SimTower: Architectural Mayhem a Hundred Stories Up
I've always had a thing for really tall skyscrapers. Unfortunately I grew up in the Dallas / Fort Worth metroplex, where land is so cheap it was more economically feasible to spread out rather than building skyward, contributing to a terrible case of urban sprawl. Sure we had shiny buildings downtown, but they were old and kinda small and weren't really doing it for me anymore. Thankfully the market for simulation games had skyrocketed by my teens.
What is SimTower?
Many of you may not be familiar with "SimTower: The Vertical Empire" as it was one of the many one-shot simulation games Maxis pushed out in the mid 90's to try to start off another series.
SimTower was created by Yoot Saito and published by Maxis in 1994. It received generally favorable reviews, and was applauded for its more homely feel than the grand-scale simulations that were on the market at the time such as SimLife and SimEarth.
The goal of SimTower is to create a 100-story skyscraper with a total population of over 15,000 residents.
Stars? Who needs stars?
You have to bump up your building's star rating to get anywhere in this game. The more stars you have the more features you get to build. Apparently there's some mystical construction committee determining if you're worthy enough for an escalator, parking garage, express elevator, etc.
They'll give you one star initially, possibly as a futile gesture of goodwill, which will let you build standard elevators, offices, condos, stairs, and food courts. I don't know why you're not given access to escalators immediately. This is America, where stairs are a daunting task for many of our more rotund citizens.
SimTower gives you a couple of goals to shoot for and a lot of conditions you have to meet before it'll even think about giving your gleaming skyward-bound monolith the coveted title of "Tower".
- Two stars requires a population of at least 300 residents.
- Three stars requires a population of at least 1,000 residents and more than one security office.
- Four stars requires a population of at least 5,000 residents, more than one hotel suite, a favorable review by a VIP spending a night in your hotel suite, enough recycling centers underground to take care of all the trash your wasteful residents produce, enough medical centers to cover all resident needs, and enough parking for the office workers.
- Five stars requires a population of at least 10,000 residents and a metro station built on the lowest basement floor. This doesn't alleviate your office workers demands for parking however.
- To be considered a "Tower" requires a population of at least 15,000 residents and a cathedral placed on the 100th floor. According to the manual this is all you need to do, but it's wrong. In-game you also need to keep your population above 15,000 and wait for someone to randomly have a wedding in the cathedral.
You gotta have limits
SimTower is unfortunately held back with limits. I understand that due to hardware restrictions in 1994 it may have been necessary to put these limits in, however they're still annoying and they certainly hamper gameplay.
The numbers may look large, but remember that you're trying to fit these in a very wide 100-story tower with over 15,000 residents trying to go up and down all at once. It's not for the faint of heart.
Elevator Shafts (all kinds)
Elevator Cars per Shaft
Stairs + Escalators
Movie Theaters + Party Halls
Fast Food + Shops + Restaurants
Up and down and up and down and up and...
During the day-to-day grind of life you need to help your residents get to their destinations in the sky while keeping their stress levels in check. Apparently in the simplified fantasy world of SimTower people gets stressed out only from a long wait for the elevator or having to climb too many stairs. This is great for buildings that have plenty of elevators and escalators, however your building will never have enough of these.
Remember that you can have a combined total of 24 elevator shafts. Each standard elevator shaft can stretch up to only 30 floors high. Thankfully once you reach three stars you can build express elevators that stop at sky lobbies every 15 floors and at each basement level to connect to the parking garage. People needing to get to a floor higher than the fifteenth will take an express elevator to their desired sky lobby and then take a standard elevator to their floor nearby.
They will switch elevators ONLY ONCE during their path through the building! They go through so much in their daily grind, and usually don't complain, but having to change elevators more than once is inconceivable!
As your building gets taller and taller you will start to see those lines of people waiting for the elevators grow and grow. And you'll see their stress levels go up as their black silhouetted bodies turn pink then red.
You can add connecting stairs (to any floor) and escalators (only to floors with commercial spaces) to help alleviate the strain on your limited elevators. If given the option the residents will exchange one of their elevator rides to take stairs or escalators. They'll only travel up to 4 floors with stairs and 6 floors with escalators, so this is best placed near the lobby. However, taking the stairs does increase a resident's stress level slightly.
Too much stress and your resident moves out. Strangely this is not as dire as one might think. Of course when examining the now vacant office/condo/shop you'll get little more than the generic "conditions are terrible" message, doing little to inform you as to why they really moved out. Sometimes all you can do is lower the price and hope some other sucker moves in.
Eventually you come to a point that you really can't do anything about the terrible stressful time your residents are having, so you stop trying to pamper them and you go back to putting some more floors in your tower.
It's the little things
SimTower is a moderately difficult game which just gets more and more frustrating the higher you go. There will be the SimTower veterans who understand the little intricacies of all the game's pieces and can make a tower that runs like a well-oiled machine, however this will not be the case for most.
SimTower will keep your attention for a short while, however that attention eventually wanes. Even late in the game your choices for what to place are very limited, and it begins to get rather repetitive.
As you fight an uphill battle to attract and keep residents your tower becomes less of a work of art and more of a mangled gray-green cellblock in the sky, laying down row after row of offices and praying that your residents are more stress-tolerant than those whiners a few stories down.
By the time I got to floor 75 in my playthrough I was a good 7,000 residents short of my needed 15,000. This late in the game I had run out of elevator shafts apart from the two express and two standard that let me connect the 100th floor. My stairs and escalator limit was reached a long time ago. And my office population was hemorrhaging at a rapid pace.
I decided to take a bullheaded approach and started building as many offices as I could as fast as I could to try and outpace the uncontrolled purge of residents. I also found the vacated offices and dropped their rent to the lowest level. I figured they'd put up with the terrible inconvenience for a bit of cheap rent. And my slumlord strategy paid off. I got the needed resident population, slapped a cathedral on the top, and patiently waited for someone to have a wedding at my decrepit and crowded death trap in the sky.
How does it sum up?
Overall this is a pretty solid game, however it's all the limiting factors and nitpicking annoyances that drag the rating down.
In 1998 Saito made Yoot Tower with several upgrades and improvements on the original design. While not a formal sequel it can be considered a spiritual successor to SimTower. However, it was labeled as little more than a remake of SimTower despite what appears to be a complete overhaul of the system with building limits removed.
I would really love to see this game remade for modern systems with lifted limitations, more floors, and a lot more variety. It would certainly help to sate my love of skyscrapers.
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