Picks and Pans Main: Bytes
In the beginning there was SimCity. Introduced in 1989, that addictive, intricate computer game challenged players to build a metropolis from scratch. Players chose the twist of every road, the balance of parks and strip malls, whether to add an airport or a football stadium—and, as mayor, watched their approval ratings sink if traffic snarled or crime rates soared. Along with its 1993 CD-ROM update, SimCity 2000, the game sold 5 million copies and launched a SimEmpire of spinoff games (a Sim skyscraper, a Sim farm, even a Sim ant colony) for publisher Maxis. Now it's time for Sim synergy. In the new SimCopter, you can pilot an urban rescue chopper around your already-built SimCity 2000 burg. Explains SimCity creator Will Wright: "You're dealing with the problems the stupid mayor caused—which was you, of course." There are no choppers allowed in the other new titles—SimPark, SimGolf and Sim-Tunes—but the upcoming Streets of SimCity will let you build custom cars to race on your old road system. SimCity 3000 is due this fall. Could SimUniverse be next?
A collection of watery Web sites has given new meaning to the phrase "surfing the Net." Now beach freaks and cubicle geeks alike can catch a wave at dozens of sites devoted to real-world surfing. Via live or periodically updated photos of the world's top surf spots, enthusiasts can check their favorite beach or hang a virtual 10 at Hawaii's Banzai Pipeline.
Every morning, Surf Check (surfcheck.com), an extensive surf site based in Huntington Beach, Calif., dispatches a paid camera corps to snap the sets at 60-plus beaches in California, Hawaii and Costa Rica. "I surf every single day, and my friends used to call me every morning and ask, 'How was the surf? Where should I go?' " says financial software developer Ted Deits, who started the site last April to satisfy those friends but now charges 6,000 subscribers $5.95 a month for full access to daily photos.
Some purists, however, protest that such popular sites erode surfing's beachboy ethos. "I've got friends who work as carpenters and gardeners so they can live by the ocean and be there when the surf is good," says longtime Santa Cruz, Calif., surfer Mike Courtney. "Now all you have to do is click a mouse."