01 January 2010

Sim City 4

I recently re-loaded the Sim City 4 simulation onto my laptop and began to lay out plans for a city.  I’d been away from the game for at least three or four years, having been distracted by the gameplay on offer in The Sims 2, and once Civilisation 4 and World of Warcraft came along I didn’t give Sim City a thought for a long time.  Perhaps it’s something to do with being back in a big city, or that I’ve been reading about public transport issues lately, or my long-standing fascination with maps, but for whatever combination of reasons I got back into the simulation and now I’m rather hooked.

It couldn’t be described as an exciting experience, and nor do aficionados like it to be called a ‘game’.  Sim City 4 is ideal for people who like to tinker and experiment to determine causes and effects.  At each stage of urban growth the player is presented with a range of challenges and potential compromises, and there’s a real feeling of achievement when you successfully grow your small farming village into a thriving town and then a major metropolis.

Part of the enjoyment is the admittedly geekish delight I take in messing about with maps and imaginary placenames.  Here’s a closer look at the region I’ve been working on over the past week or two.  The main urban area is known as Cullinane, and while there’s no unifying theme of the placenames I’ve used, they generally originate in the historical tradition of the UK, and to a lesser extent Europe and the US. 

Cullinane3 (Clean annotated)

You’ll need to click to enlarge the image sufficiently to view the captions, but here’s a rundown of the basic character of the city of Cullinane and its outlying areas.

Cullinane-8 Aug Cullinane has become the largest settlement on the broad isthmus of the Cullinane peninsula.  From humble beginnings it has grown into a bustling minor city of 42,000.  The city is the commercial hub of the surrounding settlements, and boasts the area’s only airport and an Army base, Fort Cullinane.  Heavy industry is concentrated in the northern suburb of Allentown near the town’s sports stadium, while high-tech industry is located in the southern suburb of Edison, which is located between Port Edison and the University.  Further east, the twin towns of Parkside and Redcliffs act as dormitory suburbs for Cullinane’s workers.

Haddon-7 DecAfter the establishment of Cullinane, the next settlement to be founded was the town of Stieglitz, which lies to Cullinane’s west.  Stieglitz contains the largest concentration of industrial facilities in the entire region, supplying over 10,000 industrial jobs.  In a subsequent development some decades later the seaside settlement of Haddon was founded on the west-facing slopes overlooking the winding Elliott River, and once this town grew it became the name by which the immediate area was known.  The town now holds a population of nearly 15,000.  Haddon and Stieglitz are separated by a swathe of farmland and oak forests.

Kells-16 Jul To the north of Cullinane the settlement of Kells was founded to provide further living space and more land for industrial development.  Now rivalling Cullinane itself in terms of population, Kells is experiencing some difficulties with polluting outflow into the Elliott River from Gastown, its seaside industrial suburb.  The area is currently downsizing its heavy industry in favour of commercial services.  It also boasts a popular satellite settlement on the western shores of the Elliott – the pretty town of Landry Shore, which is connected to Kells by a busy passenger and car ferry.  Plans are being drawn up for a bridge across the Elliott north of Kells’ Dublin Beach, but the cost-effectiveness of the project is yet to be determined.

Ramillies-3 Jun The next neighbour of Cullinane to be incorporated was the small town of Ramillies to the east.  Occupying a small plain leading to sheer cliffs overlooking a large estuary, Ramillies was not suitable for port facilities, but in the space available a carefully designed model settlement of some 5,000 inhabitants was constructed on a grid pattern augmented with strong radiating diagonal roads.  The small industrial suburbs of McAdams and Guillermin grew up to provide jobs for the local workforce, but many locals commute from Ramillies to jobs in nearby Cullinane or Pemberton. 

Pemberton-2 Mar Pemberton is a middle-sized town of 27,000 inhabitants, and was the original settlement in the region.  It was quickly surpassed by the faster-growing Cullinane and Kells, and now struggles to compete due to problems with industrial pollution, a congested street plan and the accumulated environmental damage of an ill-advised early policy of zoning refuse landfill sites too close to the centre of town.  A waste incinerator plant, the region’s first, was constructed to reduce the waste problem, but is some way off completing its task.  In the meantime, small satellite settlements have grown up to the north of Pemberton: the heavy industry of Postgate and the high-tech industry of Lingwood compete for Pemberton’s workers, while the dormitory suburb of Lenihan on the higher ground overlooking Pemberton provides homes for a thousand workers who commute both to Pemberton and Kells.  The large number of Pembertonians who commute to work outside the area required a system of dual carriageways [avenues in game terms] to both the west and east of town.  These roads are the largest and most complete network in the region.

Wilshire-11 May Even further to the east is the rural settlement of Wilshire, which grew up to provide agricultural land for cultivation.  The town was laid out with special care to permit a comprehensive rail loop to be built, which means that the 7,000 inhabitants of Wilshire are well served by public transport.  A great many wealthy citizens make Wilshire their home due to the rural atmosphere and the attractions of Wilshire Beach, which is a short step from downtown.  To the northeast of downtown the overspill settlement of San Gabriel has its own rail spur for commuters.  To the west of town and beyond the large farms of the Wilshire hinterland, the industrial estate of Stanshall has grown up to complement the nearby twin town of Postgate.  Wilshire, like Haddon, lacks its own port facilities, which may well limit potential growth in the town unless a suitable location can be found in nearby territories.

St Mary-20 May To the south of Cullinane the new town of St Mary (population 4000) was established to open up further land for development by the ever-expanding excess population of Cullinane and Kells.  The town’s planners have a choice to make soon: whether to limit growth and preserve the small-town atmosphere of St Mary’s, along with the lush forests to the south of town, or to expand aggressively with the eventual goal of opening up the land across St Mary’s Bay and building a new container port at the end of the peninsula.  The wealthy inhabitants of St Mary’s many mansions will no doubt have strong views on the matter.  In the meantime, the nearby industrial suburb of Boyle, which is under the control of three different local councils, provides a few jobs for the locals.  

Jackson's Flat-8 Oct The most recent area to the opened up for settlement is Jackson’s Flat, southwest of Cullinane.  Intended as a agricultural counterpart to Wilshire, Jackson’s Flat has grown quickly to a population of 1,500 but has only recently installed a reticulated water system.  There are considerable swathes of farmland to the north of town, but a new focus for growth is the recently developed port facilities to the northwest of town.  Designed to service the nearby industries of Stieglitz, the port may encourage greater industrial growth than was first planned for Jackson’s Flat.  As in nearby St Mary, residential development in Jackson’s Flat is being stymied by an influx of mansion-owners who are buying up much of the town for their palatial residences.

In future years new development will likely spread to new parts of the region, with the financial backers of the Vansittart family searching for an suitable spot to found another new settlement.  It remains to be seen if this further expansion occurs in the hill country to the south of St Mary and Jackson’s Flat, on the plains to the north of Pemberton, or perhaps on the western banks of the Elliott past Landry Shore once the river is finally bridged. 

Despite covering a large area the region is still relatively young, with a population of only 145,000.  The next challenge for city planners is to manage the shift to a higher-density urban economy, with all the associated problems this entails.


While the Sim City 4 simulation is rather biased in favour of private transport, it still affords plenty of opportunities to lay out public transit networks to service your cities.  Naturally, there has to be a certain population level to support such services, but there is a cumulative effect derived from linking up various sections of your city plots that encourages building more comprehensive networks. 

I’ve chosen to expand Cullinane’s public transport network more rapidly than usual, partly because just like in the real world it’s disruptive and expensive to retro-fit railways in built-up areas, but also because I wanted the city to grow with public transport from the outset.  Well, almost from the outset – the densely populated CBD of Cullinane is as yet unserved by rail lines, which will have to wait until a subway line through the city becomes affordable.  But Cullinane is circled by two rail loops with several spurs to neighbouring towns, so commuters can navigate their way to jobs across the region by public transport if they wish.  

While the simulation is enjoyable I’ve gained almost as much entertainment from hours spent tinkering with fantasy transit maps for the city I’ve created.  It took me a long time to arrive at a presentable standard, but once I discovered a couple of handy tutorials on the excellent Canadian site Simtropolis I was able to make a reasonable stab at the following map:

Cullinane Metro 4 

I’m not yet satisfied with the logo by any means, and if I had the time and ability the map would have multiple coloured lines instead of just the one colour.  But it gives a good impression of how comprehensive the city’s rail network is, particularly bearing in mind that this is still a small city by global standards. 

There are several areas targeted for future expansion.  Ultimately there will be a subway line running westwards from City Hall through the Cullinane CBD, perhaps terminating at Copperfields station in Stieglitz.  If this is successful, a second northern subway line could connect the Cullinane CBD with that of Kells, linking up with the Kells Street or Cullinane Stadium rail stations as it heads northwards.  Aside from the CBD areas, most of Cullinane’s settlements are well served by rail and its associated bus networks, but one area in which there is room for improvement is in Pemberton, in which the town’s rail stations skirt the main population centre.  If the region expands further there may also be extensions to existing lines northwards from Peacock Hill in Kells and Postgate Industrial in Pemberton, or new northward lines might be built through the villages of Lenihan or Lingwood, which are yet to be connected to the rail network.  Expansion southward may see lines reaching out from St Mary or perhaps Jackson’s Flat, depending on the course of urban development.  Perhaps the growth of new rail links will allow the Cullinane region to resist calls for a the land-greedy highway networks that so blight other (real world) cities.

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