Will Wright, Meet the First Sim…

2008 October 26

Some of the Maxis open-ended simulation games (SimCity, SimCity 2000, SimLife, The Sims) have been personal favorites and huge time-evaporators for me, so I thought it appropriate for my first mini-review here to be of an Apple II predecessor of The Sims, Activision’s Little Computer People (aka House on a Disk).

Will Wright has said in a CNN interview that he did play Little Computer People “a long time ago. I’ve since gotten to know several people who were involved with that project, and many of them gave valuable feedback on The Sims…”.  This makes sense, since, although they are very different games, there are some interesting similarities in their core mechanics, and of course, the setting.

Little Computer People presents itself as a research project where you, as researcher, get to observe and interact with one of the, you guessed it, Little Computer People living inside your Apple.  This is reinforced by the instruction manual including a place for you to take notes on the habits of your LCP (I’ll use this abbreviation, which the manual does as well, from here on), the title screen of the game featuring a lab research notebook, etc.

The game’s main setting is a a cutaway view of a 3-story house. In this house lives your LCP and his pet dog. As you watch, your LCP will putter about his little domain, performing various everyday tasks and enjoying ocassional diversions.  These activities include making dinner, reading the newspaper, washing up, talking on the phone, feeding the dog, listening to music, etc.  Like a Maxis Sim, the LCP will autonomously move about the house and perform activities on their own, but also, like a Maxis Sim, the LCP may not take the best care of themselves — you may end up needing to remind him to drink water, eat, etc.

This is where the interaction comes in – you can type commands to your LCP, such as PLEASE DRINK WATER, PLEASE FEED THE DOG – they appear at the top of the screen and on pressing return, you LCP will usually oblige your request (it also apparently improves their mood of you THANK him after he does so!).  It might be different on the other versions of LCP, but on the Apple there seems to be some weirdness with when you can and can’t type in commands – sometimes you type, but your input does not appear in the ‘text’ area up top.  This doesn’t happen enough to be truly annoying, however.

You can play games with LCP – anagrams and a couple of card games – which will boost his mood, and one particularly amusing form of interaction is the LCP sitting down at the typewriter and writing a letter — the letter will be addressed to you and will highlight the ways the LCP is currently pleased or annoyed.  In addition, you can refill the LCP’s water cooler, deliver human and dog food to the door, and “pet” the LCP (a little mechanical hand extends beside the lounge chair, which will pet the LCP once he sits in the chair).

Little Computer Person about to write a letter

Little Computer Person about to type a letter

I was going to try to make a little video of some of the gameplay, but I discovered someone else has saved me the trouble!  Thank you, bluecolor3k (note the sound effects are not so annoying when playing LCP on an actual Apple II):

>> Watch Little Computer People gameplay on YouTube

So how is it as a game (or as a simulation/toy)? The graphics are very charming, and the actions of the LCP amusing, and it’s certainly a very innovative game design.  I’d imagine that after seeing everything the LCP does many time, it would start to get old (this was a problem with the Sims for me as well – at least until I started downloading and mixing-and-matching all the crazy custom content that users made for the game).  However, there is one thing in particular that’s keeping me playing currently – Luther’s mood.

Different LCP (there’s only one per disk) have different ‘digital DNA’ – meaning they have different likes and dislikes.  My LCP’s DNA must have strong sequences of EMO. See this page from the instruction booklet:

Little Computer Person moods

Little Computer Person moods

And see my LCP, Lucas, close up:

Lucas the Sad

Lucas the Sad

He always has that expression.  I give him water, food, pet him, play games with him and he still keeps his frown.  I bought my copy used, and the ‘researcher name’ that shows on the title screen is ‘Francisco Quesada’, and maybe Francisco was a very abusive LCP owner, leaving me with tons of LCP bad blood to undue.

Little Computer Person Abuser?

Little Computer Person Abuser?

Regardless, I’m determined to make that sour bastard Lucas happy.

Little Computer People manual

Little Computer People manual

4 Comments leave one →
2008 October 27
Marcus permalink

> Regardless, I’m determined to make that sour bastard Lucas happy.

LCP – or how I called it: The first Tamagotchi.

;-)

2008 October 27

I hate this game so so much.

Bring on Elevator Action!

2008 November 4

My LCP used to be sad a lot too. But I was a kid that was demanding and impatient with my LCP. :-) I’m wondering.. Doesn’t that program keep track of time? He may be upset if so much time passed with no attention.

2008 November 4

Joshua – I’ve wondered that! I entered 2008 as the year for my sessions, which the program Y2K-buggish-ly translates as 1908 — and if the program’s actually comparing that year to the last time the previous owner played the game – well that would be decades of neglect! I’ll try a late 80′s year next time, to see if that makes a difference. ;)

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