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SYFY WIRE video games

Long-lost SimCity spinoff discovered, and you can play it online

By Benjamin Bullard
SimRefinery game opening screen

No crude jokes here; just a good, clean trip in the wayback machine for a look at a newly unearthed simulation game about running an oil refinery (yes, you read that right) from SimCity developer Maxis. Thanks to some slick internet sleuthing, a copy of the long-lost game is now free to play — if that's quite the right word for it — by motoring on over to the Internet Archive.

Ars Technica reports that a reader came forward with information about owning a copy of the game after reading an earlier article about Maxis Business Solutions, a division of Maxis hatched in 1992 to help corporations train their employees through games that (you guessed it) simulate their operations. In this case, that corporation was Chevron, and the game was SimRefinery, which is exactly what it sounds like: a tool for showing workers at the company's Richmond, Calif., refinery "how the dynamics of the refinery worked, how all the different pieces invisibly fit together, like SimCity did for cities," according to Ars.

The anonymous reader reportedly uploaded the game from a 3.5-inch floppy disc, which to date remains the only known surviving copy. As you can tell from the Twitch stream that gaming historian Phil Salvador (who's written extensively about the long-lost game at his blog) created to take a look under the hood, don't expect any SimCity-style handholding when you fire up SimRefinery: there are no instructions, you're pretty much thrown into the sim without any real guidance of what's going on, and yes, if you don't know what you're doing, you can even set the place on fire.

Players can reportedly play mad scientist with chemicals to sim-create stuff that'd probably earn you a visit from the feds in real life. "For now, we know that you can use the game's menus to mix 'recipes' that include potentially explosive compounds like C4 and MTBE," the report states. The game version uploaded to the Archive is an unfinished prototype, meaning that not all the features you see on-screen are fully functional. But for intrepid would-be chemical engineers, that's all the more incentive to make an exploratory drill deep into the game's mechanics to discover all its hidden secrets and bring them gushing to the surface.

Although Maxis Business Solutions (and its renamed successor, Thinking Tools) reportedly created more games that simulated other corporate infrastructures, time siphoned many of them away after Thinking Tools shut down in 1998 and (get this) reportedly burned a lot of its assets, including floppy discs, in a bonfire. But if you're curious to get a firsthand look at the sim that's got gaming historians so revved up, speed over the the Internet Archive to take SimRefinery for a throwback spin ... but be sure to bring a fire extinguisher.