One is Enough For SimCity

16 Jun

It’s been a mixed week here in the man cave. On the one hand, last week’s article on SimCity blew up pretty big in social media, attracting lots of positive comments in the process; believe me, a writer can never tire of adjectives like “wonderful,” “fantastic,” and “hugely interesting.” But on the other, I made one of the more embarrassing errors in this blog’s history with the video clip I embedded into the same article; I attributed the speaker in that video to be Will Wright instead of his racing partner Rick Doherty. Then, just to compound the error, I decided to get all cute about it: “Wright shows off some of the RX-7’s gadgetry using the same rapid-fire, jargon-laden diction that journalists and tech-conference attendees would later come to know if not always love.” Ouch. Teach me not to try to be too clever.

But most of all this week, I’ve been struggling with my planned second article about SimCity. Actually, I’ve been struggling with my coverage of the game in general on and off for months now. My original plan was to do a deep dive, to try to draw a lot of connections to the history of urban planning and the lives of cities in general. I never could quite figure out how to do that in an interesting way, however, especially as I spent more time with the simulation itself and had to face how limited it ultimately is. My big plans got pared down to a couple of articles, one more factual and historical, one more critical and philosophical.

And then this week I couldn’t seem to get even the second of those articles to come together. My work kept devolving into a nitpicky poking of holes in the simulation, which isn’t really fair given the constraints under which it was produced. Or it became an extended critique of Will Wright for failing to make the sorts of games I personally most enjoy playing, which is still less fair, especially given that his work on SimCity cracked open the door for so many later games I do unabashedly love.

At some point in all of this, I realized something: that the first article stood alone just fine. It says everything I want and need to say about SimCity‘s history and its importance to gaming. Should there be any doubt, the latter will inevitably be continually reemphasized in future articles, as I write about some of the countless games that bear the stamp of Will Wright’s original innovation — not least many of the games designed by my personal hero Sid Meier. So, I’ve decided largely to leave well enough alone. I’ve tinkered a bit with the first — now only — article to highlight a few points, but rereading it is probably only for the extremely dedicated among you.

I feel very good about the decision, but all of this wheel-spinning does mean that I can’t give you a new article this week, for which my apologies. As the writers among you can doubtless attest, sometimes you don’t really know what you already have until you try to add to it. What can I say? It’s a process.

Next week we’ll be continuing with our previously planned programming, returning to the British scene for a few more articles after our brief sojourn back to the United States for SimCity. I’ve got some very interesting material in the oven — and material which I thankfully know exactly what to do with. So, catch you then.

In the meantime, thanks a million as always for reading and supporting this work!


16 Responses to One is Enough For SimCity

  1. Jonathan Badger

    June 16, 2016 at 10:38 am

    I was looking forward to learning what you meant by the model of Sim City being “grossly biased to match its author’s own preexisting political views”.

    • Pedro Timóteo

      June 16, 2016 at 11:12 am

      Me too. Maybe Jimmy’ll answer that in the comments…

      Also, is the tag “Interactive Fiction” a mistake?

      • Jimmy Maher

        June 16, 2016 at 11:31 am

        That’s discussed a little in an old LA Times article (, where Jeff Braun frankly admits that “we’re pushing political agendas.” Most notably, nuclear power is always a crapshoot, and by abstracting away the need for roads at all if you employ mass transit the simulation makes the latter into a magic bullet that it really isn’t in reality. Jerry Pournelle, the arch-conservative science-fiction writer and columnist for Byte, noted aptly that a city with only mass transit for getting around would be drowning in garbage: i.e., there’s no place for the garbage trucks to drive — not to mention trucks, plumber’s vans, and the like. (Apropos of not much: this discussion somehow reminds me of visiting Venice recently, and seeing the incredible number of carts being pulled down the alleyways by burly men early every morning to deliver goods to the shops and restaurants from boats on the canals.)

        We could certainly debate to what extent much of this is an artifact of the simulation’s simplicity versus a political agenda, but Will Wright has always admitted that SimCity, at least its original versions, largely reflects his own view of cities — and of the ideal city.

        The “interactive fiction” tag is there because only those posts are picked up by the Planet IF feed, which some of my readers prefer. When I started this blog it was more generalized; I wrote some music and movie reviews as well, etc. (All long gone now.) So, when I registered with Planet IF I asked that it pick up only posts in the category “interactive fiction.” But basically every article I write now is of interest to that group; no one has ever complained about it, at any rate. I maybe ought to change the Planet IF side of things so I don’t have to stick everything in that category.

        • Pedro Timóteo

          June 16, 2016 at 3:43 pm

          Thanks for the reply. My guess would be that the original game wasn’t sophisticated enough to distinguish “mass transit is a good idea” from “mass transit is a magic bullet that solves everything” — as you say, an artifact of the simulation’s simplicity. I don’t think Wright would be naive enough (even back in the 80s) to believe a city without *any* roads (and without any SF technology such as teleportation) could be perfect in terms of transportation. I could be wrong, of course

          As for the tag, it was just that it was the first time I noticed it in a post that had nothing to do with IF. :) It would probably be better to ask Planet IF to change the URL for your feed so that the tag isn’t required anymore, just for organization’s sake, though that is of course entirely up to you.

        • Keith Palmer

          June 16, 2016 at 4:46 pm

          When I noticed your comments and started thinking ahead, I was reflecting a bit on thoughts I’ve had that we have to be careful about declaring any work of art as “demonstrating universal truths,” because it does seem to me artists can choose their terms to make the strongest possible case for the point they want to argue. I also mused on on the apparent complexity and possible difficulty of simulating human behaviour, although there I could see the risk of somehow encouraging dismissal of modelling less complicated or at least better-understood natural systems… Anyway, from what you were saying about how you felt the follow-up was threatening to turn out I can support your decision about it.

        • Jonathan Badger

          June 17, 2016 at 4:20 am

          I’m impressed that an article from 1992 mentioned global warming. I’m not particularly young and was technically an adult in 1992, but I don’t recall hearing the term until the late 1990s.

          • Jimmy Maher

            June 17, 2016 at 10:19 am

            The original SimCity from 1989 has a scenario predicated on global warming causing massive floods in Rio de Janeiro in I believe 2047. Avid reader of science that he was, Will Wright was perhaps a bit ahead of the curve.

            That said, there was a big explosion of interest in environmental matters at about this time. The 1990 Earth Day, for instance, was a big, big deal.

          • Adele

            November 14, 2016 at 9:57 pm

            I was in elementary school in the 90’s and if we did well in class we were rewarded with time to play SimCity in the lab (oh those dastardly save files).

            I remember learning about Global Warming and the Greenhouse Effect back then. To put it lightly, it’s a bit of a surprise when you grow up with something that seems innocuous but becomes controversial later.

            • Jimmy Maher

              November 15, 2016 at 9:08 am

              Global warning was also in the original Civilization. There’s an amusing previewing of the game in Computer Gaming World, in which the conservative reviewer chides Sid Meier for his “political correctness” in including it. That’s now 25 years ago. The more things change…

        • Oscar Felix

          June 29, 2016 at 10:03 am

          Nah, you don’t have enough to back up your initial statement and it sounds more like you’re pushing YOUR political agenda.

  2. Duncan Stevens

    June 16, 2016 at 12:06 pm

    Acknowledging that something you’ve worked on isn’t up to snuff is always hard, so kudos for your candor, Jimmy.

  3. Ken Rutsky

    June 16, 2016 at 2:50 pm

    Plans change, and sometimes you have to alter course when undertaking a project like the one you’ve taken on here. There’s no shame in that.

  4. David Cornelson

    June 16, 2016 at 4:23 pm

    If I recall correctly, Sim City 2000 can be “beaten” by making tons of bus stops. Everything else in your city is successful afterwards.

  5. Rowan Lipkovits

    June 16, 2016 at 4:49 pm

    A game as storied as this has endless bits of compelling trivia to pull out and wallow in. My favorite SimCity story talks of how players would demolish churches appearing in residential zones, falsely supposing them to negatively impact the areas’s tax base — and how to discourage this impious activity, in the MS-DOS version, bulldozing harmless churches increased chances of “act of God” disasters occurring.

  6. ZUrlocker

    June 19, 2016 at 11:43 pm

    I fully respect the decision not to drill too much into thr simulation engine. But I do hope you’ll consider the further evolution of SimCity 2000, SimCity 3000, SimCity 4 and the 2013 remake in terms of what went well or less well with the series.

  7. Harlan Gerdes

    December 25, 2016 at 6:37 am

    I played the SNES version of this game for 5 years almost every day after school for hours on end sometimes. If you have an engineering mind like mine then the game is extremely addictive. I got to the point where I could have achieve a megaopolis with or without the cheat code. Thanks for writing an article on Will Wright and Simcity, I found it very well written and enjoyed it.


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