Games the Console Generation Missed: SimCity 3000
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Whether you're Buddha or Godzilla, this kind of control over a city was gooood...
For some reason, we’re obsessed with the idea of an omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent god or gods. Through the centuries we’ve given them names, built statues and temples in what we believe to be their image, worshiped them unreservedly and killed each other in their name. What we always really wanted to do though was be gods ourselves. Thanks to Will Wright, you don’t need to become a genetic scientist to play god, all you need is a computer and a copy of SimCity 3000.
If there’s one factor that differentiates the console player from their desktop brethren, it’s that they live in a relatively faff-free world. Other than the odd error code, the red ring of death or the batteries running out of a controller, there’s nothing that can really go wrong. With a PC on the other hand, there’s a plethora of potential problems. You’re constantly bombarded with viruses from every angle, processors overheat and graphics cards become old and outdated. The biggest problem can be compatibility, which is often the biggest source of faffing.
I was sure that with my new behemoth that I wouldn’t have to face the annoyance and hassle of not being able to play certain games because of compatibility issues, well not for a while at least. Yet the reason why I couldn’t play this game wasn’t because Bertha (yeah I named my computer, what of it?) was outdated, but because she was too good. Fortunately for us all I still had access to an older PC, meaning I could begin reliving a portion of my childhood by playing SimCity 3000, the game that saved Maxis and Will Wright from obscurity.
Despite the success of the original SimCity (1989), Will Wright and his game development company Maxis had struggled to repeat this success, with only SimCity 2000 (1993) selling reasonably well. Will became renowned as a creator of “non-games” and “software toys”, games where there are no apparent goals and cannot be won or lost. A brilliant concept, but the execution was often sloppy and over-ambitious. Indeed, at E3 in 1997 Maxis attempted to show off their vision of SimCity 3000, a fully 3D experience that would utilise the cutting edge of technology, but the poor reception that it received – with one commenting that it was “an embarrassment” – lead many in the media to predict that SimCity 3000 would be Maxis’ death toll.
"Come the 1998 E3, EA proved to the world that they had a magical touch by turning the ludicrous into the perfect"
On the 28th of July, 1997 Electronic Arts (EA) completed the acquisition of Maxis, signalling a change in fortunes for the ailing franchise. EA moved quickly to alter the game’s focus by scrapping the 3D concept completely; they proposed a revision of SimCity 2000’s pseudo-isometric dimetric projection, with the intention of distilling and improving what was good about the previous titles instead of reinventing it. Come the 1998 E3, EA proved to the world that they had a magical touch by turning the ludicrous into the perfect. Even when it came to the game’s release, EA were happy to delay it until it was completely ready.
January 31st, 1999 was the date that SimCity 3000 finally hit the shelves and it was also the date that it was hastily installed onto my family’s computer by my excited father. Little did he know that he would get next to no gametime over the coming weeks and months. The brilliance of SimCity 3000 lies in its simplicity, with every tool and menu easy to navigate and use, but its success lay in the inability to win or lose. This might sound strange to all of you who like you games linear with a clear conclusion, but not having a definitive end actually aides the game substantially.
What was clear to me at the time, and was further reinforced when I played it the other day, was that it is easily one of the most addictive games ever to be made. Indeed, when playing the other day, in what appeared to be a handful of hours I had turned the fledgling city of Keynsham into a metropolis that had a population 230,043 and was making a healthy profit of $30,000 a year. In this moment of pride, I sat back and admired my kingdom, but it was pointed out to me that I was now sporting a beard and was suffering from malnutrition.
"I had been enticed by every facet of the game, from the initial laying out of the roads to the careful planning of zones and police coverage"
I had been enticed by every facet of the game, from the initial laying out of the roads to the careful planning of zones and police coverage. Then there were the challenges of balancing the books, keeping everyone powered and watered, sorting out strikes and brokering deals with neighbours. Even when there were lulls in “action”, the news ticker constantly amazed and amused. One proclaiming that “semicolon declared sexier than comma in grammarian's fête” made me chuckle in a ‘I understand that on an intellectual and a simplistic level’ way, but their obsession with broccoli was comedy on a purely nonsensical level.
At this point, SimCity 3000 can really only be described as a mayoral simulator, something that Boris Johnson should maybe have played before becoming mayor of London (in fact, some of the broccoli jokes could feasibly have come from his mouth). The point that this becomes a god simulator is when you turn on the disasters. The poor inhabitants of Keynsham didn’t know what was happening when the first earthquake shook the city to its core, but when a series of tornados ripped though their streets, they must surely have known that the apocalypse had come. They began rioting for no real reason before being forced to run for cover when space junk began to fall from the atmosphere. Just when they thought it was safe to poke their heads outside of their front doors (the ones that were left), UFOs descended on the unlucky inhabitants, destroying what was left of the once enormous city.
The joy that I experienced whilst watching what I had spent hours building get destroyed within seconds reminded me of wrecking many Lego buildings as a child. Being a vengeful god is actually quite entertaining it turns out. Maybe this is what genetic scientists feel when they mess around with lab rats. Whatever the reasons, the success of SimCity 3000 gave Will Wright the breathing space to go on and create one of the greatest games of all time, Spore...Ahhhhhh I’m just messing with you, I meant The Sims.
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