One of Maxis' "sim" series games from 1995, released for DOS and Windows 95, although their involvement was only as a publisher. The developers were a company called Intelligent Games and it was merely branded "sim" on publication.

It's also possibly one of the most morally dubious games I ever played . In it, you are the head of a subsidiary of a multinational corporation, named the Porpoise PanGlobal Corporation, and you are presented with a virgin, untouched tropical island somewhere in South East Asia (ecologically it is based on Malaya according to the manual), inhabited by grass-skirted natives who have contact with outsiders once in a century or something like that. You have a bank account, full of ECUs, or Ecological Currency Units, and a number of agents who have different skills like Construction, Exploration, Flora & Forestry, Industrial, Negotiation, Employment, and similar. You can either play with pre-set objectives, or just play free-form.

Are you seeing where this is going yet?

So okay, if you fancy, or if you're a hippie, you can leave it as is, allowing limited numbers of sustainable eco-tourists to the island and exploring the jungle and discovering rare and endangered species and putting them in game preserves so that they don't die out, and setting up nice, wholesome co-operatives with the natives to export organic fairtrade produce. Sounds all nice, right?

Trouble is, if you do this, unless you're very skilled, or very very lucky, you'll probably go bankrupt. So on your next attempt, you'll build beach hotels and vulgar amusement parks, and open the natives' sacred burial caves to the tramping of endless tourists, and cut down the pristine jungle habitats of the monkey faced disco hawk or whatever rare animal you would have discovered to export as hardwood tables and/or to build big heavy industrial plants, and mine for coal (of which there is an inexhaustible supply conveniently under the darkest, lushest rainforest) to fuel coal-fired power plants to keep the lights on in the city that's just gone up to house all the folks who work in these heavy industrial concerns. And as you do this the soundtrack changes, slowly, but inexorably, from this light, tinkly new age stuff with whalesong and forest noises and bird calls to this furious, grinding industrial metal, and then the fun really starts.

So now you're making money hand over fist and exporting "Cheap Cars" and "Quality Cars" and "Heavy Machinery" and "Inexpensive Manufactured Goods" to all corners of the globe. Your cities have five-figure populations, all mod cons (though the in-game manual, the Sim Notebook, helpfully explains that this is by Third World standards so it's probably only just about shanty-town level for the most part) and the tourists are spending their hard-earned cash to sun themselves on the pristine white sand of Sunaffa Beach and spend their money at the tacky casino hotels you've put up alongside (and which is conveniently shielded, thanks to the Fukuashol Mountains, from sight of the smog-bathed shit-tip that is the other side of the island where you make SERIOUS money), and tromp through the burial caves of the natives and ruined cities of a long lost civilisation. But then, disaster strikes! Firstly, the SimFax tells you that you've just sucked the last oil fron under the sea bed and you're going to have to start importing it (at significant expense) from foreign parts. Then some unscrupulous industrial conglomerate - well, some other one - decides to sneak an alert posture and send a ship full of toxic waste to let rip all over your highly paying bathing beauties, and you have to bribe it to go away. Then the natives turn to growing opium for a foreign cartel because they're sick of seeing their sons and daughters press-ganged into working their fingers to the bone in your logging camps and coal mines and steel mills, and besides, the boys from Bolivia pay better. But not to worry, you agree to turn a blind eye in exchange for a cut (seriously, this is actually in the game. And you thought Dope Wars was worrisome, didn't you, concerned parents?) But then an inquisitive reporter finds out about your dirty money and sprays it across the world's press, causing your business partners to think twice before dealing with you - they're Responsible People, after all! - and, on the same day, a tanker full of imported oil goes Valdez on you. Disaster! It's all over the island - literally! Nobody wants to come to a beach that's grey and sticky, so the tourists pack their bags and go home. The drug-pushers are annoyed that you let your little deal slip so they kidnap Agent John Barker (the only one on your payroll with the "Criminal Contacts" skill) and return him to you "in a series of packing crates". And to top it all off, the huge quantities of carbon dioxide you're belching out have just killed off the last breeding pairs of rare animals in your game preserve (which not only hurts your reputation both with the environmentalists, but also lowers your tourist pulling power). But hey, at least you made... how many millions of ECU? Well, it was good while it lasted. Or was it? That's for you to decide.

Like I said, SimIsle is one of the more morally dubious games in my collection. It's also one of the most amusing as well, due to the unnecessary little details it goes into. It has brief biographies of the agents you employ, which make your division of Porpoise PanGlobal look like the French Foreign Legion of the industrial world. Cases in point - one Agent Morven Sloan, a Scottish woman architect, came to work for you after she hospitalised two labourers in her pay who said that a woman shouldn't be in the building trade. Another, one Agent John Barker, has just come out of prison for industrial espionage. Another, Agent Matt Stibbe, is described as having lived among the natives for 25 years before deciding to cash in on his expertise (in his own words). Then there's the descriptions of the things you can build and/or discover, which all look very impressive in their photos and icons but whose descriptions make them sound a bit, well, iffy, especially the tourist traps (eight-inch beetles in one's bed are mentioned.)

There are also 24 pre-set islands you can also choose from, in which you have a given objective and a time limit to do it in. These can range from building a city with 25,000 population in four years, clearing 75% of the trees off the island in five years, or becoming the pre-eminent industrial power in the region within 50 years. There's also some scenarios of a less exploitative bent, one requires you to turn a heavily polluted shit tip into a land fit for endangered species to live in (surprisingly, this is one of the easier scenarios because you just have to sell everything ugly off and resort to enough tourism and sustainable logging just to keep ticking over).

Yep, that's SimIsle. Morally dubious but enormous fun and a real life-suck. Incidentally, as regards getting it running on modern computers, I managed to get the Windows version running on my old laptop (which was with Windows XP) but for Windows Vista or Windows 7 users, you may have to resort to DosBox.

Right, must dash, I've just opened a giant new amusement park and it's attracting more tourists than can land on my rammed-earth airstrip. See you later!

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