We at Ars Technica are proud to be members of video game archiving history today. SimRefinery, one of PC gaming's most notoriously "lost" video games, now exists—as a fully playable game, albeit an unfinished one—thanks to an Ars Technica reader commenting on the story of its legend.
Two weeks ago, I reported on a story about Maxis Business Solutions, a subdivision of the game developer Maxis created in the wake of SimCity's booming success. Librarian and archivist Phil Salvador published an epic, interview-filled history of one of the game industry's earliest examples of a "serious" gaming division, which was formed as a way to cash in on major businesses' interest in using video games as work-training simulators.
As Salvador wrote in May:
Oil refineries are really, really complicated. Thats why Chevron wanted Maxis to make them a game like SimCity, to teach the employees at their oil refinery in Richmond, California how it all worked.
To be clear, they didnt want a game that was supposed to accurately train people how to run an oil refinery or replace an education in chemical engineering. That wouldve been incredibly dangerous. What they wanted instead was something that showed you how the dynamics of the refinery worked, how all the different pieces invisibly fit together, like SimCity did for cities.
But while Salvador gathered a lot of information about how the resulting game SimRefinery worked—and how it let users recreate SimCity-caliber disasters within its refinery simulation—he was unable to turn up any working copies. "Nobody held onto SimRefinery because it didnt seem important," he wrote. "It was a one-off, somewhat unsuccessful training program for an oil refinery in California. In the grand scheme of Maxis, it was one of their least important titles, which has only now become an object of interest in the video game community because of its unavailability."
Unsurprisingly, the savvy, computer history-minded readers of Ars Technica took this proclaimed rarity as a challenge, and a new user signed up to comment on the article with an intriguing image upload: an apparent copy of SimRefinery on a single 3.5" disk, labeled only with the game's title in Times New Roman and a black-and-white Maxis logo. The anonymous user, who goes by the username "postbebop" and has so far not replied to our requests for comment, credited the disk to a "retired chemical engineering friend" who had work experience at Chevron in the early '90s.
After teasing a plan to recover the disk's contents and upload them to archive.org, postbebop went silent. Until today!