Building Blocks with Simcity

Matt Barton's picture

Ah, Simcity. Yup, that's the chapter I'm currently working on, and learning all kinds of neat stuff about Will Wright. There are tons of interviews with him on the net, perhaps because he attracted so much attention from journalists and teachers. I really, really love his approach to game design--read up on some fascinating academic research, then see if you can find a way to make a game out of it. There's no telling how many great ideas for games are sitting there on the science journal shelves of your local library, just dying for someone like Wright to come along!

So far, I've been talking about the history of the game, which Wright had a hard time getting published. What I read suggests he had the C-64 version first, which must have been the original. I know it looks similar to Raid on Bungeling Bay, and has the worst graphics of any of the ports I'm aware of. I think what happened was Broderbund finally dumped some money on the project to let him hire some audiovisual talent for the other ports. If anyone has info on this, please let me know, because I've had a hard time finding anything reliable.

One thing I'm trying to answer is what makes the game fun. I think it's mostly the thrill of building up such an integrated system, then observing the effects of experiments or random events. It's sort of like an ant farm (and there's even a Simant, I know). These games really make you think logistically on a systems-wide scale, and while there's no "goal," it's still fun to play with all these (city) blocks!

I really loved Simcity back in the day, but sadly lost touch with it after Simcity 2000. The newer games just keep looking like more of the same, which wasn't necessarily a bad thing, but I was kinda tired of it. I did play lots of A-Train on my Amiga, but never got into the tycoon games. I also haven't played The Sims, which I've heard mixed reports about (though it's sold extremely well). I am very excited about Spore and waiting (ahem) for Mark to give us a review!!!

Anyway, sound off on your experiences with the Sims games. Do you think they're educational? Addictive? Or maybe just a fad? Also: Do you see these games tying into Civilization, or is that a totally different thing? I'm also interested to hear from people who played Utopia and/or Fortune Builder and what they think about the connections there.

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Bill Loguidice
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SimCity

The origins is something that I've been trying to find out for some time. I've been suggesting that the Commodore 64 version had to be the original for some time, but have often gotten push back from others that it was in fact the PC version. Obviously one of my favorite games of all-time, Raid on Bungeling Bay, which I don't think Wikipedia gives justice to its depth, was instrumental in Wright's development of the game. It's indisputable that developing the terrain for Raid on Bungeling Bay inspired Wright to make a type of construction set and turn it into a game--he said he had more fun designing the terrain in Raid than he did in developing the actual game or some such thing. Obviously Wright's first game was Raid on the C-64 (he wasn't involved directly in the NES and MSX ports), and I'm almost sure I read that he had finished the C-64 version of SimCity, but did indeed have trouble selling it as a viable idea. One thing about the C-64 version over other versions is that it came with the terrain editor BY DEFAULT. Every other version, it was a separate add-on. So that entire combination of factors leads me to believe that it had to at least have been worked on first on the C-64, if not the first version to actually see release (though I believe it was; regardless, I'd go by the copyright notices on the title screens as the final guide).

Certainly the 64K 8-bit C-64 had trouble with the SimCity experience, but then even the Super Nintendo version ran sluggish in the later stages of the game when there were a lot of the building blocks in place. The Super NES version was a unique version, by the way, and there always seemed to be a special affection between Wright and some of the people at Nintendo.



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Rowdy Rob
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Sim Thoughts
Bill Loguidice wrote:

Obviously one of my favorite games of all-time, Raid on Bungeling Bay, which I don't think Wikipedia gives justice to its depth, was instrumental in Wright's development of the game. It's indisputable that developing the terrain for Raid on Bungeling Bay inspired Wright to make a type of construction set and turn it into a game--he said he had more fun designing the terrain in Raid than he did in developing the actual game or some such thing.

Man, this is hard. I've never played "Raid on Bungeling Bay," but I have seen many "tile editors" for scrolling shoot-em-ups, and I can see how a "tile editor" could inspire someone (other than me, doggone it) to make the leap from "tile editor" to "Sim City." After all, Sim City might be considered to be a "tile editor" that lives!

I think most of the "Sim" games were clearly educational, which is why I didn't play them much ("education" was like Kryptonite to me back then!). I did play "Sim City" for a while, but, in a similar fashion to "adventure" games, I hit a brick wall, where after much game-time investment, I realized I developed a flawed city and gave up. Interestingly, my father worked in "zoning" for his city, and I saw "SimCity" on a computer in his offfice once (he wasn't playing it). I wonder how much the game has influenced REAL zoning and code planning?

"Sim Copter" was clunky and outdated-looking even upon release, in my opinion, and wasn't very approachable. I didn't spend much time playing it.

"Sim Ant" was probably the best "sim" game. It had an unusual and fun premise, and it didn't take itself too seriously (i.e. it had a sense of humor), and thus it was fairly approachable to me. I think "Sim Ant" would do excellently if if was remade for a modern PC or console!

"The Sims" was very approachable and humorous, but was probably closer to a CRPG than a "sim" game. It had much in common with CRPG's (character building), and was quite approachable to the masses (obviously), but I found myself bored after a while. It lacked the "exploration" angle that CRPG's deliver, and thus I tired of "character building" after a short while (even though I played it quite extensively for a week or so). I do concede that it was a very clever game, though, and very well presented (the "SimSpeak" was hilarious!). It could even be considered an "educational" game in that some real-world life lessons can be gleaned from the game.

I've never played (or even seen) "The Sims 2," but I have considered purchasing it from time to time.

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Bill Loguidice
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The Sims
Rowdy Rob wrote:

I've never played (or even seen) "The Sims 2," but I have considered purchasing it from time to time.

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My wife was given The Sims 2 bundle as a gift a few years back. We never really played it, though. I do have and have played the N-Gage The Sims game and wasn't terrifically impressed, though I could see how a greatly expanded version could be fun. We'll actually be hitting everyone for comments soon on The Sims, as that's one of the later chapters (the book is laid out alphabetically, even counting "The").



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I quite enjoyed the SNES

I quite enjoyed the SNES version, and before that, the PC and Mac versions at school. (1991-ish?) I think I tried to play "properly", without using shortcuts like giving every house a tiny disconnected piece of road. (The citizens don't mind if roads go nowhere)

Mark Vergeer
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Mostly played the titles on

Mostly played the titles on PC. I remember recreating my hometown and my schooltown quite literally. I love those 'god' like games.



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Bill Loguidice
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SimCity
Mark Vergeer wrote:

Mostly played the titles on PC. I remember recreating my hometown and my schooltown quite literally. I love those 'god' like games.

I used to play it a lot, mostly on the PC, particularly since it could run on even modest hardware. I remember when you'd enter the money cheat, if you abused it too much, the game would take "revenge" and increase the number of natural disasters or something. Very clever.

I felt a great sense of accomplishment when I basically filled the whole board and my city was running smoothly, with a great balance of taxes/revenue/happiness, etc.



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Matt Barton
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Yes, that's how I

Yes, that's how I experienced the game. It's extremely addictive for a short while, but I can't really see someone still playing this game after months of years. The thing for me was seeing how much I could get going in one sitting (which granted could last for six hours or more). I never got into the scenarios, since I thought it was a pain having to deal with a pre-established system rather than starting from scratch.

Anyone here play A-Train? I thought it was tons of fun, though it's very difficult to get the damn trains running a profit. I loved the music and overall aesthetic of the game. I'm wondering if you could link games like The Settlers here? Is that a game in the vein of Simcity?

I tried out Sim Earth awhile back and wasn't impressed in the least. Very technical interface with little in the way of audiovisuals. Certainly lacked the charm of Simcity is and is really just educational/serious stuff. I never tried the other Sim games, though now I'm wondering if I may have missed out on some good stuff. I seem to recall tinkering a bit with The Sims, but not enough to say anything about it.

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