Friday, June 29, 2007

Virtual Villagers

Computers now are 'loaded' with demo versions of a number of games. HP apparently has an agreement with 'Wild Games' to promote their games. There are two ways to continue playing any game after the 'free trial' has run its course. You either can purchase the game or purchase virtual 'coins' to feed into a virtual machine. Some games do not require more than a trial to play the game properly. Others are extremely frustrating to play in the trial mode, especially if they are RPG or simulation role-playing games.

'Virtual Villages' is a simulation role-playing game, on the order of games like Harvest Moon and Lost in Blue. It actually was produced by a company named 'Last Day of Work'. The difference here is that 'Virtual Villagers' continues even if you are not there to supervise the actions of the characters. As it is a PC game rather than one for a handheld system or console, this essentially should allow an individual to work at other tasks while 'looking in' on the game from time to time.
I believe there is a 'virtual aquarium' game that is rather similar. I find it an intriguing concept.

The trial period continues as long as you do not quit the game. I thought I was very clever to leave the game running all night. My villagers would do research, amassing vast numbers of 'tech points' to improve their lives. They were working on a project to unblock a river as well. I rather fancied I would sleep through the boring labour and awaken to a bright, new world.

Sad to say, I awakened to a rather grim scene. One begins the game with two adult females, three adult males and one child who is five years old. The game had prompted me almost immediately to begin 'breeding' the villagers, so I had one female with a baby in her arms when I went to sleep. For two years after the birth of a child, a woman will do nothing but care for the child...

The mother and child survived, but barely. The other female had died, with the three adult males. Apparently, by some strange time movement, the child had become a young man. Needless to say, all the trained scientists and doctors were among the decomposing remains. Yes, the skeletons remain on the ground, awaiting further advancement of this civilisation.

In the midst of these grim memento mori, the mother continued to nurse her baby, although her strengh had been reduced almost to zero. The young male of 21 had retained only an eighth of his strength.

With all the 'tech points' amassed before their untimely death, I was able to purchase the knowledge necessary to begin to grow crops. I set the man to the task immediately, as the mother and child duo were useless.

I did not know if she would die before the child became self-sufficient or not. Amazingly, she survived and the child became a toddler. This allowed me to put her on farming detail with the male.

Unfortunately for the future prospects of this civilsation, her child was a male, and the mother now had reached the age of 38.

I had to work fast if I wanted the village of Isola to survive. First, I had to build up their strength a little. I force-fed them, then forced them to embrace and begin the difficult task of 'breeding' once more.

What a frustrating business that proved to be! They usually were too hungry to express any interest in the process. I would force-fed them, then force them again to embrace, ignoring all opposition and reluctance on their part. My only female now was 39. I was uncertain of the maximum age at which a woman would be allowed to have a child in this game, but it could not be far in the future...

At last, I succeeded. The poor woman, who was able to recover only an eighth of her former strength and energy before she became pregnant again, now has another baby in her arms. Gender is undisclosed until the woman has nursed the child for 120 minutes. I await the results anxiously. If the child is another male, I might as well face the horrible knowledge that this civilisation is doomed...

The game is more like 'The Sims' than Harvest Moon in the sense that characters often will resist your commands. They are quite stubborn and foolish sometimes and will refuse to forage even when there is no food in the storage area. There is no dialogue, but there are random events that occur, giving you the option of making a choice between two possible actions.

There are puzzles to solve. Some of these involve removal of rubbish or stones from various points in the village. Others provide clues as to the history of the village.

Oddly enough, the game is quite compelling in its way. It reminds me of 'Age of Empires', but without the threat of war. The fact that life continues even when you are not playing the game actively makes it rather like the games that create 'virtual pets' and allow you to care for them and improve their lives. I suppose 'virtual Villagers' is rather like an ant farm of homo sapiens.

If the child of my 39 year old woman turns out to be a male, I may lose my enthusiasm for this game. If it is a girl, however, I shall be overjoyed. You have no idea how awful it was to awaken to the sight of all those corpses, when I had expected only great advancement in knowledge and prosperity... To be able to 'turn it round' and create hope from despair would be very satisfying.

I do believe only a fool would use the 'virtual coins' option to continue playing a game like this after the trial period. If my little tribe survives, I am going to want to find the full version somewhere...

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