SimTower

Publisher: Maxis Software (not Maxis Communications of Malaysia)
Game Developer: OPeNBooK Co., Ltd (now Vivarium Inc.)
Key Developer: Yoot Saito ("Yutaka Saito")
Genre: Economic Simulation
Date Released: Sometime in 1994
Recommended System Requirements: (Since this game was developed for Win95, a decent pioneer Pentium processor; 16MB RAM; some HD space)

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This game is part of the hugely popular ‘Sim’ series of which almost everyone having a computer would have had some experience playing some of the games bearing the now-famous ‘Sims’ terminology. I feel that the series have got credibly something for everyone – be it a full-fledged city planner; an intimate look in your Sims’ lives; golf enthusiasts can model their own golf courses; and if theme parks are your stuff, then you can be its architect. Not all have been covered, but genuine interest can be found in spades.

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Objectives:

Now SimTower, as I can recall, is one of those games which is guilty of the tagline " Easy to pick up; difficult to master " style of games.

You are presented with a wad of cash at the start of your venture ($2,000,000) (although there is a quick and easy cheat to double your starting cash to twice the amount if you do select the bottom-most left corner of the game map and select a lobby to be built right at the tip of that corner.). At first look, the cash may seem to be just about right to kickstart your 2-Dimensional architectural exploits.

Your primary goal in the game is to build a huge skyscraper of 100 stories-high, where the ultimate crowning glory is to construct a cathedral at the summit. No, actually the pinnacle of your game should be when a wedding takes place after  the cathedral has already been built. The wedding takes place in the cathedral, of course.

Now, the objective is painfully simple – too facile and brainless in fact. It’s like the arcade classic ‘Frogger‘ where you control a frog to dash across an array of hazards and obstacles littering the world. The economic part of the game, however, would make achieving this objective that much harder.

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Gameplay, elevators etc:

The good thing is, you can start constructing your tower right off the box. You can opt for any layout you want, any purpose you wish – whether it be a purely office tower, a hotel, an apartment tenement or whatever you choose as long as you make money from the ‘Sims’. The other good part is that you can expect financial returns rather quickly although a poor in-game judgment can also end your career rather prematurely.

You see, the tower which you’re bound to construct is populated with the ‘Sims’. These Sims live, work and enjoy life in the tower itself. Depending on the type of Sims you’d eventually attract, most of them demand certain amenities to be made available to them. They are imbued with a sense of personality about them and won’t take your gaffes too lightly if it is to their displeasure and detriment. So, at first, satisfying the needs of a smaller tower would have you scorning the task in glee; but having achieved a volume of 50 stories worth of built-up area, you can imagine the need for some serious re-organization in the building itself.

The game makes no secret that it is partial to the brilliant use and positioning of elevators (lifts), just as much as ‘Transport Tycoon’ favours the use of rail-based vehicles to achieve that higher rate of success. You can lay a series of expensively-assembled offices and hotel rooms only to be hampered by poor elevator services which would be crucial to the continued tenancy of these.

To make the Sims happy, your primary task is to ensure the smooth timetabling and coordination of transportation services within the tower. Sims have to get from Point A (e.g. office) to Point B (‘car park’) and making them wait too long at a, say elevator, would result in them harboring ‘stress’. The ‘stress’ gained would eventually translate to the rating of the building itself. The most common case of a Sim waiting too long is due to overloaded elevators or haphazardly positioned elevators.

You can add obviously more cars to a well-subscribed shaft; but if you have a very wide building, chances are you’ll end up establishing new elevator shafts. This is also not really a big deal – but the catch is, there is a limit to whatever you can build in-game. (The manual in the game explained these limitations well enough). So, while you’re tempted to add more shafts where you spot problems, you can also see that when you’re constructing the higher floors, you may end up not having enough of elevators to service the crucial floors at near the summit. Further, it is usually the higher floors which demanded the more efficient network of elevators to ensure that the cathedral would be there at the end of the game for you.

You can also see that poorly subscribed facilities often meant that transportation to it is also hampered at best. Therefore, the secret of making money from your tower is to ensure continued Sims’ happiness with the tower. Also, a poor rating may compel you to either rebuild it as something else or, for a quick remedy, to lower the rental rates.

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"Star Classification":

Most experienced SimTower gamers thought that lowering the rental rates is self-defeating as it would subtly indicate that the problem is not really eradicated. You may be quite satisfied to receive some rental rates, albeit at a lower one but incidentally when you’re pushing for promotion to a higher class (SimTower also utilizes the ‘Star Classification‘) you’d have to please some VIP who is renting a suite in your tower. You’d have to build a suite + obtain a favorable VIP opinion in order to progress, or else you’d be stuck doing the same rigmarole. I’d say that the VIP can perform a random appearance at your tower and stay in a random room of which you have no control over his choices. Add that to the fact that if the VIP was ‘asked’ to wait in queue for 5 hours at some busy elevator (making him more furious as time wore on) and you’d be given a negative feedback.

The ‘Star Classification’ restricts your construction options. And trust me – that you won’t be wanting to remain in your niche of comfort at 1 or 2 Stars because the novelty of the game can wear off pretty fast, seeing that your tower cannot really expand vertically and only restricting yourself to apartments and office blocks. Besides, it’s quite cool to build a subway station and some bit of restaurants and shops to add some diversity.

To gain some ‘Stars’ you’d also need to fulfill some population quota. The hardest part is not to add decks of buildings and watch Sims populate them but to somehow manage a well-oiled transportation/commuter service to ensure good ratings and keep them happy to be able to pay you rent.

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Noise, sanitation, security and more:

Your Sims are simulated human beings. They need food, shopping, entertainment, privacy, clean rooms etc. when they come to your tower. Besides the priority of sorting your tower transportation right, you also need to ensure that their demands are met efficiently.

For instance, you can’t just lay down a confusing row of single and double-classed hotel rooms side by side and topped with a hotel suite for good measure. Likewise, hotel rooms without an efficient janitor service is making an invitation for cockroaches to infest large sections of hotel rooms. That’s when you’d have no other option but to bulldoze these infected rooms.

You can’t also place offices next to a cinema, for example, much less a tenant area near some shops or a restaurant opening business late into the night. They are not living in Robotech’s Macross City where space is at a premium.

As your tower grows, you’d have to fill  in the demands of office staff (if you happen to build offices) to provide them with expensive medical centers. When terrorists give you a call to blackmail you for cash, failing which a bomb would likely damage large parts of your building. This is when security centers play an important role in seeking out the bomb before it goes boom.

Office workers would also clamor for parking bays and express elevators to take them to the heights where their offices are located.

To fill up your coffers, there are cinemas; party halls and shops to boost this aspect. You might also consider a good chain of fast food outlets, restaurants and well-placed shopping arcades throughout your tower. Escalators can be placed at commercial areas to facilitate Sims movement around. Later, a subway station may be built at the foot of the tower, where shops and restaurants can spring up around it to add more volumes of clientèle. Take note that the subway station be built at the bottom-most part of the screen so as to ensure that placement of your recycling centers are optimal for thrash collection. Deficiencies or problems stemming from any of these may be likely to lower your ratings and prevent maintained tenancy population and happiness.

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Placing the Subway: –

Normally, I’d try to position the subway at the bottom most part of the screen. This would mean placing the subway on level B10. The reason for this is manifold.

First, you’d be able to free up more space to accommodate more commercial spaces, especially below the lowermost lobby. Having said that, placing many of these shops, cinemas and fast food joints around the subway promises more patronage, and in turn, better ratings for the tower.

Second, you’d need to place the subway at the lowest point of the map simply because you may need to consider a pretty long parking lot, especially with the ramps and the adjoining spaces needed.

Before allocating space for the parking area, you may also need to section off part of the left corner of the map to fit in at least 3 recycling centers although it’s preferable to have at most 4 to 5 of these. You may place the parking lot ramps to the right of these recycling facilities but try not to take up too much of these valuable spaces as you’d need to envision the underground commercial area being fed by the subway as the cash cow.

Placing the subway is easy. You just need to direct the mouse pointer at the B10 level and the station would be up and running. When you’ve placed your subway, you can’t demolish it at your whim. It’s permanently rooted there and I hope that you’ve saved your game prior to its construction if you don’t like it.

Remember also, that the subway and its nearby shops have a unique relationship. On weekends, the busy subway would fetch in lots of customers while lunchtime is also a great patron booster. This is one of the primary reasons as to why I opt for the underground commercial centre to be as large as logic allows. I normally try to cut down on the number of above surface shops as they usually take up a fair bit of traffic on the elevators whereas you can actually control them when the entire operations are within the vicinity of the subway. It’s also ideal to position an express elevator which links the first lobby to the subway area.

You may then place some shops and cinemas around the area. You can also stretch some more floors of commercial space and add a few escalators to help the Sims travel around.

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Population limit in Simtower: – The readme file stipulates that in order to be crowned a ‘Five-Star’ tower, the population of the tower has to be 15,000.

If you take a look at the PM_Grand tower download offered by a site (the link is currently broken but all credit is reserved for the creator of the PM_Grand download tower), if you add a Cathedral and a wedding takes place, the population could be as high as 17500+.

This downloadable tower is the hugest tower I’ve ever seen in virtual reality and I believe it’s a fair evaluation of what to expect from all tower models of aspiring Simtower architects. I’ve a snapshot of the same tower peaking at 19439 population after adding the cathedral as well as having the wedding taken place there. It’s safe to presume that 20,000 is the cap but I can’t confirm this. Again, I reserve all credit to the creators of the tower for providing the opportunity for me to show this.

The readme should have pretty much clear up doubts any gamer has about the game. Refer to it often.

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Difficulty:

For me, this is a tough game. I’ve never  built a cathedral on my own ability before and have struggled at the upper floors. Still, this is no reason to put anyone off the game.

Sure, it may be challenging but for me, this is due to some oversight with regard to elevator positioning and hotel room placement. The moral of the story is to save your progress often before you embark in something potentially detrimental. You can always demolish elevators to make way for alternative routes.

Rain in the game also mean decreased revenue for the day as your eateries would suffer a reduction in clientèle. Ditto for the shops. This is to say; when it rains, it pours. Bomb threats and random fire breakouts can also occur uninvited, so be on your mouse for immediate action.

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Summary:

This is a fine game.

It may possibly be a frustrating experience with the early attempts at the game but as with all practice, building dazzling towers is soon not that monumental as first conceived.

The game also has a cosy feeling to it – you can see apartments teeming with activity, shops bustling with character and cinemas filled with crowds anticipating a good time at the movies. The offices are also busy throughout the week, only to clear out during the weekend where the shops and the eateries fill up. If you’re lucky, you may even catch Santa Claus on a reindeer-drawn sleigh. The graphics can still hold out in decent manner by today’s standards.

The sounds of the game are rather repetitive, although they do a remarkable duty of providing the atmosphere and individual character of the tower. A filled-up party hall is made complete with dinner jazz, the subway has its own train sounds and you can greet morning in the simulated world with the chirping of birds or go into the night to the sound of a hawk screeching.

As of this writing, I’m still trying to beat the game (maximum 50 floors), watching how other gamers achieve victory with their uploaded save games; how they formulated efficient service lines etc. The magic is that while it is a thinking game (or not so thinking game if you like it fast), the delightful and immersive atmosphere makes it a pleasant experience and the randomness in that no two towers which you construct are alike.

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**How to get it: Try to look at some abandonware sites; but beware of malware attack. I apologize in advance that I won’t and can’t upload the game for your perusal as I got my copy from the earliest Win95 with the other computer software bundle which it came in.



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