SimCity 2000, Part VI: Mayor Tony Montana

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After taking its place as the state capital, Hell undergoes a transformation.  Life doesn’t really get any better for the general masses, but the new city’s new status spurs the building of upper-class neighborhoods removed from the rest of the city, sheltered away on the edges of town.  Meanwhile, the heart of government teems with lobbyists and other forms of lower life.  (Ha ha, just kidding, if you’re a lobbyist reading this right now.  Well, sort of.)

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The city assembly now serves as the state capitol building, and the assemblymen now convene in a nearby office building.  Shortly after this change took place, the mayor ordered the funds for the statue given to the city to be spent on a commission of a statue… of himself.  Standing in the middle of a giant man-made fountain.

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Even though the mayor was generally considered a worthless drunkard, nobody could seem to get rid of him, and he kept the bulk of spending and city planning power for himself.  People simply did their best to ignore the gaudy monument.  Notice that even the pigeons avoid his statue.

Not far away, at Hell’s only hospital, a doctor takes a smoke break on a balcony outside in the cold night air.  This one hospital isn’t sufficient to serve the entire city, he knows.  In fact, the city only allocated money for a thousand beds in the facility, forcing twelve of the 1,012 patients currently in the hospital to sleep on chairs in the hospital’s waiting rooms.  Because of its crowding problems, the hospital was given an F by the official hospital grading board.

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The doctor asked his colleague that day what the hell the city government was planning to do about the problems the hospital faced.  The other doctor laughed.  They both knew that the city government wouldn’t do anything.  An appeal to the mayor was pretty useless at this point.  Most people couldn’t even reach him for a meeting.

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Remember that mayor’s house offered as a reward for the city reaching a population of 2,000?  It’s finally been built.  Far away from the noise and danger of the city, in the middle of a small forest of specially planted trees surrounding a man-made moat.  The mayor also commanded the construction of a hydroelectric dam specially for his use so that he doesn’t have to rely upon Hell’s unreliable power grid.

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The mayor’s house in SimCity 2000 is useful for finding out how popular the mayor is.  Which isn’t terribly useful.  The mayor, having absented himself from the filthy smog-ridden city, delegates most of the everyday decisionmaking authority to a group of city planners answerable only to him.  He spends most of his day in his mansion’s giant game room and in a massive hot tub like the one in Scarface, and of course he’s drunk as often as he can help it.

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Rumor has it that he’s started doing blow too.

One of the decrees the mayor issued from his new retreat, shortly after Hell was named the state capital, was that no new spending should take place that wasn’t already budgeted for until the city could pay off the principal on its bonds and rid itself of debt completely.  Honestly not a bad idea, but for the fact that the city really needs another hospital, seeing how the sole hospital in Hell gets an F.  Still, one shitty hospital is better than no hospitals, right?

Of course, the mayor was sure to get his man-made moat-lake and forest and personal power plant built before issuing this decree.

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Hell Tech, where the children of Hell learn to become efficient worker bees, is overcrowded too.  But it’s not too badly overcrowded.  Only 38 students in are forced to sit on the floor and have class in the hall instead of in a classroom.  And enough of the students are in detention (or in juvenile hall) enough of the time that there isn’t a real overcrowding problem anyway.

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After seven years of austerity and an overcrowded hospital and school and too few police stations, the city finally saves enough to pay off its first bond.  This only leaves the second one to deal with, reducing the city’s bond-related expenses and driving up revenue.  Even though each bond has to be paid off in full, you can pay off each one separately, so once you have $10,000 in the bank and no impending necessary expenses like an almost-dead power plant, it’s not a bad idea to get rid of that debt.

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As Hell marches towards freedom from its bond payments, we can see that the new coal power plant is nowhere near dying.  It and its predecessor have been spewing out deadly coal dust or soot or something from their smokestacks for 69 years straight.  That’s something to be proud of.  It is running almost at capacity, though, so once growth starts again, we’ll have to find a new energy solution.  Or just keep building more hydroelectric dams, because they’re now powering more of the city than the coal plant.  (Hydroelectric dams also don’t fail every 50 years – they last forever without further maintenance payments.)

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Now that Hell is freeing more of its revenue for future spending, let’s look at what we’ve already done.  The four buttons near the bottom of the toolbar are useful in this regard.  The button on the bottom right of this section shows how the city is zoned without any of the pesky buildings in the way.  Proper zoning is important – you can’t just throw a zone wherever and expect it to get developed.  Zones will only develop within three tiles of a road.  Industrial zones should generally be placed away from residential (although we decided not to be so careful in this case) and commercial zones should be interspersed throughout the city to make the industrial and residential zones more active – basically so people have places to go to get lunch or shop for clothes or to watch sex movies in an adult theater.

Notice that while the churches are built in residential zones, they’re not officially part of those zones.  I think there was a cheat in the DOS version of the game that caused a lot of churches to be built all at once, if you typed in a swear word.

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The top left button in the group does more or less the same thing, showing zones, along with the specialty buildings, this time in orange.  I never used this mode as a kid, and I don’t use it now.

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This button on the bottom left removes the roads, power lines and trees from the map.  As far as I can tell, this mode is only really useful when you’re trying to place water mains under roads and want to see what you’re doing.

Finally, the bottom right button makes all the signs on the map invisible.  Signs can be intrusive, so this is a useful tool.  We haven’t created any signs yet, but let’s try making one with the SIGN button in the middle of the toolbar.

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Just type the text in, and…

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… now we know that someone in this apartment complex likes balls.

To remove the sign, click on it with the sign tool again and delete the text.

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There’s also the help button.  It brings up the game’s help file index and screws up the graphics.  I’m not sure if it’s the game’s fault or just the fact that I’m playing on VirtualBox.

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As the city continues to work towards paying off its bonds, another wave of tornadoes descends upon it.  The first twister destroys the exact same factory that was knocked over in the tornado wave 12 years earlier, but misses every other building in the city.  This property must be cursed.

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A second tornado touches down to the southwest, well away from the city.  However, it comes dangerously close to the mayor’s residence on its way south.  The passed out mayor has to be carried to the basement by his staff while the tornado passes.

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Once again, the writers at the Courier decide to make up a story about the tornado causing millions of dollars in damage, even though it didn’t do much of anything aside from vaguely threaten the mayor’s mansion.  The Courier is mostly used as bird cage lining by Hell’s residents now, so nobody notices.

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After tornado season passes, business continues as usual in Hell.  Out of nowhere, the ordinance advisor demands that the mayor fund an anti-drug campaign to help Hell’s children.  A staffer advises her that the mayor isn’t available (meaning he’s sleeping off a hangover) but that he’s pretty sure the mayor doesn’t care enough to approve funding.  Go away, ordinance advisor.  Unless you have ideas about saving money.

Even though the city’s bonds have been almost paid off, life isn’t getting any better for most of Hell’s citizens.  In fact, the austerity program that the mayor put in place is probably making life worse.  Will Mayor Scarface loosen his grip on the city before the citizens have finally had enough and riot?  Will he be deposed?  Will he perhaps go out in a blaze of glory firing a huge machine gun at his enemies who are trying to invade his mansion, a giant white mountain of cocaine in the background?  Or will Heaven make its will known by sending another tornado, this time directed straight towards his house?  Only time will tell.

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SimCity 2000, Part V: The hand of an angry God

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Fifty years after its founding, Hell has become a minor center of industry and trade.  This squalid, run-down, waterless, filthy pit of a city somehow continues to attract new citizens, probably because of its low property taxes and abundance of cheap accommodations.  Granted, most of those accommodations are about as desirable to live in as a gas station toilet, and most of them are also in neighborhoods where a stranger approaching you on the sidewalk is as likely to say hello as he is to pull a knife on you and demand your wallet.  But Hell seems to be good enough for almost 25,000 people to call home.

The poorest of those people live near the coal-powered plant.  And the coal plant is about to reach the end of its life.

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In SimCity 2000, when a power plant reaches the end of its lifespan, it explodes.  The explosion doesn’t take out any of the buildings around it – it’s more of an implosion – but it’s still annoying because you have to replace your old plant immediately with a new one or else risk a city-wide blackout and a drop in population.  And yes, the paper reminds you of this with a special report.  (If you play SimCity 2000 with the “No Disasters” tab checked in the Disasters menu at the top, the plant is automatically replaced and you’re charged however much it would have cost to rebuild it.  But we don’t play with No Disasters checked, because that’s no way to play.  If you’re playing with No Disasters checked, you may as well be playing in Easy Mode.  And we know what they say about people who play in Easy Mode.)

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Coincidentally, one month after the warning of the imminent death of the coal plant, we learn that gas power is now an option!  Is this the power solution we’ve been waiting for?

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The answer is no.  No, it isn’t.  Gas power is bullshit.  It’s relatively clean but one plant can barely power two city blocks.  Hydroelectric power is so much better, even if you have to place waterfalls for it, that it’s not even funny (hydroelectric dams also don’t take up space better used for residential/commercial/industrial zoning because they’re placed exclusively on slopes.)  So, yeah.  There’s no situation where you should be using gas power unless you can really spare the space.

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One year later, boom goes the coal plant.  The mayor is drunk in his office as usual, but fortunately, almost by accident, he hired a competent energy manager, and the plant was immediately replaced with a fresh one spewing out fresh soot onto Hell’s residents.

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A few years later, NYU develops an even newer source of energy: nuclear power.  While not very efficient, nuclear plants don’t produce a lot of pollution and are one of the better sources of power in the game… as long as you have disasters turned off.

In any case, we can’t afford to build a nuclear plant yet, and it would be a real waste of money to replace the coal plant we already rebuilt.

Meanwhile, Hell continues to expand.  The city planners plow almost all of the tax revenue collected every year into zoning and building.  The new neighborhoods include a budding industrial district to the northwest of the city.  Some genius, possibly a graduate of Hell’s only school, decided this was the place to build a high-end resort: right across from a bunch of factories and chemical storage tanks.

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On the other hand, it’s only mildly polluted, so maybe it’s not such a bad place for a hotel.

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At the behest of a crowd of angry protesters outside his office, the mayor eventually decides to fund the creation of neighborhood watch programs.  The program turns out to simply involve arming all the residents of the neighborhoods with the highest crime rates and allowing Death Wish-style wars between gangs and bands of law-abiding citizens.

Crime rates do technically fall, though, so the mayor keeps the program in place.

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Sadly, Hell is not untouched by natural disasters.  After 59 relatively quiet years, a tornado touches down.  Luckily for the citizens of Hell, though, it doesn’t get anywhere near the city.

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The Courier still reports on it, though.

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One month later, another tornado passes by Hell without causing any damage.  Two tornadoes in one year after 59 years of no tornadoes seems a little weird, but at least neither of them did any damage.

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The reporters at the Courier, who don’t believe in fact-checking, claim that the second tornado caused “incredible devastation”, but all it did was disturb a few shrubs out in the desert.

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Later in the same month, though, a third goddamn tornado hits Hell.  And this time, it actually does some damage, taking out a couple of factories on the edge of the city.

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This twister passes dangerously close to the city on its way south, as if taunting it.  Firefighters are sent to the scene, but as usual, they wonder why the hell they were dispatched, because they can’t actually do anything about a tornado.

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Three tornadoes in one month after 59 years of no tornadoes isn’t a coincidence.  It’s a sign of God’s wrath.  Thankfully, God only seemed to be giving the city a warning, because none of the tornadoes did a whole lot of damage.  If one of them had ripped right through the middle of town, though – that would have been a different story.

The recent tornado scare is soon forgotten, however, when Hell reaches its greatest milestone yet: 30,000 citizens.  In recognition of its achievement, the state government bestows a great honor upon the city:

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The Courier proudly trumpets that Hell is now the home of the state government, and that funds for a statue have been given to the city, because what’s a state capital without a good statue?  The citizens of Hell, meanwhile, wonder how bad every other city in the state must be that their crapbucket of a city got chosen as its capital.

Four promising games from PAX South 2017

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend PAX South, the southern chapter of the massive annual game conference held in San Antonio, TX.  I also had the fortune to contract an illness at PAX that also hit hundreds of other con-goers and that put me out of the office for a few days this week.  Most importantly, though, I was able to play/observe a few new interesting games in the expo hall that, when they come out, might help distract me from everything that went wrong in my life and everything I’ll do wrong in the future.  These games included the following:

1. The Shrouded Isle

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Described by developer Kitfox Games as a “cult village management simulator”, The Shrouded Isle puts you in the role of the priest of a seaside town.  Your chief duty as priest is to maintain your town’s good moral character, in part by offering regular human sacrifices to appease the undersea monster-god that lurks near its shores.  With his power as the town priest, the player can also uncover heresies and punish people accordingly (maybe by making them the next course on the human sacrifice menu?)  The sacrifices are chosen from the town’s five most prominent families, though, and pissing off one of the families too much by choosing too many of them to sacrifice seems like it would probably be a bad idea.

The Shrouded Isle is currently scheduled to come out on Steam this summer, and I’ll probably check it out.  The interesting art style and the human sacrifice angle really pulled me in.  And it promises some potential Lovecraftian god-destruction too, and what more can you ask for than that.

2. Beat Cop

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Beat Cop puts you in the well-worn shoes of a New York City policeman patrolling the streets.  And this is NYC in the 1980s, before former mayor/current psychotic Rudy Giuliani solved the city’s crime problems by having all the homeless guys shipped out, so you’re in for a hard time.  You’re tasked with writing tickets and catching thieves trying to make off with valuables from the stores on your assigned block, but you can also talk to pedestrians and business owners and try to get leads on cases.  (You can even solicit a prostitute, as I found out when I tried to arrest one!  Needless to say she did not get arrested.)  There’s also a plot involving your character, Jack Kelly, and mob connections, or a framed murder, or something.  Anyway, the game was pretty fun for the ten minutes I played it and it’s developed by some guys called 11 bit studios out of Poland, which explains some of the wonky English on the game’s Steam page.  It’s coming out this spring supposedly, so keep an eye out if the idea of playing a pixellated Dirty Harry sounds fun to you.

3. Holy Potatoes!  We’re in Space?!

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This weirdly titled game seems to be essentially FTL starring potato-based life forms, which is admittedly strange.  But if you like FTL and you don’t mind potatoes, and way way too many potato-based puns, then this game could be for you.  Not much else to say about it.  Daylight Studios also released a game called Holy Potatoes!  A Weapon Shop?! a while back that I didn’t play, so this whole potato thing seems to be working out for them.  This one’s being released on Valentine’s Day next week, so if you don’t have a date and you were just planning to sit at home and eat a quart of ice cream or drink a pint of whiskey alone in your apartment, maybe you can check this game out instead.

4. Freedom Planet 2

Yeah!  We’ve known the sequel to Freedom Planet, the best Sonic game since 1994, would be coming out for over a year now, but we now have a playable demo, available at GalaxyTrail’s site at the link above.  I can say that the sequel looks even better than the original, and I liked Freedom Planet a whole lot.  This series is sort of filling the hole left by the fact that Sonic games have been mostly total garbage since the mid-90s.  It’s like a trip back into the past for me.  Not every game developer who goes for that retro-nostalgia appeal succeeds, but GalaxyTrail succeeded at it the first time around.  There doesn’t seem to be a release date for Freedom Planet 2 yet, but I’ll be watching, and if Sonic-style 2D 90s action done right sounds like fun to you, you should be watching too.