The origins of simulation: from real life to the video game

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Precursors of the genre in arcade rooms (1970-1990) We are in the 70s. We are in the golden age of motor racing and the precursor of the genre of what we know today as simulation.

Its beginnings come back years ago, when the first simulators were used for military purposes to facilitate learning in the field of aviation until later jumping to the general public. The genre, in fact, did not take much longer to arrive in its most playful form. During the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s, many titles were available in arcades, even though so many others were also posted on home platforms. It was in 1973 when “Space Race” landed in the arcades of the time, giving rise to one of the first -ludic- simulators in history under the license of Atari. The title, entirely in black and white, promised to offer a spatial simulation experience where we had to dodge the objects thrown at us by the screen in cooperative mode. After the success of the title we did not take long to see other games based on the simulation of space or asphalt races such as Astro Race, Speed ​​Race or Laguna Racer.

The origins of simulation: from real life to the video game
With the simulation, it was possible to provide a greater physical sensation of speed, acceleration and perception of the environment – something that the motor sector knew how to take advantage of quickly – to offer a real experience of something that is not happening. It was undoubtedly a more colorful, realistic and “risky” experience without exposing its players to the real dangers of the road. The first driving-based playful simulators managed to capture a new audience that begged for more demanding experiences each new season shortly after the success of Space Race in 1973.

In the mid-80s, we can say that the first beginnings of the simulation came with the title “Utopia” directed by Don Daglow. A simulation concept that multiplied the possibilities of the game, providing a more original perspective until then. Employed by Mattel in 1980, Daglow was part of Intellivision’s team of programmers, creating Utopia in 1981: the first title based on simulation from a more complex perspective than previously done. Its title takes as reference an island invented by Sir Thomas More’s eponymous book “Utopia” published in 1516. On this imaginary island, a society lives in harmony with its government and all inhabitants are freed from poverty, tyranny and from the war.

Don Daglow was inspired by this story to create one of Intellivision’s greatest hits. The fact of dealing with the management of a population and a territory was most innovative, since it surprised by offering a rare gameplay at the time. A precursor title to the genre, which was released before Sim City, and which laid the foundations for the concept of modern simulation, from which many other current titles such as “Tropic” have been inspired.

A year after Utopia, in 1982 Microsoft’s Flight Simulator title came in stomping. The slogan of the game said: “If flying on your IBM PC were more realistic, you would need a license.” The team was intended to attract real pilots and those who thought they were aviators from the easy chair. Say that with the game we could simulate A flight may sound exaggerated, although in that sense, the 1982 announcement was true: Flight Simulator was realistic enough – and still is – to make it as real as a small airplane cabin in inexperienced hands would be. The launch of Flight Simulator was, without a doubt, one of the events that most influenced the market for current simulators, since many of them were based on its successful formula: offering an immersive experience combined with a large dose of entertainment.

Two years after the successful Flight Simulator, another key simulator in its history was Fortune Builder, launched in 1984. Fortune Builder promised a gameplay involved in developing a rural area with various options to manage businesses, factories, stadiums, casinos and camps. The title included multiple difficulty settings that determined factors such as starting capital and the goal set to win. An original bet that gave rise to one of the forerunners of the “fénomeno” Sim City.


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