Remember when SimCity first came out? When you sank days into what by modern standards is a simple simulation? Nothing quite like it existed before, and it took the world by storm – and killed more than a few of your weekends. Well, you can experience the original city simulation all over again – free of charge. Micropolis is a free city simulator you’ll almost certainly find familiar – but it’s not just some clone.
In the 1980s Will Wright designed a city simulation, and called it Micropolis. The first game released by Maxis, Micropolis’ name changed before release…to SimCity. The momentum of that franchise continues – a fourth sequel was released just this year.
But that’s not the entire story – in 2008 Will Wright released the source code for the original game under the GPL 3 license. The game was donated to One Laptop Per Child, but the nature of open source means anyone can edit the code of or simply play the original SimCity – free of charge. Trademarks being what they are, the game can’t be called SimCity…so it’s called Micropolis. It’s available in most Linux distros, and a Java version opens the game to everyone else.
Launch this game up and you’ll have the distinct impression the game’s been redesigned. Don’t panic: this new landing page is the only example you’ll see of this sort of aesthetic. You can start your new city or choose a scenario – but no one ever plays scenarios. Start a city.
When you do you’ll be presented with the SimCity you know and love. Sure, the interface is a touch dated, but everything works just the way you remember. I was able to build a post-industrial hellscape in a matter of minutes.
If you’re unfamiliar with the original SimCity, don’t panic – it’s not that complicated. You need to build roads, power infrastructure and zone lots. Do well and people will move into your city, do poorly and they’ll abandon it, leaving you with no revenue and a lot of useless roads to maintain (similar to some actual cities, actually). It’s a game about balance above all else.
The fun of the game comes from keeping everything running – revenue, crime, transportation, entertainment. Help prod the city to growth, and remember, you need more police stations than you think.
You can also help growth by adjusting the budget. There’s not a lot of control – at least, not compared to modern incarnations – but it’s interesting to see what effect tweaking things can have. Raise taxes and people will leave, lower taxes and you won’t be able to fund anything.
As mentioned earlier, you can also play various scenarios. I enjoyed the layout of Hamburg – it roughly corresponds to the real city – until it was bombed to oblivion.
In this scenario the goal is to continue rebuilding in spite of constant Allied bombings. You can also rebuild Tokyo after a Godzilla invasion or a futuristic Boston after a nuclear attack (“future” as in 2010, amusingly enough – man this game is old).
So yeah, everything you remember from the original SimCity is here – because that’s exactly what this is.
If you’re a Linux user, good news: it’s really easy to install Micropolis. Just check your package manager of choice and you’ll almost certainly find it.
Everyone else can download Micropolis from Google Code. Getting this working will require Java, but couldn’t be simpler if you do. Just download the ZIP, extract and run the JAR. Here it is on a Mac:
Some people will tell you to avoid Java – there’s a case to be made against installing the platform. But if you want to play Micropolis on Mac or Windows, it’s your only choice. The secure choice, as always, is to simply switch to Linux.
There’s also an online version of the Micropolis city simulator, but I couldn’t get it to work. Let me know if it’s just me.
If the new SimCity leaves you in any way nostalgic for a simpler game, Micropolis is worth checking out. It’s not the only alternative out there, however – we’ve also outlined modern alternatives to SimCity. Be sure to check them out if you can’t get enough of simulations.
Are you guys digging Micropolis? Let us know in the comments below, and please, share any other amazingly retro games that have been open-sourced. I love learning about stuff like that.