Created by Will Wright, the idea behind SimCity apparently came during the development of Wright's first game, Raid on Bungeling Bay. This game put the player behind the controls of a helicopter in a simple top-down shooter, and has players flying around a series of islands, searching for factories to destroy. The inter-dependency and generative nature of these factories, coupled with Wright's enjoyment of creating new maps for this game, gave birth to the driving desire to produce a city building simulation, since he found the act of creating new levels more enjoyable than playing the game itself.
The first game born from this desire to create was the original SimCity, initially developed and released for the Commodore 64 and later the Amiga, Macintosh, and PC in 1989. SimCity provided the player with two options to start out; They could become the mayor of a new city beginning from one of several stages of development, or they could take the role as the mayor of one several existing cities though a variety of scenarios involving situations such as recovering from severe boredom, traffic congestion, severe crime or natural disaster. The ultimate point of the game was to build and maintain a self-sustaining city, with a functional network of police and fire departments to handle crime and emergencies, and a happy and growing population of citizens willing to pay taxes to support the city's infrastructure of roads and industrial sectors which produce the majority of jobs. As the size of the city increased, so did the responsibilities of the player to maintain its various problems, and only the best player able to multitask effectively could handle all of the various issues at one time.
With SimCity still being Maxis' best selling product despite the release of several other games along the "Sims" line (SimAnt, SimEarth, etc), the decision was made to produce a new SimCity title, designed to take advantage of recent hardware advances. Released in its first incarnation on the PC in 1993, SimCity 2000 represented a significant step forward in the graphical and technical standards of the franchise, and the game was ultimately so successful that its presentation and complexity have been used as the basis for its sequels. SimCity 2000 diverged from the standard top-down presentation of the original and provided players with a dimetric camera position that could be rotated around four times to present different perspectives, as well as zoomed in on twice. Additionally the game provided much more realistic terrain, able to provide construction surfaces of different elevations as well as subterranean layers that could be used to run subway lines and water pipes through mountains and beneath city streets. The game also provided many new types of services and facilities that could be constructed, like prisons, schools, libraries, museums, and hospitals, as well as many structures built specifically to improve the environment and the happiness of citizens, like zoos, stadiums, marinas, and parks. New types of roads and methods of transportation could be constructed as well, like highways, bus depots, subways, airports, and train tracks, and the game also allowed for nine different types of power plants to be built, including wind turbines, natural gas, and hydroelectric dams, as well as more contemporary and hypothetical power sources, like nuclear power, fusion power and microwave power, which have the added danger that they might create massive disaster scenarios through their malfunction. Aside from all that, the game had a significantly improved tax and budget management system, allowing the user to tax individual zones (residential industrial, commercial) at different rates, issue ordinances that would increase or decrease profits from taxes and affect citizen happiness. Finally, SimCity 2000 was the first SimCity game to make use of the query tool, which allowed the player to see detailed information about whatever tile they clicked on while using the tool, proving an invaluable asset for detailed management of particular city zones.
SimCity 2000 grew so popular that it spawned a collection of other products, all designed to interface or otherwise communicate with the core title in some way. The Urban Renewal Kit allowed users to produce their own building tiles to replace pre-existing game assets. SimCopter and Streets of SimCity provided the unprecedented ability to convert the 2D maps of SimCity 2000 into 3D environments and back again, allowing the player to explore and affect their cities from a first- or third-person perspective, and put them back into SimCity 2000 to observe the changes that occurred during their experience. This wasn't always a beneficial experience as if the player happened to destroy a nuclear or fusion power plant in SimCopter, the resulting explosion would completely obliterate their city, and upon loading their level back into SimCity 2000, they would find nothing but charred ruins.
Released in 1999, SimCity 3000 kept the perspective of its predecessor but significantly upped the level of detail on building sprites, often using pre-rendered 3D assets as sprites for some of the larger buildings. This iteration of the series introduced many new concepts, such as changing land value, waste management, real-world land landmarks and monuments (the Parthenon, Empire State Building, Notre Dame, etc), personal assistants (called Advisors), petitioning citizens, and special business deals that generate a large amount of money at the cost of significant drops in land value and demand for local business as well as increases in crime and pollution. Additionally the player can manage agriculture and farming if they wish, as well as negotiate deals with mayors of neighboring cities to sell or purchase water, electricity, or waste management services. Lastly, the game introduced the use of the News Ticker, which scrolls the bottom of the screen displaying information the player might need to see about a variety of happenings within the city, and which also provided to the player with a general overview of his or her city by the seriousness of the headlines appearing on it.
Like the previous installment, SimCity 3000 provided users with an application to modify the existing game assets, called the Building Architect Tool, which allowed players to make use of a block or Lego like interface to construct new building sprites to replace or add to the game's library of constructable buildings. SimCity 3000 was also heavily modified to function on the Nintendo DS, as SimCity DS, which made heavy use of the stylus and microphone to great effect, for example blowing into the microphone to put out fires or using the stylus to fire missiles from a military base at an attacking UFO or monster.
The most complex (some would say "complete") version of SimCity yet, SimCity 4 improves further on the graphical and technical depth of the series by changing some of the fundamental core mechanics of the series to allow for greater scope and scale. Unlike its predecessors, SimCity 4 uses a completely 3D engine to display its graphics, the minority of which are fully polygonal 3D assets. The majority of small buildings are sprites which appear as alpha-mapped textures applied to billboards (planar polygonal surfaces with their surface normal flipped to face the camera), and the larger buildings in the game are composed of very low-polygon models with detailed textures to show windows, etc. Additionally, while SimCity 2000 and 3000 used a dimetric perspective, SimCity 4 switched to a trimetric orthographic projection in lieu of the many changes. Aside from graphical improvements, the gameplay of SimCity has changed significantly with this fourth iteration as well. No longer are players simply dropped into a city to start with, as the game has been expanded significantly, placing cities within sections of land called regions, which are in turn divided into segments. Each segment can be one of three sizes, ranging from 1 to 4 kilometers on a side. It is these segments which can be developed into a city, and the player can manage over one or more segments simultaneously if they so wish, eventually covering the entire region with dependent cities that function in junction with one another. When the player initially selects a region to develop, the game shifts into one of three modes, each of which provide the player with different tools and game mechanics with which to interact with the world:
• God Mode - Allows the player to terraform the various terrain, raising and lowering mountains and plains, calling down disasters to affect the landscape, creating lakes and whatnot. • Mayor Mode - The core of SimCity gameplay where the player actually does most of the work. In Mayor Mode, most of the terraforming tools are disabled, and manipulating the landscape with the few tools that are available is very expensive. • My Sim - This mode of play allows players to import their characters from The Sims and drop them into a city of their choice. This mode is very useful for letting players observe citizen's needs in their cities by querying their Sims' feedback on life in the city.
Other than the significant changes in how players start and manage their cities in the game, SimCity 4 changed the way in which education and medicine is distributed, supplied new landmarks, provided a new industrial zone for agriculture and farming, automatically aligned zones towards roads, changed the status of buildings depending on the finances of their occupants and re-classifying them depending on this and other factors, simulated urban decay and gentrification, allowed for buildings to be constructed on sloping terrain, provided several new disasters including volcanoes and tsunamis, and allowed users to play during the night.
Like SimCity 3000, before it, SimCity 4 also featured a Building Architect Tool, but was far more advanced and comprehensive than the previous iteration of the software. Additionally, an expansion pack, Rush Hour, was released. Rush Hour added two new disasters, new types of roads, made changes to public transportation, query the routes of individual Sims as they move to and from work (thus allowing the player to simplify roads and reduce traffic), and most importantly, introduced U-Drive-It, which allowed players to take direct control of vehicles and drive or fly them around the city. U-Drive-It offered both mission based scenarios as well as a free driving mode.
The latest iteration of the franchise is less of a city-simulator then it is an attempt at producing a a social-engineering simulator. Developed by Tilted Mill Entertainment, SimCity Societies was an extremely simplified SimCity game, which focused more on establishing an a successful overall society rather than producing a self-sustaining city. The societies capable of being established are Authoritarian, Capitalist, Contemplative (spiritual), Cyberpunk, Fun (entertainment), Industrial, Romantic, Spooky, Small Town (rustic), and Normal (no specific societal values). The game features no ordinance and tax system other than the basic daily income from the city's working population, provides four types of transportation options, has players place individual buildings rather than self-developing zones, and focuses on the collection of several types of social energies, which govern the path in which the player's society develops.
While SimCity Societies received generally poor scores, it apparently did well enough to warrant the development of an expansion pack. SimCity Societies: Destinations will provide new buildings, new special Sims with new behaviors, more transportation options, and tourism functionality.