Sunday, 09 February, 2003

SimCity 4

When I was at Fry's on Thursday, I also picked up a copy of SimCity 4.  This was, perhaps, not the best idea I've ever had.  Why?  Because I get involved in resource management games.  I played Civilization II for over two years.  Railroad Tycoon II lasted at least that long.  Sure, I got annoyed with both games, but it took a long time for me to get tired of playing them.  SimCity 4 looks like it might keep me entertained for much longer than that.

I guess I've logged 10 or 12 hours playing with the game since Friday night.  At the moment, I'm pretty impressed.  The basic idea is easy enough:  you're the mayor and it's up to you to make the city grow.  You have to make it a place where people will want to live, make sure there's enough power, police presence, fire protection, schools, and other infrastructure so that the city will prosper.  You have a limited budget, so you can't just throw money at the problem (although you have to do that at the beginning).  After a few false starts, I finally got a working city (more of a town, actually, at the moment) whose budget is in the black.  There's a lot to do in the game.  I had resisted the earlier SimCity versions because I was afraid I'd get stuck micro-managing every little part of city life in the same way that Civilization II and Raliroad Tycoon II make you micro-manage everything.  In SimCity, although you have the ability to micro-manage every little detail, it looks like you don't have to do that if you don't want to.  You can set funding levels for individual items like schools and medical clinics, and things "just work".  As the city grows, one of the game's automated advisors will let you know if a service's funding level needs to be adjusted.  So far, the micro-management doesn't seem onerous, but again I'm just starting with the game.

In addition to individual cities, SimCity 4 also includes regions.  You're given a map of the region, which is carved up into rectangular city-sized blocks.  You can create a city in each block, and form trading deals between the cities.  Apparently you can create a network of interdependent cities within a region, but the documentation is kind of sketchy in that area and I haven't tried building an adjoining city to test it out.  I can see where region play would add a completely new dimension to the game.

My only gripes at the moment are performance.  The minimum system requirement is a 500 MHz Pentium with 128 MB of RAM and a 16 MB DirectX compatible video card.  The recommended configuration is a 1 GHz machine with 256 MB and a 32 MB Direct3D compatible video card.  My machine falls right in the middle there, and response time is a bit sluggish.  I figured I could turn down some of the graphics options (disable cloud and fog effects, for example) to save a few cycles.  That works, except that doing so ends up causing some really annoying rendering bugs—large portions of the screen go black, or get drawn with a bright green background.  The rendering bugs are way more annoying than the sluggish UI response.

My initial response to the game is very favorable.  I'll report back here after I've had a bit more time to play with it.