What I’ve Been Playing: Topia (iOS)

A confession, if you’ll excuse the faux-importance and fetch me a soapbox from the shed. I happen to think Maxis’ finest games were the more obscure ones, especially SimLife and my personal favorite, SimIsle. These were not as popular or necessarily as fun as their big hitters, but they dealt with interesting and quite ambitious scenarios in sustainability and homeostasis. With SimLife, it was the aspect of evolution as a giant experiment, with the parameters and variables of life itself at the player’s discretion. SimIsle was the focus of balance; of man and nature, conservation and development, culture and progress. These high-concept touchstones of gaming are a rare commodity, so the possibility of a resurgence makes my salivary glands earn their keep.

Like an ambitious amoeba in the Primordial morass, up pops Topia World Builder, a new iOS title from Crescent Moon Games. It is one of those experiences you can rest many aspirations upon. This could be huge.

Attached to this particular project is Glenn Corpes, who amongst other projects is one of the creators of Populous. Immediately a pundit with any recollection of the Populous series can spot the similarities. That said, if Corpes’ involvement in Topia World Builder isn’t iron in the glove, I don’t know what is. And you can take that soapbox back now, thank you.

At this stage, Topia World Builder is essentially a solid foundation waiting for updates. The premise is simply to create, form and deform an entire planet using a simple but powerful array of landscaping tools. Throughout, a player can spawn in six initial species of strange animal, be they herbivore or carnivore. We’re not talking just a few, either. You can, if you care to, spawn hundreds of creatures, creating herds as far as the eye can see. Harmless armies of Pino graze the plains and move where the feed remains. Tikes, a curious canine creation, use speed and an insatiable appetite to devour hapless herbivores. Birds, Wykos, Poips and Tapi make up the rest of this menagerie and either strip leaves or strip flesh.

Topia World Builder is not really a game. It lacks goals or challenges, it lacks player direction or sense of progression. Topia World Builder is not Populous or SimIsle or SimLife. Right now, Topia World Builder is nothing more than a gorgeous wad of clay.

You see, I don’t want Topia World Builder to be a game. I don’t want the experiment to be short-changed by gamification or infested by the usual trappings of traditional gameplay. I want Topia World Builder to be a gorgeous pocket petri dish. A tablet terrarium. All the folks at Crescent Moon Games need to do is layer in more options and variables. More species. Weather. Seasonal change. Phenomenon such as volcanoes and asteroids. Migration. Flora cultivation. Genewars-esque genetic tweaking, either in real-time or as initial scenario parameters.

These are but a few of the things I’d love to see Topia World Builder offer with further updates. There is much planned in the pipeline at Crescent Moon Games for this new title, of which I suspect – given Corpes’ heritage – includes what many have been musing upon for this iOS curiosity. It is early days, the veritable Pre-Cambrian era for Topia World Builder, but once we start to see the complexities of life take hold, this will be truly unstoppable.

Topia World Builder is available now as a Universal app on the iTunes store, currently priced at $0.99.

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Our occasional “What I’ve Been Playing” articles provide brief, completely subjective, personal impressions on the subject of titles our contributors have been playing recently and found interesting or worthy of note.

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