Retro: SimCity 2000

By Jim Rossignol on January 21st, 2008 at 8:20 am.


In keeping with our Sim theme, I thought I’d publish this piece which was originally written in summer 2007 for PC Gamer UK’s Long Play series. This look back at SimCity 2000 invites the anger of fans of the subsequent SimCity games by claiming it was the best the series had to offer. Perhaps it’s just me… Perhaps not. If nothing else I think that 2000 captures the quintessential essence of a City game.

This is the one. No subsequent Sim-sequel has been able to capture SimCity 2000′s primal management essence. This is the Sim game upon which all others rest, like resource-pecking vultures on the bones of some perfect Darwinian entity. The isometric depth of this sequel dragged us outwards and upwards from the original SimCity, inspiring us to such an extent that that original compulsion to build and zone and budget seemed flat and parochial by comparison.

2000′s rich spine of management systems and statistical paraphernalia induces the weird urge in all gamers to become tight-fisted local governors. Back in 1994 we couldn’t help but worry about how close the industrial zones were to our suburban housing, or about how much we were spending on road maintenance, or subways, or airports. The same is true in 2007. Once unearthed and installed, a city must be founded, expanded and maintained.

2000 managed to be as easy to use as a set of child’s crayons, and yet abyssally deep – and the perfect scaffold for tactical imagining, like Chess, or Elite. It was that sudden, wondrous game, and the thing which threatened to consume hours, days, months, relationships, careers, lives. SimCity was a fine example of the ‘emergent’ game scenario. It started out with a simple set of things we could do – build roads, zone land for commerce or residence – and yet the possibilities that emerged from even the smallest decisions were vast. A butterfly beat its wings over there, and a deficit the size of the moon swelled up over here.

Like so many great games, SimCity is what clever men call “computationally irreducible”. This means that no one can understand quite how it works without experiencing building a city for themselves. You might know what the game was about, or even grasp the mechanical programming that powered it, but you couldn’t not understand how it worked without spending those hours at your desktop. Games are more than the sum of their rules, and it’s never truer than in the case of SimCity 2000. Even more crucially: it could all be understood at a glance. This was a game so clean and crisp, so immediate and detailed, even way back in the prehistory of 1994, that we knew things without having to ask. You could see neighbourhoods prosper, see roads congest and collapse, watch buildings fade into cracked dereliction, or be rejuvenated by fresh investment. It was a masterpiece of design – visual, simulatory, managerial.

Yet what we most readily forget about this ancient, Spartan game is just how hard it could be. To build and to have a balanced budget was tricky enough, but factor in disasters and the stupendous costs of infrastructure and you’d be crying like an onion-eyed baby over your balance sheet. Failure, like all videogame failure, taught us that we had to learn, to master, to repeat and overcome. We learned that persistence was the only route to success, and that enough police stations would drive crime down for good. Eventually, we knew, we’d break the back of this thing, and place hospitals at just the right juncture, or drive trade forward with a seaport or out of town highway. And then the cash would roll in, and the tiny skyscrapers would grow, and then be replaced with finer, more expensive constructions. Eventually, with our once small town expanded through a thousand interations into a shining metropolis, we began to place the arcologies. The arcologies, alongside the science fiction power sources such as fusion reactors, represented SimCity 2000′s cheerful poke at urban futurism. Cities, it said, are where we’re going to be living from now on. They’re going to have to be the same, but better. One day, perhaps, our cities will contain super-cities of their own, and we will be wealthier and more sophisticated than in any utopian fantasy… 2000 did the whole grand sweep – from a Wild West Milton Keynes built on a railroad and no luck, to the kind of culture-crushing mega-conurbation that causes mountains to wilt.

These days there are prettier, more sophisticated city games. SimCity itself has a string of sequels, each one mathematically more monstrous than the last. But are any of them actually a better simulation? Do any of them capture the idea and the processes of operating a city better than this? The answer, without only a molecule of room for doubt, is no.

And so SimCity 2000 has drifted into legend. As I researched this article I found a forum post (on one of those hidden tech forums accidentally unearthed via Google, internet places that you have never seen before and will never see again) where some innocent asked: “Is it true that if you build 35 arcologies they ‘blast off’ into space, thus ending the game?” It seemed unlikely, but I didn’t know. I still don’t. But hell, I intend to find out.


An Urban Vista

Oh, ferchrissakes! The Windows 95 version of Simcity 2000 has worked faultlessly on PCs since the dawn of gaming. Even on XP it ran with no real problems, not even requiring use of the compatibility mode (unless you were trying to run the original DOS version). On Vista, however, there’s no way to make it work that we can discover. It simply won’ work! Way to go, Microsoft you /history-butchers!/

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53 Comments »

  1. Jae Armstrong says:

    I always loved the traffic advisor. Dare to lower the road maintenance settings by so much as a point and he would fly into a screaming, spittle-flecked rage, cursing your children, your ancestors and your dog, before proclaiming, “YOU WILL PAY”. Truly terrifying.

  2. sigma83 says:

    This, Dungeon Keeper, Theme Park, Theme Hospital and Railroad Tycoon pretty much ate my life when I was younger. I feel no desire for them to be remade (except dungeon keeper) since the originals are still awesome.

  3. AbyssUK says:

    Psssst.. incase you didn’t get the memo Vista sucks nobody on gods earth uses it anymore we all downloaded pirate versions of XP for our new laptops..

  4. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    For me it was this one week, transport tycoon the next. Other than the occasional bout of Doom or Dark Forces, they kept me going for at least two or three years.

    I was considering getting the DS version but then I read some reviews. Alas.

  5. Jim Rossignol says:

    Being a games journalist who has to test such things, I have no options *not* to use both Vista and XP.

  6. sigma83 says:

    Transport Tycoon, not Railroad, sorry. I didn’t like Railroad for some reason.

  7. FaceOmeter says:

    oh boy just that screenshot makes me so happy

  8. AbyssUK says:

    Apparently, i have no way to actually test.. (I run ubuntu like real men do) but Simcity does work in Vista 32bit but not in the 64bit ultra crap version…

  9. isaac says:

    Man, what a fine game Sim City 2000 is… I grew up playing it. Probably the first game that really inspired me.

  10. Nick says:

    Haven’t tried it (my disks are a long way away) but I suspect that Vista badness may be made easier by running the DOS version under dosbox. Love me some dosbox.

  11. quibbles says:

    I concur.

    This is one of the greatest games I’ve ever played in my lifetime.

  12. ezequiel says:

    i know this is a PC Gaming forum, but i remember wasting months playing the SNES version (yeas, there was a port, and it was very bad actually) of it. awesome game, very difficult. Sim City 3000 wasn’t the same, sadly. still a good game, but it had some less “roughness” that made the game different.

  13. Alexander says:

    I am traversing the gold age of computer gaming running Xubuntu on my P3 733 mhz Toshiba Satellite laptop with a whopping 398 mb ram; using Dosemu (because hell, Dosemu has lightspeed megatronic turbo engines compared to Dosbox). Perfect for commuting, the unspoken advantages of public transport.

    I sub my way into Atlantis, the blasphemous woman gets locked up and I’m running around like crazy in concentric circles beating up Nazis stuffing golden pearls in cavities hoping to unleash the ancient powers.

    However, in case of failing to see the divinity of the Ubuntu, above Dosbox suggestion is recommended.

  14. Robin says:

    You won’t hear any argument from me, SC2000 was The Best. Will Wright could have retired then and… actually, that’s now on my time travel hit list just below killing Hitler and J.R.R. Tolkien.

    (Transport Tycoon was better than Sim Anything, though.)

  15. Jonathan Burroughs says:

    Transport Tycoon was gaming perfection.

  16. Andrew says:

    I loved Sim City 2000. It was hard as nails at first, particularly with stuff like the sewer system, but when it clicked it was amazing.

    Devoured my life back in the day.

  17. Sub-Kamikaze says:

    @Alexander

    Thank you for bringing Atlantis back to the forefront of my consciousness. Very very good times… (but by ye Gods, never mention the Fate of Atlantis “Action” game – I hope no-one else knows of it).

  18. Mal says:

    An alternative to DOSBox if you still have a Win95/98/XP install CD is Microsoft’s VirtualPC 2007. Which is a free download that should play old windows games without too much difficultly (although graphics cards are still emulated in software so no hardware acceleration for you).

  19. Pod says:

    Why do people hate SC3000? I thought it to be a worthy successor.

  20. Coleman says:

    Oh how I love me some SC2K. 3K was pretty decent, but that one time I successfully bought and built an Arcology in 2K has to be one of my greatest gaming achievements. Certainly wasn’t an easy game…

  21. Jachap says:

    I’m going to have to start using “abyssally” as much as I possibly can in daily conversation.

  22. Andynonymous says:

    Hah, I was beginning to think I was the only one to have ever played Transport Tycoon. Whenever I mention it to anyone they look at me like I’m stupid and say, ‘do you mean railroad tycoon?’ How all the railroad games got snapped up by Valve/Steam, but the mighty Transport was passed by is a mystery.
    I am hereby starting a campaign for Transport Tycoon to be added to Steam. Who’s with me!?!

    (I’m also campaigning at the same time for the vehicle depot limit to be removed from the game, I’m sure my current PC can handle more trains planes and automobiles at once than my old 486 could’ve.)

  23. Jay says:

    Yes! TTDx FTW

    However, I think you should have TTD with this on – http://openttd.org

    It’s fantastic. Just ask Bev on PW

  24. Andynonymous says:

    Thanks for that link Jay. Campaign cancelled folks!

  25. Nuyan says:

    “Man, what a fine game Sim City 2000 is… I grew up playing it. Probably the first game that really inspired me.”

    I don’t know how much influence it has had on me, but I grew up with it too. I also remember playing the original Simcity on school. I’m going to install SimCity 2000 if I can find it somewhere now. I guess it – was – a difficult game, but as a 10 year old kid I was still able to make successful cities in the most harsh terrains. Perhaps I should be proud of that. Hmm.

    Also, the graphics are truly amazing for a game from 1994. At least it feels like that for me, the game could’ve been from friggin’ 1998-2000 as well.

  26. Johnny Law says:

    Oh yeah, SC2k. I remember playing the Mac version of that into the ground (when I should have been studying for a particularly horrific series of tests instead).

    Annnnd I clearly remember the “arcology blast off” thing too. In those Precambrian days of the Internet I never did find a straight answer on that. The hive mind now says that the arcology launch happens if you have 250-350 (reports vary) Launch Arcologies when 2051 rolls around. Apparently not in the original DOS version though.

  27. dhex says:

    i remember the leap from simcity (which i’d played for a number of years growing up) to sc2000 and being completely blown away by the intricacy of the building graphics and tiles. (i.e. you could see things like windows and terraces and whatnot.)

    jesus i’m fucking old.

  28. Chris R says:

    I sunk so many hours into SC2000… I think aside from the old shareware Apogee games (Commander Keen, etc), SC2000 was one of the first real games that really got me hooked.

    Do any of you guys remember the pre-made city called LakeSide? (Or was it LakeCity?) It had an ocean along one side of the map, and in the middle of each “block” there was a lake and a few parks, hence the name, “LakeSide.”

    I started with that city, and built it up until the entire map was one huge city. I even did away with a large part of the ocean (leaving enough ocean for my seaport of course) so I would have more space to build. I had well over 50 arco’s (mainly the most expensive kind, the Launch Arco’s), and they never blasted off into space. FYI: Wikipedia says you need to have 250 Launch Arco’s in order for them to blast off.

    When I finally stopped playing that map I had over $30 million in my bank, and was able to lower taxes to 1% and still make $10K a year after all expenses. Playing that map is my fondest memory of SimCity.

    Ahhh…. good times.

  29. malkav11 says:

    I’m pretty sure I got the arcologies to launch at one point. (Cheating a whole lot of money into place to build them, as I was always rubbish at the game, even when gaming it with the one-tile roads.)

    My favorite memory of the game? Playing it back near when it had just come out, being used to SimCity the original, and neither myself nor my friend who actually owned it having any idea how to build power stations. Can you imagine? Our problem was that we didn’t realize the buttons could be convinced to expand into full menus.

  30. Sum0 says:

    I may be a heretic, but … I’ve never really played SC2000 that much. I played the original obsessively (it came with my first PC), then I played 3K obsessively, then I played 4 obsessively. In my opinion, they just expand and improve with each release (though the less said about Societies, the better).

  31. Greger says:

    Damn you RPS! Now you gave me an urge to play SimCity! But I can’t since I have school and am already playing far too much CIV4. DAMN YOU!

  32. Jason Overland says:

    malkav11, I remember having that same problem. Also when I started with SimCity for SNES I just assumed you could steal power from a neighboring city, and I kept wondering why the heck lightning bolts were flashing on all my buildings.

    And yes the round green arcologies do “launch off”, in certain versions. There are Mac, DOS, and Windows versions. I think they’ll launch in any of the Windows versions, maybe in one of the Mac versions too. If you go to the “ClubOpolis” website I know he has some pre built cities that will launch as soon as you take them off pause, assuming your version of SimCity 2000 does it.

  33. JP says:

    DOSBox has been mentioned but not linked, so here you go:

    http://www.dosbox.com/

    Runs on all platforms, if you could use DOS back in the day you can use this. Minus the eldritch lore required to juggle IRQs and free up enough conventional memory, so it’s actually easier.

  34. lalahsghost says:

    Has there ever been any data/code/graphs/”If x = ? then y = ?+2″ type systematic reports on functions of buildings, roads, and other features and how the correlate with each other? I’ve always tried to make a systematically perfect city in sim city 2000, but I have no data to hel me along the way.

  35. NegativeZero says:

    I never got my Arcologies to launch when playing the Mac version, and I had well over eighty of them in the one city that I managed to make successful. So successful in fact that I ended up flattening the entire map to add more space, then destroying my seaports and reclaiming all the ocean for more space to build arcos.

    I think it must be a Windows thing. I recall playing SC2000 at a friend’s place and their version had more disasters such as a volcano which I hadn’t seen before.

  36. Rich Powers says:

    SimCity 2000 is my favorite game of all time. I love it so much (or I’m so weird) that I still have my original SC2k box, floppies and manual inside, with the receipt from the now defunct Egghead software. Back in 1994 it cost me a cool $54.99. That game started my horrible addiction with PC gaming that plagues me to this day. Thanks Will Wright!

    No other SimCity game has ever come close in terms of gameplay, depth, and fun as SC2k. In fact it’s one of the few games that’s leaps and bounds better than it predecessor. The Arcologies are some of the coolest building ever introduced into a city simulator. They’re sort of indicative of Wright’s geeky interest into thinks like arcology theory and how he wasn’t afraid to add them into his games.

    Now if I could just get Will Wright to autograph that stupid SC2k box of mine, I could die happy :)

  37. malkav11 says:

    I played Mac SC2K (at home) and distinctly remember both launching the arcologies and having volcano disasters… the volcano may have been a special scenario disaster, though.

  38. Nallen says:

    I spent hours trying to get this to work last night, and failed. This was the DOS version with DOSBox though. I also failed to get Simcity 3000 working, failed to get sound on Syndicate, could hardly get C&C:TD to work, and then no cut scenes.

    In the end I had to settle for Railroad Tycoon, which worked, but man that is old school. I played it till 2:30am.

    From where does one most easily obtain SC2K for Windows these days? Also, does anyone else have SimCopter? how awesome was it to fly around your city?!

  39. Rich Powers says:

    @Nallen:

    The SimCity 2000 Special Edition, featuring the Urban Renewal Kit “expansion” and an interview with Will Wright, works just dandy on my XP box.

    You can purchase a used copy for $2.50 + shipping from Amazon.com.

  40. Chris R says:

    Simcity should be on Steam! In fact… they should offer a Sim package on steam, much like the RockStar package. That would be grand.

  41. Rock says:

    Windows Vista is a 64 bit Operating System backward compatible with 32 bit applications which is currently in 2008 almost everything piece of software or game available.
    Any version of Sim City that came out for Windows ’95 would be a 16 bit program as was Win95.
    Not sure if any would exist but try finding a 16 bit OS emulator program that would allow it to run. Wouldn’t cross my fingers though that a double emulator 16>32> 64 would work.

  42. RichPowers says:

    Will Wright generously autographed the silly SimCity 2000 box I mentioned in my previous post. Someone else standing around after Wright’s presentation regretted leaving his ancient SC2k box in a closet at home. Only SimCity fans…

    Anyway, WW said that many people think SC2k is the best one of the series. He probably read the RPS retrospective. ;)

  43. ManicD says:

    Get the game working on Vista 64!

    http://www.planetamd64.com/index.php?showtopic=24231

  44. ZZZ says:

    Apparently there’s a money limit in SC2000, at 2,147,440,083 — the max that your city coffers can have. Once that is reached, it will go to negative value and game over.

    Is it due to integer limitations?

  45. pepper says:

    Could be, im not really familiar in what language they wrote it.