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From video game to day job: How ‘SimCity’ inspired a generation of city planners (latimes.com)
213 points by burritofanatic 13 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 92 comments

I loved SimCity and it's probably among the reasons I got a masters degree in GIS with a focus in city planning.

It turns out for a lot of reasons, real city planning wasn't for me, though it took that degree and six years on my city's planning board to figure that out. Glacial speeds of progress, a job that's mostly reactionary instead of visionary, "stakeholders" with infinite time to tell you why any change is the worst thing in the world and a conspiratorial worldview - no thanks, I'll just go back to my sims.

What is the bigger barrier to getting things done - regulations or politics with locals? I grew up learning that regulations were the reason things would take so long, but the older I get the more I realize its just a bunch of really loud NIMBYs.

Aren't most the regulations enacted in order to placate the really loud NIMBYs?

I don't think so, at least the sort of regulations I'm thinking of: environmental, structural, earthquake protection, etc. I think most of that stuff comes from outside studies and not from residents. But stuff like building height codes or putting wind farms near your city, yes I think that's mostly NIMBYs.

Interesting. I'm guessing you mean "reactive", though, not "reactionary". So it would have been reacting to events rather that projecting and controlling future scenarios.

Yes, good catch. "Reactive instead of proactive" might have been better phrasing.

I count myself so lucky that I managed to figure these exact same things out my sr year of college. Got the degree and promptly did not use it. Though I contend it's still the most applicable skill set to product management of any degree.

How many other degrees do you have?

This article is a lighthearted and doesn't talk about the underlying models behind simcity. Would recommend also reading:

https://logicmag.io/06-model-metropolis/ - which talks about simcity's inspiration from Jay Forrester's 'Urban Dynamics" and it's flaws.

Also, https://placesjournal.org/article/a-city-is-not-a-computer/ , which is something I've been meaning to read & contrast alongside Geoffrey West's works ( https://www.ted.com/talks/geoffrey_west_the_surprising_math_... ).

There's also a recent interview between an urban planner in portland (the citybeautiful youtube channel) and a developer at cities:skylines: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7c5pSCgbZ84

The talks are nice.

The articles are very disappointing though.

The first one claims that Jay Forrester's urban model was wrong, because it produces right-wing/libertarian results. I may disagree with libertarians too, but that's not how you criticize a scientific model. How about some concrete stuff?

The second article is just bland. It asks a very good question: what should we optimize for when constructing a city? And then proceeds talking about different things none of which helps to answer the original question. The only takeaway: a city must have a library. A good thought, but not an eye-opener.

The argument isn't about results—it's that the model itself was built on ideological assumptions instead of anything empirical.

Well, I tried to find out what these ideological assumptions were, but:

There were no neighborhoods, no parks, no roads, no suburbs, and no racial or ethnic conflicts. - surely a simplification, but doesn't sound ideological.

Tax contributions of poor people are lower - well, again, this is probably a mathematical fact, rather than an ideological.

The ideological problem is assuming that all these factors don't matter—that taxes and zoning are the only factors that matter.

Some very fundamental examples of what's missing: Selective policing affects incarceration rates, neighborhood ethnic makeup affects city budgets which in turn affect land values and safety (Flint water crisis and other pollution) which in turn affect economic prospects and future tax income, what goes on in city A in terms of taxation and opportunities affects neighboring city B, it's assumed that traditional zoning policies generate the most land value which is incorrect in many cases, it ignores how public spending on infrastructure affects economic opportunities in the short an long term..

I am as far left as we go in France but that's a recurrent leftist criticism that I keep seeing and that I think is really misguided.

I do think that right-wing libertarians are wrong because they have a much simplified model of the world, that does not take into account all that you mention.

Scientists use simple models because they have technical constraints. Even more so for game designers who have to make a fun game while staying a bit realistic. They are biased, but not politically: they are biased technically, toward models that present a simplified model of the world that can be simulated reasonably.

It is easier to have a model of criminality where it is just a function of population density minus distance to police station than a multi-parameter model taking into account different social and ethnic makeup of the population.

But this is an interesting philosophical and actually scientific problem of the left: we do not have naively simplified models like the right has. Because free-market and capitalism are based on simple rules and an ideal but modelizable world.

This is also the reason why Adam Smith "The Wealth of Nations" had more success than his "Theory of Moral Sentiment" where he studies things like charity and non-selfish behaviors: the first one provides a mathematical model of how important variables change.

I would love to write a urban simulation that takes into account things like inclusiveness, corruption, inequalities but when it comes to actually code it, I don't know how to write a function of population growth based on that that would give results that make sense.

"Pop growth = 0.05% population * wealth factor" is much simpler. And when I think about it, I think that a leftist model is not a different model than a libertarian one, it is just a more complete one, I don't think a model that takes more humanitarian values into account can be as simple.

So please do not accuse every bias towards simplification of being a libertarian bias.

Sure, but what's the use in a simplified model that spits out a result that's wrong? Take the assumption that the "underemployed" pay little in taxes while taking money from the welfare system. Sure, on the surface. But that doesn't account for increased spending power as a result of money in their pocket (which isn't saved or put into a hedge fund, but actually spent immediately out of necessity) that goes back into the economy, nor does it account for upward generational mobility as a result of good health and affordable education, or a host of other factors that potentially turn the conclusion on its head.

The problem isn't with simplicity for simplicty's sake. My concern is that we're making public policy decisions based on models that are plain wrong

It is not wrong. It gives an approximation of reality.

With 2 or 3 differential equation, you can model the growth of a city and the densification of its center in a kinda realistic way. It gives you a baseline.

In such a model, population is a number. One way to look at it is to say that it has the assumption that everybody is equal, but another way to look at it is to say that we are averaging the population differences.

Such a model would fail at modelling some behaviors like the densification of some suburban island, would be totally oblivious to the creation of ghettos.

If the goal is to make a game, that can be enough. In some type of scientific or economic simulations they could be enough as well.

> The problem isn't with simplicity for simplicty's sake. My concern is that we're making public policy decisions based on models that are plain wrong

Models are, fortunately, not the only way to establish a fact-based policy. And far more complex models do exist taking more parameters into account.

> It is easier to have a model of criminality where it is just a function of population density minus distance to police station

I'm intrigued by this model in which the closer you are to a police station, the more crime there is. :D

If you like gaming-history you'll probably also appreciate:


It's crazy how much SimCity cities look like the cities we've built for the last 75 years. Our cities really can be simplified to a game "fun" for someone to dive in right away. My thesis is that cities are oversimplified and stratified into easily separable blocks because they're easier to "industrialize" that way. This is causing crazy transportation requirements and isolation. If we mixed uses up a bit we could save on transportation overhead and be exposed to more things. The driver of this SimCity pattern of development is undoubtedly the single occupancy automobile. Sprawl works best for the car and the car works best for sprawl. Denser, mixed up uses work best with walking, biking, and transit. Conspiracy theorist in me says the auto industry influenced city planning from the ground up because they could profit off of it. Who profits when you walk more? Well, everyone... healthier bodies, healthier minds, more efficient transportation, etc. etc. etc.

My biggest problem with both SimCity and City:Skylines (its spiritual successor) is that neither allows mixed-use zoning, forcing you to rely heavily on either cars or dense (expensive) transit networks. It's like they can't break the mold of the US suburban mindset.

This. If Jane Jacobs could play Skylines today, she'd probably be on the phone to the devs asking them "why can't I have ground floor retail under my residential?"

In the latter, while you can't build a building zoned for multiple uses, you can certainly very much blend zoning very thoroughly, alternating commercial and residential buildings as you go down the street. Of course, the simulation likely isn't sophisticated enough to make full use of that (people will travel across the entire map to go shopping). I can also understand from a gameplay perspective why this is the case.

It's very much because of gameplay issues. Theoretically the computer can simulate whatever model you can dream up, but the much harder problem is the user understanding, visualizing and editing that model with an easy interface that feels fun like playing a game, not tedious like doing your taxes in Excel or rigging skeletons in 3D Studio Max.

Think of the number of extra user interface panels and gizmos and views and pop-ups and menus that users would have to wrangle in order to build, edit, query, visualize, and maintain 3D multiple story mixed use buildings in a city simulation, instead of having a simple 1:1 correspondence between space on the 2D map and zone type.

The closest thing SimCity comes to mixed use zoning is multi-layered Arcologies, and the interface to those is pretty complicated and unwieldy. Imagine if every building and skyscraper in the city were that complex!

Sim Tower supports mixed use zoning (with different discrete rooms in the same building), but just within one high rise tower, not a whole city. It's as much a game about pedestrian traffic, elevators, queuing and congestion, as an economic simulation.

The Sims is whole a game unto itself at a different level of abstraction, that lets you build multi-story residential and commercial buildings with walls, doors, windows, furniture, etc. But it doesn't simulate "urban dynamics" between zones, just "personal dynamics" between the people and the architecture and contents of the buildings. The Sims 3 was scaled up so you could seamlessly walk around small towns, but The Sims 4 went back to focusing on houses or apartments in individual lots or flats, instead of expanding to simulating entire cities.

I've long had a dream of taking the source code for the original SimCity and changing it more to my liking. The newer version was nice for streets with curves, but inferior in almost every other way compared to the original. But I doubt I'll ever find the time to actually take a crack at it, so it will likely remain just a dream.

Take a look at Lincity, an open-source clone. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincity

Thank you!

The original source is now available under the name Micropolis https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/SimCity_(1989_video_game)#Mi...

I'd be interested in a city simulation game that is focused on realism and depth with no concern for having a modern UI or being pretty. Think Aurora 4x, Dwarf Fortress, or Nethack. "Doing your taxes in Excel" is, surprisingly, a real game genre.

It would be a very unpopular game, but there are people who would love it.

Couldn't we solve this with a percentage type for zoning, or adding a "mixed commerical/residential" zone? UI wise that shouldn't be any more complicated.

Or you can change the zoning into japanese zoning, where the UI can stay simple as you escalate the permission level of a zone. https://code.uberinternal.com/T2597239

Seems like you've accidentally posted the wrong link.

There's the issue you mention, but IIRC there are also some big stat hits (happiness, noise, land value) from that sort of pattern. The game really pushes towards districts of distinct zoning as an optimized solution.

Maybe the shops in that part of town have better stuff.

So, it faithfully represents urban planning in the US then?


People have certainly built Cities: Skylines cities with mixed-use developments, quaint mountain towns, little enclaves built around a park or monument, car-less cities, pedestrian-only cities, modular cities connected by mass transit, etc.

I think the problem - in SimCity, Cities: Skylines, other video games, and real life - is that if you're building for aesthetics, there are many right answers, but if you're building for efficiency, there's only one right answer. The reason so many mid-size American cities have converged upon 1/4 acre lots with a road hierarchy, 3-lane boulevards, commercial strip malls on the boulevards, office parks, and freeways to link suburbs is that that's the most efficient way to satisfy the constraints of 2-3 child nuclear families who want privacy and a patch of greenery that's all their own and have varied destinations that each support too little traffic to be worth building mass transit to. The reason many megacities (I'm thinking particularly of NYC + Asian megacities like Beijing, Taipei, Hong Kong, Shanghai, etc.) have converged upon high-rise condominiums with street-level retail taking up whole city blocks with abundant bus & mass transit routes is because at a certain population density the suburban model ceases to work, and this becomes the only feasible way to move people to work & shopping. Interestingly, both models show up in Cities: Skylines, and the transition point between them is usually a painful inflection point in your city's development.

Its not just a space optimization but a locality optimization. Segregated neighborhoods from 50 years ago are still likely to be largely minority and gated communities adjacent still largely white. A tremendous amount of the demand that goes into urban sprawl is the desire to live distant from those deposed by the society the homeowners often perpetuate and instigate.

The quarter acre of manicured grass, the per-working adult car, the maximum occupancy limits, the minimum square footage requirements, zoning in general all work to keep the "riff raff" out economically.

Nothing about sprawl housing is efficient. Its almost maximally inefficient - you get the worst of everything, the traffic and congestion problems of density without any of the actual density because the people centralize on an urban core and surround it in extraordinarily wide expanses of cloned stick houses. But that inefficiency is baked in by design to push out those who cannot afford to participate in such inefficiency. You don't need gates on your community if the area is unlivable for the working poor for miles around.

I don't doubt that's one consideration, but my point is that people's preferences - whether they be racism, greenery, privacy, autonomy, or whatever - function as constraints that the market then optimizes around. And given those constraints, the suburban tract neighborhoods with a road hierarchy and wide boulevards lined with strip malls optimize for efficiency.

I grew up in suburban New England. That's inefficiency - triangular acre lots, empty space with no road access, single-lane roads, three lefts that get you back to your starting location, driving to the next town (or New Hampshire, often) for the nearest commercial zone, the "Massachusetts left" because there's no protected left-turn lane at most intersections, major roads that terminate at a stop sign on a freeway where people routinely drive 85 mph. The suburban sprawl of Silicon Valley was a breath of fresh air by comparison - the lights on the 3-lane boulevards here are at least timed in rational ways with protected turn lanes.

Hell, they have traffic lights here - I grew up 2 houses down from the intersection of 3 state highways at a stop sign, and we fought for about a decade, fruitlessly, to get a traffic light and crosswalk there. It backs up for literally a mile in each direction during rush hour, and accidents are common.

This might be the one reason that makes the F2P Sim City worth mentioning, in which where I’ve found it much more challenging to achieve aesthetics while growing at a reasonable pace. Having grown up with the original Sim City series, I naturally have a dislike for the F2P version, but in the context of your post I appreciated the irony of F2P enforcing a certain realism as a side effect of, well, a realistic economic factor. Ok, now somebody take this and work in a proposal for a blockchain hybrid of the two.

I believe your opinion is based on very local observations. Cities in Europe are wildly different, and in many aspects, they are very successful. Even in the US, cities have changed a lot over time, as shown by the gentrification of inner cities.

This one efficient model you are talking about is merely the solution to one set of tradeoff decisions in your area, with other tradeoffs being chosen in other places.

There's no conspiracy needed, the push towards stealing roads from people and horses and taking them for cars is pretty well documented. Once we decided it was ok to tell kids they couldn't play in the street, our cities were lost.


I recall that one of the "optimal" designs for one version of SimCity (2000?) was to place street intersections--without connecting streets--at regular intervals, and build a connected subway station next to each.

Certain features were hard-coded specifically for surface street intersections. So you couldn't simulate a Kowloon Walled City level of density, unless you count the arcologies. The car assumption is as built in to the game as it is to real cities.

Power was supplied exclusively by perpetual-motion hydropower dams, enabled by the terraforming tools: flatten, raise land, add water, build dams on the falling-water squares.

Anyway, the point is that if city planners these days are simplifying their task anywhere near SimCity levels of abstraction, the ensuing disaster won't be one that can be selected from a pull-down menu.

The designer behind sim city (in the early 2010's) discusses how they just ignored parking because it makes cities ugly. https://humantransit.org/2013/05/how-sim-city-greenwashes-pa...

You are not the only one that believes that the auto industry worked to change urban transportation.


The book you’re looking for is “Seeing Like A State”

Judge Doom[0] explains it.


Someone else posted the "General Motors streetcar conspiracy" already.

Cities: Skylines is an outstanding successor, but it lacks much of the charm of the SimCity series and feels more like a sandbox than a simulation. It's too bad Maxis decided to take the series in a simplified direction before killing it off.

If anyone knows of any other city-building simulators worth mentioning, please let me know.

> Cities: Skylines is an outstanding successor, but it lacks much of the charm of the SimCity series and feels more like a sandbox than a simulation.

I feel the opposite.

I think SimCity's charm is just nostalgia. C:S is definitely more of a simulation, as it simulates individual vehicles, including commercial traffic. All the SimCity games before SC4 used a statistical model for traffic, and SC4's path finding was very unlikely to use highways and mass transit without a mod.

And with mods, you can make C:S look like a photo [0], or add outlights to make it look like Borderlands [1].

[0] https://www.reddit.com/r/CitiesSkylines/comments/axhrg7/stre...

[1] https://imgur.com/a/GY7Tn

I don't think that's quite what the OP meant by sandbox vs. simulation.

To me it didn't feel like there were many challenges or ways you could irreparable damage your city in City Skylines. You could maybe invent your own goals, like creating a specific look to your city or building the most density possible while maintaing efficient transportation. But that's what I'd consider sandbox: using your own creativity on a blank canvas with almost no chance of entering a complete failure mode you can't recover from.

The SimCity games felt more like they were a challenge needing to balance the budget and build a sustainable city all while being resilient to events like disasters. Might just be me, but I never felt like I could fail at C:S; whereas in SimCity you could make a few stupid decisions or expand too fast and start losing money, and all you could do is watch the city degenerate into a wasteland that can't be gotten out of (without cheating anyways). That made it feel more like a simulation.

> I never felt like I could fail at C:S

This. The only times I've irreparably crashed a city in C:S is when I've been purposefully going for achievements like "<50% unemployment for 6 months".

There was a"making of" interview with the C:S devs a while back. They stated that they intentionally made the game easier because it was more fun that way.

You can definitely get un-modded simcity 4's public transportation and highways to function without a mod, you just need to know a decent amount about the game. Basically sims always take the shortest path regardless of traffic, they are randomly matched 1:1 between residential wealth level and the distribution of jobs from each job-producing building, and sims of certain income categories have restrictions on which types of public transportation they will take (e.g. $$$ sims don't take buses). One of the best ways to force or heavily encourage public transportation/highway usage is to use a tree-pattern transportation network which purposefully creates bottlenecks that are alleviated by high capacity roads or public transportation shortcuts. And you can get the cheapest most effective form of public transportation (buses) to work without any modding or special planning aside from placing them at the right density (every 6-7 tiles).

An advanced city where most jobs are Co$$ and Co$$$ can actually be designed to have very little transportation needs at all because you can zone the high wealth commercial and residential buildings close to each other.

Simcity 4 definitely feels much deeper of a game to me than skylines, perhaps simply because it's complicated and I get a sense of joy figuring out the unintuitive parts.

I agree! I believe a large part of the nostalgic "charm" of SimCity was thanks to the excellent art direction of Ocean Quigley, who's worked on SimCity and The Sims artwork from the early days.


Both of them are beautiful, but I think SimCity really is more polished, visually coherent, and better balanced than Cities: Skyline. Which makes it even more tragic and frustrating that SimCity limits you to such a small lot size, because one of the best things about earlier versions of SimCity was backing way up and looking across vast urban sprawls, every road and building which you created with your own hands!

What Cities: Skylines really got right was user modding and extensibility!

Maxis (before EA bought them) held some user focus groups while developing SimCity 2000, and asked SimCity users what they thought about additional "plug-in" content. (I don't remember how they framed it, whether they mentioned "downloadable" or "add-on packs" or "user created content"). But in general, the users were strongly against it, because they said they wanted to buy the whole game up front, and didn't want to feel like they were being nickel and dimed to get the entire experience. (And now here we are with free-to-play games with in-app purchases, alas.)

User created content and expansion packs were crucial to the success of The Sims, and users rightfully complained about being nickel and dimed by a long series of expansion packs. But the vast amount of free downloadable user created content that's available dwarfed the fixed number of items available in all the expansion packs (but you still had to buy the expansion packs to get the base objects and features (like pets or magic), in order to use any user created content cloned from those expansion objects).

It's not city building but Factorio (factory building). Be VERY careful as it's an extremely addicting game. It pushes ALL the right buttons for me and I highly recommend it. The mod community really takes a great game and makes it amazing (but play at least some Vanilla before you go modding like I did).

After a couple hours, factorio starts to feel a lot like programming, as you get to progressively higher abstractions.

Factorio is Programmer Crack. I love it!

I've played a lot of Factorio, but I haven't played with any mods. Any you would recommend?

I am eagerly anticipating Satisfactory, which looks like a first person Factorio.

I play with a good number of QoL mods (I’m on mobile but reply back if you want that list) and then I normally play with Bob’s mods. Never got into Angel’s or Py’s but I like Bobs. I also play with LTN to help automate trains. I’m happy to give you a full mod list of the last 3-4 play throughs (each ranging from 50-150+ hours). I’m excited for 0.17 to come out (it’s in experimental, beta, right now) as I’m growing bored with my current megabase.

I’ll have to look into Satisfactory!

Bob's mods and Angel's mods, of course !

That's your google keywords, there are modpacks but I don't remember the names. They are useful because the configuration is important though.

I don't recommend going the Seablock way right away.

One of the great things about Cities: Skylines is the whole mod community. Its amazing some of the stuff they have added to the game. Plus, the developer continues to add amazing add-ons themselves.

Installing a mod for more intelligent/realistic behavior of various aspects of the city, and then another mod for watching citizens first person/third person view...holy shit, its the closest thing to watching p-zombies live out their lives. They wake up, goto work/school, go shopping, get food, drive home. And the economy does its thing

>That issue speaks to a larger criticism of “SimCity”: Wright's vision imposed an old-school approach to city-building, influenced by Robert Moses and the Chicago school. For those early urban planners, and in “SimCity,” there were binary solutions to problems. To lower crime rates, build police stations. If people complain about traffic, build more roads. If you need space to build a freeway or a stadium, raze working-class neighborhoods.

Will Wright explained the motivation behind the vast oversimplifications he made in the design of SimCity, in "Will Wright on Designing User Interfaces to Simulation Games (1996)":


>Some muckety-muck architecture magazine was interviewing Will Wright about SimCity, and they asked him a question something like “which ontological urban paradigm most influenced your design of the simulator, the Exo-Hamiltonian Pattern Language Movement, or the Intra-Urban Deconstructionist Sub-Culture Hypothesis?” He replied, “I just kind of optimized for game play.”

Also, here's a talk about "Micropolis: Constructionist Educational Open Source SimCity" which discusses educational applications of SimCity:


Here's a video of an urban planner playing Sim City 2000, and commenting on the various ways in which it's accurate or inaccurate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUQaCoxybW8

If anything SimCity, makes transit heavy options seem really easy to build. Building a new subway in the game is easier (and not very expensive) than re-doing a grid of roads in an area that's already developed.

Perhaps this type of simulation may one day help us choose better town planners; perhaps one day may even give us an alternate method of choosing administrators. How radical will it be in a Mayoral election, to see how different candidates will perform in a simulation, and the voters will be able to compare their scores and gain much more insight into how the prospective candidates shall perform.

That actually happened at least once, of course, with disastrous results for one of the candidates.


This reminds me of how I got into programming by playing Starcraft: Brood War. If anyone is familiar with the Use Map Settings game mode, you could program your own scenarios using a Map Editor that came included, eg a Tower Defense map.

The map editor only allowed basic logic in the form of conditions/actions, but soon some very smart people figured out how to compose this into more expressive logic. Big communities and clans formed around map making, standards were made, and eventually, super high-quality maps started to come out. Many people I know from that time are now successful programmers.

Yep, this is how I got into programming.

It may have been mostly trivial, but it did get you ready to dig into the internals of a program and not be afraid of big scary configuration pages and charts.

I remember being EXCITED when Warcraft III came out, and the huge upgrade in the map editor. Spent a whole summer making horde-mode style maps for WCIII. It was always SO EXCITING when you saw someone else playing the map you built!

It really is something. I remember a friend from childhood who gave me a pirated copy of the original Sim City. He's now a city planner in Los Angeles.

This bridge in Alexandria Egypt must have been inspired by SimCity.


What's the point of this bridge??

It looks like the bridge is only in one direction, making the whole like a roundabout.

But why on earth do they need six lanes per direction?

My mother worked in city planning/government and at a conference Maxis was giving out copies of their brand new game, Sim City 2000. It was a great way to get the kids of these professionals (or the professionals themselves) into both gaming and city planning.

I'm surprised, as I often notice things in a given city and think "hmmm seems like someone in city planning never played SimCity"! haha ;) .. like when multi-million-dollar highway construction projects which take 10 years are built to usage levels measured at the start of the project, not for what the projected population/needs will be way down the line...

SimCity was my childhood. Played thousands of hours trying to find the right formula to optimize land value and population. Then they introduced more sophisticated terraforming tools and the ability to import contour maps in SimCity 4. I spent more time on landscaping than the actual game. The community behind SimCity 4 was great as well with all the mods.

In SC2K I always used to make capitalist dystopias with a elevated elite neighborhood of low-density residential and commercial, separated by a mountain range from the plebes with their belching factories. The Mayor’s House was on a private island. The Mayor’s Statue was on a single tile on the mountain ridge that was the tallest point in the city.

Pray I never get elected President.

I still play, the mod scene for SC4 is great. There are bike lanes now and all the parking lots you could want. You can easily build American suburban shopping centers with acres of beautiful cement.

When I was in high school I went to city counsel meetings, was active in youth in gov't, and even met the city manager. All because I loved playing SimCity for much. We never had a computer powerful enough to play SC2k so I saved and bought a Sega Saturn and the AT keyboard adapter and spent hours playing on that.

So what career should I seek out if I love to play the game Opus Magnum?

Well, obviously you'd be a phenomenal alchemist. As soon as you find that job opening, let me know, I'll be applying as well!

My favorite is the 9% tax that a presidential candidate wanted to have and that was based on SimCity.

e.g. 9% personal income tax, 9% federal sales tax, and a 9% corporate tax.

Given its popularity, tech minded players and complete failure of Maxis as a steward of the game, I'm incredibly surprised a popular and well maintained Open Source city sim hasn't appeared[1]

1 - I'm aware of Lincity, OpenCity and OpenSC2k, but none of them are popular and/or are recreations, not full-up new city makers.

successful open source game dev is pretty rare. i don't know why, but i'd guess mostly that polishing a game to modern standards is a heck of a grind.(not to mention artists aren't really keen on working for free either) There's plenty of half-baked open source games...

The problem is more that game creation requires radically differentiated skills. Even something "simple" like a Sim City clone would need a sprite artist, someone capable of implementing a 2d renderer, someone to write the AI logic, someone who can do UI, someone to do sound design, you probably want music, etc.

Most open source projects, at the worst, might involve UI design. And honestly you can see how bad that can get already when programmers start making their own interfaces without being "good" at it in most Xorg GUI apps.

That isn't to say there aren't communities around libre music, sound effects, game textures, models, etc - there are large vibrant communities around all of these. The problem with games in particular is that you need to reach across the aisle and involve people from all these niche libre communities to build something, and most of the time without the fundamentals fulfilled you won't be able to pitch or demonstrate a project enticing enough to attract participation.

Its a chicken and egg problem - you can't really get good artists if your game art is placeholder polygons, and you can't get someone working on the renderer until something is already rendering to the screen.

I know it's not open source, but Cities Skyline is a fantastic game that carries the torch for SimCity type games.

I think they read https://logicmag.io/06-model-metropolis/ and were wise enough to give their article a more click friendly headline.

I can't deny that SimCity was quite an awesome game at the time. I can see how it might have inspired some architect.

I don't get the feeling that SimCity suggests that car-centric solutions are the "right" answers. My interpretation always was that it shows you how ideal mass transit solutions were but why economic pressure could keep them from working. Ultimately it seemed like the message was that pure capitalism was biased towards solutions that just barely met the citizens' needs.

The lack of parking lots was always an obvious bias, though a reasonable game design choice considering the visual appeal. I remember when SimCity 4 modders started making more buildings with "correct" parking lots (and other scaling aspects), it was so contrastive with the built-ins that people often either rejected it, or worked to acquire enough custom buildings that they could turn off all the default ones, which required a pretty staggering number of assets.

Mass transit enthusiasts would probably love OpenTTD. Instead of managing a city, you manage a transit company that operates ships, planes, trucks, buses, and most of all trains.

Cities grow as you serve them with more mass transit, which maybe is more optimistic than real life, but on the other hand the game also teaches you that tearing up half the city to install a massive train yard is very expensive and will make local politicians furious with you, requiring you to bribe them with cash (or reforestation campaigns..) if you want to continue construction in their city.

Unfortunately it's missing subways, but the trams provided by community extensions are a pretty decent substitute.

While OpenTTD is a fun for a time, I think the Rail Road Tycoon (Esp 2 and 3) are more detailed games, with a simulated stock market and financial system, where one realizes that though through a well planned rail network and well maintained rolling stock, you could stay afloat and expand some, greater personnel wealth is more often and more easily obtained through creative ploys in the financial markets.

OpenTTD's economics is fundamentally flawed, it's trivial to have billions of dollars before long, meaning you never have to worry about money again (although local authorities will still hassle you for too much demolition.) It would be nice to see the economic system revamped completely, but I don't think it's a high priority for anybody. I think most of the fun in the game is in the finer logistics of optimal rail networks, particularly junctions and switching, not so much the money management.

I'd love it if OpenTTD had just a smidge more complex of a city simulation, so that towns weren't just concentrically-expanding colonies. But yes, it's much better at bringing that transport logistics puzzle to the forefront, which is probably why I've bothered to keep it around, unlike the various SimCities.

It also teaches you that long routes are magically always more profitable. :P

There is also https://www.simutrans.com/en/ , which is also available on Steam for free.

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