SimRefinery recovered Simulation category

Title screen from SimRefinery

Never say never! Thanks to a reader on Ars Technica and an anonymous chemical engineer, a working copy of SimRefinery has been successfully recovered.

Two weeks ago, I published my long-in-the-works article about Maxis Business Simulations, a division of SimCity developer Maxis that made simulation games for businesses. It was the culmination of four years of research, and I’m very proud to share their story.

One of the games they produced was SimRefinery, an oil refinery simulation for Chevron. Very little was widely known about the game until now, and the article kicked off a wave of interest in SimRefinery that seems to have reached beyond gaming circles. Shortly after the article was published, it was picked up by the tech news site Ars Technica, where one reader, postbebop, reported that they knew a retired chemical engineer who worked at Chevron, who confirmed that he owned a copy of the game. postbebop walked the engineer through the process of reading the data from the original floppy disk, and he was able to create a digital copy.

They’ve uploaded the game to the Internet Archive; you can download and play it here. Huge thanks to postbebop for making this happen. (Note: By request from the uploader, the original copy of SimRefinery is currently offline. It’s been re-uploaded elsewhere on the Internet Archive already, but I’ll keep the original link here in case it’s restored in the future. Please be patient with the folks involved.)

Screenshot from SimRefinery

I haven’t had a chance to play SimRefinery yet besides grabbing the screenshots for the article, but I genuinely did not expect anyone would still have a copy of this game. I’ll write a post with a close-up look at SimRefinery soon.

(UPDATE: 6/6/2020: Here’s my full breakdown of SimRefinery.)

It’s so exciting to finally be able to play SimRefinery, and it’s worth remembering that this is one piece of a larger historical picture. It’s a big piece, for sure, but it means so much more when we have the historical context around it. Gaming history is more than just a collection of games; it’s about what they meant to the people who made them and played them. To learn more about Maxis Business Simulations and the people behind the company, please check out the full article!

With that said, this is cause for celebration. I am incredibly grateful and humbled that folks enjoyed the article enough that it gained enough traction for this to happen. Thank you to everyone who has supported me and The Obscuritory over the years and made this possible.

15 comments

  • Roy

    It seems that they’re reusing SimFarm assets, maybe even SimFarm engine?

  • Phil Salvador

    Yes! The engineer on SimRefinery, Bruce Skidmore, explained that the game was based on a skeleton of another game from Maxis, which I assume was SimCity. But I didn’t expect to see graphics wholesale re-used from SimCity and SimFarm. The game is definitely still a prototype, although this does seem to be the final version that was produced. I’ll have a full write-up with my thoughts about this soon.

  • Roy

    I looked at the release date of them, and the situation maybe reversed of my thought, i.e. SimFarm is reusing SimRefinery’s assets.

  • Roy

    P.P.S.: and maybe in a saner approach: both SimFarm and SimRefinery were developing at the same time, and assets were just shared between them.

  • Shaun 'intel' Miner

    I wonder if anyone still has a copy of “TeleSim” somewhere

    I Googled it while reading the previous article which lead to a 1997 NY Times article that stated

    “John Hiles, the founder and chief executive of Thinking Tools, describes his company’s software as “flight simulators for business.” There are about 300 users of Telesim (which costs $100,000 to $200,000, depending on the configuration) at Bell Canada and the software is also used by Pacific Telesis, Bell Atlantic, AT&T and Sprint.”

  • John D Salt

    Intriguing.
    At about the same time, I was working for Saudi Aramco in Dhahran, trying to produce a simulation toolkit to model the West Coast terminals they had just taken over on their merger with Samarec. Our emphasis was on the storage and movement of crude, which meant we dealt with waterfront facilities (berths, loading systems, storage tanks) rather than refinery plant, trying to find what facilities were necessary to meet particular production schedules and planned tanker movements.
    Luckily for us, we were allowed to work on SPARCstation 10s (then the top-of-the-range desktop box) rather than DOS machines.

  • Andres Bravo

    SimRefinery is Surely the Game that never released, but it’s finally recovered!

  • wombo1

    I was just speaking with boss about this, he remembers playing the final version with a Chevron guy a few years ago. Also apparently Shell had something similar.

    (I work for a Hydrocarbon consultancy and simulation vendor)

  • Jason

    Seems to have been sort lived as Archive.org show an error now.

  • Phil Salvador

    My understanding is that the original uploader asked to remove it, and I respect that. I empathize with them being uncomfortable with the level of attention something like this gets. I’d ask that we give them space. If you want to play SimRefinery, it’s probably already out there in other places.

  • Harvinder Atwal

    In your article you mentioned some other sim business games but mentioned they were either incomplete or impossible to get hold of. Has anyone reached out to you about those?

  • Phil Salvador

    Harvinder: Because of their limited distribution, I’ve been working on the assumption that none of the other games by the company survived. I’d be excited to hear from anyone who used Thinking Tools software at the time and could talk about playing them first-hand.

  • Kaleberg

    This reminds me of the industrial musicals like “Bathtubs Over Broadway” which was done for a plumbing fixture company.

  • meelo

    Where is the new link to the game???

  • Phil Salvador

    Hi meelo! The original version of the game was removed at the uploader’s request, but other people have re-uploaded elsewhere on the Internet Archive or other sites like MyAbandonware. https://archive.org/details/sim-refinery

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