Look, I’ve had the pleasure to write about dozens of simulator games. Bus simulator game (check it out here), Train simulator (here), Police simulator (here) and even Drug dealer simulator game (here). Which, now that that I think about it, it is a bit messed-up…
But they’re not contained in the transportation or professional part of everyday life. We have fine examples like the Bee simulator game and yes plenty of sports-related simulator games. And as you can probably tell by now, I’ve also written about plenty of them. Some of my notable examples are the golf simulator game articles (here), wrestling simulator game ones, (here) the rugby ones (here) and of course. The football simulator game articles (here).
Simulator Games: The Ins And Outs
Seriously we have way too many to count and number. Perhaps it’s best to give them a closer look here and pick the best one for you. Now, I’m here about something else. I’m here to have a closer look at the genre, but at the same time to find out more about its history, its present and its future. And of course, to see what’s so special about them.
However, in its most basic terms, a simulator game is a diverse super-category of video games, generally designed to closely simulate real-world activities. Furthermore, a simulation game attempts to copy various activities from real life in the form of a game. And for various purposes too. Such as training, analysis, prediction, or simply entertainment. Yes, the medical field has its more advanced simulator games and programs and even the field of architecture. So, yeah. They’re not all fun and games, and that’s fine.
Why Simulator Games?
Now before I get to the history of the sub-category, I must admit I dig a little deeper into the question of why people like to play simulator games. Let’s face it they’re not as thrilling as an action-adventure game. Or perhaps not as immersive as RPGs. But they do have an audience and according to my research, there are several reasons why the fans like playing them.
First and foremost, they’re educational. They also simplify complex concepts and repackage them into more understandable and palatable forms of education. Furthermore, they require fewer game-specific skills. You can actually play and enjoy them without being very good at playing video games. Next, they’re relaxing (which is self-explanatory) but they also bring new opportunities to discover a new hobby. Hey, you like golf after all? That’s great. Perhaps you can try golf on your PS4 before you hit that golfing course.
But What About The History?
Yeah, what about it? What’s the inception of the entire sub-genre? Well, can you believe that it has its roots in the early to mid-’60s? The Sumerian Game is the earliest example in existence and it’s a good one. The Sumerian Game is a text-based strategy video game of land and resource management, and it’s considered the first game of this kind. Furthermore, it was designed by Mabel Addis, then a fourth-grade teacher. And it was programmed by William McKay for the IBM 7090 time-shared mainframe computer. And here’s the kicker.
The game is composed of three segments, representing the reigns of three successive rulers got a 1983 release. But the ’80s were a real renaissance for the sub-genre too. In the 1980s, it became a trend for arcade video games to use hydraulic motion simulator arcade cabinets. Yup. The trend got the start with Sega’s “taikan” games, with “taikan” meaning “body sensation” in Japanese. Sega’s first game to use a motion simulator cabinet was Space Tactics (1981), and the craze continued with Hang-On (1985). Then there were the rail shooters such as Space Harrier (1985) and combat flight simulators such as After Burner (1987).
And then came SimCity. The first game in the series, SimCity, saw the light of the day in 1989 and sparked the creation of several sequels and many other spin-offs “Sim” titles. Including the 2000s The Sims, which itself became a best-selling computer game and franchise.
E.V.O., Sims, Tropico…
The 90’s also brought E.V.O.: Search for Eden. Given the considerable liberties, E.V.O. took in its simulation of the evolutionary process and its depiction of the geological time scale. But E.V.O. is still to this day, of only a few games to capture the essence of evolutionary theory. That of adaptation and natural selection through inherited genetic traits. SimCity 2000 is a city-building simulation video game that arrived in 1993. And in it, the top-down view was switched out in favor of 2D isometric with four viewing angles. A new revolutionary feature for that time. But the innovation paid off, and the game became a huge success.
But here’s the thing. SimCity wasn’t the first video game to explore the idea of creating a society. Although it was the first to garner mainstream success. And truth be told, Tropico (which we do have on hand here at IndieGala) wasn’t the first to do so on an island. Those honors perhaps go to 1981’s Utopia. Yes, the game took its cue from Thomas More’s sixteenth-century book of the same name and made it fun. For the masses anyway. The game also simulated basic weather patterns, movements of fish populations, and pirates.
Now, on the other hand, Tropico was a bit different. It simulated the development of a banana republic that could be either capitalist or socialist in outlook, with you as the corrupt leader.
Gotta Love The 90’s But Also The Present?
Yup. The early 90s also brought other interesting twists to the city-building genre. Including strategy-sim hybrids Castles (1991) and Castles 2 (1992). Both of them involved building and designing castles while The Patrician (1992), focused more on trading simulation. But are things as good now? Now, meaning post 90’s era of game development? There hasn’t been a new SimCity in years, well, not if you count the 2914’s SimCity: BuildIt is the last bastion of the series.
But you can’t help but notice the impact that the game series has had since. The franchise has been credited with inspiring a generation of urban planners, transport officials, and local government figures. They’ve experienced the games at a younger age and took on those careers in later life. Which is awesome. The Sims 4: Eco Lifestyle and The Sims 4: Snowy Escape arrived in 2020 but what else is fun from this sub-genre? A lot actually.
History As A Motif in The Simulator Games
Democracy is a fine example of the growing sim transition of the sub-genre into a serious, big-game theritory. But it’s the Sid Meire that actually got the audience to love sim games all over again. While Sid Meier’s greatest contribution to video games is undoubtedly the turn-based strategy Civilization series, his legacy is much richer than a single franchise. But the fact is, not all simulator games need to be ingrained from the past. Not all of them have to have historical accuracy. Or history period. Some need to be just fun. Theme Park also helped pave the way for Transport Tycoon creator Chris Sawyer to design RollerCoaster Tycoon (check it out here) a deeply complex theme park management game with a focus on building a custom roller coaster. Yes. If you wanted to actually build a functional and safe amusement park, though, RollerCoaster Tycoon offered incredible depth.
But the thing is… Many video games are now easier to play. That’s true. They’re simpler and more inviting for newcomers to pick up, but also more streamlined in the “hardcore” features. Which is why sim games of today have tended to get more difficult and complex. And don’t forget. Games like Grand Theft Auto have superseded space sims for huge, open-world exploration. But the fact that such games are popular, combined with humanity’s ongoing fascination with the stars, suggests that there’s still a place for games like FreeSpace, Elite, Privateer, and Escape Velocity in the years to come. If only developers can get the right balance between depth, accessibility, and flashy presentation.
What are some of your favorite Simulator Games?
Let us know in the comment section. We’d love to know more about them. Don’t be shy. Share some of your favorite sim games with us.