The year is 1994. You’re playing SimCity 2000 and you’re thinking, man, wouldn’t it be amazing if I could somehow get down into the game and walk these streets.
The year is 1997. You’re playing SimCopter, which says on the box that you can explore the streets of the city you’re created, but it sucks and looks like shit. You keep dreaming of a seemingly unattainable future.
The year is 2022 and, finally, you can do it. You can take the SimCity 2000 save that you have lugged around nearly 30 years, convert it into a modern video game, and walk its streets as though you were born there and were on your way to work. The only catches are that it’s very hard to do it. And that you are actually playing Minecraft, not SimCity.
Jernej Gosar, a software developer from Slovenia, is the man to thank for this mod, which reads a SimCity 2000 save file and recreates it as best it can in Minecraft. “The main reason why I decided to create this project was that I thought it would be really cool,” he tells me. “SimCity 2000 has been one of my favourite games since I was a child and one day I thought that it would be extremely cool to go down into the streets and explore them.”
In 2014, having gained enough experience coding through his education and various IT jobs, Gosar got to work fulfilling this childhood dream. Having also got very into Minecraft, he saw a few mods where folks had worked out ways to import SimCity 2000 terrain maps into Minecraft, but not the buildings and city itself.
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“So then I decided to make it myself,” he says. “If I remember correctly the core idea was implemented in a few weeks. I was really lucky that somebody wrote a detailed specification of the SimCity 2000 file format, otherwise this project couldn’t even get started.”
“The biggest challenge was probably digging through the bytes of both file formats and finally creating something that could actually be opened in Minecraft,” Gosar says. The next big obstacle was simply the amount of time it took to recreate the buildings, as even the simplest could take hours, though with the added bonus that because this was a first-person adventure, Gosar’s work was generating an interior (and sometimes even basic furniture) to go along with the building’s exterior.
“I still haven’t finished all of the buildings, and doing the most complicated ones (such as the Arcologies) would be a huge effort,” he says. “In general the smallest buildings take just a few hours to complete, including some interior furniture that makes sense for the building type. And the biggest ones can take a few days. The most complex building I have done so far was the big corporate tower which was quite a big effort.”
While the actual workings of the mod are incredibly complex—Gosar says, “Right now it’s not usable at all for people who are not software developers”—when you break it down, what it’s doing in principle is actually pretty simple. It’s essentially taking a SimCity 2000 map and matching each pixel to a Minecraft block. That helps the mod communicate between both games, and also helps keep everything to scale.
That’s not to say the conversion process is always smooth sailing. In addition to the complexity issues above, Gosar says, “In some cases I have encountered 2D building structures that weren’t actually possible to recreate in 3D,” with one example being that some buildings were actually drawn like Penrose stairs instead of functional 3D spaces.
“Another problem is that Minecraft is limited to 256 blocks in height, so if there are lots of hills in the city, the highest parts can get cut off,” he adds. “Otherwise the accuracy is supposed to be close to 100%, and rendering the Minecraft world with a tool that generates an isometric representation of it should show something very close to the original from SimCity 2000.”
Here’s an example. Pictured below is a SimCity 2000 metropolis built by Gosar:
And here is that same city, translated into Minecraft and fully walkable. Note how it even manages to grab the little individual trees and bushes from out the front of some buildings:
Meanwhile, this video highlights some of the basic interiors that the mod generates for some of the game’s buildings:
Gosar says he’d like to “make the project more usable,” lowering the bar for people to be able to use and understand it, ideally in the form of an online tool that would let users upload a SimCity 2000 save and be given a Minecraft world in return.
For now, though, he “doesn’t have the time to work on it much, but I guess that the recent attention the project has received is a good motivation to move it forward.” If you’re brave and want to try it out for yourself, you can find the project here.