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SimCity (1989 video game)

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SimCity Classic cover art.jpg
Early cover arts of SimCity feature a jukebox-like design, with different versions depicting different cities and disasters.
Developer(s) Maxis
Nintendo EAD (SNES version)
Mobile: Babaroga
Publisher(s) Brøderbund, Maxis, Nintendo, Electronic Arts and Superior Software/ Acornsoft
Designer(s) Will Wright (SimCity series)
Composer(s) Soyo Oka (SNES)
Series SimCity
Platform(s) Acorn Archimedes, Acorn Electron, Amiga, Amiga CDTV, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, BBC Micro, C64, DESQview, DOS, EPOC32, FM Towns, iPod Touch, iPhone, PC-98, GBA, OLPC XO-1, OS/2, Linux, Mac OS, Mobile phone ( Symbian or Java), NeWS, SNES, Tk, Unix, Windows, X11 TCL, Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Virtual Console
Release date(s) 1989
Genre(s) City-building game
Mode(s) Single-player

SimCity is a city-building simulation game, first released in 1989, and designed by Will Wright. SimCity was Maxis' first product, which has since been ported into various personal computers and game consoles, and spawned several sequels including SimCity 2000 in 1993, SimCity 3000 in 1999, SimCity 4 in 2003, SimCity DS, and SimCity Societies in 2007. The original SimCity was later renamed SimCity Classic. Until the release of The Sims in 2000, the SimCity series was the best-selling line of computer games made by Maxis.

SimCity spawned a series of Sim games. Since the release of SimCity, similar simulation games have been released focusing on different aspects of reality such as business simulation in Capitalism.

On January 10, 2008 the SimCity source code was released under the free software GPL 3 license under the name Micropolis.


Micropolis, an open source port of SimCity, on the SGI Indigo workstation

SimCity was originally developed by game designer Will Wright. The inspiration for SimCity came from a feature of the game Raid on Bungeling Bay that allowed Wright to create his own maps during development. Wright soon found he enjoyed creating maps more than playing the actual game, and SimCity was born.

In addition, Wright also was inspired by reading "The Seventh Sally", a short story by Stanislaw Lem, in which an engineer encounters a deposed tyrant, and creates a miniature city with artificial citizens for the tyrant to oppress.

The first version of the game was developed for the Commodore 64 in 1985, but it would not be published for another four years. The original working title of SimCity was Micropolis. The game represented an unusual paradigm in computer gaming, in that it could neither be won nor lost; as a result, game publishers did not believe it was possible to market and sell such a game successfully. Brøderbund declined to publish the title when Wright proposed it, and he pitched it to a range of major game publishers without success. Finally, founder Jeff Braun of then-tiny Maxis agreed to publish SimCity as one of two initial games for the company.

Wright and Braun returned to Brøderbund to formally clear the rights to the game in 1988, when SimCity was near completion. Brøderbund executives Gary Carlston and Don Daglow saw that the title was infectious and fun, and signed Maxis to a distribution deal for both of its initial games. With that, four years after initial development, SimCity was released for the Amiga and Macintosh platforms, followed by the IBM PC and Commodore 64 later in 1989.

On January 10, 2008 the SimCity source code was released under the free software GPL 3 license. The release of the source code was related to the donation of SimCity software to the One Laptop Per Child program, as one of the principles of the OLPC laptop is the use of free and open source software. The open source version is called Micropolis (the initial name for SimCity) since EA retains the trademark Simcity. The version shipped on OLPC laptops will still be called SimCity, but will have to be tested by EA quality assurance before each release to be able to use that name. The Micropolis source code has been translated to C++, integrated with Python and interfaced with both GTK+ and OpenLaszlo.


The objective of SimCity, as the name of the game suggests, is to build and design a city, without specific goals to achieve (except in the scenarios, see below). The player can mark land as being zoned as commercial, industrial, or residential, add buildings, change the tax rate, build a power grid, build transportation systems and take many other actions, in order to enhance the city.

Also, the player may face disasters including flooding, tornadoes, fires (often from air disasters or even shipwrecks), earthquakes and attacks by monsters. In addition, monsters and tornadoes can trigger train crashes by running into passing trains. Later disasters in the game's sequels included lightning strikes, volcanoes, meteors and attack by extraterrestrial craft.

In the SNES version and later, one can also build rewards when they are given to them, such as a mayor's mansion, casino, etc.


The original SimCity kicked off a tradition of goal-centered, timed scenarios that could be won or lost depending on the performance of the player/mayor. The scenarios were an addition suggested by Brøderbund in order to make SimCity more like a game. The original cities were all based on real world cities and attempted to re-create their general layout, a tradition carried on in SimCity 2000 and in special scenario packs. While most scenarios either take place in a fictional timeline or have a city under siege by a fictional disaster, a handful of available scenarios are based on actual historical events.

The original scenarios are:

  • Bern, 1965 – The Swiss capital is clogged with traffic; the mayor needs to reduce traffic and improve the city by installing a mass transit system.
  • Boston, 2010 – The city's nuclear power plant suffers a meltdown, incinerating a portion of the city. The mayor must rebuild, contain the toxic areas, and return the city to prosperity. In some early editions of SimCity (on lower-power computers that did not include the nuclear power plants), this scenario was altered to have a tornado strike the city. Much like the Tokyo scenario below, the mayor needs to limit damage and rebuild.
  • Detroit, 1972 – Crime and depressed industry wreck the city. The mayor needs to reduce crime and reorganize the city to better develop. The scenario is a reference to Detroit's declining state during the late 20th century (See also History of Detroit) and the 1970's economic recession.
  • Rio de Janeiro, 2047 – Coastal flooding resulted from global warming rages through the city. The mayor must control the problem and rebuild. In some early editions of SimCity (on lower-power computers that did not include the flooding disaster), this scenario was altered to have the objective be fighting very high crime rates.
  • San Francisco, 1906 – An earthquake hits the city, the mayor must control the subsequent damage, fires and rebuild. The scenario references the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
  • Tokyo, 1961 – The city is attacked by a Godzilla-type monster ( Bowser in the SNES version). The mayor needs to limit the damage and rebuild. The scenario is strongly based on the original series of Godzilla films.

The PC version (IBM, Tandy compatible; on floppy disk) , CD re-release, as well as the Amiga and Atari ST versions included two additional scenarios:

  • Hamburg, Germany, 1944 – Bombing, where the mayor has to govern the city during the closing years of World War II and rebuild it later. This scenario references the bombing of Hamburg in World War II.
  • Dullsville, USA, 1910 – Boredom plagues a stagnating city in the middle of the United States; the mayor is tasked to turn Dullsville into a metropolis within 30 years.

In addition, the later edition of SimCity on the Super NES included the basics of these two scenarios in two, more difficult scenarios that were made available after a player had completed the original scenarios:

  • Las Vegas, 2096 – Aliens attack the city. This invasion is spread out over several years, stretching city resources. While somewhat similar to Hamburg, the scenario included casino features as well as animated flying saucers.
  • Freeland, 1991 – Using a blank map without any water form, the mayor must build a game-described megalopolis of at least 500,000 people. There is no time limit in this scenario. While similar to the earlier Dullsville scenario, Freeland took advantage of the SNES version's clear delineations between city sizes, particularly metropolis and megalopolis. In the centre of Freeland is a series of trees that form the familiar head of Mario. However, as with all scenarios, the player is unable to build any of the reward buildings from the normal game.

While the scenarios were meant to be solved strategically, many players discovered by dropping the tax rate to zero near the end of the allotted timespan, one could heavily influence public opinion and population growth. In scenarios such as San Francisco, where rebuilding and, by extension, maintaining population growth play a large part of the objective, this kind of manipulation can mean a relatively easy victory. Later titles in the series would take steps to prevent players from using the budget to influence the outcome of scenarios.

Also, several of the original scenarios, such as the Bern scenario, could be won simply by destroying the city, as they checked only one factor, in this case traffic. In the SNES version of the Boston Nuclear Meltdown Scenario, there was a bug, such that when you are pressing any button, nothing can happen in the game, effectively pausing the game but allowing you to build or take any other actions. In this manner, you can bulldoze all the nuclear power plants before any of them can explode, averting disaster. However, the cost of rebuilding the power infrastructure afterwards made winning the scenario even more difficult than normal if you used this tactic.

Ports and versions

SimCity was originally released for home computers, including the Amiga, Atari ST and DOS-based IBM PC. After its success it was converted for several other computer platforms and video game consoles, including the Commodore 64, Macintosh, Acorn Archimedes, Amstrad CPC, Sinclair ZX Spectrum, BBC Micro, Acorn Electron, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, EPOC32, mobile phone, Internet, Windows, Virtual Console, FM-Towns, OLPC XO-1 and NeWS HyperLook on Sun Unix. The game is also available as a multiplayer version for X11 TCL/ Tk on various Unix, Linux, DESQview and OS/2 operating systems. In addition, a version was developed in 1991 for the Nintendo Entertainment System, but it was never released. Certain versions have since been re-released with various add-ons, including extra scenarios. An additional extra add on for the Windows version of SimCity Classic was a level editor. This editor could be opened without use of the SimCity Classic disc. The level editor is a simple tool that allows the user to create grasslands, dirt land, and water portions.

In 2007 the developer Don Hopkins released a free and open source version of the original SimCity, renamed Micropolis for trademark reasons, for the One Laptop Per Child XO-1.

Super NES variation

SimCity for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System features the same gameplay and scenario features; however, since it was developed and published by Nintendo, the company incorporated their own ideas. Instead of the Godzilla monster disaster, Bowser of the Super Mario series becomes the attacking monster, and once the city reaches a landmark 500,000 populous, the player receives a Mario statue that is placeable in the city. Also included in the SNES version of the game was the unique feature, or more power, that the mayor of the city is given: the ability to create disasters. These disasters were the naturally occurring disasters in the game, e.g. fires, earthquakes etc., with the mayor triggering these events. The Nintendo port also features special buildings the player may receive as rewards, similar to the rewards buildings in SimCity 2000. The game also includes schools and hospitals, though they can not be placed by the player. Instead, the game will sometimes turn an empty residential lot into one. There are also city classifications, such as becoming a metropolis at 100,000 people. Also unique to the SNES version is a character named "Dr. Wright" (whose physical appearance is based on Will Wright) who acts as an adviser to the player. This edition is featured as Nintendo's Player's Choice as a million seller.

In August 1996 a version of the game entitled BS Sim City Machizukuri Taikai was broadcast exclusively to Japanese players via the SNES' Satellaview subsystem. Later, an official Japan-only sequel titled SimCity 64 was released for the Japan-only Nintendo 64 add-on, the Nintendo 64DD.

Detailed information about ports of SimCity Classic
Platform Version – Release date Comments
Amiga V.1.0 – Alongside SimCity for the Macintosh, this was the first and original version of SimCity. It ran on any Amiga with at least 512 kilobytes of memory, and was distributed on a single floppy disk.
V.2.0 This version has been enhanced with the ability to switch tile sets. A tile set consists of all the images the game use to draw the city, and by changing the tile set one can give the city a different look and feel.

Because of this new functionality, SimCity 2 requires at least 1MB of memory, twice that of the original version.

Amiga CDTV To make the game more pleasant to play when viewed on a distant television, this version of the game shows a closer view of the city. Other changes includes a user interface more suited for use from the CDTV's remote control, use Red Book Audio for music, and the addition of three scenarios.
Amstrad CPC V.1.0 – Sim City Amstrad CPC
Atari ST V.1.0 – Sim City Atari ST This version features scenarios but has no music and the game's graphics are less colorful than the graphics of the Amiga version.
BBC Micro
Acorn Electron
V.1.0 –
Commodore 64 V.1.0 – This version lacks police/fire stations, stadiums, railways and disasters. It also forgoes the stat screen useful for evaluating the city's development. The player can select between eight scenarios or on randomly generated terrain.
Macintosh V.1.0 – Features high resolution monochrome graphics.
PC MS-DOS – Features high resolution EGA graphics and PC speaker audio.
CD-ROM – Released by Interplay for DOS, it featured 256-colour graphics and added live-action video.
Windows –
Super NES
  • JP April 26, 1991

  • NA August, 1991

  • EU September 24, 1992
Published by Nintendo under license by Maxis, the SNES version of SimCity had additional features not found in the original SimCity, including graphics changing to match the seasons (trees are green in summer, turn rusty brown in the fall, white in the winter, and bloom as cherry blossoms in the spring), civic reward buildings, and a very energetic green-haired city advisor named Dr. Wright (after Will Wright), who would often pop up and inform the player of problems with their city. In addition, the SNES version of SimCity had two additional bonus scenarios, accessible when the original scenarios were completed: Las Vegas and Freeland (see section on scenarios). The style of the buildings also resemble those in Japan rather than those of North America in Western releases.

A Nintendo Entertainment System port was also planned, but was cancelled.

Nintendo also put their stamp on the game, with the most dangerous disaster being Bowser attack on a city (in place of a generic movie-type monster), and a Mario statue awarded once a Megalopolis level (misspelled Megaropolis in game) of 500,000 inhabitants is reached.

The SNES version of SimCity has been released for the Wii's Virtual Console service.

ZX Spectrum V.1.0 – 1989 Has all the features (such as scenarios, crime, and disasters) of later versions of the game, only with much more limited sound and graphics.
  • SimCity Classic is available for Palm OS and on the website as Classic Live. It was also released by Atelier Software for the Psion 5 handheld computer, and mobile phones in 2006.
  • The July 2005 issue of Nintendo Power stated that a development cartridge of SimCity for the NES was found at Nintendo headquarters. Never released, it is reportedly the only one in existence.
  • Additionally a terrain editor and architecture disks were available with tileset graphics for settings of Ancient Asia, Medieval, Wild West, Future Europe, Future USA and a Moon Colony.
  • Versions of SimCity for the BBC Micro, Acorn Electron, and Acorn Archimedes computers were published by Superior Software/ Acornsoft. Programmer Peter Scott had to squeeze the 512k Amiga version of the game into 20k in order to run on the ageing 32k BBC Micro and Acorn Electron. Despite this, it kept almost all of the functionality of the Amiga game and very similar graphics (although only using four colours).
  • DUX Software published a Unix version of SimCity for the NeWS window system using the HyperLook user interface environment, and a multi-player version of SimCity for the X11 window system using the TCL/ Tk user interface toolkit, both developed and ported to various platforms by Don Hopkins.

For other Sim games, see the list of Sim games.

Critical acclaim

SimCity was critically acclaimed and received significant recognition within a year after its initial release. As of December 1990 (from a Maxis document by Sally Vandershaf, Maxis P.R. Coordinator) the game was reported to have won the following awards:

  • Best Entertainment Program 1989.
  • Best Educational Program, 1989.
  • Best Simulation Program, 1989.
  • Critics' Choice: Best Consumer Program, 1989, Software Publisher's Association.
  • Most Innovative Publisher, 1989, Computer Game Developer's Conference.
  • Best PC Game, 1989.
  • Member of the 1989 Game Hall of Fame, Macworld.
  • Game of the Year, 1989., Computer Gaming World.
  • Second Best Simulation of all Time for C-64.
  • Fourth Best Simulation of All Time for Amiga, .info.
  • Editors' Choice Award: Best Simulation, 1989, Compute.
  • Editors' Choice Award: Best Recreation Program, 1989, MacUser.
  • Best Computer Strategy Game, 1989, Video Games & Computer Entertainment.
  • Best Game Designer of the Year: Will Wright, for SimCity, 1989, Computer Entertainer.
  • Best 20th Century Computer Game, 1989, Charles S. Roberts Award.
  • Software Award of Excellence, 1990–1991, Technology and Learning.
  • Best Educational Program, 1990, European Computer Leisure Award.
  • Tilt D'Or (Golden Award): Most Original Game, 1989, Tilt (France).
  • Game of the Year, 1989, Amiga Annual (Australia).
  • World Class Award, 1990, Macworld (Australia).

In addition, SimCity won the Origins Award for "Best Military or Strategy Computer Game" of 1989 in 1990, and the multiplayer X11 version of the game was also nominated in 1992 as the Best Product of the Year in Unix World. SimCity was named #4 "Ten Greatest PC Game Ever" by PC World in 2009. It was named one of the sixteen most influential games in history at Telespiele, a German technology and games trade show, in 2007. It was named #11 on IGN's 2009 "Top 25 PC Games of All Time" list.

The SimCity Terrain Editor was reviewed in 1989 in Dragon #147 by Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk Lesser in "The Role of Computers" column. The reviewers gave the expansion 4 out of 5 stars.

The ZX Spectrum version was voted number 4 in the Your Sinclair Readers' Top 100 Games of All Time.


The subsequent success of SimCity speaks for itself: "Sim" games of all types were developed– with Will Wright and Maxis developing myriad titles including SimEarth, SimFarm, SimTown, Streets of SimCity, SimCopter, SimAnt, SimLife, SimIsle, SimTower, SimPark, SimSafari, and The Sims, as well as the unreleased SimsVille and SimMars. They also obtained licenses for some titles developed in Japan, such as SimTower and Let's Take The A-Train (just called A-Train outside of Japan). A recent development is The Sims, and its sequels, The Sims 2 and The Sims 3. Spore, released in 2008, was originally going to be titled "SimEverything"– a name that Will Wright thought might accurately describe what he was trying to achieve. SimCity yielded seven sequels:

  • SimCity 2000 (1993)
  • SimCity 3000 (1999)
  • SimCity 4 (2003)
  • SimCity DS (2007)
  • SimCity Societies (2007)
  • SimCity Creator (2008)
  • SimCity DS 2 (2008)

A fifth SimCity was revealed by Electronic Arts chief financial officer Warren Jenson in 2007. The title of the game is SimCity Societies and it was released worldwide on 13 November 2007. Societies has a larger focus on the city's inhabitants rather than on its architecture. Since Will Wright was busy with Spore and SimCity 4 was deemed too complex by some, Tilted Mill was given the task by EA to create SimCity Societies.

SimCity inspired a new genre of video games. "Software toys" that were open-ended with no set objective were developed trying to duplicate SimCity's success. The most successful was most definitely Wright's own The Sims, which went on to be the best selling computer game of all time. The ideas pioneered in SimCity have been incorporated into real-world applications as well. For example, VisitorVille simulates a city based on website statistics.

The series also spawned a SimCity collectible card game, produced by Mayfair Games.

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