Micromanagement games can be a tricky thing. While you definitely have fans of the play mechanic, the responsibility of monitoring hundreds of virtual lives down to the minute can understandably cause players to shy away from titles based around such a task. While I don't personally have anything against micromanagement, I'm not the biggest fan of it either, and would much rather concentrate on a few key characters rather than several hundred.
When I received a copy of the current build of SimCity 4 in the mail via the moguls at Aspyr Media, I didn't immediately install and run it like I do most betas. While I was definitely interested in trying it out, the idea of creating and running a city seemed almost to be an exercise in monotony, something that I thought could only appeal to those who enjoy playing as a god.
The first time I tried SimCity 4, however, the 30 minutes I thought I would spend with it stretched into 3 hours, and probably would have gone even longer if I didn't force myself to stop and tend to other matters. The developers at Maxis seem to have done the impossible - they've created a micromanagement sim that, while maintaining a highly complex amount of data, conditions, and options, still manages to be highly accessible to beginners such as myself. Which is saying something, considering the fact that I still dislike micromanagement sims.
A mayor, a god, it's all goodWhen starting the game, players are immediately presented with a large chunk of continent, subdivided into quadrants. Included in the package are islands, seas, and mountains, but if the default region isn't to your liking, you can always create your own. Two separate quadrants devoted to both an introductory city tutorial and a terraforming tutorial are also available. Though I started with the city tutorial, it actually makes more sense to start with the terraforming tutorial, as this step is generally done before establishing a city.
Once a player chooses a quadrant, the game presents that selection in its entirety, and terraforming can begin. Choosing from a selection of easy-to-use tools, players can raise mountains, create valleys, allow for erosion, and seed the land with both plants and animals. While this sounds limited, the tools allow for some flexibility for those that wish to create specific land structures. Applying the mountain tool creatively allows one to create hills or ridges, while digging a valley deep enough allows for the creation of lakes and rivers. Seeding the land selectively with plants and animals ensures that your selected chunk of land will remain environmentally sound, at least until you decide to pave it over with a couple of smog-spewing industrial parks.
After establishing the landscape, you can go about starting an actual city. Most people will start by laying out various area zones, with the three main ones being Residential, Industrial, and Commercial. Industrial zones consist of various manufacturing plants, and are readily identified by their dingy look and smoke-spewing stacks. Commercial zones consist of services such as restaurants and shopping centers, and also house upscale enterprises such as tech firms. Lastly, Residential areas provide places for citizens, known as Sims, to live and play.
Of course, once Sims start moving into your fair city, they'll immediately start placing demands for a variety of things, and players will find themselves spending a lot of time scrambling to keep up with the various complaints. Houses and businesses need power and water to function properly, which means setting up various power plants and water sources, including small water towers and giant water processing plants. Sims also produce an inordinate amount of waste, which must be dealt with using landfills and recycling centers.
Once their basic needs are taken care of, Sims will start to complain about the city in general. Safety concerns will bring about the need to place police stations in strategic locations, and fire stations will have to be erected to deal with the occasional fire outbreak. Sims also need an education if they are to progress, which means setting up various schools, libraries, and museums. Each of these structures has a limited sphere of influence, which can be diminished or enlarged by decreasing or increasing the funding going to it.
As cities start to become crowded, the need for better modes of transportation will also kick in. Streets will have to be replaced with roads and highways, and particularly industrious cities will sport elaborate public transportation systems, including bus stops and a subway system. Sims that need to travel long distances will eventually demand airports and seaports as well.