Project Highrise: Simulators and Difficulty

This past Thanksgiving weekend I finally broke down during the Steam sale and bought a game I’ve had on my eye for a while: SomaSim’s Project Highrise. As a huge 90s sim game fan, the aesthetics were immediately familiar to me. Highrise is an homage to an old favorite, Maxis’ SimTowerProject Highrise lives up to its successor–or at least the memories I have of playing it as a youth. Back then, I played a lot of complex games in a simplistic way: kill the guests in Roller Coaster Tycoon, call in the monster in Sim City 2000, remove the pool ladder in The Sims. I don’t recall ever building a tower all the way to the height cap in SimTower. These days, I tend continue to play these games an unchallenging way, usually as an exercise in creation with minimal resistance.

Project Highrise itself is pretty great. It hewed faithfully enough to the hazy memories I have of playing SimTower in 1996 (or whenever). After a few false starts on medium difficulty, I created a three-pronged tower on the mega-large sized map on easiest difficulty. I named it King Towers initially but later I realized I should have called it the Wolverine or something. The game was great fun for about twelve or so hours while I churned through a series of signpost goals on the way to the “maximum height megatower with roof condos or some shit” goal that these games exist for.

Those false starts I mentioned illuminated the different approaches a simulator game can have. There’s a sliding scale between sandbox and uber-challenging that all sim games tend towards, and my guess is every player has a spot they like to sit on. Personally, I don’t like pure sandboxes–I want some resistance in achieving the goals the game or I set when playing. But only a little! Medium difficulty required me to balance a bunch of needs and sometimes wait a few in-game days to be able to afford to complete the next goal. Too much resource management for me–I just wanna build! Easy, on the other hand, allowed me to pursue the ultimate goal while still having to conform to some light limitations on finances and the number of people in my tower.

Other sim games follow different difficulty arcs. Rollercoaster Tycoon mainly focuses on a series of scenarios with specific goals. (I’ve never gotten much past, like, the fifth or so scenario in any RCT run I’ve ever done.) Sim City & Cities: Skylines tend to be more of a sandbox but are restricted by the game mechanics rather than the player’s goals. Ultimately I like setting expansive (literally–grow as big as possible) goals and then wrangling with the mechanics to get it done. Too much resistance and I tend to get frustrated, though. Judging by the number of difficulty settings and challenge scenarios these games often feature, I’d guess many simulation/tycoon game players tend to like more restrictions and limitations to wrestle with.

When it comes to simulation games, I know what I like. I didn’t even try any of Project Highrise‘s challenge scenarios. Maybe I’ll go back and try them at a future date, but honestly I had a lot of enjoyment doing what I did in the game and I felt no strong desire to go right back into the game after “beating” it by completing my Wolverine towers. The game was fun and I enjoyed it, especially for the Steam Sale price I paid for it. My only complaint about the moment-to-moment gameplay I can lobby is that there were only two speed settings: normal pace and double pace. I think a triple-speed setting would have made the medium difficulty more enjoyable since it sometimes required waiting several in-game days to accumulate the resources necessary for the next big push in tower height. All in all, though, it was a great experience.