SimCity (1989 video game)

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SimCity Classic cover art.jpg
One of the various cover arts for SimCity features a jukebox-like design.
Designer(s)Will Wright
Platform(s)Acorn Archimedes, Acorn Electron, Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, BBC Micro, Browser, C64, CDTV, DESQview, DOS, EPOC32, FM Towns, iOS, Linux, Mac OS, Mobile phone, NeWS, OLPC XO-1, OS/2, PC-98, SNES, Tk, Unix, Windows, X11 TCL, X68000, ZX Spectrum
Genre(s)City-building game

SimCity, also known as Micropolis or SimCity Classic,[1] is a city-building simulation video game developed by Will Wright and released for a number of platforms from 1989 to 1991. SimCity features two-dimensional graphics and an overhead perspective. The objective of the game is to create a city, develop residential and industrial areas, build infrastructure and collect taxes for further development of the city. Importance is put on increasing the standard of living of the population, maintaining a balance between the different sectors, and monitoring the region's environmental situation to prevent the settlement from declining and going bankrupt.

SimCity was independently developed by Will Wright beginning in 1985, and would not see its first release until 1989.[2][3] Because the game lacked any of the arcade or action elements that dominated the video game market in the 1980s, video game publishers declined to release the title in fear of its commercial failure, until Brøderbund eventually agreed to distribute it. Although the game initially sold poorly, positive feedback from the gaming press boosted its sales. After becoming a best-seller, SimCity was released on several other platforms, most notably on the SNES in 1991, in which its gameplay was significantly improved with Nintendo's involvement.

SimCity was commercially successful, selling 300,000 units for personal computers and nearly 2 million for the SNES. The game was recognized as a new phenomenon within the gaming industry, and it broke the widespread belief that computer games were primarily intended for children. SimCity was met with critical appraisal for its innovative and addictive gameplay in spite of the absence of platformer or shooter elements. Reviewers considered the game to be instructive and helpful toward the player's understanding of the basics of urban planning, politics and economics. SimCity received numerous awards from various news publishers and associations. The success of SimCity marked the beginning of the urban simulation genre of video games, as well as publisher Maxis's tradition of producing non-linear simulation games, one of which – The Sims – would surpass all its predecessors in popularity and become one of the best-selling franchises in the video game industry. It is considered one of the greatest video games of all time.


The objective of SimCity is to build and design a city, without specific goals to achieve. 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. Once able to construct buildings in a particular area, the too-small-to-see residents, known as "Sims",[4] may choose to construct and upgrade houses, apartment blocks, light or heavy industrial buildings, commercial buildings, hospitals, churches, and other structures. The Sims make these choices based on such factors as traffic levels, adequate electrical power, crime levels, and proximity to other types of buildings—for example, residential areas next to a power plant will seldom appreciate to the highest grade of housing.[5] In the Super NES version and later, the player can also build rewards when they are given to them, such as a mayor's mansion or a casino.

The player may face disasters including flooding, tornadoes, fires (often from air disasters or shipwrecks), earthquakes and attacks by monsters. In addition, monsters and tornadoes can trigger train crashes by running into passing trains.


SimCity includes goal-centered, timed scenarios that could be won or lost depending on the performance of the player. The scenarios were an addition suggested by Brøderbund in order to make SimCity more like a game.[6] The original cities were based on real world cities and attempted to re-create their general layout. 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.


A large developed city in Micropolis version (2007)

SimCity was developed by game designer Will Wright. While working on the game Raid on Bungeling Bay, in which the player flies a helicopter dropping bombs on islands, Wright found he enjoyed designing the islands in the level editor more than playing the actual game.[7] This led him to develop increasingly sophisticated level editors.[8] At the same time, Wright was cultivating a love of the intricacies and theories of urban planning[9] and acknowledges the influence of System Dynamics which was developed by Jay Wright Forrester and whose book on the subject[10] laid the foundations for what would become SimCity.[11] In addition, Wright also was inspired by reading "The Seventh Sally", a short story from The Cyberiad by Stanisław Lem, in which an engineer encounters a deposed tyrant, and creates a miniature city with artificial citizens for the tyrant to oppress.[12] The game reflected Wright's approval of mass transit and disapproval of nuclear power; Maxis president Jeff Braun stated "We're pushing political agendas".[13]

The first version of the game was developed for the Commodore 64 in 1985; it was not published for another four years.[14] The original working title of SimCity was Micropolis.[15] The game was unusual 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, Braun, founder of the tiny software company Maxis, agreed to publish SimCity as one of two initial games for the company.[7]

Wright and Braun returned to Brøderbund to formally clear the rights to the game in 1988, when SimCity was near completion. After Brøderbund executives Gary Carlston and Don Daglow saw SimCity, they 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.[14]

Ports and versions[edit]

Multiplayer mode on the SGI Indigo workstation

After the original release on the Amiga and Macintosh, then the Commodore 64 and IBM PC, it was ported to several other computer platforms and video game consoles, specifically the Atari ST, Acorn Archimedes, Amstrad CPC, Sinclair ZX Spectrum, BBC Micro, Acorn Electron, Super Nintendo Entertainment System (which was later released on Virtual Console), EPOC32, mobile phone, Internet, Windows, FM-Towns, OLPC XO-1 and NeWS HyperLook on Sun Unix. The game is available as a multiplayer version for X11 TCL/Tk on various Unix, Linux, DESQview and OS/2 operating systems. Certain versions have 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 disc. The level editor is a simple tool that allows the user to create grasslands, dirt land, and water portions. SimCity Classic was re-released in 1993 as part of the SimClassics Volume 1 compilation alongside SimAnt and SimLife for PC, Mac and Amiga.[16]

A version was developed in 1991 for the Nintendo Entertainment System, but never released; a prototype version was found in 2017.[17] On December 25, 2018, a ROM image of the unreleased NES version was released online by Frank Cifaldi of the Video Game History Foundation.[18]

The IBM version of SimCity is notable for the unusually large amount of graphics modes it supports; the game runs in CGA 640x200 mode, EGA 640x200 mode (for users with 200-line monitors), Tandy 640x200 mode, Hercules, EGA 640x350 mode (for users with 350-line monitors) and VGA 640x480 monochrome. A later release dropped all of the 200-line modes and added 640x480 color mode. Unlike most commercial PC games at the time, 320x200 resolutions were not used because they were inadequate for the amount of graphics detail the game needed. A port of SimCity was released for Windows 3.0 in 1992. It runs in the Windows GDI and does not support 256-color graphics or sound.

Super NES[edit]

SimCity for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) 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 populace, the player receives a Mario statue that is placeable in the city. The Super NES port also features special buildings the player may receive as rewards, such as casinos, large parks, amusement parks, and expo centers; some of which would be incorporated into SimCity 2000. A bank can be built which will allow a loan of $10,000 to be taken, but it must be paid back before another loan can be taken out. The game includes schools and hospitals, though they cannot be placed by the player; instead, the game will sometimes turn an empty residential lot into one. There are city classifications, such as becoming a metropolis at 100,000 people. It has some of the same pre-set scenarios in the PC and Mac versions and two new ones. One is in Las Vegas under attack by aliens and another called Freeland. Freeland has no water and no rewards buildings are given. Also unique to the Super NES version is a character named "Dr. Wright" (whose physical appearance is based on Will Wright) who acts as an adviser to the player. The soundtrack was composed by Soyo Oka. The 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 to Japanese players via the Super Famicom's Satellaview subsystem. Later, a sequel titled SimCity 64 was released for Nintendo 64DD, the Japan-only Nintendo 64 add-on.

Cancelled NES version[edit]

A version for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was announced alongside the SNES version, and had been showcased at the 1991 Consumer Electronics Show, but the NES version was never properly released. However, prototype cartridges for the NES version were discovered in 2017, and one copy was obtained by video game preservationist Frank Cifaldi, who extensively documented its features compared to the original personal computer game and the SNES version.[19][20] It featured a completely different soundtrack (also composed by Oka) than the SNES version;[21] besides Metropolis Theme,[22] a composition that Oka herself considers one of her best works.[23]


In January 2008, the SimCity source code was released under the free software GPL 3 license,[24][25][26] renamed to Micropolis (the original working title) for trademark reasons, and developed by Don Hopkins. The release of the source code was motivated by the One Laptop Per Child program. The Micropolis source code has been translated to C++, integrated with Python and interfaced with both GTK+ and OpenLaszlo.[27]

In 2008, Maxis established an online browser-based version of SimCity.[28] A second browser-based version was later released under the name Micropolis.[29] In 2013, a browser-based version was released, ported using JavaScript and HTML5, as micropolisJS.[30]

Since Micropolis is licensed under the GPL, users can do anything they want with it that conforms with the GPL – the only restriction is that they cannot call it "SimCity" (along with a few other limitations to protect EA's trademarks).[31] This allows other, differently named projects to be forked from the Micropolis source code. Improvements to the open source code base that merits EA's approval may be incorporated into the official "OLPC SimCity" source code, to be distributed with the OLPC under the trademarked name OLPC SimCity, but only after it has been reviewed and approved by EA.[32]

Comparison of different versions[edit]

Detailed information about ports of SimCity Classic
Platform Version – Release date Comments
Amiga V.1.0 –
  • NA: February 1989
Alongside SimCity for the Macintosh, this was the first commercially released version of SimCity. It ran on any Amiga with at least 512 kilobytes of memory, and was distributed on a single floppy disk.[33]
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 uses to draw the city, and by changing the tile set one can give the city a different look and feel. The graphics support up to 64 colors in Extra Halfbrite mode.

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 CD-DA for music, and the addition of three scenarios.[citation needed]
Amstrad CPC V.1.0 –
Sim City Amstrad CPC
Atari ST V.1.0 –
  • EU: July 1990
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 2.0.[35]
BBC Micro
Acorn Electron
V.1.0 –
This version lacks music, many sound effects, most animation and has limited colour palettes, but has most of the features of the Amiga version, in spite of having to run in 25K of memory.[36]
Commodore 64 V.1.0 –
This version lacks police/fire stations, stadiums and railways. Disasters were limited to the earthquake. 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.[citation needed]
Macintosh V.1.0 –
Released in two versions: monochrome and color.
Features high resolution EGA graphics and limited sound effects through PC speaker or Tandy DAC.
Enhanced CD-ROM –
Released by Interplay Productions for DOS, it featured 256-color graphics, new music and sound effects and added FMV cutscenes and news reports.
Classic –
Released for Windows 3.1 and re-released for MS-DOS (as version 2.00). It removed copyright protection and added background music. Also released in 1995 for Windows 95 with new graphics.
Super NES
  • JP: April 26, 1991
  • NA: August 1991
  • EU: September 24, 1992
Developed and Published by Nintendo under license by Maxis, the Super NES 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 Super NES 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.

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

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

The Super NES version of SimCity has been released for the Wii's Virtual Console service (No longer available as of January 2, 2013).

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.[37]
  • 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.[38]
  • 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.


Review score
AllGame5/5 stars[39]

SimCity was a financial success, selling one million copies by late 1992.[13] In the United States, it was the ninth best-selling computer game from 1993 to 1999, with another 830,000 units sold.[40] It was critically acclaimed and received significant recognition within a year after its initial release. As of December 1990, 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.[41]
  • 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).
  • 4th best game of all time, Amiga Power.[42]
  • Best Curricular Program, Codie award.[43]
  • Best Consumer Program, Critic's Choice Award.[43]

In addition, SimCity won the Origins Award for "Best Military or Strategy Computer Game" of 1989 in 1990,[44] was named to Computer Gaming World's Hall of Fame for games readers highly rated over time,[45] and the multiplayer X11 version of the game was also nominated in 1992 as the Best Product of the Year in Unix World.[citation needed] Macworld named the Macintosh version of SimCity the Best Simulation Game of 1989, putting it into the Macintosh Game Hall of Fame.[46] Macworld, in their review, praised its graphics as well as its strategic gameplay, calling it "A challenging, dynamic game, realistic and unpredictable", and notes how "as the population grows the city's needs change."[47] SimCity was named #4 "Ten Greatest PC Game Ever" by PC World in 2009.[48] It was named one of the sixteen most influential games in history at Telespiele, a German technology and games trade show, in 2007.[49] Sid Meier in 2008 named SimCity as one of the three most important innovations in videogame history, as it led to other games that encouraged players to create, not destroy.[50] It was named #11 on IGN's 2009 "Top 25 PC Games of All Time" list.[51] In 1996, Computer Gaming World declared SimCity the 6th-best computer game ever released.[52]

Entertainment Weekly gave the game an B+.[53]

In 1991, PC Format named SimCity one of the 50 best computer games ever. The editors called it "a town planner's dream".[54]

The University of Southern California and University of Arizona used SimCity in urban planning and political science classes. In 1990 The Providence Journal invited five candidates for Mayor of Providence, Rhode Island to manage a SimCity town resembling the city; former mayor Buddy Cianci, who was the most successful, won election that year. Chuck Moss of The Detroit News found that Godzilla attacking the city in the 1972 Detroit scenario caused less destruction than the mayoralty of Coleman Young.[13]

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.[55]

The ZX Spectrum version was voted number 4 in the Your Sinclair Readers' Top 100 Games of All Time.[56]

On March 12, 2007, The New York Times reported that SimCity was named to a list of the ten most important video games of all time, the so-called game canon.[57] The Library of Congress took up a video game preservation proposal and began with the games from this list, including SimCity.[58][59]


SimCity yielded several sequels. "Sim" games of many 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, which spawned its own series, 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 (released as A-Train outside Japan). 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 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. Rick Swan reviewed Sim City: The Card Game for Dragon magazine #221 (September 1995).[60] Swan says that "While the card game doesn't scale the heights of the computer game, it comes close."[60]

Dr. Wright from the Super NES version has made appearances in several video games. He is a non-player character in The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, and an assist trophy in the Super Smash Bros. series.

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]