The fast-paced game development process today means that many prototypes are made and discarded but that has actually been true even in ages past. While most prototypes never make it outside NDA’d halls, some do make a pubic appearance. So when something as high-profile as Simcity for the Nintendo Entertainment System, a.k.a. Famicom in Japan, vanishes without a trace, gaming historians are naturally intrigued. After 27 years, their sleuthing has finally paid off and SimCity for the NES has reemerged and is now available for everyone to learn from.
SimCity did come to the SNES in 1991, something that in itself was historic for reasons detailed by The Video Game History Foundation’s blog post. But when Maxis and Nintendo demoed that game, it also showed off a version for the NES that never came to light. While some gamers may have forgotten about it, it has become one of the holy grails of game historians.
An extremely rare cartridge appeared at last year’s Portland Retro Gaming Expo and, naturally, the VGHF immediately jumped on it. Thankfully, the owners were happy to let them digitize the game for historical records and take it apart for learning. The result is a unique insight into the game design process from three decades ago.
The NES version of SimCity sits in a unique spot between the polished version that made waves on the SNES and the initial collaboration between game creator Will Wright and Shigeru Miyamoto of Mario and Zelda fame. Interestingly, it also shows elements that didn’t make the final cut but would become iconic parts of the SimCity brand later on.
Thankfully, there are people like founder Frank Cifaldi and the VGHF that are quire passionate in preserving key artifacts of our rich gaming past. In addition to learning from lessons of old, these games would give insight into the thought processes of designers and developers long after they’re gone.