Getting Into Gaming: Sim City
Two mayors, with essentially identical pieces of land set out to create their idea of the perfect city. The first, Mr Money, turns to his financial advisor and says, “Right, we’re going to need some houses then.” The second, Mr Mountains, turns to his Environmental supervisor and says, “How’s about some wild horses?”
As part of our Geography course last year we studied city development from past to future. I learned all about colonial city layouts, land zonation, structural segregation and future scenarios for urban development. When I got my hands on Sim City 4 I decided to apply some of what I know and see what the game is capable of. In fairness these cities were quite stereotypical, but they were based loosely on this model (for those who are interested). Ok, so I could have played the game normally and tried to create a normal, functional, modern day city, but no! For once I was playing a game I actually had a real world understanding of and I intend to be showy-offy and academic for a change rather than a total noob! How exciting…
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I rushed through the tutorials, getting a general idea of what the buttons did and then set about finding two plots of land which were, for all intents and purposes, identical: same amount of access to the sea, same amount of rugged terrain, same density of natural vegetation. It took me a little while but I eventually decided on two plots in the bottom left of my map and set about building cities on them. I started with the economically driven city (Economy Central) because that’s what the tutorials had taught me to manage. The environmentally driven city (Ecology Central) was probably going to be more of a challenge so I saved it for later.
Economy Central went something like this: Step 1. Find land. Step 2. Make it flat. Step 3. Profit (you totally saw that coming didn’t you?). No, seriously, I got the land, levelled it and, based on the model for the South African Apartheid city, set up what should have been a highly economically efficient city: commercial zone in the centre, surrounded by high income residential areas, a green belt to buffer the wealthy folk from the unsightly heavy industry zone and then the low income residential zone on the outskirts. Except that it wasn’t efficient at all. The trouble was that the game doesn’t allow for segregation and oppression and all areas have the same weighting in terms of how they affect your city’s status. So if one school in the poor area was underfunded, it didn’t matter how many well-funded institutions I had in the rich area, I still got pop-ups from my education advisor telling me to fix it before the teachers went on strike. Nonetheless, I kept my people relatively happy for a while and had a statue built in my honour outside the university. My environmental rating fell into the red, meaning my people were essentially living under a smog blanket, but my environmental advisor didn’t say a word! Then, like any system left to its own devices for too long, it fell apart. The city expanded and the infrastructure failed. I slipped from being 400 Simoleans in profit each month to being almost 2000 Simoleans in debt and was inundated with suggestions and warnings from my various advisors. It turns out I’m not very good at being an evil, miserly oppressor! So that scenario was surprisingly hard to replicate, in spite of it being very much in line with the economic overtone of the whole game in general.
Moving on to Ecology Central (based on the Green-Tech scenario), my first action was not to level the land but to ‘relocate’ the trees. Whatever trees I removed from the flat land, I replaced on the mountain behind it. This city had far less structure to it. I laid it out in way that would maximise the efficiency of power and water supply so that I wouldn’t need to lay miles of pipes or have huge overhead power lines. It was essentially a rectangle, divided into the three sectors: residential, commercial and industrial. I started out with a natural gas power plant, but quickly realised my city was compact enough to run on wind power instead, built two recycling stations to reduce the city’s waste output, installed a water treatment plant and created a mothership load of parks and gardens. My environmental advisor (and the salamanders, apparently) applauded me and this city seemed just as happy as the other. It would seem that being environmentally aware didn’t qualify me for a shiny bronze statue. Instead I got a recycling drive established by the Kindergarten children in my honour. Cute. I tried to refuse my mayoral mansion but apparently you don’t get rich people in your city without it, and as much as the environmental thing was fun, I was severely in debt and in need of some high income spenders! Aside from the debt issue though, I did considerably better in terms of progress than I had in Economy Central. I even built an airport and a highway linking the city to its non-existent neighbour. Granted, I was tearing through capital like a two-year old through wrapping paper, but I even managed to get my environmental rating into the green (which is surprisingly difficult!).
In retrospect I feel like the game rewarded me more… or at least punished me less, when I tried to go the Green-Tech route. Maybe I was imagining it, but less seemed to go horribly wrong! Or maybe, because I was less concerned with capital I didn’t feel the same financial stress in Ecology Central as I did with Economy Central, so I could spend more than I should’ve on funding the local library. The environmental scenario was more of a challenge initially, but it sustained itself for longer than the economic one, which had been really easy at first! I wish there had been a tutorial on how to improve your environmental rating because I really was flying blind and often resorted to just planting thousands of tree seedlings and hoping for the best, which I found to be a very disappointing aspect to the game. I’m sure that if I continued playing for longer Ecology Central would become incredibly stressful when the money ran out, but I’m hoping that my airport and mayoral mansion will save my eco-butt with a massive market influx! I found Sim City strangely compelling – far more so than Age of Empires. Perhaps it’s because Sim City is so much more realistic. Or perhaps it was just because I sort of knew what I was doing for a change. Regardless of the reason, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the game as much as I did. I also feel like there is so much potential for offshoots from the original, like one specifically designed to replicate those future scenarios, or one which focuses on creating a competitive commercial sector, or even one where you have to adapt your city to climate change throughout gameplay. Perhaps I’m being idealistic in assuming that games like those would be all that popular. But I’d like to think that as many people would buy Sim City: Global Warming as The Sims: Hot Date!