SimCity 2000, Part IX: Take the Pain Train

In Hell’s new industrial district, there stood an oddity that nobody could explain.  The city’s engineers intended to build a highway connection to the nearby city of Ashland, but to do so, they had to build strips of the highway sideways over hilly terrain, because for some reason they couldn’t build the highway straight in that section.  Everybody thought the city planners had lost their minds.  However, drivers found that these seemingly disconnected pieces of highway actually did connect – drivers who took the road reported that the highway looked entirely normal while driving on it, but that once they had turned off of the highway onto a city street, as if by magic, the highway changed back into a disconnected mess of concrete.

The space warping Twilight Zone highway connection isn’t enough to keep Hell’s industry going, unfortunately.  In order to ship more goods out of Hell to neighboring cities, engineers have planned a railroad line running through the city’s old downtown industrial center.  Railroad tracks require rail depots to be effective.  Once placed, they spawn trains that run around the track.  Even though only a few hundred people are actually riding the damn thing every day, the rail connections do have a positive effect on industrial demand.

As noted earlier on, it’s a pain in the ass to build a railroad through an established city.  It involves a lot of bulldozing.  Since this part of downtown Hell is a smog-filled dump anyway, though, demolishing some of it to make way for a rail line isn’t really a big deal.

As much as trains are a pain to build in SimCity 2000, without them, the game wouldn’t be the same.  Something I didn’t realize when I played SimCity 2000 as a kid was that the game’s isometric look was inspired by A-Train, a Japanese railroad-building simulation brought to the US by Maxis the previous year.

A-Train (1992)

A-Train (1992)

The original title of A-Train in its home country was Take the A-Train III (which must be a reference to Duke Ellington’s classic “Take the A-Train”) and it’s just one in a long series of rail simulation games that seem to have mainly stayed in Japan.  I never played this game, but I’ve heard that it has a much steeper learning curve than SimCity 2000, which might be why it didn’t catch on here.  In any case, rail lines in SimCity are expensive to place but simple otherwise – just build them and let the trains run (hopefully on time.)

Speaking of industrial demand – it’s changed a lot since the last century.  Initially, your city’s industrial sector will focus on areas like steel/mining and textiles, but as it grows and becomes more sophisticated, the city expands into electronics and other, less polluting areas.  You can modify the tax rates applied to each area – so, for example, if you want to discourage heavy pollution, raise taxes on steel/mining and other polluting industries.  It’s honestly not necessary to go that in-depth, though.

Even if you’re not going to mess around with industrial tax rates, it’s a good idea to check on demand for each sector now and then.  Because an industry like electronics, currently in demand, requires a well-educated population to supply labor to.  And as you can see, Hell does not have a well-educated population.  If EQ is roughly equivalent to IQ, and I think it’s supposed to be, the average Hell citizen is pretty close to being an idiot.  You can easily raise your city’s EQ by building a lot of schools, a strong system of libraries, and a college.

In fact, in an unprecedented step, the mayor has suddenly decided to actually give a shit about education in his city.  After building a few more daytime student-detainment centers to relieve pressure on the city’s overcrowded public school system, the mayor finally announces the chartering of a university, which he hopes will supply the city’s new high-tech field with bright young minds (and bring more money into the city’s coffers.)

Where to place this college, though?  In the great tradition of American universities, Hell’s new college should be built in a neighborhood with high crime.

The areas with the highest crime rates in Hell are the industrial zones, and those aren’t really suitable for a college.  So instead, let’s drop it right downtown, next to the downtown rail line.

Yeah, that looks about right.  Hopefully the freshmen won’t get drunk and wander onto the train tracks.

Hopefully the college has its own library, though, because the city library system is bullshit.  Only 1,200 books?  Even little towns in the middle of nowhere have bigger libraries than that.

By the way, that “Ruminate” button brings up an excerpt of some rambling from Neil Gaiman about cities.  It’s nice enough, but I probably didn’t totally understand its meaning when I first started playing this game at seven years old.

Life in Hell continues pretty uneventfully as the city slowly expands to the northern and northwestern edges of the map.  However, this growth comes with a price: brownouts.  Even though the city’s coal plants aren’t running quite at capacity yet, they’re straining to supply the outskirts of the city with electricity, because in SimCity power is slowly lost as it travels along power lines.  A few new dams can fix this problem, but a more powerful power plant may be in order soon.

And in 2035, the fourth big population landmark arrives – 60,000 citizens!  At this point, the military asks whether you’d like to let them claim some land in your city to build a base upon.

For some reason they ask your permission in a weirdly capitalized way.

So, to grant land to the military or not?  There are different pros and cons to allowing a military base on your soil that depend upon whether the military decides to set up an army, naval, air force or missile base.  The outcome depends partly upon your city’s terrain, though the air force base seems to be the most commonly chosen.  Most of the bases (except for the missile silos) give you access to military units that can fight both fires and rioters in the course of emergencies.  The same bases (again, except for the missile silos) help boost the local economy.  However, military bases also increase crime and pollution, and the land that the military takes in your city can’t be built upon.  It’s not really that much land – just something like 10×8 tiles – but still something equivalent to two city blocks that could be used instead to increase your city’s population.

The decision to accept or reject the offer is up to the mayor.  When the military representatives meet the mayor at his mansion to explain the deal to him, he decides to take it, enticed by the possibility of getting to direct military units in the event of a riot.

Even though there’s plenty of empty land to the south of the city, the military decides not to build, much to the mayor’s disappointment.  He wanted the chance to drive a tank around.

In any case, there’s no penalty for refusing the military’s request, so don’t sweat this decision too much.

Even though the city government has been trying to improve public education, its efforts may take a while to come into effect.  Because the train drivers employed by the city seem to be real dumbasses.  These two trains managed to run into each other, and although they don’t seem to be damaged, they aren’t moving either.

There’s only one thing to do – destroy the tracks and the trains along with them and the rebuild the tracks.

For some reason, destroying each track only gets rid of a single car.  Both trains can be erased from existence in this way, but…

Rebuilding the tracks also regenerates the trains that were sitting on them.  There’s no question about it – this neighborhood of Hell definitely exists in the Twilight Zone.

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SimCity 2000, Part VIII: Kentucky Fried Schoolchildren

In SimCity 2000, serious accidents sometimes occur.  Even though they’re not real people, your Sims (they weren’t “Sims” at this point, I think, but by the time The Sims came out they definitely were) face tragedies anyway.  Like when a landing plane crashes into a school, because the people who built the airport right next to two schools didn’t think the school buildings were tall enough to block the planes from landing on the runway.

Airline crashes are one of the many disasters that can occur in SimCity 2000.  Usually this involves a plane simply falling out of the sky, but if you build an airport right in the middle of a city with a lot of tall buildings blocking the runway (or even short buildings, apparently) planes will frequently crash into those buildings, starting a massive fire that has to be put out before it spreads and becomes unmanageable.  This fire is pretty costly because, instead of simply letting a zone redevelop after being devastated, the schools that are caught in the blaze have to be replaced entirely.

Hell might not have the greatest services, but it does have an effective firefighting force.  Unfortunately, while the fire was prevented from spreading into the city, it did take out both schools.

Naturally, the insensitive cunts at the Courier make up a story about the crash that involves a “dog ranch” and that makes absolutely no mention of the schools destroyed or the probable dead schoolchildren resulting from the accident.  The Courier now has a lower reputation than those tabloids you can buy in the supermarket line that have fake headlines and photoshopped pictures of anorexic celebrities on the cover.

On the upside, the citizens of Hell are making use of the new highway, and its connection to the nearby village of Sinistrel (pop. ~250) has somehow alleviated the whole “Industry Needs Connections” problem.  Whatever.  Let’s not complain about that.  The neighboring cities and their populations don’t actually seem to matter – they’re just generated randomly by the game, I think.

The city government also decided to build a second coal plant and to put it next to the new hospital, because why the fuck not.  That soot flying out of the plant’s smokestacks won’t bother anyone.

That stray piece of highway standing next to one of the replacement schools was built before the engineers realized it was impossible to build across slanted terrain like this.  It remains unbulldozed as a monument to the city government’s laziness and incompetence.

Time rolls on and the city continues to grow in population.  Despite the poor living conditions, Hell is now home to over 40,000 citizens.

In 2008, we receive news that Dallas has built a “Plymouth Arco”.  Just what the hell is that, you might be wondering.

Of course the newspaper somehow gives us this news without ever even hinting as to what an arco is.  If you were curious about this, I think the game’s massive manual might have explained it.  Arco is short for “arcology” – a sort of city-within-a-city that is designed to provide a self-contained and self-sufficient living space for thousands of people.  The arcology is a concept that predates SimCity by several decades, but aside from some small-scale projects, no real arcologies exist yet.  In SimCity 2000, however, the player can build arcologies once his city’s population reaches 120,000.  Arcos are a great way to massively boost a city’s population at a time when the player is severely short on extra building space, but they can also greatly contribute to a city’s pollution and crime rates depending upon the type you choose to build (there are four arco types with various pros and cons.)  Since we’re nowhere near 120,000, though, we don’t have to worry about building any arcos for a while.

The paper also reports on a brand new city simulation game that Hell’s students are playing in their social studies classes.  I would make an Inception joke here, but those are played out.

Actually, I remember that we had SimCity 2000 on at least a few of the computers at school when I was a kid.  Since it was an “educational game”, we could get away with playing it at school.  Later on, we also somehow managed to get away with installing and playing a Rainbow Six game in the lab, on multiplayer on the school’s network.  How nobody stopped us doing that for months on end I have no fucking clue.

Yes, in case you were wondering – Hell still suffers from severe pollution problems.  That “pollution control” ordinance is a pile of shit.  If it’s not going to help us, we may as well stop paying for it.

And a mere six years after the first plane-colliding-with-school disaster, a jetliner decides to fall out of the sky… right above one of the replacement schools.

God damn it.

These schools must double as gasoline storage sites, because they explode immediately once a fire gets anywhere near them.

In SimCity, plane crashes are disasters that, unlike fires and chemical spills, can’t be prevented or avoided by placing a bunch of fire stations or maintaining a clean environment.  I suppose it’s a good thing that the plane didn’t fall right over the heart of the city, because the crash creates a fire that can quickly blaze out of control.  But to crash over the god damn school that replaced a school that was also destroyed by a plane accident?  Really?

Without even taking the time to mourn, the writers of the Courier immediately take the opportunity to chew the mayor out… for not having built enough schools.  Fuck you, the Courier.

A plane can’t possibly crash in this spot again… can it?  Anyway, we have to replace that school, so may as well put it right back where it originally stood.

In the meantime, life over in the southwest is going very nicely.  The mayor approved the building of a zoo full of exotic animals (some of them illegal to import into the country, but a few well-placed bribes took care of that) and a marina.  As your city’s population grows, your citizens will demand recreational activities, and these options (along with parks and stadiums) help keep them happy.  The marina in particular is great because you have to place it partially in water – despite the fact that it’s 3×3 tiles, the marina can take up one land tile and jut into a river or lake, freeing extra land for building.  Marinas also generate sailboats like this one.

Captain J. Scirica doesn’t have a care in the world, I bet.  What an asshole.  I wish I were him.

An extremely late review of Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Future Tone (PS4)

If I haven’t been very active lately (aside from occasionally running SimCity 2000 on VirtualBox) it’s been for two reasons: first, I’ve had a lot to do at work, and second, I bought the unwieldly titled Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Future Tone, the latest in the line of Project Diva rhythm games that came out two months ago in North America, featuring android singer Hatsune Miku and friends.

Even though I’m an avowed weeaboo I’d never played a Project Diva game before Future Tone. This is not so much because I disliked the idea of Vocaloid as that I just wasn’t much into rhythm games. I’d played Persona 4: Dancing All Night, mainly because I’d also played P4 and liked the characters, and I played a lot of Audiosurf when it came out several years ago because it let you play any song in the universe if it existed as an mp3 on your hard drive. But despite my embarrassing level of weebness I had not gotten into the Vocaloid stuff quite so much.

Not until now. I’ve been pretty much addicted to Future Tone for the last week. The gameplay is addictive at its core – matching increasingly difficult button patterns and getting rewarded with flashing lights and a higher score at the end of the song seems to trigger something primal in the human brain. It’s like playing a slot machine, except unlike playing a slot machine, the outcome in Future Tone depends entirely upon your skill. And also unlike playing a slot machine, you won’t lose your life savings if you sit in front of Future Tone for 50 or 100 hours, a prospect that seems very likely considering how much content is in the game.

Because yes, Future Tone is stuffed chock fucking full of Vocaloid tunes. The base game itself is free, but the free download only includes two songs, so it’s really more like a demo – you can play those two songs as much as you want without paying a cent, but if you really want to play Future Tone you’ll have to buy the $50 bundle that contains the “Colorful Tone” and “Future Sound” song packs. They’re worth the price, because the entire package features about 200 songs both new and from past Project Diva games, each of which comes with a music video and charts set at various difficulties (along with dozens of unlockable alternate costumes and accessories and all the usual content you’d expect.)

And you know what? A lot of these songs are good. And this is coming from a puffed-up pompous music snob asshole. Most of the songs are either upbeat poppy tunes or ballads, with a few heavier rock/punkish songs thrown in and a few pure gimmick songs (like “Ievan Polkka”, the Finnish folk song that somehow became the very first Hatsune Miku hit ten years ago.) A few of the songs are clunkers, to be sure, and whether you’ll like some tracks depends on your tolerance for sugar-sweet cutesy vocals and imagery and embarrassing lyrics – though at least the lyrics are mostly in Japanese, so you probably won’t be able to understand them anyway. But the majority of the tunes on Future Tone are really catchy. Tell me you can listen to “Deep Sea City Underground” or “World’s End Dancehall” and not get them stuck in your head.

Here’s me playing World’s End Dancehall on Easy because I’m a puss.

One of the things people puzzle most over about the whole Vocaloid phenomenon is that it’s “fake”. The various performers in Future Tone – Miku, Luka, fraternal twins Rin and Len, and the rest – are all really just different voice packages created with Yamaha’s Vocaloid music software with avatars attached. They’re electronic singers, not human ones. Vocaloid music, in that sense, really is “manufactured.” But so is all commercial pop music! Is Miku really any more manufactured than Katy Perry, who can’t sing for shit without the help of autotune? And anyway, the real measure of good pop weighs in Miku’s favor – some of Miku’s songs featured on Future Tone are a hell of a lot better than Katy Perry’s biggest hits. (See, the snobby music asshole comes out again. I can’t contain him for long.)  (Also, I really don’t hate Katy Perry at all.  I don’t even know her.)

Anyway, if we’re going to have pop stars, better to have electronic ones.  Miku, after all, isn’t in danger of developing a drug habit, or of being photographed vomiting in an alley after getting trashed in a nightclub.  The tabloid publishers will lose out, but they can just write more articles about how some actor or politician is secretly gay.  Besides, eventually robots are going to take all the jobs away from humans once they become advanced enough, and then they’ll probably revolt and murder us once they realize they don’t need us anymore.  So in a way, Vocaloid represents the beginning of the inevitable fall of humanity.

When the robots conquer Earth, they won’t let us dress them up in cute outfits anymore

I’m way off track now. Just, look, if you like rhythm games, buy Future Tone. It’s good. And some of the tracks are really head-breakingly hard, so you’ll find a lot of challenge in this game if you’re looking for that. God knows the rhythm game genre is one of the few that hasn’t been dumbed down in terms of difficulty.

SimCity 2000, Part VII: The Ruling Class

At five in the morning in the pre-dawn light, a foul-smelling cloud of smoke billows out from the hills and into one of Hell’s neighborhoods.  A truck transporting dangerous industrial materials overturned, causing a chemical spill.

Sadly, this kind of accident is common in Hell, where not much thought is given to things like safety standards or public health.

Pollution problems don’t stop the growth of the industrial sector.  The city continues to expand northward and builds its first road connection to its northern neighbor.  Road, rail and highway connections cost money, but they also help expand a city’s demand for commercial and industrial development.

As we can see in the annual budget, Hell has finally paid out on its bonds, and the money is now rolling in.  However, despite Hell’s newfound wealth, life in the city still sucks.  Fire department funding is still low, there are only two police stations and one hospital in the whole city, and Hell’s single school is now crowding up to 70 students into each classroom.

Where’s that surplus going, then?

To this new upper-class residential development – an escape from the filth and bustle of the city.  The homes here are powered by solar energy, a newly discovered and totally clean source of power, and they’re even hooked up to a water supply.  Across from this development is an art museum, the only museum within the city limits.  This new development is unofficially known as “Paradise”, and its property values are so high that only the members of the small elite class of business and political leaders in the city can afford to live there.  The mayor also has a convenient private road built there to visit his friends and to have drinking parties on boats in the lake, and other rich person stuff like that.

Placing man-made lakes and forests is expensive, but it doesn’t really matter – the city can spare the money now.

As we can see, this retreat is located far away from the rabble.  Its residents can’t even see the city, which is mercifully blocked from view by a mountain.

Even so, no mayor can ignore the plight of his citizens for long.  Because SimCity 2000 shoves that plight in your face with notices that your citizens are demanding something or other.  In this case, it’s another hospital.  The old hospital is still the only hospital, and for decades it’s been insufficient to serve the community.  Perhaps all the gang violence has something to do with it.  Knife and bullet wounds have to account for at least a quarter of the hospital room visits in the city.

On the upside, those Death Wish citizen vs. gang wars seem to be going well.

At the insistence of his advisors, the mayor agrees to dedicate a small part of the city’s annual surplus to the building of a new hospital.  After all, Hell’s citizens can’t work and pay taxes if they’re dead.  Note that hospitals and other public service-related buildings don’t go into effect until the year after they’re built, so they remain empty and inoperative with a default C+ grade until then.

But the rumblings from the citizens don’t stop.  They now demand a new school, probably to relieve the effects of the crowding on their children’s current and only school.

Aw, come on.  A B- is like a… barely passing grade.  It’s fine.

Still, the mayor caves in because he realizes it’s important to at least educate the little shits so they can bring a steady stream of revenue to Hell in the future.

Hell’s average citizens aren’t the only ones complaining.  As the city continues to grow, industrial demand falters.  The phrase “Industry Needs Connections” is pretty vague, but what it means is that your city needs either a seaport, which is impossible in Hell because there’s no sea or river in the city limits, or a connection to its neighbors by rail or by highway.  There’s nothing you can do to solve this problem other than build one or more of these kinds of connections.  Unfortunately, they’re pretty expensive – especially railroads, which cost $25 per tile, require 2×2 tile train stations to operate, and basically demand that you either demolish a path through your existing city or build the railroad on its outskirts (or use a rail to subway connection through the city, and subways are even more expensive to build!)

Since the connections required for continued industrial growth are costly, we’ll wait for a while to place them.  In the meantime, the citizens again make a demand of the mayor – this time for more police stations.  Apparently those citizen-gang wars aren’t going so well.

A look at property values in the city might be useful.  The value of each tile is determined by several factors, including pollution and crime.  The presence of trees, water, and other desirable stuff like parks helps increase the value of land.  The darker the blue on this projection, the higher the value of the tile.  As we can see here, downtown Hell has mostly low-value land.  The areas not shaded in are the cheapest possible.

The upper-class neighborhood to the far southwest, however, has very high property value (the cheap land to the north are the solar power plants.)  This is because there’s very little to no crime or pollution here and because of the value added by the man-made lakes and the trees, which are invisible in this mode.  The mayor’s mansion, of course, is on the most valuable land of all.

Son of a bitch.  Industrial demand refuses to rise still, so we have to build a highway and create a connection with the town over by dragging the highway off the map.  Highways are expensive and a pain to build through cities because of the demolition required, but they can relieve traffic if placed correctly, and they boost industrial demand if they use connections.  You have to connect highways to roads with onramps to make them functional, because otherwise your citizens won’t be able to drive on them.

Oh yeah, don’t worry about that break in the highway up there.  People can drive across it somehow.  Perhaps there’s a car elevator or levitator there that we can’t see, or maybe there’s just a burning pile of wreckage where cars have driven off the highway and crashed into the pavement fifty feet below that people can now drive over.

Since Hell is now the state capital, it should probably have an airport.  Airports boost commercial demand.  All you need is a 2×6 block of tiles to build one (it has to be that large to accommodate a runway.)

Placing an airport next to two schools is probably a terrible idea.  But let’s face it, those kids aren’t learning anything useful at those schools anyway.  Maybe at least this way one of them will become inspired to be a pilot.  Meanwhile, the kids of the elite attend an actual good, non-crowded school in their own neighborhood that we can’t see because it’s a private school.

Will the 99% be satisfied with the meager services they’ve being given?  Will they attempt to overthrow the mayor by force?  Find out next time, because I don’t know either!