Beyond SimCity 4


I won’t lie, I love to nitpick.  To sit drooling over a simulation game for hours, tweaking every last nuance, is for some reason fun for me, and seeing how many people are out there asking where SimCity 5 is, shows me that I’m not alone.  But SimCity 4 came out in January of 2003 and, other than the Sims, we haven’t seen much of a showing from Will Wright since then.  That’s not terribly surprising though, considering The Sims is a hugely popular and best selling franchise.  Moreover, those games appeal to a far greater audience than a traditional SimCity would.  But there are still tons of gamers out there that grew up with the older Maxis games and wonder where newer iterations of their favorite games are these days?

Seeing this logo while installing SimTower and jamming to the new Chumbawamba album? Best 1998 Easter ever.

My first experience with Wright’s simulation games came around 5th grade, where I spent hours unleashing tornado after volcano upon my cities in the first SimCity.  That game had come out way back in 1989, but was still fresh in my mind when my friend and I upgraded to SimCity 2000.  As with the Honda S2000, most people pre2K thought adding the 2000 suffix would make things seem bold, innovative, from the future, and not dated as they are now.  Nevertheless, SimCity 2000 added enormous graphical improvements over its predecessor.  We were blown away by the realism.

We were apparently easily impressed in the 90s

Regardless, I was addicted.  Being able to create your own terrain, then building a city atop it, allowed one to be in full control.  Being able to finally get the dense commercial zones to grow skyscrapers, no easy feat indeed, was a crowning achievement.  Having an earthquake tear it in half, and still being able to rebuild, to recover, offered a type of fun that is difficult to explain why it is in fact fun.  Maybe it was just a great time waster, an extremely complex version of Farmville from the past.  But therein lies the answer, and the problem.  Simulation games derive their fun from their complexity.  Not complexity in the sense that it prohibits progress or utterly consumes the experience, but complexity that allows for greater control over the outcome.  There is certainly a difference in the gameplay between planting potatoes  in Farmville and planting potatoes in the Sims 3.  The difference lies within the underlying complexity, the amount of choices and outcomes that are inherent in a more deeply developed simulation game.  Its a sad thing then when game developers abandon the things that made these older simulation games so fun and replace them with dumbed-down Pavlovian addictions, in order to achieve a wider audience.  Its understandable, but a company who’s outlook is having as many players as possible will inevitably overlook a fraction of potential players who want more.  Its because what could be this:

Ends up being this:

Though SimCity 2000 was a leaps-and-bounds improvement over SimCity 1, the greatest part was the addition of Streets of SimCity, which allowed you to create your own city in SimCity 2000 and then drive a car through your own city, racing or doing missions.  It was a totally immersive experience.  Then there was SimTower, a game I got for Easter back in middle school.  SimTower allowed you to build your own skyscraper, looking at a dissected view of a building.  Too many expensive apartments and no one would rent them.  Too many shops and the noise will drive out tenants.  Figuring out how to best get your elevators laid out to prevent long lines, naming an individual little person in the tower after yourself and checking to see where he went in the building, and dealing with bomb threats all made this game addicting, if not terribly difficult when it came to placing the cathedral at the top.  It remains one of my favorite Sim games out there to this day.

My cousin Miles was also into the Sim games, and had a trove of good ones as well.  I remember watching him put out fires and deliver people to hospitals in SimCopter, though I was terrible at it, and even bought SimSafari from him.  We also wasted days playing The Sims, working on one single family the entire time (though in retrospect I wonder how that kept our attention, especially since they didn’t age or die naturally.)  When he got Sims Online, we would gain people’s trust, have them let us move onto their lots, and then sell their houses and possessions out from under them.  Yes, in a concerted effort to never meet girls, we decided to troll it up in Sims Online.

I bought SimCity 3000 the day it came out, and to my utter horror, it would not install correctly.  I had checked and rechecked the specs, and it should have worked fine.  But it didn’t.  My most anticipated game at that time, and it sat within its box.  This specific incident would lead me later in life to prefer console games if I had the choice of the same game between console and PC.  We upgraded computers a few years later, and by that time news of SimCity 4 was building.  I ended up getting a copy when it came out in early 2003 and, after installing correctly, I proceeded to play it harder than God or Will Wright intended.  Filling up every square inch of every city in the region was my goal, and I was able to accomplish this feat.  Certain towns were dirty industrial wastelands, some towns were nothing but commerce, some a mix of farming and residential.  And I had created it all.

That’s why I was so disappointed when I found the game while moving about a month ago.  I decided it was time to start city building and attempted to install the game.  The installation worked, but the game uses resources so ineffectively, it almost immediately ground my computer to a halt.  I’m using a 500GB HDD, 4GB RAM, Win7 64 bit laptop and it was struggling to run the game.  I attempted to run it through WinXP, but it was still so sluggish I lost all interest in playing through that mess.  Computers had passed this game by, to no one’s surprise in the nearly 9 years it has existed.  But if its been that long, and newer computers wont even run the older game, where is SimCity 5?

I went online to find out, but unfortunately there is little to no information.  There had been rumors of a SimCity 5 but it apparently never came to fruition.  Other than the Sims, Wright had only produced one game in the interim, and that was Spore.  I had bought Spore my first year of law school, but working with a Vista computer, I ended up having to reformat a number of times, and the game finally refused to install because of disc protections built in.  Not that big of a loss, however, considering the game was not nearly what it could have been.  A great concept, carried out poorly.  But at least it was developed.  Not so for SimCity 5.

The problem, I would imagine, is that the developers simply see The Sims franchise as the cash cow it is and thus divert all their resources into production of that series, to the detriment of any other ideas they could pursue.  Which is a shame, in that we may not see another Maxis city simulation game.  But that’s not to say we won’t see another by another developer.  The interest is certainly still out there for city simulators, and with interest comes the market.  I was able to stumble across a game that was released just last year, and has so far received extremely positive reviews from the city builder community.  Cities XL 2011, it is claimed, consumes computer resources much more efficiently, allowing computers to deal with the vast amounts of information and visuals.  You are not restricted by a grid, so you can create roads that naturally wind around the terrain, and much more.

So, maybe the golden days of simulation games are behind us.  Maybe nostalgia makes those games seem better than they actually were.  Maybe Maxis has decided to focus solely on The Sims.  And that’s ok.  It seems that city builder games are not dead, and if I can find it online, I’ll hopefully be able to see progress where SimCity 4 left off.

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