If I fell in love with a computer in 1984, meeting Maxis SimCity at a friend’s place in September 1991 was my second honeymoon. I wasn’t in video games at all if you except a form of jealousy towards my friends who owned a NES, but SimCity changed the deal a deep way. I’m still not sure if it ruined my social life for half a decade or saved me from killing myself for too much loneliness.
My relation with Sim City quickly became passionate. Reading Will Wright’s 25th anniversary interviewpretty much sums up why, pointing fingers at many things I had never thought about before that day.
In 1992, my uncle gave me an antique Thomson TO16 XPDD under the condition it would stay at my grandmother’s place. Its 4.77 MHz 8088 CPU, 512 Kb RAM, 4 colors 320x200 CGA graphic card and 2 5.25 inches floppy disks had been out of date for a while, but they meant more than a treasure to me.
Take a 14 years old nerdy urban teenager to spend every weekend gardening in a cold country house, you’ll turn his life into a nightmare. Promise him a computer, a book about BASIC and some ultimately geeky games, he’ll follow you in hell. That’s what happened to me.
I spent my week-ends building cities I named from the girl I was about to get a refusal from – or already had as far as I remember – on a black and white screen. The color version of the game required buying a new screen and an expensive 16 colors EGA card that was way beyond what I could afford, but I was OK with it anyway.
My towns were all variation a perfectly aligned versions of a dystopian nightmare that would turn Epcot Center into a messy fantasy. Elodie / Oriane / Aurélie city were the combination of a perfect lack of soul an freedom, standardized places for perfectly normal people that were meant to end in an ecologic nightmare after all my nuclear power plant meltdown.
It’s also the time I first switched from GWBASIC to hexadecimal representation of binary code. Resources on that topic were extraordinary hard to find, and you could only rely on word to mouth to learn anything about it or, it you were lucky, on a passionate teacher eager to give you extra lessons out of school time. I can’t remember who taught me about PCTools and how I was able to modify my SimCity files to get more cash. but I still remember the excitement that paved the path for many unexpected, untold things.
The release of SimCity 2000 in 1994 was even more a blast for me.
For the first time my old 8088 was not enough. I spent the whole summer working in a factory to earn enough cash 80386 DX 33 with a 120MB hard drive, a 3.5 inches floppy disk and 2MB RAM. I remember paying it 3500 francs (717 € after converting from 1994 value). It was not enough, and I had to spend another 500 francs (102 €) for a 1 MB Vesa Local Bus graphic adapter and 600 francs (122 €) for 2 MB of RAM. It’s still less than 1000 €, but it was more than the 16 years old teenager I was had ever earned.
My SimCity 2000 towns were even more the image of a perfect dystopia than ever. The game was richer, adding a complexity level my perfectly regular cities could not support anymore. They looked much more like what you would expect in the real world, except it was clear they were the fruit of the mind of a twisted powerful divinity. I had just read Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy and archologies mixed with a drop of Huxley’s Brave New World were no secret to me.
I stopped naming my cities after girls I’d never have. I actually didn’t need a girl anymore, spending too much time playing. Instead most of them were called « Paradise City » after Guns and Roses Appetite For Destruction. My cities had nothing of paradise, and they were so perfectly balanced most human beings would have killed themselves of depression.
I played until 1996, the year I discovered Elite2 Frontier, a game I still play from time to time today.