︎︎︎ Jay Forrester
︎︎︎ Sidewalk Labs
Different than a typical computer game, SimCity is a city simulator—each player (or “SimCity Mayor”) designs and manages their own city, placing buildings, roads, railroads and power lines; setting civic spending priorities; and making key policy decisions such as tax rates, zoning, and the construction of prisons or military facilities. For many players, the potential disasters—earthquakes, tornadoes, fires and even giant monsters—were the most fun part of the gaming experience. SimCity has been credited with inspiring a generation of urban planners and government officials.

Urban planning and governance are highly complex and fraught with unforeseen interactions and outcomes. Consequently, this area was an early topic of interest for the application of computer simulations and artificial intelligence, notably in the early research and publications of Jay Forrester. More recently, focus has shifted from simulating possible outcomes to using AI programs to monitor and control various systems in real-life cities. Google Sidewalk Labs’ Sidewalk Toronto project offers a striking representation of the issues raised by this recent development in urban design.

The original 1989 edition of SimCity introduced the basic components that would evolve throughout the 25-year lifetime of the game. Through simple, colourful graphics, SimCity put the power of computer simulation into the hands of millions.

These video clips present a sample of the features in the original 1989 edition. On a simple map, players can design and manage a city; watch it grow (sometimes in unexpected ways, similar to the pioneering urban simulations of Jay Forrester); and respond to a rich and entertaining set of disasters. SimCity, in contrast to most computer games of the era, was open-ended, noncompetitive and impossible to win or lose, leading the publisher to market it as a “software toy.”

SimCity’s creator, Will Wright, went on to create The Sims and Spore, and pioneered an entire genre of simulator-based games.

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Will Wright, Maxis, SimCity (gameplay videos), 1989