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Sim City 3000: Unlimited now available for Linux


July 19, 2000
Web posted at: 10:47 a.m. EDT (1447 GMT)

In this story:

A new city

City management

Play tips

Mayor school

Installation and hardware requirements

The verdict


(IDG) -- Sim City 3000 was a huge title in 1999 on Windows, second only to Rollercoaster Tycoon. Based on sales figures, it was no wonder that Maxis, creators of all the Sim City titles, decided to make an extension to the successful game. Released on Windows earlier this month, Sim City 3000: Unlimited is scheduled to make its debut on Linux this summer, thanks to Loki Entertainment Software.

Sim City 3000: Unlimited is a city-development simulation populated by virtual people called Sims. Taking place in a number of eras and featuring several modes of play, it's a game that will reach a broad audience with its refined, user-friendly display and numerous tutorial starter cities. Building a city from scratch, right down to individual bus stops, is the sole responsibility of a single person -- you. Listen to your Sims, spend money wisely, and watch your metropolis grow within the virtual world of Sim Nation.

A new city

Out of the four game modes available, confident players will aim directly for Start New City. But before you zone city blocks and lay roads, you have to set a number of options to make your city unique.

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City options include choosing a town name, the year your city is founded (1900, 1950, or 2000), difficulty level, map size, landscape, and building design. SC3U will even let you decide what type of woodland will appear in your town, from jungle to hardwood forest.

The starting year determines the features you can build in your city (no nuclear power plants in 1900), and the level of difficulty determines the amount of money you have to start with. Those two options have been around since Sim City was born, so not much has changed here.

Improvements over the standard Sim City 3000 include the new landscape, tree, and building sets. Those sets determine the appearance of your town, and if you don't find a building design set to meet your needs, with the Building Architect (like the Urban Development Kit of Sim City 2000) you can design your own monstrosities. You can even make new buildings during gameplay and use them straight away. Sweet!

After customizing your metropolis, you launch into the level editor where you can transform the landscape to suit your tastes. You can flatten or rumple the topography of the terrain, adjust the amount of surface water, and change the number of trees on your town site. There are also more precise editing tools with which you can raise or lower individual points on your map. Before you start getting ideas, the level editor does have limits; there's no room for Mt. Everest or a 10-mile-deep ocean trench.

After you have selected your options and designed the town site, you have to lay the groundwork for your city by zoning areas and connecting power and water.

First off, you'll need to build a power plant. Next build some roads, leaving plenty of room for future developments and city building zones. A city building zone is a residential, industrial or commercially zoned area. It dictates what can be built in a particular square. While you're at it, lay a road to the edge of your map to connect your city with a neighboring Sim city. How else are Sims going to move into your town?

When your roads are all nice and neat, you can then place zones throughout your city. Sims will need residential zones to build their houses, industrial zones to build their factories and commercial zones to build their shops. You only need a few 4x4 squares of each zone to begin, and you can add more zones when the Sims need them.

Next link all the zones to water. By placing a few water-pumping stations near a fresh water source, you can run water pipes from one end of your city to the other. A water boundary will appear in time, showing areas that have water access.

The finalé of your efforts for your Sims is to add essential services to control crime and fires, educate young Sims, and provide health services. Police stations, fire stations, hospitals, and schools are the basic necessities for your budding town. Only a bare minimum are needed at first, as you can add ballparks and zoos when the population demands them. If you have done everything right, Sims will begin to move in.

City management

In SC3U your job is not only to plan and build your city but also to manage it. You must balance the books, enact ordinances, and maintain a balance between making money to expand your city and pleasing the Sims with reasonable tax rates.

There are options with which you can monitor and alter the expenditures and income of your city as well as obtain advice from your consultants. It is wise to listen to these advisers every so often, as they give a good indication of what you should be doing with your resources.

In the first few years, at least, you'll have to cut a loss. With that in mind, make sure you have some money left over from your original expenses so you can provide for the Sims when they demand more residential, industrial, and commercial space.

If you don't have time for such insignificant matters, you can always set the game to auto-budget. I find that option exceptionally good for beginners, as it allows you to get used to the city-building controls and to plan your city rather than worry about money. However, if you want to make big profits, you're going to have to run the budget yourself.

Play tips

Besides running your new city, there are a number of things I think you should watch out for, especially if you're new to Sim City. Those hints apply to all game modes in SC3U, not just Start New City.

Remember not to put industrial and residential zones too close together or too far apart -- Sims hate driving too far to work, but also hate the pollution from industry. Commonly, I use commercial zones as a buffer between residential and industrial areas.

I've found out that you shouldn't be cheap on water pipes or roads; cut corners here, and you'll have Sims complaining of pollution and traffic jams. My advice is to construct strong, gridlike traffic and water systems for maximum efficiency and ease of maintenance. You can monitor traffic congestion, pollution, and many other city problems by clicking on the Layers button, just above the city map in the bottom right corner.

You'll also need to watch the power plants, which have a limited life span and eventually need to be replaced. The old coal stations last around 50 years, after which they crumble, fall to bits, and produce no more power. Bummer.

Looming disasters are always threatening to destroy your cities. SC3U has over a dozen disasters, including invading aliens (who love to blow up power plants), floods, fires, whirlpools, and the ever-popular plague of locusts. Sounds like fun? Those disasters are great if you're looking to destroy a city, bad if you want to build one. Make sure you have good fire and police coverage -- if you don't, how are you going to control a disaster?

The best advice that I can give overall is to plan ahead, monitor situations, and control problems. Pollution, traffic, power, and water are the essential things to watch out for. Petitioners, spokespersons for the Sims, will tell you when something is amiss. They'll let you know when Sims want more parks, less pollution, and better transport services.

If your Sims don't think you're doing your job properly, they'll pack their bags and move to another Sim city. Don't say I didn't warn you.

You can receive rewards as the mayor of your town. When you reach certain population milestones, the Sims reward you by building free improvements in your city, which then act to boost Sim morale. The first reward is your very own mayor's mansion, which you can build wherever you please. Other rewards include a city hall, a town statue, and a county courthouse, which you'll receive when you reach other population milestones.

Mayor school

If you're a little overwhelmed with the level of detail that a Sim city requires, you can always head on over to mayor school and play with a starter town. A starter town is simply a premade city that has been established for you -- all it needs is someone to maintain and expand on the predeveloped tutorial. I tried out some of the starter cities and found the lessons to be quite in-depth. If you are in doubt, have a look here and learn the ropes.

The game contains 15 scenarios in which you take charge of a premade Sim city and pursue a number of goals within a specified time frame. The scenarios include bringing a city back from a money crisis, controlling a disaster, and solving a problem such as traffic or crime. Even the fall of the Berlin Wall has been included. I found the scenarios useful as an extension of the starter towns; they teach you to handle a particular problem or disaster.

You can also create your own scenarios. And because SC3U is platform independent, you can give those scenarios to your friends on any system running SC3U.

The final mode that SC3U has to offer is called real-life terrain. Loki has mapped selected real-world cities so that you can build your own version of a famous metropolis. The closest real-life terrain (geographically) to me was Melbourne, Australia, and while I haven't checked for accuracy, it's a neat feature.

Installation and hardware requirements

Since SC3U is a Loki port, you can expect SC3U to have a GUI installer, which really simplifies the whole installation process. Another bonus is that SC3U runs on the SDL graphics frontend, so there's no messing about with Mesa or other 3-D drivers. Just make sure X Windows is configured properly, and you shouldn't encounter any problems.

The system requirements are pretty modest compared to some of Loki's other ports such as the hungry Heavy Gear II. A Pentium 200 with 32 MB of RAM and 420 MB of free disk space is the recommended minimum system. At 640x480 resolution and the lowest detail settings, I comfortably ran SC3U on a Pentium 166 MMX.

To hear music and sound effects, you'll also need a configured sound card. On Red Hat you can configure a sound card by running /usr/sbin/setup as root.

On the software front, you'll need a v2.2 kernel with glibc 2.1 or greater. Most recent distributions like Red Hat 6.0+, fit those specifications right out of the box. Loki public relations rep Kayt Sorhaindo said that a SC3U demo will be available near the time of the official release. Watch Linuxgames, Linux Game Tome, and Loki Entertainment Software for a demo release (see Resources for links to all three).

The verdict

Loki originally had the much simpler Sim City 3000 in the queue for a Linux debut. In fact it was close to final beta when Loki decided to port the enriched Sim City 3000: Unlimited. The new features that SC3U incorporates, such as different city landscapes and new building sets, were worth the extra development time.

SC3U is one of the best Loki ports I have seen to date. It runs well on all my systems, looks immaculate without using dedicated 3D hardware, and should appeal to people who like a little bit of planning in their games. It is a unique simulation that requires attention to detail and a little skill -- with the occasional bit of luck -- to succeed in a virtual model of a real-life city.

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