A lost console version of SimCopter 64 has been found and preserved

Before its cancellation, SimCopter 64 would've been Maxis' first time developing a console version of its games.

This week, the Video Game History Foundation released a new deep dive into Maxis' planned console version of its helicopter sim, SimCopter. The Foundation recently received a pre-alpha build of the console game, and conducted a further investigation into the title that offers an interesting look into its cancellation.

Maxis released SimCopter in 1996 for PC, and had planned to release a version for the Nintendo 64. At the time, the developer was known for PC titles, and as told by the Video Game History Foundation, wanted SimCopter 64 to be its break into the console market. It also wanted to begin making its own console ports, a duty previously handed off to Japanese developer Imagineer.  

Per VGHF, SimCopter 64 was in development primarily by Japanese subsidiary Maxis Kabushiki Kaisha, and the studio largely had free reign to develop the port. 

SimCopter 64 was early in development when it was a part of Maxis' E3 showing in 1997. In the footage shown, its pre-alpha status is quite evident: several features such as collision physics weren't implemented, and as was common in N64 titles back then, the world was surrounded in a thick layer of fog. 

Over time, production on SimCopter 64 became troubled. As former Maxis KK president Aki Kodama put it, the primary issue was the game itself not being much of a good fit for consoles. 

"It was boring and not fun to play at all," said Kodama. "It was very difficult to make SimCopter a [console] game, because SimCopter had no goal and it is just flying over a virtual city, just like another flight simulator."

SimCopter 64 was a victim of a merger and Nintendo's overambition

There are two key factors that played into SimCopter 64's fall: Maxis being acquired by Electronic Arts, and Nintendo's desire to compete with its console competition. 

EA acquired Maxis for $125 million, a few weeks before SimCopter was shown at E3 1997. At the video game event, Maxis chose to highlight its then-upcoming title SimCity 3000, which then PR-manager Patrick Buechner called "the reason EA was buying us."

On Nintendo's end, the console publisher announced that SimCopter 64 would be compatible with its Nintendo 64DD, a disk drive add-on. The disk drive was intended to be a match with the CD-ROM storage format of the Sony PlayStation and other consoles. 

Nintendo reportedly hyped up SimCopter 64 as being a launch title for the Nintendo 64DD, and said the game could import save data from SimCity 64. But according to Maxis staff, the studio never intended to make the helicopter sim compatible with the disc drive. 

Once it became clear that the title wouldn't be a headliner for Nintendo's new hardware, the focus on SimCopter 64 gradually dwindled. EA moved developers working on it to other projects such as SimCity 3000, and wouldn't bring in other developers to take their place. Side projects, according to Buechner, were seen as "distractions." 

Kodama put it best when he said that despite Maxis' attempts to reboot the game, things just couldn't really come together. "We found the nature of SimCopter was not a good fit for [a console] video game."

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