Sim Ant: Nature Sim or Advanced Military Strategy Training?
16 March 2008
This is not so much a review as it is a BLAST FROM THE PAST. All of these 'next-gen' games coming out lately have been making me pine for the good old simple days of gaming. The classics. Or more specifically, one particular cleverly designed war game that was a must-have for all future dictators.
The classic in question? Sim Ant. Yes, one of the multitude of Sim games that came out back when Sim City was in its heyday, and Maxis was attempting to simulate everything known to man. Does anybody else remember this game? It came out all the way back in 1991, and you installed it using a floppy disk. A FLOPPY DISK. Have those been officially declared obsolete yet?
There was a SNES version that I hooked up on an emulator to play for a few hours yesterday, but I�m going to focus on the old Windows version, since nobody ever played the SNES version because quite frankly, porting this style of game to a console was just stupid. Like porting Escape from Monkey Island to the PS2. What were they thinking?! What�s a point-and-click adventure game without the pointing and clicking?!
Anyhow, Sim Ant had quite possibly one of the most basic of premises for the most complex of games. You control the black ants. You want to wipe out the red ants and spread your colony throughout the yard, and then take over the house. Simple enough, right? After a while, though, you can�t help but start to feel as though there�s a more metaphorical struggle going on when you command your ant army against the (possibly Communist?!) red ants; gathering the food before they can, digging and hiding in deep tunnels from the threats raking across the surface, and sending your worker ants out to build walls of pebbles to protect the nest while you breed your battalion of soldier ants. Sometimes you�re left wondering whether you�re playing a nice, friendly stereotypical nature sim or a ruthless, highly technical war strategy game, with your ants representing your pawns and your queens representing your generals. But I digress.
Despite its surface simplicity, the learning curve for Sim Ant is / was extremely steep, made worse by the fact that you pretty much need a 21-inch monitor to even start making inroads into displaying all the menus you need. Back when this game came out and 15� CRTs with lousy resolution were par for the course, it was nigh impossible, so you were forced to endure insane amounts of window opening and closing. Nowadays, on a 17" LCD, you MIGHT have a chance. You had a vertical slice map for your tunnels, a surface map showing your square of territory, panels for controlling colony behaviour and breeding habits, and others displaying their needs; just to name a few. You can roam the back yard area easily enough ignoring the majority of those stats, but if you wanted to progress into the house at any point it was necessary to submerge yourself in charts and triangle graphs in order to survive. In all fairness, it was actually a pretty good GUI design overall... it just needed more screen real estate than what was available at the time.
In short, Sim Ant was pretty challenging. And unintentionally educational, too. Who knew that those tiny six-legged pests were such complex creatures? Once you made it past the high learning curve, this really was an engaging game - the sort that would make you laugh in glee at your resounding victory or cry, swear and shout at your bitter and humiliating defeat. You could spends hours in full-game mode mounting your complex crusade, only to have it all fall apart at the critical moment due to a single oversight - just one area of your colony development you might have neglected. You had to maintain a perfect balance, or your colony would be either overrun or die. Even the placement of your nest on the map could sometimes make or break you. And I swear that those red ants became smarter over time. Should we be ashamed that a game made in 1991 that came on floppy disk appears to have better AI than most modern high-budget efforts?
Most importantly, Sim Ant appealed directly to the God complex. Maybe even more so than the other Sim games, simply because don't we all envision an all-powerful God regarding puny humans as nothing more than insignificant ants? And playing with a tiny creature�s destiny like that is strangely compelling; much in the same way as placing a leaf in the path of a real trail of ants is endlessly amusing to children (and probably most adults). Sadly, though, there were not the same options present as there were in Sim City that allowed you call forth disasters - no button to summon the lawnmower or spider when you were fed up (damn, it was cool when you got together a giant battalion to overpower a spider), though I guess you could always take control of the Queen and march her straight into the red ant's nest for kicks.
Sadly, though, many months of playing Sim Ant in my childhood fails to help me curb the incursion of thousands of ants in my house on a daily basis. It's sort of weird when you turn things around and suddenly YOU'RE the nefarious faceless hand holding the insecticide, and then you start to wonder if perhaps on some higher plane of existence someone is playing the ultimate Sim Ant game, and you're losing?
To fond memories of the golden years of PC gaming! You know, back when PC gaming didn�t require you to be 1337. And did anybody ever finish this game? IS IT EVEN POSSIBLE? Really. I would like to know.
A dude once said that if ants had nuclear weapons the world would be destroyed within a week. This game proves he was right.