Bedlam in Simcity

UnixWorld April 1993
Product Review by Edwin C. Perkins Jr.

Small vendor Dux brings popular PC and Macintosh computer game to UNIX workstations--and it's a hit.

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As mayor in the Simcity game, you need to manage, expand, and improve a city while remaining popular with the citizens.

Short of some public-domain products, the UNIX market has never had a top-quality video game. Simcity from Dux Sofware Corp. ends the drought, and in doing so, could bring video gamesmanship to new heights. Imagine, for instance, several users playing a single game against the computer in multiuser fashion, cooperating with each other to best the CPU.

At publication time, Dux was set to release its multiuser version, and if Simcity 1.0 is any indication, it will make an almost perfect product better. Currently a best seller on PC and Apple Computer Inc. Macintosh systems, Simcity is a game for all ages. The goal is to build a city that is impervious to social and natural disasters, such as crime waves, drive-by shootings, fires, and earthquakes. In circles including universities, corporations, and even the Boston city planning commission, Simcity is also used as a training tool.

Simcity was written by Maxis Software Inc. (Orinda, Calif.) and ported to UNIX and the X Window System by Dux. If you have a SPARCstation with SunOS 4.1 or later, Openwindows 3, and at least 12 megabytes of system memory, you have what you need to run Simcity. Best of all, Simcity installs in a snap and sells for only $89 a copy.

Dux did an excellent job porting Simcity to UNIX. There is little inconsistency between the UNIX version and the PC and Macintosh version. The graphics are fantastic, and the sound effects -- including a ship's whistle -- are realistic. After installing the program, be sure to get the license key. Without it, the computer lets you play awhile, but then destroys your city without warning.

The game has two distinct modes: you can build a city from scratch, or you can try to manage a disaster that has stricken an existing city. As in a real community, you must adhere to zoning laws and designate buildings as industrial, commercial, or residential. You must also construct power plants, build roads and railways, and run power lines. After you get things set up, cars begin to cruise down roads and trains start hauling freight and people, who are called Simians.

Beware the Polls

As the number of Simians grow, beware of the frequent public-opinion polls in Simcity. It's crucial that you keep an overall approval rating of 50 percent or better. To do so, you must maintain a constantly changing equilibrium between construction and taxes -- not an easy task. To stay popular, you must expand the city, but building costs money. If you pay for it our of the taxpayers' pockets, they get angry. And in Simcity, deficit spending is absolutely forbidden.

Successfully expanding Simcity leads to more concerns. For one thing, your transportation system becomers woefully inadequate. As a result, you get reports of drive-by shootings, and suggestions that you install bullet-proof glass in your car. A massive expansion of your rail system is usually your only hope.

If taxes and transportation are too mundane for your tastes, Simcity offers other challenges. The package includes eight scenarios -- seven of which are set in real cities -- that put you in charge of a city during a disaster, such as an earthquake or nuclear meltdown. You have to rebuild the city in an alloted amount of time while keeping the population happy.

We played out the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. As soon as the game started, a large earthquake hit the city and buildings began burning like so much popping popcorn. In addition to fighting the fire, we had to bulldoze large areas around fires to prevent them from spreading. Trying to maintain electricity in all of the areas then became a major challenge. As we were bulldozing fires, we ended up completely destroying the power grid. Then a tornado hit the city, blowing up factories and causing more fires to spread.

After trying to rebuild San Francisco in the allotted time, and failing miserably, we received an impeachment notice with the message, "An angry mob, led by your mother, has been spotted in the vicinity of City Hall. The population of this city has had enough of your inept and incompetent management." The game then "suggested" we retire, and our tenure as mayor of San Francisco was over.

On a more successful note, we started a city from scratch and maintained a 72 percent approval rating from its 29,730 residents. We built two nuclear power plants, three fire stations, four police stations, and an airport. We also provided many factories to keep unemployment down, and a football stadium to divert the masses. Income steadily rose for some time. Then we started writing this review and our neglect immediately led the Simians into a recession.

UNIX Bonuses

Simcity for Sun workstations has some added features not available on other platforms. Dux ported Simcity to Unix using Hyperlook from the Turing Institute Ltd. (Glasgow, Scotland), and added a Postscript drawing tool. The tool lets you create simple drawings, and import them into other products such as Framemaker from Frame Technology Corp.

Simcity also has pie menus, or wheels with a tool on each spoke, for quick access to construction tools. Another nifty feature is zoom windows, which let you choose whether to display more detail or more area in a selected window. With the large monitors common on SPARCstations, zoom windows make it easier to track events in the city. Large monitors also let you open and view many windows simultaneously, which lets you gain easier access to information such as population growth rates and pollution problems. According to Dux, its networked multiuser version, which includes support for audio conferencing, was slated for release by April.

Simcity is a great device for realistically showing what it takes to run a city. Your planning skills -- whether you need them to redevelop the City of Boston, or just sharpen your logic -- get a boost from the game. And if nothing else, Simcity is a great way to introduce a new user to UNIX on a workstation.

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