When 3D engines started becoming more prevalent in the mid-90s, a feature that should have taken off way more than it did was the idea of switching from a top-down management/building game, to a first-person view where you could tour your work at ground level. 1997’s Dungeon Keeper is probably the best example of this, with its charming ‘possession’ feature, but to me, 1996’s SimCopter did something even more extraordinary.
I was never really into flight sims, because like sports and racing games, they were attempts to emulate reality, and thus boring. But SimCopter let me load up cities I’d made in SimCity 2000 and… wait for it… fly around them, like a steel god. That was it, really. The game itself was dull as dust, as I recall, since it was mostly just emergency services busywork. But the ability to take things I’d put together in an isometric world of sprites, and then have them magically turned into a 3D world I could fly around, and occasionally stop from being on fire, was magical.
For about a month, I couldn’t get over it. It was like I had effortlessly become a level designer, overnight. And it changed the way I made my SimCity 2000 cities, too. I would start to lay places out not just for their appeal when seen from above, but for how cool they would look when zooming around between skyscrapers and under river bridges. And because police stations, fire stations and hospitals were the buildings with helipads, their placement would essentially govern the difficulty level of a city when playing it in SimCopter.
I wish more games today let you play in the save files of other games, to be honest. I don’t care if it’s commercially, legally or practically impossibIe. It would be cool. I want to play Turok in someone else’s game of Jurassic World: Evolution. I want to play Elite: Dangerous inside a long game of Stellaris. Assassin’s Creed, but set inside my Pharaoh save games from 1999. I’m going to go off and think about that now – seeya.