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SimCity Retrospective: SimCity 2000

July 30, 2012

This one was actually my first experience with SimCity on the PC. Back in the mid-90s, our local Wal-Mart had display computers set up, and one of them had SimCity 2000 loaded on it. I was back there constantly, and thinking back it may have been a contributing factor in petitioning my parents for a computer.

SimCity 2000 introduced some pretty significant gameplay mechanics, namely water and subway systems, new civic buildings (prisons, schools, colleges, libraries, museums, hospitals), connections to neighboring cities (named after Red Dwarf characters), and maybe more importantly, the zoning system was revamped, allowing for single tile zones and more flexibility in placement.

Also added were newspapers, which give important updates, telling you that your citizens are getting sick of the crime, or that your power plant is on the verge of collapse, or that no one will shut the fuck up about not having a stadium. I’LL GET TO IT WHEN I GET TO IT, YOU ASSHOLES!

Ahem.

Well, getting back on topic, the library in the game features an, I think, amazing essay by Neil Gaiman:

Cities are not people. But, like peole, cities have their own personalities – there are a dozen Londons, a crowd of different New Yorks.

A city is a collection of lives and buildings, and it has identity and personality. Cities exust in location, and in time.

There are good cities – the ones that welcome you, that seem to care about you, that seem pleased you’re in them. There are indifferent cities – the ones that honestly don’t care if you’re there or not; cities with their own agendas, the ones that ignore people. There are cities gone bad, and there are places in otherwise healthy cities as rotten and maggotty as windfall apples. There are even cities that seem lost – some, lacking a centre, feel like they would be happier being elsewhere, somewhere smaller, somewhere easier to understand.

Some cities spread, like cancers or B-movie slime monsters, devouring all in their way, absorbing towns and villages, swallowing boroughs and hamlets, transmuting into boundless conurbations. Other cities shrink – once prosperous areas empty and fail: buildings empty, windows are boarded up, people leave, and sometimes they cannot even tell you why.

Occasionally I idle time away by wondering what cities would be like, were they people. Manhattan is, in my head, fast-talking, untrusting, well-dressed but unshaven. London is huge and confused. Paris is elegant and attractive, older than she looks. San Francisco is crazy, but harmless, and very friendly.

It’s a foolish game: cities aren’t people.

Cities exist in location, and they exist in time. Cities accumulate their personalities as time goes by. Manhattan remembers when it was unfashionable farmland. Athens remembers the days when there were those who considered themselves Athenians. There are cities that remember being villages. Other cities – currently bland, devoid of personallity – are prepared to wait until they have history. Few cities are proud: they know that it’s all too often a happy accident, a mere geographical fluke tha they exist at all – a wide harbour, a mountain pass, the confluence of two rivers.

At present, cities stay where they are.

For now cities sleep.

But there are rumblings. Things change. And what if, tomorrow cities wake, and go walking? If Tokyo engulfed your town? If Vienna came striding over the hill toward you? If the city you inhabit today just upped and left, and you woke tomorrow wrapped in a thin blanket on an empty plain, where Detroit once stood, or Sydney, or Moscow?

Don’t ever take a city for granted.

After all, it is bigger than you are; it is older; and it has learned how to wait…

– Neil Gaiman

The best thing about that essay is that it fairly accurately sums up what SimCity 2000 is all about. As you play, your city is going to start to take on a life of its own. And it comes down to what kind of city you want to build. Are you going to build a metropolis? Or is a series of towns connected by road and rail more your style? Maybe you’re up for interconnected boroughs. Whatever your style, odds are SimCity 2000 can accommodate.

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