Star Trek

The best way to describe this highly rated (both at the time and today) Amiga game by German Star Trek aficionado Tobias Richter is “Elite with a Star Trek skin”. This is a freeware public domain game released for the Amiga around mid-late 1989. The programmer, TJ Richter, was already highly regarded for making Star Trek related demos and animations when this game was released. He has since gone on to become a well regarded CGI artist and has done much work in the Trek universe.

The game itself is a pure openworld (universe) sandbox affair. You are placed in the role of Captain James T Kirk aboard the original NCC-1701 USS Enterprise. As you fly around the galaxy Starfleet HQ will check in and present you with missions to complete. Very elite like. Go here, pick up that, delivery it there. Along the way you’ll pretty randomly bump into other starships, enemies (both Klingon and Romulan), and other hazards like meteor storms and magnetic clouds.

The game is played via a GUI representation of the original enterprise bridge with you in the captains chair. You lease with AI in the various tradition bridge crew roles to manage your ship and complete your missions. Get the missions from the Comms officer, Tell the Navigator to fly to location, Instruct the Helmsmen in removing impeding obsticles, etc.

Given its source material, when it was released, its freeware nature, and sandbox experience it is a really good quality, polished experience that comes highly recommended to any Amiga and/or Star Trek fans. And certainly this was the view of popular publications of the time.

However the lens of history is a little more critical. Alas missions from Starfleet HQ come thick and fast with little breath taken to engage in one task before another three are queued up. Random encounters happen a little too often. Most annoying being fellow UFP starships just there for a fly by that is cool once but distracting for the fifth time en route to location 1. Likewise helms controls can be a bit finicky needing you to click on three different screen locations to fire off one shot to an encroaching asteroid of Romulan cruiser.

Still for small blasts the subject matter, sandbox, and presentational polish all shine through enough to make this a recommended Amiga experience.

4/5

Railroad Tycoon II

I love this game! It’s that open-ended sandbox experience offered up by the likes of SimCity and Civilization. It’s a chance to let out your inner Pete Waterman. Not all of us as the time, money and space to layout a Hornby set in our homes. Railroad Tycoon lets you live this fantasy electronically. The core fun comes from that same laying out of your own tracks and watching passenger carrying locos steam along them.

Like many of these style of games there is the option to delve in to the sandbox as deep as you want. At it’s heart it is really a business management sim like Rockstar Ate My Hamster or Theme Hospital but it’s a testament to the game design that you can delve in and out of this aspect much or little as you want. For me I was just interested in enough money to lay more track to transport more passengers. The deeper scenarios of hauling specific products between destinations and keeping an eye on competitors and stock market positions being more than I can handle.

The game does have one or two minor annoyances but again tis a testament that none of these, either individually or combined, are enough to take dull the core gameplay loop of laying track and watching trains travel between cities.

The initial menu UI is a little confused. The difference between Scenario and Campaign not being overly clear at first. Scenario being more the sandbox experience and Campaign the more mission target level design. That said true Sandbox is an extra tick box away as each of the Scenario’s, maps, have their own start date and game ending requirements.

There’s also a pretty mean challenge jump. After the first couple of Campaigns the game pushes you you juggle more factors with each level. Likewise moving up from Easy in Scenario mode quickly pushes the aggression of any computer controlled players and asks you to manage the cargo runs more closely. For me this is a game that just cries out for the player to experiment around the wide breadth of wordwide maps in Easy Scenario mode.

5/5

SimCity

Every now and then a game comes along that does things a bit differently. Throws out the rule book and and takes a bit of a risk given the player a new gaming experience. SimCity is one of those games.

SimCity isn’t a game with a definite goal. It does tell you what you should do. There’s no right or wrong way to play. There’d been management sims before and games like Elite but this is the first real sandbox experience. Here’s the tools you need, get on with it.

You are provided with a birds eye view of some undeveloped landscape. As the resident town planning department for the newly formed city council it’s up to you to provide zoning rights for A.I. builders to develop in to a living, breathing metropolis. Where do you want the road network? How is the light rail (think DLR/Trams) connected? Power stations? Sport stadiums? Shopping precincts? Factories? Housing? It’s up to you to lay all this out how you feel.

There are a couple of head nods to traditional video gaming – IF you want to engage with them. Each year there’s a budget where you raise money through taxation to finance your ongoing building projects. You set the tax level and how much you fund the various city running costs. The other gamification is disasters. As your city grows you may have shipwrecks, plane crashes, tornados, etc, that seek to destroy parts of your hard labour and challenge you in to fixing the damage caused.

However both gaming mechanics can (for the most part) be safely ignored if, like me, you prefer concentrating on the basic no restrictions sandbox of city planning. There are a couple of simple cheats that reduces budgeting to an annual tax fiddle. As for disasters, on later versions of the game they can be permanently disabled in the main menu.

SimCity isn’t a perfect game. But it does come close. It is a very strong first outing paving the way for more complex future city building sims. The choices and variety of zoning types are a little limited. Later games will give you things like water supplies, zoning densities, etc. Likewise the annual budgeting (if you do want to engage properly with it) is very limited with just a single income tax and percentage funding for three city departments.

Despite it’s of the time low resolutions and limiting building options, the first SimCity remains a surprisingly fun and engaging game play today loosing none of its original charm.

4/5