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The History of City-Building Games (arstechnica.com) 67

An anonymous reader writes: If you ask most gamers, the first city-building game they played was SimCity, or some sequel thereof. Though SimCity ended up defining the genre for years, it was far from the first. This article goes through the history of city-building games. It began before man first landed on the moon: "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."
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The History of City-Building Games

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  • Incomplete (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 12, 2015 @02:14AM (#50707179)

    These games, some of which are great, will remain incomplete until they feature reserved bike lanes.

    • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Monday October 12, 2015 @04:15AM (#50707453)

      Actually, these games need to include the political disaster where you get stuck with a crack-smoking mayor, yelling: "Bitch set me up ... goddamn bitch!"

      Marion Barry and Rob Ford would be perfect role models!

      • Actually, these games need to include the political disaster where you get stuck with a crack-smoking mayor, yelling: "Bitch set me up ... goddamn bitch!"

        Marion Barry and Rob Ford would be perfect role models!

        How would that be bad for the city? ;)

      • How about the pro sports team that threatens to leave unless you put the city heavily in debt in order to build them a new arena/stadium?

        • I have found, that we are sometimes too focused on the economy, that we are missing the greater good in leadership.
          There are so many bad decisions made, with the argument that it would be good for the economy.
          Lets legalize x, y and z. Because it would be good for the economy.
          Lets open up murder zones, where you just need to pay a tax to knock off your rival. It would be good for the economy.

      • I vaguely remember a game on the Amiga that had some interesting political aspects. It put you in charge of the Soviet Union, letting you run the economy, set policies, and decide what kind of leader you;d want to be. Perhaps you got glowing economical reports and all your ministers declaring that things are great. But at some point, you get a postcard from your dear old mum asking why the shops are bare and the people hungry, revealing the fact that due to your leadership style, no one dared to report an
      • I am willing to bet if they were accurate enough, they would probably find that a particular level of corruption is actually good overall.
        Much of our tax money is wasted on making sure there isn't corruption going on. That small company will need to go threw the complex bidding process wasting our tax money because of the government oversight, which all in alls will make the process more expensive, then just risking the occasional corruption.
        But once it goes too far, then the system starts to collapse, as

    • Re:Incomplete (Score:4, Informative)

      by Mashiki ( 184564 ) <mashiki AT gmail DOT com> on Monday October 12, 2015 @06:02AM (#50707697) Homepage

      These games, some of which are great, will remain incomplete until they feature reserved bike lanes.

      Well you're in luck! Cities: Skylines added that in with their first expansion(after dark). Now the only thing that the game is missing is disasters.

    • The new expansion pack for Skylines has bike lanes.

  • by murdocj ( 543661 ) on Monday October 12, 2015 @02:46AM (#50707249)

    Wow... I had forgotten about this game. As I recall each turn you'd make a decision about allocation of resources (buying land, planting seed, and feeding) and then see the results, with an occasional disaster thrown in. For a simple game it was remarkably fun. And it beat doing whatever I was supposed to be doing on the computer at the time.

    • by Sique ( 173459 )
      I remember playing Hamurabi on the C64, and trying to build my own economic simulation game, which never went past much after the startup screen.
    • As I recall it, Hamurabi was as entertaining as any computer game today, but didn't hold your attention very long.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I played an early PC version called RULER.EXE, written in BASIC and compiled with Microsoft Basic 1.0. I still have it in my DOSBox folder. This one had no popular revolt feature, so if you wanted to you could just buy low and sell high. When you hit 1,000,000 acres, it said you now own the world, and you won the game.

    • by delt0r ( 999393 ) on Monday October 12, 2015 @04:03AM (#50707437)
      There was a very similar one for the BBC micro we had at school, the yellow river kingdom. https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

      Being the clever guy in the class, i modified the basic it was written in to be quite "boyish". Instead of wheat and stuff, it was sperm for the prostitutes. I forget the exact changes. Anyhow the girls in the class loved it (why i did it in the first place) and they played it with the teacher in the room and where in hysterics. So the teacher watched....

      Well so much for being the smart kid. I was the only one that could code, so despite the girls pleading the 5th or whatever you do when your 12 in NZ, i was busted. Fortunately i had also just got into a lot of trouble with current crush of the month (she was tall and had amazing boobs in catholic uniform! ) by trying to hit on her with fancy things. Stolen things. Her dad was the local police constable. It did not end well. My parents didn't know what to do. So they did nothing!
      • Another BBC micro game along similar lines was called (IRC) "Great Britain plc" which was fiendishly difficult, requiring you to figure out (among other things) what interest rates to set to avoid mass unemployment, rioting in the streets etc.
        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          We had one that simulated the stock market during the Great Depression in the US. I learned a lot from that game. The largest 32 bit int number you can use is 2^31-1, but you need to go well below that because if you hack the code to put that much in your bank account it tends to overflow and you end up trillions in the red.

        • Just a correction - it was "Great Britain Limited": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Britain_Ltd [wikipedia.org]
      • You can play Yellow River Kingdom here: JSBeeb [godbolt.org]. Shift-F12 to boot the Welcome disk and go through the programs till you reach it, or just enter CH."W.KINGDOM" to load it directly. (It's been ~25 years since I last typed that, but that particular bunch of neurons fired as if it were yesterday).
      • ...and that's why I was thrown out of school, spent time in juvenile prison and am now working part time flipping burgers with an electronic tag on my ankle.
    • by Gr8Apes ( 679165 )
      I would have stated Hamurabi as the first. Interesting it was a repackaging of The Sumer.
  • by CaptQuark ( 2706165 ) on Monday October 12, 2015 @02:50AM (#50707257)
    If you wish to play the original text version, there is an emulated version of the Basic game at http://www.hammurabigame.com/h... [hammurabigame.com]

    --
  • I remember playing Hamurabi on a Commodore PET model 2001 computer. It had 8K of RAM and a built in cassette drive. It was one of the first computer games I ever played.
    • It was the first thing I ever did on a computer - a TRS-80 (probably Model I) in sixth grade, so around 1979-80. It was used in school as an educational tool, where we earnestly worked out the figures needed on a calculator before putting them into the game.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I feel like calling Sumer and Hamurabi for city-building games a bit of a stretch considering that they entirely lacks the city layout part.
    The game engine in those cases are no different from other early resource management games like football manager games or similar.

    • Re:Arguable (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Xtifr ( 1323 ) on Monday October 12, 2015 @03:29AM (#50707359) Homepage

      I agree. Heck, Sumer wasn't a city; it was a coalition of city-states. And the game focused primarily on the "state" part, rather than the city. You are the emperor. You're ruling your people. Whether those people were all gathered together into one city, or spread across a wider region wasn't really relevant to the game. You could just as easily have been, say, a count in medieval times, ruling your county. In fact, one of the main elements of the game was deciding how much of your grain to plant, which isn't exactly an activity associated with cities.

      I'd say that this game was closer to being the origin of empire-building games like Civ than to city-building games like Sim City.

      • by Cederic ( 9623 )

        More of a management game really.

        I do recall these sorts of games being available as source code in books and magazines - it was stuff like this that taught me to code.

  • by CaptainOfSpray ( 1229754 ) on Monday October 12, 2015 @04:20AM (#50707463)
    Over the years, I have had several goes at rewriting Ham(m)urabi, in an attempt to make it comprehensible. I just wanted to be able to tweak it, and it has defeated me (got bored and gave up) every time.
    The BASIC code is the most appalling spaghetti, and would make an excellent illustration for any CS student of How Not To Code.
    • by Megane ( 129182 ) on Monday October 12, 2015 @06:35AM (#50707777) Homepage

      A few years back I re-coded the Star Trek game in C. Its lack of structure was not easy to convert, as it liked to do GOTO GAMEOVER type of stuff all over the place. It had to be changed to have a few global variables for the game state, and an outer loop to do one command/turn at a time. And then another outer loop to play the game multiple times.

      BASIC's input and output was pretty free-form too, not just the control flow. I needed routines to input one or two integers or a float (sscanf just doesn't work as well as INPUT), and to print floats without those damn trailing zeros. And those line numbers everywhere, I had to create a version of the original code with all unused line numbers blanked out to see the control flow. And then there were those wonderfully descriptive two-character variable names, which I avoided changing when possible.

      I should try doing more of those, and Hammurabi sounds like a nice challenge.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Not sure why I did this, but... Graphviz: The worlds least popular source code viewer. [smariot.com]

  • Summary fail (Score:3, Informative)

    by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Monday October 12, 2015 @07:37AM (#50707891) Homepage Journal

    If you ask most gamers, the first city-building game they played was SimCity, or some sequel thereof. Though SimCity ended up defining the genre for years, it was far from the first.

    Uh no. "An anonymous reader" just failed at reading comprehension. That didn't stop the submission from hitting the front page, though. Hopefully this shitty summary is the result of "editing" and not the AC's incompetence. As the article says, Simcity was the first real city-building game, because in the other games you did not build a city. You managed a city, or a civilization.

    SimCity was the first city-building game. It was not the first city-managing game, but who cares about that? None of the games which preceded SimCity were anything like it.

    This post brought to you by the Passionate Defenders of the Dictionary

    • by Sique ( 173459 )
      I once tried the Mobility Game [mobility-online.de], which has the city building aspect too, but focusses more on traffic management and environmental aspects of traffic. I liked the idea of actually planning public transport with lines, stations, numbers of vehicles etc.pp.. It's missing all the public utility aspects though, so no water, electricity and waste management. Also no crime, fires and other disasters. On the other hand, the simulation of the aspects you could actually manage (number of streets, length and type of s
      • I once tried the Mobility Game, which has the city building aspect too, but focusses more on traffic management and environmental aspects of traffic. I liked the idea of actually planning public transport with lines, stations, numbers of vehicles etc.pp..

        Well, you probably also ought to try OpenTTD. I can't abide the interface, though.

        • by Sique ( 173459 )
          For a pure traffic simulation game, I prefer Simutrans [slashdot.org]. It has the most complex supply chain concept I ever encountered in a game yet. It's completely free. And, shameless plug, I even designed some streetcar sets that are included in some graphic packs for the game.
          • Likewise, I just haven't enjoyed trying to grok the interface. Needs more drill-down, thus less GUI salad. But I haven't looked at it in a while.

            What the first couple of Simcity games had was a concept that didn't outrun their UX

  • One of my first TRS-80 games, it was Hammurabi in space.
  • by T.E.D. ( 34228 ) on Monday October 12, 2015 @10:08AM (#50708913)
    Don't forget Epix's Crush, Crumble, and Chomp [wikipedia.org] from 1981. It was essentially a city-building game in reverse.
  • was called Kingdom.
  • I ran into a problem in Caesar III where I needed to build a city and a military to fend off an impending enemy forces. Except the enemy forces weren't in a hurry. By the time they showed up, my sprawling city left me incapable of fending off the enemy forces and I couldn't advance to the next scenario. So I did a Nero (without banging my mother). I went back to my earliest saved file, burned 2/3 of the city to the ground, rebuilt for a stronger military, and won the scenario.

//GO.SYSIN DD *, DOODAH, DOODAH

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