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 you’re
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 we’ll 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 you’re 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 you’ll play in, because it comes with a ton of ‘em. Several monochrome modes, 16-color modes,
and even a 256-color MCGA mode if you have the right patch installed. We’re 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 you’ll wanna start dropping down zones
of commercial, residential, and industrial types, each of which comes in fixed 3×3 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, you’ve 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 you’re
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 of “disaster” in any given city. Unless you’re 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 you’ve 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 you’re 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 you’re doing in the eyes of the people. Y’know, in retrospect all this stuff might’ve
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 you’re 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 million
copies and was one of most successful computer games in history, and had won over two dozen
awards across multiple categories. This led to an onslaught of positive buzz
around Maxis, with great expectations for future products and constant requests for
custom versions of SimCity. “The CIA, Defense Department, Canadian Lumber Association, and the Australian Tax Board, among others, all contacted us,” recalled
Will Wright some years later. One piece of software that resulted was SimRefinery,
commissioned by the Chevron Corporation for $75,000. SimRefinery was a simulation of their refinery
operation, for orienting people in the company as to how a refinery works. “It wasn’t so much for the engineers as
it was for the accountants and managers who walked through this refinery every day and
didn’t know what these pipes were carrying.” There was even a story about a high schooler
in Providence, Rhode Island that challenged each of the city’s mayoral candidates to
play a recreation of Providence in SimCity. The only candidate to succeed in the game
was the late Vincent ‘Buddy’ Cianci who would go onto win the election for mayor. Somewhat controversially too, seeing as he’d just been released from prison on a felony assault conviction. On a lighter note, SimCity also gained a sizable foothold in education, being used in classrooms around the country and paving the way for
Maxis to produce their own teacher’s editions of SimCity. At one point SimCity was being used in over
10,000 classrooms, from kindergartens to universities, making it one of the few fascinating examples
of a game to become popular with both schools and mainstream gaming. With this unprecedented success and press
coverage it’s only natural that SimCity would receive some addons, the first one being
the SimCity Terrain Editor in 1989. The Terrain Editor was a separate program
providing much-appreciated map editing tools, allowing players to generate new maps, customize
existing maps to add things like trees and waterways, and even modify save files to change
a city’s name, year, and difficulty level. Next came the SimCity Graphics sets, with
Ancient Cities and Future Cities releasing in 1990. Effectively, these were tile packs to customize
SimCity’s aesthetic, and didn’t do much more than give the existing content a new
skin. These were Ancient Asia, Medieval Times, Wild
West, Future USA, Future Europe, and Moon Colony. And as mentioned almost seventeen minutes
ago, there was also SimCity Classic in 1993, taking everything from the previous releases
and stuffing them into a Windows 3.1 executable. Well, depending on which version you got,
with the DOS, Windows, Deluxe, Classic plus Graphics, and CD-ROM versions all available
with slightly varying content. And even after all this we’ve only looked
at the tip of the iceberg. One could easily dedicate an entire series
to SimCity, with things like the console variants and canceled prototypes, the Mayfair card
game from 1994, the game’s statements on nuclear energy and urban renewal, Interplay’s
full-motion video CD-ROM edition, the kid’s spin-offs like SimCity Junior and SimTown,
the multiplayer version for X11 workstations, the oddly late to the party Commodore 64/128
release from 1990, the impact SimCity had on future urban planners, and who knows what
else because the game’s been around for decades and a single YouTube video cannot
cover every base possible. So lemme just say that SimCity had an incalculable
effect on our current reality and I have to give both the game and its designers massive props for that. But that’s only why I respect SimCity. It’s not why I love it, that’s far more
personal. For all the awards and accolades, for all
the sales numbers and boastful press releases, for all the worldwide influence it had on
millions of people over the years. Eh, I mean, that’s secondary stuff. For me, it all goes back to those early mornings
and late nights as a youngin’, plopped in front of a Packard Bell CRT, basking in the
glow of each radiating pixel indicating residential, commercial, and industrial demands. No music playing, very few sound effects,
and the animation was barely representational of the underlying simulation. Nonetheless, SimCity was the most detailed
and hopelessly captivating computer gaming experience I’d ever had back then. It was the first step on what would become
a lifelong journey towards becoming more aware of my surroundings, the synergistic systems
that seek to govern them, and the people that live their lives and make those systems possible
in the first place. Playing the game and studying how it worked
made me feel as if I was a part of something greater at a time when I didn’t even know
there was something greater to be a part of yet. And to me, that is what makes SimCity an all-time
great that’s worth remembering and revisiting even after thirty years. And if you enjoyed this episode of LGR, then excellent. I’ve talked about more SimCity things in
the past and will no doubt cover more in the future, with new videos on all kinds of topics
going up every week. And as always thank you very much for watching!

SimCity 30 Years Later: A Retrospective
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