Virtual empire building

Net Gains
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The Independent Culture
www.simcity3000.com

The long-awaited PC version of Sim City 3000 has been released and an Apple Macintosh version is due in the spring. In the Sim City series, the aim of the game is to create a thriving metropolis, and it has quite rightly been one of the most lauded titles since it was launched about 10 years ago. Although the new game is more impressive than any previous version, it still seems to lack certain features, such as the ability to drive through your city, which always seemed like an obvious addition. However, the official game website has plenty of playing tips, as well as downloads and many player suggestions have made it into the new title.

It's interesting to see how these games have evolved. Each generation clearly aspires to imitate reality more and more closely than before. However, as in any game, in order to "win", you have first of all to work out what was going on in the mind of whoever designed the game in the first place. In every version of Sim City, for example, the trick has always been to keep taxes low and skimp as much as possible on public utilities, which is clearly the classic American model for civic management. To succeed, you need to balance spending against taxation while dealing with a whole host of problems including pollution, crime and natural disasters. It would be fantastic to see a socialist version of the game, which would turn everybody's assumptions on their heads. Then it would only be a matter of waiting until the technology became sophisticated enough to allow us to enter our cities and live in them, at which point real life - like earlier versions of Sim City - would have been superseded.

Free on-line

Enjoy free on-line access while you can. BT's claims that soon 20 per cent of all calls will be people logging onto their Internet providers means that heavy traffic could lead to BT charging providers for the service. This could in turn lead to the quick demise of free Internet access.

Apple Mac users will be particularly hard done by in this case. Despite Freeserve's claims when they launched that a service for Apple users would be forthcoming, it hasn't emerged yet. Apple users are limited to just two suppliers: FreeDotNet (www.thefree.net) and BT's new Click Free (btclickfree.excite.co.uk/btclickfree). FreeDotNet's service is reasonably easy to set up (although you do need the latest system software to run it) and has extensive on-line support, which should allow you to avoid the heavily charged support lines. Many suppliers rely on these lines to offset their costs.

As for the other implications of losing free Internet access, don't forget that if you only need an email address and you have access to a browser, you can still easily set up a free web- based e-mail address. Perhaps the most well-known is Hotmail (www.hotmail.com). Reliable, easy to use and maintain, Hotmail is deal for messages you don't want the work system administrator to be able to access easily.

Banking on it

www.mong.demon.co.uk/ Banks/iain_banks.htm

For all his popularity among science-fiction users and aficionados, Iain Banks, the acclaimed writer, has still - word has it - resolutely refused to go on-line. He says he's "too busy". Although there have been some quite reasonable websites devoted to him and his work, it mostly seems to have been carried out by dedicated fans. The reputable Culture Shock page, which used to be at www.phlebas.com, seems to have vanished altogether. Any sightings of related pages about the author would be gratefully received.

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