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  • When highlighting software that contributed the most towards me becoming the person I

  • am now, there’s one title that might top the list.

  • SimCity: The City Simulator, developed by Maxis and published by Broderbund Software

  • on the second of February, 1989.

  • SimCity is an undisputed classic that had an immediate impact on the simulation genre

  • and the millions that played with it, myself obviously included.

  • More specifically, the one I first owned was SimCity Classic from 1993.

  • It was the first boxed retail game I ever received, my first taste of proper computer

  • software that wasn’t just a bite-sized shareware release or something that came packed in with

  • our Packard Bell 486.

  • And it thoroughly blew my seven year old mind.

  • Gazing into that little 13” VGA monitor and seeing the simulation take place in real

  • time was like an epiphany.

  • Here was an entire virtual world that let me play god, effectively.

  • More than anything else I had played to date, SimCity Classic provided an intoxicating sense

  • of control, paired with an unending urge to experiment with each feature to see what happens.

  • SimCity induced a mindset I’d never experienced before, a way of thinking that, through exploring

  • its symbiotic systems, revealed that the physical world around me was larger, more complex,

  • and more fragile than I realized.

  • As a kid I learned that my house resided inside something called a residential zone, that

  • my parents worked in commerce, that my hometown’s profits relied on industry, and that Godzilla

  • could attack at a moment’s notice with disasters enabled.

  • Okay, so SimCity was never completely realistic.

  • And that playful sensibility is a large reason so many folks enjoyed it back then

  • because, let’s be honest.

  • When you first pick up SimCity, you more than likely end up setting off random disasters

  • and bulldozing the world.

  • That being said though, the older I got, the more SimCity I played, and the deeper I dove

  • into what made the simulation tick?

  • That’s when I started to truly appreciate what SimCity was all about, and why the software

  • was developed in the first place.

  • It’s a pretty well-known story at this point, but the roots of SimCity begin with designer

  • Will Wright and his first commercially-released game, Raid on Bungeling Bay.

  • Distributed by Broderbund in 1984 for the Commodore 64, Bungeling Bay was a top-down

  • helicopter shooter with more complexity than many of its contemporaries.

  • Instead of simply shooting anything that moves, here the goal was to take down the Bungeling

  • Empire by way of defeating the very infrastructure that made their cities thrive.

  • Enemy units came from factories, factories relied on supplies, supplies came from ships

  • and vehicles, vehicles rely on canals and roadworks, and the empire’s technology improves

  • the longer you play.

  • The oft-repeated tale is that Will Wright found greater satisfaction in creating the

  • buildings and infrastructure than bombing everything after the fact, leading to him

  • programming an increasingly detailed level editor that eventually became SimCity.

  • However, it’s also pertinent to acknowledge the works of Jay W. Forrester, Christopher

  • Alexander, and Stanisław Lem if youre seeking a more complete SimCity origin story.

  • Over the years, Wright has repeatedly listed Urban Dynamics, A Pattern Language, and

  • The Seventh Sally from The Cyberiad as direct inspiration for how his simulation games function.

  • Urban Dynamics describes the systemic structures responsible for urban development and subsequent

  • decay based on computer simulations in the late 1960s.

  • A Pattern Language lays out 253 interconnecting patterns in human behavior deemed by the authors

  • to be universal, with solutions on everything from laying out city streets to constructing buildings.

  • And The Seventh Sally is a science fiction short story about an engineer named Trurl

  • inventing a miniaturized world filled with artificial citizens for a wicked king to tyrannize,

  • much to the horror of his friend Klapaucius.

  • With each of these inspirations in mind, it seems inevitable that a game like SimCity

  • would result, although early on it wasn’t called SimCity at all.

  • The pre-release Commodore 64 iteration from 1985 was titled Micropolis, a fitting name

  • considering it was about managing a microcomputer metropolis.

  • It wouldn’t last though due to a potential naming conflict with the pre-existing company

  • Micropolis, a manufacturer of hard disks and other storage media.

  • But being a simulated city, SimCity was a suitable second choice.

  • And once Will Wright met Jeff Braun a year later and founded Maxis Software in 1987,

  • things really got rolling.

  • Braun had a multiplayer jet fighter simulation he was looking to publish, and Broderbund

  • was becoming interested in Wright’s city simulator, leading to a deal where they’d

  • publish both of them through Broderbund.

  • Braun’s flight sim launched first in 1988, a game called SkyChase, technically making

  • it Maxis’s first published game even though SimCity was originally created earlier.

  • Then in February of 1989, SimCity came out for the Apple Macintosh and Commodore Amiga

  • computer systems, with the popular IBM PC-compatible version launching later that year in October.

  • And it’s the MS-DOS version well be admiring throughout the majority of this video, because

  • from my point view, SimCity defines the overall feeling of late 80s PC games.

  • A feeling comprised of 16-color EGA graphics, crunchy PC speaker sound, crude mouse support,

  • and a feeling of captivating confusion and awestruck bewilderment at what the heck is

  • actually happening on-screen.

  • Removing the outer sleeve of the 1989 IBM PC’s release reveals a tasteful black box

  • emblazoned with the original Maxis logo.

  • Following this is a richness of physical content, kicking off with a trio of double-density

  • floppy disks in both 3.5” and 5.25” forms.

  • You also get a product registration card addressed to the first Maxis office space, a cozy little

  • commercial lot in Lafayette, California.

  • Nowadays, it’s now the Stillpoint Center for Health, Well-Being & Renewal.

  • Personal renewal, I presume, and not the urban kind.

  • Next in the box you get two advertisements, one for the upcoming SimCity Terrain Editor

  • and another for the Covox Sound Master.

  • The latter of which was the only sound card that SimCity supported on the PC at that point,

  • one that is now exceedingly hard to find.

  • Then there are a couple of sheets going over some last-minute game updates, system requirements,

  • and installation stuff.

  • Along with a fold-out reference card going over things like simulation dynamics and its

  • copious keyboard shortcuts.

  • Then there’s the all-important copy protection sheet, printed in dark ink on a deep red cardstock.

  • This was to thwart duplication attempts using a standard copy machine, which would only

  • provide an illegible muddied image due to this color combo.

  • And lastly, there’s the SimCity instruction manual, a 55-page book detailing a fantastic

  • amount of information regarding each and every menu, feature, system, and subsystem in the game.

  • It even has a whole section on the history of cities and city planning authored by Cliff

  • Ellis, providing a brief summary on urban structure, the effects of industrialization

  • and the automobile, the importance of open spaces in urban environments, and so on.

  • And it wouldn’t be complete without a bibliography with recommended reading for children and

  • adults alike, a section that would become a staple in Maxis documentation from here onward.

  • Speaking of legacy, collecting SimCity releases

  • can quickly become an obsession if youre not careful.

  • My own obsession began when I first noticed these two different covers for the game: the

  • original release with artwork displaying the monster disaster and later boxes using a tornado instead.

  • Apparently Godzilla’s owners, Toho, had some qualms about the unsanctioned usage of

  • a Godzilla-like monster on the packaging, and that’s why every subsequent release

  • featured the tornado disaster box art.

  • Well, unless you were outside the US, with many releases using a photograph of Sydney,

  • Australia overlaid with brightly-colored drawings and labels of urban redevelopment.

  • And that’s just scratching the surface, there are

  • dozens upon dozens of releases for tons of systems.

  • But yeah, let’s go back to the DOS version and see what the game is all about.

  • And the first order of business is to determine the graphics mode youll play in, because

  • it comes with a ton ofem.

  • Several monochrome modes, 16-color modes, and even a 256-color MCGA mode if you have

  • the right patch installed.

  • Were gonna stick with the hi-res 16-color mode for this video though, which starts up

  • with three menu options placed onto a classic American green city limits sign.

  • You can start a new city, load an existing city, or tackle a premade scenario, and starting

  • a new one has you choosing your city’s name and difficulty.

  • The latter affects your starting capital, frequency of disasters, taxation tolerance,

  • maintenance costs and more.

  • And seriously, hard mode is no joke.

  • Barely any money, citizens are constantly on the verge of rioting, and natural disasters

  • strike incessantly, even simultaneously.

  • If you play hard mode and manage to avoid having a pile of flame-scorched rubble after

  • five minutes, then my hat’s off to you.

  • Maybe stop playing SimCity and go fix real life Detroit.

  • As for the rest of us, let’s begin with a nice relaxing easy mode city, which always

  • starts with selecting an initial map location for your city center, followed by placing

  • one of two types of power plants: coal or nuclear.

  • Then youll wanna start dropping down zones of commercial, residential, and industrial

  • types, each of which comes in fixed 3x3 cells to be placed along the unseen map grid.

  • And not unexpectedly, zones have to be powered in order to do anything, and in the original

  • SimCity this is accomplished by connecting them directly to power lines or up against

  • already-powered zones.

  • Transportation is also a requirement, with railways and roads

  • being the two transportation options on offer.

  • Each powered zone will generate traffic so long as it has at least one transportation

  • tile directly adjacent to it.

  • And yeah, that’s it for the necessities in the original SimCity.

  • Compared to later games in the series there’s a lot it doesn’t do, like forgoing water

  • pipes, not bothering with subways or buses, ignoring schools and garbage disposal, and

  • leaving zoning density up to the simulation to decide.

  • It doesn’t even have outside connections, city ordinances, or individual zoning tax rates.

  • Really, as long as you have a power plant with zones and roads attached, youve got

  • a city with growth potential.

  • And at its core, SimCity is all about that potential for growth, along with stagnation

  • or decay, while balancing the demands of commercial, residential, and industrial zones.

  • Half your time playing SimCity will be spent keeping a watchful eye on the indispensable

  • CRI indicator on the left-hand side of the screen, which presents a vague and slightly-delayed

  • idea of what’s in demand.

  • The other half of your time will be spent eyeing your financials, which by default pops

  • up every new year.

  • But it’s a good idea to open this budget panel more often than that since it dispenses

  • some invaluable info on how much money youre bringing in versus how much is being spent.

  • It’s also where you adjust the citywide tax rate and the budgets for transportation,

  • police, and fire services.

  • Speaking of which, traffic, crime, and fire are easily the three

  • most common types ofdisasterin any given city.

  • Unless youre playing on hard mode of course

  • but let’s pretend that didn’t happen. [fire and screaming in background]

  • Anyway yeah, traffic!

  • In particular, heavy traffic is treated like a disaster if it gets bad enough, which makes

  • sense being how utterly debilitating it can be to your city.

  • Same with crime, because nobody wants to move into a city that would rather murder you than

  • give you the time of day.

  • And of course fire is a standard disaster, one that can be ignited anytime from the disasters

  • menu along with all the others.

  • And it’s a scary thing in SimCity, with a single flame having the potential to take

  • out the entire map if you don’t pay attention.

  • Still, the way you tackle these issues is pretty basic.

  • Heavy traffic can be solved by constructing more connected roads and providing more railways

  • for your highest-density zones.

  • Solving crime is a matter of keeping your police funded and placing enough stations

  • wherever youve got the most awfulness.

  • And with fire, just place a buncha fire stations and bulldoze whatever’s touching fire tiles,

  • because fire can’t spread over blank land.

  • Oh yeah, land, that’s a thing.

  • It has a value attached to it determined by nearby trees, parks, and water tiles, along

  • with its proximity to crime, pollution, and the city center.

  • All of this stuff is referenced in the map window, with an overlay of your city and each

  • of the stats laid out and color-coded on top.

  • There’s also a graph window for referencing your overall progress, or lack thereof, which

  • is awesome if ya love graphs.

  • And I mean, if youre into a game like SimCity then you probably are.

  • Oh and there’s also an evaluation window, providing yet another way to get a bead on

  • how youre doing in the eyes of the people.

  • Y’know, in retrospect all this stuff mightve groomed me

  • to obsess over YouTube analytics decades later.

  • Huh.

  • Finally, you have three more buildings on offer once enough people demand them, each

  • supporting a specific zone type.

  • Sports stadiums provide extra incentive for residential zone growth, airports boost commerce

  • and come with passenger planes and traffic helicopters, and seaports provides cargo ships

  • and incentivize industrial growth.

  • And yep, that’s the gist of SimCity!

  • Plop stuff down, watch it do its thing, address problems as they arise, build some more, continue

  • until youre satiated or until something irreversibly awful occurs.

  • I’ve seen SimCity gameplay compared to gardening before, and yeah, I can see it.

  • Placing zones is like planting seeds, power and transportation is like fertilizer and

  • watering, disasters and broken infrastructure is like pestilence and weeds.

  • SimCity is a garden of pixelated people.

  • And it’s a rather zen-like experience even thirty years later.

  • I love how rapidly I can still get sucked into it and let time pass like it’s nothing,

  • despite the relative simplicity of the simulation.

  • And considering how unique it truly was back in 1989, it’s easy to see why it caused such a stir.

  • Yet I can also see why it was initially such a hard sell, both to potential publishing

  • partners and to the general public.

  • It took years for a publisher to take a chance on SimCity’s open-ended design, and it even

  • took a bit of convincing with gamers, reportedly selling very few copies during its first several

  • months at retail.

  • SimCity just wasn’t like most other games in 1989.

  • Sure, players could run out of money or fail a scenario, but the simulation never stopped

  • simulating, never provided a traditional game over message, never handed out a high score.

  • There was plenty of discussion as to whether SimCity was even a game at all, by the commercial

  • definition of its day.

  • As Will Wright himself put it, "Most games are made on a movie model with cinematics

  • and the requirement of a climactic blockbuster ending.

  • My games are more like a hobby - a train set or a doll house.

  • Basically they're a mellow and creative playground experience."

  • SimCity sparked a sort of revolution in the gaming industry at large, with developer Sid

  • Meier chiming in to say, "SimCity was a revelation to most of us game designers.

  • The idea that players enjoyed a game that was open-ended, non-combative, and emphasized

  • construction over destruction opened up many new avenues and possibilities for game concepts."

  • Perhaps all of this is what led Maxis to later refer to their products as Software Toys,

  • rather than straight up games, pushing the boundaries

  • of what interactive entertainment could accomplish.

  • Whatever the case may be, once SimCity got into the hands of journalists and game reviewers,

  • word of mouth did its thing.

  • Newspaper articles, high-scoring reviews, and even a piece in Time magazine.

  • It took time, but SimCity started to catch on like a fire disaster in hard mode.

  • By 1992, SimCity had sold over one <