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In the Beginning, There Was Tetris

Back in my pre-academia days, I worked for a little start-up computer graphics company in Marin County, California. There were a lot of computers there capable of displaying graphics. We actually manufactured some ourselves: the now deceased Pixar Image Computer. With so many graphics machines around, it went without saying that we had a lot of nascent computer games on them. Tetris seemed to have basically taken over every Macintosh in E-Building by sometime in late 1987. Lunch hours (well, lunch two hours in some cases) were spent packing the falling Soma-cube-like boxes into little spaces in astonishing single-bit color resolution.

Tetris so inspired some of my colleagues that they went about the task of writing a faux Tetris program for the Pixar II and then for this strange black box that appeared one afternoon from NeXT. It was all good clean computer geek fun.

About the time the "Cube" appeared, a fellow addict brought in a virtual city planning program, created by Will Wright, entitled SimCity. This was not just a game in the traditional sense; it was one of the first true "System Simulator" programs for the personal computer. Introducing it to me, my friend unleashed the wrath of Godzilla upon a small, barely thriving metropolis he had created. The great mutant lizard tore a wide path through his downtown, leaving behind a fiery wake of virtual destruction. Godzilla, the digital planning commission, and the embezzleable finance system quickly displaced the suddenly coma-inspiring blocks game on my and most every personal computer in the company.

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Virtual Destruction. Uncontrolled fires break out in an industrial zone, a more easily managed disaster than the aftermath of Godzilla's fury.

For the uninitiated, SimCity allows you to model a virtual community, step by step, tax dollar by tax dollar. You have to include schools for learning, police and fire protection, hospitals for the wounded, office buildings, entertainment, housing areas, power plants, transportation, and utilities. These things all cost money, so you needed to tax your population, but if you overdo it you will be left with a ghost town when the citizenry flee for greener silicon the next town over. The simulation runs at a variable rate, allowing you to set up an initial model and speed through a few hundred years in a couple of minutes. Alternately, you can carefully monitor the situation, listen to your constituency, build stadia and airports when they complain, burn down slums when crime gets too frequent (Godzilla is quite useful for this purpose), react to other natural disasters, and in general try to keep the city afloat with the limited amount of tax-revenue you can squeeze from your virtual population.


Converted by Mathematica      April 24, 2000

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