Initially released for PC MS-DOS in 1991, Sim Ant (aka SimAnt) is a video game that simulates the life of an ant colony. It’s a game that has fascinated me since I first played it, in the same way that watching a real ant nest – or documentaries about ants – fascinates me.
The game was co-designed by Justin McCormick and Will Wright and has three different play modes: Quick Game, Full Game, and Experimental Game (plus a tutorial mode). The goal is to eliminate a rival red ant colony, while – at the same time – growing your own (black ant) colony and spreading through a suburban yard.
You begin as a queen ant and must dig down into the ground and start laying eggs. The first ant to be born is usually a worker, whose body you inhabit. You can then direct this ant and must start foraging for food and bringing it back to the nest. As you bring in more food, more eggs are laid; they hatch, and your colony increases in size. You can indirectly control the behaviour of the workers via a triangular graph, called Behaviour Control, that allows you to prioritise foraging, digging and nursing. A similar triangular graph, called Caste Control, allows you to prioritise what kind of ants are hatched – either workers, soldiers or breeders.
Survival in the ant world is not easy and there are a variety of hazards to watch out for. Ant Lions, spiders, lawnmowers, enemy ants, floods, and other hazards can kill you or your siblings in an instant. Most of these dangers can be seen ahead of time and avoided, while others are more random (like floods) and can come out of nowhere. The most devastating attack, though, is from a rival colony who’ve sensed your presence. If a competing colony gets ahead of you and has a good number of soldiers they will attack without mercy, so survival is often a numbers game, and an arms race against your rivals. The good news is that if your ant is killed you’ll be reborn as another ant – provided that your queen is still alive. You can also switch between ants to do specific tasks.
An ant colony has a number of useful senses to aid development, like scent maps that can turned on or off, and these can be used to direct your ants to food, or to a rival nest.
The DOS version of Sim Ant is presented at 640×480 (SVGA) resolution and provides the player with a rudimentary WIMP (Windows, Icons, Mouse, and Pull-Down Menus) environment. You can resize windows to suit your preferences, which is neat. Graphically, the game is simple but has some nicely-drawn cut scenes and images. The use of colour is limited, though.
The game is won when the red ants are exterminated from the play field and the human – and his cat and dog – are driven from their yard by the ant infestation.
Sim Ant is an excellent game though a little frustrating at times. You might think you’re doing well one minute, then might lose your queen unexpectedly the next (usually due to underground flooding) and have to start again. But, then, that’s just life in an ant colony…
More: Sim Ant on Wikipedia