Hugh John relishes saving London from becoming a blazing inferno as well as stopping mob rule in Moscow with the help of Sim City 3000.
An 18-month partnership between Electronic Arts (EA), the world's largest interactive gaming software developer and a college in Kent has resulted in the "localisation" of its most popular strategy and building game. EA and the Kent Institute for Art and Design (KIAD) have collaborated on the new UK version of Sim City 3000 and with such success that the games company hopes to play a constructive role in future programmes at the institute.
The project originated from a design study at KIAD, with the college contributing 30 buildings intended to reflect the diversity of British architecture. Ed Fuller, a research student at the institute, is mainly responsible for the new Sim City structures, which include a Tudor-style cottage, a Sixties tower block and the Dog and Bone public house (a dead ringer, incidentally, for a tavern of ill repute on the Old Kent Road).
Fuller believes the developing relationship between EA and KIAD will "provide students with the necessary skills and knowledge for them to break into the rapidly growing gaming industry".
KIAD hopes a new post-graduate course, launched in October, will make a significant contribution to the future of gaming software. The 15-week intensive programme offers 10 students the opportunity to test and develop their creative ability in a specially designed interactive studio.
Sim City 3000 is a welcome antiote to the hand-twitching, adrenalin-pumping, shoot-'em-ups that dominate the games market. The aim is to provide a harmonious environment for the inhabitants (Sims) of your city.
Using a finite set of resources - utilities, terrain, civic finance, transport, education - you have to balance aspirations for urban growth with the needs of Sims. So you're aiming for low crime, good education and a health service that works - even in winter.
Sounds too good to be true? It is. The program notes exhort you to, "get creative and unlock that shady Machiavellian side". Put your landfill sites and nuclear reactors in the wrong place and you've got a civil uprising on your hands, for example. If you're feeling particularly malevolent and dystopian, you can visit the city with a plague of locusts, toxic clouds or - my favourite - space junk.
Users can also introduce scenarios, timed and difficulty-graded challenges that include Fall of the Wall ("unify East and West Berlin") and Liven up Liverpool ("rejuvenate the docks and bring prosperity to the city").
If you have a spare activities slot on a wet afternoon and are looking for a creative game that is engaging and has educational merit, Sim City 3000 could be just the job. The program's designers have even included two lesson-length scenarios: Criminalville, "Save Moscow from mob rule in 30 minutes", and London Fires, "Prevent London from becoming a blazing inferno in 45 minutes".
Sim City 3000 (UK edition) Price: pound;35