I had pizza for supper last night. Let me explain to you how ordering a pizza in Entwistle works. See, no one in Entwistle delivers pizza, so if you feel like one, you call up one of our three local truck stops and place your order. You wait about half-an-hour, then you go to the truck stop and pick it up. It’s a very quaint system. Attempts in the past at bringing home delivery to this town failed, mainly because the streets in Entwistle aren’t numbered, so the pizza delivery person would usually get lost due to the customer’s poor directions. On this particular evening, I chose the Journeyman Inn to get a pizza from. It’s always been the Journeyman Inn, except for a year or two in the mid-1980’s when it was Norm’s Inn. The pizza wasn’t quite ready when I arrived, so as I waited by the counter, my gaze wandered around the restaurant.
The Journeyman, like Entwistle’s other truck stops, is split into two sections. There’s a general coffee shop type area; your stereotypical truck stop. Then, usually behind a door, is the dining room. This is the area where they try to be a little more upscale. They serve alcoholic beverages and (at least in the Riverside Diner) have a slightly different menu. The dining room in the Journeyman always caught my attention. Even though it’s been part of the restaurant since I was a kid, it’s obviously a later addition. It’s awkwardly sticking out of the east wall, and is even raised higher than the rest of the restaurant. All these flashbacks to these upscale additions reminded me of what I read in the paper a few weeks ago. An old timer from a small town was talking about the requisite truck stops and restaurants that small towns have, and how in most of these small towns, fine dining tends to be a Chinese restaurant. Up until recently, the Journeyman was Entwistle’s requisite Chinese restaurant. As I was dwelling on the loss of our only international eating establishment, that’s when I was hit with my idea for a video game.
One of the most popular forms of games right now are known as sims. These games generally simulate the management and running of something. The first game in this field, and still the most famous, is SimCity. You are the mayor of a city. Make a well managed and profitable one. Of course, the Sim series has always been the leader in this field. There was SimEarth (You are God. Create and manage a planet.) There was SimFarm (You are a farmer. Create and manage a farm.) The most creative was SimAnt. (You are the queen ant. Create and manage an ant colony.) The latest in this series, and somewhat of a fad, is The Sims. (You are a person. Create and manage your life.) Not to be outdone, we’ve also got the Tycoon series. I know a friend of mine who loved Railroad Tycoon. (You run a railroad company. Create and manage profitable railroads.) The two that interest me the most are Roller Coaster Tycoon (Create and manage a theme park) and Zoo Tycoon (Create and manage a zoo). These are just some of the more well-known series. There are hundreds of other sims on the market. Not only is it a field that I want to get in on, but it’s also a field that’s ripe for parody. With sims on the mind, and reflecting on Entwistle’s truck stops, I got my brilliant idea for a video game:
The concept, as with most sims, is simple. You are the mayor of a small hick town. But, your goal is not to create a profitable one. Your goal is to create and manage one that is just barely able to stay afloat, like real hick towns. With most hick towns, the mayor also owns most of the businesses. So, you would have to select which businesses that you will own and run, and you’d have to select which of your family members would be best suited to run your businesses.
There would be the businesses you usually find in a hick town: your truck stops, your coffee shops, gas stations, general stores, and the like. Then, there would be requisite services you’d have to supply, like your post office and volunteer fire department. Of course, the more profitable your town gets, you need to add more services and businesses to retain your “barely able to stay afloat” status. When your town gets big enough, you can add stuff from larger hick towns, like Chinese restaurants, motels, and redneck bars! Forget building condos and housing developments. You’ve got to develop trailer parks.
Most sims also involve hiring people to run stuff. So, besides the family members, you’d also have to find people to be the fire chief, village foreman, and maybe even sheriff, if your hick town is big enough. You’d also have to run regular elections to get village councillors you don’t get along with. And you can’t forget what every hick town has: a town drunk. It’s been my experience in Entwistle that, if you really want your town to just barely stay afloat, then it helps to make the village foreman, fire chief, town drunk and mayor all the same person. Sadly, though, you are the mayor, and as part of the game, can only be the mayor. But, making the town drunk, village foreman, and fire chief the same person can be part of a winning strategy.
And let’s not forget expansion packs! This can be part of an ongoing series. You could have the expansion pack Hick Towns Through The Years, which could see you manage your hick town over decades, with decade-appropriate items. In the 1940’s, you could add a grain elevator to your town. In the 1980’s, the grain elevator could be closed because all the farmers are trucking their grain into the city. In the 2000’s, you could form a historical society to preserve the grain elevator. This would blend nicely into the next expansion pack, SimHickTown: Tacky Tourist Things. In the early 1990’s, the Alberta government was giving out tourism grants left and right. So, in this expansion pack, your hick town would get one of these large tourism grants, and your goal would be to turn your hick town into a tourist stop. Like most of Alberta’s real towns, you’d have a selection of large objects you can add to your town. How about giving your town the largest sausage? The largest concrete buffalo? Or the largest mushrooms? Sadly, all these ones are claimed by real Alberta towns, but you get the jist. Then, with your attraction in place, you can start adding things like gift shops and tourist information booths. It’s just that simple! My experience comes mainly from farm hick towns. Surely, if I were to hire on Streiff as a creative consultant, he could tell me all about hick fishing villages from the east coast, which could be the basis for an environmental expansion pack, or maybe even the sequel. (Not to say that Streiff is from a hick town, but he’s probably seen a few.)
The problem with a sim of this nature, though, would be you’d have to strike a balance between humor and game play. Face it, through sheer repetition, the jokes would eventually lose their edge, and all you’re left with is the game. So, not only does it have to be funny, it’s also got to be challenging so people will keep playing it. And, if they keep playing it, they’re more inclined to buy the expansion packs, which will have all new jokes. The balance, then, is what would make this game entertaining as a whole.
I had this all scratched on the back of a napkin by the time my pizza arrived. That’s when I jotted my last few notes: “additions to buildings must look awkward and tacky. No pizza delivery.” OK, my brilliant idea is actually nothing more than SimEntwistle, but hey, you don’t know my town like I know my town. I first made this observation in high school: Entwistle would either make a good soap opera or a great sitcom. Why not get my foot in the door with a video game? Small town politics. Politics at their grittiest. There’s a great video game in here. I know it. So, c’mon Microsoft! Let’s get the ball rolling on this!
[NOTE: “SimHickTown” is just a working title. I am in no way affiliated with the owners of the Sim series, and so I really, really hope they don’t spot this and sue me. Although, the core idea of a hick town simulator is mine, all mine!]