life as we know it. Real-life predation (i.e. small animals being eaten by bigger animals, park visitors being mauled) is also absent because SimPark is deliberately non-violent.
Graphics-wise, SimPark isn’t bad, although the quirky contrast between the title’s 2-D narrator Rizza the Frog and its 3-D animated icons is a little inconsistent. For the most part, the icons are too small to provide any significant detail, which is too bad, because we’re now so used to highly defined animation (i.e. Antz).
Overall, SimPark ranks well because it gives you first-hand lessons about nature, and you have infinite flexibility in adjusting your environment. This is obviously the thinking kid’s game.
Konami’s latest video game offering for Sony’s PlayStation is the car racer’s dream. The action is phenomenal. Choose a car, choose a track and race until you drop. The better you perform, the more money you win, the more you get to race. The premise? Exploring the complex inter-relationships between the steering wheel and the accelerator.
Gameplay on Grand Turismo is amazing because this game does everything it can to truly simulate the driving experience:
* each car (all highly identifiable makes, like Toyota and Chevy) displays the same unique handling characteristics that they do in real life
* there are an incredible number of tracks and race series to choose from, all true-to-life (even down to the blades of grass in the knolls lining the track)
* each race incorporates an infinite number of real driving considerations (i.e. tire wear, car settings, braking and acceleration points), all of which can affect how well your car performs
Unlike SimPark, the competition in Grand Tourismo is fierce. In fact, before you even begin, you are required to pass a series of driving tests demonstrating your skill at braking, cornering and coordination. These tests are part of a graduated licensing system that keeps things competitive. The more you improve, the faster you progress to the big leagues, where you can gain access to special hidden races.
Grand Turismo’s overlying strengths are its incredible detail, and its ability to generate full-length, TV-quality instant replays, as well as to send feedback (via vibrations) to your hands using Sony Playstation’s Dual Shock controller. This is one serious simulator.
With regards to the game’s graphics, we honestly believed that we were watching a movie during the opening sequence. The detailing on the cars, trees, grandstands and backgrounds is rendered with incredible accuracy. The game’s sound effects include not only engine and tire noises, but also a wicked music soundtrack (in full stereo of course). This game is so popular that it has even spawned a slew of communities on the Internet that offer tips, information and updates.
For the time being, the only thing that could offer a more realistic racing experience than Grand Tourismo is strapping on a helmet and gloves, and heading down to the local race track yourself.
Next month: The Cyber Space looks at create-your-own animation software for kids.
Greg Skinner is the director of Mina, a market intelligence company with expertise in the youth market. He also admits to having an unhealthy obsession with the World Wide Web. KidScreen asked him to do some browsing on our behalf and report on the latest developments in new media and how these innovations are having an impact on the kids entertainment industry. He is still at it. If you have any suggestions or ideas for topics you’d like to see in ‘The Cyber Space,’ please contact Greg Skinner at 416-504-6800 (phone), 416-504-4054 (fax) or firstname.lastname@example.org (e-mail).