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Cities are everywhere. Billions of us live in them, and many of us think we could do a better job than the planners. But for the past 26 years dating back to the original SimCity, we’ve mostly been proving that idea false.
We’ve traveled through time and space to build on alien worlds, in ancient civilizations, and in parallel universes—laying down roads, zoning land, playing god, and cheating our way to success in a vain attempt to construct a virtual utopia. And now, here, I’m going to take you on a whirlwind tour through the history of the city-building genre—from its antecedents to the hot new thing.
While extremely limited in its simulation, Doug Dyment’s The Sumer Game was the first computer game to concern itself with matters of city building and management. He coded The Sumer Game in 1968 on a Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-8 minicomputer, using the FOCAL programming language. David H. Ahl ported it to BASIC a few years later retitled as Hamurabi (with the second ‘m’ dropped in order to fit an eight-character naming limit).
The Sumer Game, or Hamurabi, put you in charge of the ancient city-state of Sumer. You couldn’t build anything, but you could buy and sell land, plant seeds, and feed (or starve) your people. The goal was to grow your economy so that your city could expand and support a larger population, but rats and the plague stood in your way. And if you were truly a terrible leader your people would rebel, casting you off from the throne.
The game captured many a player’s imagination, and several more expanded versions soon emerged, with different localities but the same core systems. Of these, George Blank’s 1978 Apple II game Santa Paravia and Fiumaccio was perhaps the most notable, as it introduced several types of buildings (or “public works”) that you could buy/construct. […]