Good movies are made by good directors, not big-name studios (although certainly the studios' deep pockets are necessary to fund ambitious projects). Hence, blockbusters from Disney, Miramax, Universal or any other studio would be nothing without the talented directors and crew behind them. Computer games are no different: great designers, not the companies themselves, are what guarantee a good game. It should come as no surprise to anyone, then, that the combined talents of Sid Meir and Will Wright - arguably two most well-known names in the industry today - would produce something special. That game is Sid Meier's SimGolf, a veritable tour de force that combines Sid Meier's skills in crafting an accessible and challenging strategy game engine with Will Wright's by-now famous digital people from The Sims
(which I actually don't think is a very good game). Sid Meier's SimGolf is essentially a golf course/club simulation that lets you design your own courses, manage the golf club, and even play your own creation. The game automatically calculates the par for every hole you design, and shows you the route golfers will take. As soon as you open your first hole, golfers will begin to appear, and it won't be long before your course is full of flying miniature golf balls and amusing speech bubbles from golfers who talk in the now-legendary "Simese" speech The Sims fans will feel at home with. Similar to other please-the-consumer games like Theme Park
and RollerCoaster Tycoon
, you will have to pay close attention to the happiness of golfers. You must hire enough employees to maintain the course, provide golfers with drinks, and even hurry along those players who take too long on the hole (thereby upsetting other golfers who are waiting to play). The more you expand your course and attract more golfers, more buildings and other options become available. In addition to a wide variety of terrain and trees to plant on the course, you will soon be able to build snack shops, marinas, resort hotels, and even holiday homes you can sell to rich members ("Silver Member" level and above). If your course is really attractive, you will even get a celebrity such as Jennifer Elopes to purchase a house - and watch their amusing antics on your course. Similar to SimCity series of games, you will be awarded landmarks to place on the course once enough celebrities become happy customers. Although designing courses is already a lot of fun, you have a more long-term goal in the game: entice the golf championship board to host a tournament on your course. When that happens, you can use your very own pro golfer to compete for prize money in the tournament. Before you can host a championship, your course needs to conform to various specifications such as length of course, number of certain holes, etc. The number of specifications your course fulfills determines the level of prestige - and hence prize money - of the championship. Each Sim golfer has his or her own name, personality, appearance and dialogue that are fully customizable. As great as the game is, it is the numerous subtle touches from Sid Meier that elevate it from "outstanding" to "must-have." For example, you can make more money by pairing up golfers who share similar personalities (outgoing, playful, etc.). They will start the round happier and pay higher green's fees on the first hole. Golfers that you have paired up are also more likely to have a 'story' (i.e. an ongoing story between them, shown in the speech bubbles) than those automatically paired by the computer. With plenty of nuances and a constant challenge to get the difficulty level "just right" (i.e. neither too difficult as to frustrate golfers, nor too easy as to make them bored), golf on the computer has never been more addictive or interesting. Whether or not you play golf in real life, Sid Meier's SimGolf is a must-have if you enjoy business simulations or strategy games. Two thumbs up, and a venerable induction into our Hall of Belated Fame.