PRIVATE LIVES : COMPUTER GAMES : Is 'SimCity' Too Big for You? Pack Up and Move to 'SimTown' : Come this fall, kids (of all ages) will get to see what all the SimFuss has been about.

David Colker is a Times staff writer

Tired of being the only one in the house obsessed with "SimCity," the addictive computer game that allows you to build and lord over a functioning metropolis?

Come this fall, you can get the kids hooked too.

"SimTown," aimed at the 8-to-12-year-old crowd, will be the latest in the popular Sim series that includes "SimAnt" (allows you to build an electronic ant colony), "SimLife" (allows you to play God), the original "SimCity" and its futuristic sequel, "SimCity 2000." These current titles are fairly-to-extremely complicated, and all are time consuming. Long before your "SimCity" starts functioning on the computer screen, for example, you are called upon to work out a zoning scheme, provide utilities and establish the beginnings of a street grid.

Then, when your electronic Sims (simulated citizens) start to move in, you have to give them access to city services, update the infrastructure, build schools, levy taxes, deal with ecological issues, balance the budget and deal with natural disasters. That's entertainment. Judging from a "SimTown" beta (the software world's term for a rough cut), this latest title is not just a cut-down version of "SimCity." It's indeed less cerebral and not as graphically beautiful as the adult game, but "SimTown" does give you more hands-on control over the design of your city and demand far less of a time commitment to make significant progress.

To get "SimTown" going, you simply drag a mouse cursor across the grid depicted on the screen and add some homes. Suddenly, Sims will appear--walking, biking, skateboarding and running, all to the beat of an innocuous tune. Like in "SimCity 2000," you can see characters swarming over the grid, but in "SimTown" you can get close enough to actually see their faces and watch their activities.

The choices you get in houses are varied and fanciful. There's your basic ranch and adobe, but then there is also the Swiss chalet, the futuristic, Tudor, Japanese and Victorian models, not to mention a castle and haunted house.

Put them all together on a street and you get the design sensibility of Las Vegas. But unlike in "SimCity," where the program chooses the houses as neighborhoods grow, you get to determine the look of a street by mixing and matching.

Some of the businesses are high-design fanciful, including a building in the shape of a giant take-out container for a Chinese restaurant, a library made out of stacks of books and a post office decorated with huge package and envelope sculptures.

Eat your heart out, Michael Graves.

You can also choose from various bits of greenery--grass, trees, flower gardens, topiary--to landscape your cityscape. And what would an all-American town be without a bowling alley and movie theater?

The basic idea is to provide adequate services for the population level, which increases with each house or apartment building you erect. If you have too few people to keep the number of businesses healthy, the businesses will start to fail, leaving you with unsightly abandoned buildings. With too many people, the town will get crowded and you'll get shortages of resources.

You also have to choose the right kinds of businesses for your Sims. If you get too many characters wanting pizza and have too few pizza parlors, some of them will pack up and move out.

Disasters can strike suddenly. While carefully laying in a tasteful garden and pond in the vicinity of the zoo, I failed to notice that my Chinese restaurant and city hall had caught on fire and were burning to the ground. There wasn't much I could do, anyway--I had forgotten to put in a fire station. in the town.

Oops. That's a mistake an 8- to 12-year-old wouldn't make.

"SimTown" will be released by its publisher, Maxis, in October or November for Macintosh and Windows CD-ROMs. Retail list price will be $44.95.*

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