• SimTower


  • Simulation


  • OPeNBooK


  • Maxis Software (USA)

Release Date:

  • 1994


  • Windows, Mac

Box Art Credit:

  • Wikipedia

Systems Used:

  • SheepShaver on a MacBook

On Wikipedia:

Growing up in a world where you both had a Mac and parents who didn't exactly encourage playing computer games meant your choices were limited as far as what you could play came along. This left the vast majority of software that can be sorted into three categories: straight children's/educational/"edutainment" games (which I might cover elsewhere, but not here...except maybe Oregon Trail), which did constitute a large part of my growing-up time, a few shareware titles (things like, say, Blobbo, or Bubble Trouble, both of which you can read about on this site), and "Sim" games, and the latter even got a pass due to the fact that they could be considered educational (the shareware was basically smuggled in but tolerated). Unlike in the 2000s and beyond, where there would be little more than watered-down Sims spin-offs, back in the 1990s, Maxis was at the game making high-quality products. I'm planning on re-writing my SimCity 2000 review soon, but for now, let's focus on SimTower.

The game's side view lets you look into the things you'll be placing in your tower and well as serving as a direct inspiration to later programs like Tiny Tower for the iOS. The game let you build a wide variety of retail, restaurants, condos, and offices for your tower. Long before it became a trend for developers, this sort of mixed-use became an intriguing thing in my mind and I actively searched for buildings that did all of those things (certainly none in my hometown). In the end, I did discover many buildings that did just that. I actually went to the Galleria in Houston in 2003, which was a large mall with some office buildings and hotels attached (and at one time, it did include a movie theater), or, later, the more intriguing system in downtown Houston where I was able to go to a condominium building, descend into an escalator, walk past stores and restaurants, and then go back up to a skylobby on the 60th floor. The system isn't quite as well integrated as SimTower is but for what it's worth, it covers 90% of what I want and frankly it's still an awesome concept.

SimTower was never as open-ended and clever as SimCity 2000 (or the rest of the "Sim" family), mostly because it was a "Sim-skinned" version of The Tower, a Japanese software product, it was still entertaining in its own right. It featured day and night cycles, and unlike SC2K you could actually zoom in on individual people. You never saw any people in SC2K except in those black and white stock photos, and even cars were represented as basically "marching ants" that appeared on roads. Even the manual, which Maxis had prided themselves on by making them almanacs of infotainment (SimAnt had explained about real ants, while SimCity 2000's included artwork and poetry), is surprisingly dry and thin, with the only example of humor being how they demonstrated the power of the "rename" tool by calling a fast food "House of E.coli", and it wasn't the burger restaurant, despite the then-recent Jack in the Box scandal being on everyone's minds.

SimTower's people are silhouettes, including men, women, and children. They all look normal, if a bit weird. The children stand scarily upright (probably owing to its Japanese heritage) and their heads seem slightly too big for the rest of their body. Some of the women that work in the offices are only supported by a few pixels for their legs. You can also rename a number of them and track their movements around the building, like if a certain office worker comes to work, then goes down to the basement (I always put the restaurants in the basement, usually a sound strategy) for lunch. As a kid, being able to look at and follow people around was one of the "advantages" SimTower had over SimCity 2000.

The game tricks you into thinking that condominiums are an option for your tower as they're an option from the get-go. While they do bring life into your tower, especially on weekends when there's nobody else there except for a few folks wandering into your tower for a bite to eat in the food court (only five choices...noodles, Chinese food, burgers, ice cream, and coffee), it is a trap! Condos never pay rent (it's a one-time move-in fee, and they'll get reimbursed if they move out), they take up a lot of space, and they ultimately only bring in three people to your tower. Offices are denser, bring in six people each, and pay rent on a normal basis. This is important as the first star only lets you put fast food, condos, offices, and stairs and elevators to let them get around, so choose wisely. The second star lets you put in security offices and single room hotels (don't forget the housekeeping staff and special elevators they use), and it's the third star (with a lovely velvet red upgrade for your lobbies) where you can really expand out your tower, with twin rooms and hotel suites, an express elevator, party halls, full-service restaurants, retail shops, recycling centers, medical centers, and movie theaters (this is arguably the best part of the game, as you transform your previously lackluster basement into a thriving underground mall). The fourth star adds the metro station, and the fifth, a cathedral, which you place on the 100th floor of your tower.

Another thing about condos is that they always almost immediately move in before you can change the price, and it at first seems to be easy money. But if they don't like your tower and they move out, the money gets taken back out of your account and you're left with a unit that you'll have to fix the problems of and/or sell below market value. If you're a kid and you think you can overload your tower with these and just rake in cash, you're in for a rude awakening when you end up with negative funds. In fact, I don't think there's anything to do about negative funds, since there's no bonds and no one can repossess your tower.

Most of my earlier years of SimTower were affected by a cheat application that allowed you to change stars and max out your income. Probably the way I had everything caused me to lose money hand over fist, but in reality, I could probably build a tower that exact same way without cheating and make a profit. I'd love to tell you about the cool memories I really had with SimTower, like the color of clouds changing as the days went by, or why the lights inside the movie theater appeared to be purple when a movie was showing, or a variety of those fascinating things from the days of my family's Performa.

My brother hacked the game at one time, too. He did random stuff, like change the restaurants to more recognizable names ("Steak House" became "Outback Steakhouse", which at one time was one of my family's favorite places to eat), changing movie titles, or renaming the hotel housekeeping staff as "Janeway" by default.

One of the things that's a bit frustrating about the game is that certain items cannot be demolished. Obviously lobbies aren't removable, but even things that shouldn't make a difference like security offices or laundry rooms AREN'T removable, but things that SHOULD like, say, parking ramps, ARE. I've heard recycling centers aren't removable, but they are, at least in the Mac version I have.

I think there was a strategy guide released for the game, but most of what I did was trial and error. For instance, I figured out that when I did place the subway station, it was imperative that the train had to run at the "B10" level. You could place it several levels up, but then the train tunnel would be at that level, and nothing could go below it, severely curtailing your efforts to develop out the basement levels. I didn't come across the opposite problem...I could've placed something undestroyable like a security office down there and prevented the subway station from ever developing, thus depriving the massive inflows and outflows of daytime traffic and potentially the 5-star cathedral. Phew!

When playing it when I was younger, I don't think I ever got the bad disasters, like the terrorist calling (this being a pre-9/11 world, the terrorist didn't look at all like a Middle Eastern terrorist) and threatening to set off a bomb, or any sort of fire disaster. Then again, knowing me as a much younger child, I probably would've cowered below the computer chair if my offices blew up and a fire began raging through the building. I do know that the tower is evacuated if you refuse to pay off the terrorist, so it's not like your office tenants die a horrible implied death as a massive explosion vaporizes them.

Apologies for the cramped resolution, but SimTower did feature a lot of floating windows amidst its activities.

There's a very old mid-1990s website still out there that has tips so I don't have to give them out to you now, though I don't recommend placing condos as a money-maker, because they just aren't worth it (as mentioned earlier in my review), or trying to please the VIP through simply low rates. I figured out the "drop office rent to the lowest level for 100% occupancy" trick a long time ago, and yes, you can still profit from it. I'm not sure if that was intended or not.

At its core, SimTower is an elevator simulator, something designer Yoot Saito admitted himself, and what makes this frustrating is standard elevators can only go up 30 floors, there's only so many cars you can fit in it, and there's a limit to how many elevators you can put in your building. Because it's all 2D, your elevators will probably turn out in pretty random places. You will often see people lining up for elevators and their silhouettes turning red as their stress increases.

Getting to the TOWER achievement, well, that's the toughest of all. It requires 15,000 people in your tower, and will likely require you to expand horizontally, thus likely ruining any aesthetics of your tower you had going on (whether a skinny building or tapering off like the Empire State Building). I was able to get to 3 stars easily, 4 stars a bit more difficult, 5 stars a bit longer, and still have yet to get TOWER, especially considering the fact that the first time I got the five stars it was a fluke. As it stands now, I'm doing basically the equivalent to grinding in RPGs, placing offices along the side of the tower and reducing their rent so they can get to stay.

Anyway, going back to SimTower memories in the past, later on, I discovered Yoot Tower and The Tower SP. I hope to really show off those later. The CD version of SimTower I have also included the "Maxis CD-ROM Sampler", but again...more on that later.

One more oddity, when the game was ported to iOS (still The Tower in Japan), it was renamed as Yoot Tower, which was the name of the sequel, even though it's still SimTower (because EA owns the "Sim" name).

May 18 2016