Video Game Firsts: The First City-Building Simulation Game - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Video Game Firsts: The First City-Building Simulation Game

...very big in Sumeria.
There are many types of simulation video games, all claiming to offer the chance to experience a real-world scenario in a digital-world way; from BMX Simulator to Trauma Centre, you can ride a bike or save a life from the comfort of your own laptop. Today, though, we're looking back at the building simulator genre. The daddy of them all, and the one many people may credit as the originator of the genre, is often considered to be SimCity. Released in 1989, Will Wright's city building simulation gave you the chance to build a sprawling metropolis, work out zoning, balance the city's finances and keep your citizens contented. Other simulations followed given greater chance for megalomania by guiding the fate of entire countries, and even the globe. But the chance to control a nation's (mis)fortunes were presented many years before SimCity arrived; 25 years before to be exact.
Developed in 1964 as part of a joint research project between the Board of Cooperative Educational Services of Westchester County, New York and IBM, The Sumerian Game is a text-based strategy video game of land and resource management. It was designed by Mabel Addis, then a fourth-grade teacher, for investigation of the use of computer-based simulations in schools. William McKay programmed the code for the IBM 7090 time-shared mainframe computer, with the first version of the game played by a group of 30 sixth-grade students in 1964, and a revised version featuring refocused gameplay and added narrative and audiovisual elements played by a second group of students in 1966.

The game is composed of three segments, representing the reigns of three successive rulers of the city of Lagash in Sumer around 3500 BC. In each segment the game asks the players how to allocate workers and grain over a series of rounds while accommodating the effects of their prior decisions, random disasters, and technological innovations, with each segment adding complexity. As well as being the first video game allowing you control over a nation's progress, as each turn influences the next as the nation either grows & prospers or declines & falls, The Sumerian Game has been described as the first game with a narrative, and the first edutainment game. Not only that, Mabel Addis has been called the first female video game designer and the first writer for a video game. So The Sumerian Game has quite a legacy.
At the conclusion of the project the game was abandoned; a description of it was given to Doug Dyment in 1968, however, and he recreated a version of the first segment of the game as King of Sumeria. This game was expanded on in 1971 by David H. Ahl as Hamurabi, which in turn led to many early strategy games. But, as ground breaking an innovative as The Sumerian Game was you may be thinking that it's not really a city-building simulation, certainly not like the graphical-interface type we know that Will Wright pioneered. And you'd be right. These early text-based programmes were all primarily economic simulators, but it's important to acknowledge The Sumerian Games existence as without it, and it's continued development, we likely wouldn't have our next title.

Although SimCity may well be the most well remembered video game of its type from the 1980s, it was once again beaten to the graphical-interface city-building genre by a little known, but well-loved by those who played it, ColecoVision title called Fortune Builder...
Released in 1984, Fortune Builder presented the player with a large space of barren land, complete with mountain range and shoreline, within which you can eventually build a metropolis. You can pick from a staggering range of items, ranging from simple roads to apartments, shopping malls, resorts and even casinos, but your success can be hindered by random events like rampaging termites. As you'd expect from this genre, the key to success is to create a layout where units that play well off of each other (such as leisure facilities, or housing near factories so the workers don't have to commute far) are close together while avoiding putting incompatible buildings too close (like a noisy, smelly factory right next to a resort) in order to drive profits.

Fortune Builder is very much half-way between The Sumerian Game and SimCity as it successfully functions both as a city-building simulator and also an economic-simulator, this is because there is an end goal to the game; to ensure that your city reaches a certain value. And in a great piece of coding for its day, the addictiveness of Fortune Builder is enhanced by the inclusion of an incredibly polished two-player mode that allows you to either compete or work together with another player in order to make the best city. And we mentioned this came out in 1984, right? On the ColecoVision, right?

Fortune Builder takes its place in video game history as the first proper graphical-interface city-building simulator.

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