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Most early games fit into the general category of "simulation": Flying games are Flight Simulators, and racing games are Car Simulators. The first Adventure Game, Colossal Cave, started life as little more than a simulation of a Kentucky cave system; even Pong is nothing more than a virtual ping-pong table.
But the term Simulation Game usually refers to a genre of program for which the term "game" is really a misnomer: a Simulation Game is really a "toy", by the definitions used by those who study such things academically, more akin to an Erector set than to a chess set.
A Simulation Game, traditionally, places the player in charge of some set of resources, with which he is charged to build something — while the game might set some criteria for a "win" state, this is far from compulsory; the player generally builds what he likes and measures his own success by whatever metrics seem best to him. Most will have some kind of "lose" state, where long term mismanagment, either accidental or deliberate, will result in a game over.
The player generally adopts a sort of managerial role over the game world, rather than directly controling the agents in it. Thus, his role, depending on the scope of the game, tends to be something like "business owner", "mayor" or "god".
Probably the first game in this tradition is Lemonade Stand, written by Bob Jamison sometime between 1973 and 1979. In this game, the player, based on the daily weather report, decided what supplies to buy and how much to charge at a virtual lemonade stand. Variations appeared for years on various platforms, even surviving into the 1990s as their requirements were so low that ports could even run on programmable calculators.
More complicated simulations started appearing in the early 1980s, such as the Commodore 64 game Little Computer People, where the player was responsible for the care and feeding of a virtual person. "Digital pet" keychain devices, such as Tamagotchi, descended from this line.
But the game which really brought the modern Simulation Game into its own was Maxis's SimCity. In this game, the player took the role of mayor, and was in charge of building a city. Among the Mayoral duties were zoning areas for commercial, residential or industrial use, building public utilities, and rebuilding after Godzilla attacks.
SimCity was enormously popular, spawning a number of clones and sequels. Sim City 2000, Sim City 3, and Streets of Sim City all expanded and improved on the original. Maxis also produced a number of other concepts within the franchise: SimEarth placed the player in charge of the development of an entire planet; SimLife narrowed the focus, with the player guiding the specific evolution of a species; SimAnt placed the player in charge of an ant colony. Other games explored different domains in the same style: Roller Coaster Tycoon had the player develop an amusement park, balancing thrills with the chance to kill patrons in spectacular roller coaster derailments; Afterlife had the player build a heaven and hell suited to the needs of the incoming departed.
While the later games did well enough, neither Maxis nor its imitators were quite able to bring about the kind of huge-scale genre-defining success of SimCity until Maxis brought the social element into the equation with its blockbuster success The Sims. Rather than focusing on an entire city or civilization, The Sims and its sequels put the player in charge of managing a single household, keeping the characters employed, buying them playthings, adding extra living space, occasionally locking them in a room with a bunch of ovens until they inevitably immolated themselves and, perhaps most importantly to the players, coaxing each other into bed.
Another incarnation of The Sims is a massively multiplayer on-line game, where players maintain their households in a shared community, and their characters can interact to, well, buy more swag and coax each other into bed.
A sub-genre of Simulation Games (usually rolled into the larger genre category) are Flight Simulation Games, which can include anything from a game with very lax flight controls and a more "arcade"-like experience, to true simulations (i.e., the non-toy kind) that accurately recreate how an aircraft flies, and depending on how far you're willing to go, incorporate an actual aircraft's flight deck and motion control and can even be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration for certified flight training. May or may not also include shooting things as a typical gameplay objective. Driving Sims are cut from the same cloth, applied to ground vehicles, and once again can range the entire realism (and shooting stuff up) range.
Raising Sim is a sub-genre of this, focusing on "building" an individual person or animal.
Resource, Settlement and Business Management Simulations
- Act Raiser (with Action Game elements)
- Aerobiz: an Airline simulation game.
- Alien Legacy
- Anno Domini
- The Babylon Project
- Black and White
- Casino Empire
- City Building Series
- Dungeon Keeper
- Dwarf Fortress
- Evil Genius
- Farm Simulator
- Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles My Life As a King
- Fish Tycoon
- From Dust
- Game Dev Story
- Ghost Master
- Harvest Moon (with Dating Sim/Social Management elements)
- Inmortal Cities: Children of the Nile
- Long Live the Queen (Independently released in June 2012 by Hanako Games. A cute but bleak game about ruling a fantasy nation. Not a Romance Game.)
- Jurassic Park Operation Genesis
- Little Kings Story
- Mad TV
- The Movies
- Naval Ops
- Patrician series
- Prison Tycoon
- Railroad Tycoon
- Recettear an Item Shops Tale
- Restaurant Empire
- Rollercoaster Tycoon
- Sea World Tycoon
- The Settlers
- Shadow President
- Sim Ant
- Sim City
- Sim Earth
- Sim Tower
- Snowpack Park
- Space Colony
- Style Savvy
- Theme Hospital
- Theme Park
- Transport Tycoon
- Transport Tycoon Deluxe
- Open TTD, an open source remake
- Trauma Center
- Tristia of the Deep Blue Sea
- Viva Pinata
- Zoo Tycoon
Life / Social Management Simulations
- Alter Ego
- Animal Crossing
- Cute Knight Kingdom
- The Game of Life
- Graduation (A teaching simulation with an emphasis on cute young anime girls. The localized version of Sotsugyou 2 ~Neo Generation~, and the only video game published by Mixx/Tokyopop.)
- Imagine Make Up Artist
- Lucky Rabbit Reflex
- Magical Boutique (a freeware game created by Chibi Goddess)
- Magical Diary
- Magicians Quest Mysterious Times
- My Sims
- Princess Maker
- Spirited Heart
- The Sims
- Virtual Villagers
- Wandering Willows
- What Did I Do to Deserve This My Lord
- For more links, see Dating Sim and Raising Sim
Sports / Sport Management Simulations
- Most "serious" sports games, like the Madden NFL series or the 2K series
- Electronic Arts also has their "Head Coach" title which is like Franchise mode of Madden Football except without the part where you... you know... actually play football.
- Football Manager
- The Extreme Warfare / Total Extreme Wrestling games put you in charge of a Professional Wrestling promotion.
- I Domination: a popular mod to Professional Wrestling promotion simulator Total Extreme Wrestling .
Flight and Combat Flight Simulations
- various professional flight training software and simulators
- 1942 : The Pacific Air War and European Air War
- Ace Combat series (with arcade leanings)
- Air Combat
- Ace Combat 2
- Ace Combat 3 Electrosphere
- Ace Combat 04 Shattered Skies
- Ace Combat 5 The Unsung War
- Ace Combat Advance
- Ace Combat Zero the Belkan War
- Ace Combat 6 Fires of Liberation
- Ace Combat X Skies of Deception
- Ace Combat Xi Skies of Incursion
- Ace Combat Joint Assault
- Ace Combat Assault Horizon
- Ace Combat Assault Horizon Legacy
- After Burner (arcade)
- Airforce Delta series (also with arcade leanings)
- Apache Longbow
- ASP Air Strike Patrol (blend of this and Shoot'Em Up)
- B 17 Flying Fortress
- Birds of Steel
- Blazing Angels (arcade)
- Crimson Skies (the original PC game, even though it was slightly arcadey)
- Dawn Patrol and Flying Corps
- the Digital Combat Simulator series by Eagle Dynamics (known for Lock-On), of which Black Shark is the first entry and A-10C Warthog is planned for release soon
- Dragon Strike - dragon flight/combat simulator set in the Dragonlance universe.
- Drakengard - an Eastern RPG/aerial combat game with dragons!
- Enemy Engaged: Apache vs. Havoc/Comanche vs. Hokum
- the very hardcore Falcon sim series, most notably Falcon 4.0: Allied Force
- Fighter Ace, although the multiplayer part as now closed, the game itself is for free.
- First Eagles : The Great War 1918
- the Flight Unlimited series
- Chuck Yeager's Advanced Flight Trainer and Chuck Yeager's Air Combat
- the Jane's series of combat flight sims
- Air combat sections in the Halo games
- Knights in the Sky
- Lethal Skies
- the Il-2 Sturmovik series (hardcore simulator with fully customizable difficulty levels)
- the Microsoft Flight Simulator series (hardcore simulator)
- the Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator series (hardcore simulator)
- Any combat flight sims by Novalogic
- the Red Baron series
- Rise of Flight: The First Great Air War (Iron Cross Edition bundles some of the Downloadable Content planes released since its debut, as well as generally being in a more patched-up state than at release)
- Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe
- Take On Helicopters, a spinoff from the ARMA series.
- Strike Commander
- Strike series (blend of this and Shoot'Em Up)
- Tom Clancy's HAWX (arcade)
- X-Plane (Notable for certain implementations being FAA certified)
- Wings Of Glory (World War One sim using the Strike Commander Game Engine)
Spaceflight and Space Combat Simulations
- Black Market is somewhere between this as a resource sim.
- Elite, also blends a little bit with the resource management category above
- Oolite, an open-source remake of the above
- Freelancer is a free roaming space trader/combat sim
- Starlancer, its predecessor, is a traditional mission-based space sim
- The Free Space series (not to be confused with Freelancer)
- Fury 3
- Gratuitous Space Battles, aside from being Exactly What It Says on the Tin is notable in that the player truly controls nothing once the battle is engaged. Ships are "programmed" with certain aggressive or defensive behaviours and let loose on the battlefield to fend for themselves.
- Hard War
- The Long Night of Solace level in Halo: Reach
- Independence War
- Independence War 2
- Kerbal Space Program
- Orbiter : The Free Spaceflight Simulator
- The Precursors
- Project Sylpheed
- Star Raiders
- Star Trek Bridge Commander
- Star Trek Legacy
- Tachyon the Fringe
- Vega Strike
- Wing Commander and its spin-off, Privateer
- X-Universe series
- X Wing
Driving and Racing Simulations
- the Colin McRae Rally series
- Forza Motorsport
- Grand Prix Legends
- the GTR series
- Indy Car Racing II
- Interstate 76
- some installments of the Need for Speed series
- Professional driving training software and simulators
- Rallisport Challenge
- Rally Trophy
- R Factor
- Richard Burns Rally
- Streets of Sim City
- the TOCA Touring Car (TOCA Race Driver) series
- the WRC series
- Gran Turismo
Miscellaneous vehicle simulators
- Most of the games published by Excalibur Bublishing which include but are not limited to:
- Bagger Simulator series.
- Farming Simluator 2011
- Garbage Truck Simulator
- Snowcat Simulator 2011
- Street Cleaning Simluator
- Woodcutter Simulator 2011
Soldier and Police Simulations
- the Operation Flashpoint series
- the ARMA series
- America's Army
- the Delta Force series
- SWAT 4 and the rest of the SWAT series
- Rainbow Six and its sequels, but only up to Raven Shield and its expansions.
Military Ground Vehicle Simulations
- Mechwarrior (Giant Mecha simulator)
- Spearhead (Tank simulation)
- Steel Battalion (Giant Mecha simulator)
- Steel Beasts (Military grade Tank simulator)
- World of Tanks, (Interwar to post WWII era MMO Tank simulator)
- Steel Armor: Blaze of War (Cold War-era Tank simulator)
- Tank levels in the Halo series
- the Aquanox series (has some hints of this, but is somewhat arcadey - think Crimson Skies, but with futuristic submarines). Also, Archimedean Dynasty, which is the direct predecessor to Aquanox (introducing some of the characters and the setting). It also has more simulation elements.
- Dangerous Waters
- Harpoon (based on a miniatures game)
- Naval War Arctic Circle
- The Naval Ops series.
- The Silent Hunter Series
- The Silent Service series from Microprose
- One Hundred and One Shark Pets
- My Little Pony Friendship Gardens, where the player can raise their very own Little Pony.
- Furdiburb where you take care of an alien child left on Earth, while helping it find pieces of its spaceship to return home.
- A lot of Wide Open Sandbox games, most notably the Grand Theft Auto series, are essentially a mash-up of various different simulation aspects (driving, flight, social management, and resource management in the case of GTA) with a driving storyline and RPG elements.
- Creatures, an artificial life simulator.
- Crush Crumble and Chomp is a humorous "simulation" of a giant monster attack on a major city.
- Densha De Go (arcade like but contains sim elements)
- Desert Bus, the infamous game from Penn and Teller's Smoke and Mirrors, is a Deconstruction Game based on this genre — the game is claimed to be the first Verisimulator ("Games Stupefyingly Like Reality"), and a standout example of Marathon Level. As the game's instruction manual describes:
Verisimulator is derived from the Latin verus (true) and similis (similar, like). A Verisimulator gives you an experience truly similar to real life, and sometimes life is truly grim.
- Floor 13, a Government Conspiracy simulator.
- Life & Death, a surgery simulator.
- Lost in Blue and its predecessor Survival Kids are wilderness survival simulators.
- Star Trek Starfleet Command tends to fall somewhere between a flight simulator and resource management. It was officially described as a naval combat simulator.
- Trainz, a series of railway simulators that are a lot more "serious" than Densha De Go.
- Transarctica (an Adventure Game with sim elements)
- Uplink could best be described as a hacking simulator. Hollywood Hacking, of course, because trying to simulate the real thing would be impractical at best.
- Bridge Builder Series Bridge engineering simulator.