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.

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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.

Grand Prix Circuit review

Looking back at all the reviews I’ve made, I realized I haven’t reviewed a proper racing game yet. Yes, I’ve reviewed Test Drive, but that’s actually racing against the clock, what I mean is proper sports racing. And I think it’s about time I review the first Formula 1 game I ever played on the PC: Grand Prix Circuit.

Grand Prix Circuit is a racing simulation developed by Distinctive Software and published by Accolade. It was originally released in 1988 for DOS and Commodore 64. It was re-released the following year for Amiga, Apple IIgs and Macintosh. It was again re-released in 1990 for Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum.

It was designed by Brad Gour and Don Mattrick. Yes, that Don Mattrick! And no, you don’t a permanent internet connection to play it.

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

21264-grand-prix-circuit-dos-front-coverThis cover is an obvious reference to the glamour that has always permeated the sport. The photo itself is great, especially the reflection of the car in the sunglasses, but the title of the game and the name of the publisher on top of the photo, using a very dull font, is what spoils a potentially good cover.

At least, they rectified it somewhat in the re-releases:

385184-grand-prix-circuit-dos-front-coverNow, here the photo is a bit smaller due the the ugly yellow border, but at least, it now sports a proper title. But why yellow, though?!

Anyway it’s time to get this sucker ready for the pit stop:

The title screen and subsequent music are okay for a 1988 DOS game. And the menu screen is extremely simple to understand: First you choose between Practice (where you can race around any track by yourself), Single Race (where you choose to participate in one race in any track of your choosing) and Championship Circuit (where you race in all the tracks and get points to win the Drivers’ Championship according in what position you end in each race).

Then you choose between five levels of difficulty, ranging from arcade style to full simulation style to hard mode and then you can input your name and how many laps each race will be (qualification is always just one lap).

If you chose Practice or Single Race, then you can choose between eight historical tracks from around the world. In Championship mode, you race all these tracks in this order:

6435-grand-prix-circuit-dos-screenshot-track-selection-ega

A bit outdated, but most of these tracks, if not all, still exist nowadays.

Whichever mode you’re playing, you then choose between three cars (and the subsequent teams): McLaren (the fastest car but also the hardest to control), Williams (balanced between control and speed) and Ferrari (the slowest but easiest to control). And if you think that simply choosing the fastest car will make every race easier to win, think again. It might work on tracks with less curves (like Italy), but on tracks with a lot of tight curves (like Monaco or Japan), it’ll take a lot of practice just to finish those races with your car intact. And the inverse also applies with the Ferrari.

And speaking about car damage, don’t think that by simply playing it in the easiest difficulty setting will make your car impervious to damage like in other racing games. The difficulty setting is, for me, the real highlight of the game: it makes the gameplay range from a more arcade felling to a simulation felling by simply cracking up the difficulty. The easiest setting not only makes your car harder to break when smashing against other cars (but not invincible), but easier to drive, while raising the difficulty, the game will start to introduce manual shifting, engine and tire damage and other options closer to a proper racing simulation.

45129-grand-prix-circuit-dos-screenshot-start-of-a-race-in-detroit

Start of a race

Also by raising the number of laps in each race, not only makes the race harder and longer, but it introduces the necessity for pit stops during the race in order to refuel your car and change tires (also to fix any damage your car might have suffered in meantime).

But I can never consider Grand Prix Circuit a proper Formula 1 experience because not only is it unlicensed (although that doesn’t bother me personally) but there are only eight tracks in Championship mode and only ten drivers in each race (not to mention only three teams to choose from). It might be frowned upon by Formula 1 purists looking for a more authentic experience, although I think is perfect for beginners to the genre.

In terms of graphics, I think the EGA graphics look good for the time, very colorful and detailed, with nice backgrounds for every track and also good detail in the cockpits (although all cockpits look very similar from car to car). I simply wished there was more objects on the side of the tracks but the tracks themselves look good. In conclusion, it looks just like every other Formula 1 game at the time featuring a cockpit view (which there weren’t all that many).

45130-grand-prix-circuit-dos-screenshot-there-will-be-a-dnf-behind

Crashed against another car

Like I said before, the title theme isn’t bad. Quite upbeat, truth be told. And the sound effects are all there, from the engine roars to the crash sounds. Again, not bad for PC speaker quality sound. The animation and scrolling, however, could be a bit more fluid although I rarely suffered any slowdowns when playing.

The control scheme is quite responsive even when playing with the McLaren. Although I couldn’t use the gamepad and had to resort to using the keyboard. Still, didn’t had any trouble whatsoever controlling the car.

In conclusion, Grand Prix Circuit is a good racing simulation game, although not quite on par with other Accolade titles, but still a very enjoyable game. I recommend it if you’re looking for a simple and accessible racing game as an introduction to the genre or simply for a quick gameplay. But if you’re looking for a more complex, simulation-type game, then there are better titles out there.

45132-grand-prix-circuit-dos-screenshot-fortunately-you-can-change

Changing tires

Grand Prix Circuit was quite acclaimed at the time (especially the Commodore 64 version) but it was quickly overshadowed by other racing titles, like Indianapolis 500 and Geoff Crammond’s Grand Prix series, which we’ll take a look later on. And if you want to check it out, then go here to play it on your own browser.

So, what is your favourite Formula 1 game? Let me know in the comments below or on our social media. Next time, let’s try a different sport. Until then, keep on racing and playing!

Theme Park DOS review

Now, we’re just upping the ante, aren’t we? Still, it’s impossible to make a Bullfrog retrospective without mentioning another critical and commercial successful title, which is perhaps their most colorful game that also begun it’s own influential series. I’m talking about Theme Park.

Theme Park is a managerial strategy game developed by Bullfrog and published by Electronic Arts. It was originally released in 1994 for the 3DO, Commodore Amiga, DOS and Macintosh. The following year, it was ported to the Amiga CD32, FM Towns, Genesis/Megadrive, Jaguar, PC-98, Playstation, Sega Mega-CD, Sega Saturn and SNES/Super Nintendo. In 2007, it was remade for the Nintendo DS and in 2008, that remake was ported for the Playstation 3 and PSPand in 2012, it was ported for the PS Vita. In 2013, the original version was re-released for Windows and Macintosh. There’s also an iOS remake with microtransactions which was released in 2011, but it wasn’t as well received.

Whew, Theme Park might just be Bullfrog’s most ported title. But, like always, before we take a look at the game itself, let’s first look at the covers, shall we?

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This is perhaps the most famous cover and it’s quite adequate for this game. It could perhaps show more on the background, but you really don’t need anything else.

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If you saw my Populous review, this cover looks very familiar, doesn’t it? It’s a lot better than the original cover and it’s not only more colorful but also conveys better what the game’s about.

99813-theme-park-playstation-front-cover

Now I know this one’s just a image took from the CD intro but it’s better suited for the cartoony and comedic look of the game. It’s perhaps not as busy as the previous cover, but I like it.

195224-theme-park-nintendo-ds-front-cover

Meh! Although truth be told, the design isn’t that bad, but it could definitely use more colour.

And now, let’s boot this sucker into the roller coaster, shall we?

The intro is from the CD-ROM version of the game and between the eerie music and the Willy Wonka lookalike, it feels like the start of an horror movie. And that hole at the end of the roller coaster? Believe me, it goes straight to Hell! The menu screen could use a bit more work. It reminds me a bit of Syndicate‘s and it really shouldn’t. Perhaps a rounder font would be better suited.

When starting a new park (and game), you have quite a range of options to customise your gameplay: from the park’s name, to the difficulty levels and more. Your gameplay can be just focused to build and customise theme parks or it can have a lot more depth to it, in the several managerial options (like buying stock for your stores, negotiating your employees’ wages or researching new rides and attractions). The fact that you can make your gameplay more or less complex, just bring a whole new level to the game itself, as it caters to both casual and hardcore strategy players.

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In building your first park, you have no other option than to start in the UK, because you don’t have any money to buy lands and in the UK, it’s free. So, you always start there. At the beginning, you only have a few rides and stores to build. You unlock the rest as you play along or research for it (depending on the type of gameplay you chose). You even have the option of a mini-tutorial which explains the basic game mechanics. But to properly understand the most complex mechanics, I recommend reading the manual first.

You also have to hire employees to manage the rides and stores, including handymen to fix broken rides, mascots to entertain the public and janitors to keep the parks clean, among others. Every now and then, a new screen pops up and you have to play a minigame in order to negotiate the employees’ wages with their representative. Also a small hint: make sure to program your janitors’ routes to make sure they actually clean the park.

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The very start of the game.

Not only do you build and decorate the park, but you also have to micromanage every little aspect, like the ride’s efficiency, the tickets’ prices, the shops’ stocks, service and prices; etc. And when building the big rides, like roller coasters, you can customise its length and altitude to your liking (even create unrealistic or rides that would be too dangerous in real life). The objective is to make sure that your park’s visitors always have a good time and leave satisfied (and hopefully, also with their wallets empty).

In case your park isn’t going well and the money is starting run low, you can always take a loan from the bank, but of course, you have to be aware of the interests and if your park still doesn’t have any success (and no money to pay the interests), the bank can always take it away from you as your debt payment. You also have to keep an eye in the stock market and make sure your stocks are high or olse, one of your competitors can make an hostile takeover of your park. But these options are only available in business mode.

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Now this is more like it!

And after a few years, you have the option to auction your park for a hefty sum of money (if the park was successful) and start in a different country, whose location and land price determine the difficulty in building and manage a new park.

This is just a light review of the game mechanics, because Theme Park in business mode, has a lot of depth and micromanagement to it, but because it also has the other two modes, it doesn’t scare away players who aren’t very good with this particular genre, making Theme Park a great entry for it.

Technically speaking, the game has good graphics and very colorful sprites and animation. You can even change the resolution ingame, but I don’t like the bigger resolution all that much (it makes the sprites very small). The music is very obviously upbeat and the sound effects are also very good (although you’ll get tired of a particular sound sample).

67801-theme-park-dos-screenshot-roller-coaster-is-a-great-and-popular

You can build your Roller Coaster any way you like.

So in general, I have to say that Theme Park is a very deep managerial game, but also very customisable, which is great for both beginners and veterans of the genre. If you want a fast and casual game, you have that option; but if you want a deep, slow micromanagement simulation, you also have that option. In other words, I highly recommend it, whether if you’re a fan of this genre or want an easy introduction to it.

Theme Park had an enormous success with both players and critics and spawned a successful series. Its direct sequel might have taken a different direction (Theme Hospital), but it came back to its original topic for the rest of the series. It also inspired the RollerCoaster Tycoon series.

You can find Theme Park here at GOG.com or at Origin (and again, I don’t recommend buying in Origin because I don’t want EA to win money, which is why I took the link down. If you’re keen on buying from Origin, go look for it).

So here ends our Bullfrog retrospective. I know some of you were expecting a Dungeon Keeper review, but like I said before, professional reasons took a lot of my free time. But don’t worry, I promise to review it this year still. Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this retrospective and hopefully, there’ll be more to come. See you guys around and until then, keep on playing.