Just as interesting are the tantalizing projects that never made it to liftoff. In the late 80s Origin Systems, run by Skylab astronaut Owen Garriott's sons, Richard and Robert, started an unannounced, untitled space colonization simulation. The company made decent headway on the project until somebody realized it made a lot more financial sense to do another Wing Commander game instead.
The highest-profile space-colony game that aborted before launch was undoubtedly SimMars, an ambitious title Maxis announced in 1998. Having presented a Mars terraforming scenario in SimEarth, Maxis would now use actual NASA research to portray a realistic, accurate effort to colonize Mars. From a 1999 IGN.com SimMars preview by Vincent Lopez:
You select a section of the planet to colonize, then launch a lander from Earth filled with vehicles, or your first set of scientists and engineers. Unlike earlier Maxis sims, you control vehicles and characters in a full 3-D environment. [...] The design of the vehicles and astronauts are still in the classic Maxis style, realistic but full of character and life, as well as the small details that continue to make the company's games so charming. It was important to [Maxis producer Matthew] Thornton that the astronauts add a true character-based feel to the colonization process, and the company used EA's capture studio in order to get correct animations for everything from repairing a faulty vehicle to golfing on the planet's surface. You'll never forget the first moments watching a team of astronauts exit a lander and begin work on the colony - and when one of the team loses their air hose, you'll definitely feel it. [...] Though the game begins in the near future, Thornton says that the goal is to follow humanity into the first few hundred years of development, when research has allowed scientists to create concrete and steel structures on the planet, and combine colonies into "cities" in order to prepare for long-term habitation.
But in 2000 Maxis cancelled SimMars. Today the only Martian sim activity is an unrelated fan effort, a mod for SimCity 4 creatively titled SimMars. Why did Maxis pull the plug? Because somebody realized it made a lot more financial sense to do another Sims expansion instead.
Do you see a pattern here?
Top Ten Ways to Tick Off Buzz Aldrin
10. When you meet him, make buzzing sound like a bee.
9. Squeegee his space helmet and ask for a buck. [...]
5. Every time he eats cheese, wink and say, "Wonder where you got that, moon man?" [...]
2. Refer to Apollo Eleven as "That guy from the 'Rocky' movies."
1. Hog the Tang.
- David Letterman, The Late Show (September 12, 2002)
And Cancel His Computer Game...
For historicity and strategic depth in realistic space games, BARIS remains the gold standard. BARIS, Interplay's 1993 computer game by Fritz Bronner and Michael McCarty, was adapted from Liftoff!, an obscure 1989 Task Force Games strategy board game designed by Bronner (with John Olsen and Robert L. Sassone).
In both board and computer versions, you can direct either the American or Soviet space program in a race to land astronauts on the Moon and return them safely to Earth. You manage a hardware budget, teams of scientists, and crews of astronauts/cosmonauts. You research various projects - capsules, rockets, boosters, kickers - to increase your missions' all-important reliability percentages. If a mission fails and astronauts die, your reliability can drop calamitously while the program regroups. You progress through a sequence of programs (Mercury/Vostok, Gemini/Voskhod, Apollo/Soyuz), and decide the sequence of unmanned and manned missions that will maximize reliability. Throughout, random events, such as a command from the government to make your next mission manned no matter what, complicate matters