October 29, 2002
Final Paper Brief (Week 14)
A City's History
I will be following the progression of the SimCity series -- from the Classic Version to SC 2000 to 3000 to the upcoming version 4. Not only have the tile sizes been more varied (in the classic version all zones had to be 3x3 tiles, but in later versions, they could be any size and shape), but there are more things to control (budgets, advisors, local ordinances, and so forth), etc. As we have gone through the different versions, we are also looking at different layers of a city, and the graphics have changed from simple iconic representations to even better icons to almost photographs of buildings and landscape. This increase in graphic imagery is brought on simply by the advancement in computer technology.
The other advancements in each version of the game, such as the level of control of the city, are tied to computing power as well. The original SimCity is only several kilobytes, including all of the graphics. The latest SimCity requires the CD-ROM to run because it's so large. In the beginning with SimCity 1.0, a fast computer ran at 15MHz and had a whopping 5 megabytes of memory. Today, computers are able to process billions of chunks of information in a single second. This makes the more complicated traffic models of SimCity 4 possible and brings the simulation from a simple visualization of data (simple icons representing an average of 10 cars/minute on a highway) to actual behavior in a simulated world (cars actually drive from point A to point B and are displayed every pixel of the way).
The changes in the various versions of SimCity are indeed advancements, but the history and development of the computer code behind SimCity is important as well. Each release of SimCity is just like a new version of any other popular application. It has new features, new bugs, and new system requirements. If SimCity 4 was released today as the original version, it wouldn't make any sense and people would not understand how to run the game or what to do. This would be the same as if Microsoft released the X or XP versions of MS Word at the same time that Apple released the original MacWrite. Users would look at the Formatting Palette, 14 fully customizable toolbars, integration with the other Office products, etc. and be lost. However, when introducing the new concept of "desktop publishing" to the World, Apple made a very simple application, which had it's root with the typewriters that everyone was used to. Desktop publishing was revolutionized by this technology and the advancements that are present today would only be possible with this foundation. SimCity works the same way. We had to be introduced to the simple 3x3 zones and flat tax structure in order to understand the foundation of building a city and simulating it on the computer.
SimCity falls in to the rhetorics of progress and of power. Just as each version of SimCity has progressed to controlling more aspects of creating a city, so does each city the user creates grow and sprawl. After first selecting New City..., you build a power plant, and then some industrial zones, and then some roads to support those zones. Soon, the sims want to start living nearby where they work instead of commuting from the neighboring towns and you have to build residential areas. Eventually, there are highway cloverleaves and traffic and bustling college campuses and multiple power and water sources for your metropolis. Besides the obvious pun of having power plants and the rhetoric of power, you also have power over your entire city. As "Mayor" of SimCity, you decide where roads should be placed, where zones should be built; you also have smite power over anything. If a delapidated building is ruining your vision for the city, you select the bulldozer tool and demolish it.
It should be easy to see how the newer versions of SimCity have advanced on an entertaining and challenging game and advanced the underlying technology as well as the game play. More aspects of the city to worry about and have control over make the game more enjoyable, but only because we saw what it was like to not have control over those aspects. In short, SimCity is what it is today because of it's history.