Computer Life column for May 8, 1999
I am looking forward to seeing the new Star Wars prequel. But I was not one of the people standing in line to buy Star Wars paraphernalia the nanosecond it was available. Nor have I been downloading trailers for the movie, visiting fan sites, or reading the speculation about what happens in the movie.
In fact, I may not see it until some time in June.
However, I did download a demo version of a computer game called The Gungan Frontier to show my son.
In this demo from Lucas Learning, you are taken on a "training mission" in which you are introduced to the tools that will be available to you in the full version of the game. Then you start a short mission in which you must establish a Gungan colony on the moon of Naboo, because the Gungans' home has become critically over-populated. In order to allow the colonists to make their colony self-sustaining, you deploy Star Wars creatures and plants from across the galaxy and learn how the different plants and animals interact with each other in their new environment.
You also advise the Gungans how much of the new flora and fauna to harvest so that they can build a sustainable underwater city.
The game is aimed at ages nine and up, so, just before bedtime one night this week, I watched my nine-year-old try it.
He quickly tired of the guided tour of the game, and was anxious for his demo mission: building an ecosystem that would support a colony of 2,000 Gungans.
He quickly grasped the game's graphical "Food Web," a device for seeing which creatures ate what plants and other creatures, and began deploying blumbushes, kaadu, bubblespores and other plants and animals.
During his first attempt, he forgot to tell the Gungans how many of the different plants and animals they could harvest, so the colony failed.
On his second attempt, he remembered to advise the colonists how much to harvest, and the colony quickly reached its goal population.
The demo version comes with 10 plant and animal species; the full version will ship with 80. The game's Web site (www.gunganfrontier.com) will include bonus creatures for the full game, and the full version will allow you to engineer additional life-forms.
I liked the soundtrack music; my son ignored it. The graphics are clear and colorful and the controls are easy to understand.
My nine-year-old's review of the demo as he hopped into bed was that the game was OK. "The real game might be better, but I think I like SimTown better," he said, referring to Maxis' adaptation of their popular SimCity software.
My son hit the nail on the head: Lucas Learning's Gungan Frontier is an interesting ecological simulation--in the same class with many of Maxis' products--that is being marketed to ride the wave of interest in the Star Wars series. The underlying principle of the simulation, managing an ecosystem, is clear enough that even third or fourth graders should enjoy this game. The missions included in the full version sound like they would challenge older game players, too.
It's not the best computer game I've ever seen, but Gungan Frontier has a nice combination of problem-solving and "sci-fi appeal" without any shooting, shouting, or fighting.
The full game should be available for Windows and Macintosh systems on May 24, 1999, while the frenzy for tickets for Star Wars is still in a frenzy.
Tip of the week
A Ton of Software
If you are looking for computer programs for Macintosh or Windows systems, one of the best sites to visit is c|net's Download.Com (www.download.com).
This repository of freeware, shareware, and a growing selection of commercial software is particularly well-organized. In addition to descriptions and links for downloading each software package, Dowload.Com also rates the "reliability" of each download site.
Copyright © 1999, The News Journal Company
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Richard Gordon helps support faculty, staff and student computing at the
University of Delaware. E-mail questions, comments or suggestions to
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