Summer Overlord: SimCity 3000

Waiting patiently for his final year at college, Declan is in the midst of a four-month summer holiday. He is quite bored. Unemployed and at home, to stave off insanity, he is playing through fifteen management/tycoon games from the last decade in a series of articles in which he will attempt to become the ultimate Summer Overlord, master of routine and efficiency and pro hirer of vomit-sweeping janitors. Join him every Saturday on a journey which will take you through some of the best and the worst that the obscure genre has to offer. 

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SimCity 3000, the forgotten child?

Right in the Spline

Before we delve off into another long-winded exposition about an old strategy game that Serengeti bushmen are probably using to crack open nuts, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank any readers that are still tagging along for the often vulgar ride that is Summer Overlord. It seems that most of you get on and off at certain stops (to the person who searched for Ski Park Manager: I advise consulting a physician immediately as you may have a brain tumour), but as long as you leave a tip, I don’t mind. Considering a good number of you are from countries whose names I can’t even pronounce (oh, okay, I’m being disingenuous), allow me to say a very loud, very clear, very gesticulated hello, I’m very pleased to meet you! You make my life worth living. Don’t ever leave me.

Now, SimCity. I think we can all agree that Will Wright’s city-building simulation has had an incredibly profound impact on the games industry. Though the series may have faded into obscurity with SimCity 4 and that stain on its memory, SimCity Societies, 1989’s original and its 1994 sequel, SimCity 2000, spawned a new wave of management and strategy titles venerating them both as their gods. Indeed, one could be so bold as to say that they are the common ancestors of an entire genre.

I went to a primary school where writing with a blue-inked fountain pen was compulsory,  where we were forced to stand whenever a teacher entered the classroom; our hands were examined for dirt before eating lunch; we even went to school for four hours on Saturday. Saturday. It was positively Victorian and it set us on the way to being loyal servants to Her Glorious Majesty and the Commonwealth. Respite from all of this was SimCity 2000. Some messiah, lost to history but forever remembered in my heart, installed it on every computer in the school’s laughably small IT lab, and when we had done our incredibly mundane Mavis Beacon touch-typing assignments, we were let loose into a curious world of reticulated splines, llamas and towering arcologies. Of course, we were barely in the double digits and unable to grasp its intricacies (who needs water pipes?!), but its mystique and smell of adventure made us bloody fast at typing, I can tell you.

There, I shared another sentimental moment with you.

Those orange tiles indicate that an industrial zone has yet to develop.

De Facto

Of course, in typical fashion, it has taken me three paragraphs to get to the point: SimCity 3000. The third game in the series, released in 1999, was the turning point. With an ill-fated development from the very start, 3000 marked the beginning of the end for the franchise as it released to a generally uninterested audience. When the game was re-released in 2000, the world had moved on to Wright’s more terrifying pastures, namely The Sims.

3000 adopts the same premise as its predecessors. Building a successful city depends on zoning residential, commercial and industrial land to meet demand, and supplying these zones with power, water and other services, like hospitals,  fire stations, colleges, libraries, schools and police precincts. Once these needs are satisfied, depending on land quality, buildings will spring up and set your settlement on a path to urban utopia and mayoral godliness.

As a youngling, I wasn’t particularly good at 3000. I wanted a big city and I wanted it now, god damn it, but I was quickly slapped across the face by an unforgiving game which demanded I play it properly. Over-expanding too early, for example, is a financial disaster. Build a lot of houses and you’ll have to build power stations, pumping houses, and a landfill or incinerators in a large enough number to cope; fail to buffer your residential zones with pretty things or commercial outlets and your big industrial smokestacks will assure no one but the most desperate crackheads move in; and tax each sector too little or too much and you’ll either be conned or left penniless. After a bit of practice (and a few loans), nailing these starting moments is a relatively simple, almost relaxing challenge, which gives your fledgling city firm foundations and enough momentum to launch it in the direction of your no doubt grander ambitions of glass skyscrapers and a river-front penthouse.

Disasters can occur naturally or be switched off and instigated at the player's will.

My most recent city is also my most successful ever in the history of Declankind. Powered by three nuclear fusion plants, connected by map-spanning highways and rail links, stitched together underground by a network of subway tracks and linked with all of SimEarth by a growing airport and seaports, my city is a towering testament of steel and tears to my excellence as Glorious Leader. I’m not kidding, either: I have a statue at an intersection on one of my busiest roads to remind my workers that I am the one that allows them life. And, to maintain the illusion of equality, all my slummy looking buildings are kept encircled by trees. What slum? That’s right. Of course, this is just a power fantasy of mine. Politics don’t play into the game at all, aside from ordinances that you can enact in response to lobby groups (like a youth curfew, anti-smoking law and clean-air industry tax breaks) and various infrastructural links and deals with your neighbours which either cost you or bring in a tidy sum each month. 3000 is a city builder above all; it bats away equality and all the rest of that fad hippie stuff because it doesn’t play into its hungry, expansionist scheme.

Frankly, there’s a lot to do in SimCity 3000. Scenarios are offered to those whose creative energies are best unleashed under directed bursts, but for most, I’m sure, the real joy will come in watching your concrete patchwork slowly spread across a map, like an unceasingly hungry, capitalist mould. Even though the game would have been vastly improved with a greater variety of buildings, this lust for development and desire for growth is the underpinning of an experience which evokes a sort of cathartic harmony in the ordered placement of zones, pipes, roads and power lines. Combine this rhythm with a resplendent soundtrack, and “Zen” might be a more appropriate descriptor.

Cities can grow to house millions of inhabitants.

Save or Delete?

To many SimCity veterans, 3000 was not the revolutionary step that was hoped for, and it was booed and hissed at because of this. It took a successful formula and… well, did very little to it, aside from give it a very pretty makeover, real-world landmarks and thankfully competent advisers . In my case, as someone who was far too young to play the second game properly, 3000 is my 2000. Can’t we all just get along?

Newcomers, if not tempted by SimCity 4’s seductive visuals, will find much to love in the third game. If you can survive the admittedly hilly initial learning curve, tune your mind so that navigating around the fiddly menus becomes a sixth sense and master financial balance so your city never stagnates for too long, then before you know it, SimCity 3000, with its quirky humour and soft, oily colours, will keep you awake long into the early hours of the morning, planning and building your megapolis like a Buddhist monk from the Department of Urban Design.

But, beholding my own splendiferous, placid creation, I’ve realised one thing is missing: a tornado. *Click*

<- Last week: Stronghold: Crusader                                                                                                  Next week: Startopia ->

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