SimCity review

And again we’re going to take a look at not just a true classic game, but also a highly influential title that helped define an entire genre, spawned several clones and influenced several other titles. I’m talking about the one and only SimCity.

SimCity is a simulation/managerial game developed by Maxis and published by Infogrames. It was originally released in 1989 for the Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, DOS and Macintosh. It was re-released the following year for the BBC Micro, Atari ST, Electron, FM Towns, PC-98, Sharp X68000 and the ZX Spectrum. In 1991, it was ported for the SNES and the CDTV. In 1992, it was again re-released for Windows 3.X and in 1993, for DOS as an Enhanced CD-ROM version and for the Acorn 32-bit. In 1994, it was ported for OS/2 and in 1995, it was again ported for Macintosh (Enhanced CD-ROM) and Windows 95 (version 2.0). In 1999, it was ported to Symbian and Palm OS. In 2006, the SNES version was re-released in the Wii Virtual Console and in 2007, the original version was re-released for modern Windows as SimCity Classic.

SimCity was originally conceptualised by Will Wright, who developed it as Micropolis in 1985 for the Commodore 64 and pitched it to several publishers, but it was originally rejected due to the latter’s lack of belief it would sell. So Wright founded Maxis alongside Jeff Braun in order to publish the game along with Infogrames and Brøderbund.

But enough of backstory and let’s look at the covers, shall we?

22630-simcity-commodore-64-front-coverThis is the original cover and it features an over-top photo of Sydney, Australia (you can tell by the Opera House at the bottom) with some colourful drawings of some buildings juxtaposed. It’s a very good cover and it hints at the game’s content in a funny way. Definitely my favourite cover.

216372-simcity-commodore-64-front-coverThis is probably the most famous cover. It features a sort of retro-techno machine with several of the game’s options and a picture of Godzilla. It’s quite a nice cover, but I think I prefer the original cover over this one. Toho however, didn’t like the unlicensed depiction of Godzilla and forced Maxis to change the cover:

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I have to confess Godzilla makes this cover look a lot cooler.

But the SNES version had his own cover:

480371-simcity-snes-front-coverWhile I do like the title design, this is a pretty unimaginative cover. Probably the worst cover of them all.

100386-simcity-windows-front-coverThis is the Windows CD-ROM cover and it’s based on the second cover, as you can see. It’s quite a good cover with some very clean lines.

But enough cover art and it’s time to boot this sucker. Well, I should say suckers, because for the purposes of this review I played three different versions of this game: the original DOS version, the Enhanced CD-ROM version and the Windows 95 version (although I didn’t played the latter a lot because it doesn’t run well on Windows 10, even patched).

Right in the title screen (which has a nice touch by using a street sign) you can choose between three options: start a new city from scratch, load a previous city or play one of several scenarios. We’ll start with the first option since it’s the game’s main mode and the most played.

When starting a new city and after choosing the difficulty level and the future city’s name, you’ll be given an empty terrain (with likely a river running across it) to start building your city (unless you have the Terrain Editor, where you can create your own terrain to play in). Immediately you’ll notice a different UI than most games at the time. There’s two windows (the main one and a terrain map), which you can edit its size like it was a Windows program. On top there’s a menu bar with four menus with several gameplay options. But we’re going to focus on the main window because it’s where the main gameplay occurs.

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Starting a new city.

The main window contains a screen with an overworld POV and on its left, a group of several icons, each representing what you can build (except for the bulldozer, which only serves to remove). Below it, there’s a small graph with three coloured lines. each line representing the growth of the three main zonings of your city: Residential, Commercial and Industrial.

You see, you don’t actually build your city building by building (unless they’re public buildings). You actually plan zonings on the terrain where buildings can be built on, but however as the mayor, you have to provide all the necessary services required for living in a city (namely electricity and transportation). Building roads and rail tracks is quite easy actually, but to provide electricity you need first to build a power plant (coal or nuclear) and then power lines to distribute the electricity to your city.

As your city grows, you’ll also need to build other services, like Police and Fire stations, airports and seaports. But also some entertainment for your citizens, like parks and stadiums. Of course, not only you have to build all these for your city to grow, but you also have to manage the city budget. The budget window is also another important option because it’s here where you manage the taxes you collect and then distribute that money between your Transportation, Police and Fire departments. And unless you choose the option of auto-budget, the budget window appears at the end of every year when the taxes are collected.

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“The traffic today seems to be quite fluid on main avenue”

But don’t think is that easy to build and run a city, because not only you have to properly manage your funds, you also need to focus at not letting crime and pollution rise or your citizens, commerce and industry will leave to better pastures. And still, that’s not the worst that can happen. If you payed attention to the video above (or played the game), you probably have noticed a “Disasters” menu. Well, this is a list of all the disasters that can randomly strike your city when you least expect it (that is, you can prevent disasters from occurring at the expense of a tax cut or you can directly activate a disaster from the aforementioned menu).

Disasters range from simple fires or floods to more destructive types, like tornados, earthquakes or even a kaiju-style monster rampaging through your city, provoking all types of explosions. And if any of these disasters strike down, having fire stations helps (a lot) because they’re the ones who put out the fires caused by any disaster (don’t know if they help with the floods too, though). And, if for some reason you’re bored while playing, you can always activate a disaster to shake things up. However, a disaster might destroy a part of your city and if you’re low on funds to rebuild it, then it’s better to reload a previous save (although the game doesn’t have a game over screen, an empty city with no funds is as close to it as you can get).

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Fires strike

But if you can overcome all of this and build an actual metropolis, you’ll realise there’s no actual ending to the game. You can play until your heart’s content and even fill the entire terrain with buildings. However, if you’re looking for more challenges, you can also play one of eight scenarios that come with the game. In each scenario, you become mayor of a famous city (San Francisco, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, etc.) in a specific time period and have to accomplish certain goals (fight crime or save the city from a disaster) during a time limit. You have the same options as in main mode but the city is already built (you can however expand the city and/or improve it).

Now we’re going to focus on the technical aspects of the original DOS version. Although the DOS version has both 16 colours EGA and  256 colours VGA/MCGA graphics, the former has a better resolution and therefore it’s the one I recommend. The graphics in either graphic mode are quite good, with very detailed sprites of the larger buildings. The animation is a bit limited though but for a game of this type, it’s more than enough. The sound effects are very limited and there’s practically no music whatsoever. I recommend using a mouse because this type of UI was specifically made for mouses.

Also Maxis released some add ons that change the buildings graphics to resemble ancient or futuristic cities. It’s a small but cool extra in case you ever get tired of looking at the same sprites. Every posterior version was then released with these add ons already included.

Now we’re going to take a look at the Enhanced CD-ROM version:

This version of SimCity published by Interplay adds a lot of stuff while maintaining the same gameplay, so we’re just going to focus on these extra elements. The first thing you might notice is the new animated intro along with better graphics and resolution. There’s also improved and digitised sound effects along with digitised speech throughout the game. Honestly, there’s a speech clip for every option and icon you click and even the little messages that appear just above the main window are all in speech, which gets annoying after a few hours of gameplay because it’s common to get the same message over and over again.

But that’s not all. Apparently Maxis decided to fill the CD to the brim with not just speech clips, but also with video clips. Ranging from small and random “peek” clips, which are totally random and sometimes even bizarre and serve no purpose to the gameplay whatsoever to other longer video clips from your counselors either asking for more funding or for specific services to be provided. But again, these get tiring after awhile because of its repetition. Luckily you can turn off all of these options and I recommend so because they don’t contribute to the gameplay in my opinion and are extremely annoying.

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One of the many clips that plagues this version.

I also played the Windows 95 version (AKA version 2.0) for this review, but because it had issues with Windows 10, I could only played it for a hour or so. This version UI is perfect to play on Windows because you can increase the windows sizes to your computer’s native resolution and also provide ambient music throughout the gameplay. There are even updated sprites that look better with the updated resolution (although you can always revert back to the original graphics or one of the extra graphic add ons). But the best part is that there isn’t any more annoying sound and video clips.

In conclusion, SimCity might have not aged well gameplay-wise mostly due to how the genre has evolved throughout the years and how the sequels and clones have improved over the original, adding new options and stuff. Still, if you’re a fan of the genre, then you might want to give it a shot just to see how the managerial/city building genre started. If you’re interested in playing the original DOS version in your own browser, then go here.

77446-simcity-windows-3-x-screenshot-starting-a-new-city

The Windows 3.X version

I never played any of the other ports, so I can’t make any comparisons. But I do know that the SNES version had some extra stuff, like Bowser as the monster. SimCity was an instant success among players and critics alike and won several awards. It did not just started the great Sim series, but also spawned several clones and inspired several other games and genres, like the Cities series and even the 4X genre.

In 2008, SimCity‘s source code was released for free under its original name, Micropolis, by Don Hopkins (you can download it here). But if you want to play it in your own browser, then I recommend going here or here.

Well, I hope you you’ve enjoyed the review. Next time, we’re taking a look at a game that I’ve been postponing for some time now. Until then, keep on building and playing.

Eye of the Beholder review

It’s a whole new year and I made a New Year’s resolution: I decided to try finishing any past games I left unfinished before trying any new game and that includes today’s subject, Eye of the Beholder!

Eye of the Beholder is a dungeon-crawling RPG developed by Westwood Studios and published by SSI. It was originally released in 1991 for the Amiga and DOS. It was ported in 1992 for the PC-98 and in 1994 for the SNES/Super Nintendo and the Sega Mega-CD. An Atari Lynx port was also being developed by NuFX but it was never released.

But as always, let’s first look at the covers:

170945-eye-of-the-beholder-dos-front-cover

OH YEAH!

This cover art made by Jeff Easley is considered one of the most iconic covers of all times and it’s just gorgeous and action-packed. It simply features a skeleton warrior busting through a door but the level of detail in it is simply stunning. You can almost hear the door break just by looking at it.

Most of the covers are either like this one or variations thereof, but the American SNES cover is a bit different:

15226-eye-of-the-beholder-snes-front-coverWhile this cover isn’t as detailed as the original cover, it’s still not a bad one. As one can see, it depicts a warrior and a sorceress fighting a beholder (yes, that floating ball full of eyestalks is a beholder, one of the toughest monsters in D&D lore, which spoils the game’s story a bit).

But alas, it’s time to boot this dungeon hacker:

The game starts with some good music score for the time and then it shows a quite impressive cinematic intro. The intro features a secret council of robed individuals that decide to hire a group of adventurers to go to the sewers below the city of Waterdeep and investigate whatever is going down there, but they’re being spied on by an unseen being through a crystal ball. Then we see our group of adventurers arriving at Waterdeep and entering the sewers, which then collapses, blocking the exit.

Then we go to the character creation screen where we have to create up to four characters. We do this by choosing their race, class (or classes, if you’re multiclassing), alignment, then we reroll or modify their stats to our liking and finally we choose our characters’ appearance by a series of portraits. Although there isn’t a lot of variety of portraits to choose from, the ones that there are, aren’t bad. If you’re not familiarized with this process, then I recommend reading the manual beforehand or even the cluebook to get an idea how to form a good party. I also recommend rolling a cleric, because you’ll definitely need one.

3928-eye-of-the-beholder-dos-screenshot-against-creepy-creatures

Fighting kobolds in the first level.

And while you start the game up to four characters, you have the option to add two more NPCs to your party. You’ll find them throughout your adventure (or what’s left of some of them). You have to remember that your party is formed by two columns and who’s ever in the front of the party are the ones that’ll fight the enemies in close quarters combat and the ones behind can only attack using projectiles or magic (but be careful because if you’re attacked from behind or the sides, then the enemies can target your back characters).

The main screen during gameplay is composed of the main view on the left featuring a first-person perspective; the characters on the right (where you can use any items or click their individual portraits to access their inventory, equipment and stats); the directional buttons for movement and a compass, both just below the main view; a message screen on the bottom and a Camp button on the right-bottom corner. By clicking the Camp button, you have access to an in-game menu, where your party can rest and recover health; any clerics and mages can memorise spells (which should be the first thing you do when starting a new game); scribe any scrolls for your mage to access new spells and other game options (like save and load, although the game only has one savestate).

137176-eye-of-the-beholder-dos-screenshot-portrait-selection

Character creation.

The dungeon is divided in 12 levels and each level is increasingly harder than the former with one or two monster types per level along with traps and puzzles. Throughout your adventure, you’ll find all types of new items, like new weapons, armor, scrolls, keys, etc. Apart from weapons, armor and food; most of the items are usually used to solve puzzles. The game encourages exploration because you’ll never know what you’ll find behind illusionary walls, traps or locked doors. Just be mindful of any cursed item (luckily there aren’t many of).

The combat is in real-time (like in every dungeon crawler RPG) and you simply click on your weapon to attack (right-click if you’re using a mouse), although to throw spells you need to first click the spellbook or a cleric’s holy symbol, then go through the pages and finally click the desired spell, which can take a while and therefore not ideal when facing a tough opponent on the heat of the battle.

The plot also gets increasingly more complex (although in general, it’s a simple plot) as your adventure progresses and don’t be surprised if you need to backtrack levels for any reason (luckily there are ways which will ease the backtracking, if you know where to look). The game also has lots of secrets to find and even some easter eggs here and there, which might encourage future replays (and also trying out different parties).

137179-eye-of-the-beholder-dos-screenshot-prepping-a-spell

Casting a spell.

Now for the technical aspects: like I mentioned before, the game features some good music during the intro, but throughout the gameplay there isn’t any music whatsoever, which would make a good addition. But even without music, the game provides a terrifying atmosphere in how it uses its simple sound effects; while exploring the dungeon, you can hear the monsters’ footsteps (or other sounds) which will get louder and louder as your party gets closer to the monsters (and then softer after killing said monsters).

Graphically wise, the game has a good color palette and all the monsters have a great design but the animation is very limited due to the fact that all the characters only have a few frames of animation. The control scheme is also pretty good and I highly recommend the use of a mouse because the gameplay was definitely built around it.

But it’s time to refer to the elephant in the room. And by that, I mean Eye of the Beholder‘s biggest controversy (only for the DOS version though). But for that I need to issue this:

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If you’re played all the way to the end (or watched my playthrough video above), you’ll see that the end is a bit on the small side (just a text message, really). Anyone that was expecting a cinematic ending in the same vein of the intro, was extremely disappointed. But the truth is, that during development, a proper ending was actually planned but because it would take another floppy disk to fit the ending, SSI decided to just cut the ending to a text message in order to save space (and money). Luckily this was only for the DOS version. All the other versions have a proper cinematic ending (which is why I recommend either playing those versions or look it up on YouTube).

OK, spoilers over!

In conclusion, it’s easy to see why Eye of the Beholder is one of the titles that popularised the first-person dungeon-crawler subgenre (which begun with Dungeon Master) and had a great success among players and critics. With a great intro, monster design, easy character creation, good control scheme (although the spell casting could be better), solid gameplay (with some hiccups here and there) and a great atmosphere, Eye of the Beholder is a true RPG classic and although it might be a bit hard for beginners (especially the final boss), it’s still an essential title to play. Needless to say that I recommend it.

3925-eye-of-the-beholder-dos-screenshot-only-you-can-find-the-evil

“But hey, no pressure.”

If you’re interested on trying it out, you can buy it here at GOG.com along with its two sequels. And I also recommend download the All-Seeing Eye, an automap app, which I used for my playthrough (along with the official cluebook).

As far as other versions go, the Amiga version looks and plays just like the DOS version. The SNES/Super Nintendo is also very similar but since the game was designed for a mouse control scheme, it feels weird playing with a gamepad. But the Sega Mega-CD version might just be the ultimate version with new cutscenes, voice-over, an automap feature and a new soundtrack composed by Yuzo Koshiro (also responsible for the soundtracks of the Streets of Rage and Shenmue series).

In 2002, Pronto Games and Infogrames released a remake called Dungeons & Dragons: Eye of the Beholder for the Game Boy Advance. It changed the gameplay significantly by reducing the number of classes to four (but adding an extra race) and although the game still has a first-person exploration, the combat was changed to third-person perspective, similar to the D&D Gold Box series. Personally I haven’t played this title, but it wasn’t well received by players and critics alike.

But this didn’t stop for fan remakes to be made:

Whew! Talking about starting the new year with a bang! I hope you’ve enjoyed the review and I promise that 2019 will be full of great reviews like this one. Until then, keep on hacking and playing!