Deep reads #4: Playing God (The Sim series)

A few years ago, I started a game of SimCity 2000 on a virtual machine that I documented here on the site. The result was a fifteen-part series that ended in a stupid joke non-ending because the VM crashed, or my file got corrupted or something, and I lost all my progress. Should I have backed the file up? Probably, yeah. Do I understand a thing about virtual machines beyond the bare basics of how to run one? Not really, no.

Behold my glorious creation and despair that the city file is now forever lost.

But recalling my own stupidity is not the point of this post. There’s plenty of time for that later. The point of this is rather to look back at my experience with the Sim series, a long-running and now seemingly dead series of games started by defunct developer Maxis. I say my experience because that’s just what it is: mine may be very different from others, because at some point I left the series behind. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say the series took off in a different direction and left me behind.

Game developer Will Wright, the man whose name comes up most often when talking about the Sim series, was faced with the problem in the mid-80s of how to create a game that would be fun to play and that focused not on fighting and destroying, but rather on building and maintaining. The game he and his team ended up making, SimCity, was a city-building simulator just as the name suggests. It had a hard time getting much distribution at first because of how different it was from the usual fare, but those distributors who rejected it must have felt like real assholes later on because the game became a hit.

No, it’s not a farming game despite the cow on the title screen. If you wanted to be a virtual farmer instead, you had to buy SimFarm, released a few years later.

I have serious respect for the original SimCity, but it’s not one of the Sim games I have fond memories of. First put out in 1989, it was slightly before my time, and even after it was polished and re-released as SimCity Classic I more or less skipped over it.1 No, the game that hooked me onto this series was the one I went back to when I was feeling nostalgic a few years ago: its sequel SimCity 2000. First released in 1993 on DOS and later ported to every system on Earth, SC2K was an improvement upon the original in every way. The old top-down view was replaced with a more satisfying isometric one. The constant building and rebuilding, abandonment and repopulation from month to month made the city feel more alive. But the changes weren’t just cosmetic: many more substantive city-building features were added as well.

And of course there were the disasters. These were also present in the original SimCity, but watching your city get wrecked by an earthquake, hurricane, or nuclear meltdown felt more exciting in this new isometric view. I know it doesn’t look like much today, but in the mid-90s this was really impressive to watch, and despite approaching 30 years old as of this writing, the game with its 90s graphics still feels just as functional and playable as it did then.

A tornado rips through the center of my city. Not much you can do in a case like this except wait for it to go away and rebuild.

Both this and SimCity Classic gave the player something they didn’t usually get: the power to create and to lord it over that creation. Not that this meant everything is necessarily going to go the player’s way. You have the ability to build, but you naturally have to pay for what you’re building, which in hard mode means taking out a municipal bond that has to be repaid with interest. And even if you’re doing well financially, your citizens might not be so happy with your performance. Cost-cutting measures like not building enough police and fire stations lead to higher crime rates and more fires breaking out, while skimping on hospitals and schools directly and immediately affects your citizens’ quality of life. And if you’re playing with disasters turned on, your city can be struck with tornadoes, earthquakes, and fires at any time — all disasters that are more difficult to manage if you’ve been too tight-fisted to build and properly fund those all-important services.

You might think that you’re safe from the wrath of your people no matter what you do. The citizens living in the world of SimCity 2000 are stuck with you: they can’t vote you out of office for doing a bad job or oust you from power in a coup. They can protest, however, and if they get pissed off enough riots can break out, leading to fires being set around your city. In the end, it’s enough of a hassle that even if you don’t care about your citizens’ happiness, it’s just easier to keep them content by following fair, sound policies.

This happens sometimes when you try to build a nuclear plant or a water treatment facility near a residential area. People don’t like pollution or the possibility of a horrific disastrous meltdown in their town, who would have guessed.

One of the reasons I think the SimCity games did so well was the balance they struck between accessibility and complexity. SimCity 2000 was easy to pick up and play without any preparation, but it also had enough respect for the player’s intelligence not to dumb things down. The game didn’t require you to manage municipal ordinances or to go through all its charts and adjust commercial and industrial tax rates, but if you wanted to mess around with those to try to make more money or spur growth you had that option. As a consequence, both children and their parents might get hooked on this game — it’s intuitive enough for a kid to pick up on quickly, but complex enough for a teenage or adult player looking for a challenge.

The most tutorial-style help SimCity 2000 gave the player in the course of normal play was advice provided by city officials on the budget screen, but again, you weren’t required to consult with them or to take their advice if you did. And sometimes said advice wasn’t even very good, just like you’d expect from a city council in real life.

For example, this nonsense. Legalized gambling is necessary to a city’s lifeblood in my opinion. The more unpleasant elements the better.

So the game let you play seriously if you felt like it. But if you weren’t feeling like it — say, if you had a hard day at school and wanted to let off some steam — you could also use the well-known cheat code to open debug mode (PRISCILLA, typed in all caps while holding the city toolbar, to this day I remember it.) This gave you access to unlimited money and rewards like statues, mansions, and the city-within-a-city arcologies. It also let you wreck everything with an expanded list of disasters that you could trigger. The normal disaster menu let you freely start the usual fires, riots, tornadoes, and earthquakes. But now, like a vengeful god, you could make a volcano rise out of the earth and swallow your city up (or rise off in an uninhabited corner of the map — it seemed to be random where it ended up.)

This part of the city looks nice and idyllic now but just wait until the wrath of God hits it.

SimCity 2000 stole dozens of hours of my childhood that might have been better spent outside in the sun. That’s what some people say, anyway. I’m not sure I believe that myself. And that’s just as well, because this wasn’t the only Sim game that occupied my time. SimTower was released for PC in 1994, and I jumped on it. This one wasn’t developed by Maxis but rather by the Japanese company OpenBook Co., later renamed Vivarium, under the leadership of famous strange game developer Yoot Saito.

But I didn’t know any of that at the time. To me, this was like a followup to SimCity, only scaled down from a city to a single building — a concept that really appealed to me. I felt like I was building a tower that might exist in one of those cities I built in SC2K, one of the big skyscrapers in the heavy commercial zones. Even though it was made by a different developer and was merely branded with the Sim name when ported over to America (in Japan it was simply titled The Tower) SimTower felt like it fit in well with SimCity thematically, which is likely part of why Maxis rebranded and published it here in the first place.

A basic office building like this is easy to build and maintain, but a real skyscraper in SimTower takes way more micromanagement to keep up.

When I wrote a short retrospective on this game years ago, I called it a happiness management simulator, and I stand by that description. Look at all those people lined up in front of the elevators in pink and red: those colors denote progressively more pissed-off tenants and visitors. Elevators quickly reach capacity and just as in real life, people don’t want to take the stairs. Meanwhile, each office, condo, and hotel room you build also has a quality meter that takes a hit if it’s too close to a busy restaurant or shop. And of course, if the shops and restaurants you build don’t get enough traffic, they lose money, and that’s on you somehow — instead of collecting your rent, you either end up paying to keep the place open or axe it and try over. All this day-to-day activity on a smaller scale makes SimTower a little more hectic-feeling than SimCity, but I still liked the feeling of building something and seeing it run, even if my creation kind of sucked at making money.

Years later, I picked up Yoot Tower, which was not released under the Sim name but was a sequel to SimTower in every way right down to the visual style. It seemed to have a few mechanics problems, such as certain businesses being automatic failures no matter where or when you built them (maybe this was intentional, but in that case I’d ask why the hell include those?) but it was still pretty fun seeing how this game expanded on the original.

Why did I even build this stupid ramen shop, nobody likes it

In the mid-90s, however, I was still hooked on SimCity along with a couple of other simulation and strategy games, so much so that I bought SimCopter when it came out in 1996. This was a helicopter flight sim that let you fly around the custom cities you built in SC2K putting out fires and transporting citizens in medical airlifts. Never mind that the game looked like complete ass. It was still a good time flying around the cities you built solving problems or causing even worse problems. Maxis knew the same players who started disasters in their own cities in SC2K would also try to destroy their cities from the inside in SimCopter, so the game lets them cause chaos in ways that it doesn’t really have to: dragging passengers’ icons outside your helicopter actually kicks them out of the vehicle, even if you’re a thousand feet in the air, and visiting a military base in your city lets you steal an Apache that shoots actual missiles. If you’re wondering what happens if you steal an Apache in SimCopter and use it on a nuclear plant, Maxis thought of that too — it was almost more fun causing horrible disasters in your cities than playing the missions and making money to upgrade your helicopter the proper way.

While games like SimCopter and Streets of SimCity were fun diversions, they seemingly didn’t make much of an impact on anyone. Not so for the next big idea Maxis had, which around the beginning of 2000 would start an entirely new spinoff series of games, one of the best-selling of all time. Although it was both critically acclaimed and a massive commercial success, The Sims was where the series lost me. Not that I angrily swore off the Sim series claiming I’d been betrayed or anything dramatic like that. It just didn’t provide what I was looking for when I picked up a Sim game. And since The Sims was more or less what the entire series became rolling into the 2000s as the original sold millions of copies, I naturally drifted away from it.

Relive the excitement of the shitty house you rented your last two years of college!

Okay, so maybe I’m being a bit unfair with the above screenshot, because the game lets you do a lot more than recreate a sad existence eating cold pizza in a three-room house. It was advertised as a sort of life simulator, taking you down to the level of the individual people living in a suburb, perhaps just the sort of suburb you might have built in the then-recently released SimCity 3000. You had the option of starting with a family of one to eight people and either buying a pre-built house or building a new house for them to occupy. After your characters, called “Sims” in a tradition stretching back to the old SimCity days, were named and appointed to a house, they started living their everyday lives.

And that’s where almost all the gameplay lies. Left to their own devices, your Sims go about their days, pursuing hobbies, entertaining themselves, and interacting with each other. They have autonomy, and they’ll generally do what they need to do to fulfill their desires: eat, sleep, shower, talk to each other, play games, watch TV, and so on. However, they also have to make money (not to pay rent — they live rent and mortgage-free somehow, which is very convenient, but food, furniture, and other goods still have to be paid for.) So you need to press them to get jobs. Children automatically go to school, but some of your adult Sims can be kept unemployed if you want to keep control of them 24/7.

Build mode lets you design and furnish your own house.

The Sims is largely a social simulator — your Sims gain and lose points with each other in their various interactions, and both love and hate can bloom between them. However, the building process is also an important part of the game. I imagine The Sims is at least twice as fun if you’re into interior design, because the game gives the player quite a few options to choose from: wallpaper, siding, floors, light fixtures, many styles of door and window, and of course a lot of furniture ranging from crappy-looking and cheap to posh and expensive. Gardening fans also have the option of planting trees and bushes outside. Your Sims appreciate getting some fresh air, so a nice garden serves them well. It takes some extra money, but building a pool is a good way of completing your Sims’ home.

Of course, it wasn’t all fun and games. Your Sims have that autonomy, and they’ll use it to get to their jobs on their own and do the other things that are absolutely necessary like eating and using the bathroom. However, they also have their own personalities that are set through point systems in the character creation screen, and they’ll act according to their likes and dislikes. A naturally messy Sim won’t be quick to clean up spills, for instance. In extreme cases, if a Sim neglects the bathroom (or if you were an asshole who didn’t bother to build a proper bathroom in your house) they might piss themselves and leave a puddle on the floor. Even worse, your Sims can potentially miss work if they’re distracted by other things. Urine can be cleaned up, at least, but money that goes unmade can’t be made back unless you have a time machine.

With only one or two Sims to deal with, this stuff isn’t too hard to manage. But with eight, all with different personalities and their own likes and dislikes running headlong into each other, things can easily turn chaotic.

Some dumbass starts a fire in the kitchen. This and the other examples I’m using here are official pre-release screenshots from Maxis (the actual game replaces that ugly “GO HERE” button with something nicer and adds toolbars and extra functions) but this is essentially what happens if a disaster strikes: your Sims waving their arms around and being useless, panicky idiots.

I can’t really criticize any of this too much. The Sims was very well-made, with great attention to detail. Much like the older Sim titles, it didn’t feature characters or a story but let the player more or less create their own, and it put the same kind of emphasis on balancing micromanagement and long-term planning.

It still didn’t work for me. Maybe I was just bored with watching a bunch of simulated people live lives that weren’t really that different from our own real-world ones. There was just something so mundane about The Sims that I couldn’t get past. I guess SimCity and SimTower were just as mundane in a way: they also took place in realistic modern-day settings and involved managing money and people to some extent. But they also felt different. I’d never have the ability to control an entire building or city in real life unless I somehow became an insanely powerful CEO or an emperor or someone like that, and I had the sense even as a child that that was not going to happen. Living an everyday life, however — that was something I was already doing when I played The Sims, and it’s still something I do today. Why did I need to recreate that? I didn’t even like my regular life very much, and playing what amounted to a smaller, simpler version of that life didn’t provide the kind of escape I normally looked for in games.

Is this really a kind of escapism, by contrast? Maybe all this is saying more about me than about these games.

This is where my time with the Sim series just about ended. I did buy SimCity 4 when it came out a few years later, and it was a great update to SimCity 2000 and 3000 before it (why they didn’t just continue that trend and call it SimCity 4000 I don’t know; maybe they felt silly about the “thousand” part of the title at that point.) It was nothing new to me, though. The graphics were nicer and more detailed, and there were many more building options and features to choose from, but the old excitement of creation just wasn’t there anymore.

That lack of excitement had nothing to do with SimCity 4 itself. I’d bet that if I were ten years younger, I’d be talking about it in just the same way I talk about SimCity 2000. I’d also bet that there are players out there five or ten years older than me who felt that excitement with the original SimCity and didn’t feel it with SimCity 2000. The first four SimCity titles are excellent games; I believe how you feel about each is largely a matter of which one you started with.

My SimCity 4 city is just as shitty as my SimCity 2000 ones

The fact that I don’t have any nostalgic feelings for The Sims may also have a bit to do with the age at which I played it, but I think that’s more a case of my simply not liking the premise very much. Too bad for me, because that’s the basket where Maxis and its new parent company Electronic Arts put almost all their eggs. The first Sims was followed in the next few years by seven separate expansion packs, not counting later deluxe editions that tied some or all of those expansions to the base game. The Sims 2 and 3 were released in 2004 and 2009, along with their own dozens of expansion packs and with similar critical and commercial success.

I was off the ride at that point, but my ears still perked up when I heard about the newest SimCity release planned to come out in 2013. The release of what was essentially supposed to be SimCity 52 would result in a public relations disaster for EA and Maxis, and the abysmal reception that it received is arguably a large part of the reason that no major Sim titles have been put out in the last seven years other than The Sims 4, which was already well into development at the time. What happened, then?

A promo screenshot of an intersection in 2013’s SimCity.

The new SimCity looked beautiful, but it had the worst release imaginable. Because while it was widely expected to be a principally singleplayer game like its predecessors, it required a connection to EA’s servers to run. The servers crashed upon release, however, so nobody could play the damn game. This was a double whammy for EA and Maxis — first, the fact that having bought a $60 game (still considered a fairly high price tag for a game in 2013) most of its owners could not play it, and second, that it required a connection to play in the first place. The developer and publisher’s defenses of their actions (that they weren’t actually deceiving anyone, and particularly that it wasn’t in anyone’s interest to play SimCity in offline mode) were worse than useless, seen by many as disingenuous and insulting towards the fans. Even Will Wright, who had left Maxis behind well before development started, took shots at his old company for essentially putting DRM into the game that broke it for legitimate players.3

At the time, I watched all this happen, and then I watched EA and Maxis scramble to reassure everyone that The Sims 4, planned for release in 2014, would be playable offline. And though I was very put off by how they handled the whole matter, I think I was done with the series anyway at that point. I likely would have checked SimCity out just out of curiosity, and because it really did look that good, at least from the promotional materials and pre-release videos. But it wasn’t something I was obsessing over, and I didn’t really lose out on much in the end.

But what about the kids who were around that same age I was when I first got hooked on SimCity 2000? It seems to me that they were cheated out of a potentially great experience. To this day, the new SimCity carries a poor reputation, one not helped by the fact that it was also reportedly pretty buggy on release. The go-to city-building games as a result now seem to be SimCity 4 — 17 years old as of this writing, but seen as the last true SimCity game by a lot of fans — and Cities: Skylines, a series put out by serious-business ultra-complex strategy game publisher Paradox.

Cities: Skylines might be good, but does it have stupid-looking mad libs style newspaper articles?

Maybe it’s just my sense of nostalgia talking again. Maybe Cities: Skylines is really a great game, a true successor to the old SimCity titles. But I do think something was lost when EA and Maxis screwed up the new SimCity release and then blamed the players for not accepting the new situation they were trying to create with their always-online scheme. There was no reason the series had to die. It’s not like these PC game series have expiration dates. Sid Meier’s Civilization series, one of my other childhood favorites, has been going strong for almost 30 years now without much trouble. No, it seems like sheer arrogance killed the Sim series. Even though I don’t care for The Sims that much, I can see why a lot of people loved and still love that game and its sequels. And I can also see why a lot of people hated what the series turned into in 2013 and why they turned their backs on it.

Despite all that, the impact the Sim series had on me and a lot of other people has been significant. It took an unusual game concept that hadn’t been tried on a large scale by the late 80s and proved it had wide appeal if done right. Even if it was just a simplified simulation, it showed us the workings of a city, how it was almost like a living organism that could thrive or wither based on how it was maintained and what conditions it was subjected to. And it taught us the joys of making a new save file probably titled [city name]-2 and then unleashing fires, riots, and UFO attacks on said city to see just how much would be left standing after the chaos ended. Many of the same lessons go for SimTower, and though it didn’t work for me, I think The Sims had a similar impact for others. Even if the Sim series is permanently dead now, that impact will never go away. It’s something worth remembering.

***

Sorry, I didn’t mean to get so melancholic by the end. I really feel old after writing all that, scouring my memories of the series and how I felt about it. It all feels like it happened a lifetime ago. There are also a lot of highly praised Sim titles like SimAnt and SimFarm that I didn’t even touch on because I never played them, but I’m sure players have plenty of good memories of those games as well. I don’t know if anyone has any especially good memories of the new SimCity, but if you do, please feel free to leave a comment. A different perspective is always interesting to hear. 𒀭

 

1 I did own SimCity Classic, but only because I ordered it out of the Scholastic catalogue thinking it was that SimCity 2000 game I’d played some of on my cousin’s computer. Still a good game, but I was quite disappointed when it came in the mail and I realized my mistake.

2 I know I’m not even close to the first person to point this out, but it seems like new games released in long-running series that are put out with exactly the same titles as their respective originals have all failed to capture the feeling of those originals: Sonic the Hedgehog in 2006, SimCity in 2013, Thief in 2014. And though it’s a movie, let’s not forget Ghostbusters in 2016, which despite getting a lot of critical praise and some mild commercial success has since been hidden away and almost totally forgotten. It’s almost like there was unwarranted pride at work in all these cases.

3 To be fair, Wright faced his own DRM-related backlash with the less botched but still controversial release of his own game Spore in 2008. I guess he’d learned his lesson by this point.

Seven great video game tracks (part 4)

Happy Memorial Day to my fellow Americans, and a good Monday to the rest of the world if you can bear it. Not that it feels that different from any other day. I don’t guess there are going to be as many barbecues as there usually are on this holiday. To commemorate it, I’m making a post that has nothing to do with Memorial Day: the fourth part of my favorite game music series, to demonstrate again that game music is not just “real” music but is also varied and diverse in style and all that. Not that I probably have to convince you of that if you’re already reading this. Anyway, on to the good stuff. As always, the order the entries are presented in doesn’t matter.

1) Kohei Tanaka — Old Town (Gravity Rush, 2012)

I’ve already written a bit about Gravity Rush — not so much about the substance of it but rather how I’d still probably want to date Kat if she were real, even at the risk of accidentally being flung into a wall thanks to her out-of-control gravity-shifting powers. So let me address some more substantive, less stupid material: the game’s music. You may not be familiar with the name Kohei Tanaka, but it’s likely you’ve seen or played something he’s written a score for if you’re into anime at all. He also wrote the soundtrack to Gravity Rush. It feels like a movie score, and I mean that in a good way. Almost feels like something out of a Ghibli movie. If you like Joe Hisaishi’s work, you should check this out.

The old European feel of the initially accessible part of town is enhanced by this Manneken Pis reference

I picked “Old Town” because it was the first track in the game that I heard a lot and got a strong impression of; it’s the music that plays in the first section of the city as you’re flinging Kat around in the air getting used to the controls. I’ll always associate it with Kat falling hundreds of yards out of the sky flat onto her face or tumbling into the void around the floating city. No, I’m not very good at this game.

2) Tatsuyuki YoshimatsuIn a Lonely Cave (Hakoniwa Explorer Plus, 2018)

Some of my favorite game tracks are the unexpected ones. Hakoniwa Explorer Plus is a retro-style action RPG that includes a lot of dirty jokes and lewd monster girls and stuff like that. It’s not an adults-only game, but there’s a lot of suggestive stuff in here along with all the hack and slash fighting slimes and bee-girls and lamias and similar beings. Since that really sells itself, the makers didn’t have to include a nice soundtrack, but they did anyway.

“In a Lonely Cave” plays when you enter a cave-themed dungeon area as the title suggests, and it made me want to stand in a corner and listen while enemies quickly beat down my HP. It’s very relaxing, especially the piano/acoustic guitar combo later in the track. Maybe this is too relaxing for a combat theme, actually, but I don’t care; I still like it.

3) The Humble Brothers — Terrain (SimCity 4, 2003)

Although I didn’t play it nearly as much as SimCity 2000, I was still somewhat into the series back in high school and bought SimCity 4 on release, and it was absolutely worth getting. In the spirit of the older SimCity games, it also had a good soundtrack. “Terrain” is an interesting one: it’s one of the tracks that plays during the map creation part of the game, but it sounds more like the backing music to a film scene of people walking through the mountains or jungle or some other wilderness, and not because they want to. Very ominous.

The song does suddenly cheer up halfway through, shifting into a major key. I don’t like that part quite as much, but I guess a SimCity game should provide some optimism to make the player feel like his future city will be a success, so I get that. I’d never heard of the Humble Brothers before writing this post, even though I’ve known this song of theirs for 17 years now, but they did a nice job. Maybe they’re too humble to make their identities known.

4) Jerry Martin — Buying Lumber (The Sims, 2000)

Another Sim game. I’m not the biggest fan of The Sims, and I didn’t touch its sequels aside from a very short time with The Sims 3 on someone else’s computer, but I can’t deny how amazingly popular and successful the series was. To their credit, Maxis poured a lot of work into it before they and EA together ended up crapping absolutely everything up, and said work included getting composer Jerry Martin to write music for the first game. This is a solo piano piece that is way, way more contemplative than you’d expect from the title “Buying Lumber.” This track plays when you’re in build mode while the game is paused, so the title makes sense in that way. Still, the few times I’ve been to Home Depot, I haven’t felt this melancholic while walking through the lumber aisles.

This is a depressing-looking house, but I wouldn’t call it melancholic exactly. This guy just needs to clean it up and buy better furniture.

5) ??? — Data Select (Sonic the Hedgehog 3, 1994)

Okay, enough of the profound contemplative music — next is the jaunty Data Select song from Sonic 3. This track doesn’t seem to have an official title; it’s just the song that plays when you’re on the screen to start a new game or load a saved one. I’m also not sure who exactly wrote it, because Sonic 3 famously had a large team of composers working on the music. These included guitarist Jun Senoue, whose work would be a lot more prominent in later 3D Sonic stuff, and keyboardist/frequent Michael Jackson collaborator Brad Buxer. Buxer’s involvement has led many fans to speculate that Jackson himself worked on some of the Sonic 3 tracks and had his name removed later because he wasn’t satisfied with the sound quality on the Genesis.

Too bad if that’s true, because the quality is pretty damn good. It’s impressive to hear how much these guys do with the limited resources of the 16-bit console. This is one of those tracks that a lot of people don’t hear all the way through — it is a data select screen theme after all; you’re not usually lingering on it too long — but it does go on longer than you’d expect. I like the light atmosphere it creates going into the game. If you like it too, be sure to also check out the Tee Lopes cover of the song. This guy was featured in the last entry in this post series; his fan works were good enough that he got hired by SEGA to write music for Sonic Mania, and that game had a great soundtrack too.

6) Shoji Meguro — The Days When My Mother Was There (and another version) (Persona 5, 2016)

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m playing through Persona 5 Royal. I’m liking it a lot so far. Admittedly I’m not as in love with the new Royal-exclusive music as I’d hoped, but it’s still good. It’s hard for that to compete with the amazing soundtrack that already existed in the base game anyway, with songs like “The Days When My Mother Was There”. A lot of people highlight the dramatic vocal tracks like “Life Will Change” and “Rivers in the Desert” and those are indeed great, but I prefer these more relaxed pieces. “The Days When My Mother Was There” sounds like it should be more melancholic from the title than it actually sounds, but there’s some plot stuff going on that provides context if you’re hearing it while playing the game.

Each of the Palace themes in Persona 5 also has an alternate version, and I like this one almost as much as the main theme. I’m a big fan of the electric piano sound it has — I think that contributes to the 60s/70s fusion/funk/soul/etc. sound Persona 5 has in general.

7) Nobuo Uematsu — One-Winged Angel (Final Fantasy VII Remake, 2020)

So I guess I have to eat my words about how I thought the FF7 remake wouldn’t be that good. At least I should prepare to do so, because I’ve been surprised by what I’ve seen so far. Not by the music, though, because I didn’t expect Square-Enix to mess up the excellent soundtrack of the original, and it seems like they haven’t. If you haven’t heard it yet, check out the new version of the classic “One-Winged Angel” with the full orchestra/choir treatment it deserves. Though for nostalgic reasons, I still like the original more. I don’t know, maybe that’s stupid.

Not everything about the original was better.

So that’s it for the latest entry in my favorite game music series. Four entries over six years — I really am lazy. Please look forward to the next entry in 2023. In the meantime, I’m still playing through Royal and a few other games, so I hope to get a couple of reviews/analyses up next month. There’s also a reason I featured a couple of tracks from the Sim series. That’s a not-so-subtle hint at the subject of the next deep reads post. Let’s see if I have anything new or interesting to say about that franchise. You can be the judge when it comes out.

For now, I’ll be taking the rest of the month off to work. I wish I could take off from work to write and play games instead, but as long as I stay on the projects I’m working on (which I absolutely need, so I hope I do) that’s not an option. That’s the life of a contractor: free, but also not all that stable. Well, what can you do. Until next time.

SimCity 2000, Part XIV: Priscilla

In his new residence, the mayor of Hell lay in his double-king-sized bed dreaming.  Dreaming of a woman, a beautiful red-haired woman wearing only a red cloak, the red all the more vibrant against the black void that surrounded them both.  The mayor, seated and frozen in place, could only watch as the woman slowly approached him and leaned over to speak into his ear.

“I am Priscilla,” she whispered.  “I will give you everything you’ve dreamed of and more.  And then I will take everything from you.”

The mayor tried to speak, to ask her what she meant.  But before he could make a sound, she was gone, and the mayor had awoken.

Priscilla.  What was that about?  The mayor wondered.  Did that woman resemble one of his several ex-wives?  They had certainly taken quite a bit from him during divorce proceedings.  But it was still dark outside, and the mayor was still tired, and it was only a dream, after all.  A few minutes later, he fell asleep again.

His city, however, never truly slept.

Exactly 200 years after the founding of Hell, the city has officially achieved “sprawling mess” status.  It is overcrowded and nearly impossible to traverse without sitting in traffic for a few hours.  Pollution is still a problem, and educational and health care services are still severely lacking.  The nuclear plant is still running in the center of town, despite several near-meltdowns that would have devastated the entire city and the county and the several counties surrounding it.  Despite all this, the city is now home to almost 100,000 souls and is bringing in a steady stream of tax revenue every year.

The mayor, by contrast, has significantly upgraded his own situation.  Leaving behind his old mansion, he had the Braun Llama Dome built in the middle of a man-made lake with independent wind and solar power sources and made it into his new residence.  From his perch, the mayor could look over the city that he ruled.  Eventually, the mayor decided to officially change the original name of the Dome, which he hated, to THE TOWER OF POWER.  Written in all caps, no matter what.

The city government began publishing visitor statistics to the TOWER in 2090 when it was built, but they’re all lies.  Nobody is allowed to visit the TOWER except for the mayor and his friends/cronies/lackeys.

The mayor’s approval rating, however, is not a lie.  He has finally achieved a rating of ZERO percent, somehow.  One would think that at least his inner circle would approve of him, but they number far fewer than one percent of the city’s population, after all, so this poll is obviously rounding down.  The rest of the city doesn’t have much reason to love the mayor, conditions being what they are.  Ever since mayoral elections were outlawed, however, the citizens have had no real recourse.

Still, it’s not enough for the mayor.  He wants to see the population of the city increase even more to bring in more revenue.  But unless the city is allowed to spill into the upper-class southwestern district, this isn’t happening – the rest of the city’s grant is pretty much occupied.  The mayor is not willing to do this for obvious reasons.

So what can we do for the mayor?  Is it possible to help him?  The city of Hell seems to have hit a plateau. Perhaps it’s time to break out the cheats – to unlock the godlike Debug menu.

This mysterious drop-down menu only appears after you click and hold the city toolbar while typing P-R-I-S-C-I-L-L-A (but not in caps.)  I’m not sure about the origin of this cheat code.  Maybe Priscilla was the wife or daughter or sister of one of the developers at Maxis.  Or maybe the Maxis guys were big fans of the Australian drag queen road trip film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.  Whatever the case, this cheat code is by far the most powerful in the game and is really the one that you need to know about if you want to cheese the game and make it completely trivial.

The first option that jumps out at us is “More Money”.  Selecting that seemingly does nothing until the next month rolls around…

… when half a million dollars suddenly appear in the city’s coffers out of nowhere.  This cheat makes new outlandish building and infrastructural projects possible without worrying about tax revenue or maintenance costs.

The next best option in the Debug menu is “Add All Gifts”.  This allows the player to build the gift structures like the Mayor’s Mansion and City Hall without reaching the required population milestones and to rebuild gift structures if he’s already built them once.

In order to increase the glory of the mayor, let’s select this option and build another statue in his likeness on the mountains above the old city.

Saddam Hussein would be proud.  You can build as many statues as you like with this cheat, though you have to re-select it each time you place one.

How to dramatically increase our city’s population, though?  There’s only one answer: build arcologies.  I briefly brought up arcologies way back in Part VIII – massive cities within cities that house tens of thousands of residents.  At that time, though, Hell was not even close to the population requirement to unlock the arcology option.  Our population still isn’t that close, in fact.  It’s currently hovering around 95,000, well below the population requirement of 120,000 to allow the building of arcologies.  But with the Debug menu, we don’t have to give a damn about population requirements.

Here are our four options.  Each arco type becomes available in a different year – the Launch Arco can only be built around 2150, under normal circumstances.  But we can build it now if we feel like it.

But we don’t.  The Launch Arco and Forest Arco both look nice, sort of like pleasant places to live, and as usual that’s really not what we’re going for.  How about the other two options?

We’re not overly concerned with pollution, so the Plymouth Arco sounds great!  Its sturdiness may come in handy as well if another earthquake occurs.  Hopefully that claim about surviving earthquakes in Neo-Mexico and Neo-Taiwan isn’t just hot air.

The Darco, by contrast, just sounds strange.  An invasion of mutant men from the air ducts into the city could be amusing, as long as they don’t break into the mayoral mansion.

After some downtown demolition, these two monstrosities rise above the city skyline.  The Plymouth Arco looks like a giant upturned garbage can, and the Darco looks like something that came from the mind of H. R. Giger.  Together, they hold a maximum capacity of 100,000 residents, so let’s hope people are willing to move in.

In the meantime, let’s cover the rest of the exciting options in the Debug menu.  “Show Version Info” shows you the game’s version info, as you would expect.  “Add All Inventions” lets you build structures and services before they are invented.  And the rest of the options lets the player cause special disasters that can’t be accessed from the normal Disasters menu.  This list contains the dreaded Melt Down and other natural and man-made disasters that would undoubtedly wreak havoc on our city if they were to occur.  In fact, one of them, Toxic Spill, has already occurred several times in Hell – but it’s the least serious of the bunch.

Despite vigorous marketing campaigns, the Plymouth Arco only contains 17 residents out of a possible 55,000 one year after its construction.  Perhaps this is because this arco is a big piece of shit that has received a grade of D from the official arcology grading board.  Maybe it has mold problems.

The Darco is faring a little better, but the outcome is still disappointing.  Even so, there’s no point tearing these arcos down – they cost a lot of money to build, and they add some nice character to the downtown district.  I’m not sure why their descriptions claim that they were built in 1900.  Maybe my cheating confused the game.

A few years later, Hell’s revenue falls dramatically.  Just what could have caused that?  Let’s talk to the ordinance advisor.

As usual, she’s no help – she just nags us about the drunken brawls and organized crime activity that has developed as a result of Hell’s booming gambling sector.  Lady, if our citizens can’t go to casinos to throw back cheap drinks and lose all their wages at slot machines and blackjack, how are they supposed to spend their down time?  With their families?  Nonsense.

Now comes the real shock – the city assemblymen have been passing new ordinances without the mayor’s consent.  Ordinances that cost money.  This is something that can happen in SimCity 2000.  Often, the computer will go ahead and apply beneficial ordinances without your knowledge.

Fortunately, the mayor has veto power.  And he vetoes every ordinance that takes money out of the budget, leaving only those that bring money in.

Much better.  The mayor needs that money for other purposes.

Following the unexpected influx of cash into the city’s coffers, the mayor decided to have a few new mansions and palaces built, independently powered and accessible by a series of man-made canals.  You know, nothing fancy.  The man is a dedicated public servant; he deserves at least this much in compensation.

SimCity 2000, Part XIII: The Tower of Power

Despite its many, many problems, Hell continues to grow in population.  The city’s money problems are now a distant memory, and most of the land within the city limits has been developed.  But there’s still room to expand the city’s tax base.  Demand for growth in all three sectors is strong.  It’s only a matter of time before Hell begins to rival major cities in SimNation.  This unfortunately means that the mayor may have to sponsor a few more expensive ordinances that help improve life in the city – but then again, life doesn’t have to be improved too much to attract new residents.

However, the universe will not allow Hell to succeed so easily.  A series of plagues rains down from the heavens.  The first is a drop in Hell’s industrial demand.  The city’s manufacturing sector collapses and businesses move out of the city, leaving the old industrial core of Hell an abandoned wasteland.

Natural disasters follow this collapse.  Just a year or two later, a massive tornado tears through the center of the city.  Remember those tornadoes back in the 20th century that blew around in the desert and maybe knocked over a factory and a warehouse on the outskirts of town?  Now that Hell is fully developed, there’s no escaping its devastation.

The twister heads north, ripping apart houses, roads and a section of the highway before moving on to annoy Sinistrel.

Naturally, the tornado cut a part of the city off from the electrical grid, so everything needs to be reconnected.  Road and highway connections also have to be reestablished.  The mayor is just happy that the tornado didn’t take out the stadium, because that thing was expensive to build.

Hell is forced to recover from a devastating tornado and its industrial sector is still depressed.  However, the party isn’t over yet.  For some reason – perhaps the loss of jobs in the industrial sector – the city’s demand for residential and commercial growth also falter.  Despite the city’s already low tax rates to encourage growth, the population falls by 5,000 in a few years.

As if that weren’t enough, another earthquake strikes one year later, destroying the city’s remaining coal plant and setting off fires throughout the city.  The nuclear plant is thankfully not damaged, but the destruction isn’t trivial.  Thanks to Hell’s robust firefighting service, the fires are quickly put out with minimal damage resulting.

The fires are out, but we’ve got the same problem as we had after the first earthquake – what to replace that coal plant with?

Now we have all nine power options available.  The fusion plant at the bottom right is the most powerful and cost-effective, but it’s also the most expensive and therefore the most difficult to replace if it’s destroyed in an accident.*  That’s no good.  And we don’t really need that much energy anyway.  Let’s just rebuild that coal plant.

Yeah, of course the fuckin’ citizens don’t like it.  But they’ll have to go home eventually.  As long as you’re persistent, you can place that filthy, polluting coal plant wherever you want.  In fact, the edge of the map is a good place for a coal plant because a lot of that pollution it’s generating is going to sort of just blow off of the map, in this case into the neighboring town of Sinistrel.  And they can’t do anything about it.

One year later, industrial demand is back up because the mayor ordered more rail connections to Hell’s neighbors built.  But residential and commercial demand are still anemic.  And the pigeons still aren’t perching on the mayor’s statue downtown.

Several years pass and Hell continues to stagnate.  The mayor finally decides to do something about the recession so tax revenue can keep increasing.  What to do, though?

In SimCity 2000, the player has the ability not only to modify the overall property tax rate but also the individual rates on residential, commercial, and industrial property.  Basically, if you want to drive up demand in one area, lower the tax rate on property in that area.  Since the mayor wants to bring more residents to Hell, he lowers the residential tax rate to 3%, and to make up for the lower revenue he cranks up the industrial rate to 6%.  Will this have the desired effect?  We’ll have to wait a year or two to find out.

In the meantime, the Courier reminds us that the nuclear plant is almost dead and is going to explode.  Don’t worry about this.  The nuclear plant in SimCity falls apart after 50 years just like every other plant does – without causing any other damage, meaning it’s not going to melt down.  The only real concern here, again, is what we should replace it with.

Two years later, the plant implodes.  The mayor immediately demands the building of a new nuclear plant to replace the old one.  His advisors remind him that a plane nearly crashed into the plant not too long ago and that a meltdown could have resulted from that, and that an earthquake a mere 11 years ago almost destroyed the plant, also with potentially catastrophic consequences.  But the mayor brushes off their concerns.  Hell, the nuclear plant didn’t melt down, so what’s the problem?

Plonk.  That nuclear plant is rebuilt.  Not even a protest this time, either.  Maybe the people of Hell have gotten used to the constant threat of a horrible death by radiation.**

I also missed a piece of road destroyed in the earthquake that needed repairing.  This is why the zones-only view is nice – it catches things that can easily be missed because they’re obscured by the city’s buildings.

Despite the problems faced by Hell these rough two decades, the mayor’s plan worked – demand in all sectors is back up.  The recession has been weathered, the city is back up and running, and after setbacks and disasters it has finally reached the 90,000 citizen mark.  And with this milestone came a new reward: the bizarrely named Braun Llama Dome.  The city’s grant of funds to build this prefabricated giant tower was given to the mayor in the hopes that he would find a suitable place in the city itself and build it there, for all the citizens to admire, and also to take the elevator up to the revolving restaurant at the top.  But the mayor had very different plans.

Instead of placing the Llama Dome in the city, the mayor instead ordered an artificial peninsula created near his mansion and the Dome built upon it, so that he could relocate his residence to the revolving restaurant, now converted into a massive swanky apartment.  Clean energy in this part of town is a must, so the Dome is powered by four wind turbines.  These windmills produce 4 MHz of power each and of course produce no pollution.  As a result, just like the Mayor’s former abode, the Dome is fully self-sufficient and can sustain a small population (the mayor and his closest advisors and staff) for a long period of time without the need for restocking supplies.  The old mansion is left standing to act as the mayor’s second home.

A new age has dawned in Hell, though as usual, it remains to be seen whether this new age is going to alleviate the overcrowding and crime and health problems that the city faces.  Let’s be honest; it probably won’t.

* In real life, a fusion plant would be really nice to have, but that technology doesn’t exist yet on the scale necessary to generate power in a cost-effective way.  The Sun has been generating power through nuclear fusion for billions of years, but we’re not quite at that level yet.  SimCity 2000 makes a rough prediction for the first fusion plant in 2050, and scientists and engineers are already trying to construct efficient fusion reactors at this very moment, so hopefully this technology will become a reality soon.

** I live in the general vicinity of two nuclear fission reactors according to US Department of Energy.  Thankfully, we’ve only ever had one major accident involving a nuclear plant in my country, and it didn’t result in any deaths as far as we know.  Let’s hope that record is maintained.

SimCity 2000, Part XII: Build That Wall

About 150 years after its founding, Hell is just about bursting at the seams.  The city has some land left to build upon in the corners and edges of its limits, but that land is hilly and difficult to effectively develop.  The traffic has gotten so bad in the city as a result that the mayor finally approved the construction of a limited-service subway system connected to the main rail line.

Subways are pretty goddamn expensive to build in SimCity 2000, so the hope is that citizens will ride it to alleviate traffic problems.  Nobody’s riding the new subway system yet, but it may take them some time to get used to the concept of underground travel by train.  Considering the fact that the mayor is using secondhand East German tram cars that move at 15 miles per hour in order to cut costs, the citizens of Hell may be right to avoid the subway for now.

Still, something has to be done to allow for more growth.  The mayor and his friends need a larger tax base to make more money to build unnecessary projects and to hold elaborate parties featuring ice statues that urinate fountains of expensive vodka.* The real problem at this point isn’t traffic, but space.  Most of the good land has been used.  Most of the southern part of the city’s grant is still empty, but the mayor and the city’s elite don’t want the common rabble anywhere near their retreat in the southwest.  What to do?

After a few brainstorming sessions in his Scarface-esque mansion, the mayor decides on a new plan for growth that cedes the southeastern corner of the city’s grant, currently empty, for further development.

This is a nice, promising patch of land, but for one problem: the big fucking hole in the middle of it.  Holes in cities aren’t very convenient as far as building goes – placing zones and roads through them is possible, but it’s so awkward that they basically have to be built around.  However, there is a solution to this problem: the terrain-editing tools.  We’ve already used the lower terrain tool to make room for a stadium in our city.  Now let’s use the level terrain tool to get rid of this annoying hole.

Drag straight over the damn thing, and it’s gone.  Now the site of Hell’s newest neighborhood is ready for development.

Before building, however, a barrier has to be built, both to define the boundaries of this new development and to keep it out of view and away from the upper-class southwestern district.  We can’t have the grubby hoi polloi stinking up the nice part of town, can we?  In fact, this was one of the conditions the mayor placed upon the development of this area.  So what’s the best way to create this boundary?

The raise terrain tool!  We can’t build an actual barrier with wood or bricks or anything, but we can build an earthen wall with this tool.

The wall is up.  Now Hell can safely expand into this new territory.  Though the mayor thinks the wall might have to get a bit higher eventually.  Trees have been planted on top of these new hills for some reason, perhaps for aesthetic purposes.

A few years later, building really begins.  And hey, this doesn’t look too bad, really.  This new part of Hell might be halfway bearable to live in.

In fact, as a result of some changing policies from the mayor’s mansion, life has gotten measurably better in Hell.  The advisors aren’t complaining quite as much as they used to.  And with the new development in the southeast, the population of Hell has risen to almost 75,000.

Comparable to the national average!!!  Yeah!

In case you were wondering, the mayor has not approved any more ordinances.  All the money-making ones (top left corner) are naturally in effect, but only the probably ineffective pollution controls and the neighborhood watch/citizen-arming neighborhood watch programs are running otherwise.  A lot of these other programs are beneficial for a city’s population and would probably be advisable to pass, but the mayor doesn’t take advice well. Not advisable advice, anyway.

The only free ordinance on the list, in fact, is the “Nuclear Free Zone” provision.  It doesn’t cost a thing to pass and boosts residential demand, but restricts the building of nuclear plants.  But since the mayor already built a nuclear power plant in the city, checking this box probably wouldn’t do much of anything.

And right around this time, the paper reports on the discovery of what will turn out to be the last and best source of power in the game.  Nuclear fusion power, unlike nuclear fission, is safe and can’t result in a meltdown.  While it’s expensive at $40,000, it’s also the most cost-efficient source of energy in SimCity 2000.  We won’t be using it, though.  Not for a while anyway.  The mayor just had that nuclear plant built – he wants to get some use out of it.  Near-plane-related accidents aside.

With its stadium and its filthy subway system and its bumper-to-bumper crowded highway, Hell has become a legitimate big city (at least by SimCity standards.)  However, it can reach even great heights.  Will growth in Hell continue without anything bad happening?  Sure!  I can’t see why not.

* You might think I made this up, but it was done at least once in real life.  In 2003, the former CEO of the defunct corporation Tyco went on trial after an Enron-style scandal involving the company broke.  One of the accusations against said CEO was that he spent the company’s funds on insanely expensive and non-company-related events like his wife’s 40th birthday party, which took place on Sardinia and “featured an ice sculpture of Michelangelo’s David spewing vodka from his penis.”  More amusingly, to me anyway, the party also included “a birthday cake in the shape of a woman’s breasts with sparklers mounted on top.”  If your wife is cool with having a titty-themed birthday cake at her party, you know you married the right woman.

SimCity 2000, Part XI: Bread and circuses

We left the SimCity of Hell several months ago, but it is not forgotten.  Heaven will not allow the crimes of its mayor to go unpunished.  Or something.  Anyway, please enjoy Part XI of this formerly dormant quasi-LP series.

One way you can tell that life has returned to normal after a disaster is that people start to complain about relatively minor things again.  Going by that metric, Hell has definitely recovered from its earthquake quickly.  Shortly after the quake that killed thousands and the quick rebuilding, the citizens begin griping about not having enough fun things to do.

Although they’re demanding a marina, really any of the entertainment options will do to sate their desires.  The more expensive and bigger options naturally make the people happier and let them distract themselves from the fact that they’re apparently sitting on top of a fault line and right next to a nuclear power plant.  Since that’s the case currently, the mayor decides to build the biggest and best entertainment venue possible: a stadium.

Stadiums take up a 4×4 tile space, though, so it can be hard to find a place for them without bulldozing entire city blocks.  Instead of doing that, let’s create more space by moving some earth around.

The terrain-editing options cost money to use (think of it like hiring a crew to haul earth around) but they’re not really too expensive considering their value in creating more space to build on.  In this case, let’s lower some terrain at the top of a still-undeveloped hill.  This will make for a great spot for the stadium.

Lowering this terrain ended up causing the destruction of a few buildings and a road, but that’s a small price to pay.  That’s how the mayor feels, anyway.  And since the city has the power of eminent domain, it can pretty much do whatever it wants as far as demolishing existing buildings goes.  (In real life eminent domain is a lot more complicated and requires the government to fairly compensate the owners of the land being taken if it turns out that the government has the power to use the land in the first place, but in Hell, eminent domain is an absolute privilege.  Just like sovereign immunity!)

Anyway, let’s just build the damn stadium already.

Before you can build, though, you’ll have to pick the sport played at the stadium and the name of the home team.  As far as I can tell, these options are purely cosmetic, so pick your favorite sport, as long as your favorite sport is baseball, soccer, football, rugby, or cricket (though if cricket is your favorite sport you’d probably be just as happy watching grass grow.)  Since I’m a god damn American, though, we’re going with football.  And since there’s already a soccer option in place, we know that this is American football.*

I didn’t name this team the Llamas, by the way – that was the game’s suggestion.  At Maxis in the 90s they had an obsession with llamas and related animals like alpacas for some reason.  We may as well go with it.

Hell yeah.  Doesn’t that look majestic?  The mayor is pretty pleased with the whole arrangement and looks forward to the increased business that the stadium will bring from out of town.  (He doesn’t care about the increased traffic, or the increased crime around the stadium, or even about the cost of building it – it’s the taxpayers’ money, after all, and the mayor doesn’t live in the city anyway.)

The mayor, now high on the feeling of building massive prestige projects, orders the building of a university hospital downtown.  Not for the purpose of helping his citizens – though it will help raise life expectancy in Hell – but just to brag to other mayors that his city has a university with its own hospital.

The Llamas really suck, by the way.  Maybe it’s just because it’s their first year.  Hopefully they start to gel better next season.

Two years pass, and the Llamas don’t get any better.  Here’s some better news, though – the average intelligence of Hell’s citizens has risen!  A whole lot, in fact, from 76 to 87.  87 still isn’t great, but it’s a hell of a lot better than it was thanks to the building of the university and a few libraries.  People are living longer lives as well, though pollution is still a serious problem.

Maybe things are looking up for Hell!

Or not.

Another plane falls out of the sky in 2050, and it decides to fall in almost the worst possible place – right next to the nuclear power plant.  Every fire truck in the city is lined up in defense of the plant before the plane even hits the ground.

Thankfully, the crash only takes out a few pieces of road and rail (along with every person on board, presumably.)  The fire is easily put out.  But if the plane had crashed a few tiles to the southwest, it could have caused an enormous disaster.  Nobody is sure whether the plant can withstand a fire without causing a meltdown, but it would be better to not have to find out.

Despite the danger posed by the nuclear plant and the fact that it was nearly involved in an accident that could have caused a catastrophic meltdown, people keep moving to Hell, which now contains over 67,000 souls.  Maybe it’s the low property tax.

* Coincidentally, both the pro and college football seasons just started here in the States.  I hope my alma mater doesn’t choke like they have the previous few years.

SimCity 2000, Part X: The Nuclear Option

Sometimes – just on rare occasions – the Courier, Hell’s terrible newspaper, gets a story right.  In this case, that story had to do with Hell’s very first power plant.

The Courier is referring here to the two solar plants powering the upper-class southwestern district of the city, but this story also acted as a harbinger of something else that is soon to come.

One morning in November 2038, not a year after that headline, an earthquake – the first earthquake in the 138 years that the city has existed – shook Hell.  Several buildings, along with a section of highway, were immediately destroyed, among them the central coal plant that powered a large part of the city.  A massive fire started in downtown Hell after the coal plant exploded.

Looking at this fire, you might think downtown is fucked.  That fire is going to spread all over the place… right?

Wrong.  Fires are easy to take care of in SimCity 2000.  By pausing the game, you can destroy all the properties, roads, power lines, trees and other things immediately surrounding the fire without worrying about its spreading.  Once that’s done, the fire will have nowhere to spread and the firefighter units can safely contain and put out the blaze.  This is a good time to use the zone-only view so you can try to avoid specialty buildings and services as much as possible.

Do you think it’s cheap to pause the game to contain the fires?  Feel free to think that, but the makers put that capability in the game, and you don’t have to enter a cheat code to do it (and there are several cheat codes in SimCity that make the game a whole lot easier.)  So I don’t consider this cheating.  Maybe it’s a bit cheap, but then again maybe it’s cheap of the game to spring an earthquake on me after 138 years of no earthquakes.

In any case, this earthquake has definitely come with a cost.  Undoubtedly a human cost, because at least a few buildings went down around the city, and also an economic cost.

The Courier again amazingly gets something right when it reports that a dam was damaged in the quake – a few were taken out in the initial quake and another one was destroyed by fire.  The paper somehow neglects to mention that the massive fucking coal plant in the middle of town exploded, however.

At least the mayor said he didn’t like the fact that the earthquake happened.  He may be a huge dick, but he’s not such a dick that he’ll openly revel in his people’s misery.  Well, not yet, anyway.

A large part of the city is now without power as a result of the coal plant’s destruction.  We’ll have to replace it right away to avoid the abandonment of the unpowered sections of the city and a massive drop in population.

Unlike in 1900, we have a lot of power generation options now.  We’re only missing one, in fact – it has yet to be developed – but it’s something of a moot point because we don’t actually need that much power yet anyway.  Still, now might be a good time, since the city has a steady surplus coming in every year, to upgrade our power plant from coal.

What to pick?  Oil power isn’t much of an upgrade, although it is less polluting than coal.  Gas and solar power are too weak.  Wind power can be good for powering small areas independently, but it would take an assload of wind turbines to generate the kind of power we need.  More dams are an option, but we’d need to place a lot of waterfalls for that, and that can get expensive.  And microwave power, the newest form of energy, is just a hair too expensive to build.  True, we could wait a month, but it’s still overkill as far as power provided goes.

So what’s left?

Oh yes.  Nuclear power.  The game is sort of lying here – nuclear isn’t actually all that efficient if you look at megawatt per dollar, but it is very clean.  And the 500 Mw generated by the plant will be nice.  However, there is the possibility – not a likely one, but it exists nonetheless – that the plant will go Chernobyl and turn Hell into an actual hell of fire and radiation.

The decision is naturally up to the mayor.  And the mayor has an emergency bunker and a contingency plan borrowed from Dr. Strangelove just in case the worst occurs.  But really, what are the chances of that?  Nuclear plants have plenty of measures to prevent meltdowns, right?

The mayor makes an executive decision: build that nuclear plant.  Right in the heart of downtown where the old coal plant was, because there really isn’t any other good place for it at the moment.

However, once the word starts to go around that the city authorities are about to build a nuclear plant, a large contingent of citizens gather in the devastated ward and camp out in tents to protest the plan and to prevent it from occurring.  The engineers and laborers sent out to build the plant are ordered by the mayor to back down – for the time being.

When a certain facility that people don’t like – like a nuclear power plant – is planned to be built near a residential area, they can prevent the player from placing it.  (The same is true of water treatment plants, which apparently spew out a lot of pollutants.)  However, they can’t prevent the placement of the facility every single time the player attempts to build it.  The mayor waits until the protesters go home, then he sends his workers out again to build the nuclear plant.  And this time they build it.

Now it’s time to reconnect the western half of the city to the power grid.  The nuclear plant will both produce more energy and pollute much less than the coal plant did.  There is the whole meltdown thing, but again… not that likely, really.

Once the rubble is cleared and the city is full powered again, we can survey the damage.  The city’s population dropped by about 5,000 as a result of the earthquake, both from buildings being destroyed during the quake and from people moving out of unpowered zones afterward.

Hell’s future at this point is uncertain.  With the mayor at the helm, though… no.  There’s still absolutely no certainty about the future.

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.

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.

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!