How “digital archaeologists” discovered the lost version of SimCity for NES and restored it
SimCity game is not even a classic of the game world, but one of its pillars. Nobody managed to repeat the success of this urban planning simulator, although many have tried. But now it's not about the game itself, but about one of its earlier versions, a prototype that was developed for the Nintendo NES. No, there is no typo here, specifically for the NES, not the SNES.
SimCity's release on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System allowed the game to gain a huge audience - gamers, who preferred the console to any other gaming platform. The 8-bit version was announced at about the same time as the 16-bit version, its capabilities largely replicated the capabilities of the “older sister”. Briefly about the game told at CES 1991, but then the company's plans changed and the 8-bit version was canceled. At the same time, the SimCity prototype for NES has already been created and even existed in the form of a cartridge.
The first announcement of the version of SimCity for the Nintendo NES and SNES consoles
For many years it was believed that the cartridge was lost somewhere in the depths of the company, perhaps in some of the dusty archives. They tried to find her, but the game only surfaced in 2017, at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo.
After some time, the game managed to get into their own hands representatives of the GameHistory resource, who shot a video with a clear demonstration of the capabilities of 8-bit SimCity. In fact, they saw the game again 27 years after its first appearance.
What is the NES version of SimCity?
As it turned out, she is not a full copy of the version for SNES, although she is very similar to her older "sister." The console version appeared after the representatives of Nintendo noticed SimCity. Somewhat later, a prototype was created that differed from the version for computers and very significantly.
First, a virtual assistant appeared, Dr. Wright In the original SimCity player immediately immersed in the atmosphere of the simulator and was left to himself. The console also helped gamers to master the first steps in creating megacities and not to bury all undertakings at the start. The assistant gradually revealed to the player the wisdom of the game, talking about what the mechanics and the gameplay itself represent.
The helper is not at all faceless, he has his own personality, which many SNES owners remember. It is interesting, by the way, that the Japanese and American Dr. Wright was somewhat different from each other. In the US, his clothes were not too bright, and the style was formal. In Japan, Dr. Wright was dressed up like a toastmaster at a gypsy wedding. More precisely, the costumes and shoes were very similar to those that his “colleague” wore, but all the colors were much brighter. Apparently, the Japanese like it more, so that the assistant remained bright.
The console version was different from the computer in that it had the opportunity for the player to take a loan from a bank. In the original version during the passage it was necessary to spend the earned money with great care. There is no money - there is no opportunity to build roads, expand infrastructure and generally develop your city. But in the console version you can take a loan, and the percentages are not too high. As a result, at any (almost) time, it was possible to actively start working without waiting for the taxpayers to replenish the city budget.
In fact, the developers of SimCity for Nintendo created an exciting game instead of a real simulator of the city (which was no less exciting). Every time a player achieves a certain success in the game, Dr. Wright appeared to congratulate a talented manager. In the course of the game, the music also changed, and the faster the appearance of the city changed, the sooner the musical line was modified.
How was the game found
As mentioned above, in 2017, two playable copies of SimCity for NES surfaced at once. Their owner brought the cartridges to the store used games in Seattle (how they got to him, it is not entirely clear). It turns out that the second time about the game they learned something a quarter of a century after its first appearance. During this time, we managed to forget about it, so that the appearance of nowhere was a great surprise.
Cartridges with the NES version were not intended for sale, but were created only for the needs of Nintendo developers. One of the cartridges was sold to a collector of video games, the second remained with its former owner. Due to the fact that there are a lot of philanthropists in the gaming community, journalists managed to get a digital copy of the game for testing and evaluation for the money.
It also turned out that both cartridges are identical - it turned out when the data was byte-by-byte comparison. One of the cartridges was used by the company to test the reaction to the game of representatives of focus groups.
In 1991, representatives of Nintendo said that the difference between the NES version and SNES would be only the quality of the graphics. True, the company did not describe the game in detail. Now it turned out that, to a greater extent, what was said by the developers earlier is true. The NES and SNES versions were really very similar.
Unfortunately, the prototype, which fell into the hands of collectors, was not 100% completed game. The cartridge was quite buggy. There were errors, typos, there were no whole pieces of content. But in most cases, you can still play. Actually, this is not surprising if we recall that the cartridge was intended for gamers to evaluate its contents.
By the way, it was possible to play only "on the field of Nintendo", in a fully controlled environment. The cartridge was created with an eye to not leaving the company. Moreover, the developers didn’t expect anyone to spend more than a couple of tens of minutes playing the game before the glitches began to appear.
It is worth noting that the size of the “tiles” in the NES-version was 2 * 2, while in the SNES-version and SimCity for the PC it was 3 * 3. Another surprise is a unique soundtrack created for SimCity, an 8-bit version of it by the same composer that wrote music for Super Mario Kart and Pilotwings (among all other games).
When comparing both versions, it turns out that NES and SNES are really “relatives”. Even the start screen is similar, although not in all details.
However, in the SNES version, the city on the screen saver was more ambitious, since the capabilities of the console were broader than those of the NES. The game interface and most of its elements are also similar, with SNES it all worked out better, but nonetheless.
There is also a digital assistant, plus animation inserts, which are also similar in both versions of SimCity.
In the NES-version there is also the opportunity to take a loan from a bank. True, the bank employee is absent, instead some sprite is used, which has not yet become a credit manager. In the NES-version, as well as in the SNES-analogue, the color range varies depending on the season. There are prizes issued in case of achievement of a significant result. The larger the city, the more complex the musical composition that sounds in the background.
There are differences too. For example, in the NES-version when creating a new city, the game asks to write a favorite word, although it does not explain why this is necessary. Then it turns out that it was necessary in order to somehow call the "twin city", about which not a word had been said before. The result was an interesting surprise that takes the player by surprise. And this is a very pleasant surprise.
A number of elements of the NES version are similar to the original SimCity for Macintosh. Separately worth mentioning is the lengthy text explanation, which eats up a significant amount of cartridge ROM memory.
NES hardware limitations did not allow developers to add features such as scaling, rotation and zoom.
In the SNES version, there is an original script with a Las Vegas UFO attack. It opens after the player passes all six scenarios. Unfortunately, NES has nothing like that. More precisely, additional level fragments are present, but the UFO does not appear. When studying the files, it turned out that there is an UFO image, but the game does not give a request to use an additional script - there is not even a corresponding function in the code. It seems that the developers did not have time very little.
Unfortunately, although it is possible to play the 8-bit version, it still remained unfinished. If a team inside Nintendo has finished its work, then nothing is known about it. At the moment, the latest prototype is what is on the cartridges found by “digital archaeologists”. One of the problems of this prototype is the wrong algorithm for calculating various resources, including the cost of land. In the SNES version, the value of land increases as the city grows. In 8-bit there is nothing like that.
In addition, the NES version has a bug that allows you to receive an infinite amount of money. It turned out that if by the end of the year you have more money in the account than at the beginning, then the final amount increases many times at one point, which gives the player a huge amount of money, which is enough for everything. That is, there is no longer any “sporting” interest.
Well, another problem is the lack of ships. There are graphic files, there is also a call code, but ships do not appear.
Digital archaeologists have discovered files on a cartridge that are not used by the game and for which there is no mention in the code. One of the mysteries is the botanical garden. Graphics with him there, but not a trace in the code. Similarly, there is something like stadiums, although it is not entirely clear what they are. There are airport files (or anything with airplanes outside). As far as we know, in the original SimCity there is nothing similar. There is also other graphic information that should have been used, but for some reason it was not taken to work.
There are many interesting things in the code of the game, you can study it for a long time. One of the NES experts, user CaH4e3, spent several months studying and rebuilding the code. He managed to restore some functions (for example, the appearance of the same ships). He fixed a number of bugs and generally made the NES version of SimCity more playable.
And the most interesting thing is that the archive with the game was posted on the Internet Archive. So everyone can now begin to study the NES prototype.