Digital archeology is almost like classic detective work and puzzle solving combined to digital restoration. Every now and then something old, previously unknown is found. The latest uncommon and unexpected treasure is a from the famous creator of SimCity and Sim game series creator Maxis: SimRefinery.
SimRefinery’s existence was completely forgotten until it was brought up by librarian and archivist Phil Salvador. His excellent article about the history of SimCity and Maxis opened a new page into the history of Maxis Business Simulations, a division of Maxis, later known as Thinking Tools. The company created serious professional simulations but unfortunately their games SimRefinery, SimHealth, TeleSim, Project Challenge and other projects disappeared from the face of the earth. One of them, SimRefinery , was a training simulation created for the energy company Chevron.
“Nobody held onto SimRefinery because it didn’t seem important”, Salvador wrote.
Challenge accepted – within days of the article release readers of Ars Technica publication had hunted for information about the game on- and offline successfully tracking a retired Chevron engineer who still had the game disks. The disks were quite painfully preserved remotely via phone connection, with the preservationist guiding the old engineer on duplication the data, and uploaded to the preservation centre Archive.org.
Thanks to an excellent article and help from online community, this unique and forgotten piece of simulation and gaming software was found again from an unexpected source. One can only think how many other pieces of digital history are hiding in unknown locations, with the owners thinking “it doesn’t seem important”.
As digital archeology goes, Salvador tells us that “SimRefinery was a prototype that Maxis never finished. Many of the buttons in the game are placeholders. The simulation is based on SimFarm! Large portions of the interface are re-used. SimRefinery’s lead engineer Bruce Skidmore said Maxis provided their code to the Business Simulations team to help them learn how to work with graphics.”
Recovering lost and unknown games often all about luck, helped with willpower, Sherlock skills and ability to preserve data from old formats. With SimRefinery the digital preservationists were lucky and important piece of Maxis’ history is rescued giving valuable look into the “games going serious” business.
One can never expect where the next unknown, forgotten piece of gaming history will be found.
At time of writing SimRefinery is not available for download but Archive.org tells it will be restored: https://archive.org/details/simrefinery
If you’re interested at other rare finds pleas have a look at the Games That Weren’t site. The non-profit project does great work with digital preservation of lost software, much to our liking.
More information: https://www.gamesthatwerent.com/