Sim Games We’d Love To Play


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By Hedge with supergood input from G-Funk

Prison Architect is a game by Introversion Software, in which the player is tasked with building and maintaining their own prison facility. It covers everything from planning and design to prisoner housing, feeding, maintenance, and income generation. It’s an alpha and for $30 you can pick it up here. I recommend you do it if you in any way enjoy SimCity or Theme Hospital because it’s like the adult version of those games. The alpha payment gets you access (in Minecraft fashion) to all updates through alpha and beta, and a copy of the final game on release. All they really ask is that you invest in it a little and submit bugs to them – use the alpha to help make the game better.

Recently as I watched my facility degrade in to America’s Worst Prison™ material, the kind of place you see on television news exposés, I started thinking about how cool these kinds of games are. Presently I was on day three of the process and my workers were moving at a snail’s pace, as they had been since they showed up in the back of the truck, presumably hired at a bus depot down the road ten minutes earlier. There was no housing, save the initial holding cell and that was rapidly reaching over-crowded status. There also wasn’t anywhere for the prisoners to eat, as the workers couldn’t figure out how to use any of the available doors to the cafeteria building to bring in the furniture.

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So amidst the floodwaters of the shower room (I’d forgotten to put in drainage) and the now also flooded holding cell a few people got stabbed. Of course by a few people I mean half my prisoners. Oh and two of the three guards. Oh and both cooks who hadn’t even started yet.

I guess maybe having all the staff walk through the holding cell wasn’t the best idea but in my defence there were two other doors they just weren’t using them. Anyways, as I hired a couple doctors and watched them cart the bleeding and unconscious sprites from where they’d been abandoned for somewhere near two days I messaged Funk about the idea of other Sim and Theme games in a similar vein.

If we can have what is essentially Theme Prison, with all the requisite adultivity then why not other games with a similar concept and execution? But what could we simulate? What settings would we like to run? Here is the list we came up with; our list of the Sim Games We’d Love To Play.

Sim School

Me and Funk are teachers by training and we’ve between us over a thousand* years of experience in running a classroom. So to us, the opportunity to give the non-educational public also a taste of the world in which we live is a welcome one. From designing the space and adopting a curriculum to hiring staff of both the teaching and non-teaching variety the idea offers a great deal of varied gameplay.

Design your own school, hire a principal, then hire teacher for each of your subject areas. We’ll say it’s a high school for the purposes of this article which means you’ve got the core subjects like English, Maths and Science, plus the social studies of History, Politics and Geography (which may or may not be a core subject where you are from, dear reader). You’ve probably also got some sort of mandatory physical education but in a high school you have electives, those classes the kids pick – Media (the best one), Art, Photography, Computing, Outdoor Ed, Cooking, Woodwork, Metalwork, Jewellery, and so on and so forth.

Which do you offer? Which do you make compulsory? What punishments do you have for students who cross the line? And believe me, students will cross the line. Teenagers are built to test boundaries. Sometimes you work at a nice school where the worst that happens is truancy and occasional disrespect but other schools can, and are, like living in the war-torn Eastern Bloc of the 1990’s. Fights, cursing, vandalism, damage to property and violence aimed teachers are less uncommon than you might hope.

Believe me, it’s not unheard of and a Sim School type game could give you the gamut.

Theme Mall

Everyone like’s shopping. Money makes the world go round mostly because we all want new iPads and whatever we just saw on thisiswhyimbroke.com. Do we need it? Fuck no. Do we want it? Well that’s another story. So embrace the philosphies of Victor Gruen and design your own shopping mall to bilk the local customers out of their hard earned income.

Are you catering to higher or lower income earners? Do you include a food court or have restaurants dotted throughout? Major chains or independent stores? How much parking should you allocate? Start with a small stip mall before working your way up to a grand Mall of the World style establishment. With rollercoasters. You should probably include directories. Lost? Remember, area F, section moss, level 3. Got it? F moss 3. Fmossthree.

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And it’s not just customers, there are whole legions of retail store owners ready to be exploited. Hike up your rent or kick em out for bringing in the riff-raff. It’s up to you.

Space Station Manager 2099

This one combines all the wonder of the first two, with a whole lot more. A space station is like a sealed city in the vastness of space and with that comes all the necessities of city living – quarters for those who live there, education for the children (because you cannot stop people screwing no matter how hard you may try), as well as places to eat, exercise, shop, work and the facilities to maintain the station systems.

You’ll need a commander, and a bridge crew, and security staff. You’ll need maintenance workers and a brig to put criminals in. You’ll need to consider how many people – not all of them human – will be coming and going, and where you’ll put their ships to dock. It’s truly a microcosm of wider society with the added danger of being sucked into a vacuum during a hull breach.

Are those Borg on the horizon?

Haunted House

There are two ways this could be done: legit haunting and Halloween scarefest. One could focus less on the building of the properties and more on the management. You’re assigned a house, and a bunch of options for the haunting of it. You’ve got a certain goal to achieve; it could be to scare one of the household to death, have the family leave in a certain timeframe or have one of the parents kill the rest Amityville Horror style.

You’ve got locations to haunt and time to do it and all the tropes at your disposal from bleeding walls to flies in the chimney. Rattle chains at night to terrify the young ones or give the father a nightmare that leads him through the house and has him wake in the yard holding an axe in the rain.

The other is the Halloween Haunt style, where you design and build a haunted house attraction for visitors to come and shit themselves inside. Do you go for the tamer scares that the 15+ crowd could enjoy or go full on plastic-bags-over-the-head like that place in New York?

However you decide, it’s up to you to design and build the house then fill it with scary shit to keep the customers coming with anticipation and keep them fleeing in abject terror. Hire staff. Set up traps. Rake in the cash.

Brothel Madam

Prison Architect is not without adult content. There’s nudity in the tutorial and as my own attempts on getting my warden on 60 Minutes showed, plenty of blood splattered on the floor and walls. So it’s not too far a stretch to consider another indie group could make Sim Brothel, as suggested by Funk.

Build your establishment – perhaps picking from time periods like the old frontier, fifties pinups, neon eighties and modern day sex club. Hire your girls and boys and have them work their magic on the paying public. Decide if you want high or low class clientele, and how you’ll protect your employees from the occasional one to take it too far. Set up your rooms with themes if you like – everything from medieval fantasy to hardcore S&M if that’s what puffs your marshmallow. The possibilities are varied.

Just be careful of the occasional raid. It’s not legal everywhere you know.

Utopian / Dystopian Society Simulator

My favourite novel is 1984, and in it we see a truly terrible society that came about by way of war and poverty and an uneducated public. Kind of like we have now for real. So what about a future society sim, where you are charged with your own population of future-humans and it’s up to you to decide whether the world they will live in will be an Eloi paradise or an Orwellian nightmare. The game Papers, Please is a great look at this sort of idea.

Decide on housing and lifestyle – are the people assigned quarters and allocated spouses or are they given the freedom to choose where and when they sleep and whom with? Do they spend their days working or relaxing? How will you police the laws? How will you provide for a relaxed, carefree society? Robots? Slaves? Morlocks? Are you far future, or a more contemporary dystopia like North Korea? Will this be an above or underground location? There’s so much to decide when you’re the great and glorious leader of everything.

And speaking of underground:

Fallout Bunker Manager

Amidst the grip of 50’s nuclear paranoia, a group of citizens come together to build a fallout bunker where they will live out the next few hundred years. Maybe it was a bit premature, I mean the bombs never really fell but once that door sealed, these people weren’t going anywhere.

Design your bunker – include quarters, living space, food storage, entertainment, power and water. How big does it need to be? How many people can you take? What about the children they’ll produce? When you’re done, allow your survivors in and seal the doors. You’ve got two hundred years. What will happen? Will you survive?

This idea gives great potential for some truly tense gameplay. As the time ticks by you’ll have to sort out living arrangements and food supply. You’ll be rationing, but what if somebody starts stealing food? You’ll need a few security workers. Everyone will need a job, lest they be idle and the kids will need to be educated. It’s similar to the space station in that it’s a microcosm of greater society. They’ll need places to live, places to work and things to do in the downtime. The difference is that there is nowhere to go. You don’t have to worry about a hull breach letting in the nothing outside but your citizens also can’t leave.

Not until that counter his zero.

Tensions between bunkmates lead to strife which you’ll have to sort out and what happens if one of the survivors loses his mind and goes on a rampage?

Victorian Estate

Downton Abbey is one of my favourite shows and before that I loved things like The Edwardian Country Home and Upstairs Downstairs. Design your estate with specific rooms as required. Hire staff. Move in and serve your lords and ladies. Manage the estate grounds and the requirements such a property requires.

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You may lose people to the war, or have tense relations with the villagers nearby. Your staff could be embroiled in scandal, or you might simply need to host a gathering for a thousand people. How will you cope?

Supervillain’s Lair

You are a villain, be it super or Bond. You might have a superpower of your own, or the intellect of Lex Luthor, or a whole lotta tech, or a fluffy white cat. Whatever your style you need to build your facility, hire minions and henchmen, set up patrols and avoid attacks by enemy heroes.

Are you inside a volcano with tonnes of magma ready to spew forth at any moment? Or a space station, with lasers trained on Washington DC? Are you in a corporate HQ with trained assassins or do you float freely on the oceans aboard your own private carrier?

There will be goals to hit, villainy to perform and the occasional spy to uncover.

Cult Complex

Cults are, at their heart, about family… and controlling the weak willed for personal gain. In Cult Sim 2014 you are the leader of an enigmatic group. You must design your commune and recruit followers. They must be the right kind of people – weak of spirit but not so fragile as to turn and run at the very promise of danger.

Once you’ve arranged the basics you’ll need to feed and clothe your followers. Do you make regular trips into town, to be mocked and eyed off by the locals or are you a self sufficient lot with a farm and generators? What about weapons? A leader must defend his or her people, after all.

Once again the Feds could feature heavily in this game. There could be standoffs with armed officers, investigations of abuse an allegations of tax fraud. Each interaction could be challenging for the player, with questions that need to be avoided and items that need to be hidden from inspectors.

Will your cult thrive, or will you be carted off to prison like the rest?

Lunar/Mars Colony Administrator

Like the space station this one is a science fiction idea but one with real world implications. If NASA or the JPL could get behind something like this, it could be used as a crowdfunded, entertaining way to solve the real problems such a colony would endure. Water and air supply, the overall design of the modules, how will colonists be assigned tasks, how will you manage the day-to-day affairs of a society cut off from Earth?

I’ve longed for a TV series set in, either in reality or traditional format, a Martian colony to see what life could bring us on our nearest of celestial siblings and a game like this could be a way to experience it for ourselves.

Sim games offer the player a look at a job or a life they otherwise could never experience. We all won’t ever get to manage a school, or a prison, or a brothel… or sadly a space station. With the right push though, particularly from indie sectors, this could be the time for a new golden age in micromanagement simulation.

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You can harass the author via Twitter @CAricHanley

*give or take a decade