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Computer Game Came to Life in Soviet Coup

From Associated Press

The Soviet upheaval has been all too real for designers of the new computer game Crisis in the Kremlin--events they programmed into their game months ago have played out before their eyes on television.

“The game was in the testing mode while the crisis broke out,” Gilman Louie, chief executive of California game maker Sphere Inc., said last week. “We’re looking at the game and watching CNN at the same time. It’s a little bit scary.”

Crisis in the Kremlin, which will not be on store shelves for several weeks, allows computer users to pretend they are the leader of the Soviet Union.

The goal of the $59.95 game, which simulates the effect of various policies on the nation, is to remain in office for 30 years.

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The software even contains a scenario in which the Soviet leader suddenly becomes ill.

“I don’t even want to turn on the news anymore,” Louie said from his company’s headquarters in Alameda.

Though the game’s title is up to the minute, Sphere announced the product in June in a press release that was eerily prescient.

“One player may choose to take on the role of a hard-line Stalinist and impose laws restricting civil rights and freedom of the press,” the news release said. “Another could experiment with anarchy. How would an economy and society react to ultimate freedom?”

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The player, acting as Comrade President, plots a recovery plan for the economy and society. His objective is to turn the nation’s losses into profits and “deter republics from defecting while still maintaining popular appeal.”

The software contains data about the Soviet economy and society and projects the impact of various programs tried out by the player.

Each player selects his political philosophy on a spectrum from “ultra-right” to “ultra-left,” then sets policies and a budget.

As funds are allocated for the policies, the program simulates catastrophes, such as uprisings, food shortages or epidemics.

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The program, to be sold under Sphere’s Spectrum HoloByte brand, gives the players feedback on how they are doing through simulated news reports and inner-office memos on the screen.

About the only change the company has made to the game since the onset of the Soviet crisis is to extend its duration past the time Comrade President is voted out of office.

“From the discussions we’ve been having, people are real interested to see what will happen beyond the immediate crisis,” Louie said.

The real-life crisis also prompted Sphere to push up the release date of the game to October from November.

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