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SimEarth equivalent?

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Hello there.

As pet project I've started making an "antfarm" kind of game. Quite simple really, creatures roaming a map autonomously and besides basic interaction with the map there is no real gameplay, except watching.

So far it's made in Java from scratch and consists of very basic 2D tile graphics, but I would like to make it slightly more sophisticated graphics-wise. Doesn't need to be crysis but I would be very happy with graphics that are similar to the first Age of Empires or Populous (the 3D game).

Now all my programming knowledge lies in object oriented and business related programming and I don't know anything about gaming programming, so I was wondering if someone could point me in a good direction of which engine I could look at (I currently love to have all the freedom of no restrictions, although the restriction lies that even simple additions requires a lot of time to implement)

I have no intention to currently release it of some kind as it really is a personal attempt at making my own sim-earth kind of game.

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There are 2 things to consider here.  Is it a matter of you upgrading your art skills?  Or do you need to change your game engine?

In many cases, to get things looking better, all you need is better art.  Lots of those older games could have been made with basic crap programmer art, and then got real artists to make better graphics, with little to no code changes(not saying it is the case, I don't know).

On the other hand, if you are using a sprite based engine(either your own or something else), and you are wanting something in 3d, then you will need to either code that, or use a 3d engine(Unity is the most common recommendation from what I've seen).  Of course, if you are wanting 2d sprites that just look 3d, then you just change the way you make the art, and see the above paragraph.

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