Wright really wasn't interested in going back to do a new SimCity. So the project landed on the lap of Fred Haslem, the man who co-developed SimEarth with Wright. Making a sequel worthy of the SimCity name was an enviable yet challenging task. It would take Maxis more than one attempt to get it right.
The next generation of SimCity would not be without its design problems. When Haslem finally delivered his prototype of the next SimCity, "We realized it just wasn't working," explains Wright. "He had chosen a bad perspective and was using unstable SimEarth code in the game." A sense of panic set in. Although still riding the wave of success from SimCity, players were demanding a new version of the game and writing thousands of letters to Maxis pleading for a sequel.
When it was clear that the first crack at a SimCity sequel wasn't going to pan out, Wright had a change of heart. He somewhat reluctantly decided that he'd have a go at recreating SimCity with new graphics in a new isometric perspective.
"I was really trying to avoid it," he says in retrospect, "but looking back, I had a lot of fun doing the game again."
"When we did SimCity 2000, we collected all the letters and suggestions players sent in and I read through all of them. There were about a thousand of them. It was a really good resource, and we got a good sense of what people wanted out of the next version of SimCity.
Also, I spent quite a bit of time talking and meeting with various people who had expertise, including city planners, police administrators, public works people, teachers, etc."
Wright spent more than a year getting SimCity 2000 ready for release. The visual look was much different - a prerendered isometric 3D landscape as compared to the top-down view from the first game. But players and critics alike were incredibly receptive to the design. Most applauded Maxis for not breaking what worked in the first game, but rather augmenting it with a new graphic style and a streamlined interface. It was the game that introduced the isometric view to the series, as well as giving the land elevation and allowing underground construction of water pipes and subway lines. New buildings including schools, hospitals, prisons, and stadiums were added, along with the ability to zone docks and airports.
SimCity 2000, released for DOS in January 1994, would be the number one selling game for the first six months of the year, selling some 300,000 copies in the first four months alone. It was a certified hit. Maxis had done it again. SimCity was a golden goose.
Wright: "In SimCity 2000 I made a scenario about the Oakland Hills fire. My house was actually labeled in the scenario so I could put all the fire trucks around my house and save my house."
After the success of SimCity 2000 in 1994, the next year would be a metamorphosis for Maxis. Maxis' investors were eager to take the company public. "When we brought on that venture capital money, we had pretty much committed to either a public offering or acquisition," explains Wright.
The changes began. Wright and Braun gave their top management spots to an executive named Sam Poole, the former head of sales for Disney Software, an executive who knew nothing about game development. The company moved from its cozy offices, located in Orinda, California, into the sixth floor of a decidedly more corporate office-tower in Walnut Creek, California. The company's revenue steadily grew to $38.1 million in its fiscal year 1995, the year the firm went public. By that time, Maxis was employing about 240 workers.
at Walnut Creek
SimCity 2000 was still selling exceptionally well, almost a year and a half after release. "Everyone was still riding the buzz from SimCity 2000," remembers Maxis' art director Ocean Quigley. With strong sales from SimCity 2000 and the Urban Renewal add-on package, Maxis would report US $6 million in net income for its first public year, six times what they earned only a few years ago.
But internally, there were serious questions about the future of the company. Everyone knew that there wasn't a new SimCity game coming for 1996, and with SimCity 2000 sales starting to dry up, no one knew what Maxis was going to do to meet analyst's projections. "There was a feeling of frantic desperation at the highest level of the company," explains Quigley.
This desperation was compounded by the fact that Jeff Braun had decided to slowly phase out of the company's day to day operations. "After the company went public, Jeff basically said, 'I've been running this company for eight years. It needs to get to the next level by itself or disappear,".