If there ever was a game that you weren’t really sure if you were playing a game or using an educational tool…but you didn’t care because it was so much fun, SimCity: The City Simulator was it. Published by Maxis Software in 1989, SimCity was written by a young Will Wright (he of the incredibly addictive The Sims fame), and would go down as one of the most influential and popular games in gaming history.
In SimCity, players had to construct an entire metropolis starting from nothing but a bulldozer and random terrain. Along the way to full city status sims begin to populate your city and make demands. They may need more housing or shopping centers; perhaps crime is rampant and a police station is needed; maybe frequent brown outs are creating a demand for a new power station; perhaps your sims are bored and want a stadium…and so on. Meanwhile, the city needed just the right level of taxes to encourage growth, yet still pay for all those fire and police stations. Random emergencies could wreak havoc on your city, with tornadoes devastated entire zones, earthquakes leveling buildings, airplanes crashing and resulting fires requiring immediate response. If you guided your city with a steady hand, your tax coffers filled up and your sims considered you Simsville’s best Mayor ever. If you failed to keep on top of the ever-changing developments within your city you could find yourself in the ranks of the unemployed.
Although the core of the game was designed for open-ended gameplay, the game also included scenarios which revolved around achieving a specific goal within a certain time period. These were based on both past situations as well as possible futures that urban planners had already had to solve or were in the process of planning for. The past scenarios included dealing with crime-ridden and an economically-depressed Detroit in 1972; a post-earthquake San Francisco in 1906, and rebuilding Hamburg at the end of World War II (this one was only in the IBM PC, Amgia, and Atari ST version). Future scenarios included Boston suffering a nuclear plant meltdown and Rio de Janeiro flooding from global warming. There was even a fantastic scenario based upon the classic Godzilla movies, wherein the player had to rebuild Tokyo after an attack from the King of the Monsters. Further scenarios were released in the SimCity Graphic Set 1: Ancient Cities and SimCity Graphic Set 2: Future Cities.
The path to SimCity’s initial release wasn’t an easy one. Originally titled “Micropolis,” Will Wright, its creator, developed it for the Commodore 64, a platform he had previous success in with the now-classic, Raid on Bungling Bay. By 1985 the game was ready to go, but he couldn’t find a dance partner willing to publish it, as the powers-that-be struggled with its open path gameplay and lack of winners versus losers. He believed in the potential of what he had coded, so he partnered with Jeff Braun (a successful publisher of font packs for the Commodore Amiga) and founded Maxis Software in 1987, and sought the rights to publish his game with his own company. After two more years of code changes and legal wrangling (which included cementing Broderbund Software as Maxis Software’s distribution agent), SimCity was brought before the gaming public.
Interestingly, although Will Wright had originally coded Micropolis for the C64, the first platforms SimCity was released on were the Apple Macintosh and the Commodore Amiga, followed by IBM PC (MS-DOS) and then the Commodore 64. EventuallySimCity: The City Simulator would be ported to the Atari ST, ZX Spectrum, Commodore Amiga CDTV, Amstrad CPC, and even the Super Nintendo. The game was, of course, a smash hit, and garnered several gaming awards, including: Best Computer Strategy Game (Video Games & Computer Entertainment), Game of the Year (Computer Gaming World), Best Consumer Program (Software Publisher’s Association), and many, many more. Its legacy is also well-recognized, earning a top ten position on the still-respected Computer Gaming World’s 150 Game of All Timelist.
The legacy of SimCity is more than just accolades, as its incredible success motivated Maxis Software to publish many variations on the theme: SimAnt, SimIsle,SimCopter, SimLife, SimFarm, SimEarth, Streets of SimCity, SimTown, and SimSafari. Maxis even picked up the publishing rights for two similar Japanese games, A-Trainand Yoot Tower (which was renamed SimTower to take advantage of the sim-craze). SimCity also spawned several sequels and remakes, including SimCity Classic(updated for Windows), SimCity Enhanced CD-ROM (which added FMV to the SimCity experience), SimCity 2000, SimCity 3000, SimCity 4, and SimCity Societies. And, of course, there is a direct link between Will Wright’s SimCity: The City Simulator and his epic seller, The Sims (and all its subsequent sequels and expansion packs). Clearly,SimCity had a huge impact on the gaming universe.
Sadly, Maxis Software did not last as an independent company. Although Maxis had been partnered with Broderbund since its inception, by 1995 they hired their own sales team and launched their IPO, taking Maxis public for the first time. Unfortunately, the buzz from SimCity 2000‘s success had long worn off, and the pressure to fulfill the stock analysts’ projections took its toll on the company. Wright and the other designers were pressured to abide by a strict deadline in 1996, with Maxis’ management team demanding all four games in development by released. The designers complied, but the games they published that year did not catch the gamerverse on fire (I’m looking at YOU, SimCopter), and the share price of the new company which had such an incredible history slide precipitously. In 1997, Electronic Arts made $120 million stock offer that they couldn’t refuse, making Will Wright and Jeff Braun very wealthy young men. For his part, Braun became the biggest shareholder of Electronic Arts, and gave him the ability to invest in a variety of technology companies. As for Will Wright, the money afforded him the time to do what he most loved – and did best – in developing new games. Thanks, Electronic Arts!
If you’ve never played SimCity: The City Simulator, you’ve missed out on an integral piece of gaming history. For a retro gamer, it’s still as fun as it always was, which is a sign of just how well it was crafted by Will Wright. Between great gameplay and a long-lasting legacy, SimCity deserves to be on anyone’s best games of all time list. Pick up a copy and see for yourself!
Magisterrex has been gaming since the days of Pong and still owns a working Atari 2600. He tends to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games. If you’re into classic old school gaming check out his blog here