Everything seemed fine next to the river. Gold was being panned, providing a steady income to a newly-emerging Placerville in the year 1849.
But then, of course, fire struck — the gold panning stations, despite being right next to the river, went up in flames.
And then an earthquake took out the gold mine in the center of town.
Bandits struck, hamstringing supplies for the town.
The situation was dire for the town until the gold-supplying camps were rebuilt.
Such is life in 1849, the title of San Francisco-based developer SomaSim’s first city-building video game, set during the Gold Rush era. Co-founder Matt Viglione said the Gold Rush era “all fit together” with what he and co-founder Rob Zubek were aiming for.
“We were looking to make a game with a lot of cities, built from scratch,” he said, and the era “made sense” to have the game take place in. “During the Gold Rush, that’s what happened. All in about five years,” he said, towns and cities sprung up.
The inspiration struck on the way back from Thanksgiving in Jackson. They passed a gold mine and, “though it wasn’t a lightning strike,” the gold mine planted the seed of inspiration.
From there, the team visited a few of the 20 cities in the game, though as it was at the same time of the Rim Fire, some trips had to be cancelled. Amador and Calaveras counties were the main areas they visited, though Viglione said they stopped by Placerville to snap some pictures.
They also pored over books and photos about the time period and letters written in the period. At one point, Viglione — the art director of the game — asked a friend in Calaveras County to dig a bit into the dirt to see what color it would have been if a road was made.
Three weeks of intense research later, a 35- or 40-page research document, summarizing their findings, was produced.
“It took a pretty significant amount of time, but it was worth it,” Viglione said. It enabled their artists to have a better understanding of the time’s aesthetic, he said.
The game itself is challenging but fun. Drawing from classic city-building series including SimCity, Caesar, Tropico and Children of the Nile, the game tasks players with building a Gold Rush city from the ground up — saloons, sheriffs, gold mines, gold panning stations, volunteer fire stations, wheat farms — and managing the economy of said town.
Exporting gold for profit is, as befitting a Gold Rush game, a major part of the economy, funding more buildings to obtain more resources to keep crime down and citizens’ happiness up. Misfortune in the form of fires, earthquakes and crime can strike swiftly, cutting off major income sources.
The game provides different starting offers for each level — would you rather have $3,000 cash or only $1,000 but start with a gold mine and some meat to stave off hunger?
While the game is not revolutionary, it hits all the points a city-builder should. The game is willing to throw curveballs at players, but remains fun throughout.
“It was an intense year,” Viglione said of making the game. SomaSim, now having taken a short vacation after the game was released in early May, is getting back to work on making expansions for the game.
“The Gold Rush took place in other parts of the world,” he said, hinting at what is to come.
1849 is available on PC, Mac, Android and iOS systems.