Confession time! I adore Sim Tower, the 1994 skyscraper construction and management simulation game from Maxis and Japanese developer Yoot Saito. Playing it offers up an almost meditative experience. Expanding offices to new floors, building penthouses, watching the revenue trickle in, taking out loans when financial strife hits, and slowly increasing your tower’s star rating to reach that elusive 5-star world-class skyscraper certification. It’s almost enough to make you sympathise with the unhinged bigotry of Donald Trump. After all, we probably share the same love for a well laid-out tower.
Enter Project Highrise from SomaSim. The existence of which came by accident one day whilst going through a mountain of emails. Or, to be more in-line with the game - a tower-sized pile of emails. All it took was one screenshot. That perspective. The clean visual difference between offices and residential apartments. People walking around, using stairs and elevators to get where they need to go. Maybe they’ll grab a snack at one of the fast food joints above the ground floor, or a proper meal at a restaurant. Perhaps they work for the building and are on their way to construct something new.
Without a doubt Project Highrise is inspired by SimTower, you can feel its presence throughout the game. But, much like the excellent Cities: Skylines, Project Highrise aims to modernise things with a clean and visually appealing minimal aesthetic, more intuitive construction options, and thanks to seamless Steam Workshop integration the inclusion of things like community mods. Right from the start the differences to SimTower are clear. Differences that range from feeling like a natural evolution of ideas through to some that feel like an over simplification. One of the big changes comes with construction. Pretty much everything from new floor-space down to setting up an office for rent needs a little digital guy to go to the right location and build it. It’s very cool to watch.
But let’s say you begin your tower by extending things by a few floors, putting offices over here and some studio apartments all the way over there. With only a handful of construction workers available, you’ll most likely spend the next several minutes watching them build everything one little pixel at a time. Planning is key with a game like Project Highrise, so it's not long before some real complexity is added with things like having to run phone lines, power lines, cable lines, gas, water, and so forth throughout the building. Depending on the type of tenant, they might also need access to commercial grade printing services, laundry rooms, gyms, janitors, and so forth.
It’s a game of balance, and one that works for the most part. But once your tower reaches a certain size it can begin to feel more like a juggling act. One where space becomes a key issue, and resources are almost infinite. Probably due to the sheer number of things you'll need to build. So if running out of money in Project Highrise is a pretty hard thing to do, and repaying a loan is a breeze, where's the challenge? Well, that comes. The management and core experience really comes down to keeping your tenants happy. Finding out what they need and then building it. If you can find the space.
For SimTower, even though your construction choices were limited, managing congestion, transport to, from, and within the tower, and dealing with the adverse effects of a rainy day added a near perfect gameplay loop. Meditative.
Project Highrise doesn’t quite feel like it's there yet, people move freely within your tower so there’s no real reason to worry about elevator placement or stairs to accommodate single floor travel. Instead the focus is on building up prestige through placing offices, retail, and residential spaces of varying size in order to attract new tenants. And then, better, more lavish spaces. Playing through any of the game’s varied scenarios and you’ll experience its intricacies and appreciate the level of detail and confidence in what it’s trying to achieve. But given an empty block and the freedom to do what you please, Project Highrise doesn’t quite reach the heights of SimTower.