Design Your Own Wildlife Park
A Review of SimPark
In SimPark, kids age 8 and up try their hand at being a park ranger. They select a location (climate) for their park, such as "subtropical" or "continental warm," then populate it with all manner of plants and animals. They must learn which species thrive in the environment and which ones work well together, because they must develop a healthy, functioning food web. They also choose whether to encourage humans to visit their park. I started out with a simple park: some trees, a few blueberry bushes, and "human elements" like a hot dog stand, outhouses, and swing sets. After doing little of anything else for a couple of years, I discovered that the blueberry bushes had greatly multiplied and attracted lots of black bears. Needless to say, people weren't coming to my park's playground to expose their kids to dangerous animals! The goal of this simulation is to get promoted through the ranks of park ranger from "Skink" to "Elk." There are no clear, precise qualifications which must be met to be promoted, just general guidelines. For example, make your park as biologically diverse as possible; be able to identify the species of plants and animals in your park, and manage you money wisely. New challenges are always being presented: a fire, an infestation of "kudzu," a harmful plant that takes over other species, or even an alien invasion!
When you're ready for a diversion from managing your park, you can check out some of the game's other features. The Field Guide includes information on many species of trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers, mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians. Each entry in the guide includes the Latin name, a description of the plant or animal, some useful game-playing information, such as where it lives and what it likes to eat. You can also hear the sound (very realistic) that many animals make. In the Identa-Species activity, the object is to identify the species whose picture is displayed. As you answer a series of questions, the list of possible species gets smaller, until you can name it. There is also a "Name That Song" game, in which you identify bird songs. These are fun and educational activities.
Park rangers get e-mail. One message might contain useful information for building your park; another might be a note from your mother wondering when she'll see you again. There is no way to answer messages. Testers found that getting useless e-mail was sometimes just an unnecessary distraction from the simulation. Help is also provided by Rizzo the Frog, who pops up now and then. At times he has something relevant to say, but at other times he just seems distracting. You can turn off Rizzo if you don't want his help (or interruptions). To see how your park is doing, you can check the Park Census, which lists the number of each kind of species you have, and indicates which, if any, are in danger of starvation. You can also create population graphs of various species over a span of from one to a hundred years. The game is very engaging and open-ended, but it takes a bit of effort to learn the ropes. It is important to thoroughly read the "Quick Start Guide" and watch the online tutorial before beginning. There are not a lot of skill levels. Choosing easy, medium, or hard just affects the amount of money you have to start with, and the number of hints you get. You also have the option of turning off disasters, if you don't want to deal with them.
Children who prefer well-defined games with fixed rules and goals might just shrug their shoulders at this game and say, "What are you supposed to do?" Those who like open-ended activities, and who like to try different scenarios, will be fascinated. Anyone can learn a lot about nature and bio-diversity from this game.
School House Scorecard
Windows: 486DX-66MHz or higher CPU; 640x480 256-color display; Microsoft
Ease of Use 3
Learning Value 5
Entertainment Value 4