But It's 3D!
The Maxis games released at the tail-end of 1996 would all sell relatively poorly, although Wright's SimCopter would do better than the rest, in part because the immense fanbase of SimCity 2000 was keen to see their cities in full 3D. But the picture for the rest of the company wasn't very positive. "Maxis hadn't done anything significant in a while," explains Quigley, "and there was a sense that if we didn't do something big in the near future, we'd run out of money and disappear."
Leading into 1997 Maxis knew it needed lots of software, in part because nothing it was producing was expected to be a breakthrough hit.
Will Wright likens the situation to the shotgun approach where a company will just release a large array of games and hope that some of them hit the target. "We were driven to collect revenue by bringing on a lot of products that would bump up our numbers, but not our margins," explains Wright. To this end, Maxis acquired an unknown Texas game studio named Cinematronics to develop games such as Crucible, a dungeon-crawl game in homage to Diablo. The company would also get into full motion video games with The Crystal Skull starring Edward James Olmos from Miami Vice; attempt a children's line of software featuring a mouse named Marty; and launch a sports brand. It was getting desperate.
"If we didn't do something big in the near future, we'd run out of money and disappear."
- Ocean Quigley of Maxis.
The bottom line was that there wasn't any focus, and eventually, it showed in the operating results. In March 1997, Maxis would report a loss of nearly US $2 million for the previous year. The well from SimCity 2000 had all but dried up for the company, and plan B, in the form of a diversified game lineup, didn't appear to have much hope of working. The knee-jerk reaction was to do another SimCity game. Whether it was the right thing to do creatively wasn't the question. Maxis had to have it to survive. To all the executives at Maxis, it was time to pull the rabbit out of the hat: SimCity 3000.
The Diablo-inspired Crucible was a Maxis game never released.
But market expectations had changed since the release of SimCity 2000. "After SimCopter, I think everyone thought SimCity 3000 would be in 3D," explains Wright.
The problem was that the existing 3D technology simply wasn't capable of handling SimCity's microscopic level of detail, which would have required rendering an almost innumerable number of polygons. It just wouldn't work.
The original 3D version of SimCity 3000 was a mistake from day one.
Unfortunately, Maxis management wasn't interested in this analysis. 3D was the new buzzword of the industry, and the next SimCity had to have it, period. "Management wanted the game to be 3D so much that it wasn't receptive to the people who were actually making the game telling them it wasn't going to work," explains art director Quigley.
The development team knew the game was doomed to fail, but nonetheless spent a year working on it and displayed it at the E3 trade show in 1997,
an experience still regarded as an embarrassment.
BEHIND THE GAMES
By mid-1997, Maxis was in big trouble. With a loss on the books and a diversified software lineup barely limping along, there was nary an A game in sight. Maxis was starting to look like a clearing house for bad game design. And worst of all, everyone knew if SimCity 3000 was released in it current condition, the brand equity in the Sim name would be destroyed, vaporizing Maxis' final trump card.
The Saving Grace