I'm not much of a video gamer, to be honest. It's probably been about 10-15 years since the last time I played Sim City. Back then we played Sim City 2000 and it ran on Windows 95.

A few weeks ago I saw that there was a new version of the game for the iPad called SimCity Deluxe. For 99-cents, I figured it was worth a try.


Overall, the game is fun and it's an easy way to waste a few hours on a plane or during a road trip or if you really want to procrastinate. As an urbanist, though, there are a lot of things about this game that get under my skin. Yes, I understand that it's only a game. There are limitations as far as how close it can get to real city planning. Unfortunately, the game seems pretty strongly biased toward outdated ideas about how cities work and how they ought to be designed.

The most obvious example is the fact that the entire game is centered around Euclidean zoning. You can zone parcels in your city for residential, industrial or commercial; but you can't zone for mixed use at all.

The game does let you choose whether you want to develop low, medium or high density within each type of zone, but this too has led to great frustration.

When I zone some parcels for low density residential, for example, the Sim People tend to build nice-looking suburban homes. When I zone for medium-density, I usually get some garden-style apartments or rowhouses. But when I zone for high-density residential, it's really really difficult to have nice-looking high-rise buildings. Usually I wind up with tall, ugly buildings that look like the infamous public housing projects that cities like New York and Chicago have torn down. And it doesn't matter how many parks or schools I build nearby, successfully achieving high-density residential in the game is extremely difficult.

The game keeps track of demand for the different types of zones. I've found that there's usually pretty strong demand for residential and industrial, but not for commercial; even when I set my commercial tax-rate at zero. Does the game thinks cities are still like industrial rust-belt cities during their glory days? I don't get it.

Then there's transportation. Sim City Deluxe lets you build roads and railroads. You can plop bus stops down on empty parcels, but I just don't see how this mimics real public transit? There's no option for subways or other public transportation. The assumption the game makes is that the Sim People want to drive everywhere, and they only seek alternatives when traffic becomes horrendous. When I click on the button to see tips from my transportation "adviser", this is what he says:
Most Sims prefer to drive their cars, so if roads are plentiful, more Sims will want to live in your city...
The railroads that you can build look like freight trains to me. This is a good solution for getting big trucks off your streets, but doesn't really do much for moving people around.

There are other quirks about the game that I won't get into. Like I said, it's not a bad game, and if the developer could somehow update it to make it more city-friendly, it might be a great game. Until then, it bugs me enough to keep me from playing unless I'm pretty bored.

3 comments:

    On January 12, 2011 Sloan said...

    Have you played CityVille yet? I haven't, but would be curious to hear your review of that. Thanks and great blog (I found it when I was looking for data on the most educated city per square mile)

     
    On June 07, 2011 Neil said...

    Love your take on the iPad version of simcity. I too feel that the premises upon which the game seems to be based seem to reflect old ways of thinking about cities. They also seem to reflect a VERY conservative slant to taxes and service. Only when taxes are very low do the zones seem to do better, but the services have to suck. It as so has a negative slant towards the organized workers, as in if the budget is reduced 5% they go on strike! I know this is just a game but it's frustrating. That's why I tend to live in places that tend to understand that a balance of taxes and services are needed. .... But to my point of why I was drawn to your post/blog in the first place. I was wondering why the game keeps asking me to zone more of an area when I have plenty of open lots. Even if I have parks, bus stops, schools and lower taxes, the lots sit empty or decaying. Are there any secrets to rectifying this. Will def be looking in on your blog. I've started my own blog dealing w arch and urban design. Www.wordpress.com fusedesigngroup.

     
    On June 07, 2011 Neil said...

    Love your take on the iPad version of simcity. I too feel that the premises upon which the game seems to be based seem to reflect old ways of thinking about cities. They also seem to reflect a VERY conservative slant to taxes and service. Only when taxes are very low do the zones seem to do better, but the services have to suck. It as so has a negative slant towards the organized workers, as in if the budget is reduced 5% they go on strike! I know this is just a game but it's frustrating. That's why I tend to live in places that tend to understand that a balance of taxes and services are needed. .... But to my point of why I was drawn to your post/blog in the first place. I was wondering why the game keeps asking me to zone more of an area when I have plenty of open lots. Even if I have parks, bus stops, schools and lower taxes, the lots sit empty or decaying. Are there any secrets to rectifying this. Will def be looking in on your blog. I've started my own blog dealing w arch and urban design. Www.wordpress.com fusedesigngroup.