The Utopia we're talking about isn't technically the PC game, but this surprisingly complex game (often referred to as "Civilization .5") for the Intellivision laid the foundation for PC sim classics such as Civilization and SimCity. Utopia put you in charge of your own island nation, letting you control every aspect of the economy and military. The island was populated, and it was your job to ensure your people were fed, their living conditions were improved, and your military was strong enough to fend off attacks from rebels and pirates.
Although the technology and the detail of the economic model can't compare to those of today's games, in many ways Utopia had a more complex design than any modern successor. In SimCity, for example, if you sat around and did nothing, things would break down and your creation would eventually rot away, but in Utopia competitors would actively try to infiltrate and destroy your island paradise. Your opponents could send rebels to destroy facilities, or maneuver their PT boats to allow marauding pirates through to your island, where they would sink fishing boats. Alternatively, you could form an alliance with other players and attempt to work together, which made games much more tense, as you always knew the guy sitting next to you would break the treaty at the worst possible moment.
In Utopia you also had to contend with a random weather model that could create a bumper crop just as easily as it could destroy one. The threat of an island-smashing hurricane always loomed on the horizon, and the appearance of one of the spinning beasts could radically alter the course of the game.
The best thing about Utopia was that it forced you to make complicated decisions at a time when most games required nothing more than memorization and infallible reflexes. For example, building a hospital was one of the best things you could do for your citizens, but that indirectly caused the population to balloon, which diluted the efficacy of your other structures and institutions, and meant that you had many more mouths to feed. Either investing in the military or sinking more money into your infrastructure was always a tough call. In addition, you also had to pay attention to weather patterns so that you could plant crops where they would get the most rainfall. There were always things that needed to get done - and rarely enough time or money to do them all.
Utopia sold fairly well and became an Intellivision classic, but few gamers today have an appreciation for the game's influence. However, its legacy can be felt: Design ideas for Tropico and Republic sound as though they were inspired by the Utopia instruction manual. Thanks to a terrific emulator and the good graces of the original design team, you can play Utopia for free on your PC, so don't hesitate to download it from the link provided at the end of this article.