City-building games are a genre of strategy video game where players act as the overall planner and leader of a city, looking down on it from above, and being responsible for its growth and management. Players choose building placement and city management features such as salaries and work priorities, and the city develops accordingly.
The city-building game genre was established in 1989 with SimCity, which emphasized continuous building rather than a set victory condition. Players followed personal preferences in design and growth. Indicators of success were maintaining positive budget balance and citizen satisfaction. Subsequent SimCity titles such as SimCity 4 soon followed when high sales of the game demonstrated its popularity.
The first sim game, Utopia (1982) developed for the Mattel Intellivision console system, covered many of these same elements, but was limited by the primitive screen resolutions of its era. Unlike the thousands of individual spaces possible a few years later in SimCity, each island in Utopia held only a dozen or so "buildable" spaces for schools, factories and other constructions. The player's score was based on the well-being of his or her people.
A second boost in genre popularity came in 1993 with the release of Caesar, a game which modeled cities in ancient Rome, replacing electricity and mass transit with aqueducts and roads. Subsequent titles in the City Building Series followed, all modeling cities in past civilizations.
The Dungeons & DragonsPC game Stronghold appeared in 1993, and was advertised as "SimCity meets D&D in 3D". Elves, humans and dwarves each built neighborhoods with unique architecture within the player's town. The title also had elements of real-time strategy games when enemies attacked the city, and the line between city-building and RTS games has often been blurred with this kind of hybrid title. True 3D graphics were not yet possible at that time, so the advertised 3D was actually a clever use of 2D graphics (an isometric projection) with mathematically generated terrain and overlaid bitmaps and sprites.
The Anno series started in 1998 and established a high level of detail in graphics as well as an intense economy simulation and a distinct gameplay.