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From...

SimCity moves on to the year 3000

May 21, 1998
Web posted at: 6:45 PM EDT

by Joe McCloud

(IDG) -- It's 1989, and a young male sophomore strolls nonchalantly into his high-school journalism class. After getting his daily assignment from the editor in chief, he makes his way to the computer lab knowing straight well that he'll be brushing off that day's obligation. Positioning himself in front of a now-outdated PC, he powers up the bad boy and listens to the oh-so-familiar "bing" for the umpteenth time, as the hum of the internal fan and the crackle of the monitor begin their ritual. All of these elements excite the young man's senses as the anticipation of what's to come grows within him. What could possibly drive a person to neglect his class duties and get so stimulated over a PC booting up? Considering the Spice Girls weren't around back in '89--and even today there's no sign of a PC game featuring the quintet--it could only be one thing.

SimCity.

For roughly the next three years, this game single-handedly managed to capture my soul. My entire being revolved around the next time I would have the opportunity to build my city into a thriving metropolis. From maintaining positive public approval and suppressing crime to keeping a balanced budget and dealing with traffic congestion, SC challenged me and triggered my fascination like no other game prior.

I was addicted.

Four years later, the serpent known as Maxis tempted me once again with its fruit--this time in the form of SimCity 2000. And, speaking for myself, this particular Adam still occasionally visits The Garden whenever withdrawal symptoms arise. The 2K SC counterpart vaulted itself beyond its predecessor by offering a sim-boatload of new features, including a brand-spanking new isometric perspective--a huge advance over the classic bird's-eye view offered in the original.

Since then, fans of the series have been strung along with a pair of not-so-worthy products attempting to cash in on the SimCity franchise. The culprits: SimCopter and Streets of SimCity--two titles that allowed gamers to drive or fly through cities constructed in SC2K. Real fun. . .for about a week. Well, it's been five years, and things are finally about to change--hopefully for the better. And as I plug away at my keyboard, the minds at Maxis are feverishly working on its upcoming flagship product, SimCity 3000. Of course, the numerous fans have but one question: Will SC3K be as much of a leap from SC2K as the latter was from Classic?

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Well, when Maxis first announced it was developing 3000, they proclaimed that its major innovation would be the incorporation of a completely 3D environment. Just as 2000's largest improvement was the new dynamic perspective, 3000 was going to follow suit and take that idea to the next plateau. For an entire year, the development team slaved to get an engine in place. However, after realizing that their vision couldn't be achieved with the average home PC, (i.e. high-res would have to be sacrificed if a 3D engine was used) they decided to revisit the drawing board and come up with a solution.

Out with the new, in with the old.

Maxis' general manager, Luc Barthelet, wrote a letter to the anxious fans explaining the about-face:

"If you read the previews, you'll remember that 3D navigation was a focus of our design efforts prior to the [1997] Electronic Entertainment Expo. While 3D navigation sounded good on paper, the technology currently available in the typical SimCity player's home PC doesn't yet have the power to provide the richness of graphical detail our customers have come to expect."

I was shocked. How could this be? After hyping the new 3D approach so strongly, how could they scrap it all and go back to 2D? Questions like these raced through my malnourished brain. However, it didn't take long for me to come to my senses. This is Maxis, for crying out loud. These guys know SimCity better than anyone. And if they say 3D isn't going to work out, I have no other choice but to have faith. And I'll tell you something, after seeing some of the early screenshots from the 3D version, I can understand why they decided to backpedal. In a word: Stinky-poo. Now, with the new engine in place, SimCity 3000 looks beautiful, in its two-dimensional state and all, and seems to be shaping up as another smashing success. Whether or not it'll be as much of an improvement as the last installment is still to be determined.

So what else is known about this relatively secret title? Not too much, really. Aside from a few screenshots here and a couple of press announcements there, Maxis has been pretty tight-lipped. And from what they tell me, they're staying that way until E3. The few tidbits they've released are promising, though. How does a larger landscape sound? How about if I told you that you could expect SimCity 3000's maps to be four times the size of SimCity 2000's? Just imagine all the open space you'll have at your disposal to create the ideal city. And with buildings so large they seem like they've been given a dose of viagra, more disasters, more visual effects, and more options, generating a city from the ground up will more than likely be more fun!

Here's a breakdown of the remaining features Maxis has announced, according to a press release:

- It's alive: Cities will come to life with richly detailed 3D rendered buildings, pedestrians walking through town, vehicles driving down your city streets, and, of course, realistic disasters wreaking havoc. More special events, visual rewards, and Easter eggs will add to the variety of each game and allow you to put your signature on each city you create.

- It's expandable: A massive SimCity 3000 Web site is being developed that will offer new downloadable houses, offices, skyscrapers, and other city components you can plug into your game to expand creative options. Tournaments and other events will also be hosted from the site.

- It's more realistic: Simulation is the heart of SimCity, and Maxis promises to make it more realistic than ever. New zones and data layers are being added, so a wider range of city conditions can be influenced.

- It's more challenging: Gamers will now take a more active role in city decision-making with some choices impacting a metropolis for years to come.

- It gives you more power: Deeper player controls and options will give increased freedom in creating and running cities in various ways.

Okay, the game sounds good. So when can I get it? I don't know, and neither does Maxis, although it's hinted at a fall release. But don't quote me on that. Maxis has gone on record saying that it's working on a demo, though. And that's good news for those who prefer checking out a title before plunking down their hard-earned cash. Until then, I suppose all that's left to do is wait while Maxis works to complete its product.

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