While there is no such thing as permanence in the video game industry, there are some things that you just take for granted.
For me, Maxis was one of those things. When I heard the news that EA was shuttering the studio, I was genuinely shocked. The logical part of my brain understood the words and numbers being tossed around to justify it. Businesses are business, and money talks above all else.
But for the kid in me, this was incomprehensible. Growing up, seeing the word “Maxis” spring up during the loading screen meant that I was in for an interesting (if not sometimes confusing) ride.
My first introduction to Maxis, like it was for so many others, was the original SimCity. Here, suddenly, was a game that wasn’t really a game at all. No princesses to rescue, no puzzles to solve – just a big empty map waiting to be filled by whatever city I could dream up. For a kid obsessed with models, it was a dream come true. Sure, the simulation was pretty simplistic in hindsight, but as a child, there was such a wonderful thrill in watching my tiny towns grow and seeing shining office towers and fancy apartments springing up. (There was also the slightly more malicious thrill of setting loose a monster on the towns that weren’t working out as well).
Maxis followed up SimCity with SimEarth and SimAnt. Both were certainly a little more esoteric in concept than SimCity, but both managed to suck me in anyway. These games were not exactly user-friendly right off the bat, but part of the wonder of Maxis to me was that no matter what the subject matter, they always took the time to educate the player. The original SimCity manual has a 10-page section on the history of urban planning. SimEarth made me want to go out and learn more about gaia theory. SimLife gave me a primer on genomes long before school ever did (as well as lessons on why grass should never be made a top predator).
It was a few years later that Maxis finished the job of stealing my heart with the release of SimCity 2000. Once again I had been handed a big empty world to play with, but this time it felt like my toolbox to do so was a hundred times larger. Things I had dreamed about in SimCity were now suddenly real, and things that had never even occurred to me were, too. (Arcologies were another fine example of some on-the-game education).
Someone – whether it was a staff member or some particularly clever student who wished to remain anonymous – managed to install SC2000 on pretty much every Macintosh computer in the school. Add the illicit thrill of knowing you are playing a game in the school library to what was already something amazing, and suddenly this tune is forever etched into some wonderful memories.
The years that followed saw Maxis continue to expand the Sim line with other peripherally-related concepts such as SimGolf. Some of them were good, some of them were bad… but each was definitely unique. The end of the 90s saw Maxis position itself for the next century with both SimCity 3000 and The Sims. As a college student at the time, there was no more needing to worry if someone had installed the games on the school computer. I had my own room, my own computer, and the illicit thrill now was in knowing that I was putting all my thoughts into dining room layouts rather than analysis of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. These days also taught me some valuable lessons about time management for adults.
Yet, as the years went on, the new century brought very little new for Maxis. SimCity 4 arrived in 2003, and while perhaps some of the charm of SC2000 was missing, there was no question is was an incredible sandbox to continue to play in. But beyond that, under EA’s ownership, Maxis created nothing but new versions of The Sims and subsequent expansions for almost ten years. Spore, which held the promise of being the next strange and wonderful creation, like in days gone by, was delayed and delayed and ultimately came out a mere shadow of what most of us were hoping.
It was a rough time, no doubt. But I always felt that it was just a rough patch – Maxis was down, but not out. All they needed was a little spark and they’d be back to their old selves in no time. With the announcement of a new SimCity after so many years of waiting, it seemed like that spark had finally arrived. And then, even before it had a chance to arrive, the stories of DRM and forced multiplayer and all other manner of crimes against gaming came first. When this new SimCity came out, it was the first that I didn’t buy. That alone should’ve told me the end was near, but still I chose to hold on to hope.
That hope is gone now, of course. And while I’m hurt as a gamer, my heart goes out to all the employees of Maxis who may have also felt like they just need to get through the rough patch. Did EA kill Maxis as it has so many other strange and wonderful things over the years? Maybe, maybe not. Rather than debate the full extent of EA’s evil, I’d rather just sit back and remember the good times, the strange times, the educational times, and all the times in between. And maybe I’ll go flood a city or two for old time’s sake.
Thanks for the memories, Maxis.