Reticulating Splines: A SimCity Retrospective

This March will mark the return of the popular city-management game, SimCity. We take a look back at the foundations of this franchise and how high it has climbed.


SimCity was developed by game designer Will Wright, who was inspired by the map editor from Raid on Bungeling Bay when he himself was developing it. The game emerged in 1989 for the Amiga and Macintosh as one you couldn’t win or lose. Such open-endedness was yet unseen in the games of that time.

The original SimCity, although a simple-looking top-down flat 2D game, was already capable of having the player manipulate the tax rate, facing natural disasters like fires or monster attacks, and have buildings built based on whether a location has crime rates, power or heavy traffic. Skeptical about the open-endedness, publisher Brøderbund suggested that scenarios were added to the game so there could be goals the player could reach to test their city-planning skills.


SimCity 2000
The eventual popularity of SimCity would lead to its sequel, SimCity 2000, released in 1994. It used isometric projection for a more realistic portrayal of an actual city, capable of having mountainous areas and a viewable underground layer so subways and water pipes can be built.

New buildings ranged from schools and museums, to hospitals and prisons and a whole range of power stations, along with more precise controls for city budget control and taxation. Buildings can now appear as abandoned and become a black mark on your fair city. Scenarios from the original game made a return, although there was another little feature some players felt was a good goal to meet: The Arcology Exodus.

Massive structures known as Arcologies are only unlocked after meeting high population count, above 100,000. Building about a few hundred of these would cause them to eventually blow up, when in actuality they’ve “gone into space” in a mass exodus.


SimCity 3000
Elevating further from the pixel-generated landscape was the third main game in the SimCity series, SimCity 3000. While still not yet reaching the edge of 3D rendering, SimCity 3000 was a step up in the graphics department, allowing you to see your micro-citizens, your Sims, for the first time.

New features threw in waste management and new neighbour deals that can bring in revenue into the city at the cost of providing power, water or the collection of waste from neighbouring cities.

Your citizens and advisors can request or demand the construction of buildings or enaction of certain city policies, all of which will affect your city one way or the other. The game was also notable as the first to add a full soundtrack of some positively enchanting music that plays in the background as you work your mayoral magic.


SimCity 4
The fourth game dropped the “thousands” and defined itself as SimCity 4. The 2003 game used a 3D engine for full 3D-polygonal buildings and objects, although still restricting itself to fixed 90-degree viewing. It also introduced a more realistic feel to having control over more then just a single city, giving you an entire region of cities and sub-cities you can mould and play with.

More robust terraforming tools were introduced to players as the game’s God Mode, allowing the formation of mountains, mesas, hills, beaches, valleys and even deformities created from tossing a few meteors or popping a volcano before civilisation came in.
The addition of the purely-aesthetic day/night cycle that allowed players to watch the beautiful progression from dawn, noon, dusk and night, as the lights in their city glows.

Kicking off a new city in Mayor Mode bring in a slightly more complicated set of city controls, as well as the visual impact of how badly a part of your city is doing with gritty-looking buildings and patches on your roads. City funding now plays an important role in the efficiency and upkeep of schools hospitals and other civic buildings and city facilities.

It was also the first in the series to have an expansion pack. Rush Hour gave the game more control and ways to get its Sims from one place to another through all new elevated-rail systems, one-way roads, ferries and toll booths.


The main games in the SimCity franchise still make for some highly compelling city-management for simulation game enthusiasts. With the fifth SimCity bound for release and promising complete 360-degree 3D graphics and online player-to-player interaction between their neighbouring cities and the eventual virtual economy on a global scale, the future of all our SimCities looks to remain headed for a brighter tomorrow, so long as that meteorite slams onto some other city. Not ours.

SimCity (2013) will be released for Windows PC on March 5th, 2013 with a subsequent release on Mac OS X at a later date. Available for pre-order on Origin and compatible for future dual-platform download.