Once thought to be lost forever, Maxis’ SimRefinery has resurfaced. What’s more, you can play it right now thanks to the work of ArsTechnica and one of its readers. The story of how SimRefinery became playable again starts with journalist and game historian Phil Salvador.
In May, Salvador self-published an exhaustive, historical account of Maxis Business Simulations, a subdivision of the legendary game developer Will Wright and company created after the success of the original SimCity. The goal of the division was to take advantage of sudden corporate interest in the studio’s games. Companies like Chevron wanted Maxis to create SimCity-like games for training purposes, which is how SimRefinery came to be.
Ars Technica reporter Sam Machkovech wrote about Salvador's work. By chance, one reader chimed in the comments to say they had shared the article with a retired chemical engineer who had worked for Chevron in the 90s. That person found a single 3.5-inch floppy disk with a copy of the game on it. After disappearing for a couple of weeks, the reader reappeared earlier this week to report that they had successfully uploaded SimRefinery to the Internet Archive, where you can play it now. You can also download the game and play in a PC using DOSBox.
The SimRefinery that's available to play today is a prototype, so many parts aren't complete. It's also very much designed for those with a chemical engineering background; many of the gameplay elements attempt to recreate the more technical aspects of running an oil refinery.
However, like most other Sim games, you can simply try to cause chaos. In fact, causing havoc seems like it may have been the point SimRefinery since it gives the player a sense of all the systems that need to work in order for a refinery to function. "If you start breaking the refinery, you can see how ruining one part of the plant will affect the other parts of the plant," wrote Salvador. So if you just feel like watching a refinery burn in all its pixelated glory, go right ahead.