Remembering the Classics: SimCity

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One of the most appealing aspects about video games that sets them apart from other forms of entertainment are their ability to give a person complete control over what they can do. Yes most games are completely linear and the experience you have is what is determined for you, but there are plenty of titles out there where your enjoyment is entirely yours to control. You can’t do this when watching a TV show, movie, or reading a book. The idea of complete control is broken down into many ways, but the most prevalent is the concept of “simulation.” Billions of dollars have been made over the years letting people into simulated realities where they are practically a god of immense power. There have been many examples of this over time in almost every genre but few have come to the standards started almost 25 years ago with SimCity.

Last year the series got a hardcore overhaul with the appropriately titled SimCity. The release was marred with technological issues, most of which stemmed from the fact that the game required constant internet connectivity. It garnered positive reception but was widely viewed by many as a disaster. After months of furious repairs by Maxis, it was announced this week that the developer is finally moving forward with an offline version of the popular title. An offline version is something players have been begging for since the beginning so this announcement was welcomed by many. It’s also given me the perfect excuse to talk about this wildly influential series.

SimCity came out in late 1989 for Amiga and Macintosh computers. It was published by a burgeoning company called Maxis and was actually their first product. Maxis was eventually picked up by Electronic Arts with its games becoming a major asset for the company. SimCity pioneered the idea of giving the player complete control and it has lead to an extremely successful line main titles and spin-offs. The most notable spin-off is The Sims which has gone on to become a major series of its own. While SimCity focused on the grand scale of life, The Sims put you in control of a single family.

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There really is no plot behind SimCity in any of its incarnations. The newer games just get more intricate with greater additions. Your ultimate task as Mayor (or “god” for the people of your city) is to create a flourishing city that both meets all basic needs and has happy citizens with a stable budget. You always start off small but can eventually grow your city to a major metropolis. Basic needs are all necessities we have in life now like electricity, running water, education, entertainment, and safety. Failure to provide your people with what they need to thrive will lead to chaos. Disasters will plague your city from time to time too which you must recover from. These range from natural occurrences like earthquakes to supernatural occurrences like alien invasions. Alternatively, you can unleash disasters on your unsuspecting populace whenever you so desire.

To say that SimCity was groundbreaking back in the late ’80s is an understatement. Video gaming by this point became known for having structure and a set story that you follow. Even if the game was to just run from one point to another to accomplish an overall goal, like Super Mario Bros., there was still a purpose to it all. SimCity however had no purpose. No overall story or main goal you follow. Sure there were objectives that popped up for those who wanted the “full experience” but you were hardly required to follow them. You could go hog wild and do whatever you want. The games are supposed to model actual life after all. Granted not following the objectives can lead to a short game but it’s still a valuable part of the experience.

The ideas started out in SimCity can still be seen today. At its core, SimCity was and still is all about player freedom. You’re dropped into this world that gives you reign to do whatever you please. While many titles don’t even come close to the standards set by SimCity series, they freely borrow the idea of player leniency with main objectives built in that you’re free to either care or not care about. Open world games like Grand Theft Auto, Minecraft, World of Warcraft, and many others are great examples of this. You are most certainly not required to follow whatever the developers lay out for you. This in itself is one of the biggest appeals for many popular games currently on the market.

My personal experience with any SimCity title is exceedingly limited. I’ve played the games before, mainly SimCity 2000 as a little kid, but was way too young to actually understand the true complexity behind the simple concept. I would always play an already created city for a little bit, get bored, and then reign hell down on the people. I’m talking floods, alien invasions, plane crashes, the whole nine yards. This was before the apocalypse became totally mainstream. My older siblings though actually played the game the way it was supposed to be played reaching the point where they would have a vast city. It wasn’t until I was in college that I actually played a Maxis game the way the developers intended (without cheat codes and the like) on The Sims 3.

Whatever interest I had in the 2013 release of SimCity was completely obliterated when I heard how horrible it was on the technical side. This recent offline mode announcement is slowly changing that. SimCity has been out of minds for a while and it’s good to see Maxis and EA bringing it back to the brass tax that made it so great. Being able to freely build a city wherever you go and doing whatever you want with it is what fans loved the most. People who already own SimCity are lucky too because the offline mode will be installed for free. SimCity is easily one of the most iconic series’ in gaming history with the original title starting off a highly successful trend. The recent release was a huge black eye but these new changes will hopefully give it the polish it rightfully deserves.

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