Retro Gaming

How SimTower Elevated the Simulation Genre to Great New Heights

From cheat codes to sky-high strategies, get your blueprints ready to build the tower — and elevator network — of your dreams.


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SimTower game at the ground floor showing offices and busy elevators

SimTower is a classic Maxis title inviting you into a world where skyscrapers reach for the clouds and your managerial skills are key to success. Here, you’ll build up while balancing the bustling life within a towering vertical community. From placing elevators to attracting tenants, each decision impacts your path to a coveted Tower rating.

SimTower offers a rich blend of construction and strategy, set against the backdrop of a dynamic micro-universe. While not as popular as SimCity, SimTower turns the simulation genre sideways, challenging players to build up. Hold that express elevator: we’re headed right to the 100th floor to explore every square foot of this incredible game.

Origin Story: The Rise of a Skyscraper Simulator Called The Tower

SimTower splash screen asking to either start a new tower or load an existing game.

SimTower began as a blueprint in the mind of Yoot Saito, a visionary developer from Japan. The game’s foundation was laid by OPeNBooK, Saito’s team, who crafted a simulation not of sprawling cities but soaring skyscrapers. Inspired by the complexities of vertical living, Saito’s creation journeyed from a domestic release to a celebrated international presence. Initially dubbed The Tower in its homeland, it captured the intricate dance of construction and management within a single building.

The game’s development mirrored the growth of a skyscraper, starting from the ground up. It evolved from a simple elevator simulation to a full-fledged vertical empire. This evolution was driven by Saito’s experience with SimCity, which sparked his desire to mold digital worlds.

Western audiences embraced SimTower when Maxis, spotting its potential, rebranded it to resonate with fans of the Sim series. This strategic move propelled the game onto the screens of a global audience, ready to indulge in the unique thrills of skyscraper management. SimTower stood tall, not just as a game, but as a testament to innovative game development during the golden era of simulation games. Released in November, 1994, the game was well-received by audiences, and built on Maxis’ momentum after their recent release of SimCity 2000 in the previous year. Like SimCity, critics credited the opened-ended nature of the game to its success and replayability.

Gameplay Mechanics: The Foundation of Fun

Starting a new game in SimTower with an empty lot and basic building tools

SimTower begins with a dirt lot in a buzzing metropolis. Players lay the groundwork for a bustling skyscraper teeming with life. The initial tower starts modestly, with a one-star rating, basic amenities, and a dream to grow in population and prestige. As a virtual architect, the player is tasked with more than gradually constructing a towering office building. Like other classic Maxis titles, SimTower requires mastering resource management across funds, tenant happiness, elevator capacity and amenities.

Players are challenged to cater to a diverse community of virtual inhabitants, each with their own needs and desires. The happiness of your tenants hinges on your choices — place a noisy restaurant next to a quiet condo, and you’ll hear about it.

The Quest for Stars: Rating System and Milestones

SimTower challenges players to ascend from a modest one-star establishment to a coveted five-star marvel. The journey through the stars isn’t just about aesthetics; it’s a measure of your managerial prowess. With each new star, your building buzzes with more activity and opportunities.

The first star is your welcome mat, inviting you into the world of tower management with no prerequisites. But as your population swells to 300, the second star shines, signaling your tower’s growing influence. Reach a population of 1,000 and meet the security needs of your tenants, and the third star is yours, acknowledging the safety and scale of your establishment.

Achieving the fourth star is no small feat; it requires a bustling population of 5,000, the luxury of hotel suites, and the nod of approval from a VIP. This star is a testament to your ability to balance luxury with capacity. The pinnacle of SimTower success is the fifth star, demanding a dizzying population of 10,000 and the addition of a metro station to your infrastructure.

But the ambition doesn’t end there. Beyond the five stars lies the ultimate accolade: the Tower rating. It’s an honor reserved for those who reach a staggering 15,000 population and crown their creation with a cathedral. This final challenge is a test of endurance and strategic mastery, setting the stage for the ultimate recognition in the SimTower community.

RatingPopulationFacilities Needed
1 Star0None
2 Stars300None
3 Stars1,0001 Security Office
4 Stars5,0002+ Hotel Suites, 1 positive VIP rating, all recycling & medical demands met
5 Stars10,0001 Metro Station
Tower15,000Cathedral on 100th floor

Unlockable Facilities and Amenities

Cathedral located on the 100th floor of the tower.

Progress in SimTower isn’t just marked by the height of your building, but by the quality of its facilities. As your tower ascends, so too does its repertoire of amenities. Starting with the basics, each star earned unlocks new potential. The second star brings the service elevator and security center, among others, enhancing your operational capabilities.

By the third star, your options expand further with escalators and express elevators, restaurants, and retail shops. These additions are not just new toys to play with; they’re pivotal for scaling your tower’s appeal and functionality. The coveted fourth star unveils the metro station, a game-changer for tenant accessibility and tower traffic.

Reaching the fifth star grants you the right to build a cathedral, a symbol of your tower’s grandeur and your strategic triumph. Each new facility serves a purpose, from increasing tenant satisfaction to boosting your bottom line. They represent milestones in your management journey, each with its own set of challenges and rewards.

These unlockable elements are more than just rewards; they’re tools that empower you to carve out a tower that’s uniquely yours. They encourage creativity and foresight, pushing you to think beyond the blueprint. In SimTower, success is built one facility at a time, each one a step toward your ultimate goal: a thriving vertical empire that stands the test of time.

Navigating Disasters and Surprise Events

SimTower dialogue box with terror threat bomb challenge

In SimTower, the blueprint for success includes not just strategic construction but also crisis management. Players must stay vigilant, as disasters like bomb threats can strike at any moment. These scenarios demand immediate attention; a quick and effective response is crucial to mitigate damage and maintain the tower’s integrity.

More lighthearted excitement materializes in the form of VIP visits. Once a hotel suite is built, you have a chance to impress a celebrity – just make sure you offer high end retail and dining that rolls out the red carpet. Doing so will help you advance the credibility of your tower.

Such unpredictable events add a layer of tension and excitement to the gameplay. They test your decision-making skills under pressure and your ability to protect your vertical empire from unforeseen threats and VIP surprises. Handling these events well can prevent significant setbacks and keep your tenants safe and satisfied.

Tips to Play

Watching Restaurant, Fast Food, and Retail Shop Revenue

Business details screen on patronage of a fast food restaurant. Business is very good!

Each tenant generates income in your tower. However, having too many shops or restaurants means they are competing for the same customers, and may make you lose money if the businesses are not profitable. Instead of placing many of these facilities, help them grow slowly, only when each of these businesses tells you that “business is very good!” when you query the tenant. Adding offices, condos and hotels will increase your tower’s population, and in turn, give these businesses new customers.

Selling Bad Condition Condos

When a condo is built, it’ll have tenants until the condition deteriorates to “bad condition” prompting the residents to move out. Normally, this requires removing the condo and rebuild, unless you take advantage of this unique game bug. Select the magnifying glass icon and click on the condo in bad condition. Click on the price dropdown, and change it to $4,000. Before closing the window, quickly change it back to $15,000. Close the screen and someone will buy the condo without incurring the cost to rebuild the condo unit.

Avoiding Unremovable Facilities

Note that one you build some facilities like security offices and housekeeping, you will not be able to remove them. Plan your facilities for long-term locations.

Speaking of housekeeping, be sure you have plenty of these to service your hotel rooms. Each hotel floor must be connected to housekeeping through a service elevator. Housekeeping facilities can also be built on the same floor as hotels with no impact on hotel quality.

Specialized Floors For Different Tenants

Condo residents and offices do not like the noise generated by retail shops, restaurants and fast foods. Think about planning specialized floors, of all office, condos, hotels and retail floors, keeping these segmented to maximize tenant happiness.

Using Sky lobbies to Move People Quickly

SimTower screenshot showing elevators, stores, escalators and lots of shoppers and tenants.
The 60th floor sky lobby quickly connects shoppers from the express elevators to floors of retail stores.

Once you unlock express elevators, you can create sky lobbies at every 15th floor. This will allow Sims to take an express elevator to a sky lobby where they can switch to a local elevator or escalator to reach their destination high up in the tower.

Maximizing Undeground Facilities

Not every item can be placed underground. Retail shops, restaurants and fast food can do well in the underground floors of your tower, freeing up above-ground space for hotels, offices and condos. Use this strategy to maximize your population to advance your star ratings.

Beware of the Metro Stop Bug

While playing the game, make sure you do not build on the very bottom floor, B10, before placing your metro station. The metro track will span the entire map length, and even if you bulldoze any floor tiles, you’ll be unable to place in the metro, preventing you from advancing to a 5-star tower. To avoid this, simply do not build lower than floor B9 before your metro stop is placed.

Expert Elevator Tips

SimTower with busy elevators

With multiple elevators running, you can click the up and down finger tool to add or remove stops at specific floors to help control traffic. This can allow you to create specialized elevators that only serve certain sections of your tower. Just be sure each floor has at least one connecting elevator!

Elevator shafts can support multiple cars. If you notice full elevators, denoted by the “F” on moving cars, you can use the elevator tool to place new cars on existing shafts. The floor you click will become the default stop for this car, so think strategically on where you’d like them placed.

Once you unlock the express elevators and save enough money, it might be a good idea to revamp your elevators, since you were likely slowly growing your tower over time. An efficient design is a centralized express elevator, surrounded by two “local” elevators on either side that each span the maximum 30 floors. When these top out, you can also add two new local elevators to the outside of these to ensure you have full coverage above and below each sky lobby stop. This is a real-world tactic used by ultra-tall skyscrapers in the real world!

Use stairs and escalators near your lobby floors to help offload tower traffic. Each person who uses an escalator is one less person in the elevator system, improving tenant happiness and traffic flow.

Bonus: Getting Santa to Visit

Each year during the fourth quarter weekend, keep an eye on the night sky around 9pm. You should spot a small red dot in the sky and hear accompanying sleigh bells. Zooming in reveals it’s none other than Santa Claus and his reindeer, merrily soaring over your bustling tower. Be quick to pause though as Santa flies by quickly!

SimTower Cheat Codes

SimTower wouldn’t be a true Maxis title without cheat codes. Use these cheats to jump-start your tower, or create massive ground floor lobbies.

Double Your Starting Funds

At the very beginning of the game, click the tile of dirt in the very bottom-left corner of the screen for an instant doubling of your starting funds.

Unlock Two- and Three-Story Lobbies

Three-story lobby with elevators and stairs.

For a grander entrance, press CTRL as you lay down your first lobby tile to instantly upgrade it to two stories. Use CTRL+SHIFT for a three-story lobby.

Note: Stairs and escalators will adapt to the new lobby heights. Elevators placed in these larger lobbies will not stop in the gap between these larger floors.

Reception and Legacy: The Sky-High Impact of SimTower

SimTower captured the attention of gamers and critics alike with its innovative approach to simulation. The game was celebrated for its ability to draw players into the surprising thrill of managing a bustling skyscraper. While some players found the in-game speed and lack of documentation to be hurdles, these aspects did not overshadow the game’s overall acclaim. It stood out for its immersive qualities, particularly in how it made complex management tasks accessible to the average player.

SimTower’s legacy is evident in how it continues to engage fans, both old and new. With its challenging gameplay and complex scenarios, it remains a beloved classic in the simulation genre, proving that a well-built tower can indeed stand the test of time.

Future Blueprints: Similar Titles and Spiritual Successors

Yoot Tower screenshot
Yoot Tower brings new amenities like Sega GameWorks to your tower as the SimTower sequel.

The influence of SimTower extends far into the gaming landscape, inspiring a series of similar titles and successors. Most directly, Yoot Tower carries the torch. Keeping the original game’s user experience with new amenities, facilities, Yoot Saito’s continued passion shined when it was released in 1998.

Project Highrise offers a contemporary take on the genre. Released in 2016, the title reimagines the genre for today’s hardware capabilities, delivering sophisticated graphics and intricate gameplay mechanics that echo the complexity and charm of SimTower.

These games not only pay homage to the classic but also expand the scope of building simulations. They invite players to experiment with modern-day scenarios and advanced management strategies, all while maintaining the core joy found in SimTower.

For enthusiasts of the construction and management simulation genre, these titles provide a rich playground. They stand as proof of SimTower’s lasting legacy, continuing to inspire both game developers and players to reach new heights in virtual architecture and urban planning.