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SimCity 4

SimCity 4 (SC4) is a city-building simulation computer game developed by Maxis, a subsidiary of Electronic Arts. It was released on January 14, 2003. It is the fourth installment in the SimCity series. SimCity 4 has a single expansion pack known as Rush Hour which adds additional features to the game. SimCity 4: Deluxe Edition contained the original game and Rush Hour combined as a single product.

The game allows players to create a region of land by terraforming, and then to design and build a settlement which can grow into a city. Players can zone different areas of land as commercial, industrial, or residential development; as well as build and maintain public services, transport and utilities. For the success of a city players must manage its finances, environment, and quality of life for its residents. SimCity 4 introduces night and day cycles and other special effects for the first time in the SimCity series. Tools such as the Building Architect Tool (BAT) allow custom third party buildings and content to be added to the gameplay.

SimCity 4 was praised for being the first game in the SimCity series to primarily use a 3D engine to render its graphics. It received widespread acclaim, won several awards, and was one of the top ten selling PC games of 2003. It was however criticised for the difficulty of gameplay and computer performance.

Gameplay

Regional gameplay

As with previous SimCity titles, SimCity 4 places players in the role of a mayor (or several mayors), tasked with populating and developing tracts of lands into cities, while fulfilling the needs of fellow Sims that live in the cities. Cities are now located in regions that are divided into segments, each of which can be developed. The player has the option of starting the city in a segment of any of three area sizes, in real measurement the smallest has a length of 1 kilometers on a side, and the largest has a length of 4 kilometers on a side. A large city is 16 km²; for comparison the New York borough of Manhattan measures about 90 km². The size of a region and its layout of segments can be changed in a bitmap file provided for each region.

Neighbor cities play a larger role than in the previous versions of the game. For example, neighbor deals can be established, where a city can exchange resources such as water, electricity, garbage disposal with other cities for money. Players may develop several dependent cities at the same time, eventually populating the entire region.

Game modes

Upon selecting a specific segment in a region, gameplay is divided into three "modes".

The first is the God Mode, which allows players to design or terraform a selected tract of land where the city will be built. God Mode also allows players to trigger disasters, including tornados and earthquakes among several others. Players can select an area where a disaster will occur and even control the direction of certain disasters. Most terraforming tools are disabled after the city is named and founded. The player still has some terraforming tools (although they become very limited and expensive) and can still trigger disasters at will. However, a cheat can be used to enable the terraforming tools lost after founding the city.

The second of the modes is the Mayor Mode, the fundamental mode of the game where the actual city building is conducted. Areas of land can be zoned as residential, commercial or industrial areas where the city will begin to grow. Players can build transportation networks, which include roads, streets, highways, subway lines, and bus stations. Other things that players can do in Mayor Mode are build civic buildings such as schools, hospitals, parks, police stations, fire stations, and public utilities.

The final mode is the My Sim mode which enables players to create user-defined Sims, which will live and work in the city the player has created. This mode can be used to closely assess citizens' needs through sims giving the player feedback. Players can choose a selection of characters or import them from The Sims. Sims can be killed by certain disasters. In My Sim mode, players can also do 'U Drive It' missions, which involve driving various vehicles around the city trying to acheive certain goals. A successful mission rewards the player, usually with cash, a boost in mayor rating, or an unlocked building; a failed mission punishes the player. There are good and evil missions, the latter usually dealing with the sinister Dr. Vu, one of the game's many running jokes.

Civic and utility structures

The functions of civic buildings have been overhauled in SimCity 4. Facilities that had previously provided citywide coverage, such as educational facilities and medical facilities, have now been modified to provide a more limited coverage, as it has been with police stations and fire stations in previous SimCity titles. Players can plan the best locations to provide sufficient civic services to Sims most effectively, for example placing schools in or around residential areas. Funding can now be adjusted for individual buildings, allowing users to specify how much money should be spent to supply a service in accordance to the local population. There are two sizes of police stations, fire stations and hospitals.

Maintenance expenses for public utility facilities (power plants, water plants, and garbage disposal services) will increase as they age. The maximum output of facilities also decreases as they get older. The rate at which facilities age is dependent on the percentage of its capacity being used and the level of funding being given to it.

Zoning and building occupancy

Zoning and building size have been improved for SimCity 4. Agriculture is now a separate industrial zone-type, enabling for farms to grow regardless of high land value, so long as there exists demand for agriculture and agricultural zones have been provided. Zones are now automatically aligned towards roads; streets are automatically created when zoning on large tracts of land. Buildings are now classified into several wealth levels, zone types, and building size stages, which are affected by the region's population and the city's condition. The game simulates urban decay and gentrification with buildings deteriorating accordingly. Buildings originally constructed for occupation by higher wealth tenants can now support lower wealth tenants in the event surrounding factors forces the current tenants to vacate the building; this allows certain buildings to remain in use despite lacking its initial occupants. Buildings and lots can now be constructed on slopes.

Building designs

Buildings in SimCity 4 borrow heavily from early 20th century architectural styles, particularly Art Deco and Romanesque Revival, while houses can appear in a traditional American Craftsman style. However, there is an additional, more modern, architectural style similar to Houston's architectural style, and a european style that is based off of the skyline of Frankfurt, Germany. There are a number of buildings based on those found in San Francisco, including the Shell Building (appearing as "Wren Insurance"), 450 Sutter (appearing as "Vu Financial"), and the Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Building (as "The Galvin Corp"). Three of the game's bridges are also based on the Golden Gate Bridge, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Development

Graphics

Unlike its predecessors, which used an engine based on 2D dimetric projection and sprites, SimCity 4 primarily uses a 3D engine to render its graphics. The landscape and moving props such as vehicles are modeled as fully polygonal 3D objects. Small buildings and props are drawn as flat images, which are pasted onto billboards; polygons with their surface normal facing into the camera. Larger buildings are modeled using a hybrid approach; a simple polygonal model defines the shape of the building, then textures are added to create detail such as doors, windows and rooftop clutter.

Although a 3D engine is used, the camera in SimCity 4 is restricted to a fixed trimetric orthographic projection for performance reasons. Additionally, a simulated city can now be seen at nighttime as well as during daytime. The time of the day does not affect the gameplay, other than the traffic in the city.

Audio

The game includes over 1 hour of background music (mostly library pieces) in MP3 format, ranging from four to seven minutes in length. The music is divided between that used in Region Mode and God Mode, and that used in the city view in Mayor Mode and My Sim Mode. In addition, the game has a facility for players to use their own music in the game, also divided between the two views. The music, composed by Jerry Martin, is available as a "soundtrack" on iTunes. Also many of the original music tracks of the game were used in the movie Python 2.

Add-ons and modifications

Following SimCity 4's release, several add-ons and development kits were made available on its official site.

New landmarks, including Rockefeller Center, the Brandenburg Gate, and Stonehenge were made available online. Later, landmarks were primarily used to demonstrate the capability of Gmax and the Building Architect Tool (BAT) around the time of the BAT's release.

A tool called the Terrain Generator allowed users to create maps based on any of the 48 contiguous United States states. The maps are based on data collected by the United States Geological Survey.

The Building Architect Tool (BAT) is a suite of tools developed for producing custom buildings. The suite consists of three applications: The Building Architect game pack for Gmax, which enabled users to render Gmax models into SimCity 4 sprites or props to be imported into the LE; an updated version of the LE; and the standalone Plug-in Manager, which enables users to modify simulation properties for new lots. Several modified versions have been released that have, in effect, served as bug fixes for various problems that had not been discovered before the initial release. First released on February 2004, it enabled the modding community to produce custom buildings and props for SC4. SimCity 4's Building Architect Tool is similar in function to SimCity 3000's Building Architect Tool and SimCity 2000's Urban Renewal Kit; however, previous programs of this kind were created from scratch by Maxis and used completely different interfaces. The SC4 BAT required a third party application (Gmax) to function, and was never bundled with SC4's or the Rush Hour expansion pack, as SimCity 3000 Unlimited had with its own BAT.

The Lot Editor (LE) is a tool which allows users to edit or design lots for SimCity 4 using available props. Because it was released several months before the BAT as a stand-alone version, users at the time were only capable of producing lots that consisted of built-in props from SC4. The BAT provided users with an updated version of the LE, which rendered the original LE utility obsolete. However, the old version is still made available in the official site.

In addition to official tools, third party programs were released for further accessibility in editing SimCity 4 contents, potentially allowing users to change the nature of the game itself. Since the release of the Lot Editor and the BAT, the majority of add-ons in circulation consists of user-created content; most are buildings and lots, while others include cosmetic changes for terrains, custom vehicles and modifications in the game's behaviors. Both the skills of lot building and modding are also integrated at times, producing lots that are capable of affecting a city in a variety of ways.

Bugs

Maxis and Electronic Arts have released a total of three patches that improve or fix issues discovered in the original versions of SC4 and Rush Hour (two for the original SC4 and one for Rush Hour). Among other things, the patches contain performance improvements for larger cities and a variety of minor bug fixes. The two pre-Rush Hour patches each fixed errors in the game code that, while not impeding actual gameplay, were previously preventing nearly a third of the Maxis-designed buildings from ever appearing in the game. The first patch fixed the so-called "Houston Tileset Bug" which was leaving one of the game's three tilesets, a collection of contemporary Houston-inspired buildings, completely out of the rotation, meaning that the only buildings from that tileset ever to appear were several smaller variations shared by all three of the game's original tilesets. With the introduction of that patch, it rapidly became apparent that there was another underlying bug that was preventing approximately two dozen of the game's largest buildings from appearing. This issue was fixed in the second patch.

Although not necessarily a "bug", players often complained about the unrealistic pathfinding mechanism; it would often find the shortest route but not the fastest, which often left mass transit and highways relatively unused. Many players made Mods to attempt to rectify the issue. This resulted in many different versions of the "SimCity 4 Network Fix" and the popular "Network Addon Mod".

Reception

Shortly after its release, the PC version of SimCity 4 garnered mainly positive reviews, gaining 84/100 from Metacritic, and an 85.1% overall score from Game Rankings. The game got a 9.2/10 rating at IGN; the review praised the depth of regional gameplay and called it a "major evolutionary step in the series". The game scored an 8.1/10 rating at GameSpot; the review concluded that it was a "complex and detailed strategy game", "though not as polished as it could have been". GameSpy gave the game a score of 75/100, commenting that SimCity 4 is "graphically stunning"; the review however also criticized the game for having issues "that will likely kill the game for casual players" including performance and difficulty.

SimCity 4 received further reviews after the release of the Macintosh version. The game received a rating of 7.25/10 from InsideMacGames. The review commented that the regional gameplay was a "new and welcome addition" and that it had detailed and realistic graphics; it was also said however that the game was not "revolutionary", had "horrendous bugs", and that the tutorial and manual lacked information.

Awards

SimCity 4 was chosen as one of IGN's "Editors' Choice" games for January 2003. It was also given the Parents' Choice Award by the Parents' Choice Foundation.

Expansions

On September 22, 2003, Maxis released an expansion pack for SimCity 4 dubbed Rush Hour. SimCity 4: Deluxe Edition, a bundle of the original SimCity 4 game and the Rush Hour expansion pack, was released on the same day. On August 25, 2004, Aspyr Media released SimCity 4: Deluxe Edition for Mac OS X. This was followed by a September 4, 2004 release of a Mac OS X version of SimCity 4: Rush Hour.

The expansion pack, among others, enhances the range of transportation facilities, as well as allowing the player to trace traffic flow, control vehicles and construct larger civic facilities, and introduces a new range of contemporary Europe-styled buildings.

Future updates

Will Wright has previously stated in an interview on May 16, 2003, that there would probably be more expansion packs after Rush Hour, but none have been confirmed as of October 2008. In another interview on May 22, 2004, Wright stated that Maxis is currently attempting to work out a "new direction" for SimCity after new versions had become "steadily more complex". He ended his comments on SimCity with the following:

Electronic Arts has since published a new SimCity game, SimCity Societies, which was developed by Tilted Mill Entertainment. It was released on November 13, 2007.

References

External links

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