Simulation games give players the opportunity to try new things they wouldn't otherwise be able to experience, and cover a hugely diverse range of activities from running theme parks and building cities to driving planes, trains and articulated lorries.
Some of them offer deep and engaging gameplay with exciting tasks to complete, while others choose to recreate activities that are much more humdrum, though this doesn't necessarily make them less interesting to take part in.
We've looked into this genre and picked out 12 simulations that go beyond the mainstream. Have you played any of these, or is there another odd sim that you've whiled away hours on? Let us know in the comments below.
LIFE & DEATH Many readers will be aware of Bossa Studios' Surgeon Simulator 2013, but the concept of becoming a virtual physician was approached more realistically some 25 years ago in Life & Death. Taking on the role of an abdominal surgeon at Toolworks General hospital, players had to diagnose ailments from kidney stones to appendicitis through a combination of stomach prodding, X-ray and ultrasound scans. If you determined that surgery was required then the patient was whisked off to theatre, where you then had to perform the operation in minute detail. Incisions needed to be precise, clamping off bleeds as you went along, and one false move would see your patient flatlining and earn you a trip back to medical school to review what went wrong. The lack of tutorials meant the only way to learn was by making these errors, but it was ultimately satisfying when you managed to successfully take a patient through the process relatively unscathed.
SIMANT Maxis Software is best known for creating The Sims and SimCity series, but in the '90s they also developed a number of other simulation games and SimAnt was by far the most unusual of these. Taking control of an ant within a colony of black ants, the goal was to spread through the garden and house of the suburban setting to force out the neighbouring colony of enemy red ants as well as the human inhabitants from their home. Although you could only control one ant at a time, it was possible to lay down pheromone trails to guide others to sources of food or enemies, and by gathering a group of black ants together you could attack and kill larger foes such as caterpillars and spiders. As well as the enemy colony and other creatures, players also had to avoid hazards such as human footsteps, insect sprays, lawnmowers and the rain if they wanted to amass sufficient numbers to take over the area.
DESERT BUS There are a number of bus driving simulations out there, but this (thankfully unreleased) offering produced in conjunction with comedic magicians Penn & Teller has to be the strangest. With the single objective of driving a bus from Tucson, Arizona to Las Vegas, Nevada, the journey took a full 8 hours in real time and could not be paused. The road was completely straight, there was no traffic to deal with and, apart from the odd sign or rock that appeared at the roadside, very little scenery to enjoy along the way. However, the bus veered slightly to the right, meaning players had to be constantly vigilant in order to stay on course as leaving the road caused a breakdown - at which point they would have to be towed all the way back to Tucson, again in real time! Those who made the long and arduous journey to Las Vegas scored a single point, then were rewarded with the chance to turn around and repeat the whole journey again in the opposite direction, but this time at night.
PRISON TYCOON 4: SUPERMAX At the opposite end of the fun and happiness scale to Theme Park, Prison Tycoon 4: Supermax allowed players to build a brand new penitentiary from scratch, then manage all aspects of its operation as the warden. Although the idea was sound, the game was severely hampered by a complete lack of instructions or tutorials explaining how to actually play it, with the unintuitive and confusing interface making things all the more frustrating. Even if you managed to construct and furnish the correct combination of buildings to open your jail, keeping things running day to day was a struggle as, unsurprisingly, you had no direct control over your prisoners' actions. You could assign them jobs but often they would wander off and do their own thing, and even a beat down from your guards (if you could figure out how to do it) might not set them back on your chosen path. With a raft of stats and figures assigned to icons that were never explained, the experience was one that was best avoided.
DEMOLITION COMPANY We've all known since we were kids that smashing stuff up can be a lot of fun, so it was only logical that eventually someone would build a simulation around this activity. As the owner of an up-and-coming demolition company, players were tasked with bringing down over 30 different structures in various districts of the city to earn money, which could then be invested in new vehicles to unlock bigger and better destruction assignments. Starting out with a trusty jackhammer, you worked your way up to using cranes, excavators, wrecking balls and even explosive charges to flatten whatever stood in your way, while ensuring the structures were still brought down safely. Once the destruction was completed, you could then bring in loaders and clear the site by gathering up the rubble and dumping it in a nearby crusher to be pulverised.
STREET CLEANING SIMULATOR Hopping behind the wheel of a highly detailed street cleaning machine, where every aspect from the individual brushes to the windscreen wipers and indicators could be controlled, your job was to complete tasks for the mayor by driving around the city scrubbing dirt off the roads. Unfortunately your vehicle was incredibly slow, meaning a tedious crawl had to be undertaken to reach each clean up site, and the 'simulation' aspect of the game was nullified as the world it's set in was basically broken. Pedestrians could be seen walking through solid objects or sinking into the ground, AI controlled vehicles freaked out and ploughed through traffic, and gravity seemed to be completely optional at times, meaning the slightest collision could send you hurtling through the air before crashing back down to Earth. Still, at least you could use it to make crazy montage videos.
WOODCUTTER SIMULATION 2013 If Monty Python's "Lumberjack Song" neatly sums up your career aspirations, then Woodcutter Simulation 2013 was the game for you. Promising to be "the most realistic timber mill simulator to date", players controlled the entire process from chopping down the trees to processing the logs and shipping them off to customers. As well as operating various vehicles and machinery, for the first time in the series (yes, there's been more than one of them) you could enter first-person view and walk around the woods hacking down trees with your chainsaw. Once you'd felled enough of the forest it was time to bring in the crane to collect the spoils of your labour, using realistic physics to gather up the lumber before lifting it onto a truck and driving it to your waiting customer.
DIVE TO THE TITANIC Unless you're James Cameron, it's unlikely you've had to opportunity to hop into a submarine and probe the depths of the ocean, but Dive To The Titanic allowed anybody to head 4,000 metres undersea to visit the most famous shipwreck of all time. Once you'd piloted your vessel "Nephron" down to the sunken liner you then sent out a camera robot to explore the ship's interior, completing photo missions and recovering rare treasures to earn funds. This virtual currency could then be spent on new equipment to improve your submersibles, allowing you to dive even deeper and access previously unreachable sections of the Titanic. As this was a simulation, all the while you needed to keep tabs on your battery and oxygen levels as well as the wireless range of your machinery, to ensure you didn't end up stranded at the bottom of the sea.
ROBOT VACUUM SIMULATOR 2013 "How do we improve on Robot Vacuum Simulator 2012?" was the thorny question faced by Norwegian programming duo Stolidus Simulations. The answer, it turned out, was to put it in a 3D engine and add an awesome smooth jazz soundtrack. Taking control of a Roomba-style automated cleaner, players needed to guide it around a virtual apartment and suck up every clod of dirt littering the floor, while navigating around the various furniture obstacles blocking your path. If you were still hungry for more hoovering after the room was cleared and the credits had rolled, there was also a 2 player duel mode where you could battle head to head with a friend for room cleaning supremacy. If you want to experience the tidying action for yourself, the full game can be downloaded for free.
FARMING SIMULATOR 2013 The Farming Simulator series has been around since 2008 and has grown into one of the most popular simulation games available, with the most recent release expanding from home computers to appear on games consoles, handhelds, tablets and mobile phones. Players lived the life of a modern day farmer, growing and harvesting various crops and raising livestock such as chickens, sheep and cows to complete missions and earn money to expand their operations. To help out with these tasks over 100 vehicles and tools were available, including tractors, combine harvesters, bailers and more from over 20 officially licensed brands, and with complete control to arrange your buildings and fields it was easy for any budding agriculturalists to create the farm of their dreams.
CART LIFE Confidence is a preference for the habitual voyeur of what is known as... Cart Life. Although its creator described it as a 'retail simulator', players needed to manage a lot more than the buying and selling of goods to find success for their chosen street vendor. As well as having their own skills and goals, each character also had other needs such as eating and sleeping that needed to be satisfied, and you managed every aspect of their lives while still trying to balance the books. Players selected products, prepared them for sale then set their prices, in addition to choosing the location for their cart - popular sites required a permit, and those who didn't buy one risked receiving a fine. You then had to pay attention to customers when chatting with them to make sure you completed their order quickly and accurately, to secure the best tips and build up your funds. If you fancy trying your hand at running a mobile business, a freeware edition is available to download.
PAPERS, PLEASE Set in the early '80s, players took on the role of an immigration officer working at the border checkpoint of fictional Eastern Bloc country Arstotzka. It was up to you to check the documents of arriving immigrants and decide whether they should be allowed into your glorious country, but as the game progressed this became far more than a simple bureaucratic exercise. Rising tensions between Arstotzka and neighbouring countries lead to more rules and increased paperwork requirements for admission, while also leaving you to deal with forgeries, smugglers and terrorist attacks. Each day you worked against the clock and were only paid for the number of immigrants processed minus any mistakes made, then used your measly government wage to try and cover the cost of food, heating and rent as well as looking after your family. If you want to experience some passport stamping action for yourself, you can download a free beta version of the game.