As noted in previous Fair Shakes, I’m a fan of simulation games like Civilization. I like being able to modify a setting and see how things change over time. With the latest debacle and blunder from EA regarding the newest iteration in the Simcity series, I thought I’d go back to the beginning, where Simcity started. Before online play, constant DRM, and that guy from Workaholics doing commercials pretending he’s a mayor. Simcity. Or, as it’s been retconned, Simcity Classic. Released initially in 1989, Simcity came about as an afterthought from programmer Will Wright, who was developing maps for the game Raid on Bungeling Bay. Wright had more fun drawing maps than playing the game, so he went about trying to do something them. Simcity was created for the Commodore 64, but was released (4 years later) eventually for just about every system at the time. Ports range from the Japanese FM Towns, to the SNES, with even current releases under iOS and Wii.
Simcity is rather open ended, and as a result of this it’s rather difficult to describe in detail. You are given the task of ‘building a city’, but other than this lofty goal, you are free to do as you wish (within your budgetary constraints). You’ll develop a love of zoning with residential, commercial, and industrial zones. Each zone is a 3 x 3 block square that will only allow things of that type to build, so no factories are built next to houses on a residential zone and no house are built where factories reside. Besides zoning, you need electricity, so you can build a coal power plant (which causes pollution) or a nuclear plant (small risk of a meltdown.. those never happen right?) In Simcity, you don’t actually “place people”, you give a guideline, via zones, where you think things should be.. Hopefully, other people agree with you, and move into these zoned areas. So, zone, power, build some roads connecting the mess and boom, you have a village. Congrats! You’re done.
Or not. Do you want to make the city larger? Build more zones. Don’t forget more roads and railways. But wait. Do you have enough cash and income coming in from taxes? Raise them. Get too big, people will want a stadium or a seaport. For a 25 (!!) year old game, the simulation is fairly complex, but simple enough for a child to grasp. Will people live next door to a coal power plant (sort of). Do you want a sprawling suburb, or a tightly packed city where it’s all apartment towers? Either way, you can make it happen! There are a multitude of charts and graphs with data plotted out over time, available for you to peruse. See what happens when you change things. Where is your crime? Where are people flocking to? Where are they leaving? Want to make a Megalopolis (500,000 people)? Get to work, it’s very difficult. Bored with this? You can inflict disasters on your city! Crash a plane! Flood it! Burn it! Shake it in an earthquake! You did remember to build a fire department or two, right? Unlike the Sims, or later Simcity releases, you won’t actually “see” your citizens, only where they live, and depending on traffic level, nondescript cars. indicating traffic level. (Tip: Oddly enough, you can forgo building any roads and use only train tracks to connect your entire city, reducing traffic to zero, thus aiding city growth.)
The first edition of Simcity on the PC has no music. You’ll be blessed with the occasional sound of a ship’s horn, a jet taking off, and traffic, courtesy of your PC speaker. later versions of course, added more and utilized actual sound hardware. The SNES version is notable for having a constant stream of music.
With such a wide range of ports of SimCity it’s difficult to sum them up. I’ll concentrate on the version I played the most: the PC. The controls are keyboard/mouse. It can be a little difficult to draw roads and railways out, because in this original release of the Simcity series, you cannot lay things diagonally. Try it, you’ll get a ‘staircase’ effect. There are a few speed settings for the game as well as a pause that you can build/bulldoze during. The graphics will also vary widely between systems, with the Mac of course being black and white. The PC has bright “Tandy” style graphics that make excellent use of a limited palette. A sea of white commercial towers will bring a smile to your face, regardless of graphical detail. For the PC, optional graphic packs were released, changing cities to appear futuristic or feudal, depending on your tastes.
Later releases in the Simcity series added things like public transit, water supplies, trash disposal, neighboring cities, and more. Simcity Classic has none of that, making it very accessible for people new to the genre. For awhile, my mother would actually bring out the SNES on her own and play Simcity. I remember on my now ancient 386 33 MHz box, as a city grew, it could take upwards of ten minutes for a year of game time to click by. With my current i5 Wintel setup, running in DOSBox at full tilt, I can get a year or two to go by.. per second. Wow. That brings me to another point. This game has been on every PC I’ve had since it was released and I go back to it, skipping over Simcity 2K and 3K. During one of my “explore my 5.25″ disks” sessions, I found a few of my old cities from the mid 90s, and I was able to pick up where I left off almost immediately. Will people be able to do that with the ‘new’ Simcity? (probably not.) Staying power? I’m not sure. If you’ve never tried this city building simulator, or any in general, I’d start here. Give it the fair shake! I’ll be here, shooting for my record of 525K people, flooding it if I get aggravated.