Game Review - by James Allen
Nowadays, you can find a game that simulates pretty much anything on the face of the earth: cities, people, airports, and ski resorts, to name a few. Now you can recreate the college of your dreams with Virtual U, a university simulator. This game was developed in conjunction with a former Stanford University administrator, so this is a serious simulation. It shouldn't seem hard to run a university, at least from the contact with the bright administrators that I've had during my college career. Does Virtual U go for that doctorate, or does it stick in Freshman English?
Virtual U features an astounding number of options and setting to customize your university experience. You can select from ten scenarios, or try out a custom game, where no set goals exist (only available in the Administrator version). For each university, you can name it, customize its logo (to an extent), and select its type: private research, liberal arts, public research, and comprehensive. In the custom game, you can also set which specific departments your college has from a set list.
The scenarios themselves range from increasing faculty salary, improving research performance, reducing tuition, and enrolling more minority students. You are then given an allotted amount of time to achieve your goal. This is not as easy as it looks. Every setting which you change has a trickle-down effect which alters more than just one characteristic, and this makes Virtual U very challenging. With all the customizable features available, the simulations can be played several times to attempt each goal from a slightly different perspective.
The sound is also very basic. There are department-specific sounds, however. The bubbling of liquids in the Chemistry department, frogs in the Biology department, and the sounds of the electric chair in the Law department (just kidding) are all present. The variety of effects when accessing different menus is charming, and goes with the Virtual U flow.
Virtual U is a very comprehensive game. With an accent on micromanagement, Virtual U lets you control every single aspect of running a university. This is a daunting task. Each individual faculty member can be customized as to his or her course load, research responsibilities, and out-of-class student contact. Your hiring and pay raise settings can be set. The student profiles, tuition rate, and on campus housing can be situated. Any aspect of the budget and financial situation can be changed. In short, all the facets of faculty, students, staff, courses, finance, facilities management, alumni affairs, and athletics can be changed and manipulated. Moreover, if you change one setting, there is bound to be repercussions elsewhere. Striking a balance between all of the factors in running a university is hard, and making everyone happy is even more difficult. I cannot begin to tell you how many things can be changed in Virtual U. This translates to there being more than one way to solve a problem. Thankfully, you are reviewed by the Board of Regents annually, and suggestions are made as to how to go about improving your institution. A help system is provided, which gives you just enough information on how to solve a specific shortcoming, without giving away the solution. Most of the problems have more than one solution, and you need to gauge how altering one component will affect the balance in your school. The number of variables, and their influence on other characteristics, makes Virtual U a very tricky and complete simulation indeed.
The graphics in Virtual U are about on par with SimCity 2000. Luckily, graphics are not the focus of this simulation. They just serve to display the data in neat menus and pie charts, nothing more, nothing less. No worries about 3-D acceleration! The neatest feature of the graphics is all the faculty photographs. Where did they find all those people? Although the graphics are clearly not in the same league as other games published today, they do serve their purpose well.
If you ever wanted to know what it was like to run a university, Virtual U is your game. Its attention to detail is overwhelming, and you'll want to replay a scenario several times to see what would happen if you raised the salary in the Agricultural Science department for full professors, rather than raising the level of scholarships available to minority students. Virtual U teaches you that there is more than one way to tackle a dilemma, and each pathway will have very different results. You can spend most of the game trying out several changes, and just seeing what the results are. Virtual U is one of the most all-inclusive simulations available, and a must for the aspiring administrator among us.