SimCity AAR, Part 1

aar

Sean Drummy, 25 April 2013

Apparently… manning a nuclear power plant with people that do not have a high school education is dangerous. Also, somewhat related conclusion, SimCity does not allow you to build on radioactive ground.

Click images to enlarge

SimCity AAR – Part 1 – Drill baby drill!

AARs are like floral arrangements. You should put them together when everything is fresh otherwise things may become a mess. (Did I just work in a floral arrangement analogy? Do I know the Grogheads demographic or what?) Unfortunately in this case I did not take this advice and am recounting the trials and tribulations of my city long after they happened.

But, don’t fret! The fascinating part about SimCity, is that the mistakes I made many game-days ago still manifest themselves in conspicuously bad ways on my city today. I can’t remember precisely why I built this one structure here or why I neglected to plan for vital utility X – but I know that these shortcomings are snowballing into even more complex challenges as my city’s population steadily increases while the space I have to accommodate them seems as if it is getting smaller and smaller.

In previous iterations of the SimCity series the player had the option to choose massive land plots to build their city on. Multi-million person cities were not all that difficult to achieve given enough time. Space was plentiful in the “good old days” – so create that ultra-efficient grid of roads and drag that beautiful green zoning tool over a seemingly limitless expanse of space! This is very much not the case in the latest SimCity: space is at a premium and filling the entire map with structures can be accomplished within 20-30 minutes of play depending on how careful the player is. The conflation many people purport is that smaller maps are just to coddle the gamers among us with underpowered machines. I’ve also heard conspiracy theorists allege that some insidious DRM cause is lurking in the wings. I think the reason is simple – trying to nurture a city into the millions in such limited space is hard. Your city must grow upwards and not outwards – a difficult proposition in nearly every aspect of city planning and infrastructure.

 

SimCity

A gorgeous view – my city in the background with my teammates metropolis in the fore

 

One other item of note: I had originally intended this piece to focus heavily on the collaborative efforts possible between other players in multiplayer mode. Unfortunately things haven’t panned out quite that way. I got a head start on building my city before my teammates really got up to speed and while there is some collaboration taking place, for at least the first couple installments to this AAR there will not be much about the player-to-player interactions of SimCity. If you were hoping for more details on how players can work together, I have every intention of making good on that goal in later installments when I finally get a chance to sink my teeth into SimCity’s co-op. Nevertheless, feel free to berate me in our forums if you feel strongly about the issue.

Enough pontificating and bemoaning! On to my beloved (or wretched, depending on which ‘sim’ you click on) city!

 

Resource Grab

What better way to start off a deeply collaborative game with a Hobbesian resource grab? The largest “unit of space” in SimCity is a region which is comprised of anywhere between 3 and 11 (or so) cities. When starting a new multiplayer region the first players to stake their claim on a region generally get their pick of what sort of city they want to run. Maxis, the developer of SimCity, would probably argue that every city plot is equally valuable and to some extent this may be true. But in general cities rich in resources (especially oil, iron, and coal) can make boatloads of money almost immediately and kickstart the entire regional economy. Being a fan of the Hobbesian conception of resource scarcity (and a fan of being a total jerk) I sniped the fattest, most resource laden plot in the entire region. Sorry teammates!

My city’s plot does have a glaring issue – space is at even more of a premium than in a regular plot. For one thing a massive river runs through my city, taking up valuable real estate. In one extreme corner of my city I also have a bit of a hill/mountain that will make expansion there tricky. To complicate things further, it is also important to avoid building the crux of this budding city over the natural resources I so summarily claimed as my own. Many times I have built high density developments or even a town hall (doh!) over a massive plot of iron ore or oil. A painful realization to say the least.

 

SimCity

Space runs out all too quickly

 

Between the areas reserved for resource extraction buildings and the geographical constraints, I have precious little space to grow my city. Already the wheels of cooperation are turning in my brain. The two plots to the north of mine are flat and rather large. When the edges of my city start to close in on me but the demands on my infrastructure are ever increasing, I will need to depend on my teammates and their copious space to share some of the load (in exchange for some of my natural resources, of course).

I began my city as I do all my cities now-a-days. I survey where the resources are, “tape off” those areas and then slowly begin expanding my population to cultivate a nice tax paying base. I’ll use my budget surplus almost exclusively for resource extraction and trading buildings (provided criminals aren’t rampaging or fires burning in my city which require a utility building to keep things moving along smoothly). Once a couple of iron ore buildings and trade depots are up and running, the money from these cash cows pads my treasury substantially. With natural resources shipping to the abstracted “global economy”, taxes aren’t as big of a concern (nor is running a super tight/minor deficit budget). This allows me to foster the construction of higher density residential buildings and to begin to expand my city services to increase happiness (better fire, medical, and police services are a huge help when you can afford them).

 

SimCity

Ore and alloy keep my city coffers full

 

Speaking of city services, education is an expensive investment to start and an expensive service to maintain. Since my city is still in the budding stages, I’d rather reinvest in infrastructure to get ahead of my demand curve as population expands. Power is a crucial component to any city and I need to assure that it flows uninterrupted. When building the lower cost power plants like wind power the player can actually generate a lot of power for a laughably low cost. The catch? Building out a fully upgraded wind power plant takes up far too much space in a brand new city, but in a mid and high density city that space must be used for other vital buildings. This is where the more expensive power plants come into play. Fancy power plants may not give you more “bang for buck” but they will save space – which is worth far more than the cheap output-per-dollar available with wind power.

Shirking the responsibility to educate my young sims, I instead wait a few minutes and save up for an extremely expensive nuclear power plant. It generates far more power than I need at the moment but it takes up a fraction of the space my wind power plant needed. Hopefully when my teammates get their cities up and running I can recover some of the $100k+ I paid in the form of exporting power. We will see. For now I’m quite pleased with my purchase. My budget is still in OK shape and I’ve assured clean, copious power for the foreseeable future. Anything to keep my natural resource complex running at maximum efficiency…

 

SimCIty

My budding tech sector

 

They Grow Up So Fast

The next few hours of gameplay were all a blur. I slowly expanded the city outwards but quickly found myself butting up against the river on my right and the map end on the left. Nevertheless my population grew and, thanks to my natural resource income, I was able to start scaling in better police, fire, and medical services. Happiness was quite high and employment remained in a sweet spot.

My sims were still dumb as bricks, though. As I was continually pulled in different directions, every time I tried to save up for some education buildings something more pressing would always come up. Most of my industry was dirty but no one seemed to complain about air pollution. Even though I knew it would be a problem later I had too many other pressing demands in the “here and now” to worry about increasing intelligence and eliminating pollution.

One natural reserve I managed to keep relatively untouched was the island located on the other side of the river. This small patch of land was still green and uninhabited. Don’t mistake me for an environmentalist, though. This island was packed with oil! I was just waiting for the right time to expand out my natural resource exploitation into oil. SimCity is very much about controlled growth and planning. Trying to exploit every inch of resource one has all at once generally ends in turmoil. Demands on water and power are too high; there aren’t enough workers to go around. Traffic for shipping freight slows down export rates and storehouses reach capacity. As I improve in SimCity I frequently find myself saying “Just because I can expand right now doesn’t mean I should.” There is something very enjoyable and fulfilling about slowly expanding all services and infrastructure to surplus and then wisely scaling the population up with all of the necessary pieces already in place.

 

SimCity

My nature reprieve turned to a black gold mine

 

Power is definitely an area where you want run a surplus. With my impressive nuclear power plant I was able to add two additional cooling silos and thus increase my output substantially. Clicking over to my power plant to add yet another silo I notice that there’s an employee education level rating. “That’s interesting,” I thought, “My sims are dumb but I know the game allows for some educated, wealthy people to move into the city regardless… someone has to run these dirty industrial buildings after all.” I was amused by the education level rating but thought nothing of it. I love those little extras simulation games sometimes throw in. For me, they really enrich the immersion.

My lonely, empty island notwithstanding, I’ll end the first part of this AAR with my city butting up against its borders everywhere. My city is making money hand over fist; my trade lines are wide open and have plenty of surplus capacity; and pretty much everyone is happy. Don’t think that SimCity is too easy or all flowers and unicorns just yet, though. My comment earlier about how mistakes made when a city is young will manifest in bigger ways later on will be furnished with many examples as time wears on!

 

END PART ONE

SimCity AAR – Part 2 – Hi Teammates!

Full Disclosure: I Just Had A Nuclear Meltdown (Also, Invest In Geiger Counters…)

 

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