If you’re the right generation to have enjoyed a Super Nintendo at launch, you undoubtedly remember SimCity, which was radically different than most console games. More akin to PC strategy games of the time, it was a surprisingly calming title in a sea of Super Scope shooters, Mario escapades, and beat-’em-ups. You build your city, watch it grow, and periodically get rewards, or perhaps save it from natural disasters (like a nuclear meltdown that occurs due to everyone flushing their toilets at the same time).But predating Super Nintendo’s SimCityÂ was a never-seenÂ version developed for the original NES. And now the folks at the Video Game History Foundation have acquired a copy. It’s not quite complete, as it was probably intended to be a demo version for testing and focus groups. But it’s our best look at what might have been.
The VGHF has compiled quite a detailed history of the project, from Shigeru Miyamoto wanting a simulation of this sort, realizing the basis for one already existed, and then working directly with designer Will Wright to add more game-like elements and make it feel natural on a console. Wright himself was semi-immortalized as the in-game tutor, Dr. Wright, and some trademarked Mario items like city monuments and a kaiju-sized Bowser were inserted.
SimCity ultimately begat The Sims, when Wright lost his home and possessions in a fire and thought the experience of rebuilding his own life might translate into a game. He was right, and in the years since has shown that the average player seems more drawn to controlling individual lives than a complex city. But the games all have one thing in common: you can lose yourself in them for long stretches. The VGHF’s article is a long-form read that mirrors that effect quite nicely.