Summary: The original city building franchise is due for another upgrade this fall. Find out what new features are coming in SimCity 4 in our preview!
SimCity 4 official home page: http://simcity.ea.com/simcity4/index.html
Estimated Release: Fall 2002
God = you
When we last peeked at SimCity 4 at E3 we talked about a number of the new details and features you’ll see, including clouds and fog effects, public services in action (fire trucks leaving the station), night falling over your city, and more. The development team is really going for a more lifelike feel to the cities, with tons of car traffic, foot traffic and little sim-citizens bustling about. Schools actually let in during the early morning (in game time) with busses dropping children off, kids walking in, and parents dropping more off in front of the schools. During the school day you’ll see kids playing in the playgrounds, while late afternoons find the school area mostly sleepy and empty. Little details like this pile up and go a long way to give SimCity 4 a more robust look and realistic flavor.
You’ll be able to import your favorite characters from the Sims into SimCity 4, placing them in a house to work. The little Sims act as citizen advisors, telling you what they like about the city they live in, what they don’t like, etc. They gradually develop themselves, getting better jobs, better cars, and improving their houses etc. But as they grow more wealthy and well-to-do they also grow more picky about the way you run your city, so players will need to adapt to the changing priorities of their populace. If you don’t have a character from the Sims to import, you can just create your own in SC4.
We got further details at Camp EA about the interface, including the way the game automatically draws in roads for you as you drag out large zones for residential, commercial, and industrial use. Since the default is for one lane going in each direction, I asked about how you’d go about making large multi-lane boulevards, Orange County style. You simply take your road building tool and click/drag it out next to an existing road to widen it. Anything in the way gets automatically demolished, little hills get flattened to accommodate, and the total cost is calculated for you to confirm the change.
The interface tweaks extend out to the meta level, where you create/alter the terrain of the land that you build cities on. Instead of placing specific trees one by one, there’s a foliage tool you can choose if you’re lazy which acts like a brush to fill in plants over an area as you paint. The plants are spread out nice and randomly and automatically set appropriate to the terrain. You get leafier herbaceous trees at lower altitudes (oaks, shrubs etc.), while painting at higher altitudes gives you evergreen needle trees like pines. You can just as easily raise hills and mountains, flatten them, create inland basins for lakes, connect lakes and rivers with canals, etc. It’s all done via point, click, and drag, like a child’s painting program. The simplified interface may turn out to be slightly frustrating to players who want their terrain and zones “just so,” but for the 98% of us who just want stuff done NOW, it’s great.
Maxis is also attempting to include more visual feedback over top of zones to give you clues as to why they aren’t developing as you’d expect them too. The example given was a big power icon over a zone where no power was being delivered; this was slightly puzzling because I remember even the original Sim City told you when power went out to a zone. This type of visual feedback in the main screen is supposed to extend to other aspects like crime and joblessness however, so we’ll see how those play out when the game gets closer to completion.
Next on Fox: When Disaster Strikes
At Camp EA we also got a bigger taste of the disasters like volcanic eruptions, meteor strikes, lightning, and tornadoes (where you can actually pull around and “steer” the funnel cloud). Earthquakes flatten buildings and also draw a fault line right down your city. There are other interesting, non-natural disasters like when your public services go on strike. Cut the fire fighting budget in half and watch them stand around outside the firehouse, picketing. If there is a real fire, they will still send out a truck to combat the flames, but they’ll be wildly ineffective, doing a Keystone Cops impression as they run about like chickens with their heads cut off and let firehoses spin out of control.
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