City planning with SimCity
I’m Not Angry
On March 5, 2013, the decade-awaited newest instalment of the SimCity franchise was released, and I was excited as hell. If Duke Nukem has taught us anything, it’s not wise to get excited about games that are over eight years old in development; however, series developer EA Games touted new features that were sure to make building a thriving metropolis more accessible than ever before. The local video gamery was demanding $60 for a copy of SimCity, and a quick consultation with my wallet confirmed that this particular purchase was out of the question. So, to celebrate the release of SimCity, I decided to try and build a replica Regina in its predecessor game, SimCity 4.
Seeing the bright blue EA Games logo was like seeing an old friend again. It’s been a few years since I tried to play the omnipotent god and mayor simultaneously. The child’s whisper of “Challenge everything” seemed less like a corporate slogan and more like a dare. There was no doubt that building Regina would be a challenge, but nothing could have prepared me for what was about to come.
After creating the topographically flat region of Saskatchewan, it was time to start the fledgling city of Regina. The game presents you with a square piece of flatland, and your role as God begins. Some quick work with the shallow canyon tool, and virtual Regina had a passable rendition of Wascana Lake.
“Perfect!” I naively thought. “Now, I’ll just hop into Mayor Mode, and build Albert Street and – what do you mean, ‘Unsuitable grade for construction?’”
See, what I failed to realize was that the shallow canyon, the most accurate representation of Wascana Lake, would not allow a road to be built across it. Wipe the city clean, grab some liquid courage, and try again.
Regina 2.0 got off to a bit of a better start. A deep-canyon Wascana, though not technically accurate, allowed for an Albert Street bridge to be built across it. The bridge was even high enough to allow ferry access, in case I decided that the land-locked virtual Regina needed a sea port. Broad Street and Lewvan Drive quickly followed Albert Street, and, before long, I had most of the major roads running North and South in the city.
One of the pitfalls of SimCity 4 is that each plot of land is uniformly one size: tiny, or half-of-tiny. Certain considerations have to be made to maintain the spirit of your subject. Trying to build a scale-Regina would still have been impossible in the span of a week. So, as long as I hit all of the major landmarks in the city, I would be happy with my work.
Some quick work with the freeway tool gave me a Ring Road, and now I was ready to build some actual facilities. Obviously, the first thing I had to build was Harbour Landing. Not only is that soupy quagmire now synonymous with Regina’s south end, it would make a nice reference point for everything else in the city. Sure, my new subdivision would be without power, but sometimes, those are the breaks. From Harbour Landing, it was easy to follow my newly-created Gordon Road, and – oh. There are criminals, already? They’re running rampant, are they? Thank you, Mr. City Advisor. I headed back over to the Lewvan, and created a police station by following the theoretical Saskatchewan Drive. Going from Sask Drive, and heading down Broad Street, I was able to guess roughly where the University of Regina would be situated. A quick flip through the civic structures, and I found a fairly accurate representation of our campus. The only problem was, it couldn’t be built. Too many citizens had emigrated because their mayor was too focused on building roadways. My bad, I guess.
I settled on a community college building, which, although small, allowed enough room for an above-ground parkade – see? It’s not that difficult. I placed a couple of windmills to provide power, and was about to move on, when another notification informed me that a fire had broken out at my newly-placed university. Frankly, I was dumbfounded – the university was in a square of land that had absolutely no road access anywhere near it. Given the recent happenings at College West, I was struck by how prophetic and oddly poignant Virtual Regina’s university burning to the ground was. $50,000 later, I had a new university, and a fire hall right next to it.
“MAYOR SPANKED FOR SPENDING!” read the news ticker at the bottom of the screen. While I’m in no position to question the bedroom antics of Michael Fougere, I almost wondered if the game was right. Maybe I should focus less on civic structures, and more on housing and city beautification. Perhaps I should listen to the needs of my citizens, and – hey, what’s this? Regina’s thriving, says another city advisor. It’s time for Mayor Michael Fougere to build a mayoral mansion, you say? Well, if Regina’s thriving, then a mayoral mansion, I shall have!
The mayoral mansion was situated on the southern bank of the Wascana River, and had a scenic view of the beloved downtown core. Hovering atop my new taxpayer-funded mansion, I couldn’t help but think that maybe things were going to be okay. We had $250,000 left in the civic budget. Sure, a lot needed to be built, but a lot of progress was already being made. Taxpayers were slowly getting happier, public opinion was on the rise, our impact on the environment was minimal – sure, tax rates were through the roof, but we all have to make sacrifices. Except for the mayor. Those that stuck around in the city were finding their little slices of heaven in their own.
A bright red border around the edges of the screen let me know that things had escalated quickly.
“What’s going on?” I asked no one in particular. As it turns out, a volcano had spontaneously emerged in the middle of Harbour Landing. Public opinion plummeted quicker than stocks in Enron as Harbour Landing burned to the ground. It was clear that Virtual God did not want Virtual Regina to continue any further. A lightning storm, tornado, robot attack, and meteorite strike all but leveled Virtual Regina. Just as quickly as the dream occurred, the dream was over. I sat stewing at my computer, bottle of absinthe white-knuckle clenched to my chest.
Let’s be honest, here. The moment the decision was made to play SimCity 4 as opposed to 5, this ceased being a video game review. This was a city review. And Regina receives a failing grade. Even if a volcano hadn’t wiped out the southern half of the city, I do believe I hit the metaphorical glass ceiling. Ridiculous one-way streets, roller-coaster inspired avenues, turned around civic structures, a rail yard that makes no goddamned sense, and a vacancy rate of less than one per cent? None of this can be adequately recreated in SimCity. Take heed: when EA Games implies that your city planners have collectively fucked up irreparably, you should take it to heart. Maybe a prerequisite of city planning should be at least 200 in-game hours with SimCity. It teaches planning, structuring, budgeting, and how to deal with a spontaneous volcanic eruption, and that’s not the kind of things that they’ll teach you in school. I’m not angry. I’m just a terrible mayor.
Photo by Kyle Leitch