Balance of the Planet. (evaluation)
by Richard O. Mann
As a game, Chris Crawford's Balance of the Planet is no great shakes. As a challenging intellectual puzzle, it's quite effective. As an intriguing educational experience, it's unmatched. If managing and understanding the delicate balance of the ecological and economic forces that hold our beloved mother earth together appeals to you, you're in for hours of fascination.
As the United Nations High Commissioner of the Environment, your job is to set global policies. You control ten taxes and 12 ways to use government funds. Change the policies to match your theories, tell the computer to advance five years to evaluate the consequences of your policies, and display the results. You get nine five-year cycles to save the world.
Sounds simple, but lurking beneath that simple surface is a massive set of awesomely complex interrelationships. Take, for example, the wood stove subsidy. You can subsidize poor people's wood stove purchases, thereby increasing the number of wood stoves. As you scan through the screens of this game, jumping from related topic to cause to effect, you find that increased use of wood stoves in third-world countries decreases the use of wood as fuel. Why? Most fuel wood is now used in open fires, which burn far more wood than stoves. Shifting to the more fuel-efficient wood stoves leaves more forests standing, which helps retard desertification and forest clearing. Forest clearing affects the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, which is involved in the greenhouse effect and the global warming trend. Desertification increases soil erosion and reduces food supplies by destroying usable farmland, leading to starvation, and on and on. Clearly, wood stoves can make a difference. And that's just wood stoves. Imagine the ripple effects of tampering with oil supplies and natural gas.
Perhaps because it started on a Macintosh, the game is primarily black-and-white with only CGA-quality graphics, even on a VGA monitor. Color serves only as a background for selected screens. No effort has been made to exploit modern computer graphics.
Don't come to Balance of the Planet for an escapist adventure. Come to it for thoughtful consideration of the ultimate puzzle you share with world leaders. And be glad that when your people starve and die of skin cancer as a result of your decisions, it's not permanent. Just start over, try a different mix of policies, and hope to keep more of us alive for a little longer.
RICHARD O. MANN
Educational Value *****
IBM PC and compatibles; 512K; DOS 2.1 or higher; CGA, EGA, or VGA; hard disk required; mouse optional--$49.95
CHRIS CRAWFORD GAMES Distributed by Accolade 550 S. Winchester Blvd. Suite 200 San Jose, CA 95128 (800) 245-7744 (408) 985-1700 (in California)